To suggest that these two facts are unrelated would be to defy logic and would go against Buddha’s own philosophy of cause and effect. To suggest coincidence would I venture sound terribly like naivete. I believe that the only reasonable hypotheses is that Gautama suffered with severe intra-psychic conflict that drove his actions. Freud would have labelled this neurosis. Contemporary psychiatrists would have called it a significant major anxiety disorder. According to Buddhist history prior to his awakening Gautama had only ever felt peace of mind for a very short period when confined as a child under the rose-apple tree. Something in him made certain that the childhood experience was never forgotten. It was this self-same peace that he sought in Nirvana.
I believe there is little doubt that Freud would have come to the conclusion, on the basis of the intensity and the chronicity of the intra-psychic conflicts that he experienced that Gautama was suffering with a severe conflictual anxiety. Buddha’s mental conflicts are reported extensively in the Buddhist scriptures albeit couched in terms of spiritual discord involving metaphysical beings and laced extensively with mythical trimmings. It seems an unavoidable conclusion that Gautama driven by the unconscious needs of his own anxiety inadvertently discovered a universal pathway for the treatment of anxiety.
One would have to assume that Gautama’s own anxiety was at a level of intensity where he could not tolerate it any further. He could not reach any level of peace or contentment at home in Shakya. He was presumably driven by this anxiety to escape and seek relief in some alternative lifestyle. One would have to assume that he was unaware or unconscious as to the reason why he was doing that, just that he needed to do it because of the unpleasantness of the feelings of anxiety that he was experiencing at the time. Again he would not necessarily have been conscious of his motivations. We know that anxiety is more often than not driven by the unconscious. Following this he chose to live as an ascetic or sramana seeking spiritual sustenance wandering friendless and unsupported in the dangerous surrounding jungles. He spends the next seven years attempting to achieve liberation from this suffering, torturing himself in ways that clearly sound inhuman and to us less than sane. After this prolonged suffering he finally achieves the enlightened state and the peace he had sought so assiduously.
Finally he achieves the success he has been fighting for probably many more years than the seven he spent as a sramana. He becomes enlightened. What then does he do? Is he elated? Does he celebrate it as surely most humans would in that situation? No! He does not! He is immediately plunged into a further conflict and despondency. This new conflict appears to reflect that oft companion of anxiety, a lack of self -confidence, a lack of self-esteem. Buddha questioned his ability to teach others to understand this new path or way of life. He rationalises his position defensively by saying that it has been so difficult for him that surely others would find it impossible. He wonders whether having suffered so much personal pain to achieve enlightenment he should simply accept it for himself and once again do what most anxious people would, indulge in avoidance and escape to a place where he could keep his peace to himself.
It is difficult to know exactly what changed his mind but It is noted that it took seven weeks from the time of his enlightenment to his decision to leave to walk to the Deer Park where his reputed first sermon took place. Buddhist writings assure us that it was in fact the god Brahma Sahampati himself who came down from the heavens specifically to convince the wavering Buddha to teach. This episode could be interpreted as suggesting that Gautama’s life even after enlightenment continued to remain vulnerable to conflictual anxiety as one might easily expect from a sufferer of chronic anxiety. History tells us that he resolved this particular dilemma by engaging in positive action, choosing to teach. It is unclear as to whether it really was the nudge from Brahma that convinced him although so the discourses assure us. Nevertheless Gautama, now as the Buddha, spent the next 45 years of his life wandering the Gangetic plains doing just that, teaching his message, teaching his dharma to his fellow Indians.
Part of the reason that we might feel that the Buddhist discourses and writings reflected realities of Buddha’s life are in their frankness. Remember that Buddha was adamant that the truth be pre-eminent. Fawning sycophancy would simply have had him described him in much more glowing terms. A lot of what is recorded about Buddha leads to undoubted recognition that in many ways as he said himself, he was just a man, with flaws like everyone else. It is reported for example that as the Buddha he would often when stressed simply escape into the forests alone without even informing his fellow-monks of his whereabouts or give any explanation of his actions. He simply ran away as those with anxiety are so often prone to do. When caught up in the throes of anxiety the primacy of escape denies legitimacy to any other cognition or more reasonable alternative action. It seems that at such times Buddha himself felt himself unable to resist the dictates of his own omnipotent anxiety.
REASONS FOR THE BELIEF THAT GAUTAMA DID SUFFER WITH ANXIETY
We would have to admit that we have no direct evidence for Gautama having an anxiety disorder or neurosis given that the first recorded evidence of Buddha’s life occurred some hundreds of years after his death. Even the evidence relating to his dharma according to the rock and pillar edicts still existing in India today as created by the great Indian Buddhist Emperor Ashoka occurred at least one hundred and eighteen years after Buddha’s death and certainly may still be as originally believed two hundred and eighteen years distant from that event. Nevertheless it is my belief that we have a significant amount of indirect evidence upon which to base our assessment. This has been given to us mainly by the Buddhist scriptures themselves and the various biographies.
Taken at face value one would have to conclude as mentioned previously that Gautama appears to have been a relatively young man living in the lap of luxury with every conceivable social advantage, deciding suddenly to abandon his wife, his son, his family, his wealth and his privilege. He is commonly described as a prince living in a palace but the evidence suggests that he was actually the son of a chieftain the leader of his clan the Shakyas. The suggestion that he was privileged, un-deprived and possibly over-indulged by an over-attentive father has certainly not been in dispute.