Finding the Path: The Renunciation
Yasodhara had borne Siddhartha a son. The cycle of birth and death seemed endless and oppressive to Siddhartha — life after life and death after death as the cycle of reincarnation and karma continued. Despite his love for his family and the birth of his new baby boy (whom he named Rahula, or “chain”), he decided to go forth into the world and stole out of the palace.
His faithful companion, Channa, followed him out into the night but was soon sent back to the castle by Siddhartha. Siddhartha was now on his way, and once outside the palace grounds, he shaved his head and donned the yellow robes of the mendicant monk.
This is a remarkable occurrence in the life of a prince. He was surrounded by all that many would consider necessary for a happy life: money, fame, power, love, family, health, and endless entertainment and learning. He was safe and had a promising future and a beautiful wife and son. Yet suffering had entered his awareness and dulled his enjoyment of life. His awareness of loss, of the pain that attachment could bring, caused him dissatisfaction and stress, and he vowed to live an unfettered existence. Family was not part of the life of a spiritual seeker, so family had to be left behind.
Siddhartha's Coming of Age
Siddhartha vowed to try to save all beings from such suffering, and he set forth to change the endless repetition of the cycle of loss in the world. Awareness of duhkha had entered the consciousness of the young nobleman and was to change his life forever.
Duhkha means “dissatisfaction, impermanence, imperfection, suffering, disease, anguish caused by attachment and desire.” Duhkha is a very difficult concept to translate into Western terms. Many use the word “suffering” as a substitute for duhkha, but suffering does not encompass all the subtleties that duhkha should convey.
The forests surrounding Suddhodhana's castle were fertile and green and housed many seekers of the holy life. To seek a holy life was a worthy cause; the yellow-robed monks were not seen as beggars and dropouts but as crusaders and adventurers. People prayed for an enlightened one to save them from a life of suffering and unease. Therefore, Siddhartha must have felt a great sense of adventure leaving his safe haven and entering the woods by his home.
The young prince set out to find himself a teacher, and he wandered far and wide over the Ganges plain, learning from the truth seekers he ran across on his travels. He practiced self-denial, meditation, self-control, and yogic exercises, searching for liberation from the ties of the material world.