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King Suddhodana

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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King Suddhodana, who was of the Sakyan caste, was a righteous king who ruled over Kapilavatthu. As a young prince he excelled in warfare and swordsmanship. After a victorious battle his father, King Sihahanu, offered him a boon. He requested permission to marry the beautiful sisters, Maha Maya and Pajapati. Even though in many other kingdoms in India it was accepted for the king to have more than one consort, this was not the custom in Kapilavatthu. The Sakyans were monogamous and as such Prince Suddhodana had to receive special permission to marry the noble princesses who were of the Koliya caste. Prince Suddhodana wished to make both princesses his consorts as he had heard that one of the two sisters would give birth to a noble son who would bring great happiness to mankind.

For many years his chief consort, Queen Maha Maya, had no children. Then, almost twenty years after their marriage, she gave birth to a baby prince whom they named Siddhattha, meaning wish-fulfilled.

King Suddhodana first recognized the extraordinary qualities of their child when the Sage Asita came to visit the baby. Asita, who was renowned for his wisdom and was a teacher to King Suddhodana, visited the palace on hearing of the birth of the prince. The king carried the baby to Asita for his blessing. To their surprise, the baby moved and placed His feet on Asita’s head. The wise Asita then examined the markings on the baby’s feet, and kneeling before the young prince, paid homage to Him. Asita then predicted that this noble baby would one day be a Buddha and show the world the path to the end of suffering. King Suddhodana, seeing the learned Asita salute the baby prince, followed suit, saying, "Son, this is my first act of obeisance."

King Suddhodana paid homage to the prince for the second time during the royal ploughing festival. It was the custom at that time to herald the new growing season with festivities. The nurses, observing that the baby prince was asleep, joined in the festivities and merry-making. When they returned they found the prince meditating while sitting cross-legged a few feet above the ground. Alarmed, they informed the king of the extraordinary feat. The king then knelt and saluted the baby prince for the second time, saying, "Son, this is my second act of obeisance."

Despite the fact that two sages had predicted that the prince would be a Buddha, King Suddhodana wanted his son to be a king. Four others had said that the baby would be a Buddha or a Universal Monarch. The king decided that he would surround the prince with luxury and ensure that he was totally shielded from suffering so as to ensure his royal lineage of an Universal Monarch. King Suddhodana did not want the baby prince to be a Buddha. However, the prince’s aspiration and effort over aeons of time had to be fulfilled. Prince Siddhattha left home in search of the Truth and attained enlightenment by realizing the path to the total destruction of suffering. After this, Prince Siddhattha was known as the Supreme Buddha Gotama.

The Buddha was in Rajagaha when there arose a strong desire in King Suddhodana to see his enlightened son. He sent courtiers inviting the Buddha to visit the city of His childhood. However, on hearing the Dhamma, messenger after messenger decided to remain with the Buddha and be ordained. Enjoying the bliss of Nibbana, the courtiers did not convey the invitation to the Buddha. Finally, King Suddhodana sent his most trusted courtier, Kaludayi, a playmate of Prince Siddhattha, to bring the Buddha back to Kapilavatthu. Kaludayi agreed to give the message if the king gave him permission to be ordained as a monk.

When the Buddha arrived in Kapilavatthu the proud Sakyan elders decided that they would not pay homage to Him. Instead, they sent the younger princes and princesses to pay homage. The Buddha, seeing the pride of the Sakyans and its hindrance to their attainment of spiritual development, performed the Twin Wonder. Red and blue rays that depicted fire and water radiated from either side of His body. The king, seeing the miracle, fell down on his knees and paid obeisance to the Buddha by saying, "Son, this is my third act of obeisance". The Sakyan elders, their pride subdued, followed King Suddhodana’s example and paid homage to the Buddha.

King Suddhodana assumed that the Buddha and His retinue of 20,000 monks would come to the palace for their meals on the following day. As such he did not invite the Buddha to the palace. Without an invitation, the Buddha decided that He would examine what His ancestors, the Buddhas of the past, did when they first visited their home city. Did they go uninvited, to their previous home? He observed that the Buddhas of the past had not automatically invited themselves. They had instead gone for alms from house to house. The Buddha, with His retinue of monks, followed the age-old tradition of seeking alms from every house.

Before long the message that his Son was begging for alms reached the king. Disturbed, he questioned the Buddha as to why He was insulting His father, the king, by begging for alms. The Buddha gently informed King Suddhodana that He was following the custom of His ancestors. The king replied, "How could that be? You are a Sakyan Prince of the Solar Dynasty, with royal blood. None of our ancestors begged for their food." The Buddha corrected the king by saying, "O King, you are referring to your lineage. I am of the Buddha lineage. The Buddhas of the past, when visiting their home-city for the first time, went from house to house seeking alms if they were not invited."

The humility of the Great Buddha is observed in this simple action. Not only did the Buddha when in doubt seek counsel from the traditions of past Buddhas, but He also did not see any need for arrogance just because He came from a royal caste. He was an ascetic, a Buddha, and as such even in His homecity, followed the customs of His ancestors.

King Suddhodana attained Arahanthship in stages. He attained the first two stages of sainthood, Sotapanna and Sakadagami, on the Buddha’s first visit after hearing a few lines on righteousness. The Buddha advised the king to lead a righteous, uncorrupted life, and that the righteous live happily in both this life and the next.

He attained the third stage of sainthood, Anagami, on hearing the Dhammapala Jataka. When the Buddha was practising self-mortification, He had reduced His food intake to such an extent that His body was wasted and He often fainted from lack of nourishment. An erroneous message was sent to King Suddhodana that his son had passed away. The king, however, refused to believe the message, saying his son would not pass away before attaining His goal of enlightenment. The Buddha, on hearing this, dispensed the Dhammapala Jataka, a previous life story of another instance when they had been father and son. At that time, bones had been brought back by a messenger with the claim that his son had died. In that birth also, King Suddhodana had refused to believe that his son had died.

King Suddhodana attained the various stages of sainthood without renunciation. He chose to perform his royal duties and remain as the King of Kapilavatthu. Many years later, on hearing of His father’s imminent death, the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu to give His last discourse to His father. On hearing the Dhamma, King Suddhodana attained Arahanthship. Seven days later he passed away. The Buddha was about forty years old at the time of His father’s death.