GOING FORTH: THE ODYSSEY BEGINS
We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Home is a place where we feel safe and secure, surrounded and protected by people we love. The home environment introduces us to certain truths and beliefs that we agree to accept. These truths formulate the conditions and values that we agree to live by. As we grow up, we step out from the nest to explore life and start our independent journey. The process is exciting and promising, and it holds the potential for us to learn and evolve.
It is natural to accept the norms of our formative surroundings and embrace the path established for us. We commit to creating a life based on the mindset we inherited, in large part, so that we can be part of the core group we are born into. We follow this route because we want to feel accepted and to belong to our tribes. However, holding on to these “inherited truths” also obligates us to continue the path of tradition that was established before us. If we continue to walk in the established path we become followers, but if we dare to question these truths, we will pave our own path, leading us in a new direction. For example, if we are presented with the custom that everyone must wear black and white clothing, and one day we discover colors, we begin questioning the logic of this truth, which eventually motivates us to accept change, embracing a different truth. At this point, we ask ourselves: which truth makes more sense to us? The truth that is
aligned with our hearts is our truth. Therefore, the more open we are about new experiences, the more information we will collect about the true nature of our souls.
Leaving home, in a physical sense, is a natural phase of life that happens easily when we are young, but as adults we are hesitant to uproot ourselves and change locations. This is even harder when we have a family and have to consider the implications of this move for them. Yet, the act of going forth can be achieved through the emotional and mental effort to disconnect from the given mindset, cutting the “umbilical cord” that connects us strongly to our family, our tribes, and our cultures’ mindset. We are not obligated to accept the “truth” that we are presented with by our tribes.
The act of going forth is usually stimulated by a conflict with our upbringing when we disagree with a truth that was presented to us. It is similar to the normal phase in adolescence’ life when one day the rules in the house are not making any sense. In spite of the chaos, it is a sign of maturity and courage to pave its own path. Therefore, It is natural for us to rebel against the norm, because something does not make sense to us anymore. Our soul refuses to accept the “truth” as it has been handed to us, when deep down we feel otherwise. This sense of “knowing” stimulates our desire to question our lives as is—and own only the truth that makes sense to us. It would be unnatural for us to behave in a way that does not fit our soul.
When we recognize that our birth truths are in conflict with what we feel in our hearts, we know it is the time to “leave” and go forth. Once again, we don’t have to leave physically, but mentally, we must separate from the influence of our upbringing so we are able to acknowledge our own truth. By doing so, we don’t deliberately hurt the people we
love or betray their values, even if it appears this way. We are merely honoring our own truth. The people we love will accept us the way we are, especially when we are at peace with ourselves. We must be free to follow our own path. Going forth is a normal phase of life, which indicates our maturity to evolve. Throughout the maturation process, we naturally begin to question our lives and discover our own essence.
Going forth is precisely the path that marks the life journey of The Masters, as we will learn from this chapter. The Masters didn’t find the peace they desired within their birth surroundings, and although they tried, they were unable to fit in. Moses struggled to live in an oppressive regime that didn’t honor justice or give respect to people regardless of their background or social stature. Muhammad struggled to accept the social injustice that was created by the wealthy toward the poor; he conducted a kind way of life, reaching out to everyone in need. Jesus didn’t accept the measurement of judgment that everyone gets what they deserve by law; instead, he proposed that people should act upon the measurement of compassion and love, first and foremost. And Buddha could not continue to live as a prince once he had witnessed the suffering outside the protection of his palace walls. Each of these teachers had felt that the life they were born into was not the life that was right for them. Something was wrong with the picture they saw, and they felt the urge to go forth and explore a different way of life that would resonate with their inner truth.
The Masters’ points of view showed them that they didn’t belong in their birth surroundings. They didn’t know where or how they would find the place of peace they were searching for; all they knew was that they could not remain where they were.
The first step in this journey of maturing self-realization is to identify what is it that we struggle to accept—what is the point of view that does not make sense to us? And why do we feel unhappy and stuck in the same place? These questions, and more, were carefully considered by the Masters, as they took the first steps to leave their birth community and search for their happiness. Walking in the Masters’ footsteps will inspire us to liberate from the values that are no longer making sense to us so we will have an opportunity to learn, evolve, and find happiness.
In this chapter, I describe the unique journey of each of the four Masters as they struggled to accept the truth of their birth surroundings and reached a conclusion that compelled them leave. The act of going forth is, without a doubt, the prerequisite of any spiritual journey.
Step 1: Going Forth
Buddha: Buddha’s Casting Off from the Warrior Caste, Pabbajja
Siddhartha Gautama was born in 566 BCE to an eminent family in Kapilavastu, to King Suddhodana and Queen Mahamaya. The mother, Maya, had a dream that hinted to her son’s future, prior to his birth. As a result, it was said “The world would be flooded with light at his birth,” 1 which prophesied the child’s bright future as the new leader. The Queen died giving birth to Gautama.
Gautama’s father, Suddhodana, was a distinguished community leader in the Sakya tribe in Kapilavastu. Following Guatama’s birth, Suddhodana held a festive banquet in honor of his newborn. He invited a hundred well-known Brahmins to his palace, who were asked to predict the infant’s future.
The fortune-tellers differed in their opinions. Some said the boy would grow up to become a universal King, Cakkavatti, ruling the entire world, but others said the boy would devote himself to a spiritual life.2
The first prophesy was in line with the Gautama’s family tradition, which obligated each member to fulfill the natural course of life within the caste into which he was born.
Siddhartha Gautama belonged to the warrior caste, Ksatriya, one of a four-level caste system. The levels were: Brahmin-priests, Kshatriya-rulers and warriors, vaishya- farmers or merchants, and shudras-laborers, or slaves. If one is born to one of these castes, it is expected that he should follow the norm and obligations of said caste. Gautama was destined to be one of the world’s greatest rulers, one who would continue
to live by the caste obligations, responsible for ruling and protecting.3 Eventually, Gautama would inherit his father’s throne and be a great Cakravartin king.
His future seemed crystal clear, yet the path of his life did not go as planned. The second prediction about Gautama’s future said that he would follow a simple life, preferring spiritual meaning to a life of wealth. This second view reflected Gautama’s potential, which derived from the fulfillment of his true inclination. Fulfilling the path of choice requires paying attention to deciphering clues given by the gods, which would be revealed during his independent life experience. These signs would strengthen his inclination and lead him toward a different destination.
The father hoped to see his son as a leader, a Cakkavatti.4 He feared the prediction in which his son would leave his house in favor of a simple life. Like most fathers, he was concerned about the risks and dangers posed by an unknown journey, and he feared for his son’s life. The father listened carefully to the words of Kondanna, one of the Brahmin, who warned him against an encounter of four figures who would influence Gautama’s worldview.
Suddhodana, the father, then consulted his brother, Dronodana, about the matter, explaining that “The Brahmin and fortune-teller have predicted that my son will become a Cakravartin king if he does not leave home to become a wandering ascetic. Therefore, we should watch the Bodhisatta carefully and keep the city well-guarded.”5
Shortly after this, Gautama’s father surrounded the palace with seven walls and iron doors, and appointed guards to oversee his son’s movements. He filled his palace with amusements and luxuries, providing the prince with all his needs so he would have no reason to leave. The palace was packed with fine furniture and splendid plants, which
imparted a harmonious appearance. The father hired entertainers to amuse the prince. Beautiful women filled the palace and fulfilled all of Gautama’s desires. 6 The father hoped that the luxurious life he provided for his son would assure Gautama’s desire to continue the generations-old family tradition.
However, despite the abundance within the palace, Siddhartha Gautama exhibited a natural curiosity about what was happening outside the palace, and, as he grew older, he hoped to discover the world outside the palace. His inner wish was heard when the Gods approached Gautama with the great news:
Now Indra and the other Gods, knowing the thoughts of the Bodhisttva (one who possesses the ability to become Buddha, the Enlightened One), approached him and said, “Get-up, get up, well-minded one! Leave this place and set out into the world . . . you will save all beings.”
The Bodhisttva replied, “Don’t you see, Indra, I am trapped in a net like the king of the beasts. The city of Kapila is completely surrounded by a great many troops, with a lot of horses, elephants, chariots and very capable men bearing bows, swords…”
Indra said: “…You would wander forth from your home. We will arrange it so that you will be able to dwell in the forest, free from all hindrance.”7
When Gautama was in his mid-twenties, he finally found the courage to ask his father for permission to leave the palace and go into the outside world. The father agreed to send his son to the park and on other occasional outings, accompanied by his charioteer named Chandaka. These outings, however, were well orchestrated by Gautama’s service men. They were instructed to remove anything ugly or unpleasant that might disturb the prince’s mood. In spite of such efforts, to the father’s regret, each time that Gautama became acquainted with unfamiliar scenes of suffering, it further stimulated his curiosity. On his first outing, Gautama asked Chandaka to take him to a particular garden so he could expand his horizon about the real world. On their way they
encountered a man bent over with age. His hair was gray, his face was wizened, his eyes red. His hands shook and his gait was unsteady; he walked feebly, leaning on a stick.8
“Who is this man?” Gautama asked his chariot man. “The hairs on his head do not seem to resemble those of other people. His eyes are also strange. And he walks so oddly.”
Chandaka replied, “That is an old man. He is that way because of the effect time has on everyone who is born. What that man has is the affliction of old age that awaits all of us. The skin dries and wrinkles, the hair loses its color, and falls out…In fact, as time goes on, our whole body winds up with little strength left, hardly enough to move along.”9
This explanation frightened and upset the prince. He told the chariot man to go back home in order to escape this reality and return to the pleasant world where everyone looked his best.
On his second outing, Gautama saw a man suffering from disease. He was emaciated and pale. Part of his body was swollen, and another part was covered with sores. He was leaning on another man for support and occasionally emitting piteous cries of pain. Gautama once again was shocked from the sight, and from the explanation he received.10
On the third occasion driving with his chariot man, the prince encountered a funeral procession. He saw a corpse being borne on a litter, followed by bereaved relatives wailing, tearing their clothes, and covering themselves with ashes.
“My prince, do you not know?” asked Chandaka. “The man lying on the litter is dead. His life comes to an end. His senses, feelings and consciousness have departed
forever. He has become like a log or a bundle of hay. Those relatives of his who have cared for him and cherished him through his life will never see him again. Without any exception, everything that is born must die!”11
It is reasonable to assume that aging, sickness, and death also occurred inside the palace, but the abundance of luxury had diverted Gautama’s attention and given him the privilege of enjoying the beauty of life without concern.
The sights of suffering that Gautama had witnessed inspired him to question the life of peace and harmony while the outside world is quite the opposite.
From this point on, Gautama started to pay attention and acknowledge the ugly scenes, even in his own house.
One night, the prince woke up and saw the beautiful women lying about him, asleep in various positions of abandon. One young woman, who still held her lute, lay drooling from one side of her open mouth and snoring loudly. Other women lay propped against the walls or against pieces of furniture. Some had wine stains on their clothing. Others, with their rich costumes thrown open, lying in ungainly postures with their bodies exposed, looked like corpses. The seductive vision of their beauty, which had so long captivated the prince, was shattered.12
That night, the prince had discovered that ugliness and suffering are a normal part of life, one that until now he had been unaware of. In an instant, he became aware that life in the palace was shielding him from the true reality, and he realized that he should learn more about the nature of suffering so he could “fight” it, and find the tools to protect himself, and the people he loved, from such pain. The three people he
encountered inspired him to question his own reality, so he could learn and investigate the issue of suffering, which he had become obsessed with.
As soon as Gautama showed an interest in learning about the nature of suffering, the next sign was shown to him. He went out for another trip to a park, where he encountered a mendicant with upright bearing and a serene and radiant countenance. Gautama, who was impressed by this sight, questioned Chandaka about the man.
Chandaka replied, “This is a holy man who has renounced worldly life and entered upon a life of homelessness. Such Homeless devote themselves to the spiritual pursuit of meditation and practice austerities. They have no possessions but wander from place to place, begging for their daily food.”13
This was the first time Gautama learned about the position of “Homeless,” where people from different castes were permitted to leave their caste to seek answers about life’s purpose and enlightenment. As far as he knew, he should inherit his father’s throne, and he had obligations to his family and his people to continue along this path.
“Can I leave everything and go on such a journey?” he wondered.
Gautama realized he couldn’t learn much about suffering through observation from a distance.
Gautama’s new knowledge of a more objective picture of life undermined the worldview he grew up with, and he came to understand the life in which he lived was no more than an illusion protecting him from the truth.
From Gautama’s story we learn that once we become aware that the truth presented to us from birth is subjective, and not necessarily the entire truth of how everyone lives in the world, we may feel the urge to venture forth. Gautama understood
that he could not live in a place that limited his knowledge and experiences, and that he would rather be free to explore the world outside in order to learn other truths.
Although Gautama wished to leave his palace to learn more about the essence of the simple life, he was still hesitant about such a move. Just as he was ready to consider leaving, Mara, the ruler of the universe, came before him.
“Do not go,” cried Mara, “for, in seven days the golden wheel of universal sovereignty will appear, and you will become ruler over the whole world with its four great continents and myriads of islands.”
“Mara! I know you,” Gautama replied. “And, well I know that what you say is true. But rulership over this world is not what I seek, but to become a Buddha in order to heal its suffering.”14
Mara’s voice symbolized the inner voice that pleaded with Gautama to follow tradition according to the Hindu caste system. But Gautama expressed his reservation about the destiny that contradicted his will.
Do I really desire a position of leadership which derives from social expectations, or should I develop my own areas of interest? Should I satisfy the social expectations of my caste or should I satisfy my curiosity and my aspirations?
Gautama had struggled to accept his responsibility to his family and his caste, so as not to disappoint his family. Yet, he felt strongly that this was not the direction he would have chosen. He continued to ask himself, Do I have to continue the tradition of my ancestors and make them proud, or shall I strike out on my own and follow my heart’s desire?
Gautama wrestled with the social expectations of him, but finally decided to respond to the inner voice that urged him to follow his own yearning.
Not long afterward, Gautama made his decision to leave his life in the palace and become a Homeless. In the middle of the night he woke his chariot man, Chandaka, and
asked him to saddle his favorite horse. It was a full-moon night in the summer when the prince left Kapalivastu and went south. After the long distance of riding far away from home, Gautama asked the chariot man who drove him to continue the journey alone. “Chandaka, I am entering the life of homelessness in order to seek truth for the sake of all. It is time for you to take Kanthaka and go back to Kapilavastu and my father.”15
He used Chandaka’s sword that had been left with him and cut off his hair to give himself an authentic look and erase his previous appearance. Just then, he met a hunter wearing a simple saffron-dyed robe, and they exchanged clothes in order to complete Gautama’s appearance as a simple man.16 Gautama had undertaken an act of Pabbajja, cutting the links of kinship and to his native community in order to discover the truth. In an unofficial ceremony, Gautama changed from householder to homeless; he became a caster-off, a Sannyasin, which gave him the liberty to wander and do as he wished.
In spite of social expectations that he should follow the traditional path of his caste, Gautama chose to pave his own path. Leaving his palace was a crucial step in following his own bliss. Gautama was not clear about his direction, but he knew he would not find it by staying in the palace.
Moses: Moses’ Departure From Egypt
According to the Book of Legends, Sefer Ha-Aggadah, (in Hebrew): Legends from the Talmud and Midrash which provides a commentary to the Bible from the Talmud and Midrash, 16 Moses’ sister had a prophecy, probably in a dream, that her mother was destined to give birth to a son who would save Israel from Egypt. When Moses was born, the house was flooded with radiant light. Moses’ birth was preceded with predictions about his rule as a future leader and this was affirmed by a light that radiated far beyond normal. 17 Moses’ journey was orchestrated by God from his birth to leadership, so he would fulfill his destiny.
According to the Hebrew Bible, Moses was born in 1525 BCE to a Hebraic family. His birth occurred well after slavery began and during the rule of Pharaoh, possibly from the 18th dynasty. Pharaoh feared the political strengthening of the minorities in his country and ordered the Egyptians to subdue the Hebraic slaves living among them, saying, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them so they may not increase; otherwise, in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us.”18
Pharaoh engaged the Hebrews in hard labor, and he issued a decree of death against their young in order to reduce the circle of opposition that might rise against him in the future. The Egyptians were ordered to carry out Pharaoh’s commands, and they subdued the Hebraic slaves through words and actions. They informed on Hebraic mothers who tried to hide their children and enjoyed a position of power fed by the humiliation of the slaves.
The Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every boy that is born, you shall throw him into the Nile, but let every girl live.”19
As a result, Moses’ mother placed him in a basket and abandoned him in the Nile River with faith that God would guard her son and He would save his life.
The mother’s wish was fulfilled when the baby was found by the daughter of Pharaoh, who fell in love with the special baby: “The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the Nile…she spied the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it. She saw it was a child, a boy, crying.” 20 She named him Moses, explaining, ‘I drew him out of the water.’”21
By all accounts Moses should not have lived, but God intervened. The Bible claims that Moses’ destiny was guided by God from his birth because he had been chosen to fulfill God’s mission.
The Book of Legends, 22 which was written by middle-aged wise teachers, gives us more detail about the story since the Scriptures lack information. One of the difficult questions that the wise teachers were concerned with was why Pharaoh accepted the baby into the household, knowing he was a Hebrew. The legend tells us that Moses was a charming and handsome boy, and whoever saw him could not turn their eyes away from him. Pharaoh, too, used to hug and kiss him. Moses would playfully take Pharaoh’s crown and put it on his head.
The magicians were concerned that the boy would one day take the kingdom from the Pharaoh. They suggested a test for Moses to see if he was dangerous to the Egyptian future. They placed before him a vessel with a gold piece and a vessel with a burning coal. If he reached for the gold, he would show that he has the understanding and they
must get rid of him, but if he reached for the coal, he was an innocent baby. Moses was about to touch the gold, but the Angel of Gabriel diverted his hand, and instead, Moses touched the hot coal, putting it in his mouth and burning his tongue. As a result, he became slow of speech. From then on, Pharaoh accepted Moses as his foster son, and he never questioned his loyalty. Moses grew up as an Egyptian prince, raised on Egyptian values.
Whether or not we agree with the narrator’s explanation regarding Moses’ true identity, we know that Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s house, carrying an Egyptian name and identity. Moses never knew about the circumstances of his birth and lived his life as a normal Egyptian, although one who was well connected to the royal family.
As an Egyptian prince, Moses was destined to be a leader. Every day, Moses left his palace to learn about the life of his people. He listened to people’s stories and learned about their life challenges. He hoped to use his power to help people and to improve the quality of life in Egypt as a future leader. Moses was well aware of the life of the Egyptian regime, their accepting of slavery and their policy of discrimination against the slaves. Deep in his heart, this concept didn’t make sense to Moses.
Early on Moses had his own mind, unable to accept “the truth” as it was given him. Moses did not follow the example of other Egyptians and did not take advantage of his position and power to humiliate the weak. Instead, he exhibited social sensitivity, which encouraged him to intercede in cases of injustice. Moses gravitated toward people in distress, and his pure emotional reaction motivated him. However, his tendency to help people was not geared solely toward those who were clearly weakened by their place in
society, such as the slaves, but for everyone in need, as we can witness from his further actions.
Moses’ compassion is illustrated in a well-known incident involving a helpless slave. “He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew…”23 The humiliation of the Hebraic slave invoked the wrath of Moses, who felt compelled to show his resistance to a regime of repression that was perverting humanness. “He turned this way and that and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”24
Defending a slave was considered a violation of the norm. By acting against the norm, Moses expressed his disagreement with the concept of discrimination and humiliation toward any human being. He continued to express his objections through other incidents in his future. Moses eliminated the oppressor; yet, killing the Egyptian did not end the policy of deprivation in Egypt. Moses did not solve the problem of discrimination, but he certainly showed his true nature as someone willing to fight for justice.
In another incident, Moses mediated a quarrel between two slaves. 25 His fervent desire was to solve the problem with negotiation, rather than an act of violence, in order to establish harmony in his surroundings. But everywhere he went, people were fighting, people were disrespecting one another, and the tension was escalating. Pharaoh’s policy of deprivation nurtured hostility, and the social situation in Egypt testified to the overall moral deterioration. Moses reached the conclusion that he was incapable of conducting the struggle for justice alone.
To accomplish true and lasting change a collective effort was needed. The Egyptians, who enjoyed the privileges of Pharaoh’s policy, did not constitute a potential
coalition for the struggle against deprivation. And the Hebraic community, preoccupied with the struggle for survival, was incapable of defending itself.
Moses was suffocated by the tension he experienced in his birth surroundings. He could not live in a place where people fought to survive. He could not live in a place where people used their power to humiliate others. He could not live in a place where people distrusted one another. He could not live with constant hostility amongst the people.
Moses was isolated in his own surroundings, because he did not accept the traditional values and norms. He didn’t belong, since no one shared the same values and no one from his own family or circle of friends would support his view. He had absolutely nothing in common with the people he lived with, not even with the people he loved. He acknowledged that his inner truth was in conflict with the Egyptian reality. He knew he could not ignore the unfairness that was part of daily life. He could not participate in a form of life that contradicted his moral values and inner truth.
Moses lost his own link with the community, and he would never find peace among them.
In his mind, Moses envisioned himself living a life of peace and harmony that could not be found in his birthplace. He longed to live in a place where people respected one another. This wish was probably formulated in his mind long before killing the Egyptian man, but that event was the trigger for him to finally leave Egypt.
Moses’ life was also in jeopardy because he had killed an Egyptian to defend a Hebrew slave. During the years I studied and taught the Bible in Israel, I came to believe that Moses left Egypt as a refugee, to save himself from being caught by the Pharaoh’s
guards for disobeying the king’s policy, as is suggested in this quote: “When Pharaoh learned of the matter, he sought to kill Moses; but Moses fled from Pharaoh, he arrived to the land of Midian and sat down beside a well.”26
In spite of the Biblical evidence, I purport that Moses was a brave man. He did not fear Pharaoh or anyone else. He did the right thing with little concern for his own safety. Moses left Egypt because he disagreed with the norm of behavior, with the policy of discrimination, and with the life of conflict that undermined his peace, not just to save his own life.
In spite of his actions, Moses was unaware of his passion for justice. Moses had no idea where to go or what to do, and yet, he trusted his inner sense of knowing one thing with certainty: he did not belong in Egypt.