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
"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
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.
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"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
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
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
[<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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
" 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."
*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
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