Story of the Buddha - Edith Holland

The Search after Truth

We left Siddhattha, now a homeless wanderer, standing on the banks of the river Anoma, having sent Channa back to Kapilavatthu to tell the sorrowing King what had become of his son. And he, who all his life had been waited on by numerous servants, who had enjoyed the luxury of soft couches and fine raiment, and been served with the daintiest of food in dishes of gold and silver, had now no resting-place, and was forced to beg before he could even satisfy his hunger. Fearing to remain long so near the land of the Sakyas Siddhattha resolved to cross the Ganges and make his way to Rajagaha. Rajagaha was the capital of the kingdom of Magadha, which, as I have told you, was situated where now lies the province of Behar.

One of the few necessaries required by an Indian holy man, or monk, is a begging bowl, into which he can put the scraps of food given him in charity. Siddhattha made himself a bowl of leaves, and having walked to Rajagaha entered the city early one morning, passing from house to house to collect sufficient food for his needs. While he was so engaged, the King of Magadha, Bimbisara came out on to the terrace of his palace, and seeing the strange monk, was so struck by his noble appearance that he told some of his courtiers to follow him and see where he lodged.

When Siddhattha had cone ted enough food he left the city by the s acne gate through which he had entered, and sat down in the shadow of a rocky hill to eat his meal. He was not yet accustomed to the coarse food from the poor man's table, and could scarcely swallow it. So he reasoned with himself, saying: "Siddhattha, it is true that you have, all your life, been used to the dainty food of a king's household, yet you longed to give rip your wealth and become a wandering beggar—how is it then that you are now so fanciful about your food?" and he forced himself to swallow his meal.

When King Bimbisara heard where the strange monk was to be found, he went out, followed by many attendants, to visit him. So charmed was he by Siddhattha's manners and conversation that he offered to give hire wealth, lands, and everything which could make life pleasant to him. "O King," Siddhattha replied, "I come from a rich and fertile country near the Himalaya; I belong to the Sakya tribe and am of kingly descent. But the world's treasures bring no peace, and cannot conquer sorrow. I am trying to find the path which leads to the highest wisdom." "Promise me "said the King, "that when you have found that wisdom you will come and teach it to me." And Siddhattha promised the King that he would do so.

Rajagaha lay in a cultivated valley surrounded by five hills, which formed part of a long range. Two miles to the east of the city, on the top of the hill called the Vulture's Peak, there were some caves which were often inhabited by hermits and wandering monks. Here Siddhattha stayed for some time, as the place was conveniently near the city, where food could be got, and yet it was solitary and suited to quiet meditation.

For now Siddhattha, or Gotama, as he is more usually called after the beginning of his wandering life, set himself resolutely to seek the wisdom and knowledge he longed to attain. He had been brought up a Hindu, but the doctrines of the Brahmins, or Hindu priests, in which ceremonies and sacrifices play such an important part, did not satisfy him. Truth, he felt, was yet hidden from him, and, like some precious gem that lies buried in the dark earth, was not to be found but by long and patient search. To the quest of this hidden truth Gotama now applied himself with all the powers of his mind, all the courage that was in him. He was not the only one who devoted himself to the thinking out of the great mysteries of life and death; there were many among the wise men and philosophers who gave their lives to the study of these deep questions. One such teacher, named Alara, was so famed for his wisdom that Gotama followed him for a time as a disciple, but after learning all that this master could teach him he felt that he had got no further on the way to truth. He next attached himself to another holy man, named Udaka, but neither did this teacher's doctrine satisfy him.

After this Siddhattha decided to go away by himself into solitude and try whether fasting and penance would bring him the peace and clearness of mind he was seeking. The Hindus have always had great faith in fasting as a means of obtaining virtue and wisdom. Gotama left the neighbourhood of Rajagaha and travelled in a southerly direction, until he came to the great jungles of Uruvela, and here, not far from the present temple of Buddha Gaya, he settled himself for a life of solitude and meditation.

You must not imagine an Indian forest, or jungle, to be anything like our English wood-lands, where we can wander along pleasant mossy paths bordered by ferns and wild flowers. The only paths in the jungle are those made by the wild beasts when they leave their lairs in search of food and push their way through the dense tangle of grass and bamboo. The path of the rhinoceros is a low, dark tunnel, just the shape of his thick, round body, but the lordly elephant opens a broad roadway as he comes along with a mighty crash, trampling down everything that stands in his way. During the noonday heat these forests are pervaded by a deep stillness, as though heavy with sleep, but when darkness suddenly falls, for there is scarcely any twilight in India, you become aware that the jungle is full of life—everywhere there is an awakening, everywhere movement, as the wild beasts begin their nightly prowls in search of food. But 56)?> the holy man, who has settled himself at the foot of a tree for solitary meditation, will give no heed to the trumpeting of the wild elephants, or the roar of the tiger, for his mind is intent on the things of another world. To this day the holy men of the Hindus retire into these wild solitudes, and hundreds are every year carried off and devoured by wild beasts.

Thus did Gotama make his home in the forests of Uruvela, passing his days in meditation and awaiting the peace he longed for. After a while lie fell in with five other monks, who were so struck by his great goodness and holiness that they attached themselves to him as disciples. Much did they marvel at the resolution and strength of mind which enabled Gotama to continue fasting for long periods of time. "He must be a very holy man," they said to one another; "he will assuredly become a Buddha."

I have told you that the Hindus believe in the rebirth of the soul. A 'Buddha' is a nian, who, having striven for virtue and holiness through many successive lives, at length attains perfection and gains the wisdom which enables him to become a teacher of mankind. The Buddhists believe that such a teacher appears in the world from time to time to lead men into the paths of truth and righteousness. As time passes his teaching is forgotten, and mankind falls back into error and sin, until a new Buddha arises to preach the law.

The five disciples remained with Gotama, serving him as their master, and expecting every day that he would tell them he had found the perfect wisdom. But as yet Gotama saw not the truth, though lie sought it by every means in his power. For six long years he continued to undergo fasts and penances, until his body was so wasted that no one seeing him would have recognized the noble Prince Siddhattha. But his fame as a saintly man spread abroad like the sound of a great bell hung in the sky, as the old stories tell us.

From time to time King Suddhodana had sent out messengers to bring him news of his son; when he heard that Siddhattha was worn almost to a shadow by fasting and penance he was greatly distressed; and Yasodhara shed bitter tears, for she still loved her husband dearly and had never ceased to grieve for him from the day when she awoke to find he had left her. She now refused to wear her jewels or to deck herself with flowers, and, that she might share in her husband's sufferings, she denied herself all, luxuries, slept on a hard couch, and would eat but one meal a day.

Siddhattha's fasts and penances brought him no peace, and at the end of six years he felt that he was no nearer his goal. One day, as he was walking in the forest, deep in thought, he was so overcome by weakness that he fell to the ground and lay as one dead. When the news came to King Suddhodana that his son was dead, he would not believe it, "for," he said, "I know that he will become a Buddha before he dies."

When Gotama came to himself he began to realize that his life of penance had been a mistake, and that he was not yet on the road leading to truth and wisdom. So he took food again, and by degrees his strength returned. But the five disciples, thinking that holiness could not be attained by one who ate food like ordinary men, departed and left Gotama to continue the struggle without help or sympathy. "He will never become a Buddha now," they said, and, taking their begging bowls, they made their way to Benares.

Gotama, though sorely tried, was not discouraged. It is only the truly great who are not to be turned aside from the aim they have set themselves, even after years of failure. Weaker men will blame circumstances and say a thing is impossible and not to be done, but the truly great will remain steadfast as long as life is in them.