THE LIFE OF SAKYAMUNI BUDDHA
11. The Prince Leaves Home
The king, Siddhartha’s father, arranged a grand dinner and dance for the prince to celebrate the birth of Rahula. Invited were the best dancers, singers and musicians in the country. It was not just out of joy that the king arranged the celebration. He could see that the prince was depressed and that his new baby son was not giving him happiness. The king was afraid Siddhartha was planning to leave the palace for good and, for the last time, did his best to distract him away from his sombre reflections and back to the abundance of palace life.
The prince attended the party just to please his father. During the dinner the most delicious food was served, the most enchanting and beautiful dancing girls in the country performed, the most sensitive musicians played and the finest puppets and magicians performed incredible feats. But Siddhartha was so tired from thinking that he soon fell asleep.
When the singers and the dancers saw this they too stopped and fell asleep. Some time later that night the prince awoke and was shocked to see these sleeping people. What a sight! All the prettiest, most charming dancing girls, the finest singers, best musicians and cleverest performers in the country, who, hours ago, were trying to make the prince so happy, were now all over the floor of the room in the most ugly, shameful and loathsome positions. Some people were snoring like pigs, with their mouths wide open, some grinding and chewing their teeth like hungry devils. This alteration in their appearance made the prince even more disgusted and unhappy. “How oppressive and stifling this all is,” he thought, and his mind turned again towards leaving the palace. He got up quietly from the room and, waking Channa, asked for his horse, Kanthaka, to be saddled.
As Channa was preparing his horse, Siddhartha went quietly to see his newborn son for the first time. His wife was sleeping with the baby beside her, her hand resting on the baby’s head. The prince said to himself, “If I try to move her hand so I can take the child for one last cuddle I fear I will wake her and she will prevent me from going. No! I must go, but when I have found what I am looking for, I shall come back and see him and his mother again.”
Quietly then, Siddhartha left the palace. It was midnight, and the prince was on his white horse Kanthaka with Channa, his faithful servant, holding on to its tail. Nobody stopped him as he rode away from all who knew, respected and loved him. He took a last look at the city of Kapilavatthu — sleeping so quietly in the moonlight. He was going away to learn to understand old age, sickness and death. He rode to the bank of the river Anoma (“illustrious”) and dismounted from his horse. He removed his jewellery and princely clothes and gave them to Channa to return to the king. Then the prince took his sword and cut his long hair, donned simple clothes, took a begging bowl and asked Channa to go back with Kanthaka.
“It is no use living in the palace without you, my master,” said Channa very sadly, “I want to follow you.” But Siddhartha would not allow him to stay, although Channa asked three times.
At last Channa started to go, but Kanthaka refused. The prince talked to the horse very kindly. “Please, Kanthaka, go with my friend. Don’t wait for me.” But Kanthaka thought, “I shall never see my master again.” Tears rolled down from the horse’s eyes as it kept them fixed on the prince, until he turned to go away and walked out of sight. As Siddhartha disappeared over the horizon, so Kanthaka’s heart burst, and he died of sorrow.
EXERCISE 11. The Prince Leaves Home
1. Who did the king invite to attend the dinner party?
2. What was the prince doing while the party was going on?
3. What did he see when he woke up?
4. Where did he quietly go then?
5. What did he ask Channa to do?
6. After crossing the Anoma River what did he ask Channa to do?
7. What did Kanthaka do?