6. Siddhartha’s First Meditation
THE prince grew older, and the time came for him to study with the teacher who instructed the young Sakyas in the art of writing. This teacher was called Visvamitra.
Siddhartha was entrusted to his care. He was given, to write on, a tablet of gilded sandal-wood, set round with precious stones. When he had it in his hands, he asked:
“Which script, master, would you have me learn?”
And he enumerated the sixty-four varieties of script. Then again he asked:
“Master, which of the sixty-four would you have me learn?”
Visvamitra made no answer: he was struck dumb with astonishment. Finally, he replied:
“I see, my lord, that there is nothing I can teach you. Of the scripts you mentioned, some are known to me only by name, and others are unknown to me even by name. It is I who should sit at your feet and learn. No, my lord, there is nothing I can teach you.”
He was smiling, and the prince returned his affectionate glance.
Upon leaving Visvamitra, the prince went into the country and started walking toward a village.
On the way, he stopped to watch some peasants working in the fields, then he entered a meadow where stood a clump of trees. They attracted him, for it was noon and very hot. The prince went and sat down in the shade of a tree; there, he began to ponder, and he was soon lost in meditation.
Five itinerant hermits passed near the meadow. They saw the prince meditating, and they wondered:
“Is he a God, he who is seated there, resting? Could he be the God of riches, or the God of love?
Could he be Indra, bearer of thunder, or the shepherd Krishna?”
But they heard a voice saying to them:
“The splendor of the Gods would pale before the splendor of this Sakya who sits under the tree and ponders majestic truths!”
Whereupon they all exclaimed:
“Verily, he who sits and meditates under the tree bears the marks of omnipotence; he will doubtless become the Buddha!”
Then they sang his praises, and the first one said: “To a world consumed by an evil fire, he has come like a lake. His law will refresh the world.”
The second one said: “To a world darkened by ignorance, he has come like a torch. His law will bring light into the world.”
The third one said: “Over the sea of suffering, that sea so difficult to sail, he has come like a ship. His law will bring the world safely into harbor.”
The fourth one said: “To those bound in chains of evil, he has come like a redeemer. His law will set the world free.”
The fifth one said: “To those tormented by old age and sickness, he has come like a savior. His law will bring deliverance from birth and death.”
Three times they bowed, then continued on their way.
In the meanwhile, King Suddhodana wondered what had become of the prince, and he sent many servants out to search for him. One of them found him absorbed in meditation. The servant drew near, then suddenly stopped, overcome with admiration. For the shadows of all the trees had lengthened, except of that tree under which the prince was seated. Its shadow had not moved; it still sheltered him.
The servant ran back to the palace of the king.
“My lord,” he cried, “I have seen your son; he is meditating under a tree whose shadow has not moved, whereas the shadows of all the other trees have moved and lengthened.”
Suddhodana left the palace and followed the servant to where his son was seated. Weeping for joy, he said to himself:
“He is as beautiful as fire on a mountain-top. He dazzles me. He will be the light of the world, and my limbs tremble when I see him thus in meditation.”
The king and his servant dared neither move nor speak. But some children passed by, drawing a little chariot after them. They were making a noise. The servant said to them, in a whisper:
“You must not make a noise.”
“Why?” asked the children.
“See him who meditates under the tree? That is Prince Siddhartha. The shadow of the tree has not left him. Do not disturb him, children; do you not see that he has the brilliance of the sun?”
But the prince awoke from his meditations. He rose and approaching his father, he said to him:
“We must stop working in the fields, father; we must seek the great truths.”
And he returned to Kapilavastu.