Love, Serve, Remember

Articles by Swami Veda Bharati

The Three Shocks of the Buddha

[This is a transcript from the lecture series: "Unblocking Yourself" given by Swami Veda Bharati. It was previously published in the July 2019 edition of the AHYMSIN Newsletter.]

People are interested in finding out how we free ourselves; how we unbind ourselves from our state of bondage. It is easier to loosen the knots if you know the structure of the knot; then you don't have to spend hours unraveling it. In the process getting more knots and binding ourselves in new ways. If we understand the process by which we bind ourselves, two things will happen. First, it will be easier for us to loosen the existing knots, and second we'll avoid tying further knots in the future. The process of coming into bondage daily, every new bondage, each day, is a subtle and sinister one.

We do not even notice when we start tying ourselves in this bundle of knots nor do we notice how we keep tightening the knots. We find ourselves in a certain mental habit, and then we say, "I am unable to get out of this habit; this is the way I now am. There is a certain kind of thing I simply cannot do." A sense of defeat occurs. Each time you say, "Such and such I simply cannot do,” you are impressing upon your mind that very habit. You are forming another knot, the knot of defeatism. By such means our thinking becomes constrained. We want to feel free of a situation, of a habit, of a condition, an environment that is around us, a certain something that is blocking progress in a given relationship, that we remain stuck, tied up in a knot.

In families for instance, the same argument will occur over and over and over again for years and years. Husband keeps saying the same thing to the wife for ten years, twenty years; wife keeps saying the same thing to the husband twenty years, thirty years. They should celebrate the anniversary of when, "Darling, I said this nasty thing to you first time." We have made ourselves into tape recorders, and the same tape keeps playing in the head. In our words, our letters, our actions and all our compositions of life's rhythms – music symphonic and noises cacophonic—the same tape continues. Sometimes we catch ourselves, "What have I been saying? What have I been doing, sleepwalking?" Sometimes we catch ourselves and with the realization of how many years we have been saying something, comes also the questioning of our spouse,

"Don't you understand I've been saying the same thing to you for twenty years, and you still don't understand. It's all your fault." I'm sorry, it's the other way around – it's the speaker's fault, not the spouse.

We are always so defensive. We always have a ready explanation for everything: for all our flaws, for all our faults, for all our failures, for all our lack of freedom. We don't realize when we first set the trap for ourselves. The great Tagore wrote a poem1 which goes something like this:

"Prisoner, tell me, who was it that bound you?”

“It was my master,” said the prisoner. “I thought I could outdo everybody in the world in wealth and power, and I amassed in my own treasure-house the money due to my king. When sleep overcame me I lay upon the bed that was for my lord, and on waking up I found I was a prisoner in my own treasure-house."

"Prisoner, tell me, who was it that wrought this unbreakable chain?"

"It was I," said the prisoner, "who forged this chain very carefully. I thought my invincible power would hold the world captive leaving me in a freedom undisturbed. Thus night and day I worked at the chain with huge fires and cruel hard strokes. When at last the work was done and the links were complete and unbreakable, I found that it held me in its grip."

Such traps are so subtle, so sinister, that we don't realize when we have begun to entrap ourselves. By a single word, by a single thought; which word, which thought; thought first, the word after, and that the third. Which thought, which word, which act we have planted as a seed, then we water it with more thought, more words and more acts. When we have uprooted all the sweet melons and planted all the bitter gourds, we then complain that the garden produces nothing 'sweet. We need to recognize these traps. They consist of constrained thoughts, limited thoughts, negatives, and denials of all kinds.

There are limitations of place binding our minds. There are limitations of time placed on our mind. There are limitations of geography, nations, states, religions, belief systems, cultures, languages, and, above all, our own personal experiences. We believe that the experiences we have had are the only valid ones for us, "I have become what I am because of the experiences I have had. I have not become something more or better because of the experiences I was deprived of. My father was a child abuser; that is why I simply cannot keep my hands away from the rod and take every opportunity of beating my child. It is not my fault.” I do not accept them.

People say, "Well, I had a shock early in my life, when I was young and innocent. It was from that shock that I never recovered and that makes me who I am.” But the Buddha had three shocks in his life, one after the other, and that's what made him the Buddha.

The Buddha had three shocks in his life, one after the other, and that's what made him the Buddha.

He had three shocks in his life: when the Buddha was born his mother was on a journey. Swamiji, our guru, says, "The Buddha was born under a tree, was enlightened under a tree, and, though a prince, he died under a tree."

This was a peculiar time in the history of the world. It was a time, sixth century B.C., when the Buddha, the Enlightened One, was teaching in India, and Lao-tse was teaching his message of the Tao and wrote the Tao Te Ching in China. It was the time when Pythagoras established the first philosophical academy in the West. He founded the Western system of philosophy, music and mathematics, initiated Western civilization. He also taught reincarnation. It was a time Pythagoras, first founder of western metaphysics.

You know Pythagoras's Theorem is found in Sanskrit texts eight centuries before Pythagoras’s time. He had left the island of Samos because of the tyranny of the kind and had wandered off, says Herodotus, to the countries of the east, and then returned to Greece, the island of Samos in Greece, in the Aegean Sea. It was a time when Zarathustra, also known as Zoroaster was teaching in Iran. So it was a very peculiar time in the history of the world. The Egyptian civilization was decaying at that time; there is no record of a great teacher in Egypt. The pre-Muslim Iranian civilization was ascendant at that time. And the Indian civilization and the Chinese civilization, there was no Western civilization as yet; it was just beginning to start.

So when Buddha, the Enlightened One, was born, seven sages visited him and prophesied that he would either be the king of the whole earth or he would be an enlightened one. He was a prince, and his father had no use for a son who would don the robes of a monk and wander about preaching with a begging bowl in hand. That would be an ignominy, an insult to the royal house.

So the father, the king, made sure that the Buddha heard nothing of metaphysics, no ugly news of the world, and that he came across nothing that was unpleasant. They put the child prince in a huge orchard in a lovely grove surrounded by four walls in the greatest comfort possible, so he would have only positive views about worldly comforts. As the prince grew they surrounded him with beautiful maidens from all over the kingdom, and covered him with jewelry, gems, garlands and necklaces.

His teachers were surprised that he had to be taught so little. Because he had wisdom, he didn't need intellect. Wisdom is the easy part of education. When you do a mathematical problem, you like to learn what rules apply. A wise man, before learning how to do the mathematical problem, learns how to use the mind. Your whole education system, you have never been taught how to use your mind. Not on intellectual, nor psychological, philosophical or scientific problems, nor on your emotions or your relationships. There is no training on how to use the mind, which is the science of all sciences.

If you are born with the innate wisdom of how to use the mind you will learn all the principles of mathematics in one-tenth the time that anyone else would take to learn. You will not have to go to business school, and yet you will make the best business man. What business school does is constrain you.

What the schools of social sciences do is to give you a certain view outside which you can't see. So when you have a problem in mathematics, go to someone who does not know mathematics, he is more likely to solve it for you. Go to a philosopher who knows the art and science of how to use the mind. He will interpret the problem in terms of philosophy and will answer it in terms of philosophy. You can then translate it back into the terms of mathematics. The would-be Buddha, born as prince Siddhartha, would attend classes only because he had to.

When the time came to test him in all the princely sciences, he excelled in them all. When time came for him to be tested in archery, though he did not practice, he picked his bow, picked his arrow and in the first attempt shot right into the eye of the target. While others learned how to use the bow, how to use the arrow, how to take aim at the target and how exactly to shoot, he learned how to use the mind.

When it was time for the prince to be taken out in procession so the would-be subjects could see the crown prince and he, in turn, could be exposed to his subjects for the first time, strict orders went out from the king to the police chief saying, "Nothing ugly, nothing unpleasant, nothing depressing about this world must cross the prince's eye. Nothing at all." The city gleamed, every door had flower garlands and wreaths; water was sprinkled on all the dusty streets. Lampposts were erected along the prince's route and women stood on balconies showering flower petals on the prince as he passed by. Musicians marched in front of the prince on his royal elephant. The prince, inspecting his kingdom for the first time, was amazed at all the sights and sounds: he'd never before been outside the boundaries of his palace.

"What's that?" asked the prince.

"Oh, nothing, Prince; nothing at all."

"What is it, what? Why is that man not walking on his own?

Why is he being supported by others?"

"Oh, it's nothing, Prince," said the ministers. They were afraid of violating the king's orders. "It's nothing, Prince; these are not matters for your attention. Look instead at all the beautiful women sprinkling flowers on your head and realize how this kingdom loves you."

"Oh, Prince, he's just sick."

"Sick? What's that?"

"Well, it's… well, it's something that happens to the body."

"Oh. Why did it happen to him?"

"Oh, it can happen to anybody."

"Can it happen to me? To this body also?"

"Well, Prince, yes. It can happen to you."

"To this handsome young body that everyone claims to love?" The prince was shocked and saddened. He cut the procession short and returned to the palace. He contemplated on the knowledge of this body that can get sick; how that man was sick and was being carried by others. He could not walk. Whatever for? Why does this happen?

The king, his father, arranged some entertainment for him to help him forget that which he had seen. The police chief must have been demoted, for permitting such a shock. "Why?" The question was not answered.

Later, when the King thought that the prince had forgotten the incident, he decided it was time for him to see the prosperous kingdom once more. So the prince once again went out in procession to see the well-prepared city. The prince, Siddhartha, is happy; he's overjoyed. Everything is wonderful, the people love him, and he likes the music being played. Then his glance falls. Once again, it is said in the Buddhist scriptures, it was all the contrivance of the gods; it was no human being, it wasn't the police chief's fault. The gods and angels wanted to aid in the prince's enlightenment and so had taken the form of an old man, an old man with a bent back walking with a staff. The second shock occurred, "What is that?"

"Oh, he's old,"

"What does that mean?"

"Well, it means he's lived many years."

"Oh, so everybody blesses me, 'May the prince live long. Long live the prince.' And I thought that was something beautiful, something great, something wonderful. That man has lived long. How long has he lived?"

"Well, maybe eighty years."

"Eighty years? So that is what happens when people live long?"

The ministers tried to deflect the questions and avoid answering directly. But the prince asked probing questions, "You can tell me."

"Well, yes, that is what happens, that is how the body goes when one gets old."

"Everyone gets that way?"

"Well, prince, yes they do get old."

"I will get old?"

"Well, prince, everyone,"

The prince was saddened and came back home. He was given more entertainment. And a third time, he went out and saw not a sick man, not an old man, but someone lying prone and being carried on four shoulders.

"What is that?"

"Oh, prince, you don't want to look at such a thing. Look at the lovely faces of all the healthy people here.

"No, no, no, tell me why that man is being carried on a stretcher?"

"Oh, he's dead."

"Dead? What's that?"

"The life has gone out of him."

"The life has gone out of him? Why has life gone out of him?"

"Well, when people have lived very long, they become sick, they become old, and then they die.

"What are they going to do with him?"

"Bury him, cremate him."

"Is that what they do? Is that what they will do with this handsome body also? Is this the end of everything?"

"Well, prince, you have very long to live." The prince came back. He was entertained even more enthusiastically and zealously. And a fourth time when he was taken out in procession, his glance fell on a shining, happy face, a glowing brilliant face. It was someone wearing orange robes, and with a shining face with the splendour of the sun; cheerful with no depression and no sadness possible in that face. "Who is that?"

"Well, prince, he's a sannyasi, a swami, a monk."

"Why in this world full of misery?" he says, "In this world full of misery," he says, "in this world full of sickness, old age and death, how can that man be so cheerful, so glowing, and so happy? It looks like the sun itself has incarnated. What makes him happy? I want to find out."

"No prince, you have many princely duties, you don't want to find out." The ministers were all trembling fearing what the king would do because a monk came within the sight of the prince. The prophecy might come true, that the prince might become an enlightened man instead of king of the whole world.

One night Prince Siddhartha walks out of his palace. He called his charioteer, Chandaka by name. "Prepare my horse." The groom accompanied him for a while, and then Siddhartha turned him back saying, "Tell my family that one day I will return." The king, the father, waited. His son grew up without a father. His wife waited. Years passed.

Forty-nine days and forty-nine nights in meditation Prince Siddhartha sat absolutely still. When he opened his eyes from the forty-nine days of meditation, being enlightened, do you know what he said? The first words he said were, "Aha. Aha, I've found the house maker. He shall no more build me a house." That's what he said. He was enlightened and became Buddha. He broke the bonds and loosened the knots. The knot of the heart was burst; all doubts sundered. The force of karmas dwindled, and that One who is beyond and in the universe was seen.

This house of clay is that in which you live, and that to which you keep returning in many shapes and forms in incarnation after incarnation, until you no longer need it. Buddha said, "I've found the house maker. He shall no more build me a house." He gathered a band of followers and monks around him and traveled and taught. The news of him traveled to his father’s kingdom.

One day the Enlightened One decided to visit his old kingdom. The news went to his father, an old man now, "Your son is returning, your son is coming." How the father was overjoyed. His son was also overjoyed. The city was prepared. Once again it was preened, roads were sprinkled with water, and garlands and wreaths were hung on every door. When will the prince enter? In his own good time; perhaps tomorrow. Right now he is out in a monastic camp, away from the city, because monks were not allowed to enter the city except to beg for their alms. When tomorrow came, someone ran to the Buddha's father saying, "Majesty, your son already entered the city."

"How can that be? I wanted to go to receive him, but no one told me."

"Sire, he came early in the morning. And he's been begging."


"Your son has been begging; your son the prince has been begging from the citizens. He's begging for food!"

"My son? My illustrious son who was to be the king of this kingdom, he's begging for food?"

"Yes, he comes and he begs for his food. He takes in only one bowl full of whatever people give him and goes away. Once a day he begs, and that is all he receives."

The father, King Suddhodana, trembling with shock and rage, sent a message to the one whom he still claimed as his son, the crown prince. He says, "There is no greater pleasure for me than that you return to this kingdom, but what is this about your going out and begging from your own citizens? Have you forgotten your illustrious lineage of solar kings? Have you forgotten and brought shame to our house?"

The Buddha sent back a reply typical of an Enlightened One only. He said, "Father, I have not forgotten the lineage to which I belong. I am very true to my illustrious inheritance. I am very true to the lineage of all the past Buddhas whose path I follow." That is the reply he sent. And then the Buddha initiated his own son, who was the second in the line of succession after him, into monastic path. "He is my true son. He is my spiritual son."

1) From Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali

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