Leaving Home

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Chapter Five: Leaving Home

The son of the Sakya king, however, was not one of those people who gets caught up in sensuality; he did not give in to erotic inclinations and in fact, could not enjoy any of that.  He was like a lion wounded to the very heart by a poisoned arrow.

Then one day, wanting to visit the forest glades to get away for awhile, with his father's permission he went out accompanied by some sons of his father's ministers who were his friends. 

On his good horse Kanthaka decked out with bells and a shiny gold bridle, a beautiful golden harness and the yak-tail chowrie waving, he went out like the moon riding a comet.

Lured by his fondness for the woods and his love of the outdoors, he went to a spot nearby on the edge of the forest where he saw a piece of land being tilled.  The path of the plough made sinuous grooves in the soil that looked like waves on water.  

Seeing the ground like that with the young grass scattered and torn by the plough, all covered with the eggs and young of tiny dead insects, he was filled with a sorrow as deep as for the slaughter of his own kind.  And for the men as they were ploughing, their dirty faces, the sun beating down on them and the wind, and their poor oxen dizzy from going back and forth, that Noble One felt extreme compassion.

So he dismounted and as he walked slowly over the ground, overcome with sorrow he pondered the birth and destruction of the world, and in grief he exclaimed, "This is a very sad state of affairs."

Then he felt like being completely alone with his thoughts, so he told his friends to stay where they were and he went to the base of a solitary rose-apple with beautiful, trembling leaves.  And there he sat down on the leaf-strewn ground, its new grass as shiny as beryl; and contemplating the origin and destruction of the world, he began to meditate.

In this concentration he was immediately freed from all sources of misery such as the desire for material objects and all the rest that goes along with that, and he reached the first stage of calm meditation untouched by negativity and without any intellectualization.

He reached samadhi, the bliss of meditation, but then after some consideration and having thoroughly comprehended the way the world goes, thought, "It is really terrible that human beings, all of whom are powerless and subject to sickness, old age, and death, can be so blinded by passion and ignorance that they feel dismay at other people in that very same pathetic condition."

"If I ever felt disgust for someone who was just like myself, that would really be beneath my dignity as a human being."

And as he thoroughly considered the awfulness of sickness, old age, and death as it affects all living beings, any joy he had felt in his physical well-being, his youth and his lot in life, vanished in a single instant.

He felt neither joy nor regret; no reluctance, lethargy nor fatigue.  He felt no attraction to anything, nor was he repelled by anyone.

And as this pure, unemotional meditation grew within him, unobserved by the others a man dressed as a beggar crept up to where he was. 

The prince asked him a question -- he said to him, "Will you tell me who you are?" and the person replied, "My lord, [bull of men] I was terrified at the thought of birth and death, and so I  became an ascetic -- for the sake of liberation.  Because I want to be free from a world subject to destruction, I seek that happy, indestructible place where, away from other people, my  thoughts will be unlike theirs -- my inclinations will not be focused on sensual things.  

"I live anywhere at all: in the roots of a tree or in an uninhabited house, on a mountain or in a forest. I wander without family and without anticipation, and I accept whatever it is that I get as a beggar, though I am searching only for the finest thing."

When he had finished speaking and with the prince still watching, he suddenly flew right up into the sky.  It was a deva who had read the prince's thoughts despite his rich appearance and had come in order to encourage him.

When the "beggar" had left like a bird in the sky, the Prince cheered up, quite amazed, for now having comprehended the meaning of the term "dharma," [duty] he was set on his way to achieving liberation.

Then as regally as Indra himself, having mastered his feelings, he wanted to go home so he mounted his fine horse, and coaxed him around to look for his companions for he had no further need to be in that particular forest.

Intent on putting an end to old age and death, determined to dwell in the woods, he re-entered the city.  But reluctantly, like an elephant entering the ring after roaming wild in the jungle.

~~~~~   ~~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~   ~

"The woman whose husband you are is truly a happy and blessed person, handsome prince!" exclaimed a pretty woman putting her palms together when she saw him coming along the road.

He whose voice was as resonant as that of a thundercloud heard her, but he was only filled with a profound calm, for the word 'blessed' made him think of attaining Nirvana.

Then the Prince whose form gave the impression of a golden mountain peak; whose eye, voice, and arm recalled in turn, a bull, a cloud, an elephant; whose face and whose prowess were like the moon, and a lion, now aroused and longing for something imperishable, went into his palace.

Then advancing as purposefully as a lion, he went towards the king attended by his many councillors.  It was like Sanatkumara, 'eternal prince' who is also called Murugan, son of Brahma, as he met Indra resplendent in the company of the Maruts.  [In the Chandogya Upanishad, wise Sanatkumara explains to Narada without being asked, that he is an Ativadin who knows the Highest Truth.]

Bowing low with his hands together, he addressed his father, "Please grant me your permission, Lord, for I would like to become a wandering mendicant for the sake of liberation, since that is what I was meant for."

The king shook like a tree hit by an elephant when he heard that, and he took hold of his son's  hands that were still together like a lotus bud, and in a voice choked with tears he said to him, "Dear son, forget that idea.  This stage in your life is not the time to devote yourself to dharma.  They say that practicing religion when you are yet at an impressionable age is a very bad thing to do. 

"The mind of a thoughtless, inexperienced young man who is still eager for worldly things and who has none of the discipline required for maintaining spiritual commitments should shrink from any idea of living like a forest hermit since that lifestyle is so totally unforgiving.

"Instead, it is high time for me to practice religion, my dear child, so that I can leave the royal glory to you whose turn it is now, and who deserves it. Your devotion, resolute hero, is to be the warrior you were meant to be and it would be against the principles of our religion if you were to abandon your own father at this stage.

"Please give up that idea.  Devote yourself for now to the duties of a householder and once you have finished enjoying the pleasures of a man in his prime of life, then later on you can enjoy doing penance as a hermit all alone in the woods."

He listened to the king, and replied in a small, soft voice sparrow's voice, "If you can guarantee, your majesty, that four specific misfortunes will never befall me, then I will not go into retreat.

"Promise that my life will not end in death.  Promise that I will never suffer from a disease; that I will never get old or that misfortune will never ruin me."

When his son had uttered what seemed like a riddle, the king of the Sakyas could only reply, " Oh, give up that ridiculous idea of leaving home.  You are just making a fool of yourself."

But he was as firm as Mount Meru when he next addressed his father. "If what I ask is truly  impossible, then you certainly will not have to prevent me.  But it would not be right to try and hang on to a person trying to escape from a burning building."

"Separation is a sad fact of life, but this kind of separation is a commendable one because of Dharma.  Won't  death eventually cut me off completely so  that I could never achieve my goals and never be fulfilled?"

The monarch heard the determination and the longing for liberation in his son's arguments so he exclaimed, "He shall not go," and gave orders for guards to be posted, and he arranged for all kinds of diversions, too.

Then the king's kindly advisors lectured the prince respectfully on what the Shastras said concerning the stages of life and the duties of a son to his parents and having been tearfully forbidden again by his father, the sorrowful prince went back to his own quarters.

There his wives gazed longingly and with concern at him, their faces kissed by their dangling earrings, and heavy sighs caused their bosoms to heave as if being nuzzled by little fawns.  For he was as bright as a golden mountain, and the hearts of the noblewomen were completely under his spell.  Everything about him captivated them: his speech, touch, looks and personality.

When evening came, then he appeared glowing like the sun.  He went upstairs in the palace like the rising sun ascending the slopes of Mount Meru intent on dispelling the darkness with its splendour.

Once there in the women's quarters, he took his seat on a golden throne embellished with diamonds, in a hall ablaze with the gold of tall lighted candlesticks, its interior filled with the scent of black aloeswood incense.
Then during the night a whole orchestra of musical instruments, the party of noble women, attended this most noble man who resembled Indra, in the very same way that crowds of apsaras [<divine performer, 3rd image, Gal. 14] entertain Kubera's son high atop Himavat, White-as-the-moon.

But none of the heavenly music made by those beautiful instruments could move him to pleasure or delight since he could not stop thinking of a much higher kind of bliss that he could only attain by leaving home.

Then by the power of the Akanishthas who are heaven's own siddhas [ascetics and yogis] and who understood the purpose of his heart, a spell of deep sleep was suddenly cast upon the women and they were frozen in grotesque positions of sleep.

One lay resting her cheek on her trembling arm as if in anger she had just rejected her beloved lute decorated with gold-leaf though it still lay beside her.

Another one, her flute still clinging to her hand, lay shining with her white garments fallen from her bosom.  She looked like a river whose banks are smiling with foam and whose lotuses are covered by a ridge of bees.

In sleep, another lay embracing her drum as a lover.  Her arms with their closely linked bracelets blazing with gold were as tender as young lotus shoots.

Others bedecked in new golden ornaments and wearing peerless yellow garments, had fallen down helpless with sleep like the boughs of a karnikara  (bearing droopy clusters of golden flowers) all broken by an elephant.

Another, leaning against the window frame, her willowy form bent like a bow with her beautiful necklace hanging down, and she glowed there in the light like a sculpture in its niche.

The lotus-face of another, her make-up smeared by the jeweled earrings, was lying curved like a lotus whose stalk bent in a semi-circle, quivers from the weight of a duck standing on it.

Others shone in their beauty as they dozed right where they sat, their limbs compressed by the weight of their breasts, clasping one another with twining arms wrapped in golden bangles.

Yet another young woman lay sound asleep, embracing her big lute as if it were a girlfriend, rocking it while its golden strings trembled, her face framed in brightly twinkling earrings.  Another lay beside her with her long tanpura. 

But others resembled lotus-beds at sunset when the buds are closed, for though they were big-eyed and fair-browed, there was no gleam at all coming from beneath their lids.  

One, her hair loose and disheveled, her skirts and ornaments fallen from her hips, lay with her necklaces in a jumble like a woman crushed by an elephant and then dropped.

Others, helpless, lay shamelessly exposed though normally they were poised and well-groomed ladies, and they snored as they lay and yawned with their arms all distorted as they tossed and turned.

Some, their ornaments and garlands discarded, their garments undone and spread out, lay unconscious but with their bright eyes wide open and motionless, totally bereft of any beauty as if they were dead.

A full-bodied one lay with her mouth wide open, saliva dripping from it, and her body was completely exposed as if she had passed out from intoxication.  She was silent, her limbs grotesquely bent.

That group of women all lying in a variety of positions that seemed to reflect their different personalities and class, gave the impression of a lake whose lotuses were all bent and broken by the wind.

Then no matter how beautiful and graceful they normally appeared, when the king's son looked at those young women spasmodically twitching in distorted positions, he could feel nothing but disgust.

"So that's what they really look like.  Women are filthy monstrous creatures in disguise.  They conceal their true nature with clothing and ornaments in order to seduce men.

"If a man only considered the natural state of women as revealed by them in their sleep, he surely would not hang on to his delusions.  But since he gets enchanted by them, he falls under their spell and gives in to his passionate feelings.

Having recognized that, he felt such a strong desire to escape into the night that the gods took notice and flung open the palace doors!

Then he went downstairs from the upper floor of the palace where all those women were grotesquely lying and undaunted, he next went out into the courtyard.

He awakened Chanda, the nimble groom, and said to him, "Quickly! Fetch my horse Kamthaka, for today's the day I leave on my quest for immortality.

"My heart is set on it, and since I made the decision calmly, and though I am all alone even if I do seem to have a guide, I am convinced my goal lies within reach.

"Now's the time for me to leave, for those women lying there in front of me like that, without any shame or modesty, and the two doors opening all by themselves, are a kind of sign that I should go now if I know what's good for me."

Then the syce did as he was told even though he knew the king's express injunctions went against it.  It was as if he were being coaxed along mentally by some higher power, and he set about fetching  the horse.

Then he led out for his master that noble, surefooted steed, full of power, endurance, and speed, the golden bit in his mouth, his coat burnished by the blanket that had covered him. 

His body was long, lean, and narrow, as were his legs.  Of quiet temperament, he had broad nostrils, a short, silky coat and a sparse, short mane between his fine ears.  His light, elegant body had excellent sloping shoulders with prominent withers gently curving to the high croup and sloping hindquarters.   [Points of a horse.]

The broad-shouldered hero embraced and stroked him with his graceful hand, and firmly but in gentle tones as if wanting him to plunge into the midst of the fray of battle: "The king has often beaten formidable enemies mounted on you.  Do your best for me, too, Finest Horse, so that I may be victorious -- over life and death."

"In the thick of battle, it's easy to make a friend, or when we are successful in business and making money; but it's hard for a man to find a friend when he has fallen on hard times or when he's running away to seek refuge in the dharma.  And so all those in this world who truly are friends, whether partners in crime or in the search for Truth, deep down I am sure that the reason they're together is because they share a common goal.

Using will power I have made my escape from here, for my own good and the good of the world, and my objective is a righteous one.  So, Finest Horse, do your best with your speed and power, for your own good and the good of the world.

Having coaxed that superior steed as if recalling a friend to his duty, this superior man yearning to go off to the forest, magnificently as in an aura of flame mounted the glowing horse as the sun does an autumn cloud.

Then that good steed, careful not to make any sudden noise that might startle someone awake in the dead of night and rouse the whole household, did not make a sound -- no nickering, no whinnying -- totally silent he took off, galloping full tilt.

Nymphs and yakshas bent over, and extending their graceful forearms adorned with golden bracelets, tossed from lotus hands amazing lotus flowers that supported the flying hooves as off he shot.

(At night) the city roads were barred with such heavy gates that even elephants could not easily open, but they flew open silently all by themselves as the prince passed through.

With great determination, without a moment's hesitation, he left behind his doting father and his young son, his adoring people and the luxurious lifestyle, and fled his father's city.

Then with elongated eyes like lotuses in bloom he looked back at the city, and roared out loud, "Till I have seen the Further Shore of birth and death, I will never again return to Kapilavastu."

When Kubera's courtiers heard that cry they cheered, and thousands of gods applauded and wished him every success.  Other heavenly beings with forms bright as fire, knowing that his task would not be an easy one, produced a light for his dewy path -- moonbeams gleaming through rifts in the clouds.

But while his mount, lord of bay horses just like Indra's steed, flew across the miles, his mind as if spurred along too, went racing over all the many conflicting emotions, as in the sky the banks of clouds became all checkered with the light of dawn.


Of the ancient equine breeds that might have been current, the Akhal - Teke horse of southern Turkmenistan seems to fit the description.

" The cult of the horse, a common feature among many Asian cultures, was an essential part of the bellicose Turkmen culture. A good horse could make the difference between life and death for its rider. More than that, the Akhal-Teke was a source of great personal pride to its owner and an esteemed part of the human family to which it belonged: blanketed in cold weather, often fed by hand and decorated with neck and chest ornaments. To this day Akhal-Tekes often bond closely with their human partners; they are usually sensitive to the way they are treated. Responsive to gentle training, they can be stubborn and resentful if treated rudely." 

~  http://www.imh.org/imh/bw/akhal.html

*Cassia fistula, Indian laburnum or Golden Showers tree.

pretty woman: She is sometimes named as Gotami which may imply she was a herder or merely refer to her clan name.

NEXT:  Chapter 6 Saying Good-bye

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