Part 7 Siddhartha and King Bimbisara

Siddhartha entered the hermitage where holy Alara Kalama taught the doctrine of renunciation to a great number of disciples. One day, Alara Kalama said to him: “You understand the law as well as I understand it; all that I know, you know. Hereafter, if you wish, we will share the work; we will both teach the disciples.” The hero asked himself: “Is the law that Alara teaches the true law? Does it lead to deliverance?”

He thought: “Alara and his disciples lead lives of great austerity. They refuse food prepared by man; eat only fruit, leaves and roots; drink only water. They are more abstemious than the birds that peck at minute seeds, than the deer that nibble at the grass, than the serpents that inhale the breeze. When they sleep, it is under a canopy of branches; the heat of the sun scorches them; they expose their bodies to the bitter winds; they bruise their feet and their knees on the stones of the highway. To them, virtue comes only with suffering. And they think they are happy, for they believe that by practicing perfect austerity, they will earn the right to ascend to the sky! If, to be sanctified, it is enough simply to be abstemious, then the deer would be saints. We can intend to gratify our senses as well as we can intend to suffer, and if the intention to gratify our senses is worth nothing, why should the intention to suffer be of any value?”

He saw the vanity of the doctrine that the master was teaching, and he said to him: “I will not teach your doctrine, Alara. Who knows it will not find deliverance. I shall leave your hermitage, and I shall seek the rule to which we must submit before we can have done with suffering.” And the hero set out for the country of Magadha, and there, alone and absorbed in meditation, he dwelt on the slope of a mountain, near the city of Rajagriha.

One morning, the hero took his alms-bowl and entered the city of Rajagriha. The people who passed him on the road admired his beauty and his noble bearing. “What is this man?” they wondered. Every one wanted to see the hero. A man ran to inform the king that a God, no less, was begging in the streets of the city. King Bimbisara went out on the terrace of the palace; he saw the hero. His splendor dazzled him. He sent him alms, and he gave orders to have him followed, in order to discover his retreat. Thus did the king learn that the magnificent beggar lived on the slope of the mountain, near the city.

The following day, Bimbisara drove out of the city and came to the mountain. He left his chariot, and, quite alone, walked toward a tree in whose shade the hero was seated. The king paused near the tree, and, speechless with wonder, reverently gazed at the beggar. Then, bowing humbly, he said: “I have seen you and great is my joy! Do not remain here on the lonely mountain-side; sleep no longer on the hard ground. You are beautiful, you are resplendent with youth; come to the city. I will give you a palace, and all your desires shall be gratified.” “My lord,” replied the hero, in a gentle voice, “my lord, may you live many years! Desires mean nothing to me. I lead the life of a hermit; I know peace.”

“I have given up great riches,” said the hero. “I know the vanity of all desire. Desires are like poison; wise men despise them. I have thrown them away as one would throw away a wisp of dry straw. Desires are as perishable as the fruit on a tree, they are as wayward as the clouds in the sky, they are as treacherous as the rain, they are as changeable as the wind! Suffering is born of desire, for no man has ever gratified all his desires. But they that seek wisdom, they that ponder the true faith, they are the ones that find peace. Who drinks salt water increases his thirst; who flees from desire finds his thirst appeased. I no longer know desire. I seek the true law.”

The king said: “Great is your wisdom, O beggar! Which is your country? Where is your father? Where is your mother? Which is your caste? Speak.” “Perhaps you have heard of the city of Kapilavastu, O king? A prosperous city it is. The king, Suddhodana, is my father. I left him in order to wander and beg.” The king replied: “Good fortune attend you! I am happy now that I have seen you. Between your family and mine there is a friendship of long standing. Be gracious to me, and when you have gained enlightenment, deign to teach me, O master.”

He bowed three times, then returned to Rajagriha. The hero heard that there lived near Rajagriha a famous hermit named Udraka, son of Rama. This hermit had many disciples whom he instructed in the law. The hero went to listen to his teachings, but like Alara Kalama, Udraka knew nothing of the true law, and the hero did not tarry. Presently he came to the banks of the Nairanjana. Five of Udraka’s disciples: Kaundinya, Ashvajit, Vashpa, Mahanaman and Bhadrika, had joined him.

Notes

Alara Kalama: One of the two teachers to whom Siddhartha attached himself, the other being Udraka Ramaputra. The Buddha described his visit to Alara in the Ariyaparivesana Sutta. He was able to master his doctrine and repeat it by heart but questioned it. Alara’s teachings spoke of the Sphere of Nothingness. Though he recognized his pupil’s eminence and treated him as an equal, Siddhartha chose to go elsewhere.

Bimbisara: King of Magadha and a patron of the Buddha. According to the Pabbaja Sutta the first meeting between the Buddha and Bimbisara took place in Rajagriha after the former’s renunciation. The king, seeing the young ascetic pass below the palace windows, sent messengers after him. On learning, that he was resting after his meal, Bimbisara followed him and offered him a place in his court. This the Buddha refused, revealing his identity. Bimbisara wished him success and asked him to visit Rajagriha as soon as he had attained Enlightenment. A historical personage, he combined wars of conquest with marital alliances to make Magadha North India’s preeminent kingdom. Bimbisara is claimed by both Buddhists and Jains as one of their own and there is a rich collection of legends surrounding the last few years of his life.

Udraka Ramaputra: The other teacher from whom Siddhartha received instruction after renunciation. Udraka taught him about the state of ‘Neither-Consciousness-Nor-Unconsciousness’. Siddhartha was able to master the doctrine but finding it unsatisfactory, abandoned it. He still held Udraka in great regard, and after Enlightenment, when looking for someone to whom he might preach the Dhamma, thoughts of his master. Udraka, however, was already dead.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is a painting of King Bimbisara meeting the Buddha. It has been produced and uploaded by the Burmese artist Hintha, and shows Gautama Buddha turning down the monarch’s offer.

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