In the foothills of the Himalayas a prince didn’t just get married. First he had to prove himself in horsemanship, swordsmanship, and shooting a bow and arrow. And other princes had to try to beat him so that he could prove he was the worthiest to marry the intended bride.
Siddhartha had to prove himself in the arts of war on the plain of Kapilavastu just as any other prince would need to do. Riding his favorite white horse Kanthaka, the King of Horses, he easily exceeded all others in horsemanship. And he shot an arrow even further than Prince Devadatta, his cousin and constant rival. When Siddhartha demonstrated swordsmanship, he slashed a tree so quickly and accurately that the top remained standing on the base until pushed over by a breeze.
But some grumbled that he had done well riding because of his magnificent white horse, not because of his own skill. So the princes agreed that all of them should then use a particularly wild black horse. One after another, the black horse threw off the princes who tried to ride it till it came to an excellent rider who managed to mount and stay mounted, and even whipped the horse to make it go faster. Suddenly the horse bucked wildly and threw off that prince too, who received a terrible injury and died on the spot.
Now it was Prince Siddhartha’s turn. Everyone thought the man thrown to his death had been the land’s best rider, so all expected the horse to make short work of Siddhartha, just as it had of the earlier princes. But Siddhartha went up to the horse, stroked it, and whispered soothingly into its ear. It calmed down, and Siddhartha mounted and rode the black horse with ease. And he had no need of a whip.
As expected, Siddhartha was judged the worthiest to become the husband of Princess Yashodhara, and both fathers were delighted. (Some people say that the contest involved a drunken elephant rather than a horse. But they agree that Siddhartha was the winner.)
And so Prince Siddhartha and Princess Yashodhara were united. They lived in the three beautiful palaces that King Shuddhodana had built for them. And King Shuddhodana was confident that Prince Siddhartha would never again want to leave his family and become an ascetic, now that he had a beautiful wife.
Still, just to be sure, King Shuddhodana ordered that no one was ever to mention in the presence of the prince any sad or painful thing, such as birth, old age, illness, death, or anything similar. Siddhartha’s days were to be filled with song and dance, and he was to be screened from all sadness, even from the knowledge that sadness was possible.
The king also ordered that a great wall be built around the whole great estate, and that only the young and the beautiful should be allowed inside. Anyone who might accidentally be hurt should immediately be sent out and not be allowed back till the healing was complete. And under no circumstance was the prince to go outside the wall.
How long can a man be kept in a pleasure garden without learning about what is beyond the walls? Does it help if he has a beautiful wife? Read Part II to find out.