Chapter 17: Don’t Imitate, Just Be Yourself
When Buddha initiated Ananda into sannyas, because he was his elder cousin, Ananda exacted three promises from him. At the time of initiation he said to Buddha, “Before I become your disciple, I would like to have a few assurances from you. Since I am your elder cousin brother, I am your senior and am in a position to command you to do certain things. Once I become your disciple, your junior, I will lose that status; then you will be in a position to command me and I will do your bidding. Right now you are my younger cousin brother, so give me three promises.” Buddha asked him what his desires were.
Ananda said, “Firstly, I will always be with you from morning to morning; you will never send me away from you on an errand. Secondly, if I bring any visitors to you - even at odd hours of the night - you will never say no to them. And you will answer every question I will put to you at any time and place. And thirdly, I will attend, if I want to, even your very private and confidential discussions with your visitors.” Being the younger brother, Buddha not only accepted Ananda’s conditions, he honored them throughout his life. He never felt any difficulty about it.
But when he returned to his home town after twelve years and was going to visit his wife, Yashodhara, these promises given to Ananda years ago came in the way. Ananda, as usual, wanted to be with him during his meeting with his wife, but for the first time Buddha felt embarrassed. He said to Ananda, “Just think, I am going to visit her after twelve long years. And for her I am not Buddha, but the same old Gautam Siddhartha, her husband who left her in the dead of night without informing her. And you know she is a proud woman and she will take offense if you come with me; she will think it is a strategy to prevent her from expressing all her bottled-up resentment and frustration. sorrow and suffering. I am aware of my promise, but I beg of you not to insist on it for once.”
This is a very sensitive and delicate moment and Buddha’s response to it is so human and beautiful. When Ananda reminds him that he has transcended all associations and attachments - no one is now a wife or a son to him - Buddha tells him, “This is quite true, Ananda, as far as I am concerned. But for Yashodhara I am her husband, and it is not in my hands to undo it.”
Ananda keeps out of Buddha’s way. When Buddha meets Yashodhara the expected happens. She bursts out crying; all the pent-up anger and pain and agony she has silently suffered for twelve years comes out in a torrent. Her outburst is quite justifiable. Buddha listens to her very silently. When she quiets down and wipes away her tears, Buddha says to her very gently, “Yashodhara, look at me attentively. I am not the same person who had left you twelve years back. I don’t come back to you as your husband, the husband is no more. I am altogether different. You talked so long to the departed one; now you can talk to me.”
The relationship between Krishna and Arjuna is radically different; they are friends. They have played and gossiped together as intimate pals. If Krishna tells him only this much, “I speak about the truth that I have known,” Arjuna will retort, “I know you and your truth.” So he has to say, “What I say is the same truth that has been said by many other seers. Don’t take it amiss because it comes to you from a friend. What I say is really significant.”