II. Rahula

  We ended last week's story about Maha Pajapati the Gotamid with her spectacular funeral, attended by such a great number of eminent Buddhists. She was certainly unique in many aspects, in her relationship with the Buddha, in her position in the Buddhist order as well as in her birthright as royal princess and then as a queen. What she was most proud of was her motherhood of the Buddha and of her position as foremost in experience in the order. She attested that even as she considered him her son, she considered him also her father for he gave birth to her true wisdom.

        Interestingly, we will find that the utmost that the early Buddhists presumed in relating themselves to their teacher was to claim spiritual fatherhood in him. However, some have been skeptical about the Buddha's paternal role towards his own son. The Princess Yasodhara gave birth to the Prince Rahula, their only child, and that very night his father left the city and renounced the world. He had earlier received the news of his son's birth with the exclamation, “Rahula is born!” The word “Rahula” means love or burden or tie.

        Thus the prince's name was given. He was not to see his father again for seven years, until the Buddha, having attained Arahantship a year earlier, returned to Kapilavatthu to enlighten his kinsmen. At the time, countless were converted and a great number of the royal princes renounced the world and became ordained. (1) It was then that the Princess Yasodhara told her beloved child to ask his father to bequeath him an inheritance. Prince Rahula was indeed directly in line for the kingdom's throne, his father having forsaken the position of crown prince. Since it was only natural that he should inherit his father's worldly possessions, it was probably for propriety's sake that he should have made such a request. At any rate, when he asked the Buddha for an inheritance, the Buddha sent him to the venerable Sariputta and had him ordained. (2)

        We might wonder whether a child, in this case a royal prince, reared in all the regal splendour and luxury of monarchs, could have been happy in the restricted life of the Buddhist order. For a Samanera , a person who enters the order when under twenty years of age, there are only ten principal sila or rules of behaviour. Even though we have no evidence as to the kind of childhood the Samanera Rahula had, nevertheless, judging from the present day conduct of Samanera s or any other children, there are always the better ones and the more difficult ones, according to their individual accumulations. Thus, we might assume that since there is no record of any mischief, he probably accorded himself with the rules and life within the order without difficulty.

        Then again, if he had not been content, he could no doubt have left the order, for his grandfather King Suddhodana was very much grieved that the Buddha had had his intended heir to the throne ordained. It caused a rule to be formed in this respect, for he asked the Buddha to regulate that from that moment on, if a child is to enter the order, the permission of the parents or guardian must be obtained. (3) Therefore, if the Samanera Rahula had been unhappy he could have left the order whenever he wished. It is also very questionable whether the Buddha would have had him ordained if he had thought the prince did not possess the right accumulations for that life.

        For normal people over twenty it was entirely their own decision both in the entering and in the leaving of the order. The vast majority of the early Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni joined the order out of the desire to leave the world, because they no longer cared for what we call the normal way of life. Then there is of course the pursuit of knowledge, of the supreme wisdom and finally the life within the order which is the most natural way of living for those who have attained the highest enlightenment. Even so, there were probably some that became ordained for other reasons and perhaps found their position stifling. There are records of these people, and in particular of a certain group that did a number of things without regard to propriety. As a result, the Buddha, as the chief of the order, was compelled to set down many rules and punishments, of which the most severe is the expelling from the order, in the originally non regulated, or rather, conscience regulated order. In this case, also, we have found no record of the venerable Rahula making it necessary to create any new rules because of his conduct.

        As a child, he was probably like any other children in his curiosity, but aside from the fact that he was later assigned the foremost place for diligence in acquiring wisdom, there are records that he asked endless questions that received infinitely patient answers. In reality, the venerable Rahula must have accumulated a vast amount of diligence and longing for knowledge, for he earned the Buddha's praise in this respect (4) ; also, when he was of age to become a Bhikkhu, it took him only a few months to become fully enlightened. (5)

        We would not even attempt to assume that he had the easiest time in a course without obstacles towards his goal, however. True enough, he must have had a great deal of the right accumulations to have been born in his certain position and to have attained Arahantship at all. Also, the source of wisdom was readily available to him from the greatest of teachers. There are records of his having lost no opportunity to be with the Buddha. However, it is doubtful whether the Buddha, who was totally freed from all bondage of the senses, treated him differently from any of his disciples. Nor was the venerable Rahula, who was already seven when he first saw his father, ever said to have approached the Buddha for other than knowledge.

        The Buddha always taught people according to their accumulations. If they could understand only the simpler forms of teachings, he taught them the kind of norm that was useful and constructive in their daily conduct. For those with accumulations for greater understanding, he showed them the path to full enlightenment. When the venerable Rahula was a young man, presumably in the height of his transition from childhood to manhood, he went to seek advice form the Buddha. The account of this encounter is recorded in ‘Kindred Sayings about Rahula’, I. (6)

    Thus have I heard:- The Exalted One was once staying at the Jeta Grove in the Anathapindika Park.
    Now the venerable Rahula came into the presence of the Exalted One, saluted him and sat down beside him. So seated, the venerable Rahula said to the Exalted One. “Well for me, lord, if the Exalted One were to teach me a doctrine which, having heard, I might live alone, secluded, zealous, ardent and aspiring.”
    “What think you as to this, Rahula? Is sight abiding or fleeting?”
    “Fleeting, lord.”
    “But that which is fleeting, is it happy or unhappy?”
    “Unhappy, lord.”
    “But that which is fleeting, unhappy, changeable- is it fit to consider that as ‘This is mine! This am I! This is my spirit?’”
    “Not so, lord.”
    “Even the same can you say of hearing, smelling, taste, touch, mind. So seeing, Rahula, the well-taught Ariyan disciple is repelled by sense. Being repelled, he loses desire for it; from losing desire he is set free; concerning that which is free, knowledge comes to him; “I am free!” Perished is birth, lived is the divine life, done what was to be done, there is nothing more in this state!- Thus he knows.”

        The same pattern is repeated about things seen etc., visual awareness etc., contact, felling that is born of contact, perception of objects, volition connected with objects, craving connected with objects, the four great elements and the five aggregates. At the end the Buddha repeated once more;

“So seeing, Rahula, the well-taught Ariyan disciple is repelled by any one of these. Being repelled, he loses desire for it; from losing desire, he is set free. Concerning that which is free, knowledge comes to him: ‘I am free!’ and he knows that ‘Perished is birth, lived is the divine life, done what was to be done, there is nothing more in this state!”

        Although he led a life of perfect chastity, this was not to be held in the venerable Rahula's favour with any special esteem. Indeed three quarters of the early Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni were married people: virginity does not imply virtue in the Buddhist way of thinking. Although when one attains the true wisdom one loses interest in bodily feelings, that is, when one no longer takes feelings for self. Nor does one care for worldly security or society when one has reached that stage. Again, there is the factor of accumulations; for example, a person might have accumulations for bodily feelings and find pleasure in indulging himself and seeking it. Such a person is not necessarily sinful or wrong, if he indulges himself in the right way, that is, if he does not wrong others or cause damage to others or to himself. Still, if one really came to know the supreme truth, as when one is no longer bound by the senses, one would understand the senses and react in a wise way.

        Repeatedly, the Buddha taught the venerable Rahula to be aware of the senses, to see things as they really were, to experience the instability of things and feelings, that is to say, of rupa and nama. Only when one has personally experienced the impermanence of things and feelings will one be able to experience the cycle of Dhamma, the cause and result of all things. And when the conditions are ripe, the ultimate knowledge can occur.

        For the venerable Rahula, the given account of his attainment, in the ‘Lesser Discourse on an Exhortation to Rahula’ (7), is as follows:

Thus have I heard: At one time the Lord was staying near Savatthi in the Jeta Grove in Anathapindika's monastery. Then as the Lord was in solitary meditation a reasoning arose in his mind thus: “Mature now in Rahula are the things that bring freedom to maturity: Suppose I were to train him further in the destruction of the cankers?” And having dressed in the early morning the Lord, taking his bowl and robe, entered Savatthi for almsfood. When he had walked in Savatthi for almsfood, on returning from the alms-gathering after the meal he addressed the venerable Rahula, saying: ‘Take your piece of cloth for sitting on, Rahula: we will go to the Blind Men's Grove for the day-sojourn.”

    “Yes, revered sir,” answered the venerable Rahula in assent to the Lord and, taking his piece of cloth for sitting on, he followed closely after the Lord. Now at that time various thousands of devas were following the Lord, thinking: “Today the Lord will train the venerable Rahula in the destruction of the cankers.” Then the Lord plunged into the Blind Men's Grove and sat down on a seat made ready at the root of a tree. And the venerable Rahula, having greeted the Lord, sat down at a respectful distance:

    “What do you think about this, Rahula? Is the eye permanent or impermanent?”
    “Impermanent, revered sir.”
    “But is what is impermanent, anguish or happiness?”
    “Anguish, revered sir.”
    “But is it right to regard that which is impermanent, anguish, liable to alteration as, ‘This is mine, that am I, this is myself’?”
    “No, revered sir.”
    “What do you think about this, Rahula? Is that which arises as feeling, perception, the habitual tendencies, consciousness because of impact on the eye ... the ear ... the nose ... the tongue ... the body ... the mind permanent or impermanent?”
    “Impermanent, revered sir.”
    “But is what is impermanent, anguish or happiness?”
    “Anguish, revered sir.”
    “And is it right to regard that which is impermanent, anguish, liable to alteration as ‘This is mine, this am I, this is myself’?”
    “No, revered sir.”
    “Seeing thus, Rahula, the instructed disciple of the Ariyans turns away from the eye, he turns away from material shapes, he turns away from visual consciousness, he turns away from impact on the eye as feeling, perception, the habitual tendencies, consciousness. He turns away from the ear, he turns away from sounds; he turns away from the nose, he turns away from smells; he turns away from the tongue, he turns away from tastes; he turns away from body, he turns away from touches; he turns away from the mind, he turns away from mental states; he turns away from mental consciousness, he turns away from impact on the mind; and likewise he turns away from that which arises because of impact on the mind as feelings, perception, the habitual tendencies, consciousness. In turning away he is dispassionate; by dispassion he is freed; in freedom is the knowledge that he is freed, and he comprehends: Destroyed is birth, brought to a close the Brahma-faring, done what was to be done, there is no more of being such or so.”

        Thus spoke the Lord. The venerable Rahula rejoiced in what the Lord had said. While this exposition was being given the venerable Rahula's mind was freed from the cankers without grasping. And to those thousands of devas arose the dustless, stainless vision of Dhamma that, ‘whatever is liable to uprising all that is liable to stopping.’

        At twenty the venerable Rahula had attained the supreme happiness of Arahantship. Extremely few people can say that they no longer experienced any unhappiness after they were twenty. What greater gift or good intentions can any person bestow on another than the gift of true wisdom? The venerable Rahula expressed himself in the Psalm CXCIII of the Thera-Gatha:

Twice blest of fortune am I whom my friends
Call “Lucky Rahula.” For I am both
Child of the Buddha and a Seer of Truths;
Yea, and intoxicants are purged from me
Yea, and there's no more coming back to be.
Ar'hant am I, worthy men's offerings
“Thrice skilled” my ken is of ambrosial things.

Blinded are beings by their sense-desires,
Spread o'er them like a net; covered are they
By cloak of craving; by their heedless ways
Caught as a fish in mouth of funnel-net,
But I, that call of sense abandoning,
Have cut and snapt the bonds of devil's lure.
Craving with craving's root abolishing
Cool am I now; extinct is fever's fire.

        This most valuable inheritance the Buddha bequeathed his only son but not to him alone, it is for all those who seek it. He is a father to all who practice his teachings, for they inherit the wisdom, each according to his accumulations and attitude or understanding. Truly the venerable Rahula was considered lucky by his friends, to have been born the son of the great teacher, to have earned his praise as well as attained Arahantship himself.



(1) Davids, loc. cit.

(2) “Maha-vagga,” The Tipitaka in Thai, VI, p.216.

(3) Ibid., p.218.

(4) “Anguttara Nikaya,” The Tipitaka in Thai, XXXI, p.41.

(5) Papancasudani part III (Bangkok, B.E. 2463), p.120.

(6) The Book of the Kindred Sayings, part II (London: published for the Pali Text Society by Luzac & Company. Ltd.,)

(7) Middle Length Saying, part III (London: published for the Pali Text Society by Luzac & Company. Ltd.,)



P.T.S., Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, II, p. 737ff: Comprehensive Biography and sutta references.

P.T.S., Psalms of the Early Buddhists, the Brethren, p.183: Biography and gatha.

P.T.S., Middle Length Sayings II, p. 87ff: Samanera Rahula, aged seven, is urged by the Buddha to train himself not to lie, “not even in play”, and is instructed how to reflect constantly, before, during and after acts of body, speech and mind so as to purify himself.

S.B.B., Woven Cadences, p.50: The Buddha stresses to Rahula, that renunciation is the essence of the practice that leads to enlightenment.

P.T.S., Gradual Saying, II, p.170: The Buddha helps Rahula to understand how the four elements, both internal and external, are anatta (not self).

P.T.S., Middle Length Sayings, II, p. 01ff: The Buddha, after urging Rahula to see the 5 khandha, (i.e. all conditioned realities) as they really are (as anatta), later describes the five elements in some detail and explains how, in realizing their true nature (as anatta), one's mind is detached. He goes on to urge Rahula to cultivate the kind of equanimity, which unshaken by contacts agreeable and disagreeable, is like these 5 elements in its impassivity. There follows on exhortation on the value of cultivating loving-kindness, compassion, sympathy and equanimity since therein lies abandonment of ill-will, cruelty, aversion and hatred, while cultivating the perceptions of foulness and impermanence means the abandoning of lust and wrong view. Having dealt thus, in detail, with, first, rupakkhanda (5 elements) and then the 4 namakkhandha, the Buddha brings all of this together in a thorough explanation on how one who has accumulations for concentrating on the breath, (i.e. Rahula), can make much of such mental development, by being aware of all realities (5 khandha) which appear while practising mindfulness of breathing.

P.T.S., Kindred Sayings, III, p.115 ff: When Rahula asks the Buddha how to get rid of the wrong idea of self, the Buddha replies that one has to develop the understanding that sees the 5 khandha as they really are i.e., anatta.

P.T.S., Kindred Sayings, II, p.165 ff: A series of teachings given by the Buddha to Rahula showing him the impermanence of all conditioned realities as they appear through the six doorways.

P.T.S., Middle Length Sayings, III, p.328 ff: The Buddha asks Rahula whether it is justifiable to consider the realities appearing through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense and mind as- “This is mine, this I am, this is my self”. On this occasion Rahula, ever mindful of realities, penetrates the truth with fully-developed understanding thus completely eradicating all defilements and attaining arahantship.

P.T.S., Kindred Sayings, IV, p. 64ff: As above.

S.B.B., Book of the Discipline, IV, p. 103ff: At his mother's instigation, the young Rahula, asks his father, the Buddha, for his inheritance. In reply, the Buddha has Sariputta ordain him, thus causing King Suddodhana, the Buddha's father, to ask for and receive the Buddha's assurance that no further ordinations would be given without the parent's consent.

S.B.B., Book of the Discipline, II, pp. 195, 196: Unable to sleep in the same place as the monks who would be guilty of breaking expiation rule No. 5 if they allowed him to do so, Rahula spends the night in the Buddha's privy where, next morning, the Buddha discovers him. On account of this incident a special allowance is made in connection with this rule.

S.B.B., Book of the Discipline, IV, p.01: The Buddha explains to Rahula by what eighteen points a speaker of Dhamma is to be known. Also, S.B.B., Book of the Discipline, II, p.295

P.T.S., Gradual Saying, I, p.18 Jataka Stories, II, pp. 46, 48, 75, 98, 188, 268, 295 Jataka Stories, III, pp. 43, 44, 111, 232 Jataka Stories, IV, pp. 22, 185 Jataka Stories, V, pp. 99, 134 Jataka Stories, VI, pp. 37, 80, 156, 305.