I am the husband of a lovely wife and the father of two beautiful boys. Would you think highly of me if I told you that one day, I decided to leave them to find enlightenment? I did not say goodbye, nor leave a note — but simply left. I made sure there was plenty of money in the bank, so my family would not be in financial need after my departure. Does that sound commendable? Or more like a crime? Buddha’s quest for enlightenment appears more like a tale of abandonment to me.
One account of his life relates…“Siddhartha’s (Buddha’s birth name) mind was made up: he would leave his life of luxury and search for truth. Knowing he would not receive consent, that very night as everyone lay sleeping, he bid a silent farewell to his wife and son. He mounted his horse and set out for the forest in the far reaches of the land where the holy men gather. When he arrived, he cut his long hair and donned the robe of an ascetic, a man of solitude searching for wisdom. Now, at the age of twenty-nine, his journey had begun.”
Read the whole story at: Buddha’s Story
Now, I’m all for enlightenment. But at what cost? Is abandoning your family an acceptable path to awakening? Some would say it doesn’t matter. Detachment from need & desire is part of the way. Well, I’m sorry but a child needs his father! Abandoning your child, not to mention your wife for any reason is unacceptable and selfish. Is it me or does Buddha’s decision seem based in ego?
Wouldn’t finding enlightenment AND being a dependable person be that much better? Why not try raising your children and finding your higher self? Not to mention working full time to pay the bills! Now become enlightened! Suddenly it seems near impossible.
Buddha didn’t have to raise his family. He left them behind like trash so he could find his true self. Nice huh? He parked himself under a tree and forwent all his worldly possessions (not to mention his responsibilities to his family). If you ask me, Buddha took the easy way out. And although I respect in his teachings, I do not respect his course of action as a father.
Just one second though. Is there more conflict than meets the eye here? Maybe it was heart wrenching for Buddha to walk away from his family. Maybe it was for the greater good that he did so. Instead of looking at it as abandonment of his family, could it be that his path gave him no other choice? Or maybe the story was crafted (as my wife suggested) during a time where socially, a wife and child were not considered equal in importance to the man of the house. I don’t know, but here’s a question: Is the greater good of many souls more important than the greater good of one? Does the impact Buddha made on the world make the hurt he inflicted upon his son acceptable? If, to save 100 I must kill 1, does that make me a savior or a murderer? For no matter what I choose, there is suffering.
But I am not Buddha. I am a man struggling to survive and keep my family healthy and safe. This is my higher self. Yes, I would like to find enlightenment, but I have chosen, like many dads, to put my family first — not my own needs. There is no ego here, and I think at some level, the story of Buddha is flawed because what he did at least in part included ego & selfishness.
What I do know for sure is that I have no desire to leave my family behind — for any reason. How can I help the world if I am not honoring the ones closest to me? What kind of example is that?
And, how can we as modern day dads find a slice of peace and enlightenment of our own? Before my children were born, I made a strong connection with spirit (when I was able to make the time to meditate for an hour a day). Now I struggle to get in touch with it. For me I know the answer begins with more sleep, meditation and a bit of exercise every week. The sleep part is going not so good (at least tonight). As I write this, it’s already 12:30 in the morning.
Remember, you are not alone…
20 Replies to “Was Buddha a schmuck?”
I agree 100% that you’re not alone. I never knew any of this about Buddha and you bring up some very good points.
Your wife is probably on the right track. Men and women were probably not equal, but why did he have to leave in the middle of the night?
All of us dads do need to find our own bit of peace. I haven’t figured out how to do so but I’m trying to become less selfish (it’s not as easy as some think).
I can’t believe I finally have heard someone else mention this oft-unknown fact about Buddha. I always thought it was a ‘less than god-like’ thing to do, as well. I think it takes more mettle to make a success of a family than to go off by yourself and get ‘enlightened’, lol.
Interesting post. BTW I think enlightenment comes from being a parent!
To Manlicious Manliness:
Thank you for the comment and the callout on your blog. It is much appreciated!
Agreed. And the greatest challenge of all is to be a real dad & husband while finding enlightenment!
I have found being a dad to be very enlightening in many ways. I have, unfortunately, lost some attributes I gained from regular meditation. Right now with two little boys, I’m finding it very hard to make time to have regular meditation.
The Buddha experienced his worldly life as a prince, husband and a father before his Renunciation and he knew what married life entailed. People may question the Buddha’s renunciation by saying that he was selfish and cruel and that it was not fair for him to desert his wife and child. In actual fact, the Buddha did not desert his family without a sense of responsibility.
He never had any misunderstanding with his wife. He too had the same love and attachment towards his wife and child as any normal man would have, perhaps even greater. The difference was that his love was not mere physical and selfish love; he had the courage and understanding to detach that emotional and selfish love for a good cause. His sacrifice is considered all the more noble because he set aside his personal needs and desires in order to serve all of mankind for all time.
The main aim of his renunciation was not only for his own happiness, peace or salvation but for the sake of mankind. Had he remained in the royal palace, his service would have been confined to only his own family or his kingdom. That was why he decided to renounce everything m order to maintain peace and purity to gain Enlightenment and then to enlighten others who were suffering in ignorance.
One of the Buddha’s earliest tasks after gaining his Enlightenment was to return to his palace to enlighten the members of his family. In fact, when his young son, Rahula asked the Buddha for his inheritance, the Buddha said that Rahula was heir to the richest wealth, the treasure of the Dhamma. In this way, the Buddha served his family, and he paved the way for their salvation, peace and happiness. Therefore, no one can say that the Buddha was a cruel or selfish father. He was in fact more compassionate and self-sacrificing than anybody else. With his high degree of spiritual development, the Buddha knew that marriage was a temporary phase while Enlightenment was eternal and for the good of all mankind.
Another important fact was that the Buddha knew that his wife and son would not starve in his absence. During the time of the Buddha it was considered quite normal and honorable for a young man to retire from the life of a householder. Other members of the family would willingly look after his dependents. When he gained his enlightenment, he was able to give them something no other father could give — the freedom from slavery to attachment.
Saksree, thank you for your response.
Unfortunately, I feel you have missed my point.
You mentioned having courage and understanding to detach that emotional and selfish love for a “good cause?”
What better good cause than one’s own child?
In my opinion, true love is not attached to ego, therefore it is not selfish at all.
You mentioned that “his sacrifice is considered all the more noble because he set aside his personal needs and desires in order to serve all of mankind for all time.”
As a dad, there is a RESPONSIBILITY we have to our children. This has nothing to do with wants or desires. How can we care for the world and discard our own family? This does not seem very noble to me.
What about the sacrifice Buddha’s son had to make? He had no father. Who cares if he was provided for? He had no father, and that is unacceptable.
I have had similar doubts about Buddha’s action of leaving his family behind. In the above comments, I feel both baboo and Saskree have their passionate viewpoint about which is more important to serve first – mankind or own family. The answer is inextricably wound to every individual’s own sentiments.
On a related note, similar debates have taken place on Gandhi. He left most wordly possessions to lead the path of truth, non-violence and India’s freedom struggle. But, “heretical” accounts also describe the pain his son had to undergo because he did not get enough of his father’s support due to more-than-normal self-righteousness of Gandhi.
@ Ankit: Thank you for your comment. I did not know that about Gandhi. They kind of left that part out of the movie (lol). It often seems in an effort to elevate somebody to “god-like” greatness, much of the story is left out.
I wonder, if Buddha were alive today, would he make different decisions? How much of what transpired was simply the paradigm he lived in?
Do high levels of accomplishment always necessitate such imbalance & loss? And is the accomplishment really worth it?
Success is not truly success if you lose at 3 things to win at 1…
If you believe in your statement, then doesn’t that mean that the teachings of Budha could not be valid in your eyes? How can you believe in the teachings if at the very beginning of the creation of the teachings, this “unacceptable” act was done? Does this mean that no one should ever embark on the path of Enlightenment because it is selfish; bringing pain to those who are attached to you?
I have not yet decided if I believe in what you are saying for I do not have kids, but if what you say is true I feel like everyone who embarks on the path of Enlightenment is “selfish” for leaving their current personal and emotional world to fulfill their own potential.
@ Cobra. Thanks for the comment, and the excellent question. Yes, I do believe in what I’ve said, but I don’t believe that all of Buddha’s teachings become invalid because of this belief. It’s like living in America. Just becasue it was built, to a large degree, on the bloodshed of the American Indians, does not mean there isn’t anything good in this country today.
To me the path to enlightenment is only truly fulfilled when we embrace all of our issues, not run from some of them. Fulfillling one’s potential can co-habitate with taking care of one’s family. It’s just much harder to do. It’s like the musician who reaches incredible heights, but loses his family and friends in the process. Although part of him has fulfilled his potential, the rest of him is in shambles.
I don’t know if this post is still in existence but o well lol
It does exist!
= ^ )
Very interesting thoughts here. Lately, I have started reading the Bhagwad Gita (BG) and the interpretation that I am reading has some analogous references to Buddha. I had the exact same question that babbo had and I stumbled upon this blog.
I cant really comment upon Buddha’s behavior, but babbo’s perplexity about seeking enlightenment while leading a married life is a very valid question and fortunately it is very well covered in BG. It is discussed as a part of Karma Yoga. I am not married but I do have responsibilities toward my family and I find Karma Yoga a practical answer to babbo’s question.
Problem comes in when one only knows part of the story:
Do you know that He came back to the palace and a group of people of the palace goes for renunciation?
Do you know that his wife and son also goes for renunciation and turn up to be one of the tops, and because of his wife, ladies only get the chance for renunciation, and a few ladies were being notable?
Do you know that his wife was his wife before for many past lives… because at one life…. she saw this man being very noble and her will is to help him to achieve as being a Buddha?
Do you know the main reason of reincarnation (if you believe) is attachment? Family responsibility is one thing but attachment is another. One day, presuming your son died before you, what do you feel? That is attachment. But did you fulfil your responsibility as a parent? That’s another matter…
Talking about attachment, are you too attached to your own opinion? without able to see from another point of view? Think about it…
If you understand Buddhism conception, how many lives are you going to reincarnate again? and what you will be in the next life is the most worrying part…. or rather uncertain…. you might go to heaven, but after your life ended in heaven, you still will probably fallen as human or even worse as animals….. depending on your karma… human not necessarily reincarnate as human, nor animals, nor heavenly people, nor any of the six realms in Buddhism context. So this explains the increasing amount of population. and yes not earthlings as earthlings either……
Don’t tell me you gain eternity in heaven and so…. because to Buddhist, Heavenly people has very long lifespan but it is not eternity… we do not agree with creationist concept… because a “form” is like an “illusion”, whatever that has a “form” is impermanent like illusion…. so to Buddhist, Heaven does has a form in certain way….. and there were 28 different levels of heaven…. form and formless….. which formless heavenly people (only having consciousness) are too impermanent….
If you understand how your mind really works, you will discover how your frustration, delusion, confusion, lust, desire, thoughts, and so on…… rose… not due to external factors, but internally in the state of the mind…. When do you actually gain peace? Buddha is a man of utter peace….
You might think that your family important and all that…… don’t get me wrong…. I am a very filial son….. I don’t deny it is important…. but to a Buddhist…. can you stop your family members from death and rebirth? NO…. you only can liberate others only when you are a Buddha or Bodhisattva… If you looking from this point of view, your sacrifice is being more noble than you might have thought…. Are you taking your responsibility to this height? But I would say…. to this height is not only one-life job… is many many lives…..
You might think reincarnation all that is bull shits….. but scientific records shows it happens and I am not bull shiting because I am a scientific person…. Science can’t explain how, Buddha tells you is Karma… where we come from? Buddha tells you beginning-less time, no beginning, no end… mind blowing? not really, taking an similar case – how do you create energy? conservation of energy tells you energy cannot be created nor destroyed but only change of state, and Einstein tells you mass itself is too a rest form of energy…
From here, do you think he is still irresponsible? or you have seen him fulfilling his responsibility at greater heights? and if you become a monk, your family will get great merits too… so looking at the bigger picture, do you see it…. or you don’t see it just because you don’t believe it? Do you know how deep Buddhism is? Deep not because of complexity like science, deep because you will not understand because you don’t have the basics…. If one still doubt, he is not even in the entry level… not only deep in understanding it, deep in realizing the Dharma….. and realizing it… is just only one very very small step towards enlightenment…..
P.S. Sorry for taking this far, practice Buddhism doesn’t mean to take ordain, and don’t think of it if you are still struggling with yourself. As for my advise, start from the basics… find a master… before you follow, ask what doctrine, or the organization is…. because many uses Buddha’s name but ended up teaching non-sense…..
The catalyst for Siddartha’s departure was empathy and compassion. When confronted for the first time with visceral experiences of death and sickness, he must have immediately thought of his wife and son undergoing these degradations, and been deeply moved. Bodhicitta, enlightening yourself for the sake of all, starts at home. It is only the love we have for those deepest in our hearts that can motivate us to take up the struggle against suffering, grasping, craving etc. History, ancient and recent, regularly applauds the father who leaves his family for long tours of battle abroad (who surely relies on his love for them for fortitude). How much greater is the love of a father who embarks on a campaign to liberate the ones he loves from the pain and suffering of death itself?
i appreciate your doubt but it is not like that.actually,being bounded by the responsiblity of father toward his son occurrs only by his karma.and that karma becomes obstacle to achieve enlightenment
DEAR BABBO,THANKS FOR YOUR VIEWS.ACTUALLY IT IS ABOUT SIDDHARTHA AND NOT ABOUT THE BUDDHA THAT YOU ARE EXPRESSING YOUR VIEWS.LET ME CLARIFY:
1) SIDDHARTHA WAS ALWAYS UNHAPPY THINKING ABOUT THE PAINS EACH PERSON HAD TO SUFFER BECAUSE OF ATTACHMENT TO WORLDLY LIFE.
2)HE UNDERSTOOD THAT BLIND ATTACHMENT WITHOUT SENSE IS THE ROOT CAUSE
3)HE FOUND THAT DESIRE CAN NEVER BE QUENCHED AND IT WILL ONLY INCREASE AND OUR ABILITIES AND LIFE SPAN WILL ALWAYS DIMINISH(THE SCENES OF CORPSE,OLDMAN ETC)
4)TO ESCAPE FROM THE POWER OF DESIRE,HE TOOK THE PAINFUL&STUBBORN DECISION OF LEAVING EVERYTHING HE LOVED&CRAVED(WIFE,SON)
5)THE AMBITION OF SIDDHARTHA WAS TO FIND OUT A SOLUTION TO WORRY&DESIRE
6) ( RICH AND INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE WHO GET EVERYTHING THEY CRAVE FOR IN LIFE DON’T UNDERSTAND the real harsh face of life WHICH MILLIONS OF POOR IN ASIA&AFRICA KNOW).SIDDHARTHA UNDERSTOOD THAT THE PAIN A PERSON FEELS WHEN HE HAS TO SUFFER FROM POVERTY/DISEASE/OLDAGE/INSULT OR the real harsh face of life WHICH IS MENTIONED ABOVE ARISES FROM INNERSELF
7)TO CONQUER THAT INNERSELF HE TRIED TO BREAK HIS SHACKLES OF LUST AND PASSION
8)HIS QUEST AND COMPASSION WAS NOTONLY FOR HUMAN BEINGS BUT ALSO FOR OTHER LIVING BEINGS
IT WAS SIDDHARTHA ,AN ORDINARY HUMAN BEING WHO TRIED TO BREAK THE BONDS OF LUST,PASSION,DESIRE,LOVE&ATTACHMENT NOT THE BUDDHA.WHEN HE CONQUERED THE INNER DEMONS,HE EMERGED AS THE BUDDHA(THE SUPREME SOUL).THE BUDDHA FREE FROM ALL VILE PASSIONS AND DESIRES RETURNED TO HIS KINGDOM.THE BUDDHA LOVED ALL THE LIVING BEINGS ALIKE AND THEY TOO FINALLY UNDERSTOOD HIS WISDOM WHICH IS PROVEN BY THEIR ORDAINING AS MONKS BY BUDDHA HIMSELF.THAT IS WHY CRORES OF PEOPLE WORSHIP BUDDHA
THE SIDDHARTHA DESERTED HIS BEAUTIFUL WIFE,MARITAL BLISS,SON,KINGDOM AND EVERYTHING TO FIND THE ETERNAL TRUTH.HE LOVED HIS WIFE PASSIONATELY THAT THRICE HE RETURNED TO SEE HER BEFORE LEAVING HER.HIS GLORY LIES IN THE FACT THAT HIS QUEST FOR TRUTH HAD THE POWER TO FREE HIMSELF FROM LUST,OBSESSION,SELFISHNESS AND EVERYTHING ELSE.THE PATH OF BUDDHA IS GLORIOUS.MAY THE GREAT LORD GIVE US THE SUPREME KNOWLEDGE.
So well put! I came to the same empass as you did with trying to understand or rationalize the aspect of the greater good. I would hope that eventually his child would’ve realized who his father was/became and give him license for being abandoned. Today our beloved Buddha would’ve been seen as a dead beat dad and been chased down for child support..let’s face it!!
Buddha came back for his son and wife. His son became a monk and his wife a nun, the title for a female monk, and took them with him along with the rest of the people who followed the Buddha around.