In the ancient tale of the Buddha-Carita, the story unfolds with the extraordinary birth of Prince Siddhārtha in the serene forest of Lumbini. Unlike ordinary mortals, Siddhārtha enters the world through his mother’s left side, a miraculous event that brings great joy to all who witness it. The atmosphere is charged with a sense of divinity, as if the heavens themselves had blessed this momentous occasion. King Śuddhodana, Siddhārtha’s father, is filled with pride and hope for his son’s future. The newborn prince possesses an aura of auspiciousness, foretelling a destiny that would shape the course of the world. However, the narrative has yet to unfold the role of the great sage Asita, a revered seer whose presence will cast profound predictions upon the life of the young prince. Amidst the celebrations and the anticipation of a glorious future, Siddhārtha’s early days are marked by a sense of mystery, hinting at the extraordinary journey that awaits him, a journey that will lead him to confront the fundamental truths of existence and human suffering.
On the day Buddha was born, there was a grand celebration in the palace. The emperor’s son had arrived, and the entire capital was adorned beautifully. Throughout the night, lamps were lit, and people danced in joy. It was a moment of festivity as the long-awaited desire of the kingdom had been fulfilled. The aging emperor had become a father, and there was no news of a new heir in the kingdom. Hence, the newborn was named Siddhartha, which means the fulfillment of desires. On the very first day, when trumpets were played, and conches were blown, and flowers rained down in the palace, an elderly ascetic, Asita, who had renounced the world, stood at the palace gates. He was a respected sage, and his visits were rare. Whenever he came, Emperor Shuddhodana himself would go to see him. But now, Shuddhodana was entangled in the complexities of the world, while Asita had attained great spiritual heights. His renown had reached distant lands and distant ears. When Asita arrived at the palace gates, Shuddhodana was puzzled. He asked, “What brings you here? Is there any trouble or obstacle? Asita replied, “No, there is no trouble or obstacle. I have come to witness the son born in your house. Shuddhodana couldn’t understand. Why would a revered sage like Asita be interested in his newborn son? Asita bowed down, placing his head at the feet of the infant. He said, “This child is not an ordinary soul. Many centuries have passed, but today, as I sit here, my desire to touch the feet of such a being, to witness the fragrance of his aura, to drink the essence of his presence, has finally been fulfilled. I regret that I didn’t have this opportunity in previous lifetimes. I am joyful, yet I weep, as I realize that my wish to be dissolved in his aura, to be intoxicated by his essence, will not be fulfilled completely. This body of mine is nearing its end. I feel remorse for not having had more lives to spend in his divine presence. This is my last incarnation.
In the later half of the Buddha-Carita story, after the sage Asita’s prophetic appearance, he departs from the royal palace, leaving King Śuddhodana and his subjects in awe of the momentous event. Asita’s visit becomes a topic of deep contemplation for the king, whose heart is filled with both hope and fear for his son Siddhārtha’s future. The sage’s words continue to resonate in the king’s mind, reinforcing his determination to shield Siddhārtha from the spiritual path that Asita had foreseen.
Despite the king’s efforts to protect his son from the harsh realities of life, Siddhārtha’s encounter with the outside world profoundly impacts him. Witnessing the inevitable sufferings of old age, sickness, and death, Siddhārtha begins to question the nature of existence and seeks a deeper understanding of the human condition. As he embarks on his spiritual journey, guided by an inner calling, the memory of Asita’s prophecy serves as a constant reminder of his higher purpose.
In the absence of Asita, his words echo in the minds of those who had witnessed his divine insight. The king, too, grapples with the implications of the sage’s vision, torn between his paternal love and the cosmic destiny that seems to await his son. As Siddhārtha ventures further into the world, the legacy of Asita’s prophecy becomes a guiding beacon, shaping the prince’s resolve to seek enlightenment and fulfill the profound destiny that the sage had glimpsed during his brief yet impactful visit.