4. A Youth Dedicated to the Mastery of Learning and Athletics
Seven days after giving birth Mayadevi died, and her sister Mahaprajapati raised the prince. Additionally, 32 nurses were appointed after careful selection for his care: eight to carry him, eight to suckle him, eight to bathe him and the other eight nurses to play with him.
As the son of the king, Siddhartha was provided with the finest upbringing. His life had ample quantities of both opportunity and security. He received the finest education and mastered all lessons taught to him. In his younger years, he excelled in sports and other contests of skill. The vigorous training befitted the grooming of a future monarch. He was said to particularly excel on the horse and with the bow.
The most significant episode of his youth occurred during the contest for winning the hand of the beautiful princess Gopa. An elephant had been placed inside the city gate to test which one was the strongest. Devadatta, Buddha's cousin, killed the animal with one hand. Siddhartha, seeing the mindless killing, picked up the animal lightly and tossed it over the city wall, where it came to life again. Needless to say, Siddhartha was chosen as the groom.
5. The Skillful Conduct of Worldly Affairs
When he came of age and assumed royal duties, prince Siddhartha became a true man of the world and had a retinue of many queens and attendant ladies. Narrative paintings depict him at court, consulting his experienced father in the skilful conduct of material affairs.
6. The Four Encounters
Having been warned by the court astrologers that his son may well give it all up and choose the path of meditation, Buddha's father tried his best to shield him from the harsh realities of life. This state of affairs continued until one day, by chance, while riding his chariot, Siddhartha encountered an old man walking along the road. Intrigued by his first encounter with old age, the prince addressed his charioteer: "Who is this man there with the white hair, feeble hand gripping a staff, eyes lost beneath his brows, limbs bent and hanging loose? Has something happened to alter him, or is that his natural state?"
"That is old age," said the charioteer, "the ravisher of beauty, the ruin of vigor, the cause of sorrow, destroyer of delights, the bane of memories and the enemy of the senses. In his childhood, that one too drank milk and learned to creep along the floor, came step by step to vigorous youth, and he has now, step by step, in the same way, gone on to old age."
The charioteer thus revealed in his simplicity what was to have been hidden from the king's son, who exclaimed, "What! And will this evil come to me too?" "Without doubt, by the force of time," said the charioteer.
And thus the great souled one, whose mind was but a store of merits, was agitated when he heard of old age - like a bull who has heard close by the crash of a thunderbolt. He further encountered in such manner a sick man and a dead man, leading to great turbulence in his mind.
One day he came across an ascetic mendicant. "Who art thou?" he asked. To which the other answered, "Terrified by birth and death, desiring liberation, I became an ascetic. As a beggar, wandering without family and without hope, accepting any fare, I live now for nothing but the highest good." Convinced that herein lay the way to quell his mental agitation, Gautama resolved to follow this holy man's example.
7. The Renunciation of Worldly Life
Having made the decision, Siddhartha requested his father to allow him to proceed in his quest for truth. On hearing of the prince's resolve, his father became extremely anxious an
d entreated him to revert his decision. To which Siddhartha replied thus: "Father if you can fulfill my four desires, I promise not to leave you. These are: First, I should not die; Secondly, No disease should ever afflict me, youth should never desert me, and finally, prosperity should always be my companion." Hearing these impossible demands, the king was extremely dejected and became resigned to his fate. Gautama left the luxurious palace of his father in the middle of the night, leaving behind his sleeping wife and son.
The first thing Gautam Buddha did after leaving his father's palace was to severe his long and beautiful hair with his princely blade.
He thought, "These locks of mine are not suited to a monk; but there is no one to cut the hair of a future Buddha. Therefore I will cut them off myself with my sword." And grasping a scimitar with his right hand, he seized his top-knot with his left hand, and cut it off, together with his jeweled turban. His hair thus became two finger-breadths in length, and curling to the right, lay close to his head.
Taking hold of his top-knot and diadem, he threw them into the air, saying: "If I am to become a Buddha, let them stay in the sky; but if not, let them fall to the ground."
They rose into the air for a distance of one league before Vasava (corresponding to the Indra), the chief of gods, perceiving them with his divine eyes, received them in an appropriate jeweled casket, and established them in heaven.
"His hair he cut, so sweet with many pleasant scents, This Chief of men, and high impelled it towards the sky; And there god Vasava, the god with a thousand eyes, In golden casket caught it, bowing low his head."