If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

How a prince became the Buddha

Asian Art Museum Storyteller Leta Bushyhead tells a story about how a prince became a Buddha using artworks in the museum's collection. Learn more on education.asianart.org. Created by Asian Art Museum.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

how a prince became the Buddha long long ago in northern India a baby boy was born to the king of a powerful warrior plan a clan called the Shaka and in the custom of the day when a prince was born the king would ask the wise men in the stargazers to come and predict the baby's future but on this day the wise men all came without their Scrolls but in a huddle to the king and asked could we see the baby when the golden cradle was brought they looked and his one they reached in and unfurled the baby's fists then they lifted the child and they raised him up with his palms open and outstretched and said O king this is the sign there are no lines on the hands of this child there are only great wheels and they say that the world is at the turning of an age and this child shall lead us he will rule the world he will be either a great general or a great teacher yes he will rule the world to the powerful king of a powerful warrior clan this could not have been a sweeter prediction of course his son will become the world's greatest general and he would rule the world he scooped up the child with one hand and raised his fist with the other and said men will bow their heads and say our names for this child will rule the world and he commanded channa his lord of the horse to kneel before him china i put the prince in your care you will train him up well as the perfect warrior because he is the future of the Shakya and then the King set aside two mountains the fertile valley that ran down to the river between and there he built three towering palaces one for the rainy season one for the hot season and one for the cold and in this perfect preserve Prince Siddharth to live with the best of everything served only by the beautiful and the talented and any mention of suffering or death was forbidden and China did a fine job for Prince Siddhartha grew into the best in the most skilled of the select company of chakra princes he was the fiercest with the broadsword and he could ride astride a galloping horse and hit a target with his bow and arrow he composed music and poetry like any perfect warrior would and in time he married a beautiful princess and soon they had a baby boy yes the life of Prince Siddhartha was perfect but he never realized that of all the paths he walked not one was of his own choosing one beautiful day Siddharth and his friends went out hunting on to the Royal preserve which the King had been careful to make look like it extended everywhere siddharta rode away from his friends hunting for an overshot arrow when he heard the voices of women singing he slipped off his horse into the tall grass following the unknown sounds came to a wall and when he looked over he saw walled city with shining towers and where there had always been contentment in his heart now there was only desire he told his father he would ride out the next day to explore this unknown City and the king could not risk saying no so as the prince slept that night hundreds of servants went out with brooms to sweep the roadway between the palace and the city a squadron of soldiers went to gather all the young and lovely people to line the roads the next day while another squadron went into the city to hustle away the blemished and the unlovely beautiful spring morning siddhartha and a golden chariot reins held by china rolled out of the palace and on either side of the road the beautiful people cheered their prints throwing flowers to sweeten his way as they came up to the city gate Siddhartha saw movement it was a young boy about 12 with a crutch and a stiff leg as he swung around trying to hide behind the gate and siddharta said China did you see that child that child was he was ill my lord he has a sickness that takes away his strength well when will he be well like us again I do not know my lord I cannot say they wrote further into the city and another movement Kotze doctors are and he saw a face with lines of long grey hair and then that person hustled away but slowly because their bath was bent over China that person that person is old my lord old we are all born a baby grow up into the fullness of our strength but then we each grow old siddharta signalling now they were through the city and they were on the road that led up to the north and the golden chariot pulled aside because coming toward them was a procession and in the front of the procession was a flat open cart and on it lay a man perfectly still and behind a small crowd of people crying and making noises as if their hearts would break China why does that man lie so still he is dead my lord dad his spirit has left his body and his friends and family weep because they will not see him again in this life but behind the procession following in a few paces was a single man where he only at I cough around his waist and holding a small begging bowl and everyone except for Prince Siddhartha knew that this man was a sannyasin a seeker of the Spirit who had left his home his family and all his comforts because he had a burning desire to understand what it was to live in this world aside from all the good things that we know he came up to the prince China was ready to throw a few coins in the ball to make him go away but the Sun yaasiin put the bowl up in front of Siddhartha and Siddharth just said why are you offering me your bowl take it or fill it I care not I seek only the life of the Spirit because I wish to understand all this and he's made the gesture out so dr. followed his hand and looked and saw the dead man his weeping friends and family the beautiful city full of the suffering and the beautiful and the towering Palace is all beyond siddharta slipped his princely ring off his finger and put it into the bowl then she took the reins and said China I will drive us home that night at the palace he kissed his sleeping wife and baby goodbye and Prince Siddhartha left the palace that beautiful perfect world to become a Sanyasi and he searched many many hard years even to the point of death looking to understand how he could live in a world full of suffering and death until one day he sat in the shade of a great tree and said I am not getting up until I can find my way to live in this world and there he stayed and struggled until he came upon his way he called it the middle way a way of meditation and being kind to others and he lived the middle way so fully that people called him the Buddha which means he who is a wink and many people came to hear his teachings men will bow their heads and say our name because he will rule the world Prince Siddharth his kingdom disappeared thousands of years ago but his name is still said all over the world because another name for the Buddha Shakyamuni which means wise teacher of the Shakya millions and millions of people have taken his teachings and they have gone from India to Nepal Tibet China Korea Japan Southeast Asia and even here to the west and in a way that his father the king could never have imagined his son who was never a general did come to rule the world you