Rahula (534 BC–?) was Prince Siddhartha Gautama's son before the prince left home to become Buddha. This Pali and Sanskrit name translates roughly as "chain" or "chained one," an interesting philosophical contrast to Buddha, "the awakened one." It can also be translated as obstacle. A few years after he attained his enlightenment, Buddha came home at his father's invitation to give sermons to the royal family and the general public. Young Rahula was delighted to see his father for the first time. Buddha's wife, Yasodhara, was full of mixed emotions about his return. She caressed young Rahula and hoped that with his innocence, he might persuade Buddha to return as prince and as her husband. However, it did not work. In fact, Buddha made novice. Buddha feared that at some time in the near future, Rahula might ascend to the throne. Rahula was still too young to do so, and it would definitely put the whole nation in danger. Hence, Buddha told Sariputra to take in Rahula as the first novice in the assembly.

Because of his young age, Rahula was quite mischievous most of the time. Whenever people came to visit Buddha, Rahula would tell them that Buddha was somewhere else, and he would laugh as they ran back and forth. When Buddha heard about this, he went out to see him one day. Rahula took out a basin of water for Buddha to wash his feet. After he had washed his feet, he pointed to the basin and asked Rahula, “Can you drink the water?”

Rahula replied, “No, I can’t, because it’s dirty.”

“You are just like the water! You are a novice but you don’t study hard enough. You like to cheat and make fun of other people, and the poisons in your mind are just like the dirt in the water.”

Buddha told him to throw the water out. When he came back, Buddha asked him, “Can you put food in the basin?”

Rahula replied, “No, I can’t, because it’s a basin for washing feet and it’s dirty.”

“You are just like the basin,” Buddha said to him. “You are a novice, and you do not study hard enough to purify your mind, words and deeds. There is filth in your mind, so you can’t put my teachings into your mind, just like you can’t put food in the dirty basin.”

Buddha then kicked the basin, which startled Rahula. Buddha then asked Rahula again, “Are you afraid that I might break it?”

Rahula replied, “No. It’s only a basin, so it’s OK if you break it.”

“You don’t care about the basin, just as no one cares about you. You are a novice now, but you are ill-behaved. In the end, no one will like you. What’s worse, you will fall into the three Lower Realms of animal, hungry ghost and hell when you die.”

Rahula apologized sincerely for his behaviour and became quite diligent in following Buddha’s teachings. He changed his ways and became a new person.

One day, Rahula came back from one of Buddha’s sermons and found that his room had been occupied by a visiting monk. His robe and bowl had been thrown outside the room. Just at this time, it started to rain hard and Rahula had no place to go but the washroom.

As the rain kept falling, insects, snakes and other animals started to come out of their holes to avoid being drowned. Some of them crawled into the washroom, which really frightened him. Suddenly, he heard Buddha calling him. He came out and saw Buddha standing outside of the washroom. Rahula ran and embraced him, crying out his fear, loneliness and helplessness. Buddha patted him lightly on his back and told him softly to go to Buddha’s room. The original rule was that novices and monks could not sleep together, but because of this incident, Buddha changed the rule so that a novice and a monk could sleep together for two nights, thus helping novices to adjust to the new environment. A mentor should help his disciple, and since Rahula’s memtor was Sariputra, Sariputra told Rahula to stay with him.

One time Rahula went out with Sariputra to beg for food. A hooligan saw them and threw stones at Rahula. The ruffian even hit him on the head with a club, causing his head to bleed. Rahula became very angry and glared furiously at this man. His mind was boiling and his temper was rising, but suddenly Sariputra called out to him. It was like a splash of cold water, cooling down his rage. “Rahula,” Sariputra said, “Buddha constantly reminds us that whenever we are praised, we should not become arrogant. Whenever we are humiliated, we have to control our temper. Therefore, Rahula, you must control your anger. No one in the world is braver than the one who can tolerate insults, and no strength is more powerful than tolerance.” Rahula quietly went to a river bank, washed away the blood and cleaned the wound.

One day, a devotee in Kapila offered a house to Rahula so that he and his students could live and teach there. However, the devotee constantly interfered with the management of the residence. The monks living there were not happy about it, and when Buddha heard about it, he urged Rahula to ask the devotee what the purpose of his offering was. If the house was to be given to the monks, then he should not ask too much about their affairs. The house should be run by the monks. Devotees could only assis the monks, but had no right to manage it. When Rahula spoke to the devotee about this, he became angry, and one day when Rahula was out, he gave the house to some other monks. When Rahula heard about this, he reported it to Buddha, who then immediately informed all the monks, “If lay people give you something that they have given to someone else earlier, you must not accept it.” Buddha set down this regulation to avoid disputes among assembly members over material goods that were given to them.


Lin Sen Shou