Palace on Fire
Siddharth Gautam wakes up at 2:00 am. Yashodara and little Rahul are fast asleep. He looks at them lovingly and wants to say proper farewell. But for fear that his resolve might weaken, he decides to tiptoe out of the room. Down the stairs and out of the palace he goes.
Sumant is waiting with the chariot. Siddharth gets aboard and they race toward the river long distance from Kapilvastu. No one is up and about at that hour of night. The guards at the city gate dare not halt the royal carriage driven by Sumant.
The chariot reaches the river and over the bridge it goes. On the other side of the river Sumant pulls the reins to stops the horses. The prince is still in the chariot. With folded hands and tears in his eyes the chariot driver speaks.
"Dear prince, think again. Look back. Even from this distance the palace looks magnificent. Its golden domes glow beautifully. Inside it, as we know, every comfort and luxury is provided. I cannot imagine anyone not wanting what is already yours. But here you are, turning your back on it. Do you realize that all this is due to your good fortune? Such luck is very rare in this world. Once you throw it away, you may never get it back again. Think, prince, I beseech you."
Siddharth answers, "Sumant, if your house were on fire, would you stay put and burn, or would you go out to a safe place?"
Sumant, "Seek a safe place, of course; but why do you ask, prince? Your palace is not on fire. Why do you run?"
Siddharth, "I see what you don't see. I see that palace engulfed in red-hot flames. They burn me from inside and cause insufferable misery. The invisible fire in the palace is fed by greed, lust for power, a million desires, and fear. If I live there, I will roast till the end of my life. The palace is on fire; it is clear as day to me."
"I, therefore, seek liberation from this manmade inferno. I cannot run away from life but I can find peace and joy through enlightenment. That is what I seek, and not just for myself. I seek it for all humanity."
So saying, Siddharth abruptly gets down from the chariot, turns, and begins to walk away as fast as his legs can carry him. Sumant keeps looking. Siddharth does not turn to look back even once. He is gone."
One wonders if the flame of greed is stronger today than it was then.
June 24, 2006