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Buddha in Two Different Eras

Buddha in Two Different Eras

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An encounter with an old man and his monk son sparked a realization in Sid Ghosh. Stories, he saw, held the curious ability to echo across vast stretches of time, their themes and emotions resonating in unexpected ways. Here, woven together, are two tales from different eras, each holding a fragment of the same universal experience. We share this story to celebrate Buddha Purnima which was on 23rd of May

Yashodhara awoke to a cold emptiness beside her. Siddhartha was gone. A sliver of hope flickered – perhaps the Royal Garden beckoned for a pre-dawn meditation. But unease gnawed at her. He’d never left without a word, not ever. The maids’ confused faces mirrored her growing panic. “Have you seen the Prince?” Yashodhara’s voice was strained.

Their headshakes confirmed her worst fears. This wasn’t like him. With a sharp edge to her voice, she commanded the maids, “Find Channa immediately. The Prince has been inseparable from him lately. Perhaps Channa knows where he’s gone.”

The maids scurried away, but their return was empty-handed. No sign of Channa either. Fear, cold and sharp, gripped Yashodhara’s heart. Memories flooded back: Siddhartha’s withdrawn silence these past days, the lack of joy in Rahul’s playtime, the near-absence of conversation between them. This wasn’t a mere morning walk; it was something more, something worrisome. The charioteer might hold answers, but a deeper dread settled in. Yashodhara knew she couldn’t wait any longer. She rushed to King Suddhadhana, desperate for help.

Rashpal watched his youngest son, Gautam, with a complex mix of emotions. Unlike his practical elder brothers, Gautam was a whirlwind of intelligence, sensitivity, and a passion that burned brightly. While Rashpal, an engineer at heart, envisioned Gautam following his path, Gautam dreamt of a different kind of impact – unravelling the mysteries of the universe as a physics professor. This dream had led Gautam to Kanpur University’s prestigious B.Sc. Physics program, a decision that filled Rashpal with both pride and a niggling unease.

Gautam had excelled in his studies, consistently topping his class for the past two years. However, recently, a change had settled over him. His once laser focus on physics seemed to waver. Gautam spent more and more time volunteering – caring for the underprivileged, feeding the hungry, and visiting the sick in hospitals. News of this shift reached Rashpal, deepening his worry. His son’s compassion was admirable, but could it overshadow the brilliant scientific mind he saw in Gautam?

The news of his son’s absence struck Suddhodhana like a physical blow. He paced the palace chambers, a whirlwind of emotions churning within him. The echo of his late teacher, the great sage Asiti, seemed to resonate in the emptiness. Hadn’t Asiti prophesied a momentous destiny for Siddhartha – to become either a mighty emperor or a spiritual leader who would shake the foundations of the world? Now, with Siddhartha missing, the weight of that prophecy hung heavy in the air, a suffocating shroud amplifying Suddhodhana’s fear. Was his son destined for greatness, or was this the start of a tragic downfall?

Rashpal, his worry a simmering pot, finally cornered Gautam for a conversation. To his shock, Gautam didn’t resist. But what truly unsettled Rashpal was the change in his son. Gautam spoke calmly, almost serenely, about his newfound calling.

“Material possessions hold no meaning for me anymore, Father,” Gautam declared. “I’ve found my true path – the path to salvation, to enlightenment.”

Rashpal frowned deeply. “Enlightenment? You?”

Gautam nodded, his voice devoid of its usual youthful enthusiasm. “Yes. To achieve Nirvana, the state free from suffering, free from the endless cycle of rebirth. It requires purging all greed, hatred, and ignorance.”

The weight of Gautam’s words pressed down on Rashpal. His son, once brimming with academic ambition, now spoke with the detachment of a monk. It wasn’t the life Rashpal had envisioned, and the calmness in Gautam’s voice, devoid of its usual warmth, sent shivers down his spine. A silent tension filled the room, a stark contrast to their usual conversations.

News, carried by swift messengers, reached Suddhodhana within days. His spies revealed the reason behind Siddhartha’s departure: a yearning for spiritual answers. Sheltered within the palace walls, Siddhartha had encountered glimpses of suffering beyond his privileged life. Now, he sought to understand the nature of this unsatisfactoriness that seemed woven into the fabric of existence.

Gautam’s declaration hung heavy in the air. He spoke not just of seeking enlightenment for himself, but for “all sentient beings,” a phrase echoing the core tenets of Buddhism. He yearned to shed the burdens of the material world and work towards the greater good.

Rashpal, his world turned upside down, could only stare in shock. The son he envisioned as a successful engineer now dreamt of saffron robes and a life of monastic simplicity. Accepting this radical shift in Gautam’s path seemed an insurmountable hurdle.

Gautam’s resolve was unwavering. He yearned to become a Bhikshu, a Buddhist monk, and wasted no time. Food lost its appeal, and he retreated to a room, his resolve radiating from his very presence. Witnessing this unwavering determination, a battle raged within Rashpal. Denial warred with a grudging respect for his son’s newfound purpose.

Finally, with a heavy heart, Rashpal knew he couldn’t stand in Gautam’s way. With a mixture of sorrow and pride, he released Gautam to pursue his path to enlightenment. It wasn’t the future he had envisioned, but Gautam’s conviction demanded respect. As Gautam embarked on his journey, a silent understanding settled between father and son.

For years, a shadow of grief hung over Suddhodana. His son’s absence gnawed at him, and he spared no effort in searching for Siddhartha. Then, after seven long years, a beacon of hope pierced the darkness. News arrived – Siddhartha had attained enlightenment, becoming the Buddha. Relief mingled with a yearning to see his son again. Suddhodhana dispatched nine emissaries, hoping to entice the Buddha back to the Shakya land. Little did he know, the Buddha’s teachings would resonate deeply, not just with the emissaries, but with their entire entourage, leading them to embrace the path of the Sangha themselves.

Undeterred, Suddhodana reached out once more. This time, he sent Kaludayi, a close friend of Siddhartha from his youth. Their bond was strong, and Suddhodhana hoped it would sway the Buddha. Kaludayi, touched by the yearning, embarked on the journey. He too, found himself drawn to the Buddha’s wisdom and chose to join the Sangha. Yet, he kept his promise, faithfully relaying the invitation to return home.

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Years bled into one another. Each year, a flicker of hope would ignite in Rashpal’s heart. Twice a year, Gautam would call, a disembodied voice checking in on his family’s well-being. During these brief exchanges, Rashpal would plead, his voice thick with longing, for Gautam to return. He even offered a compromise – a life of monastic devotion within the familiar embrace of their home.

But Gautam remained resolute. His path had led him beyond the confines of family ties. The world, with its suffering, beckoned, and his dedication to alleviating it burned bright. Though Rashpal couldn’t understand his son’s complete detachment, he couldn’t ignore the unwavering conviction in Gautam’s voice. Theirs became a love story played out in distance, a poignant melody of acceptance and unwavering devotion.

Four years later, upon hearing of his father Suddhodana’s failing health, the Buddha returned home. There, at his father’s deathbed, he offered final teachings that brought Suddhodana great peace.

Four years bled into one another, each marked by a deepening worry for Rashpal’s health. News of his ailing finally reached Gautam, a stark reminder of the son he’d left behind. Though years of monastic life had honed his detachment, a flicker of filial love remained. He returned home, not as the Buddha he had become, but as Gautam, the son.

At Rashpal’s bedside, a poignant dance began. The once-vibrant man was now gaunt, facing a battle with cancer. Chemotherapy loomed, a harsh reality against the backdrop of Gautam’s saffron robes. He took on the role of caretaker, ensuring his father’s comfort with a practiced efficiency. Rashpal, his voice weak, yearned for the warmth of a son’s love in Gautam’s eyes. Yet, Gautam’s words hung heavy: “It is my duty, nothing more.”

His elder brothers, caught up in their own lives, offered support from afar. But it was Gautam, the son who had sought enlightenment beyond the family, who was here now. A complex mix of emotions swirled within him – the weight of his monastic vows, the undeniable love for his father, and the gnawing guilt of years apart. This homecoming was a far cry from the one he’d envisioned, a bittersweet reunion shadowed by illness and the struggle to reconcile past and present. Would Gautam, in caring for his father, find a way to bridge the gap between duty and love?

A wave of sorrow washed over me as I sat beside Rashpal ji in the sterile confines of the general ward of IRCH, AIIMS. Tears welled in his eyes, reflecting the harsh fluorescent lights. He yearned for something I couldn’t give – a physical expression of love. In that moment, I longed to reach out, to hug him close and whisper, “You raised a son who achieved liberation at a young age. Be proud, Rashpal ji. Be very proud.”

I gently placed a hand on his arm, a silent offering of comfort in place of the embrace he craved.

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