Whenever action is possible,
the true measure of compassion
is a true measure of action.
Not infrequently, the Buddha-to-be, as Prince Siddhartha, is mistaken to be a heartless husband, father and son, due to his unannounced great departure when he renounced the palace and his right to the throne that ‘fateful’ night… more than 2,500 years ago. The truth is, not only was he not heartless, he was ‘heartful’! Traditional accounts of the life story of the Buddha includes the scene in which the Prince takes a secret yet loving look at his wife Yashodhara and his newly born son Rahula before leaving. He decided not to rouse them from their slumber, should he hold or speak to them. For if he did, he would have a difficult time leaving. It was not possible to even hint of leaving the palace, as King Suddhodana would take extra measures to prevent this. Leaving his royal householder life is significant – so as to allow him to focus full-time on seeking the path to enlightenment. His return to the palace is likewise significant, if not more so, with the path discovered, for sharing with the ones he love.
The Prince did not exactly abandon his family in confusion. Being royalty, he was sure that they could fare well. He also sent his charioteer Channa to pass the message home, to explain his departure. He had to let go of attachment to his relatively smaller family as he saw the problem of existential suffering to be universal, affecting so many more beyond his family. (One form of suffering is departure from the beloved!) The happiness of the bigger family of all beings was at stake, and this bigger family includes his smaller family. This message of interconnectedness of all beings was shared by the Buddha after his enlightenment too. As taught, we have been reborn so many times already, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to find any being, who had not been a family member at least once. The quest for enlightenment was thus essentially not for himself, but all beings, out of overwhelming love and compassion. Buddhahood is, after all, the perfection of compassion and wisdom for all.
After attaining enlightenment, becoming the Buddha, amongst many others that he taught of the Dharma, he returned to guide his kinsfolk and clansmen to enlightenment too. Yashodhara was touched by his efforts and became a nun to join the Sangha, and so did Rahula by becoming a monk, who was urged by his mother to ask for his inheritance from his father, the Buddha. The treasure to be shared was of course the precious Dharma. Both of them later attained Arhathood (self-liberation). Even the King became convinced of the worthiness of his son’s endeavours and appreciated the Dharma. Before he passed away, the Buddha was able to guide him to Arhathood as well. As a final gesture of filial piety, the Buddha, despite his spiritually supreme status, personally carried his casket during the funeral. He also made a point to ascend to Tavatimsa heaven, where his birth mother Mahamaya was reborn, to share the Dharma with her for three months. This is surely great love!
Complete filial piety
is to attain complete enlightenment,
so as to share the complete Dharma with all.