The Profound Quest of the Young Prince

October 3, 1864

Hanumandhoka Royal Palace, Nepal

 

Darshan Gurujyu.

 May health, peace and tranquility always be preserved in your गाथ. May you become a true chakrawarti ruler like your forefathers. So tell me, Walet Maharaj, did you memorize the sections of Kalidas’s Raghuvamsha that I had assigned?

Yes, I did, Gurujyu. But… I wanted to ask you about something else first.

Bijayaraj had already started settling into his longformed ritual of preparing for a teaching session. He untied and unbundled his manuscripts, arranged them in a half-arc on the ground, his reach to the manuscripts determined by the likelihood of having to quote a line from the specific manuscript during the lesson. He folded the edges of his robe and shawl under himself. He optimized his position on the comfortable cushion so as to minimize discomfort and strain on the back. He was in the middle of this habitual bustle when he was caught off-guard by Prince Trailokya’s unusual response.

He paused and looked up with mild curiosity at the Prince.

Yes?

I want to learn more about Gautam Buddha.

Ahem… Gautam Buddha… Of course, Walet Maharaj! But first we need to finish the Raghuvamsha. You have hardly memorized an eighth of this crowning example of Sanskrit poetry. After that, Kautilya’s Arthashasthra… see, it is just sitting there, looking at us…

But I want to learn about Gautam Buddha first.

Bijayaraj sensed the firmness in the Prince’s voice.

Well, then. Let’s see. Siddhartha Gautam was a Prince born into the Royal Palace of Kapilvastu. He attained enlightenment under a bodhi tree in Gaya, and started being called Gautam Buddha. He is in fact the ninth reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. When we cover Vishnu Puran and Bhagwat Puran next year, we will go into ample details about this. But for now, it is enough to note that he was a reincarnation of Vishnu. Vaman, Parshuram, Ram, Krishna, Gautam Buddha, Kalki.

I want to know the details of Siddhartha’s life and thinking before he attained enlightenment. Yesterday I went to Swayambhu Nath, and there met a Buddhist banda who was very learned… Pandit Gunananda. Do you know him?

No.

He told me he was the son of the famous Amritananda, close friend of old Resident Hodgson. At any rate, this Pandit told me that Siddhartha had everything that he could have wished for. A young wife. A newborn son. A future as a king. But one day he just left it all and went to the jungle. Became a fakir. Shaved his locks off.

Yes, that is accurate.

Buy why, Gurujyu? Why did he do that?

Umm… perhaps he was of a बैरागी nature from birth. Some people are like that… their temperament fixed by their birth Rashi. Once, during the course of his usual walks about town, and over several days, he encountered individuals in different stages of human misery: a sick man, and old woman, a dead man…

Yes, yes, the Pandit told me all this already yesterday. But why, Gurujyu? Why did he leave it all behind? He was just like me… a Prince. I cannot even entertain the notion of leaving all of what I have behind. But he did it. How? What was going through his mind as he walked out that palace door under cover of darkness that fateful night?

Bijayaraj thought for a bit before responding.

Walet Maharaj, those are very deep questions. And the answers to them are in the Gita, which holds the answer to all questions. My plan was to introduce the Gita to you in a few years, when you would be eighteen. But perhaps I will put the Raghuvamsha aside and start with the Gita immediately…

The Prince raised his right arm and placed the palm out in front, facing Bijayaraj.

Bijayaraj was immediately offended by this rude gesture. But he had learned not to betray his emotions too easily in this wretched Darbar. Especially at this naïve child. He remained silent.

No Gurujyu. I do not want to read the Gita. I want to know why he left. What of his responsibilities as a father? As a husband? What of his duties as a future King? How could he disregard all this and simply leave? Did it not break his heart? Or was he callous? Maybe Siddhartha Gautam was the most selfish, wretched weakling who…

The Prince trailed off. By now he had worked himself up so much that he was quite severely out of breath. His ears had turned red. Bijayaraj looked inquisitively at the Prince, but also with a tinge of sympathy. He could not think of a ready answer to the Prince’s queries.

I am sorry, but we will need to end today’s lesson now.

With that, the Prince swiftly collected the leaves of his Raghuvamsha manuscript with trembling hands, raised himself and left the room, with as much dignity as he could muster. Bijayaraj noticed that there was real anguish in his face.

Slowly and absently Bijayaraj collected the scattered manuscripts, tied them up and packed them away. He looked out the palace window.

Why did he leave?

What a question! Of course, he had the inkling of an answer. But every time his hungry analytical mind had wanted to investigate the question deeply, he had been stymied by lack of material. He never found any text among the trove of Vedic and Puranic manuscripts that addressed the nature of Siddhartha Gautam’s quest. There was a lot of ambivalent material about him being a Vishnu avatar. An obscure manuscript he had unearthed while at Banaras even stated that Buddha was a deluder of men who led people away from the path of the Vedas. But there was no material describing his motives.

Suddenly, Bijayaraj was too tired to even think about this question. In fact, with a sudden caving-in of self-confidence triggered by the Prince’s seemingly childish questions, Bijayaraj realized that he was too tired to carry on with this seventeen-year old charade of playing the Raj Guru in the shadows of Jung Bahadur’s empire.

He kept looking out the window. His shoulders had hunched up more than usual. Absently, he noticed the pigeons and the sparrows flutter across the window, occasionally depositing small underfeathers which wafted dustily onto the richly carpeted palace floor. He noticed the fluffy clouds over yonder, and the late afternoon sky, turning that subtle golden hue typical of Dashai season. But all this did not warm his heart like it used to do before.

Bijayaraj got up slowly. A new look of resolve was upon his face. Jung Bahadur could go to hell.

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Pandit Bijayaraj Pandey resigned from his positions as Rajguru and Dharmadhikar on  BS 1921, Marga Badi 11 (January 22, 1865 CE) and moved permanently to Banaras.

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Dedicated to Kul Thapa, who introduced the writer to the magic of Buddhism twenty-four years ago on the grounds of Aksheswor Mahavihar in Patan.

Image: Detail of a Bilanpau (long painted scroll) depicting scenes from the live of Gautam Buddha, created in Kathmandu 1705- 1706 CE. 

An English version of this story is available here.

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