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Chapter 4: The Life of a Prince

Under Maha-prajapati’s care, Prince Siddhartha grew strong and handsome and was much admired. Indeed, he had quite miraculous abilities in everything.

When he was eight, the king invited to the palace all the best teachers, who taught the prince to read and to calculate and to shoot with a bow and to drive a chariot. He revered his teachers, learned well, forgot nothing, and was the most outstanding among all the princes in everything he undertook.

“And well he should be!” thought his father proudly, for as the oldest son of the senior wife, he would one day inherit the throne. But of course the real reason was that he was already a bodhisattva, who had been sent to teach humanity how to avoid suffering.

Even his chariot horse loved him. So did the wild animals. He loved them too, and never harmed any living thing. For example, one day he saw another child about to kill a snake with a large stick, and stopped him.

picture by Kari Francis
Devadatta was furious and demanded to have the bird.
Drawing by Kari Francis, Sixth College (UCSD), Class of 2011, by permission

Among the royal children who played together in the palace gardens there was one Prince Devadatta, who was a cousin to Siddhartha, but was of very different character, for Devadatta liked to cause trouble and to kill things.

One day Devadatta shot a swan in the wing with an arrow and it fell to the ground gravely injured. Siddhartha rushed to pick it up and extract the arrow and try to stench the flow of blood.

Devadatta was furious and demanded to have the injured bird. Siddhartha refused, insisting that as long as the swan lived it deserved care.

In the end, they took the dispute to the court sages, who discussed the matter for a long time, as was their wont. The sages had great difficulty agreeing. It was a well established convention that the prey belonged to the hunter. But caring for suffering living beings was clearly a noble sentiment. In the end, the latter opinion prevailed, and the sages ruled that the bird belonged to Siddhartha because he would shelter its life, while Devadatta would end its life.

So Siddhartha took the bird and nursed it and then released it back into the forest. And from that moment on, Devadatta resented Siddhartha .


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