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Friday, March 9, 2007
The King thought this was an excellent idea. So he arranged for a large banquet at the palace. All the young women from noble families were invited. At the end of the evening the Prince was asked to give presents to each of the guests, while several ministers watched him closely to see which of the young women the Prince seemed to like.The women, who were scarcely more than young girls, were all very embarrassed to appear before the Prince. He looked so handsome but so distant as he stood in front of the table bearing all the expensive gifts. One by one they shyly went up to him, timidly looking downwards as they approached. They silently accepted the jewel or bracelet or other gift, and quickly returned to their places.Finally, only one young woman was left. She was Yasodhara, the daughter of a neighbouring King. Unlike the others, she approached the Prince without any shyness. For the first time that evening, the young Prince looked directly at the woman before him. She was very beautiful and the Prince was immediately attracted to her.They stood in silence for a while, looking into each other's eyes. Then Yasodhara spoke, " O Prince, where is the gift for me?" The Prince was startled as if awakening from a dream. He looked down at the table and saw it was empty. All the gifts had already been given out to the other guests. "Here , take this," said the Prince, taking his own ring from his finger. "This is for you." Yasodhara graciously accepted the ring and walked slowly back to her place.The ministers saw all that happened and excitedly ran to the King. "Sire!" they reported happily, "we have found the perfect bride for the Prince. She is Princess Yasodhara, daughter of your neighbor, King Suprabuddha. Let us immediately go to this King and arrange for the marriage of his daughter and your son.King suddhodana agreed and somm afterwards visited Ysodhara's father. The other King greeted him warmly and said, "I am sure that your son is a fine young man, but I can not give my daughter away to just anyone. Many other princes want to marry her, and they all excellent young men. They are skilled in riding, archery and other royal sports. Therefore, if your son wants to marry my daughter, he will have to compete in a contest with the other suitors, as is out custom."And so it was arranged for a great contest to be held, with beautiful Yasodhara as the prize. King Shuddhodana was worried. He thought, "My son has never showed the slightest interest in warrior games. How can be ever win this contest?" But the Prince understood his father's fears and said to him, "Do Not be worried. I am prepared to do whatever is necessary to win Yasodhara for my bride."The first event was archery. The other men placed their targets a long distance away, yet each was able to hit the bull's eye. And when it was Devadatta's turn for Siddhartha's cousin was also one of the suitors-he not only hit the bull's eye, but sent his arrow right through the target until it stuck out the other side. The crowd cheered, but Yasodhara covered her eyes in fright. "How can my beloved Siddhartha ever beat that shot?" She thought. "How dreadful if I had to marry Devadatta!"But the Prince was confident. When it was his turn he had his target placed so far away that most of the people could hardly even see it. Then he took an arrow from his quieter and pulled back on his bow. The Prince was so strong, however, that the bow burst in half; he had drawn it back so far!"Please fetch me another bow," the Prince asked "but a much stronger one this time that will not break like the other one." Then a ministers called out, "O Prince, there is a very old bow in the palace. IT belonged to one of the greatest warriors of the past. But since he died many years ago no one has been strong enough to string it , much less shoot it."
"I shall use that one," said the Prince, and everyone was amazed. When he was handed the bow he carefully bent it and strung it easily. Then he notched an arrow on the string, drew it back so far that the ends of the bow almost touched, aimed, and let the arrow fly. Twang! The bow made such a loud sound that people in far away villages heard it. The arrow shot away so fast that when it hit the distant target right in the central of the bull's-eye-it did not even slow down, but continued to fly until it was out of sight.The crowd roared in delight! "The Prince has won! The Prince has won!" But archery was only the first event of the day; the next contest was in swords man ship.Each young man selected a tree and showed his strength by slashing through it with his sword. One suitor cut through a tree six inches thick, another nine inches, and a third cut through a tree a foot thick with a single stroke of his sword!Then it was the Prince's turn. He selected a tree that had two trunks growing side by side. He swung his sword so quickly that it cut through the tree faster than anyone could see. His sword was so sharp and his cut so even that the tree did not even fall over. Instead it remained standing, perfectly balanced. When they saw the tree still standing upright, the crowd and especially Yasodhara moaned, "He has failed. The Prince's sword did not even cut into the first trunk."But just then a breeze stirred up and blew over the neatly severed tree trunks. The crowd's moans turned into cheers, and again they shouted, " The Prince has won!" The final contest was in horsemanship. A wild horse, while had never been ridden before was held down by several strong men while each young suitor tried to mount it. But the horse bucked and kicked so furiously that none of them could stay on its back for more than a few seconds. Finally on young man managed to hold on and the attendants let go of the horse. But it jumped and lunged about with such fury and anger that the rider was thrown to the ground. And he would have been trampled if the men had not rushed out and pulled him to safety.The crowd began screaming loudly, "Stop the contest! Don't let the Prince near that horse! It is too dangerous; the horse will kill him! But Siddhartha had no fear. "Gentleness can be more powerful than brute strength, " he thought, and slowly reached out and took hold of a small tuft of hair that grew from the horse's forehead. Speaking in a low and pleasant voice, and gently stroking the wild horse's head and sides, he calmed its anger, rage and fear.Soon the horse was so gentle that it began licking Siddhartha's hand. Then, still whispering sweetly to the horse, the Prince climbed onto its back. While the crowd roared happily, he paraded the steed in front of the kings and ministers, and bowed low to his fair prize, the lovely Yasodhara. The contest was over; young Siddhartha had won! And he had done so not only by the power of his great strength, but of his gentleness and kindness as well.
Hearing this, the Prince became interesting in seeing all these strange and wonderful things for himself. For so many years he had been content to live within the pleasure palaces and gardens, completely forgetting about the world beyond. But now he desired to journey out, and so he sent a message to the King requesting him to arrange a travel party into the city beyond the garden walls.
And so Channa explained, telling the Prince the truths his father had tried to hide from him all these years. "That man was once alive, as you and I are now. He was born, grew into a child, then he became a young man. He experienced the many pleasures and pains of life, raised a family, worked for a living and grew older. Then he began to get weaker and weaker. He was confined to his bed. Soon he was unable to recognize even his closest friends. He grew worse and eventually his breath left his body. And with his final breath, his understanding and life-force also left. Now he is dead. All that is left behind to see is the body he cared for so much while he was still alive. It lies there cold and without feeling. When his family burn the body he will not feel anything, because he has already left it behind.""Tell me, Channa, is it unusual for people to die like this?" The charioteer answered "No, my Prince, not at all. It is true that there are some people who never get the chance to grow old, and there are some who are very rarely sick. But everyone, without exception, must one day die."These words, uttered innocently by the charioteer, shocked the Prince deeply. "Do you mean," he exclaimed passionately, "that one day my wife, my child, my friends and myself will all be dead? And all these people I see here today, all dressed up so radiant, will also died? Oh, how blind is the world that it can dance and sing while death is just waiting for everyone! Why do they all bother to dress themselves in such fine clothes if one day they shall be wearing nothing more than a simple white sheet? Do people have such short memories that they forget about death? Or are their hearts so strong that the thought of death does not bother them? Come, Channa, turn the chariot around. I wish to return to the palace and think."But instead, Channa drove the chariot to a beautiful garden. There all the most charming singers and dancers from the palace were waiting, along with musicians, ministers and a large feast prepared by the palace chefs. They all welcomed the Prince joyfully and cheered when he stepped from the chariot. But the Prince did not smile, nor did he say anything. His thoughts were totally absorbed in what he had seen that day.
Everyone tried his or her best to amuse the Prince. The dancing girls flirted with him, hoping to win at least a smile from his handsome but saddened face. Yet Siddhartha did not even seem to notice them. He could not get the visions of old age, sickness and death out of his mind.One of the ministers, seeing that the Prince was not enjoying any of the splendid arrangements that had been made for him, came over to the Prince. In the joking manner of a friend he said, "Siddhartha, it is not right that you ignore these lovely dancers and refuse to join the festivities. Come on! You are young and healthy; you should be enjoying yourself. What is the matter? Aren't these women pretty enough for you?"But the Prince answered him in a voice as strong and low as thunder. "You have misunderstood me. I do not dislike the lovely people and things I see here. But when I think of how quickly their beauty will disappear, how everything changes so fast, I can not find much pleasure in them anymore."If there were no old age, sickness and death, then I too, could find great pleasure in such lovely objects. But in the middle of such unhappiness, knowing what awaits us all in the future, how can I be satisfied with pleasures that will fade so quickly? "You, my friend, must have a stronger heart than mine if you can be amused so easily. But for me, everything I see is on fire with suffering. Until I find a way out of this suffering, such worldly amusements do not interest me at all." And so, unable to brighten the Prince's mood, everyone returned sadly to the palace. When the ministers told the King that his son could not be entertained or distracted by anything, he felt so much grief that he could not sleep, "O, my beloved son," he thought to himself, "what else can I do to keep you here in my kingdom with me? What other pleasures can I provide so that you will stay? And with such worried thoughts, fearful that he would soon lose his only son, the King spent the night in despair.
The Prince sank deeper and deeper into gloom. He seemed to lose interest in everything. He hardly ate anything anymore, and as a result began to look pale and unhealthy. The King and everyone else were very upset that these unhappy changes had come over their beloved Siddhartha.One day he appeared before the King. "Father," he began, "lately my mind has been very troubled. I feel restless and would like your permission to leave the palace once again. Perhaps a change of scenery will do me good." The King was quick to agree to his son's request, for he would do anything to please him and make him happy again. But, as before, he asked some of his most trusted ministers to stay close to the Prince and keep an eye on him. This time Siddhartha saddled Kantaka himself and rode out of the palace grounds in search of some beautiful countryside. Finally he came to the edge of some farmland and dismounted. The ministers followed close behind. They tried to gain his attention with stories, news and gossip of the court. But the Prince had no interest in such idle talk, and soon the ministers left him alone and walked away, still chattering to themselves.Siddhartha looked out over the farmland. A man and his oxen were plowing the field, the birds were singing and the sun was shinning brightly. "It is so beautiful here," he thought. "The plowed rows in the field look like ripples on a lake." He sat down, and his mind relaxed for the first time in a long while. But as he looked closer at the scene before him, he began to notice things he had not seen before. Where the plow had come by and cut rows into the soil, he saw the bodies of hundreds of small insects that had been killed by its blade. He saw hundreds more running back and forth in conclusion now that their homes had been destroyed
He also noticed that the birds were not just gayly singing. They were constantly searching for food, swooping down to snatch up the frightening insects. and the smaller birds darted about in fear, scared of the hawks and other large birds who circled hungrily above them.He noticed that the oxen labored heavily while trying to drag the heavy plow through the ground. The lashes of the farmer's whip cut painful blisters into their sweating sides. And the farmer, too, worked hard. Like the beasts, his rough and sun-burnt body glistened with sweat."Such a circle of misery," thought the Prince. "This farmer, his animals, the birds and the insects work all day to be happy ,comfortable, and having enough to eat. But, in fact, they are constantly killing and hurting each other. How pitiful of the world seem to me." The Prince's heart was filled with compassion for all these suffering creatures. He hated to see them so unhappy. He found a shady place to sit under a rose apple tree and began to meditate deeply on what he had seen. As he looked deeper and deeper into the nature of the suffering he saw, his mind became more and more concentrated and calm. He experienced a quietness unlike anything he had known before.With his mind now at rest he began to think, " every living thing is searching for happiness. Yet most are so blinded by their ignorance and desires that they find nothing but misery. Fear, disappointment, hunger, old age, sickness, and death are rewarding for their trouble! " "Now that I have seen this, I have no more interest in the small and changeable pleasures of this world. I must find something that will bring me lasting peace and happiness. But how can I content to be free from others suffering? I must find out a way to help all other living as well. Because they have been so kind to me , and they are so suffering. And then I will share this experience with them."When Prince Siddhartha had finished this compassionate meditation . He opened his eyes and saw a man who was standing in front of him with a dress like a poor beggar. His eyes were bright and calm. "Please tell me," the Prince asked, "who are you?"
The man answered, " I am someone who has become frightened by the sufferings of the world. I have grown tired of the so-called pleasures to be found in the company of others, so now I wander alone. I have given up my home and now live and sleep in caves, in the forest or wherever I find myself. My only interest in finding the highest and most happiness." When he had spoken these words, the man disappeared. " At last I have found the true meaning for my life," he thought , "I begin searching for the true of the happiness and stop these sufferings." With this thinking, he went back to the palace.
Upon his arrival home the Prince immediately went to the King's room. Pressing his hands together, as was the custom when making an important request, he announced, "I wish to become a homeless wanderer and search for the end of all suffering. Grant me your permission, Father, to leave the palace." From the time his son was a baby, the King had feared that someday he would have to hear this dreaded request. But still his son's words came as a great shock to him. In a voice chocked with tears he replied, "Dearest son, forget this idea of leaving. You are still much too young to follow the lonely life of a holy man. Wait until you are older. Meanwhile stay here in Kapilavastu and rule my kingdom.""O father, I shall stay here only if you can promise me four things. Tell me that I shall never grow old, never become ill, never die, and never be unhappy. If you can not promise me these things, then I must leave immediately."The King was shocked by these strange words and began to get angry. "Forget these foolish ideas, Siddhartha," he said loudly. But the Prince remained firm. "Father, If you can not save me from the sufferings of old age, sickness, death and unhappiness, then you must let me go and try to save myself. It is not right to keep me a prisoner here."But the King would hear no more. "Do not let the Prince leave! Set a guard around the palace grounds!" he shouted to his ministers and then stormed out of the room angrily.
And so he began these difficulty and painful practices. He sat for hours and hours in the same spot. Even though his legs and back hurt very much, he would not move a muscle. He let himself be burned by the blazing summer sun and chilled by the winter winds. He ate barely enough food to remain alive. But no matter how difficult it was, he thought, "I must continue and discover the way out of all misery!"The five men were amazed at Siddhartha. They said to themselves, "we have never seen anyone with as much determination as this man. He drives himself on and on and never quits. If anyone is ever going to succeed in these practices it will be Siddhartha. Let us stay near him so that when he discovers the true path we shall be able to learn it from him."Siddhartha treated his body more and more harshly. In the beginning, he slept only a few hours for each night, but eventually he stopped going to sleep . He stopped taking even the one poor meal a day that he used to eat, and would only eat the few seeds and berries that the wind blew into his lap. He grew thinner. His body lost its radiance and became covered with dust and dirt. Eventually, he looked like little more than a living skeleton. But still, he did not give up his practices.Six long years passed. Siddhartha was thirty five, having spent six years with hardly any food, sleep, shelter or decent clothing. One day he thought to himself, "Am I any closer to my goal now than I was six years ago? Or am I still as ignorant as before? When I was a Prince and lived in luxury, I had everything a person could desire. I wasted many years in those prisons of pleasures. "Then I left and began my search. I have lived the forests and caves and have had nothing but poor food and much pain. But I still have not learned how to put an end to suffering. I can see now that it is a mistake to punish my body like this, just as it was a mistake to have wasted so much time in those palaces. To find the truth I must follow a middle path between too much pleasure and too much pain." He remembered that many years ago, after he had seen the dead man, he had meditated under a rose apple tree. "After that meditation," he thought, "my mind was very calm and still. I was able to see things clearly for the first time. I shall try to meditate like that again now."But when he looked at himself he realized, "I have been sitting here for such a long time with no food that I am tired, dirty and weak. I am so thin that I can see my bones through my skin. How can I meditate when I am too hungry dirty even to think clearly?" And so he slowly pulled himself up and went to bath himself in the river. He was so weak, however, that he fell and was almost drowned. With great effort he just managed to pull himself to the shore. Then he sat for a while, resting.
Now that he was properly dressed as a poor seeker of the truth, Siddhartha began to look for a teacher who could show him the way to end all sufferings. He wandered through the forests and spoke to all the many holy men he found there. Everywhere he went he was welcomed with respect. Even though he now wore ragged clothes and ate only the poor food he could beg, he was still a very handsome and striking looking man. When the people in the forest saw him coming they said to each other, "Here comes a very special person. His face is so strong and determined! If such a man is looking for the truth, he is sure to find it."Siddhartha studied with several teachers, but was not satisfied with what he learned from them. "What they teach is helpful," he thought, "but it does not lead to perfect happiness." Finally he heard that some very wise men lived in the kingdom of Magadha where King Bimbisara ruled. So he decided to travel far to the south and east to find them.One day, as he was walking through Rajagriha, the capital city of Magadha, he passed near the palace gates. One of the King Bimbisara's ministers saw him and immediately ran to the King. "Sir," He said excitedly, "I have just seen a most unusual man in the city. He is dressed in rags and begs his food from door to door , but I am sure he must be a great person. His face is so strong and he walks with such dignity. It almost seems that a special light shines from him!" The King was very interested and asked that Siddhartha be brought before him. They talked together for a while and the King was very impressed by his intelligence, modesty and king manner. Then the King said, " I have never met a man I felt I could trust more than you. Please settle here in Rajagriha and help me rule my kingdom." But Siddhartha replied politely, "O King, I have already had the chance to rule a kingdom, but I had to refuse. I am not interested in wealth or power, only in the path of truth. I thank you for you offer, but I have come to your kingdom only to find teachers who can help me with my search." Then the King bowed to the man in rags and said, " I wish you have a lot of luck on your journey. If you do find what you are looking for, please return here and teach it to me. But even if you fail, you are already welcome to return to my palace." Siddhartha thanked him and continued on his way.
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