Awakened Wall Art Edition written and illustrated by Amrita Sen
Her name was Yasodhara. And she didn’t like her name. She thought it was too long and hard to say. So each time she was asked her name, she said, “Call me Dara - it is simple, like me.”
Dara was raised in a small house on a giant field. The field was given to her parents many years ago in exchange for leaving their home in the city. Dara’s father was not happy with his life in the city and wanted to leave. When a local landlord offered him a small amount of money and a barren field in exchange for this house, Dara’s father gladly accepted. “I will become a farmer so I don’t have to answer to anyone!” said Dara’s father. And so Dara and her family left and moved far from the city.
Dara did not mind living in her small house all that much, but what made her very happy was to be near the old tree that stood in the middle of their field. Somehow the tree reminded her of what was out there, and not of where she lived at the moment.
One day, Dara’s father said: “I will cut down this tree”. Dara pleaded with her father not to cut the tree, but her father was determined to cut down the tree. “It is dying.” he said, “It sheds its wretched leaves and I cannot farm on this field!” Dara implored to her father again. “I will rake the leaves each morning and each night. Our field will be so clean you will never want to cut down this tree.” So Dara woke up each morning before the sun arose and raked the leaves. The field was glistening by dawn and ready for farming. Each evening, she picked up the leaves by hand so by the dark nighttime, the field would glisten again, but this time under the light of the moon.
As the years went by, Dara noticed that the tree was shedding more and more leaves. She could not keep up with the tree’s shedding as quickly as she was once able to. But this did not bother Dara as there was not much else to do at home. Dara’s parents were always very sad and she did not know why. And thus, Dara kept to herself and to tended to her tree. In return, Dara’s tree showered her with even more leaves, and Dara felt peace.
One day, a group of girls asked Dara to play with them after school. Dara quickly responded and said: “I cannot. I must attend to something at home.” When learning of the actual reason why Dara could not play, the group of girls laughed at her. Dara, feeling left out, said that perhaps she could join them for just a short while. During their playtime, Dara realized that far more time had passed than she had expected. She hastily gathered her things, left the girls, and ran home. Dara ran and ran until she could barely breathe. She prayed that not too many leaves had already fallen so that her father would not become angry with her. “Please God”, she said to herself, “let my tree be gentle with his gifts so he does not draw too much attention!”
When Dara reached home, her heart sank. The tree was gone. She found her mother crying and her father sitting, with a satisfied look on his face. Dara stood in shock. She could not speak. Finally, Dara mustered up the courage to ask her father what happened to her tree. “I cut it into little pieces! It is now firewood for some other family!” Dara could not even cry at the thought of this. She went to her room and stayed inside.
That night, Dara packed the only dress she owned, and left her home, alone on foot. She would never come back to the small house or to her family again.
Dara walked for many months, begging for food and trying to stay alive. Oddly, she was happier now than she was in her house. She tried not to think about her mother, or even her father, but she thought about the tree each morning and each night.
Many months had passed, Dara Finally made her way to the old city where she used to live as a very little girl. The city had changed. There were no longer any small houses. All the new buildings belonged to the royal family, and each and every one of the city’s people worked for their king. She decided that she too had to work for the king in order to survive in the new city.
She saw an old man, standing at the gates of the royal palace and asked him for a job. The old man kindly offered Dara a job to clean all the gutters outside of the palace. Dara gladly accepted. Dara did her job proudly and tirelessly each day. She did such a good job cleaning the gutters outside the palace, that the old man asked her to clean the all the floors of the main palace. Dara was delighted. “The floors of the palace are no ordinary floors” said the old man. “They are adorned with gold and rare jewels…. You must be especially careful. You must be perfect!” “I will be perfect!” Dara said. “I make this promise to you and to the good king!”
Dara would begin cleaning and polishing each day before sunrise and she would finish her work late into the night. She was very happy to do this as it reminded her of how she looked after her beloved tree, day and night. The king began to notice how the palace interior sparkled each day, like there were stars on the floors and the ceilings as well. Every object was polished to perfection and not a single jewel was dim with dust. “Who did this?” wondered the king.
He asked his son what could possibly be the cause of his palace looking so bright. “I already know,” replied his son. “Word has it that there is a beautiful maiden who cleans the palace night and day.” “How do you know such things son?” asked the King. “It’s very simple. The servants tell me. They are all talking about her.” “And why is it that you talk to servants? You are the son of a king!” “I am Siddhartha, father. I am more than the son of the king. And if I want to talk to servants, I certainly can choose to do so!” The king, amused by his son’s boldness, replied, “If you are so close to the servants, then why don’t you bring this young maiden, the girl who cleans the palace to me so I may thank her for her hard work.” The king did not expect that Siddhartha, who was so sheltered all his life, would be clever enough to find the girl, and hoped to teach his son a lesson to not challenge his father. Siddhartha paused. He realized he might have made a mistake with his words. He could not bring the maiden to the king, because he had never seen her. He did not even know her name. “I won’t lie” said Siddhartha. “Word is that she does not want to be seen. All I know is that when people are nearby she hides and she only cleans when no one is watching.” “That is ridiculous!” scowled the king. “If you are a clever young man fit to be a prince, then you will bring her to me.”
Siddhartha took the king’s command as a challenge to find the maiden who was cleaning his palace. He searched for many weeks and asked every one of the servants if they knew of the girl’s whereabouts. No one knew. Frustrated, Siddhartha decided one day to leave the palace gates and see if he could learn anything about the girl. Upon exiting, the young prince was taken aback by what he saw. He had no idea that the city had become so vast, with so many beautiful buildings and works of art. It was not what he remembered as a child, when there were huts and horses everywhere, and common people walking around. Now seeing his father’s kingdom, with its winding golden roads, dressed up guards, chariots and marble statues in every corner, Siddhartha marveled at the city’s wealth. “My father has built a great city!” Siddhartha thought, “I am sure that everyone who has helped to build this city shares in its wealth and prosperity.”
Siddhartha asked everyone he saw if they knew the young girl who cleans the palace. “Who is she and where does she live?” He asked the guards throughout the city. Not one man could answer. Then Siddhartha came across the old man that stood outside the gates of the palace. “Old Man! I recognize you! You work at the palace! Where might I find the young maiden who cleans the Royal Palace?” asked Siddhartha. The old man pointed in the southern direction of the city. “But where exactly?”asked Siddhartha. How do I know that I have reached the place where she lives? How do I know if I have found her? How do I recognize her?” The old man smiled: “Go as far as you can until you can walk no further, until your legs and your body have fatigued…. Only then will you see a hut where the young maiden resides.” Siddhartha thought this to be a very strange set of instructions but set out to find the girl.
As Siddhartha walked through the city, he began to see changes. The city was no longer as opulent. Huts and shanties started to re-appear. The streets were no longer paved. The trees had disappeared. The grass had stopped growing. Only dirt and stray animals remained. Then came the site that would strike Siddhartha’s heart. He saw poverty stretched across many miles. Something he never saw before. As Siddhartha walked through the impoverished villages, his eyes dripped with tears. He had forgotten what led him to this place. Suddenly, he saw the old man standing in front him.
“Old Man! How have you reappeared?” asked Siddhartha. “I had seen you at the palace gates! Perhaps I am seeing things!” The old man assured Siddhartha that he was not seeing things, and he pointed to a very small hut on the side of the dirt road. “There” the old man pointed. “There she is… Dara. The person you came to see.” Siddhartha felt relief. His journey had been over. He could now fulfill his father’s wishes. Siddhartha entered the hut. There she sat. Young and beautiful, but covered with dirt. Dara was startled by the entrance of such a handsome prince. This rich young man was clearly lost, she thought. Siddhartha reassured Dara that he was not lost and that he had come looking for her, so that his father, the King, could thank her personally for the beautiful work she had done in their palace. Dara was far too frightened to accept the invitation to meet the King, so she declined. Siddhartha said she had no choice as this was a direct order from his father. And so Siddhartha and Dara left the village and headed back to the palace.
To Siddhartha, the road back to the palace seemed like a journey that lasted forever, but to Dara, this was a journey she took every day. Dara wondered why the king would send his only son to find her in such a poor village. Upon entering the king’s sitting quarters, Siddhartha turned to Dara and made a request. “Young girl, please do not tell my father that I travelled to your village to see you,” said Siddhartha. “But why not? It is so very courageous what you did,” replied Dara. “Because my father does not want me to leave the palace grounds. He does not want me to see what the world is really like,” said the solemn Siddhartha. “I see,” said Dara.
Siddhartha presented Dara to the king. The king was impressed to see that his son had gathered the maiden so efficiently. “May I ask how you found her?” asked the king. Siddhartha struggled for words, but Dara quickly intervened. “Um. I went to him my king!” said Dara. “Why would you do that? How dare you approach the prince directly!” shouted the king. “Forgive me my king,but I asked the prince for an act of kindness!” “An act of kindness!” the king continued. “Yes, my king, an act of kindness”continued Dara I asked the prince to give all the servants more money as they are so very poor.” “So what?” said the king.“That is their destiny in life. The poor must be happy with what they have!”The king was getting angry. Siddhartha felt hurt by the words of his father but said nothing. “But King!” Dara interrupted.”Do you not like the way the palace looks? Do you not see how bright and beautiful it is, now more than ever?” “Well, yes, I certainly do,” said the king softly. Dara spoke boldly: “Then you should know that I myself did very little to make the palace what it is. I helped but I did not do it all. All the servants helped me after their work hours. They did this to please you.” Siddhartha knew this to be untrue but did not interrupt. The king was shocked to hear it, as he had never seen his subjects working more than they were required to.
The king remained silent. Siddhartha suddenly spoke. “Father, they are all so very poor! How could you have hidden this from me!” The king grew embarrassed in front of his son and wanted the conversation to stop. “Alright! Alright! I will give them all raises! Now let us never bring this up again!” Siddhartha and Dara were both very happy, although they did not show their glee in front of the king. Siddhartha left the quarters pleased with his father’s gesture, but deeply disturbed inside.
The next day, Siddhartha found Dara dusting and varnishing. “You are now out in the open!” he teased. “Yes, the servants are so happy that they insist that I am in hiding no longer.” Siddhartha was pleased to hear this. Dara smiled at him. She looked at Siddhartha and saw sadness in his eyes, even though he smiled back at her. Over many months, Siddhartha looked for Dara every day and found her in different parts of the palace, cleaning, polishing and re-arranging things as she saw fit. The palace looked more beautiful than ever and so did Dara. Siddhartha and Dara talked about many things. But mostly, they talked about the world and the suffering of others. They both spoke about how they wanted to end poverty and suffering.
One day, Siddhartha asked Dara where she had come from. Dara did not want to talk much about her past but Siddhartha said that his heart would break if he did not know the whole Dara- her past, present and future. Dara relented and said: “I left my father and mother, but for good reason.” “How very sad” said Siddhartha, “what would drive a little girl to leave her parents?” “My father was born with suffering,” said Dara. “And he wanted to pass it to me”. “When he saw my happiness, my contentment, he grew angry, and he destroyed the one thing that I loved.” Dara’s eyes filled with tears. Siddhartha could not bear to see his Dara hurting and vowed to himself that he would end her suffering at any cost.
“Marry me!” said Siddhartha, he kneeled and extended his hand. Dara stood before him and kneeled to meet Siddhartha on the floor. Dara cried even more but now from tears of happiness. They embraced.
When Siddhartha went to his father to inform him that he would marry Dara, the king objected. “You cannot marry such a poor girl! She is not of our caste and stature!” Siddhartha grew very angry at his father and replied: “If we cannot be married, then I will leave the kingdom and take her with me.” Siddhartha’s father feared more than anything that his son would leave the kingdom, destroying any chance that their family would become a dynasty. Thus, the king succumbed quickly and vowed that Siddhartha and Dara would have the grandest wedding the kingdom had ever known. And so, a grand wedding took place, and all of the palace was dressed with lotus flowers to celebrate the young love of the Prince and his bride.
On the night of the wedding, Dara stepped outside and looked at the sky. “I am the happiest I can be!” thought Dara to herself. “All of my suffering is a thing of the past! No more sadness will come to me from now on as I am happy to be with my Siddhartha!” And indeed, the days and years following the couple’s marriage was filled with peace and joy for Dara. The princess embraced Siddhartha’s family and they embraced her. She enjoyed the splendor of the palace and made it more beautiful than ever before. She made sure that all of the servants had good homes and enough money to pay for their own families. This made Dara feel even more grateful for her good fortune and for the love that she found with Siddhartha. She wanted everyone to be happy and to end suffering, and she thought this could be possible.
“You realize, Dara,” said Siddhartha one day, “that you may think you are helping everyone, but most of humanity lives in grief and poverty. They are out there – beyond the palace gates. Their children are sick and they do not have the power to heal themselves with good food, clean water and medicine. This is the way of life for most everyone.” Dara looked at Siddhartha with compassion. “I want you to be happy my Siddhartha. Your happiness is the most important thing in the world to me.” “How can I be happy if I can’t help them? How can I be happy if I don’t know my purpose?” said Siddhartha. “How can I be happy when I cannot find the end to suffering?”
Siddhartha continued passionately: “And how is it that YOU can be happy knowing that you have a father that you have not spoken to in years? Don’t you think about your father and mother?” “No!” cried Dara. “Never speak of my father!” Siddhartha remained silent and was saddened by Dara’s outburst. Dara sat down. She stood again and approached her husband softly. “I’m sorry my Siddhartha. I don’t want to hurt you with my words. The reason… The very reason I want to forget the past is because I wantto look to the future. And our future is here.” With those words, Dara reached for Siddhartha’s hand and placed it on her growing belly. “See here. This is your son. You will find happiness when he comes to this world. You will see the meaning of life and find your true purpose when he arrives.” Siddhartha embraced Dara.
As Dara made plans for the baby’s arrival, Siddhartha grew restless. Soon, his nights became completely sleepless and his days were a haze. He would often visit the outskirts of the kingdom and spend time with the sick children. He grew more disenchanted each day until his heart could not bear it any longer.
Dara’s child was born. “May I hold him?” asked Siddhartha. “Of course you can hold him. You are his father.” smiled Dara. Siddhartha held his newborn son all night. Dara lay asleep. Siddhartha began to shed tears for the first time in in his life. “Little boy” he said, “I have made your mother a promise. And I will keep this promise for her and for you, so that you may have a better life.” Siddhartha continued: “I must now leave to fulfill my promise. You may not ever come to know me, but if I find my way, you will forever feel my presence.” That night, Siddhartha left the palace for good, leaving Dara alone with Rahul, their newborn son.
When Dara awoke the next morning, Siddhartha was not there. She went looking for him but there was no Siddhartha to be found. She looked tirelessly and saw the king, stretched out on the ground, crying. “Our Siddhartha has left for good.” Dara had felt anger as she had never felt before, more anger than when her father cut down her tree. “I will never love again,” said Dara. “I will never love life ever again.”
Dara felt like running away, just like she had before. She wanted to put an end to her suffering desperately as she could not bear the agony in her heart. But Dara did not have the option to leave. She had a child to take care of. She sat quietly and let the hurt finally consume her body. She then began to ask herself questions for the first time. What would she tell her child about his own father? Why did his father leave him, why did he not find any answers in their own home? Dara decided that she would never speak of Siddhartha. She would never tell Rahul that he had a father.
One day, shortly after Rahul turned five, he asked his mother, “Where is my father?” Dara replied: “I am your father, and your mother.” Rahul asked again, “But why don’t I have a father and a mother? Everyone else does.” “That’s not true,” replied Dara. “I have a mother but I don’t have a father. You see- we are just the same!” The answer satisfied Rahul for the time being, but Dara knew that it was only a matter of time before she would be asked about Siddhartha again. .
Slowly, Dara began to ponder the question herself. Why did Siddhartha leave her? Was she a bad wife? Was she oblivious to his pain? Or was Siddhartha born with a certain suffering, just like she was? Just her like her father was? How could Siddhartha run away? But then again, why did she run away as a girl, never to look back? Did she ever consider the hurt it would cause her mother? Was she not old enough to understand the suffering of others? Dara thought about her mother. And then she thought about her father. “Perhaps he had a good reason for taking down the tree,” she thought.
For the first time, Dara reflected on her past. For the first time, Dara began to understand the feeling of regret. Dara did not have the answers to any of her questions. All she knew to do was to love her child. This was her only purpose now and for the rest of her life.
Siddhartha had been searching for the answer to end the suffering of all people, and most importantly, he wanted to end the suffering of his beloved Dara. “I must find her tree!” he thought. “It must be alive. If it can give a child so much joy, it cannot possibly die in the hands of a woodcutter.” Siddhartha was convinced not only that the tree was alive somewhere but that it was somehow the answer to what he was looking for.
Siddhartha looked for the tree day and night. He grew weary and weak. He begged for food. He meditated and fasted until he was flesh and bones. He began to lose hope that he would find anything in the vastness of the world.
On one of Siddhartha’s walks, the tree appeared in a mist. Siddhartha had seen this tree through the words of Dara, so he recognized it and sat under it. He prayed. But his prayers did not work. Then he allowed himself to feel. Then he meditated. Slowly Siddhartha lost his feelings and everything else. Siddhartha had lost his thoughts and his mind was cleared.
One day, Siddhartha regained his thoughts. He remembered everything - his past, the suffering of his people, and the suffering he had caused Dara. But now his thoughts were new. He had the answer. He was eager to share it with the world. He quickly looked up at the tree. “You are coming with me, old man!” said Siddhartha. “Time to uproot you!” Siddhartha decided to carry the tree by foot back to the palace.
As he continued on his journey, Siddhartha would be found in various towns along the way, carrying the old tree, but all the while spreading his teachings. He wanted to tell as many people as he possibly could about what he had learned sitting under the tree. “Look at him!” said Siddhartha. “He took care of my beloved Dara, and now he is tending to the world!” Two years had passed as Siddhartha slowly trudged on the road back to the palace. He was weary from carrying the tree and from travelling by foot. He was nearly home but he had also grown very sick.
He reached a small town on the outskirts of the palace ground and he fell to the ground. An old couple found Siddhartha, stretched out next to the tree. They dragged Siddhartha into their humble hut and lay him on their bed. Then they tended to the tree to make sure it was still alive. When Siddhartha awoke, the old couple gave him water and food. Within a few days, Siddhartha got his strength back.
“I want to thank you for your kindness” Siddhartha said, “You decided to let a stranger into your home, not knowing anything, and for that I am grateful.” “It was not our decision at all, son,” said the old man. “It was determined already. We knew you’d be coming” “I don’t understand,” said Siddhartha. “How did you know I was coming?”
“Siddhartha, you have brought back to us the tree that we gave up many years ago. When we lost our tree, we also lost our daughter.” Siddhartha took a deep breath after hearing these words. Could it be that he had found the very parents of Dara? Dara’s father continued: “After she left, we searched for her for the remainder of our lives. We gave up everything. When we came to know about the poor girl marrying Prince Siddhartha, we knew that she was our Dara.” “But why did you not come forward?” asked Siddhartha. Dara’s father replied, “I could only come forward if I was able to get the tree back. I sold it to a merchant of the kingdom, then I offered to buy it back. I offered him every penny I had but he refused. The merchant moved the tree somewhere remote and we thought we had lost the tree forever.” “We learned one day that the great Siddhartha – the Buddha – had found enlightenment under an old tree. We knew it was our tree, Dara’s tree.” “We knew you would come this way, so we waited patiently for you. We waited for two years.” Siddhartha had felt true joy after a long time, perhaps for the first time.
The next morning, Dara stepped outside to her garden. She was weary and forlorn but her love for Rahul kept her alive. She kneeled and embraced Rahul. “This is my purpose,” she thought. “I must be happy for him so he can learn happiness from me.” Dara stood up. She saw her tree. She saw Siddhartha. And she saw her mother and father. As Dara wept, she grabbed Rahul’s hand and led him to where they were standing. “Rahul, my boy. This is your father. This my father, your grandfather. And this is my mother, your grandmother. Accept their love and you will never want for anything else.” They embraced.