The Profound Quest of the Young Prince
- Pandit Bijayaraj has enjoyed a position of power at the Durbar for many years, thanks to his alliance with Sri 3 Maharaj Jung Bahadur Rana. But a seemingly minor encounter between him and his pupil Crown Prince Trailokya is about to unravel everything
Apr 9, 2017-
October 3, 1864
Hanumandhoka Royal Palace, Nepal
May health, peace and tranquility always be preserved in your gāth. May you become a true chakrawarti ruler like your forefathers. So tell me, Walet Maharaj, did you memorize the sections of Kalidas’s Raghuvamsha I had assigned?
Yes I did, Gurujyu. But… I wanted to ask you about something else first.
Bijayaraj had already started settling into his longformed ritual: the preparations for a guru-chelā teaching session. He untied and unbundled his manuscripts, arranged them in a half-arc on the ground, his reach to the manuscripts determined by the likelihood of having to quote a line from the specific manuscript during the lesson. He folded the edges of his robe and shawl under himself. He optimized his position on the comfortable cushion so as to minimize strain on the back. He was in the middle of this habitual bustle when he was caught off-guard by Prince Trailokya’s unusual response.
He paused and looked up with mild curiosity at the Prince.
I want to learn more about Gautam Buddha.
Ahem… Gautam Buddha… Of course, Walet Maharaj! But first we need to finish the Raghuvamsha. You have barely memorized an eighth of this crowning example of Sanskrit poetry. After that, Kautilya’s Arthashasthra, essential reading for a future king… see, it is just sitting there, looking at us tuluu tuluu…
But I want to learn about Gautam Buddha first.
Bijayaraj noted the firmness in the Prince’s voice.
Well, then. Let’s see. Siddhartha Gautam was a Prince born into the Royal Palace of Kapilvastu. He attained enlightenment under a bodhi tree at Gaya, and became famous as Gautam Buddha. He is in fact the ninth reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. When we cover Vishnu Puran and Bhagwat Puran next year, we will go into ample details about this. But for now, it is enough to note that he was a reincarnation of Vishnu. Vaman, Parshuram, Ram, Krishna, Gautam Buddha, Kalki.
I want to know the details of Siddhartha’s life and thinking before he attained enlightenment. Yesterday I went to Swayambhu Nath, and there met a Buddhist banda who was very learned… Pandit Gunananda. Do you know him?
He told me he was the son of the famous Amritananda, close friend of old Rejident Hodgson. At any rate, this Pandit told me that Siddhartha had everything that he could have wished for. A young wife. A newborn son. A future as a king. But one day he just left it all and went to the jungle. Became a fakir. Shaved his princely locks off.
Yes, that is accurate.
Buy why, Gurujyu? Why did he do that?
Umm… perhaps he was of a bairāgi nature from birth. Some people are like that… their temperament fixed by their birth Rāshi. Once, during the course of his usual walks about town, he encountered individuals in different stages of human misery: a sick man, and old woman, a dead man…
Yes, yes, the Pandit told me all this yesterday. But why, Gurujyu? Why did he leave it all behind? He was just like me… a Prince. I cannot even think of leaving all this behind. But he did it. How? What was going through his mind as he walked out that palace door under cover of darkness on that fateful night?
Bijayaraj thought for a bit before responding.
Walet Maharaj, those are very deep questions. And the answers to them are in the Gita, which holds the answer to all questions. My plan was to introduce the Gita to you in a few years, when turn eighteen. But perhaps I will put the Raghuvamsha aside and start with the Gita immediately…
The Prince raised his right arm, palm out, facing Bijayaraj.
Bijayaraj was immediately offended by this rude gesture. How dare a pupil do this to him, a Guru to the entire royal family. But he had learned not to betray his emotions too easily in this wretched Darbar. He remained silent.
No Gurujyu. I do not want to read the Gita. I want to know why he left. What of his responsibilities as a father? As a husband? What of his duties as a future King? How could he disregard all this and simply leave? Did it not break his heart? Or was he callous? Maybe Siddhartha Gautam was the most selfish, cold-hearted, wretched weakling who…
The Prince trailed off. He had worked himself up to a frenzy and was quite severely out of breath. His ears had turned red. Bijayaraj continued his inquisitive gaze at the prince, but there was now a tinge of sympathy on the old bahun’s face. He could not think of a ready answer to the Prince’s queries.
I am sorry, but we will need to end today’s lesson now.
The Prince swiftly collected the leaves of his Raghuvamsha manuscript with trembling hands, raised himself and left the room, taking with him as much dignity as he could muster. As the Prince turned, Bijayaraj noticed that there was real anguish in his face.
Slowly and absently Bijayaraj collected his own scattered manuscripts, tied them up and packed them away. He looked out the palace window.
Why did he leave?
What a question! Of course, he had the inkling of an answer. But every time his hungry analytical mind wanted to investigate the question deeply, he had been stymied by lack of material. He found no texts among the trove of Vedic and Puranic manuscripts which addressed the nature of Siddhartha Gautam’s quest. There was a lot of ambivalent material about him being a Vishnu avatar. An obscure manuscript he had unearthed in Banaras even went so far as to state that Buddha was a deluder of men who led people away from the path of the Veds. But there was no material describing Siddhartha Gautam’s motives.
Suddenly, Bijayaraj was too tired to even think about this topic. In fact, with an absolute caving-in of self-confidence triggered by the Prince’s seemingly childish questions, Bijayaraj realized that he was too tired to carry on with this seventeen-year old farce of playing the Raj Guru in the shadows of Jung Bahadur’s despotic empire.
He kept looking out the window. His shoulders had hunched up more than usual. Absently, he noticed the pigeons and the sparrows fluttering across the window, occasionally depositing small underfeathers which wafted softly onto the Persian carpets of the palace floor. He noticed the fluffy clouds over yonder, and the late afternoon sky turning that subtle golden hue typical of Dashai season. Outside the joyful noise of Newar children playing on the stone courtyard. But all this did not warm his heart like it used to do before.
Bijayaraj got up slowly, a look of resolve on his face. Jung Bahadur could go to hell.
Pandit Bijayaraj Pandey resigned from his positions as Rajguru and Dharmadhikar on BS 1921, Marga Badi 11 (January 22, 1865 CE) and moved permanently to Banaras.
Image: Detail of a Bilanpau (long painted scroll) depicting scenes from the live of Gautam Buddha, created in Kathmandu around CE 1705- 1706.
A Nepali version of this story is available at dipeshrisal.com/profound-quest-gorkhali.
Published: 09-04-2017 10:28