Rahula: Son of Buddha

The Buddha's Son and Disciple

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Rahula was the historical Buddha's only child. He was born shortly before his father left on his quest for enlightenment. Indeed, Rahula's birth appears to have been one of the factors that fueled Prince Siddhartha's determination to become a wandering mendicant.

According to Buddhist legend, Prince Siddhartha already had been shaken deeply by the realization he could not escape sickness, old age, and death.

And he was beginning to think of leaving his privileged life to see peace of mind. When his wife Yasodhara gave birth to a son, the Prince bitterly called the boy Rahula, which means "fetter."

Soon Prince Siddhartha left his wife and son to become the Buddha. Some modern wits have called the Buddha a "deadbeat dad." But the infant Rahula was the grandson of King Suddhodana of the Shakya clan. He would be well cared for.

When Rahula was about nine years old, his father returned to his home city of Kapilavastu. Yasodhara took Rahula to see his father, who was now the Buddha. She told Rahula to ask his father for his inheritance so that he would become king when Suddhodana died.

So the child, as children will, attached himself to his father. He followed the Buddha, asking incessantly for his inheritance. After a time the Buddha complied by having the boy ordained as a monk. His would be the inheritance of the dharma.

Rahula Learns to Be Truthful

The Buddha showed his son no favoritism, and Rahula followed the same rules as other new monks and lived under the same conditions, which were a far cry from his life in a palace.

It is recorded that once a senior monk took his sleeping spot during a rainstorm, forcing Rahula to seek shelter in a latrine.

He was awakened by his father's voice, asking Who is there?

It is I, Rahula, the boy responded. I see, replied the Buddha, who walked away. Although the Buddha was determined to not show his son special privileges, perhaps he had heard Rahula had been turned out in the rain and had gone to check on the boy. Finding him safe, even if uncomfortable, the Buddha left him there.

Rahula was a high-spirited boy who loved pranks. Once he deliberately misdirected a layperson who had come to see the Buddha. Learning of this, the Buddha decided it was time for a fatherly, or at least teacherly, sit down with Rahula. What happened next is recorded in the Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya, 61) in the Pali Tipitika.

Rahula was astonished but pleased when his father called on him. He filled a basin with water and washed his father's feet. When he finished, the Buddha pointed to the small amount of water left in a dipper.

"Rahula, do you see this little bit of leftover water?"

"Yes, sir."

"That's how little of a monk there is in one who feels no shame at telling a lie."

When the leftover water was tossed away, the Buddha said, "Rahula, do you see how this little bit of water is tossed away?"

"Yes, sir."

"Rahula, whatever there is of a monk in anyone who feels no shame at telling a lie is tossed away just like that."

The Budha turned the water dipper upside down and said to Rahula, "Do you see how this water dipper is turned upside down?"

"Yes, sir."

"Rahula, whatever there is of a monk in anyone who feels no shame at telling a lie is turned upside down just like that."

Then the Buddha turned the water dipper right side up. "Rahula, do you see how empty and hollow this water dipper is?"

"Yes, sir."

"Rahula, whatever there is of a monk in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is empty and hollow just like that.

The Buddha then taught Rahula how to reflect carefully on everything he thought, said, and consider consequences, and how his actions affected others and himself.

Chastised, Rahula learned to purify his practice. It was said he realized enlightenment when he was only 18 years old.

Rahula's Adulthood

We know only a little about Rahula in his later life. It is said that through his efforts his mother, Yasodhara, eventually became a nun and realized enlightenment also. His friends called him Rahula the Lucky. He said that he was twice lucky, being born the son of the Buddha and also realizing enlightenment.

It is also recorded that he died relatively young, while his father was still alive. The Emperor Ashoka the Great is said to have built a stupa in Rahula's honor, dedicated to novice monks.