Tuesday, June 1, 2010

If it was good enough for Him...


The Buddha left his wife and son in order to search for enlightenment.
I have a wife and son. Should I do likewise?


  1. I'm no Master, but I feel invited to comment (well, it does say "Post a comment" under your post, so I'm surely not too mistaken).

    Siddharta felt his wife and kid were an obstacle to his search (that's why he called his son Rahula, meaning "obstacle, fetter" - anyway, what mom on earth would let his husband name her son that way???), so he lft them and went to find Mr.Nirvana. Do you think your wife and son are an obstacle? If so, I think you should leave them, or either change the way you see them. Otherwise, I don't see the problem.

    Everyone has his circumstances, and has to respond to those circumstances. We are not in Siddharta's situation, then we shouldn't try to "imitate" him. After all, he wasn't the only one to ever get enlighetened, and not every one of them left their wives, did they? (I hope so)

  2. Master Gotama wasn't a zennie :-). Look at Layman P'ang Yùn. He, his wife and his daugher attained enlightenment living together.

  3. I am glad someone raised this question. Thank you, Kaishin Michael.

    The fact that Siddhartha Gotama chose to leave his wife and baby son, and to name his son an ignoble name, appears to me to be an ignoble decision. I can only surmise that even the Buddha had his blind spots. We are not privy to the details of their life together, to the obstacles he faced, nor to the nature of his wife's character. All that is known from the historical records is that Siddhartha's father, had received a prediction of the two possible paths his son was likely to take by a source whom the father obviously put some credence in.

    Wishing to ensure that the outcome would result in his son's being bound to filial loyalty and to the dutys of successor of the small kingdom, the father spared no expense, nor allure to entrap his son in the palace in a life so full of sensual pleasure, that Siddhartha would, it was hoped, not seek a spiritual path beyond the palace walls. The wife picked out for him was reputed by some sources, to be intoxicatingly desirable and distracting-- an irresistible and highly skilled nymphomaniac of sorts. We also know that she was very much attached to him, and had no desire to lose him. After spending much time in her company and the company of the other concubines and entertainers, Siddhartha must have asked himself if there was not more to life than even this. I suppose a steady diet of anything gets old.

    Perhaps her birthing him a son was one last attempt to keep him bound to her, and hence his spiteful sounding naming of the boy.

    Nonetheless, I see Siddhartha's choice to abandon his father as successor, his wife as husband, and his son as father, as a moral failing. We must keep in mind he was at the time, still young, and very much not yet enlightened.

    I still feel he succumed to many of the cultural prejudices of his time in regarding women as morally inferior beings, as witnessed by his much later statement to Ananda upon being pressed into granting women the right to become nuns and follow the dharma. He predicted the time that the dharma would last would be cut in half due to what he saw as the unfortunate admission of the nuns. On this one point, I have long felt that Ananda was far more compassionate than the Buddha.

    But we must keep in mind, even the Buddha was a human being, and not completely able to outgrow the cultural prejudices of his time.

    I have the greatest of admiration for all those who have worked hard to give credence to the path of the lay buddhist and married householder. It is I believe, of greater merit to do the work of purifying oneself in the midst of life's responsibilities and relationships, than to purify oneself in solitude on a mountaintop.

    B.K.S. Iyengar has much to say regarding the spiritual path of the householder versus the solitary holy man, in his books, Light on Yoga, The Tree of Yoga, and others. Though from a Hindu yogi perspective, his conclusions provide an exemplary model for the married householder who seeks spiritual wholeness. Thanks again for raising an important issue that needs to be addressed.


    June 2, 2010 1:32 PM

  4. The Buddha's search for enlightenment did not start AFTER he left his wife and children? Why should you wait to start yours?

    The Buddha developed the middle way in admission that both a wholly ascetic and a wholly sensual way were erroneous. Why should we follow his mistakes - and hence re-create dualities - rather than his wisdom?

    Is enlightenment only for monks? The Buddha thought not:

    "If a householder who observes conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct, should wish: 'Oh, that by realization myself with direct knowledge, I may here and now enter upon and abide in the deliverance of the heart and the deliverance by wisdom that are taint-free with exhaustion of taints!' it is possible that, by realization himself with direct knowledge, he may here and now enter upon and abide in the deliverance of the heart and the deliverance by wisdom that are taint-free with exhaustion of taints. Why is that? Because he observes conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct."
    (From the Saleyyaka Sutta; MN 41. Available here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.041.nymo.html)

    Thanks for the question and the mental workout.


  5. Interesting replies - thank you.

    Pablo, I see my wife and son as an obstacle to many things - but they're an obstacle I'm going to keep with me! I can't pack in my job as I would wish right now and go to Goa, I can't go chatting up girls at parties, I can't go up some holy mountain in China for five years - but that's ok, part of the deal.

    Hernan, the good news is that my wife has decided I only need be a dull, stable bourgeois for one more year - then finances and other family considerations will allow me to behave like layman Pang and she will happily be Mrs Pang!

    Ed, thanks for pointing out that we should only seek to copy the Buddha's wisdom - not also copy his mistakes.

    And CAT, thanks for your wonderfully informative and perceptive post. As you said, "...he was at the time, still young, and very much not yet enlightened." Getting married so young must have felt like a trap. I was past 30 when I was married, so the moral responsibility is all mine. Also, I got to choose my wife!

    One thing has just occurred to me. Obviously for Siddartha (and his family) something had to change - all three of them one day would have to face old age, sickness and death and it would be much preferable if they had attained the spiritual / psychological tools to deal with such things. Now, my wife is willing for us to go somewhere less wealthy than this wealthy part of England and "suffer" privations if our path takes us there - but she is not a spoilt teenage princess. Maybe Siddartha asked Yasodhara if she'd like to do a Mrs Pang and she said no? I'm not enough of a sutra scholar to know if anything like this is recorded.

    Anyone know?

  6. Michael, I'm not a sutra scholar either, but as far as I'm concerned, there's no record of Siddharta even telling Yasodhara "Hey, let's do this together". The tales of his life are much more abundant AFTER his enlightenment (which is logical, since most of this tales were recorded by his monks, who did only meet him when he was the Buddha...perhaps he didn't even tell them he had a son xD).

    CAT, the issue surrounding nuns' ordination has been much debate, and most probably that claim from the Buddha is a later invention (probably done by machist monks way after Siddharta died). If you look closely at the suttas, there are evidences everywhere that nuns were as normal as monks in those days, and that the Buddha treated them nearly the same way. The later text was an invention to stop ordaining nuns (and that's why there aren't fully ordained nuns in some Theravada lineages).

    As for Siddharta's choice, I guess we can't judge him. We weren't there, we didn't know him, we don't know why he thought that was necessary. So saying his decision was "godd" or "bad" is just views. I've seen many people try to interpret that decision as wise behaviour or something else, but that's bullshit. Siddharta wasn't a Buddha then, so everything he did was quite like anyone of us do now...but, in the end, I'm grateful he did that, because he's given us tools that weren't there before (just as I'm grateful to my mum and dad for getting married and birthing me, although this has led to many suffering for both of them...)

  7. Hail All,

    Here's a question (maybe if one of the publishing members felt it important enough it could be installed as a new thread/topic):

    What is the place of doubt in Buddhist practice?



  8. Only if you really want to, but certainly not for the search of enlightenment.