The path to glory

Pragbodhi: Siddhartha spent six years inside a cave and became skin and bone.

Pragbodhi: Siddhartha spent six years inside a cave and became skin and bone.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: B. R. S. SREENAG

Three sights changed the life of Prince Siddhartha and led him to seek the Eternal Truth.

Prince Siddhartha, born to King Suddhodhana and Queen Maya in Lumbini, grew into a bright, handsome and kind-hearted boy. His father, King Suddhodhana, arranged for him to be educated by the best teachers in the kingdom. As the Prince grew older, his kindness made him well-loved by all those who knew him.

Time went by, and he married Princess Yasodhara and in due course, they were blessed with a son named Rahula. One evening, Prince Siddhartha and Yashodara were relaxing. Turning to one of his favourite singers, the prince requested, “Please lull us to sleep with a song. Choose a tune you have never sung for me before.” The singer sang of the beauties of the world, of distant lands where she had travelled as a child and of golden cities where happy people lived. The song enchanted the Prince and he asked the singer, “Tell me, are there really such places beyond these garden walls?” She answered, “Surely these palaces of yours are most magnificent; but there are many other beautiful things to be seen in this wide world…”

Shocking sights

This made the prince curious. So, he set out of his palace with charioteer Channa. As the Prince and his charioteer were riding, they spotted an old, bent person among the joyous crowd. As the Prince had never seen anything like this before, he turned and asked, “Channa, why is he stooping over and not dancing like the others?” Channa answered, “Why sir, he is an old man. Many years ago, he was young and strong. But slowly he lost his strength. His body became bent, the colours faded from his cheeks, he lost most of his teeth, and now he appears the way he does.” Siddhartha asked, “Is he the only one suffering the weakness of old age? Or are there any others like him?” Channa answered, “O Prince, everyone must experience old age.” These words shocked the Prince. Another day, they rode out into Kapilavastu again.

This time, Siddhartha saw another man. “Who is that man who coughs so violently, who cries so pitifully?” “He is a sick person, O Prince. People become sick for many reasons.” Again, the Prince was deeply shocked.” The third time they left the palace accompanied by ministers, musicians and servants. But a vision appeared that only the Prince and his charioteer could see. A group of sad eyed people, carrying a corpse , was making its way down the street. “Channa, why is that man in the box lying so still,” asked Siddhartha. “He is dead, sire,” replied the charioteer. “They are going to the riverside where they will burn his body.” The Prince was stunned.

These three sights changed Prince Siddhartha’s life forever. He then left the palace in search of the Eternal Truth.

* * *

The journey begins…


Siddhartha proceeded to a mango grove called Anupia and stayed there for a week, contemplating on the possible course of action he was to take. After a few days, he decided to go to Rajagriha, capital of Magada. There, Siddhartha began to look for a teacher. From Rajagriha, he went to meet two sages, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta who lived in a hermitage nearby. Sage Alara Kalama, who accepted him as his disciple, initiated him into the secrets of ecstatic meditation. He was also taught the doctrine of Atman and the existence of Brahman. But Siddhartha got disillusioned, left the hermitage and retreated to a forest near Uruvela.


At Pragbodhi, Siddartha met five wandering monks, who believed that nirvana could be achieved only through the strict observation of austerities and self-denial. Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji decided to stay with him and pursue in his path. Their life was extremely simple. They ate very little, lived in the open and sat perfectly still for many hours each day. Siddhartha too began difficult and painful practices. He entered a small cave and sat for hours and hours in the same spot. Soon, he stopped taking even the one poor meal a day that he used to eat sustaining himself on the few seeds and berries that the wind blew into his lap. His body lost its radiance and became covered with dust and dirt. Eventually, he looked like little more than a living skeleton. He spent six years in the cave with hardly any food, sleep, or decent clothing.

(The voyage continues)

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