The Buddha’s Dilemma

I recently became aware of one aspect of the story of Prince Siddhartha, the individual known to history as the Buddha–namely that he had a son, Rahula..

Although protected from the outside world by his father, eventually the Prince escapes the palace walls to observe the suffering of ordinary people through his encounter with 1] a sick man, 2] a dead man, 3] a poor man, 4] a holy man. 

He then makes a choice which might shock some contemporary  spiritually evolved individuals–he leaves not only his wife but his newly born son.  In fact he calls him Rahula, meaning ‘fetter’ or ‘obstacle’.  It suggests a bit of anger or frustration at the birth of this child.  He had already suffered from the decision to leave his own father and wife. Now he had to come to terms with leaving a newborn son. This was the dilemma the Prince faced.

Who can truly know the inner state of consciousness of anyone else. But for someone whose very name is associated with love, peacefulness and compassion for all beings, this must have produced considerable suffering, indeed.

Still, I am perplexed by the story.  It would be rather absurd of me to question the Buddha’s actions. After all the seven year absence from his son and wife represented his necessary steps towards reaching enlightenment. And millions of followers of Buddhism might not have been spiritually enriched if he had not chosen to leave when he did.

It does, however, bring up some of the difficulties involved in our own lives. To what extent should we share in the suffering of our own families?  The Buddha seemed to have abandoned his own for he ‘greater’ purpose of reaching enlightenment and ultimately helping millions of others.

In our own lives, we seem to face Buddha’s dilemma as well. How do we react to the suffering of our own loved ones?  Does our love and compassion and empathy for them threaten our own spiritual journey?  Or is it essentially our journey as well?  Are we responsible for their happiness and contentment while we struggle with our own?

Did Siddhartha lose sleep at night worrying about his young son and wife?  He knew that they were financially well off.  But that would be irrelevant to him anyway, wouldn’t it?

It is said that when he returned to his family after seven years, the young Rahula approached his stranger-father with a demand for his inheritance.  I wonder how Buddha experienced that encounter?

Eventually, we are told, the suttra’s describe how Rahula became one of the Buddha’s most devout followers.

Still, I wonder if he harbored any resentment towards the Buddha? We are not privy to either his thoughts or the Buddha’s.  I suppose this demonstrates the challenges of all relationships–even for the Buddha himself.

Perhaps this is the nature of reality–to continuously face these issues without any clear prescription to follow.  We must just make the best decisions that we can in the moment and be willing to assess the results as they unfold.

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