THE BUDDHA: Birth & Youth, part 3
Birth & Youth
Twenty-nine years old, profoundly troubled, Siddhartha was determined to comprehend the nature of suffering. He resolved to leave the palace. His wife had just given birth to a baby boy. Siddhartha called him Rahula—“fetter”.
D. Max Moerman, scholar: "He names his son Fetter. He names his son 'ball and chain'. This is the fetter that will keep me tethered to this life. This is what will keep me imprisoned."
Late one summer evening, Siddhartha went into his wife's room. A lamp of scented oil lit up. His wife lay sleeping on a bed strewn with flowers, cradling their newborn son in her arms. He gazed from the threshold, deep in thought:
“If I take my wife’s hand from my son's head and pick him up and hold him in my arms, it will be painful for me to leave.”
Internalizing the conflict, he turned away, and climbed down to the palace courtyard. His beloved horse Kanthaka was waiting. As he rode toward the city’s northern wall, he leapt high into the air. Mara, the tempter god of desire, was waiting.
"You are destined,” Mara told him, “to rule a great empire. Go back and worldly power will be yours." Siddhartha refused.
Jane Hirshfield, poet: "He left grief and probably absolute puzzlement and dismay in the hearts of wife and the infant son who was innocent and yet was suddenly fatherless, and of course his own father. But there is no knowledge won without sacrifice. And this is one of the hard truths of human existence. In order to gain anything you must first lose everything."
THE BUDDHA: Birth & Youth, part 2
Birth & Youth
The tales say he was the son of a king, raised in a palace with every imaginable luxury. He was called Siddhartha Gautama, a prince among a clan of warriors.
"When I was a child, I was delicately brought up, most delicately. A white sunshade was held over me day and night to protect me from cold, heat, dust, dirt, and dew. My father gave me three lotus ponds: one where red lotuses bloomed, one where white lotuses bloomed, one where blue lotuses bloomed."
Bob Tenzin Thurman, scholar: "The father wants him to be a king wants him to conquer the world and to be the emperor of India, which at that time was sixteen different kingdoms. And it was predicted that he would be able to conquer wherever he wanted if he remained as a king. So the father was creating this artificial environment to coddle him."
Jane Hirshfield, poet: "His father wanted to prevent him from ever noticing that anything might be wrong with the world because he hoped that he would stay in the life they knew and loved not go off as was predicted at his birth and possibly become a spiritual teacher rather than a king."
Shielded from pain and suffering, Siddhartha indulged in a life of pure pleasure, every whim satisfied, every desire fulfilled.
"I wore the most costly garments, ate the finest foods. I was surrounded by beautiful women. During the rainy season I stayed in my palace, where I was entertained by musicians and dancing girls. I never even thought of leaving."
When he was sixteen, his father, drawing him tighter into palace life, married him to his cousin. It wasn't long before they fell in love.
Thurman: "He was so in love with her. There is a story that on their honeymoon which was about ten years long. At one time they rolled off the roof that they were making love on while in union and they fell down but landed in a bed of lotuses and lilies and didn’t notice they had fallen."
And so, the stories say, he indulged himself for twenty-nine years, until the shimmering bubble of pleasure burst.
D. Max Moerman, scholar: "His father does everything he can to never let him leave, never let him see the suffering that life is, but one day he goes outside and he has the first of four encounters. First he sees a sick man and doesn’t quite understand what it is. He asks his attendant and the attendant says, 'oh that happens to all of us.'"
Venerable Metteyya Sakyaputta, monk: "Everybody gets sick, and don’t think you’re a prince you’ll not get sick, your father will get sick, your mom will get sick, everybody will become sick."
Mark Epstein, psychiatrist: "Then he sees that it isn’t just this sick person, in fact it’s universal and something is stimulated inside of him. So he keeps getting the chariot driver to take him out and he sees you know horror after horror."
Moerman: "He sees an old man and he asks his attendant, and the attendant says. Oh that’s change, one doesn’t always stay young and perfect. And on his third trip outside, he meets a corpse. And he recognizes impermanence, and suffering, and death as the real state of things. The world that he had been protected from, shielded from, kept from seeing."
Hirshfield: "And he was shocked. You know he was shocked and he realized this is my fate, too. I will also become old. I will also become ill. I will also die. How do I deal with these things? These are universal questions in any human being’s life: what it’s like to be in a body inside of time, and our fate. And how do we navigate that? It really is a tale of the transformation from a certain naïve, innocent relationship to your own life to wanting to know the full story, wanting to know the full truth."
Moerman: "And then the fourth trip outside he sees a spiritual seeker: someone who has decided to live a life completely other than his life in order to escape from impermanence, suffering, and death. So he has this sort of traumatic encounter with the pain and suffering of life."
Epstein: "We try to protect our children. We don’t want to let our children see all the pain that’s in the world. But at a very early age, at a time before he could remember anything, at a time before there was conceptual thought he already suffered the worst kind of loss that one could suffer. Suddenly and mysteriously, his mother died when he was a week old. So something tragic happened you know right at the beginning. That might be what it takes to become a Buddha is that you have to suffer on such a primitive level."
THE BUDDHA: Birth & Youth, part 1
Birth & Youth
Twenty-five hundred years ago, nestled in a fertile valley along the border between India and Nepal, a child was born who was to become the Buddha. The stories say that before his birth, his mother, the queen of a small Indian kingdom, had a dream.
A beautiful white elephant offered the queen a lotus flower, and then, entered the side of her body. When sages were asked to interpret the dream, they predicted the queen would give birth to a son destined to become either a great ruler or a holy man.
One day, they said, he would either conquer the world, or become an enlightened being—the Buddha.
Jane Hirshfield, poet: "People like stories. It is one of the ways we learn. The story of the Buddha’s life is an archetypal journey. But it is a means to an end. It is not an end."
Within ten months, as a tree lowered a branch to support her, a baby boy was born, emerging from her side. Seven days later, the Queen died. The Buddha would one day teach his followers:
“The world is filled with pain and sorrow. But I have found a serenity that you can find, too.”
W. S. Merwin, poet: "Everybody understands suffering. It's something that we all share with everybody else. It's at once utterly intimate, and utterly shared. So Buddha says, 'That's a place to begin. That's where we begin.'"
Hirshfield: "No matter what your circumstances, you will end up losing everything you love, you will end up aging, you will end up ill. And the problem is that we need to figure out a way how to make that all be all right."
Mark Epstein, psychiatrist: "What he actually said was that life is blissful. There’s joy everywhere only we’re closed off to it. His teachings were actually about opening up the joyful or blissful nature of reality, but the bliss and the joy is in the transitoriness.
[Ajahn Chah said] 'Do you see this glass? I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. But when the wind blows and the glass falls off the shelf and breaks or if my elbow hits it and it falls to the ground I say of course. But when I know that the glass is already broken every minute with it is precious.'"
His Holiness the Dalai Lama: "Everybody, every human being want happiness. And Buddha, he act like teacher. 'You are your own master. Future, everything depends on your own shoulder.' Buddha’s responsibility is just to show the path, that’s all"
Hirshfield: "The Buddha can shine out from the eyes of anybody. Inside the buffeting of an ordinary human life at any moment what the Buddha found, we can find"
In Southern Nepal, at the foot of the Himalayas, is one of the world's holiest places, Lumbini where, according to the sacred tales, the Buddha was born. Today, Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world make their way here to be in the presence of the sage whose life story is inseparable from centuries of anecdotes and legends.
D. Max Moerman, scholar: "There are countless stories of the Buddha. Each tradition, each culture, each time period has their own stories. We have lots of visual narratives and artwork from all over Buddhist Asia. But the first written material actually, the first biography say of the Buddha really we don’t see that before about 500 years after his death. For the first few centuries, Buddhist narrative was oral."
Merwin: "Historically, it is based on something certainly that happened. There must have been someone who corresponded with Gautama Buddha, but we don't know. We don't know how much of it is pure fairy tale, and how much of it is historic fact. But it doesn't matter. It touches something that we all basically know."
Moerman: "The relevance of it is in the message of the story. The promise of the story, like any good story it has a lot to teach. So the story of his life then is a beautiful way of telling the teaching. The Buddha said:"
"He who sees me sees the teaching and he who sees the teaching sees me.”
Born five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Buddha would grow to manhood in a town vanished long ago. For nearly three decades, he would see nothing of the world beyond.