Story of the Buddha - Edith Holland

The King Sends for His Son

You may wonder what had been happening at Kapilavatthu during the last seven years of our story. Neither the King, nor Yasodhara, nor any of his relations had seen Gotama since the night of his flight, when he went forth into homelessness to lead the life of a beggar. You will remember the King's anxiety lest he should lose his son, but all his precautions had been in vain, and on that fateful July night the noble horse Khantaka had borne his master away in the white moonlight, far beyond the bounds of the Sakya land. There was wailing and bitter grief in the palace when the Prince's flight was discovered, and the King had no news of his son until Channa, the charioteer, returned after some days bearing the Prince's jewels. From time to time Suddhodana had sent out messengers to find out what Siddhattha was doing and where he was staying, and great was the King's grief when he heard that his son was so changed by fasting and penance that none would have recognized him.

But one day King Suddhodana was told that his son was well, that he had become a Buddha, and was staying in a bamboo grove near Rajagaha with many followers whom he had converted to his faith. The King rejoiced greatly, and longed to see his son again. So he called one of the nobles of his court, and sent him with a thousand men to Rajagaha.

"Go to my son," he said; "tell him that the King, his father, wishes to see him, and return, bringing my son with you."

Time passed, but the messenger did not return, neither did he send the King any word of his son. After a while Suddhodana dispatched another Sakya chief, also accompanied by a thousand men, and bade him take a message to Siddhattha. Then the King waited anxiously for news; and Yasodhara, longing to hear of her husband, gazed many times from the palace roof in the direction of Rajagaha, hoping to catch a glimpse of the travellers. But there was no sign of them, neither did the King receive any message. At last he dispatched nine more nobles, each with a guard of a thousand men, but of these also nothing was heard.

Then the King thought, "Whom can I trust to do my bidding?" and he sent for a man named Kala Udayin, who had always served him faithfully; he was the same age as Siddhattha, and had been his friend and playfellow. The King said to him: "None of the messengers whom I have sent to my son have returned, nor have they sent me any word. I pray you go to him and tell him I long to see him before I die; I am now advanced in years, and the end of my life cannot be far off."

Kala Udayin promised that he would do the King's bidding, and took his leave. Having arrived at Rajagaha, he found that all the messengers who had been sent before him had been converted and become monks, so they had thought no more of the King's message.

When Kala Udayin went to the Bamboo Grove and took his place in the assembly to listen to the Master's words, he too was converted, and resolved to devote his life to religion. But he kept the King's message in his mind, and when the month of March was come and the scent of spring was in the air, he went to Gotama and told him how much his father longed to see him.

"And now," said Udayin, "that the spring is come and the roads are dry and the woods full of flowers, it is a good time to undertake a journey."

So Gotama resolved to go and visit his father, and he sent word to his followers to make themselves ready to accompany him, for the monks were to lead a wandering life, travelling from place to place to preach the doctrine. As Gotama and his disciples travelled on foot, the journey took them some time, and two months passed before they arrived at Kapilavatthu. The King, who had had notice of their approach, was waiting at the city gates to welcome his son. His brothers and nephews and some of the maidens of the royal family had accompanied him, and young children, carrying flowers, walked in front of the procession.

There was a shady banyan grove outside the city gates, where huts and shelters had been built for the Buddha and his disciples, for monks must not live in palaces or luxurious houses. A banyan is a kind of fig-tree which grows in India and Ceylon; it reaches a great height, and its branches arching downward take root, thus forming new trunks; these in their turn throw out branches which take root in the same way, so that in time a single tree will cover a large extent of ground. Thus a banyan grove, such as the one in which the Buddha and his disciples dwelt, looks like a vast cathedral, with its clusters of natural pillars and over-arching roof beneath which the fierce glare of the sun is subdued to a dim and pleasant shade.

The Sakyas had always been a proud people. Though Gotama's uncles came to welcome him, they were displeased to see one of their race a shaven monk begging for his daily food. They had determined not to bow down before their young kinsman, but seeing the King at his son's feet they felt obliged to honour the Buddha. This was the third time that King Suddhodana had bowed down before his son; the first time was when the old hermit prophesied Siddhattha's future greatness; the second, when the shadow of the jambu-tree remained fixed to shelter the young child from the burning sun, and now, when Suddhodana saw his son as a perfect Buddha, he again bowed down before him. But though he thus honoured him, the King still longed to see his son a great monarch, ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth, and he spoke to him of the delights and splendours of his early life at home. The Buddha replied that the joys he had gained were greater than those he had given up.

Now it happened that neither Suddhodana nor his brothers had invited the Buddha and his disciples to come for their meal on the following day. So in the morning Gotama took his begging-bowl and entered his native town. How strange must it have seemed to the people that their Prince, who might one day have ruled over them, should be begging his food in the streets of his capital! The Buddha looked so calm and serene, and his face shone with so glorious a light, that the people bowed down to him as though he had been a god.

When the King heard that Prince Siddhattha was begging in the streets, he was very angry, and, gathering up his robes, strode out of the palace to find his son.

"Why do you shame your family by begging?" he exclaimed.

The Buddha replied that those of his race had always done as he did. "We come of a noble line of kings and warriors," Suddhodana replied, "and not one of our race has ever begged his food." Gotama explained that by his race he meant the prophets of old, the former Buddhas, who, having nothing of their own, had always lived by the charity of others. And then Gotama uttered the following verse:

"Rise up and loiter not,

Follow after a holy life!

Who follows virtue rests in bliss,

Both in this world and in the next."

The King's heart was softened, and taking his son's begging-bowl from him he led him to the palace, where he provided a plentiful meal for all the Buddha's disciples. Perhaps the slaves and attendants who came to wait on the beggars remembered the very different scene, seven years before, when Gotama had last entered his father's house. Resplendent in his royal robes and glittering jewels, the young Prince had driven to the palace from the gardens; and the people, rejoicing over the glad news of his son's birth, had followed the gaily painted chariot in festal procession. But even then had Siddhattha resolved in his heart to renounce all that most men hold dear in this life. That night he had left his home, not to return until he came as a homeless wanderer, begging his food from door to door.

When the monks had finished their meal, the women of the royal household came to do reverence to the Buddha. But Yasodhara was not with them; she had remained in her own chamber, for she thought, "If my lord still cares for me he will come and seek me here." Gotama, noticing the absence of his wife, presently rose and went to the Princess's apartments, accompanied by the king and two disciples. And Yasodhara, hearing their footsteps, rose up hastily to meet her lord. That he would not be as she had last seen him—a noble Prince in the prime of manhood, glorious in his beauty and royal state—this Yasodhara well knew; yet, when she stood face to face with the shaven monk clad in coarse yellow robes, she was utterly overcome, and fell sobbing at his feet. Then she realized for the first time how far her husband had gone from her, how wide a gulf separated them. The calmness and beauty of another world shone in his face, and Yasodhara felt that the love which had once been hers alone was now to be shared by every living being.

We may wonder what were Gotama's thoughts during this meeting with his wife, but of these we know nothing. Those who have reached that 'other shore'—the Peace of Nirvana—are beyond the reach of human passions; having conquered themselves they cannot again be conquered. But that Gotama comforted his sorrowing wife we need not doubt, for in the heart of a Buddha there is an infinite compassion and tenderness, a deep understanding of human weakness and sorrow. Gotama did not stay long in his wife's presence, but soon took his leave and departed.

The proud Sakya lords had at first been displeased at seeing their kinsman a monk and a beggar, but when they heard the Buddha preach the doctrine of peace and deliverance many were convinced of the truth of his words; several of his relations, including his half-brother Nanda, became monks and gave up their royal state. King Suddhodana, however, was not among the earliest converts, but later on he too believed and, as we read, entered the paths.

Gotama had a young cousin called Ananda, and a wise man had prophesied that he would become the Buddha's disciple and close attendant. So Ananda's father, fearing to lose his son, did all he could to prevent a meeting between the cousins. But his precautions were vain. One day Ananda came by chance into the Buddha's presence; like many others, he at once felt the influence of the Master's great and noble nature, and when Gotama rose up to go Ananda followed him, and none could keep him back.

You will perhaps remember Devadatta, Gotama's wicked cousin, who had been so unfriendly to him when the two were boys together; he also became a convert to the new doctrine, and joined the Brotherhood of Monks, but his conversion was not very sincere, as we shall see later on.

Among the converts at Kapilavatthu there were a great many women; some of these went to the Buddha and begged him to allow them to enter the Order as nuns; but he would not consent to this, and it was not until some years later that he allowed women to join the Order.

But Yasodhara continued to grieve for her lost husband; her love for Siddhattha blinded her to all else, and she could not face the bitter truth that henceforth he would be as a stranger to her. One day, having put on her royal robes and her jewels, Yasodhara went with her maidens to the place where Gotama came to receive his food, thus thinking to attract his eyes, for she still vainly hoped that he might return to her. In time, however, even Yasodhara found peace in the faith of the Buddha; she entered the Order and became one of the most earnest of the nuns.

About a week after the Buddha's arrival in Kapilavatthu Yasodhara sent her son to him to ask for his inheritance. Rahula, who followed his father to the banyan grove, said to him: "My father, some day I shall be king over this land, give me my inheritance—the treasure to which I am heir." But the Buddha thought within himself, "This treasure which my son asks for is perishable and brings no happiness, I will give him instead the seven-fold treasure which I gained under the Bo-tree, and thus make him heir to a heavenly kingdom." And he told Sariputta, one of his chief disciples, to receive Rahula into the Order; so the child, young as he was, entered the Order to be trained as a monk.

When the King heard that his grandson was to be a monk he was greatly grieved, and he begged the Buddha to make it a rule that, in future, a son must ask leave of his father and mother before entering the Order. This Gotama agreed to do, and the rule holds good to the present day; thus, when a man takes his vows on joining the Brotherhood of Monks, he is always asked whether he has the consent of his parents.

Several of those who might have succeeded to the throne of the Sakya land had now become monks, and so renounced all claim to earthly honours. It seems strange and wonderful that the Buddha's preaching should have had the power of making so many men and women ready to give up all their luxuries and suffer poverty and hardship for the sake of the heavenly treasures of the Kingdom of Righteousness.

Gotama remained for about two months at Xapilavatthu, and then returned with his disciples to Rajagaha.