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Rahula, Savarna & Bodhi

Excerpt from the novel Buddha’s Wife.

Historically, Rahula was Yasodhara and Siddhartha’s son. Siddhartha was later known as “The Buddha” or “The Tathagata”.

Chapter Thirteen

“Run! Run!” shouted Rahula, as he picked Bodhi up under his arms and headed towards an impression in the hill. Savarna was close behind. He turned and yelled at Savarna again. “Hurry; they’re getting closer!”

She hitched up her sari and ran alongside her husband and son. The sound was like thunder. Their feet slid and bounced on the ground as it heaved. They plastered themselves against the shallow crevice just as the stampeding elephants ran by, their eyes wild with fright.

They had avoided bandits by following Rampal and Moksa’s advice. They had traveled in numbers and kept to the center of the plains. Now, just as they were about to traverse their last major obstacle, the Aravalli Mountains, some idiot had tried to catch a baby elephant. His attempt had angered the herd. People scattered to safety, but Rahula and his family had found themselves caught in the gigantic mammals’ path with nowhere to turn.

As the last tusked male lumbered by, blowing his trunk, Bodhi coughed violently from the wave of dust. It was so thick they could barely see one another.

“Bodhi.” Savarna covered his mouth and eyes with her sleeve, hoping that would alleviate the irritation. His coughing continued and they tried to comfort him, to no avail. His cough had worsened over the last several days and this was not helping. It was deepening and dangerously persistent.

“What happened?” Rahula exclaimed, after the last elephant had passed.

“We’re lucky,” Savarna reasoned, as her breath returned. “I didn’t think we would make it, did you?”

“I wasn’t sure,” Rahula panted, gasping for air.

They all rubbed their eyes, blinking to wash away the dust and dirt.

“We’ve got to find him a doctor,” Savarna insisted. “It’s getting worse.”

“Yes, I know,” Rahula agreed. “Let’s go back to Kanpur.”

“That’s a two-day journey,” Savarna exclaimed. “We can’t wait that long.”

“I doubt if there’s an herbalist int he village we passed this morning,” Rahula reasoned, “but we can try.”

Carrying his coughing son on his back, Rahula and Savarna backtracked and asked everyone they met if they knew of a healer in the vicinity. Late in the afternoon they came upon a woman washing clothes at the river. Her children were close by. They expected her to reply like all the others, that there was no help in the area.

“Yes,” she said, as she rung out a shirt on the rocks and yelled at one of her kids to stay away from the river’s edge. “Let me finish and I’ll take you to her.”

Rahula and Savarna shared a hopeful glance.

“Here,” Savarna said, “let me help.” She got down on her hands and knees, took a wet sari out of the basket and pushed, twisted and shook it in the wind, then folded it neatly and placed it on top of the other clean clothes in the adjoining basket. The women smiled and quickly completed their task.

“I am Henna,” the woman said, as she picked up her basket and called to her children. “Come. I will take you to my mother.” She looked at Bodhi, who was clinging to his father’s back and coughing. “She can cure anything.” They followed Henna towards the small village.

“Your mother?” Rahula asked.

“Yes,” Henna replied, “my mother.”

“I am Rahula and this is Savarna,” Rahula said. “This bag of rice on my back is our son Bodhi.”

Heena stopped short, as one of her youngest bumped into the back of her legs. “Did you say ‘Bodhi,’ like the tree?”

“Yes,” replied Rahula, “like the tree, strong and wise.”

“The Bodhi tree is the same one under which our Lord Buddha of Gotama awoke to his true nature,” Henna said.

“Yes,” Rahula said sharply, then saw the admonishing look from Savarna. “Yes, so we discovered.”

“Are you followers of the Tathagata?” Henna inquired, as she lifted the basket onto her head.

“No,” Savarna answered, before Rahula said something to offend their guide. “But we have hard of his great deeds and compassionate heart.” Rahula looked away as Savarna came alongside Henna. “Are you a follower of the Tathagata?”

“Yes,” she smiled. “We became disciples after hearing him speak. I was just a little girl, but my mother remembers him well.”

They walked the rest of the way in silence. Rahula wanted to find a remedy for Bodhi’s cough but hated the fact that it might come from a disciple of his father.

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Buddha’s Wife – Excerpt

Excerpt from the novel Buddha’s Wife. Yasodhara was Siddhartha’s wife before he became known as The Buddha. Pajapati was Siddhartha’s step-mother (Yasodhara’s mother-in-law) and the only mother Siddhartha ever knew. His birth mother died shortly after he was born (as did Yasodhara’s mother).

***

I dreamed of my visit to find Siddhartha in Uruvela after leaving Rajagaha and our meeting with Davidia.

Pajapati was reluctant to go out of our way, not because she didn’t wish to listen to Siddhartha’s teachings and learn more about the freedom he claimed to have discovered, but because of the pain and agony she knew it would cause me. But I insisted, and Pajapati had learned long ago that I am not easily swayed once I’ve made up my mind.

Though the Ordained Followers of the Teacher from Sakya, as they were called by villagers, already numbered in the thousands, it took some time to find them in the vihara (sanctuary) on the outskirts of Uruvela. The vihara had been donated by Siddhartha’s devotees Anathapindika and Jeta. The area was called Jetavana and the followers called themselves the Union of Bhikkhus. They were protected in Jetavana, yet seldom remained there long and often slept out in the open.

I was taken aback to see women at the camp, as I had always been under the impression that they were forbidden. Pajapati asked a woman carrying water to a group of men if she was with the Buddha.

“I am a lay disciple,” she replied. “We follow our husbands and sons who have been called to live a life of renunciation and seek liberation from desire and suffering.” She continued walking and we followed.

“But surely, they have not allowed you to take orders and don robes like the men?” I asked, running to keep up.

“Oh no,” she replied. “Being of service to the followers of Gotama is reward enough.”

We watched the woman pour her jug of water into the cups of the men with robes and shaved heads. There were not many women present, but one or two I recognized. I saw Yasa’s wife and mother, who had left the province, unexpectedly, six months earlier. Rumors that they had gone to follow the Tathagata circulated freely, but I didn’t realize they had not only sought the Buddha, but had literally joined their husband and son as lay disciples. The realization that, unlike most practices of the day, one did not have to leave their family to follow a religious life threw a cold bucket of pain in my face. I stood as frozen as snow on the peak of a Himalayan mountain in winter. Pajapati was hit with the same realization. She saw the shock on my face and realized what I was thinking.

“Yasodhara,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”

I couldn’t move or reply.

“Come on.” Pajapati pulled at my sleeve. “Let’s go. The carriage is waiting.”

I remained immobile. My hands opened and closed stiffly. My fingers turned white and my face crimson red.

“That idiot!” I exclaimed, so loudly that Pajapati tried to hide inside her sari. “What a liar—a thoughtless, selfish liar!”

“Come on!” Pajapati pulled frantically at my sleeve. “Don’t make a scene.”

“How could he leave us?!” I said loudly, tears sliding down my cheeks. “He didn’t have to leave us!”

Pajapati wrapped her arm around me and lead me away as people watched and listened.

“He’s a demon!” I cried. “He’s destroyed every dream.”

“Come, come,” Pajapati soothed, her eyes wet with sympathy. “I understand.”

“Understand?” I stopped and stared. “How can you understand? He left me; he left Rahula. He discarded us like a sack of rocks. For what?” I motioned towards the followers. “Adoration for a coward—a man who talks about peace, but leaves his family in torment?”

“Stop it!” Pajapati shouted, dragging me into the waiting carriage. “That’s my step-son you’re talking about, and he’s the furthest thing from a demon I’ve ever known.”

Siddhartha had been informed later that day about a disturbance on the outskirts of the gathering. Something about a rich woman yelling obscenities and her mother escorting her out of the area. He wished them peace.

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