The Buddha leaving his family

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The Buddha leaving his family

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Sun May 05, 2013 5:12 am

This is something I've always wondered about, and have been questioned by others wanting to know the how and why. When Siddhartha left his wife and child, was this an act of selfishness, or compassion? Did he know, when he left them, that he would succeed at his goal?

And another question: does this give people an excuse to leave their families behind, say, in order to join a monastery?
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby Indrajala » Sun May 05, 2013 5:18 am

If he had stayed at home, he would have benefited a few people.

But he left home and benefited billions of people between enlightenment and now.
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Sun May 05, 2013 5:19 am

Indrajala wrote:If he had stayed at home, he would have benefited a few people.

But he left home and benefited billions of people between enlightenment and now.


I guess something I'm wondering is, did he know it was the right thing to do at the time he did it?
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby Konchog1 » Sun May 05, 2013 5:21 am

There's a Buddhist story. A family is starving. There's some food left. Does the husband split the food with everyone or eat it all himself and use the energy to find a plentiful food source?
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby greentara » Sun May 05, 2013 6:32 am

How about the yearning for libertation was so strong he had no choice but was just swept along. Like a ripe fruit ready to fall from the tree!
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby Indrajala » Sun May 05, 2013 7:27 am

dyanaprajna2011 wrote:
Indrajala wrote:If he had stayed at home, he would have benefited a few people.

But he left home and benefited billions of people between enlightenment and now.


I guess something I'm wondering is, did he know it was the right thing to do at the time he did it?


Bear in mind at the time noblemen would have went away for extended periods on campaigns and the sort. He left his wife and child in a palace. It wasn't like he was leaving them in destitution.
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby Wayfarer » Sun May 05, 2013 9:25 am

Some people might not like this comparison, but what about all of those who left home to defend their country against aggression, and died in the effort.

Were they being selfish?
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby Seishin » Sun May 05, 2013 11:47 am

How about the countless Filipino who leave their family to go to work overseas, are they being selfish?

I think the idea of what Buddha did as "selfish" comes from the idea that a religious life is for personal gain. This idea has become more prevalent due to our materialistic lifestyle these days, (and maybe even from Abrahamic religions where one has a "personal" relationship to god.)

Such a shame that these days "helping others" is only considered material rather than spiritual.

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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sun May 05, 2013 3:56 pm

...and according to the tradition, Yasodhara became a Bhikkhuni (nun) in the Sangha among the first women that Buddha ordained, and Rahula became a monk in the Sangha; he was the first Samanera as a boy. Both Ven. Yasodhara and Ven. Rahula are recognized in the Pali Canon as arahants. So, the Buddha left his family to follow the path he intended to set for himself, but there really can be no sense that his act was selfish or reckless.
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Sun May 05, 2013 4:13 pm

All good answers, and some of them are things I had never thought about before. Especially in the west, we might look at that story, and have all kinds of misperceptions of the Buddha, and tend to think low of him for doing so. But what if he had not done what he did? We wouldn't have the path to follow out of samsara.
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sun May 05, 2013 5:32 pm

Yeah..I think Indrajalas point is well worth paying attention to. Today we hear about someone leaving their family and think it means a certain thing, but at this time in India, and through much of history obviously, it was completely normal for certain classes of aristocrats and warriors to be gone a large portion of the time, so it seems like what actually happened was simply a choice between being gone to achieve worldly gains, or being gone for spiritual purposes - rather than a choice between being with family or pursuing enlightenment as is sometimes presented.

Anyway, I think if one accepts multiple turnings of the wheel, you have to accept somewhat the the original teachings required renouncing society. Since this time, there are many teachers throughout the vehicles who are householders, there are practices mentioned in the Pali Canon onward for householders, and householders achieving enlightenment. Don't have to ordain or leave ones circumstances to practice Dharma. Of course its wonderful when people do, and I understand the importance of it. The thing is, as it's said in Dhammapada and so many other places, society goes one way, Nirvana another, if there's anything in the story of the Buddha leaving his home that I take away, it's this.
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is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun May 05, 2013 9:54 pm

You need to ask that question in this context:
If your marriage had been arranged for you when you were a child,
and if you left behind your wife & kids in a palace with servants...

We can't just say. "Siddhartha left his family, so that means I can" without considering a lot of factors.
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby Huifeng » Mon May 06, 2013 1:43 am

dyanaprajna2011 wrote:This is something I've always wondered about, and have been questioned by others wanting to know the how and why. When Siddhartha left his wife and child, was this an act of selfishness, or compassion? Did he know, when he left them, that he would succeed at his goal?

And another question: does this give people an excuse to leave their families behind, say, in order to join a monastery?


The Buddha himself was questioned about this. According to one tradition, at least, his answer lies at the heart of the Vessantara Jataka, a little verse:

“Both Jāli and Kaṇhājinā I let another take,
And Maddī my devoted wife, and all for wisdom's sake.
“Not hateful is my faithful wife, nor yet my children are,
But perfect knowledge, to my mind, is something dearer far.”

~~ Huifeng
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby lobster » Mon May 06, 2013 9:31 am

It would have been slow and difficult and maybe even impossible to follow the spiritual life as a Prince. The duties and cares of the world are in most of our lives. The extent to which we integrate or make a clean break is not the same decision for the ordinary person (Siddhartha) and the enlightened . . . :namaste:
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby Aemilius » Mon May 06, 2013 4:23 pm

dyanaprajna2011 wrote:This is something I've always wondered about, and have been questioned by others wanting to know the how and why. When Siddhartha left his wife and child, was this an act of selfishness, or compassion? Did he know, when he left them, that he would succeed at his goal?

And another question: does this give people an excuse to leave their families behind, say, in order to join a monastery?


This is a much more complicated question than it seems at first. There is namely an other tradition according to which Siddhartha left home at the age of 19. This view is preserved in the Mahayana of China and Japan. The Venerable Hsuan Hua has told this version of Siddhartha's life in His Commentary to the White Lotus Sutra. In this tradition Siddhartha was already an ascetic when his parents demanded an heir to their family lineage, the ascetic Siddhartha then caused the pregnancy of Yashodhara by pointing his ascetic's staff toward the womb of Yashodhara.

More aspects about this same issue here http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=41&t=1738
And here http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=41&t=1739
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby Aemilius » Tue May 07, 2013 12:49 pm

The correct name of the commentary by Ven. Hsuan Hua is Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. This story of ascetic Siddhartha is in some of the early volumes, in the volumes that were printed in 1970's and early 1980's, which means the six or seven first ones of the series.
http://www.cttbusa.org/dfs/dfs_contents.asp#
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby dude » Wed May 08, 2013 3:22 pm

No, I don't think it was selfish.
He did disobey his father and abandoned his wife and child. He also walked away from his responsibility as crown prince and heir to the throne. But it's not like they would starve without him being around to support them, and a new heir had already been born.
He had been prophesied to be a great king and a great leader in the secular world if he didn't enter the religious life, so he had a great career ahead had he chosen it.
He was willing to die rather than abandon his search, so it's hard to argue he was in it for himself.
I don't think he knew, either. I think he manifest himself as an unenlightened human being, but his nature was that of a Buddha. Before his awakening (I think) he didn't know all of his past lives, or that he was a Buddha, but his nature was such that the suffering of human beings and other life forms so bothered him that he felt an implacable desire to know the truth.
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby coldwater » Mon May 13, 2013 2:43 pm

Considering he named his son the (endearing?) name 'Rahula'-Eclipse/Fetter probably gives some insight into what was going on for him personally at the time...

He left in the night...but didn't cut himself off from his family completely.
I think we also get into a tendency of projecting current ideas of relationships and family into a different time and cultural climate.

As another forum member pointed out- his wife and son eventually became renunciates as well. He travelled in areas where many of his kinsmen and relatives where. His family was taken care of- no support rug pulled from under them. I don't know much about Indian family arrangements at that point in history...but...if it was political/arranged marriages and if he had a harem... there were probably different emotional expectations between a husband and wife than we have now. I think it is problematic to apply current expectations in relationships onto historical relationships. I also imagine it was not too shocking that a person might leave a family or career and become a renunciate. There was a strong culture of it already. Even Yasodhara allegedly emulated Buddha shortly after he left home and she refused other marriage proposals. Also important to consider they had already been married for about 15 years or something. They married as child-cousins.

Even now as a monastic a person has to clean up their ties with the world- taking care of debts, having no dependents or making sure they are taken care of and it is at an appropriate time, having no major illness, etc. They don't abandon their relatives and act like strangers and they do help them in whatever capacity they can. Leaving home isn't intended to be a hurtful or cold act thrown in the face of one's family. Much better if they give their approval and rejoice in it.

I don't think the Buddha was implying that every person leave their family in the night and run off to quest for the answers to suffering and the meaning to life. I think he did that so we don't have to. Now half the work is done for us and we can enter into that path and avoid the dead ends he found.
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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby Huifeng » Tue May 14, 2013 3:29 am

coldwater wrote:Considering he named his son the (endearing?) name 'Rahula'-Eclipse/Fetter probably gives some insight into what was going on for him personally at the time...



The name "rahula" does not mean "fetter". This explanation, which is very popular, only seems to appear in Buddhaghosa's work from the 5th century CE. The term is "bandha" (fetter). However, the passage itself hints as much at "bandhu", which just means "kinsman". This could also just be read as saying he has a son and declares "a relative is born", then names him "rahula". The literature is a popular story. It should not at all be used to give some historical description of what the Buddha was feeling at the time.

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Re: The Buddha leaving his family

Postby coldwater » Tue May 14, 2013 4:49 am

Thank you, I didn't know that. Could you elaborate more?
What does Rahula mean, if not fetter? What is implied in the name? Or is there no meaning? Or are you saying the meaning was wrongly attached and emphasized from the 5th century onward?

As far as I know naming was (and is) quite important in Indian culture. It has appeared to me that the meaning of names of characters throughout his hagiography, as well as sutras, generally suggested characteristics, relationships, virtues or personal histories. If from the 5th century onward the biographies have been confused and altered by a misreading of a term- that changes the story around his family relationship quite a bit. If Rahula means 'eclipse' or is suggestive of a fetter or blockage, that to me, is obviously suggesting certain sentiments to be conveyed by the storyteller to the reader.

Also I don't consider the story historical or factual, I consider it a story. I have doubts about much of the biography as being historically accurate and we can only reconstruct something so much. Sorry if it seemed like I was saying "this is what the Buddha really thought", for me it is a given that this is a hagiography meant to convey a kind of life arc. Important for followers and that has been altered by time and preferences of people. So misinterpretations or misreadings isn't surprising but I would like to know the actual meaning of Rahula and the sort of implications it has.
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