Gotama Siddhartha – A prince born of a silver spoon near the Himalaya mountains.

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The passage for Today’s talk is from Majjhima Nikaya as thus.

“ I had three palaces, one for the rainy season, one for the winter, and one for the summer. I lived in the rains’ palace for the four months of the rainy season, enjoying myself with musicians, none of whom were men, and I did not go down to the lower palace” MN75.10

Importance of Knowing the Life of the Founder

Today, I would like to discuss a person’s life, who was called Gotama Siddhartha before his enlightenment. So-called Buddhism was initiated by Gotama Siddhartha, who lived in 5th century BC in ancient India. Like it is critical to know the life of Jesus in order to know the religion of Christianity, it seems essential to know the life of Gotama Siddhartha in order to better know what Buddhism is about.

As the Buddha reveals in the passage that I read at the beginning, the life of Gotama Siddhartha was so luxurious and extravagant until he left his palace to become an ascetic. It is well known that Gotama Siddhartha was a prince of the kingdom and later left his palace to pursue a spiritual goal to become enlightened.

Apparently, there was no reason that he gave up the right of succession to become a king when the time came. Then, the questions are as follow: Why was not he satisfied with his life as a prince? What was at stake in his life? Why did he have to abandon his privileged life to become a spiritual wanderer?

The suffering that Had Him Leave

The answers to these questions seem obvious for the many people who are already familiar with Buddhism: the human condition of suffering that he saw in the world and in his own life as well. In general, it is said that the issue of suffering was what motivated him t0 leave the lavish palace to become a spiritual practitioner.

However, we know that not all the people, who were born as silver spoon like the young prince of Gotama Siddhartha, can abandon their privileged life in order to achieve an ideal purpose. Often, I asked myself whether I was able to become a monk if I were someone like Donald Trump, who inherited a significant mount of fortune from his wealthy family. For most people, it is hard to be indifferent to the pleasure that materials can bring.

In general, the life of Gotama Siddhartha, who later became the Buddha, can be divided into three terms: the time when he lived as a prince of the small country near the Himalaya mountain, the time when he became an ascetic aspiring enlightenment, and the time after his enlightenment until his passing away. Today, we will especially focus on the first term when he was born of a silver spoon as a prince to succeed a small kingdom from his father.

Due to inherent defect of human memory, history is always problematic in terms of constructing facts as they are. In addition, the life of a significant religious figure often becomes mythologized through wild imagination of religious zeal. The life of the Buddha is not an exception in this case.

In history, there have been various biographies about the Buddha’s life, and these are mixture of known facts and fabrications of mythical stories. Since religion is not science, it seems not necessary to completely distinguish facts from fabrications in order to construct a very precise story of the Buddha’ life. We know that mythical stories are fabricated in a religion because they can deliver meaningful messages and teachings for the believers.

The Story of the Buddha as a Human

Nonetheless, it is somehow important to trim the life story of the Buddha by eliminating its mythical elements to see the human quality in it. Otherwise, the Buddha will be utterly regarded as someone floating in the air. At its start, Buddhism was a religion of humans, by humans, and for humans.

Thus, the Buddha was a human, whose father, Suddhodana, was the ruler of the kingdom of the Sakyas (in modern Nepal), and whose mother was Queen Maya. The Queen passed away soon after the prince’s birth, so the mother’s younger sister, Pajapati, who was also the second wife of Suddhodana, took care of the prince after the Queen’s death. In accordance with following the custom of the time, the young prince Gotama Siddhartha was married to a beautiful princess named Yasodhara when they were both young.

As the passage that I read at the beginning describes, the life of the young prince in his palace was filled with much comfort and pleasure. Like wealthy people in NY have summer houses in Hampton and winter houses in West Palm Beach of Florida, he had different residences for different seasons. This seems to indicate no reason to leave the comfort of his life until we know something more.

Yet, one day soon after the birth of his only child, Rahula, Gotama Siddhartha left his kingdom and became a spiritual practitioner in search of something more than becoming a ruler of a kingdom.

In the first period of Gotama’s life, the noticeable theme seems to be happiness based on materialistic pleasure, which the young prince of Gotama was not satisfied with. As to the materialistic happiness, the Buddha says thus,

“On a later occasion, having understood as they actually are the origin, the disappearance, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of sensual pleasures, I abandoned craving for sensual pleasures, I removed fever for sensual pleasures, and I abide without thirst, with a mind inwardly at peace.” MN75.10.

This appraisal was expressed after his enlightenment, and we do not know whether the young Gotama had known the nature of materialistic happiness that is not permanent and can be turned into suffering when he lived in the palace as a prince.

Two Kinds of Hapiness

It may sound like a cliche that money cannot buy happiness. Also, for many people, it seems true that money can buy certain happiness, and I will not deny this. However, as the passage that I quoted describes, the happiness based on materials things is impermanent, and uncertain. As Buddhists who believe in the teaching of the Buddha, we should keep in mind thus,

“There is a delight apart from sensual pleasures, apart from unwholesome states, which surpasses even divine bliss.”

As this passage indicates, it seems to be another delight that the young prince of Gotama did set going forth to pursue after abandoning his privilege that gave him the happiness of sensual pleasure.

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