Story of the Buddha - Edith Holland

The Youth of Siddhattha

You will notice that the hero of our story is called by the various names of Buddha, Siddhattha, and Gotama. Siddhattha was the name given to the Prince by his parents, like our Christian names, and Gotama was his family name. It is curious that it should still be the family name of the chiefs of the Indian village which stands on the old site of Kapilavatthu. The meaning of Buddha is 'the Enlightened,' or 'Awakened,' so it is not properly a name, but a title, which was given Gotama when he had gained the highest knowledge and become a teacher of mankind. He is often called Gotama the Buddha. There were many other titles which his followers gave their master—that of Sakyamuni, 'the Wise Man of the Sakyas,' is commonly used by the Chinese Buddhists at the present day. He was also called Sakyasinha, 'the Lion of the Sakya Tribe,' Jina, 'the Conqueror,' Bhagavat, 'the Blessed One,' and various other titles. But in speaking of the time when the Prince lived in his father's house, as the heir to his throne, we will call him Siddhattha.

King Suddhodana was devoted to his little son, who, while still in his nurse's arms, had won the affections of all who came near him by his beauty and gentle ways. But as the King looked on the child the prophecies of the wise men came to his mind, and filled him with anxiety. "If he stays in his home, he will become a great monarch, but if he goes away into homelessness, he will become a Buddha, a teacher of mankind." And the King longed to keep his son near him, and to see him crowned with earthly greatness. He deter mined to surround him with every luxury, that he might rest contented in his home, and gave orders that no sad or dreadful sight was ever to come before the Prince's eyes. No one deformed or ugly was allowed to come near the palace; the young Prince was tended by beautiful and attractive nurses and waited on by a large number of servants ready to attend to any wish he might express.

The Sakya land was a rich and fertile country; broad rivers, flowing down from the Himalaya range, watered the many rice-fields which covered the low-lying ground between the dense forests. Agriculture was the chief occupation of the Sakya people, and, 29)?> rice was their staple food, the rice crops were as important to them as are the wheat harvests to the nations of Europe and America. King Suddhodana himself owned many acres of cultivated land. It may interest you to know that the name 'Suddhodana' means 'pure rice.' This may sound a strange name to our ears, but it is really much the same as the English name 'Wheatcroft,' which must, in the first place, have been given to a man who possessed a wheat-field.

Every year there was a ploughing festival, which the King and all the Sakya lords attended. The city of Kapilavatthu was decked with flags and garlands of flowers, and there was a general air of holiday-making as the gaily dressed crowds made their way through the city gates to the place chosen for the festival. A thousand ploughs stood ready, and to each plough was yoked a pair of oxen. The King himself, as well as his ministers, took part in the ploughing. The King's plough was ornamented with gold, and the horns of his oxen were tipped with gold; the ministers' ploughs were ornamented with silver.

When Prince Siddhattha was still a young child he was taken to the ploughing festival. Probably the King was so proud of his beautiful son that he wished all the people to see him,' and hail him as their future king. The royal, procession left the palace in great state. It: is easy to imagine the gay scene—the narrow streets crowded with men, chariots, and horses, as well as elephants, and filled with all the': noise and bustle of an Eastern town. Drums were beaten to announce the procession and warn the people to clear the way, as the King passed by surrounded by his ministers, his; robes glistening with gold and jewels.

On arriving at the ploughing fields the King ordered the little Prince's couch to be spread in the shade of a lofty jambu-tree, a little removed from the crowd. A rich canopy was placed over the couch, which was shaded by curtains.

While the King was away for the ploughing, the Prince's nurses, hearing the shouts and cheering of the crowd, ran out to enjoy the gay scene, meaning to return immediately; but so engrossed were they, as they watched the King and his nobles guiding their gold and silver ploughs, that they forgot all about the Prince. Suddenly noticing that the sun had travelled far to the west, the nurses hurried back, expecting to find the Prince's couch exposed to the fierce rays of an Indian sun. Great was their astonishment to see the deep shadow of the jambu-tree still sheltering the Prince, while the shadows of all the other trees had moved round with the sun. Looking inside the curtains, they found the young child sitting cross-legged, as an Indian holy man sits when he is meditating.

The attendants ran and told the King of the miracle which had taken place. When King Suddhodana arrived and saw the shadow of the tree, he marvelled greatly, and bowing down before his son did homage to him.

It is very natural that stories of miracles and wonders should be woven into the histories of the lives of great men. We must remember that at the time of which we are writing (that is, between five and six hundred years before Christ) there were no written records of events. All history was transmitted by word of mouth until long after the events had taken place; and, though the Indians have wonderful memories, it is only natural that, as time passed, legends should have been mixed with the true stories. We must take the old tales as we find them, with their historical facts often shining through a halo of glory, in the same way that the setting sun appears to us; through the mists of evening, to be clothed in robes of purple and gold. The Indian people have always believed in spirits and fairies; every tree is supposed to have its guardian spirit, and probably it was thought that the spirit of the jambu-tree would have protected the little Prince when he was left alone, and so the pretty legend of the shadow came to be invented.

When Prince Siddhattha was old enough to learn his lessons he was sent to a wise old man, who taught five hundred other Sakya children. But Siddhattha surpassed them all in knowledge; in arithmetic and in all other branches of learning he seemed to know as much as his teacher. He also learnt to manage elephants, and one of his uncles taught him to shoot with a bow and arrow.

Siddhattha had a half-brother called Nanda, and a cousin called Devadatta, and probably the boys often played together in the lovely palace gardens which extended along the river-bank. Devadatta was a bad-tempered boy, and from the first showed an envious disposition. He could not bear that every one should think so much of his cousin Siddhattha, and Throughout his life did everything he could to oppose him.

It happened that a large tree, standing on the banks of the Rohini, had been uprooted in a storm and had fallen across the river. The tree acted as a dam, and all the fields round Kapilavatthu were flooded, while the town of Koli, which stood some distance down stream, was very short of water. The tree was so heavy that the people could not get it out of the river, but Siddhattha, who was now a young man and renowned for his great strength, went down and removed it without any difficulty, though all the young Sakyas had tried in vain to do so. As the Prince was going through the royal gardens on his way to the river, a flock of wild geese passed overhead. Devadatta, seeing the geese, shot an arrow into their midst, and one of them fell, wounded, just in front of Siddhattha. He felt a tender compassion for the poor bird that lay bleeding at his feet; lifting it up he drew out the arrow and carefully bound up the wound. Presently a messenger, sent by Devadatta, arrived to claim the bird; but Siddhattha refused to give it up, saying that it belonged to him who had saved its life, not to him who had tried to kill it. This was the first quarrel between the cousins.

Now that Siddhattha had grown to manhood the King decided that the time had come for his son to marry. He hoped that by providing him with all the pleasures that this world can give, he would prevent the fulfilment of the prophecy that the Prince would leave his home and go into homelessness. Suddhodana had three beautiful palaces built for his son, suited to the three seasons, one for the heat of summer, one for the cold weather, and one for the rainy season. In India the climate is not so changeable as it is in England, and there are fixed seasons of heat, cold, and rain.

The palace built for the great heat of India had cool marble courts, open terraces, and garden shaded by lofty trees. The winter palace was lined with wood, and hung with warm rugs and tiger skins. And the palace for the rainy season was built of bricks and lined with coloured tiles. Of these stately palace one was nine, one seven and the other five stories high.

Now of all the Sakya girls none was so lovely and charming as the Princess Yasodhara Siddhattha's cousin, so she was chosen by the King to be his son's wife. When the marriage ceremony took place Kapilavatthu was decked out as a city of the gods, and feastings and rejoicings continued for many days. Siddhattha dearly loved his beautiful bride, who was as gentle and good as she was beautiful, and the two seem to have lived happily together in the luxurious homes which the King had provided for his son.

Suddhodana must have felt more easy in his mind when he saw the Prince enjoying all the pomp and luxury with which he had surrounded him. There were forty thousand dancing girls dressed in beautiful clothes, wearing veils of many colours, and jingling bracelets and anklets. Some had sweet voices and could sing many pretty songs, others could play the lute; so whenever the Prince was weary or wanted amusement he had but to ask for a dance, a song, or a soft melody on the lute, and his wish was immediately fulfilled.

After a while it seemed to the King's brothers, and the other Sakya lords, that Siddhattha was devoting too much of his time to pleasure; it was not right, they said, that the King's son should think only of his pleasures, learning nothing of those things which a man ought to know. If war were to break out how could he lead the Sakyas to battle? So they went to, the King and told him what was in their minds. When Suddhodana told his son that his relations complained that he neglected his duties, Siddhattha said that he would prove his skill in all manly exercises by competing with the' bravest in the land. So a time was appointed for the sports, and the criers went forth into the city, beating drums, to announce the event.

The people gathered together in great numbers to see the Prince and the young noble-show their skill in archery, fencing, and al the arts which a Sakya should know. Some of the archers aimed so well that they; could split a hair. Devadatta had always been considered the best shot with the bow and arrow, and Nanda was famous as a swordsman, but Siddhattha outshone them both. Now in a temple there hung the great bow which had belonged to Siddhattha's grandfather, Sinhahanu; this was brought out that the youths might try their strength. But none was able to string the bow except Siddhattha, and when he shot his arrow it flew so far that all the people marvelled. In every trial of strength and skill Siddhattha was the victor.

The Sakya lords had now no cause to fear that the Prince was behindhand in any manly art, and they all acknowledged that be was a worthy son of the great race of which he came.