1 – A wealthy and immensely powerful earthly ruler decides that his only child, a boy, should be protected from having any contact with the misery predominant under his dominion.
His efforts are successful, for a while, but at some point the young lad finds out that he was living in a bubble and rebels – as all young people do at some point.
The young man, like all mythological heroes before and after him, embarks on an initiation voyage during which he not only comes of age but also discovers a way out of the erstwhile inescapable cycle that keeps us human beings immersed in apparently endless suffering.
The not so young anymore prince shares his findings to those who recognize him as their guru and fades into the endless folds of time…
2 – Unable to find a way to bring himself happiness to his subjects a powerful ruler decides to sacrifice his own son in order to achieve this self imposed task.
For his son to experience unblemished bliss – so that he would be familiar with the feeling towards which he was meant to lead the inhabitants of the kingdom – the king raises him completely isolated from the vagaries experienced by the commoners.
When the young prince is considered mature enough, he is ‘accidentally’ led to find out the dire reality that is haunting both the king and his subjects.
As expected of him, the lad refuses to return to the comforts of the gilded nest and embarks on the task he was raised to fulfill.
After a labored voyage that somewhat mirrored his erstwhile existence our hero eventually solves the problem entrusted to him by his father.
The story ends with the hero taking the trouble to share his findings with those who bother to listen to him.
3 – Unable to convince his contemporaries of what he had understood about this world an otherwise skilled storyteller concocted a rather convoluted narrative about an young prince who accidentally found out about how much misery existed – and still does – in the world. Impressed by the horrible fate of his subjects the soon to become hero starts looking for a way to deliver his people from their sufferance. After a long struggle, mainly with himself, he found out that in order escape the cycle of suffering a man must. above all. make peace with himself. By refraining from making excesses of any kind and by first considering the thoughts that cross his head and only then putting them into practice.
After refining his story in the shade of the proverbial fig tree our story teller started sharing his teachings to anybody wise enough to lend him an ear.
So, is there anything to be learned from these stories?
For starters, no one can be saved from suffering against his will or without him being aware of what’s going on.
Secondly that there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution to be put in practice by a benevolent ‘deus ex machina’. Had this been possible the generous and caring ruler would have solved the problem without having to sacrifice his own son in the first place.
Thirdly, is no way lastly and less evident than the first two, ‘salvation’ is a collective effort. Besides the fact that in all three versions the ‘hero’/story-teller who finds the way feels an irrepressible urge to share his findings we have to consider that none of the above at no moment delved in a complete void. Each of them was raised/conducted their search in circumstances shaped by those living in their close proximity.
“The bodhisattva ideal is central to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition as the individual who seeks enlightenment both for him- or herself and for others. Compassion, an empathetic sharing of the sufferings of others, is the bodhisattva’s greatest characteristic. It is shown in the following incident from the Vimalakirti Sutra which concerns a prominent lay follower of the Buddha who had fallen ill. When questioned about his illness, Vimalakirti replied, “Because the beings are ill, the bodhisattva is ill. The sickness of the bodhisattva arises from his great compassion.”
Contrary to what one might think at first glance, Buddhism is not about a selfish quest for individual escape. Buddha himself couldn’t leave this valley of tears without first sharing his newly acquired understandings with those around him.
As amply, but not readily evident, proven by all three variations, becoming aware of, and cherishing, one’s own individuality is an absolute must for all who seek deliverance but reaching that stage is only a necessary step towards the understanding that deliverance can only be achieved by carefully balancing one’s own ego against ‘the need to belong’ which allows us to cooperate towards our common goal:
Survival as an opportunity to reach deliverance.