While little actual detail is recorded of the Buddha’s life, it is written that at twenty-nine years of age, Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the son of the northern India king Suddhodana of the Sakyan clan in the foothills of the Himalayas (now Nepal), renounced household and family on the night of the birth of his son to seek spiritual liberation. Over and over it is told that he left his wife and child in the dead of night without saying good-bye.
This great renunciation is celebrated as the Path of He Who Goes Forth.
The story of the Buddha’s wife, Princess Yasodhara, who remained behind to care for their newborn son with Siddhartha’s large extended family, has rarely been told, however, and never from her own perspective.
Siddhartha’s path to enlightenment has been chronicled in great detail over the ages, while Yasodhara’s has been invisible. Our challenge has been to imagine her journey through loss, grief, and suffering to find her own way toward enlightenment as she lived immersed in community and participated in “ordinary” relationships.
The Buddha’s Wife reconstructs Yasodhara’s story of transformation through her realization of deep community and through her active participation in relationships with her mother-in-law, Pajapati; her father-in-law Suddhodana; her son, Rahula; her own mother; a network of servants and friends within and beyond the palace community; and most importantly, the nuns who formed the women’s sangha (community) within the Buddha’s larger following. In comparison with the Buddha’s path of leaving home and renunciation, Yasodhara’s story illuminates the spiritual Path of She Who Stays.
We believe this path offers a timely and much-needed guide for contemporary living.
While traditional Buddhism emphasizes solitary meditation and spiritual seeking with community support, Yasodhara’s experience speaks of the Path of Right Relation—of growing awareness not alone but together with others. The seeds of this relational path practiced two and a half millennia ago have been growing in the ordinary lives of people throughout human history, passed on from one generation to another. But it is a hidden path, often going unnoticed.
In this path, the movement into relation—into community— opens the person to being something greater than oneself. The vehicle for awakening is in the relationship itself, and everyone who is part of it is changed.