Brief notes on Buddhist thought and practice
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The Great Departure

Leaving the room where the dancers were sleeping, Prince Siddhartha called Channa, his chariot driver, and told him to saddle his horse Kanthaka for a long journey that very night.

Then he went to the room where his wife Yashodara and new-born son Rahula were, and he found that they were asleep, too. He decided not to wake them--perhaps because of compassion, or perhaps because he thought Yashodara might plead with him to stay.

Channa brought Kanthaka saddled and ready. Then he and Channa left the palace together. They rode out in silence. Legend says that the gods held up Kanthaka’s hooves so they wouldn’t make any noise as he left.

They passed through the sleeping city and out from the gates. Prince Siddhartha stopped and looked back at the city of his ancestors. Then, turning Kanthaka’s head to the road, he went silently toward the banks of the river Anoma.

There, on the banks of the river, the prince removed all of his fine jewelry and his fancy outer robes and gave them to Channa. He asked Channa to do one last service: to take his goods and his horse and return them to his father. He asked Channa to tell his mother, his father, and his wife that he was well, and that he had gone to seek the answer to the questions that had troubled him for so long.

Naturally Channa begged to be taken along. But the prince insisted that this was something he had to do alone. Besides, he said, it was not suitable for a wandering monk to have a servant. He promised that he would see Channa again.

Weeping, Channa could only obey. He led Kanthaka down the moonlit road. Tradition says the horse, too, wept. Some even say that his heart broke, and he died on the road. Channa then returned to the palace on foot, with the prince’s robes and Kanthaka’s saddle.

And so that night, Prince Siddhartha Gautama of the Shakya clan, heir to the throne of Kapilavastu, took his sword and, kneeling by the river, cut off his royal topknot. He then turned his face from the city where his loved ones slept and, with mindful steps, set out to solve for all people the problems of human suffering, and to lead the life of a homeless ascetic.

  1. What do you think of the prince leaving his wife and infant son this way?
  2. Why do you think tradition has inserted the supernatural details into the story?
  3. Imagine Channa returning to the palace. What could he possibly say to justify his role in the prince's departure?
Next time: The Five Companions

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