Childhood and Education

The Ploughing Ceremony


 As a child, Prince Siddhartha was kind, compassionate and thoughtful. One day, at the age of seven, the prince followed his father to witness the annual ploughing ceremony at the beginning of the sowing season. While the king was busily engaged in the ceremony, the prince was left in the care of his maids under a shady rose-apple (jambu) tree. He was left alone when his maids wandered off to watch the ceremony.

The prince, not particularly attracted by the events, noticed a bird swooping to the ground and carrying off a small worm, which had been dug up from the earth by the farmer’s plough. The prince was greatly disturbed by what he had seen. “Alas! Do all living creatures kill each other?” he thought to himself. He realized that killing is suffering. Sitting alone under the big tree, he began to ponder in sorrow, over what he had seen. As he concentrated his mind, he began to experience the joy of meditation.

When his father and maids noticed that he was not among the crowd who were watching the ploughing ceremony, they came looking for him. Under the tree, the king found his seven-year-old child in meditation. The king was deeply moved at the sight. 


The Incident of the Wounded Swan

In another incident in his childhood, Prince Siddhartha showed that he was kind and compassionate and was sensitive to the sufferings of all living creatures. He was twelve years old when he and his cousin, Devadatta, were walking in the woods. Suddenly they saw a swan flying in the air. His cousin took his bow and arrow and shot the swan down. Both boys ran to pick it up but the prince, being the faster runner, reached the spot first and picked up the poor wounded creature. He pulled out the arrow and held the bird in his arms. Soon his cousin caught up with him and insisted that he should have the swan since he had shot it down. The prince refused to let his cousin have the swan, knowing that he would kill it. Unable to settle the matter between the two of them, they referred it to the wise man of the court.

After some thought, the wise man remarked, “A life certainly must belong to him who tries to save it; a life cannot belong to one who is only trying to destroy it. The wounded swan by right belongs to Prince Siddhartha.” So the prince brought the swan to his garden to have the wound treated, leaving his cousin disappointed and dejected.


The Education of the Prince

As a young boy, Prince Siddhartha was given a good education that would prepare him to be a strong and learned king, one who could rule his country wisely. The most well known teachers in the country were appointed to be his tutors. His education was based on a syllabus consisting of five main areas of study according to the ancient way of learning. The five main areas were Grammar (language and Composition), Art and Crafts, Medicine, Logic and Religion.

In addition to the academic subjects, the prince was also trained to be a warrior so that he could defend his country when he himself became a king. During his time, wars were fought on horses and elephants, so the prince had to learn the art of riding them. And since bows and arrows were the main weapons used in wars, he was taught archery. To make him physically fit and strong, he was coached in athletics and wrestling. He was also taught how to use weapons such as swords, lances and clubs.

The prince was a perfect student. Being intelligent, skilful and strong, he excelled in all fields, whether it was academic learning, the art of warfare, sports or games.