Birth & Youth

Twenty-nine years old, profoundly troubled, Siddhartha was determined to comprehend the nature of suffering. He resolved to leave the palace. His wife had just given birth to a baby boy. Siddhartha called him Rahula—“fetter”.

D. Max Moerman, scholar: "He names his son Fetter. He names his son 'ball and chain'. This is the fetter that will keep me tethered to this life. This is what will keep me imprisoned."

Late one summer evening, Siddhartha went into his wife's room. A lamp of scented oil lit up. His wife lay sleeping on a bed strewn with flowers, cradling their newborn son in her arms. He gazed from the threshold, deep in thought:

Siddhartha leaves his family
Siddhartha leaves his sleeping wife and baby son
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“If I take my wife’s hand from my son's head and pick him up and hold him in my arms, it will be painful for me to leave.”

Internalizing the conflict, he turned away, and climbed down to the palace courtyard. His beloved horse Kanthaka was waiting. As he rode toward the city’s northern wall, he leapt high into the air. Mara, the tempter god of desire, was waiting.

"You are destined,” Mara told him, “to rule a great empire. Go back and worldly power will be yours." Siddhartha refused.

Jane Hirshfield, poet: "He left grief and probably absolute puzzlement and dismay in the hearts of wife and the infant son who was innocent and yet was suddenly fatherless, and of course his own father. But there is no knowledge won without sacrifice. And this is one of the hard truths of human existence. In order to gain anything you must first lose everything."

Continue to "Seeking"

Major funding provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by: the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Shinnyo-en Foundation, the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Bumper Foundation, and viewers like you.