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off with the lot

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After seeing these deeply disturbing sights, he returned to the palace and pondered what he had witnessed. His mind was in turmoil and he could find no peace nor satisfactory answers from the Brahmin wise men. Meeting the wandering monk, however, hinted as a possible way of escaping his dilemma. To increase his confusion and conflict, a messenger arrived with the news that his wife had just given birth to a son. He considered how his departure from the palace would affect his wife, their son and his parents. Yes, his wife would grieve but he knew she and their son would be protected and well-provided. His parents would be shocked and sorely disappointed. Until now, his life had been entirely planned by others, but his quest was more urgent than any personal consideration or sacrifice. If he remained in his present life and assumed more duties as the heir-apparent to the throne, he would be enmeshed in further worldly involvements along with their attendant anxieties. Certainly his love for his wife and newborn child would shackle him indefinitely. It is the custom in India to leave the household life in later years when a man's worldly duties have been accomplished. But could he leave now? He was not seeking spiritual answers only for himself. No, he would share this discovery of the way to end suffering and rebirth and then help this afflicted world. If successful, this would be an unparalled gift to benefit not only those he loved but all humanity, now and for all time.
With these thoughts in mind, he approached the King and his stepmother and told them of his experiences and his decision to leave. Assuring them he would return when he discovered the way to halt rebirth and suffering, he knew turning back was impossible: his decision was irrevocable. Bursting into tears, his parents begged him to remain and enjoy his present privileges, his future glory and the pleasures of a happy family life. Disappointed and saddened by the encounter with his parents, he returned to his chambers. Late that night, he asked Channa to saddle Kanthaka, his swiftest and favorite great white stallion. He had one last duty to perform. Quietly, he entered his wife's chambers to gaze one last time on the sleeping Princess. Her arm was covering their son's face, but he dare not wake them. Vowing he would return to see them when his goal was accomplished, with heavy heart, he turned and departed. Truly, it can be said it was not that he loved them less, but he loved suffering humanity more. At age 29, Prince Siddhattha left the palace. This momentous event in religious history is known as the Great Renunciation.
 

 

away from the world

It was midnight as Kanthaka, carrying the Prince and Channa, rode quietly out of Kapilavatthu. Siddhattha left behind his past life for an unknown future, parting with everyone he loved. He renounced position, wealth, the promise of power and prestige and a life of privilege in search of the Truth which no one had found. Mara, the Tempter, appeared and spoke to Gotama's heart, "O, Prince, return to the palace. You shall soon become a Universal King." The Prince refused. Mara warned, "You will be watched, Siddhattha. My power is very great. At the very first time that you have a cruel thought and secret desires I shall know it, and I shall catch you!" Siddhattha and Channa rode swiftly southeast all night knowing the King would send soldiers to force his return. At dawn, they arrived at the River Anoma. As a sign of renunciation, the Prince cut his long hair and exchanged his royal robes for beggar's garb. Channa pleaded to accompany him, but the Prince refused. Comforting the weeping Channa, and asking him to tell his family not to grieve and that he would return, Siddhattha asked Channa to return his princely ornaments. Kanthaka refused to move, but finally returned Channa to the palace bearing the Prince's last message. It is said that Kanthaka died of a broken heart.

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