Before Siddhartha became the Buddha (awakened one) and he ventured beyond the palace walls, he lived with every pleasure a young man could ever desire. The best teachers privately schooled him, he was renowned for his skill in archery and horse riding, he had a whole team of chefs to oversee his every meal and the most beautiful women were brought to dance and perform before him at his wish. He was a brilliant mind, and excelled at everything he tried. His very name, Siddhartha meant, "he whose purpose in life has been attained". It was predicted before his birth, that he would either become a very powerful and successful king or he would renounce the world and live the life of a priest. So his father did everything in his power to influence his path to follow that of a successful heir.
However, one day Siddhartha's curiosity drew him beyond the palace walls, he had always been a deep thinker with many questions as a child, and now he desired to see the world. What he encountered was very different than what he may have imagined. He saw people plagued with sickness, for the first time he saw the effects of true hunger, he witnessed the elderly struggling to walk to the market, and a man set on his cremation pier, all for the first time in his life. This upset the young prince who grew up with every luxury imaginable, and had never seen death or disease within the palace walls. He asked his friend, the charioteer who rode with him what had happened with this people and then wondered, "Will my beautiful wife and son also be like this one day?"
"Yes my lord, even Princess Yashodara, beautiful as the full moon on a cloudless night, will one day be claimed by old age and death. None of us with these flesh and blood bodies can escape these things."
Very soon after, on their way back to the palace, they saw a man seated on the side of the road, motionless and thin, but he seemed different. The young prince asked the charioteer, "Is this man also dead?"
"No my lord, he is a Siddha, one who has renounced the world and who has realized the Truth."
As Siddhartha spent the next few days in the palace, he contemplated what he saw, and how it made him feel. Compelled by an earnestness to find the Truth and a way to go beyond the realm of birth and death, Siddhartha began his journey, renouncing his future kingdom, and leaving all his wealth, family and riches behind with the single goal of finding a way to end suffering, and go beyond death. He said it was one of the hardest things he had to do, but his purpose and his mission were clear and nothing would stand in his way of realizing it.
During the Buddha's many years of intense practice he tried different means of achieving lasting peace and happiness, and ending suffering. He spent six years with the forest dwellers, austere ascetics, who denied their bodies of even the simplest of comforts. Often times these folk are depicted, unclothed, unshaven, half starved, owning nothing more than a begging bowl, spending every waking hour in prayer or performing strict austerities. It is said that the Siddhartha, towards the end of his time with the forest dwellers, in his attempt to break the desires and attachments of the body, went on a fast where he was eating no more than a single grain of rice every day, for months. This attracted many of the forest dwellers, and they bowed at his feet for performing such incredible self disciplines. Five of them became his disciples.
It became evident to him one day, when he came out of meditation and looked down at his shrunken body which had become so malnourished that he could see his spine protruding beneath his rib cage, that he would not last much longer like this, and these harsh practices were interfering with his meditation. This extreme was not the solution to what he sought.
By chance, or by divine connection, a young maiden was coming to the forest to pay alms, to share a blessed offering to the ascestics who practiced there. When she saw the radiant Siddhartha, she bowed and offered him the prasad, holy offering, and he ate slowly over the course of the evening until his hunger was satisfied, and he felt his strength begin to return.
When his disciples saw that this man whom they had put all their trust in change his course they were disgusted, called him a hypocrite and left him there by the bank of the river.
Again, Siddhartha was alone..but the real journey was only about to begin.
To be continued....
May you be Happy, Healthy, and Free from Suffering.
**Special Thanks to Eknath Easwaran for his inspiring transaltion of the Dhammapadda and the stories of the Buddhas Life.
OM SHANTHI. OM SHANTHI. OM SHANTHI.