Part 13 Suddhodana Sends Messengers to His Son

King Suddhodana heard that his son had attained supreme knowledge and that he was living at Rajagriha, in the Bamboo Grove. He had a great desire to see him again, and he sent a messenger to him, with these words: “Your father, King Suddhodana, longs to see you, O Master.” When the messenger arrived at the Bamboo Grove, he found the Master addressing his disciples. The messenger listened in delight. Then he fell at the Master’s feet and said: “Receive me among your disciples, O Blessed One.” The Master extended his hands and said: “Come, O monk.” The messenger forgot everything, and the message that Suddhodana had entrusted to him was never delivered. The king became weary of waiting for his return. Each day, the desire to see his son became more intense. Nine times he sent messengers to the Blessed One, and nine times the messengers, upon hearing the sacred word, decided to remain and become monks.

Suddhodana finally summoned Udayin.”Udayin,” said he, “as you know, of the nine messengers who set out for the Bamboo Grove, not one has returned, not one has sent me word how my message was received. I do not know if they spoke to my son, if they even saw him. It grieves me, Udayin. I am an old man. Death lies in wait for me. I may live till to-morrow, but it would be rash to count on the days that follow after. And before I die, Udayin, I want to see my son. You were once his best friend; go to him now. I can think of no one who would be more welcome. Tell him of my grief; tell him of my wish, and may he not be indifferent!” “I shall go, my lord,” replied Udayin. He went. Long before he arrived at the Bamboo Grove, he had made up his mind to become a monk, but King Suddhodana’s words had affected him deeply, and he thought, “I shall tell the Master of his father’s grief. He will be moved to pity and will go to him.” The Master was happy to see Udayin become one of his disciples.

Winter was almost over. It was a favorable time to travel, and Udayin said to the Buddha, one day: “The trees are budding; they will soon be in leaf. See the bright rays of the sun shining through the branches. Master, this is a good time to travel. It is no longer cold, nor it is yet too warm; and the earth wears a lovely mantle of green. We shall have no trouble finding food on the way. Master, this is a good time to travel.” The Master smiled at Udayin and asked: “Why do you urge me to travel, Udayin?” “Your father, King Suddhodana, would be happy to see you, Master.” The Buddha considered a moment, then he said: “I shall go to Kapilavastu; I shall go and see my father.” When Bimbisara heard that the Master was leaving the Bamboo Grove, to be gone for some time, he went to see him with his son, Prince Ajatasatru.

Bimbisara said: “Blessed One, I have a request to make.” “Speak,” said the Buddha. “When you are gone, O Blessed One, I shall be unable to do you honor, I shall be unable to make you the customary offerings, and it will grieve me. Give me a lock of your hair, give me the parings of your finger-nails; I shall place them in a temple in the midst of my palace. Thus, I shall retain something that is a part of you, and, each day, I shall decorate the temple with fresh garlands, and I shall burn rare incense.” The Blessed One gave the king these things for which he had asked, and he said: “Take my hair and take these parings; keep them in a temple, but, in your mind, keep what I have taught you.” And as Bimbisara joyfully returned to his palace, the Master left for Kapilavastu.

It was a great distance from Rajagriha to Kapilavastu, and the Master was walking slowly. Udayin decided to go ahead and inform Suddhodana that his son was on his way to see him, for the king would then be patient and would cease to grieve. To receive him, the Sakyas had assembled in a park bright with flowers. The Blessed One entered the park. King Suddhodana was deeply moved. His voice faltered; tears of joy coursed down his cheeks, and he slowly bowed his head. And when the Sakyas saw the father paying homage to the son, they all humbly prostrated themselves. The following day, the Master went through the city, begging his food from house to house. He was soon recognized, and the people of Kapilavastu exclaimed: “What a strange sight! Prince Siddhartha, who once drove through these streets, dressed in magnificent robes, now wanders from door to door, begging his food, in the humble garb of a monk.” And they rushed to the windows; they ascended to the terraces, and great was their admiration for the beggar.

One of Gopa’s maidens heard the excitement as she was leaving the palace. She ran to her mistress. “Your husband, Prince Siddhartha,” said she, “is wandering through the city, like a mendicant monk!” Gopa gave a start. She ascended to the terrace of the palace. Surrounded by a crowd of people, the Master was approaching. She went to the king. “My lord,” said she, “your son is begging in the streets of Kapilavastu. An admiring throng follows him about, for he is more beautiful than ever before.” Suddhodana was greatly disturbed. He left the palace, and approaching his son, he said to him: “What are you doing? Why do you beg your food? Surely you must know that I expect you at the palace, you and your disciples.” “I must beg,” replied the Blessed One; “I must obey the law.” “We are a race of warriors,” said the king; “no Sakya was ever a beggar.” “I am the Buddha; I know the path that leads to deliverance. He sleeps in peace who leads a life of holiness, he sleeps on earth and in the other worlds.”

King Suddhodana wept with admiration. The Blessed One smiled, then entered the palace and sat down at his father’s table. The women of the palace came to pay homage. Gopa alone was missing. The king evinced his surprise. “I asked her to come with us,” said Mahaprajapati. “‘I shall not go with you,’ she answered. ‘I may be wanting in virtue; I may not deserve to see my husband. If I have done nothing wrong, he will come to me of his own accord, and I shall then show him the respect that is his due.'” The Master went to Gopa’s apartments. She was wearing a reddish-colored robe, made of some coarse material. At the sight of her thus attired, he smiled with happiness. “You see,” said she, “I wanted to dress as you are dressed; I wanted to know about your life in order to live as you live. You eat but once a day, and I eat but once a day. You gave up sleeping in a bed; look around: no bed will you see, for here is the bench on which I sleep.” “I was aware of your great virtue, Gopa,” replied the Master. “It has not failed you, and I praise you for it. How many women are there in this world who would have had the courage to do as you did?”

One day, gentle Gopa stood looking at her son Rahula. “How beautiful you are, my child!” she exclaimed. “How your eyes sparkle! Your father owes you a pious heritage; you must go and claim it. Mother and child ascended to the terrace of the palace. The Blessed One was passing in the street below. Gopa said to Rahula: “Rahula, do you see that monk?” “Yes, mother,” replied the child. “He is as beautiful as the Gods of the sky! Love him, my son, love him dearly, for he is your father. He once possessed great treasures; he had gold and silver and glittering jewels; now, he goes from house to house, begging his food. But he has acquired a marvellous treasure: he has attained supreme knowledge. Go to him, my son; tell him who You are, and demand your heritage.” Rahula obeyed his mother. He was presently standing before the Buddha. He felt strangely happy. “Monk,” said he, “it is nice to stand here, in your shadow.”

The Master looked at him. It was a kindly glance, and Rahula, taking heart, began walking beside him. Remembering his mother’s words, he said: “I am your son, my Lord. I know that you possess the greatest of treasures. Father, give me my heritage.” The Master smiled. He made no reply. He continued to beg. But Rahula remained at his side; he followed him about and kept repeating: “Father, give me my heritage.” At last the Master spoke: “Child, you know nothing about this treasure that you have heard men praise. The only treasures known to you are those dear to human vanity. But why should you be kept in ignorance? You are right to claim your heritage, Rahula. You shall have your share of the jewels that are mine. You shall see the seven jewels; you shall know the seven virtues, and you shall learn the true value of faith and purity, modesty and reserve, obedience, abnegation and wisdom. Come, I shall give you in charge of holy Sariputra; he will teach you.”

Rahula went with his father, and Gopa rejoiced. King Suddhodana, alone, was sad: his family was deserting him! He could not help speaking his mind to the Master. “Do not grieve,” replied the Master, “for great is the treasure they will share who hearken to my words and follow me! Kings ride into battle on elephants that are under perfect control; in the world, the great man is the man who has learned to control himself, the man who bears his grief in silence. We live in perfect happiness, we who are without hatred in a world full of hatred. We live in perfect happiness, we who are without sickness in a world full of sickness. We live in perfect happiness, we who are without weariness in a world full of weariness. We live in perfect happiness, we who possess nothing. Joy is our food, and we are like radiant Gods. The monk who lives in solitude preserves a soul that is full of peace; he contemplates the truth with a clear, steady gaze, and enjoys a felicity unknown to ordinary mortals.” Having consoled King Suddhodana with these words, the Blessed One left Kapilavastu and returned to Rajagriha.

Notes

Rahula: Only son of Gautama Buddha. When the Buddha visited Kapilavastu for the first time after his Enlightenment and accepted Suddhodana’s invitation, Rahula’s mother sent the boy to the Buddha to ask for his inheritance. The Buddha asked Sariputta to ordain him. When Suddhodana heard of this he protested to the Buddha, and asked as a boon that, in future, no child should be ordained without the consent of his parents, and to this the Buddha agreed.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is a painting of Prince Rahula asking the Buddha for his inheritance. It has been produced and uploaded by the Burmese artist Hintha. The Buddha had Rahula ordained.

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