It is, however, clear from what follows, that about this time the mind of the young Räjput must, from some cause or other, have been deeply stirred. Many an earnest heart full of disappointment or enthusiasm has gone through a similar struggle, has learnt to look upon all earthly gains and hopes as worse than vanity, has envied the calm life of the cloister, troubled by none of these things, and has longed for an opportunity of entire self-surrender to abstinence and meditation.
Subjectively, though not objectively, these visions may be supposed to have appeared to Gotama. After seeing the last of them, he is said, in the later accounts, to have spent the afternoon in his pleasure-grounds by the river-side; and having bathed, to have entered his chariot in order to return home. Just then a messenger arrived with the news that his wife Yasodhara had given birth to a son, his only child. "This," said Gotama quietly, "is a new and strong tie I shall have to break." But the people of Kapilavastu were greatly delighted at the birth of the young heir, the raja's only grandson. Gotama's return became an ovation; musicians preceded and followed his chariot, while shouts of joy and triumph fell on his ear. Among these sounds one especially attracted his attention. It was the voice of a young girl, his cousin, who sang a stanza, saying, "Happy the father, happy the mother, happy the wife of such a son and husband." In the word "happy" lay a double meaning; it meant also freed from the chains of rebirth, delivered, saved. Grateful to one who, at such a time, reminded him of his highest hopes, Gotama, to whom such things had no longer any value, took off his collar of pearls and sent it to her.
She imagined that this was the beginning of a courtship, and began to build daydreams about becoming his principal wife, but he took no further notice of her and passed on. That evening the dancing-girls came to go through the Natch dances, then as now so common on festive occasions in many parts of India; but he paid them no attention, and gradually fell into an uneasy slumber. At midnight he awoke; the dancing-girls were lying in the ante-room; an overpowering loathing filled his soul. He arose instantly with a mind fully made up - "roused into activity," says the Sinhalese chronicle, "like a man who is told that his house is on fire." He called out to know who was on guard, and finding it was his charioteer Channa, he told him to saddle his horse. While Channa was gone Siddhattha gently opened the door of the room where Yasodhara was sleeping, surrounded by flowers, with one hand on the head of their child. He had hoped to take the babe in his arms for the last time before he went, but now he stood for a few moments irresolute on the threshold looking at them.
At last the fear of awakening Yasodhara prevailed; he tore himself away, promising himself to return to them as soon as his mind had become clear, as soon as he had become a Buddha, - i.e. Enlightened, - and then he could return to them not only as husband and father, but as teacher and saviour. It is said to have been broad moonlight on the full moon of the month of July, when the young chief, with Channa as his sole companion, leaving his father's home, his wealth and social position, his wife and child behind him, went out into the wilderness to become a penniless and despised student, and a homeless wanderer. This is the circumstance which has given its name to a Sanskrit work, the Mahabhinishkramana Sutra, or Sutra of the Great Renunciation.
Next is related an event in which we may again see a subjective experience given under the form of an objective reality. Mara, the great tempter, appears in the sky, and urges Gotama to stop, promising him, in seven days, a universal kingdom over the four great continents if he will but give up his enterprise. When his words fail to have any effect, the tempter consoles himself by the confident hope that he will still overcome his enemy, saying, "Sooner or later some lustful or malicious or angry thought must arise in his mind; in that moment I shall be his master"; and from that hour, adds the legend, "as a shadow always follows the body, so he too from that day always followed the Blessed One, striving to throw every obstacle in his way towards the Buddhahood." Gotama rides a long distance that night, only stopping at the banks of the Anoma beyond the Koliyan territory. There, on the sandy bank of the river, at a spot where later piety erected a dagaba (a solid dome-shaped relic shrine), he cuts off with his sword his long flowing locks, and, taking off his ornaments, sends them and the horse back in charge of the unwilling Channa to Kapilavastu. The next seven days were spent alone in a grove of mango trees near by, whence the recluse walks on to Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha, and residence of Bimbisara, one of the then most powerful rulers in the valley of the Ganges. He was favourably received by the raja; but though asked to do so, he would not as yet assume the responsibilities of a teacher.
He attached himself first to a brahmin sophist named Alara, and afterwards to another named Udraka, from whom he learnt all that Indian philosophy had then to teach. Still unsatisfied, he next retired to the jungle of Uruvela, on the most northerly spur of the Vindhya range of mountains, and there for six years, attended by five faithful disciples, he gave himself up to the severest penance and self-torture, till his fame as an ascetic spread in all the country round about "like the sound," says the Burmese chronicle, "of a great bell hung in the canopy of the skies." At last one day, when he was walking in a much enfeebled state, he felt on a sudden an extreme weakness, like that caused by dire starvation, and unable to stand any longer he fell to the ground. Some thought he was dead, but he recovered, and from that time took regular food and gave up his severe penance, so much so that his five disciples soon ceased to respect him, and leaving him went to Benares.