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Chapter 21: Going Home

King Shuddhodana heard the news that his son had already found Perfect Awareness and had become a buddha, and that he was even dwelling in the town of Rajagaha. He sent repeated delegations to ask his son to return home, but in every case the deligates, on hearing the Buddha preach, joined his followers instead. The king’s most trusted courtier was a man named Kalodayin (Kālodāyin), who had been one of Siddhartha’s childhood playmates (or some say one of his favorite teachers), and finally the king asked Kalodayin to go and ask the Buddha to return to the town of Kapilavastu, so that his father could see his son the Buddha.

Kalodayin, like the others, also became a disciple of the Buddha, but he also persuaded him to go and see his father. And so, with his followers the Buddha headed to Kapilavastu, the realm of King Shuddhodana.

When they got to Kapilavastu, they found that the kindly king had prepared a hermitage in a fig grove for the use of the Buddha and the bhikshus, and so they settled in the hermitage.

The next morning, as customary, the Buddha took his bowl and went into the streets to beg. When they saw their former prince begging, the people of Kapilavastu immediately reported it to the King.

King Shuddhodana, who was surprised and annoyed. He ordered his chariot and rode out to see this thing with his own eyes. Sure enough, there was his son, the prince, begging in his own land, in the land where he could have become king and had anything he wanted. The sight of his son with the begging bowl in his hand, already half full, surrounded by an adoring crowd, was more than King Shuddhodana could handle. He reproached his son in harsh tones for dishonoring his family, his ancestors, and his country.

“But father,” said the Buddha, “I am doing as my ancestors did.”

“They never did any such thing!” said his father.

“I mean my buddha-ancestors, the buddhas who came before me. All of them begged and gave people a chance to gain merit by providing for them.” And he explained to his father what he had discovered about escaping from suffering. His father’s anger left him, and he invited the Buddha and all of his followers to come to the palace itself to beg.

And when they had eaten, then the Buddha spoke to the king and the men of his family and all the other men of the palace about his awakening and the way to avoid suffering. And all who heard him were persuaded and became his followers.

Then the Buddha and two of his followers went to the quarters of Lady Yashodhara, who had been the Buddha’s wife before he left the family. And he preached to her, and to his little son, Prince Rahula, already seven years old.

Later, when the boy attained better understanding, the Buddha told him how to avoid suffering, and he left the family to follow the Buddha and became the first novice disciple in the new Buddhist movement, a category of follower slightly below a bhikshu.

Besides saving his son Rahula, the Buddha also saved his handsome younger half-brother Nanda. Nanda had just been engaged to a beautiful princess, but he and other princes of the Shakya clan left their families to go with the Buddha, although Nanda never found it easy to stop thinking about beautiful princesses.

When he left Kapilavastu, six more young princes hurried to him and asked to leave their families and join him. They included Ananda (Ānanda) and Devadatta, who were cousins of the Buddha. Ananda was destined to be the Buddha’s closest friend and most important disciple. Devadatta was destined to become his most committed enemy.

What mischief could a committed enemy do? Read Part V to find out.

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