Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C. B. Varma Introduction | Glossary | Bibliography

076 – Story of Renunciation

Siddhattha crossing the Anoma river on Kanthaka; and Channa is clinging to the tail of the horse, the Thai version

T he birth; old age; sickness and death are the stark realities of life. Prince Gotama had understood those realities intensely, particularly after the sights of an old man walking with the help of a stick; a sick person; a corpse being carried away; and an ascetic. He then realised the futility of the worldly infatuations and triviality of the mundane pursuits. He learnt that change is the law of world. Further, whatever originates is bound to undergo decay-and-death. So, the attachment to a worldly object having ephemeral character is a folly and sheer infatuation; and any craving for the mundane achievement is nothing but chasing the mirage in the worldly desert. Thus, being detached with the worldly pursuits and inspired by the ascetic pursuit for the eternal bliss it flashed across his mind to renounce the world and lead the life of an ascetic.

Thus, in the middle of the night, which was the full moon-night of Asalha, he woke up and saw a female musician sleeping in a repulsive posture. Further, disgusted with the worldly affairs he called Channa, his charioteer to keep his horse ready for a ride. He then entered his sleeping chamber to have the last glimpse of his wife and newly born babe, who were sleeping there.

He left the city on his horse Kanthaka with Channa clinging to its tail. It is said that the devas muffled the sound of the horse’s hooves and neighing and opened the city gates for him to pass. Outside the city, he stopped for a while to have a last look at Kapilavatthu, where he had spent his princely life. Then he advanced further for thirty yojanas and crossed the river Anoma.

It is said that his horse jumped across the river just in one leap. On the other side of the river he took off all his ornaments and gave them to Channa. Then he cut off his hair and beard with his sword and tossed them in the air. Sakka, however, grabbed them from there and enshrined them in the Chulamani Chetiya in the Tavatimsa. Brahma Ghatikara then descended from the heavenly world to offer him the eight requisites necessary for an ascetic, which he accepted gladly.

Siddhattha then asked Channa and Kanthaka to go back to his father; but the latter could not bear the separation from his master and died on the spot.