Why did the Buddha renounce the world?

Popular versions of the reasons why the Buddha renounced the world to seek enlightenment hover around the story that the prince Siddhartha Gautam was pained to see the suffering of a sick, a dead and an old man while on a tour. Dr Ambedkar, in his own interpretation of the Buddha’s story and the Dhamma (The Buddha and His Dhamma), provides an altogether different version. 

According to Ambedkar, Siddhartha had opposed the declaration of war by the Sakya Sangh on the neighbouring Koliyas. Since his was a minority view, he had to bow to the majority and had to take recourse to one of the options left with him.

Siddharth realised the consequences that would follow if he continued his opposition to the Sangh in its plan of war against the Koliyas. He had three alternatives to considerto join the forces and participate in the war ; to consent to being hanged or exiled ; and to allow the members of his family to be condemned to a social boycott and confiscation of property. (page 49) 

Siddhartha opted for the second option and went into exile. His subsequent conversation with his wife Yashodhara reveal that his renunciation had her support.

In the Introduction to the work Ambedkar gives a pointer to his the re-telling of this story.

He states:

Why did the Buddha take Parivraja ? The traditional answer is that he took Parivraja because he saw a dead person, a sick person and an old person. This answer is absurd on the face of it. The Buddha took parivraja at the age of 29. If he took Parivraja as a result of these three sights, how is it he did not see these three sights earlier? These are common events occurring by hundreds and the Buddha could not have failed to some across them earlier. It is impossible to accept the traditional explanation that this was the first time he saw them. The explanation is not plausible and does not appeal to reason. But if this is not the answer to the question, what is the real answer? 

The implication of this version is that Siddhartha’s troubles were not metaphysical but that of a man of action, not of a prince who was shocked to see the contrast between his sequestered existence in the palaces and the world outside but the continuation of his worldly life.

Ambedkar’s retelling of the story is certainly not without its own re-creation of myths, but I am wondering if there is another source from which he has taken this particular version of the renunciation episode in the Buddha’s life. On another note, I almost feel cheated that I have never across this version of the Buddha’s parivraja- right from school textbooks onwards.

(This is the first post in the series ‘Reading Ambedkar’).

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