Ajahn

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Great Renunciation

The newly married Prince and Princess lived a very happy life together.  Princess Yasodhara learnt all the psychic and physical art from the Prince.  They were very friendly.  (Later on when Princess Yasodhara became enlightened as a Maha Arhant she was able to perform many psychic feats that were performed by the Buddha, except “Yama Maha Prathiharya”which is exclusive to a Buddha alone; even though she never displayed them due to her modesty as a Princess, in the art of performing miracles she was second only to the Buddha -refer "Yasodharawatha").  

Sinhalese Artist's depiction of the Prince leaving to become
a wandering monk on the "Asala" (July) full moon night.
Four years passed and the Princess became pregnant with their first child. Therefore, it was not advisable for her to take rides on horse-carriage anymore.  One evening the Prince went for a ride alone in horse carriage with Channa, his aide, farther than normally, to the out skirts of the city. Then he came across an aged man, who was so bitten by age and disease that he could not fend for himself.  The Prince got down and helped him into a shelter where he would be better off.  He blessed this aged man with his powerful thoughts of loving kindness (Mettha) and felt he would become better and relieved from his pain and suffering.  However, the next day he found him worse, his disease had got the better of him, and however much the Prince tried to comfort him, that helped only a little.  The Prince was so sad that he could not help this poor man stricken by disease.  On the third day in spite of all his efforts the man was found dead, and the Prince saw his body being taken away to the burial ground.  The Prince was deeply struck by these events.  He could not believe that, nothing could help this man.  All his powers as a Prince, and all his education and healing methods could not relieve this man from his pain.  The Prince was rendered helpless, in this instance.  Then Channa dropped the bombshell.  He said that there are many like that man in this Shakyan kingdom.  The Prince was gravely concerned.  All this time, he thought that he would govern righteously, and help all his subjects to be happy and live a peacefully contented life in his kingdom free of misery. He took it to his heart that when he ultimately accepts the throne, he would do all in his power to keep his people peaceful and happy. Now he was made powerless in spite of all his education, mental and physical abilities as a very brilliant and intelligent young man. He felt what use is there being the King to govern above people, if his people are going to suffer like this. 

This incident made him reflect on life deeply.  He did not accept the fact that people are born to suffer in life like this.  As was customary in India at that time, he too believed in Athman, and thought there definitely must be a way out of this tragic situation in life.  He was determined to find out.   He wanted to seek the truth behind what caused all this suffering and relieve everybody from sorrow and despair.  He did not believe that people are created to suffer and die a tragic death. It cannot be true; there must be a better and serene way of living he thought. He cancelled his trip to the out skirts of the city that day and returned home.

On the fourth day, he saw a wondering monk, dressed in saffron robes.  This monk’s quite countenance, placid footsteps, calm gaze unaffected by the world around him, impressed the Prince very much.  He realized that this is the way to seek the end of suffering for mankind. The life in the Palace full of luxuries and pleasures, seemed to Him loud and possessive. It would never yield the results that the quiet mind would have. A silent mind would gain wisdom. He realized that he needs to be a monk, giving up the lay life to seek the truth behind suffering.  He did not want to waste a single day more, he returned to the Palace, determined to become a monk himself.  As a monk he would  possess nothing, and alone he can take any risk.

Thus resolved he reached the Palace. Just as he entered a messenger brought him the news that a baby son was born to Him and Princess Yasodhara.  This was a huge “block”on his way.  The first word that came to his lips was “ A Rahula” has been born. Ruhula means a barrier.  Thus, the baby prince was named Rahula. Prince Siddhartha, quietly, went to the bad chamber, to have look at the baby, and found the Princess asleep with the baby.  Without disturbing them, knowing that they would be well looked after in the Royal Household, he left to face the inevitable alone, by himself. He never, wanted the Princess to know and thereby worry her about him.  He would venture out alone and take the chance of becoming a homeless, penny less monk who has nothing in the world. When one has nothing in the world, it gives freedom to seek the truth about life, he thought.   This path he would take for the sake of all mankind. He would go far out of Kapilavasthupura, so that his father could not find him.  He will not return until he has found the way out of suffering for his family, his subjects and all human beings.

With Channa he departed on his faithful horse and crossed the river Anoma, and entered the precincts of Rajagaha, where he cut off his hair and donned a saffron robe.  He handed over the royal garments and jewellery to Channa requesting them to be returned to his father sending message that he became a monk.  His horse Kanthaka, having fulfilled his duties to his master on this lifetime, and knowing that His master will not need him anymore, watched Him disappear in the distance as a monk became aggrieved and passed away to be  born in Thusitha heavens whence he came to this world, to perform his last services for the Buddha to be.

Little did he know then, that it would take him longer that he ever imagined and more difficult than he ever envisaged.

A Sinhalese artist's depiction of the Prince cutting his hair off,  while Indra the Cheif of the Deva realms waits in the background to offer him a robe and bowl to become a mendicant monk in his noble endeavours to find out the Truth behind suffering and thereby set all mankind free.