The Contest (VI/?)

Posted on February 15, 2005 by Jenna

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It is 560 years before the common era. While women vie for the hand of Prince Siddhartha, Devadatta sleeps. He is not concerned about the party’s outcome, as he has determined that “all the women but one” will satisfy Prince Devadatta.

He dreams. It is in his dreams that Maya finds him.

I am Devadatta! dreams the man.
A killer,
Stronger than ninety men.
Loyal to the Prince Siddhartha.

I shall keep his enemies at bay
And shelter him
This dove named Siddhartha,
And from my love for him
Be born
A kingdom greater than any seen before.

Maya says:

If he should wed Yasodhara, dove to dove,
Then he shall learn what suffering will mean.
And he shall be no King,
No wheel-turning King,
No legacy for Devadatta,
But be a Buddha.

Devadatta considers.

Then good for her! he finally says.
For in my life
I have known pain
It’s made me strong.

And I have thought
Suddhodana King be damned,
It is a thing my cousin could well learn.

And Buddha, then?
So great a destiny
Carries a man
On wings above the world.

I shall forge his kingdom
And he shall love me for it
But he shall be the Buddha
And I the King.

And I shall have the greatest kingdom forged
And blessed by his wisdom;
And the dove shall sit
On the shoulder of the hawk.

Bless her, then.
For I am in his shadow
And doomed to his shadow
So let his shadow sprawl great and vast
Over all the kingdoms of the world.
Let him be remembered forever as Buddha
And it shall take less glory
Than a Kingship would
From myself, Devadatta,
Now free to seize
With strength and prowess
The kingdoms of the world.

Thank you,
O Maya,
Queen of all the world.

You have lightened my heart
It lightens my heart
To know
That I can bless this wedding
Without resentment
Without anger
With nothing more than a passing sorrow
That my cousin shall never know
The glory of conquest’s bloom.

Maya answers: We are attached to that which hurts us, Devadatta.

And Devadatta says:

It’s so,
O Queen,
It’s ever so,
I love him so,
But I could hate him so.
Thank you,
O Queen,
That he shall be a Buddha
And not my King.

Then, says the Queen,
You’ll be his disciple?
You, Devadatta, will sit at his feet
And hear him preach?

Devadatta shouts,

I, Devadatta, shall be his disciple.
I will sit at his feet
And hear him preach
The world-conquering doctrine
of the Buddha!

Then Maya laughs, and her laughter is bitter. She says:

He will conquer illusion, and not the world.
He will conquer desire,
He will conquer attachment,
He will conquer me.
But he will not seize the world, Devadatta.

“You?” asks Devadatta. “Then why do you not kill him, Maya?”

Maya answers: We are attached to that which hurts us, Devadatta.

Devadatta laughs.

If he will not conquer the world
With his world-conquering mastery,
Then I will explain his error,
O Queen.
I will simply say,
“That is what world-conquering mastery is for.”
Then he will be enlightened.

Maya frowns at him.

Devadatta smirks.

Maya says: He will teach you to abandon Devadatta.

Devadatta clarifies:

I am Devadatta,
O Queen.

Maya says:

He will teach you that it doesn’t matter
Who you are,
O Prince,
He’ll strip you of that worldly shred of

I am Devadatta, Devadatta emphasizes. He seems a bit puzzled that Queen Maya does not already understand why this matters too much for any Buddha to change it. O Queen.

Maya answers:

You’ll learn that nothing in a man can last
The world is like a wind
And in the end, O Prince,
All things Devadatta save this truth shall pass.

But I am Devadatta, Devadatta says. He sounds somewhat uncomfortable now:

I am Devadatta,
O Queen,
A killer,
Stronger than ninety men,
The killing treasure,
The wind
That sweeps
His enemies away.
This is Devadatta.
It shall not pass.
I do not want it to pass.
It is my dharma.

Maya answers:

You’ll learn your heart is full of lies, from him,
‘Wanting’ is a chain
You’d best be free of, since
The Buddha will not let you kill for him,
O Prince.

I am Devadatta, Devadatta insists.

Maya laughs at him, though it is still a bitter laugh.

And what will you do then when you can’t exist?
When “I am Devadatta”
Is lost into truth’s abyss?
And you are simply one of his disciples, kiss’t
By truths you cannot bear to hear
And cannot yet dismiss?

He will not let you kill for him, O Prince.
He’ll take away your nature
And you’ll call it bliss.

Devadatta frowns, after a moment.

If I am not Devadatta,
Then I am nothing.

Maya answers:

The Buddha shall make you nothing,
You shall be a dream.
An isn’t.
Lost with the morning.

Devadatta sighs. Then he must be a King.

Devadatta wakes.

Devadatta goes to the great hall. He looks King Suddhodana in the eye.

“I wish the hand of Yasodhara,” he says.

Siddhartha studies him.

I shall not yield, says Suddhodana,
To a spoiled child’s whims,
When it should kill
My own child’s heart.

There are spears stacked against one wall. Devadatta walks to the wall. He places his hand over one spear, so that the point pierces his hand. There is blood, and a barely-concealed wince.

Suddhodana’s eyes narrow.

A strange game, Suddhodana says,
That Devadatta would play with Kings.
Men have lost their lives—

(“in a purely natural way, and without any suffering,” Suddhodana asides to Siddhartha)

—in their addiction to such games.

Strange, says Siddhartha. He seems … I cannot recognize the expression on his face. He seems …

It does not matter, Suddhodana says. It is a Devadatta thing.

“I wish the hand of Yasodhara,” says Devadatta. “Also, I will need a doctor, as soon as this matter is resolved, lest—”

“No,” says Suddhodana King.


“No,” says Suddhodana flatly, and it is that tone of Kings that brooks no argument from Devadattas.

Wait, says Siddhartha.
I have taken from him a dove,
And given it to her.
And I cannot say
That I have served him well.
I love her, father,
But let him test
His strength against mine
For the rest.

Suddhodana’s tone allowed argument from Siddharthas, though not from Devadattas. Reluctantly, the King announces a contest for Yasodhara’s hand.

Archery, says Suddhodana. First.

Devadatta stands where he can scarcely see the target. He draws back his bow. He fires. He drives his arrow through the target’s center, cutting through the wood and leaving it in splinters.

Ah! cries Yasodhara. The arrow strikes my heart!

Siddhartha stands where Devadatta can scarcely see the target. He draws back his bow. It snaps in his hands.

Please, he says, to the servants, I shall need a stronger bow.

So one servant goes to the deeps of the palace, and fetches forth a bow, wielded once by Vishnu, some say, and never since.

Siddhartha draws an arrow back. He fires. The arrow passes through the center of the target, as if it were air; through the tree behind it; through the earth; and comes to rest at the bottom of a stream.

Inconclusive, admits Suddhodana.
They have struck the center,
One to destroy,
And one to pass through,
Like a mind unfettered by material attachment,
And had this been a contest of destruction
Or enlightenment
Then I could judge it swiftly
But the test was archery.

Granted, says Siddhartha, and Devadatta nods his head.

Then, says Suddhodana,
Give them each a sword.
Let them cut down a tree.

Devadatta takes his sword. He holds it before him. He turns casually in a circle. Six trees fall.

Ah! cries Yasodhara.

Siddhartha looks at her with consternation. There is an emotion he does not recognize on her face.

He has cut my heart! Yasodhara says.

Siddhartha takes his sword. He speaks to a tree for a moment. Then he bows his head and closes his eyes. He swings his sword, so swiftly that those watching see no motion.

There is a silence.

Devadatta has w— starts Suddhodana. Then he pauses.

A wind blows.

The tree falls down. With a thunder, so do other trees in the forest, echoing the sacrifice of their brother, in honor of the man who will be Buddha.

… Inconclusive, says Suddhodana.
Let them test at horses.

They bring to Devadatta the fiercest stallion of the stable. “Break him,” they say.

Devadatta holds his hand before the horse’s nose.

Slowly, as if fighting a great and terrible weight, tossing its head back and forth, screaming, the horse sinks to its knees before him.

“He is broken,” says Devadatta.

Then, and his voice is quiet, he whispers to the horse,

I am sorry.

Something lightens in the horse when it hears those words, and slowly, and creakily, it rises.

Ah! says Yasodhara.

She runs. She clings to Siddhartha’s arm.

Please, she says. You must do better.

They bring to Siddhartha the second-fiercest stallion in the stable. “Break him,” they say.

Siddhartha holds his hand before the horse’s nose.

The horse sniffs at his hand.

I smell of Yasodhara, do I not? Siddhartha asks.

Sweet, and gentle, and beautiful?

Slowly, Siddhartha strokes the horse’s mane.

Yet it does not yield.

Please, says Yasodhara.
You must do better.

Slowly, Siddhartha strokes the horse’s mane.

Yet it is a wild thing.

It does not yield.

So Yasodhara bends, and whispers a word in his ear, and Siddhartha convulses, because that word is Prajapati’s pain.

Now Suddhodana is standing.

“The contest is off!” he shouts.

“Wait,” cries Yasodhara.

“He is twitching. He is broken. The contest is off!”

“Wait!” says Yasodhara.

Then Siddhartha rises, and looks upon the stallion, and it kneels before him, crying in the language of horses:


I did not recognize you.
Your eyes were too clear,
Too innocent,
But it is just these seventy lifetimes past
That you gave your life for mine
Though I was Piliyakkha
Unworthiest of Kings!
For this compassionate sacrifice,
I am your servant, Siddhartha,
In this life and all others.
May you become a Buddha!

And as the horse gentles itself to Siddhartha, without even the violence of the will, Devadatta hides his eyes behind his hand.

I have lost, Devadatta says bleakly. He may have her. But I will tell you, King.
Your son will never rule the world
No wheel-turning sage king he
No answer to the pains of all the world.
He is no King.
He is no Prince.
He is no householder.
He will certainly become a Buddha.

Siddhartha walks home, slowly, shakily, with Yasodhara on his arm. He has won, but he is not at peace, for he has begun to understand that there is suffering.