Śuddhodana

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Illustration painted by Chandra Man Maskey showing the Buddha's father Śuddhodana

Śuddhodana (P. Suddhodana; T. zas gtsang ཟས་གཙང་; C. jingfan wang 淨飯王), meaning "he who grows pure rice,"[1] was the father of Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha. He was the leader of the Shakya clan, who ruled from their capital at Kapilavastu, near the border of present-day Nepal and India.

Śuddhodana was married to Maya, Siddhartha Gautama's mother, who died shortly after giving birth to their son Siddhartha. According to some accounts, he later married Maya's sister, Mahāpajāpatī, who became Siddhartha's step-mother after Maya's death.[2]

According to tradition, after the birth of Siddhartha, Śuddhodana invited a group of eight sages to his court to exam the child and predict his future. The sages prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king and military conqueror (chakravartin) or an enlightened spiritual guide (buddha).

Śuddhodana was eager for his son to become a great king and conqueror. But he was afraid that Siddhartha might choose the spiritual path and renounce his worldly inheritance.

In an effort to assure that his son's spiritual nature was never awakened, the King insulated Siddhartha from all pain and suffering. He was surrounded by wealth and pleasure, his every wish granted. Orders were given that no unpleasantness would intrude upon Siddhartha’s life of courtly pleasures and so all signs of illness, aging, and mortality were hidden from him.[3]

Thus, as a young man, Siddhartha wore robes of the finest silk, ate the best food and was surrounded by beautiful dancing girls. He was extremely handsome and he excelled at his studies and at every type of sporting contest. His father arranged for him to marry a young woman of exceptional grace and beauty, Yasodhara. Siddhartha and Yasodhara lived together in peace and harmony for many years.

Yet despite all of this, Siddhartha still had not yet been outside the palace walls. His curiosity grew stronger and stronger and he pleaded with his father to allow him to venture beyond the palace gates. Finally, when Siddhartha reached the age of 29, Śuddhodana relented and allowed Siddhartha to visit the world outside the palace gates.

Once outside the gates, Siddhartha encountered the four sights, which marked the beginning of his spiritual awakening. Eventually, Siddhartha left the home of his father to follow the path of a spiritual seeker.

After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha returned to his childhood home and taught the dharma to his family and friends, including Śuddhodana. After teaching in Kapilavastu, the Buddha left again to teach the dharma elsewhere.

Four years later, the Buddha heard of Śuddhodana's impending death, and he once again returned to his childhood home and preached further to Śuddhodana at his deathbed. Śuddhodana ultimately gained Arahantship.

Notes

  1. Schumann, H.W. (2016). Historical Buddha: The Times, Life and Teachings of the Founder of Buddhism. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 6. ISBN 978-8120818170. 
  2. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Śuddhodana.
  3. Anderson 2013, Kindle Locations 364-367.


Sources

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