Was Buddha a Bad Father?

buddha3

I have a very wealthy friend who has three homes, is going to inherit a growing business, has a stunningly beautiful wife, and yesterday his first son was born. Then, like many dads do. He panicked. But he took it one step further. In the middle of the night, the first night of his son’s life, he got dressed, got in his car, and drove off without a word, without even a note sayiing goodbye. He was gone for good.

I’m not one to judge. I’ve described it before. I don’t care what anyone says. Babies drag you down. You would never invite a one foot tall, non-English speaking person to come in your house, cry all day until you feed them by hand, and then shit on your floor. But thats what bringing home a baby is.  To this day I have yet to change one diaper in my life. I’ve missed school presentations, the occasional Halloween, and other major events in their early years.

But what about my friend above? What about Buddha? Siddhartha Gautama had it all. The three houses, the kindgom, the beautiful wife, the adoring subjects and family. His son was born (and his son’s name “Rahula” even means “fettered”) and Buddha got scared out of his mind.
He needed to be unfettered. So he got on his horse (and the mythology is that the gods kept the horses hooves quiet) and he rode off into the night. Not to return for seven years.

And it gets worse. HIs wife suffered from a massive depression at the abandonment. His son was raised with no father and a clinically depressed mother. Buddha’s father also was frustrated and greatly missed his son.

Skip seven years later. We all know what happened between now and then so I’m just going to focus on his family. Siddhartha is now Buddha and he returns home accompanied by hundreds of his followers. Buddha doesn’t ask to see the mother of his child, and she remains (at least at first) hidden. So she asks Rahula to ask Buddha for his inheritance, since the inheritance must be given by the father. So as Buddha is leaving, after having dinner with his father, the king, for the first time in seven years, Rahula runs after him, asking his father for his inheritance. Buddha, thinks about it, decides either that he doesn’t want to give it up or that he think its worthless compared with his spiritual inheritance and says to Rahula, come with me and you will get your inheritance.

So now Buddha’s wife is torn not only from her husband but her son. And his father has lost not only his son but his grandson. They both beg Buddha not to take Rahula but Buddha ignores them. Rahula becomes the youngest monk in Buddha’s following. Was Siddhartha a good dad? A good husband? I’m not one to judge.

The other day my two kids were arguing. One of my kids is good on the attack. She  has memorized every word ever said by the other one and is quick to catch her in any emotional or verbal contradiction. The other kid, used to being on the defensive, has a way of making annoying comebacks that disregard the attack. So the other day they got into “the death spiral”. It ends in tears and crying.

Buddha gave the seven year old Rahula one lecture, which I should give to my kids. It was a big lecture but I’m going to summarize it in two paragraphs:

A) Never tell a lie. Anyone who can tell you the slightest of lies is also capable of any evil. We’ve seen this repeatedly in the financial world.
B) For every physical, verbal, emotional, and mental action you take, FOCUS before, during, and after to make sure nobody is getting hurt.

That’s it. Beautiful. Its all you need to live a good life.

Did Rahula pay attention? I hope so. . He worshipped his dad. But he died young (he was the child of two first cousins. Who knows what medical issues he had) so we don’t really know how he applied the advice in his life.

When my kids were fighting this weekend I called a timeout. I told them what I thought: Mollie was a good debater. So I told her she should be proud. She remembers everything and that talent will come in handy. And Josie can bounce back from anything. No matter what you throw at her she bounces back and tries harder. So they were proud in their accomplishments and that slowed them down enough to appreciate what they had with each other. And then they started arguing again. But proud of it.

So many siblings who should love each other fall apart in later life. The malignant disease starts when they are young when they need their parents around them to set boundaries. Maybe following the advice Buddha gave Rahula would help avoid these disasters. Certainly it could lead to a more peaceful life. But at the end of the day, I hope I’m a better dad ultimately than Buddha was.

Related Posts

Is It ok I originally wanted my first kid to be aborted

Advice I forgot to give my daughter

Was Jesus a Geek?

(Buddha with Rahula and, oddly, a red-headed caucasian)

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  • John Navin

    Why did you never change a diaper? Great preparation for the dealing in shit that shows up on Wall Street.

    • Rebecca

      Because there were maids to do that for them. They were very rich kings.

  • Pixiebee

    There are all kinds of ways to abandon children and parents who do this are bad parents period. They may have other great characteristics or qualities but they sure aren’t great at parenting, which (to me, anyway) is all about emotional intimacy or closeness and attachment (which is very hard for many — if not most — people): it’s much easier to run away (figuratively or literally) than to try (to the best of your ability) to form an emotional bond with your children and the bonds with those who are closest to us are the hardest ones form perfectly and then to maintain unconditionally.

  • Steve Dude

    Can a spiritual leader be a good father? Probably not.
    When Daisaku Ikeda became President of the Soka Gakkai, his wife said that this
    was the end of the Ikeda family, and she became primarily responsible for
    bringing up their children. We can only surmise about the Buddha Siddhartha’s
    wife, as it was so long ago, and their history is almost certainly shrouded in
    folklore and would follow the cultural norms of the time, whatever they were.
    From the blog post, it appears that Rahula, the Buddha’s son, received his ‘inheritance’ in the
    form of participating in the same spiritual quest as the father. Was it worth
    it? Only he would know, but he decided to tag along of his own volition. And if
    the Buddha really was a bad father, he wouldn’t have wanted his son anywhere
    near him, would he? 

  • Matt

    “So many siblings who should love each other fall apart in later life. The malignant disease starts when they are young when they need their parents around them to set boundaries.”

    Man, you’re so right about that.

  • Sam Carptentermx

    Re: I hope I’m a better dad ultimately than Buddha was.

    Hmmm. I thought you weren’t going to judge.

    It’s simple: Buddha offered the riches of dharma which transcend the realities of this world. This doesn’t please people. Jesus was the same. They both underscore the lack of common measure between this world and the next. That was their mission. Most people don’t like that.

  • Sam Carpentermx

    The Buddha was not a southern Indian. He was a northern Indian. 

    • Madhavan Charles

      You do realize during the period of time of Buddha and before that in Ancient India unlike the times of now, there is little need for the differentiation of Northern or Southern Indians. Though apparently during those times they were a greater need to the caste system of which of course some in India over the years have fought against it.

      As time change so must teachings evolve.

    • Green Tees

      He was actually born in present day Nepal, Lumbini, not that India or Nepal existed then, in name.

  • Abraham Lincoln

    It’s funny how you can say just about anything about yourself on the internet and people believe it

  • http://www.indi.ca Indi

    Anyone with a child has wondered, how could I bring you into this world? How can I protect you from suffering?

    That’s what the Buddha felt and did something about. Rather than continuing a painful cycle, for good reasons, he broke it, for himself, his son and anyone who chooses to follow the path. 

  • Indrakeethi

    Its was a selfless action , sidhartha was always wondering why every being in this world suffered regardless of its faith or birth ,he felt that it was his job to find out and rescue them. The day he got a child he  knew that the love he would grow for this child would one day prevent him from leaving the kingdom to finding out a path to eternal happiness. After finding out the truth and attaining Buddha status he came back for his loved ones. Not only he came back he made them realize “Nirvana”, meaning they all found ultimate happiness. His wife,son and may of his close relatives achieved “nirvana” the ultimate happiness. I think he was a great father, have you ever heard of a king leaving everything he had  to find a way to make all of us happy?

    • P Jaunne

      after reading about life experiences of enlightened individuals, I noticed that the hardship that they endured during the paths to attaining nirvana (or enlightenment) seem to be a lot more difficult and much more tumultuous emotionally and psychologically than some of the harshest reality of being an entrepreneur.  many went through near death or suicidal experiences.  Though after enlightenment they all seem to come to a similar conclusion that ultimate happiness is actually rather simple.

      • Sullivan

        Yeah it is definitely most difficult thing, as you are becoming God himself. Infact it is only the most courageous, and bravest who can achieve it, it is not for the weak hearted. If it was a piece of cake wont we have lots of enlightened beings around.

        Well having said that, It is not so difficult too. Once you set your eyes and made it as you ultimate goal. Attaining it is not that difficult either. As you dont have to go any where to find it, it is with in us. So thing that is with in us is the very easy to find. This is what i realized from the great masters I have met. Hope I find it soon my self.

    • http://www.facebook.com/calvin.k.huang Calvin Huang

      I’d agree with that assessment. I don’t think he took the decision to
      leave his family behind lightly, but part of achieving enlightenment
      means abandoning cultural preconceptions, like nepotism (Plato alluded
      to this as well). It’s hard for most of us to come to terms with, as it
      seems so cruel, and we’re evolutionarily programmed to have a strong
      bond with our own offspring, but when you think about it objectively,
      why should we care any less about someone just because they aren’t
      related to us by blood or don’t share our genes? Fortunately, Rahula was
      born into a life of privilege, so at the very least he would never want
      for education, opportunities, or physical needs. By leaving Rahula for 7 years, Buddha would be able to save countless millions (that is, according to Buddhist teachings) from much greater suffering than parental abandonment.

    • Sullivan

      Siddhartha was not enlightened when he left his family to seek the path. And this one of the most foolish things that he did in his life. He realised it after he got enlightenment that seeking truth doesnt mean leaving behind are running away from responsibilities, and that one can get enlightened right their doing you daily chores. Hence he returned back to this place. But unfortunately many people takes his life story as a example and as an excuse to leave their family. This has been the trend in India and infact people still believe in order to realize one needs to leave family, their job and renounce all their wealth and desires, unfortunately this is not true.

      • Scot Campbell

        Well said!

      • Ishanthi

        Who said that he,realised what he did was foolish.he never said anything like that.and he never said that anybody could find nirvana with the comforts of home.you have to let go,of things you like.because if you does get attached to comforts you can never find nirvana.what you people are saying is lies.first go and do some research on Theravada Buddhism.

        • Sullivan

          I would suggest you do so the same, read about his life story. His own wife asked him when he goes back to his palace after enlightenment. Couldnt he have gotten enlightenment staying here in the palace and his answer was yes.

          My dear running away from responsibilities or life is not the answer. Enlightenment is the highest state one can achieve. What are we running away from and to seek what? Its your own true self that you are seeking. Yes we need to learn to let go of attraction or attachments. Learning to let go of all bondages and mental conditions. Staying here we can do that too is all i am saying. Do you think no one had got enlightened staying at their homes and being a Grishatha? You will find thousands. There are many paths. And most pathetic thing is that their own followers have totally misunderstood him. Buddha never advocated idol worship, but what do you find now Buddhas statues every where.

    • http://aboutlifting.com/ Ironthumb

      great ruler,
      father?
      I think not
      who cares about others, right?
      do you know the story of the man who sacrificed the life of his only son to save the life of thousands since his son was somehow trapped in a drawbridge (or something)
      to be honest I wouldnt care if those thousands died I will save my son.
      point being Budha made a noble choice indeed but that doesnt support the argumment of him being a good father

  • The (Amazing) Gimme A Buck Guy

    This is because the point of the bible isn’t to be perfect.  It is to point out the concept of forgiveness and grace, as exemplified from God to us.

  • HCSKnight

    “Was Buddha a Bad Father?”

    Classic example of evil parading as wisdom. 

    Buddha was never a Father.  He created a son.  But was never a Father to him.

    What is Buddha?  He is but another story told by Satan to seduce man into a completely self-centered spiritual state.

    True spiritual happiness can only come from the ascent of the intellect and will to Charity.

    Not setting off alone searching for spiritual Ecstasy.

    • Rebecca

      “True spiritual happiness can only come from the ascent of the intellect and will to Charity.” that is true. and also one of Buddha’s teachings.

    • Rebecca

      Do you know that Buddhism is the only religion that hasn’t been proved wrong by Science?

  • Anshu Gupta

     Buddha was not from South India. He was born in Lumbini, Nepal. Which is way north….

    • Karl

      Kapilavastu or Lumbini are both speculated birth places.

      Yes both are in Nepal. I would speculate he was not white:-) but that is as far as possible I would be willing to conjecture given with regard to his skin color :-) In any case the historical Jesus or the historical Buddha to me at least does not matter. What matters more is the spiritual legacy they left behind.
      Do we follow the teachings or the corporeal man?

  • Nikki Nolan

    Where did you pick up such crap ? The name of Siddharth Gautam was Rahul which means the conquerer not fettered. Almost all of the stoy that you write above drips of ignorance and not doing your homework.
    I am not a Buddhist but have done fair amount of reading on the subject and I am of the opinion that Buddha was actually sffering from what we call today in the west as depression.There is actually a sanskrit word called “Vayaragya” or “Veetraag” which means giving up worldly things a kind of total disillusionment and disintrest in life and it is actually considered a virtue and is looked upon with high regard in Indian society even today.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I think you need to check your sources.

    • littleme

      with all of that reading you still missed the point….stop reading for facts its hampering your wisdom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/esmereldak Esmerelda Kay

    Buddha Shakyamuni’s Karma was to become Enlightened for the benefit of Humankind.He didn’t want to marry. He had already escaped the palace walls and seen great suffering.His Father found the most beautiful woman in the country for him to marry to try and keep him from becoming a Sadhu and because he was a good Indian son , a Hindu and had great respect for his Father he sacrificed with great conflict . His Karma was so strong and his actions to leave his wife and child (who would be cared for perfectly with love and tremedous resources by his family in the palace ) was a realization of Renunciation . It was his Karma to fast and become an Aesetic and learn that was too extreme and to find the Middle Way, the 4 Noble Truths and the escape from Samsara through attaining Nirvana and waking up for the benefit of all Living Beings.
    (So not a “bad father” in the gross conventional sense.

  • Macineely

    Your making it sound like Buddha left his family like some selfish dad who didn’t want to raise a family. Back in those days, and considering Siddhartha’s wealth and position, he wouldn’t had any responsibilities towards raising his son.

  • sarath

    THANKS FOR YOUR VIEWS.ACTUALLY IT IS ABOUT SIDDHARTHA AND NOT ABOUT THE BUDDHA THAT YOU ARE EXPRESSING YOUR VIEWS.LET ME CLARIFY:
    1) SIDDHARTHA WAS ALWAYS UNHAPPY THINKING ABOUT THE PAINS EACH PERSON HAD TO SUFFER BECAUSE OF ATTACHMENT TO WORLDLY LIFE.
    2)HE UNDERSTOOD THAT BLIND ATTACHMENT WITHOUT SENSE IS THE ROOT CAUSE
    3)HE FOUND THAT DESIRE CAN NEVER BE QUENCHED AND IT WILL ONLY INCREASE AND OUR ABILITIES AND LIFE SPAN WILL ALWAYS DIMINISH(THE SCENES OF CORPSE,OLDMAN ETC)
    4)TO ESCAPE FROM THE POWER OF DESIRE,HE TOOK THE PAINFUL&STUBBORN DECISION OF LEAVING EVERYTHING HE LOVED&CRAVED(WIFE,SON)
    5)THE AMBITION OF SIDDHARTHA WAS TO FIND OUT A SOLUTION TO WORRY&DESIRE
    6) ( RICH AND INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE WHO GET EVERYTHING THEY CRAVE FOR IN LIFE DON’T UNDERSTAND the real harsh face of life WHICH MILLIONS OF POOR IN ASIA&AFRICA KNOW).SIDDHARTHA UNDERSTOOD THAT THE PAIN A PERSON FEELS WHEN HE HAS TO SUFFER FROM POVERTY/DISEASE/OLDAGE/INSULT OR the real harsh face of life WHICH IS MENTIONED ABOVE ARISES FROM INNERSELF
    7)TO CONQUER THAT INNERSELF HE TRIED TO BREAK HIS SHACKLES OF LUST AND PASSION
    8)HIS QUEST AND COMPASSION WAS NOTONLY FOR HUMAN BEINGS BUT ALSO FOR OTHER LIVING BEINGS
    IT WAS SIDDHARTHA ,AN ORDINARY HUMAN BEING WHO TRIED TO BREAK THE BONDS OF LUST,PASSION,DESIRE,LOVE&ATTACHMENT NOT THE BUDDHA.WHEN HE CONQUERED THE INNER DEMONS,HE EMERGED AS THE BUDDHA(THE SUPREME SOUL).THE BUDDHA FREE FROM ALL VILE PASSIONS AND DESIRES RETURNED TO HIS KINGDOM.THE BUDDHA LOVED ALL THE LIVING BEINGS ALIKE AND THEY TOO FINALLY UNDERSTOOD HIS WISDOM WHICH IS PROVEN BY THEIR ORDAINING AS MONKS BY BUDDHA HIMSELF.THAT IS WHY CRORES OF PEOPLE WORSHIP BUDDHA
    THE SIDDHARTHA DESERTED HIS BEAUTIFUL WIFE,MARITAL BLISS,SON,KINGDOM AND EVERYTHING TO FIND THE ETERNAL TRUTH.HE LOVED HIS WIFE PASSIONATELY THAT THRICE HE RETURNED TO SEE HER BEFORE LEAVING HER.HIS GLORY LIES IN THE FACT THAT HIS QUEST FOR TRUTH HAD THE POWER TO FREE HIMSELF FROM LUST,OBSESSION,SELFISHNESS AND EVERYTHING ELSE.THE PATH OF BUDDHA IS GLORIOUS.MAY THE GREAT LORD GIVE US THE SUPREME knowledge

  • Karl

    James,

    Just curious. Have you read the book the Jew in the Lotus.
    I am wondering how many Jewish people follow the Buddha, what percent are Western Ashkenazi and what percent are Shepardic, or do those statistics even exist.

    • ScoopingOprahDotCom

      @Karl: It’s “The Jewel in the Lotus.”

  • Master Hughes

    Let me point out when the Buddha abandoned his family he was at that point not enlightened. But merely lost like every one else and seeking truth.

  • ScoopingOprahDotCom

    The English philosopher, Bertrand Russell, wrote an anecdote about lying. One day, walking in the country, he spied a fox running, tired and panting. A few minutes later, he saw a hunting party, in hot pursuit of the fox. They asked him if he’d seen the fox; he replied that he had. They asked him which way the fox went, and Russell lied. And, he wrote, “I do not think I would have been a better man if I had told the truth.”
    Think about how many people saved lives in the second world war by lying to protect people hunted by the Nazis. The point is, one uses good judgement to decide whether or not to lie. Lying doesn’t always involve bearing false witness against one’s neighbour.

    • Garl Boyd Latham

      So…

      Was Russell lying in order to save the fox, or to save face? Were those protecting others during the War lying for the sake of the innocent, or for the sake of their own skin?

      Russell could have been asked about the fox and he could have replied without the lie: “I’ve decided the fox’s life has value. I refuse to tell you.”

      I know; it sounds simple. It also requires a great deal of courage – quite possibly far more than I possess.

      Still, we cannot rationalise away the sin of lying.

      When we try, we’re only lying to ourselves.

      Garl B. Latham

      • Scot Campbell

        that was well said too.

    • Scot Campbell

      well said

  • Johnathan Electrolux III

    The Buddha left a life of ease and pleasure to find the cause and cure of suffering. When he found it he gave it away freely to many sons and daughters and then brought it back to his own son. He was a good father to give up personal ease and pleasure in order to make life better for any son or daughter who practices his teachings.

    (How is it that when an ordinary soldier leaves his family to travel thousands of miles to kill the sons of other fathers and that he is thought of as a good father? The Buddha leaves his family to find the cause and cure of suffering and then gives it away to all sons and daughters but he is considered a bad father?)

  • zman

    What i find interesting when watching documentary talking about Gautama Buddha’s father did exactly opposite of what a classic fathers would do in raising what he want his children to be. Example: if you were born a fisherman son, you would grow up knowing how to fish at least. However, you won’t know how to fish if your father didn’t taught you when you are growing up. So why did Buddha father didn’t teach him how to rule instead of indulging his son with lies of riches? How can his son ruling warrior without experience battle of blood and glory? This tells me his father wasn’t a great ruler either and didnt even know how to raise a warrior.

  • shy

    Sometimes we have a choice of becoming good at only one thing amongst many. Its the decision that is analyzed and peiple forget about the choice part.

  • Rebecca

    Who says there’s only a little mentioned? There are 550 stories based on the 550 previous lives. If you look into Buddhist books, Yashodara’s life after he left the palace is completely explained. Moreover, how Yashodara become “Arhath” is also explained in those books. Yashodara’s monk name was “Bhaddhakachchana”

  • Rebecca

    Buddhism is not about praying to a GOD. It’s about eliminating everything negative in your mind and keeping the full stop to the sufferings in your life. To do that you have to eliminate all the bonds that you have towards all the other things including humans. For example: think about how many times you have felt sad because of the bonds you have towards another person.

    When Rahula was born, Bodhisathwa realized that if he stayed at home this paternal bond(because of the Laukika lifestyles) avoids him from achieving enlightenment and helping millions of people including that son Rahula.

    Moreover, making the decision to leave the palace was not made in one night. As a crowned price he was provided with dancing women to please him. These women were dancing and partying and they all went to sleep. When he woke up he saw that the beauty that he saw in these women was not constant but that they change. That it was not true. Women were not looking pretty like they used to with their make up and all that making him to begin to think about the inner organs and the elements of the body. In addition to this, there were four incidents he witnessed 1. an old man 2. a patient 3. a dead body 4. a monk. leading him to think the peacefulness of the spirit of the monk.

    He was a good dad, because he stopped the sufferings of his family including Rahula and Yashodara. Let me remind you, Rahula and Yashodara did became Arahath and attained Nibbha, meaning that they developed their minds and gained the intelligence. Because becoming Arhath is not something one can be forced into. It is something only you can do by improving the mind and intelligence. So, Rahula, Yashodara and Sudhdhodhan(his father) were saved including millions of people.

    So I’d say please dig into more accurate Buddhism concepts and learn more history before making faulty accusations like this.

  • Rebecca

    You should understand the cultural differences they have in India. I do not agree that treating women with inferiority was right. But because of the cultural ways men especially kings did not have to explain things to women in India that time but he did send a message with Channa who took him to Nerangana river with Kanthaka horse. Channa wanted to join Sidhartha but Sidhartha sent Channa back to the castle to give the message to everyone. So your saying that he did not leave a message is also inaccurate. When Bodhisathwa became Buddha, he preached about treating everybody with equality. He was the first leader who let women become monks too. So women like Yashodara, Prajapathi etc. could attain Nibbhana too.

  • Cuaima

    Unless you ACTUALLY meant to say, you wouldn’t invite a “NON-SPEAKING” person…into your house, then the following are not for you. Now, if you ACTUALLY meant non-ENGLISH speaking person then this IS for you: I wouldn’t invite an ignorant, backward, stupid, racist, asshole lile you anywhere, even if you were the LAST COME-MIERDA, PENDEJO, BABOSO y MAMARACHO alive!!!

  • Zac

    Good father will go to store then buy and give his son a fish to eat. Great father will go learn and then teach his son how to fish. The Buddha show his son the path to no suffering after become enlightenment.