Siddhartha…from Shakyan Prince to Shakyamuni


The section–Life of Buddha–so far traced the birth, childhood, youth and parivrajaka of Siddhartha. After witnessing The Four Sights, Siddhartha renounced luxuries to understand the reason for suffering and adorning the clothes of an ascetic started his journey to become Shakyamuni.

Journey to Rajgriha

From Anoma River, where Siddhartha left his faithful charioteer Channa, he travelled towards Rajgriha, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha. It was a place which great philosophers and thoughtful leaders had made their headquarters.

On his way towards Rajgriha, Siddhartha met with many Brahmins and lay people, who were surprised with his personality, dignity and splendid beauty, surpassing all other men. However, they were also astonished seeing him wearing the clothes of a sanyasi.

While some revered him and welcomed him with folded hands, some bowed their heads in respect, and some addressed him with affectionate words. Everyone who saw Siddhartha paid homage to him. After a long and arduous journey– Rajgriha was nearly 400 miles from Kapilavatsu on foot. Siddhartha reached Rajgriha, which was surrounded by five hills, and wellguarded and adorned with mountains, and sacred places. On reaching Rajgriha, he selected a spot at the foot of the Pandava hill and built a small hut with leaves.

Meeting with King Bimbisara

As Siddhartha went into the city, the next day, with a begging bowl asking for alms, a vast crowd gathered round him. When Bimbisara, the king of Magadha, saw such an immense concourse of people, he asked the reason for it. He was told that Siddhartha has renounced luxuries to become an ascetic, and people gathered around him to catch a glimpse. King Bimbisara asked a courtier to follow Siddhartha.

After an entire day of wandering and receiving alms, Siddhartha retired to a lonely corner of the Pandava hill. The royal courtier reported to the king about Siddhartha’s whereabouts. The king set forth to meet up with Siddhartha. He ascended the hill and reached the spot where Siddhartha was sitting in perfect tranquility. Bimbisara courteously inquired about Siddhartha’s health, to which Siddhartha assured the king that he was free from all ailments.

Bimbisara continued by saying, “I have a strong friendship with your family, and so I wanted to speak to you, my son. Therefore, listen to my words of affection. When I consider your race, your fresh youth, and your conspicuous beauty, I wonder where did this resolve of yours come from, which is so out of all harmony with the rest, set wholly on a mendicant’s life, and not on a kingdom?”

Thereafter, Bimbisara implored Siddhartha about accepting luxuries back into his life as he said, “Your limbs are worthy of red sandalwood perfumes,—they do not deserve the rough contact of red cloth, this hand of yours is fit to protect subjects, it deserves not to hold food given by another. However, if you do not desire your father’s kingdom, then accept half of my kingdom.”

The king even persuaded Siddhartha to live as per the rules of religious merit, wealth and pleasure. He stated that these are the three objects in life that a man should pursue to make his life complete. He beseeched Siddhartha to use his strength in warfare and conquer the world.

Bimbisara further talked about oldage and said that Siddhartha should enjoy the pleasures of life now, in his youth, and may think about religion in his old age. The king said, “The old man can obtain merit by religion; old age is helpless for the enjoyment of pleasures; therefore, they say that pleasures belong to the young man, wealth to the middle-aged, and religion to the old.”

The king suggested alternative ways to follow the path of religion–through offering sacrifices and following customs. “Royal sages have reached the same goal by sacrifice which great sages reached by self-mortification,” concluded Bimbisara.

Siddhartha answers Bimbisara

Despite such a passionate speech by Bimbisara, Siddhartha did not falter. He was firm like a mountain, and spoke thus in a self-possessed and unchanged manner. “What you have said is not to be called a strange thing for you. O King! You are born in the great family whose ensign is the lion, and you love your friends. Thus, it is natural for you to adopt this line of approach towards a friend of yours.”

Thereafter, Siddhartha expounded on his idea of friendship in these beautiful words, “Amongst the evil-minded, a friendship worthy of their family ceases to continue and fades; it is only the good who keep increasing the old friendship of their ancestors by a new succession of friendly acts. But those men who act unchangingly towards their friends in reverses of fortune, I esteem in my heart as true friends. Who is not the friend of the prosperous man, in his times of abundance? So those who, having obtained riches in the world, employ them for the sake of their friends and religions—their wealth has real solidity, and when it perishes it produces no pain at the end.”

Next, Siddhartha highlighted on his views on worldly possessions. He called them, “transient pleasures—the robbers of our happiness and our wealth, and which float empty and like illusions through the world—infatuate man’s minds even when they are only hoped for.”

“There is no calamity in the world like pleasures, people are devoted to them through delusion; when he once knows the truth and so fears evil, what wise man would of his own choice desire evil? When they have obtained all the earth girdled by the sea, kings wish to conquer the other side of the great ocean; mankind is never satiated with pleasures, as the ocean with the waters that fall into it,” continued Siddhartha.

Siddhartha further talked about the need for self-control to avoid the illusion of pleasure. He stated that the pleasures we feel are but borrowed for some time and a wise man with selfcontrol will know that such pleasure will not delight him. “What man of self-control could find satisfaction in these pleasures which are like a torch of hay—which excite thirst when you seek them and when you grasp them?”

He continued that even if men enjoy pleasure in life, they will not be satisfied with it. And, if a man’s intellect is blinded with pleasures, it will eventually lead to his destruction. Siddhartha drew several allusions to nature and said, “Deer are lured to their destruction by songs, insects for the sake of the brightness fly into the fire, the fish greedy for the flesh swallows the iron hook— therefore, worldly pleasures produce misery as their end.”

With regards to the argument about “pleasures are enjoyment”, Siddhartha gave a thought-provoking discourse. He said, “As for the common opinion, ‘pleasures are enjoyment,’ none of them when examined are worthy of being enjoyed; fine garments and the rest are only the accessories of things—they are to be regarded as merely the remedies for pain. Water is desired for allaying thirst; food in the same way for removing hunger; a house for keeping off the wind, the heat of the sun, and the rain; and dress for keeping off the cold and to cover one’s nakedness’. So too a bed is for removing drowsiness; a carriage for remedying the fatigue of a journey; a seat for alleviating the pain of standing; so bathing as a means for washing, health, and strength. External objects therefore are to human beings means for remedying pain—not in themselves sources of enjoyment; what wise man would allow that he enjoys those delights which are only used as remedial?”

Siddhartha gave an interesting analogy on royalty and slavery thereafter. He said, “When I see how the nature of pleasure and pain are mixed, I consider royalty and slavery as the same; a king does not always smile, nor is a slave always in pain. Since to be a king involves a wider range of responsibility, therefore, the sorrows of a king are great; for a king is like a peg—he endures trouble for the sake of the world.”

He continued, “A king is unfortunate, if he places his trust in his royalty which is apt to desert and loves crooked turns; and, on the other hand, if he does not trust in it, then what can be the happiness of a timid king? And since after even conquering the whole earth, one city only can serve as a dwelling place and even there only one house can be inhabited, is not royalty mere labour for others?And even in royalty nothing more than one pair of garments is all he needs, and just enough food to keep off hunger; so only one bed, and only one seat is all that a king needs; other distinctions are only for pride. And if all these fruits are desired for the sake of satisfaction, I can be satisfied without a kingdom; and if a man is once satisfied in this world, are not all distinctions unnecessary?”

Siddhartha then stated his reasons for leaving his home and said that he did not do so out of anger or because he was banished by his enemies. He does not wish to go back to seeking pleasures after abandoning them, as he has understood the futility of the illusionary nature of pleasure.

Siddhartha’s concluding speech to Bimbisara

“I have been wounded by the strife of the world, and I have come out longing to obtain peace; I would not accept any empire in the third heaven, for saving me from all the ills of the earth how much less amongst men?” said Siddhartha. Thereafter, he expounded on the three objects mentioned by Bimbisara. He opined that these objects were perishable and unsatisfying.

Further, with regards to youth being irresolute and one should seek tranquility in the old age, Siddhartha talked about the impermanence of life, as he said, “How shall the wise man, who desires tranquility, wait for old age, when he knows not when the time of death will be?”

Siddhartha then disapproved of the customs of religious sacrifices for attaining certain goals, as he said, “To kill a helpless victim through a wish for future reward,—it would be unseemly action for a merciful, good-hearted man, even if the reward of the sacrifice were eternal.” He concluded by saying, “I am not to be lured into a course of action for future reward—my mind does not delight, O King, in future births; these actions are uncertain and wavering in their direction, like plants beaten by the rain from a cloud.”

Thus hearing, Bimbisara, folding his hands, replied, “You should obtain your desire without indrance; when you have at last accomplished all that you has to do, you should show hereafter your favour towards me.”

Having received a firm promise from Siddhartha to visit him again, the king, taking his courtiers with him, returned to the palace.

The above is the fourth part of our series on the Life of Buddha, referenced from ‘The Buddha and His Dhamma,’ by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. In the forthcoming issues, we will focus on the Buddha’s journey to attain enlightenment.