Great Renunciation Buddhism

Great Renunciation

The great renunciation or great departure is the traditional term for the departure of Gautama Buddha (563-483 B.C.) from his palace at Kapilavastu for an ascetic life (Sanskrit śrāmaṇa, Pali sāmaṇa).

The most data about this event can be found in the post-canonical texts of several Buddhist traditions. There are sources in Pali, Sanskrit, and Chinese.

According to these sources, at the birth of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha, the soothsayers-Brahmanas informed him that he would become either a monarch or a great spiritual teacher.

The prince's father, Raja Shuddhodana of the Shakya clan, wanted to prevent his son's conversion to religious life, so he shielded him from real life.

The prince grew up and enjoyed his youth and wealth, but continued to meditate on spiritual matters and when he was 29, for the first time in his life, saw what in Buddhism became known as the four sights: an old man, a sick man and a corpse, and a wandering ascetic who inspired him.

Influenced by his experiences in the middle of the night, the prince decided to leave the palace against his father's wishes to live as a wandering ascetic, leaving behind his newborn son Rahula and his wife Yashodhara.

Together with his charioteer Channa and his horse Kathaka, he went into the forest. There he cut off his hair, exchanged clothes with his servant, sent him back with his horse, and continued his wanderings.

The story of Prince Siddhartha's renunciation illustrates the conflict between worldly duties and religious life and shows that even the most prosperous and happy life is still full of suffering.

The motif of the Great Renunciation is widely reflected in Buddhist art. It has influenced initiation rituals in some Buddhist communities. A modified version of the Great Renunciation can be found in the legend of the Christian saints Barlaam and Jehoshaphat, one of the most popular and widespread legends of eleventh-century Christianity.

Although the story describes a Christian king and ascetic, it is imbued with Buddhist themes and doctrines borrowed from its original. In modern times, the theme of the Great Renunciation has influenced the work of authors such as Edwin Arnold (1832-1904) and Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986).

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