Nicholas Roerich Estate Museum in Izvara
Nicholas Roerich
Estate Museum
in Izvara


Son of the King

That which human hands would divide, life itself unites. At a time when East and West are conventionally counter-opposed, life itself molds the foundations of one wisdom. Christianity and Buddhism would seem to be divided by many walls and yet the folk-wisdom does not recognize these divisions. With a pure benevolence, nations speak of Issa, the Best of Men. Widely varying nations revere the wisdom of Moses and in Christian Churches the name of Buddha is pronounced. One is surprised to see on the walls of the old Catholic Campo Santo in Piza, the beautiful Fresco by Nardo di Cione representing the Son of the King, the future Buddha, for the first time witnessing the ends of human existence—the corpses encountered on his journey. This is a Roman Catholic Church.

In the Greek Orthodox Church, in the old descriptions of the “Lives of the Saints,” you have a detailed account of the life of Iosophat, the son of the King of India. You begin to understand that Iosaph, or Iosaphat, in distorted Arabian, is “Bodhisattva” wrongly pronounced.

You begin to study this lengthy narrative beyond the veil of Christian interpretation, and you perceive the fragments from the fundamental narrative of Buddha’s life.

Without yielding to any personal conceptions, let us take a few literal passages from the old “Chetyi-Minei”:

In the East there is a very large and broad country, called India, where dwell varied peoples. And the country outshines in riches and fertility all other countries and its boundaries reach up to Persia. This country was once enlightened by St. Thomas the apostle, but had not totally ceased to worship idols, because many were such inveterate heathens that they would not accept the teachings of salvation and continued to adhere to their alluring deviltries. In the course of time this heresy spread as do weeds, suffocating the good seeds, so that the number of heathens had become much greater than those of the faithful.

Then a King, whose name was Avenir, became ruler in this country and he was great and celebrated for his power and possessions. And a son was born to the King and he was called losaph. The child was extremely beautiful and this extraordinary beauty was a sign of the great beauty of his spirit. The King summoned a great number of Magis and astrologists and inquired of them what future awaited the child, when it came of age. To this they replied that he would be greater than all the preceding kings. But one of the diviners, the wisest of them all, and wise not through the stars but because of the divine knowledge within him, told the King:

“The child will not come of age in this kingdom, but in a kingdom far better and infinitely larger.”

The King built a wonderful palace with a vast number of spacious rooms wherein losaph was to be educated.

When the child grew up and attained reason, the King retained mentors and servants who were young and of beautiful appearance, to attend to all his needs. And he gave strict commands that no stranger was ever to be admitted to see the prince. The King also commanded that no one was ever to talk to the prince of the sorrows of life; nor of death, old age, nor of illness and other griefs, which might overcast his pleasures. But every one was to speak to him only of beautiful and joyful things, in order to occupy his mind with enjoyments and pleasures and not to permit him time to think of the future.

Thus the prince, without leaving his beautiful palace, attained his youth and came to understand Indian and Egyptian wisdom; he grew wise and understanding, and his life was adorned with worthy principles. Then he began to ponder why his father kept him in such solitude and he asked one of his tutors about it. The latter, perceiving that the youth was perfect in mind and of great kindliness, told him what the astrologers had prophesied at his birth.

The King often visited his son whom he loved dearly. And once Iosaph spoke to his father:

“Greatly do I desire to know, my father, of something which forever burdens my mind with grief and sorrow.”

The father, feeling a pain at his heart, replied: “Tell me, dear child, what is the sorrow that torments you and I shall immediately try to transform it into joy.”

So Iosaph asked: “What are the causes of my imprisonment here; why do you imprison me behind these walls and gates, depriving me of the outdoors and making me invisible to all?”

And the father replied: “I do not wish, my child, that you should see aught which may evoke sorrow in your heart and thus rob you of happiness; I wish that you would live here all your life in ceaseless pleasures, surrounded with joy and happiness.”

“Then know, father,” responded the youth, “that this confinement brings neither joy nor pleasure, but such distress and despair that my very food and drink seem embittered. I want to see all that there is behind these gates, and therefore, if you do not wish me to die of grief allow me to go wherever I wish and let my soul enjoy the sight of that, which up to now I have not seen.”

Hearing this, the King became downcast but realizing that should he continue to confine his son he would cause him still greater grief and sorrow, he said: “Let it be, my child, according to your desire.”

And he at once ordered the best horses and arranged everything in full glory as befits princes. And he no longer forbade his son to leave the palace but allowed him to go wherever he desired. But he gave orders to all his followers, that they should allow nothing sad nor unworthy to approach the prince, and that they should show him only the very best and beautiful—that which would gladden his eye and heart. And along the road, he ordered choirs to sing and music to be played and all other manner of entertainments to regale the prince. Often the prince left his palace, riding in full regal splendor and glory. But once, through the oversight of his servants, he saw two men: one leprous and the other blind.

Then he asked his companions: “Who are they and why are they like that?”

And his companions, seeing that it was impossible to hide human ailments from him any longer, said: “Those are human sufferings, which usually befall people because of the frailty of nature and because of the feeble make-up of our bodies.”

The youth asked: “Do such things happen to every one?”

And he was told: “Not to every one, but to those whose health has been destroyed through excess of worldly goods.”

Then the youth asked: “If this does not happen as a rule to all people, then do those, to whom such mishaps befall, know in advance or do these things occur suddenly and unexpectedly?”

His companions replied: “Who of us can know the future?”

The prince ceased his questions but his heart became sad at sight of these happenings and the expression of his face changed. A few days later, he encountered an old man, feeble, his face full of wrinkles, with bent and frail limbs, entirely gray, toothless and almost unable to speak. Noticing him, the youth was overcome with horror and, ordering him to approach, he asked: “Who is this and why is he like that?”

“He is already very old, and because his strength is leaving him and because his body has become weak, he is in the unfortunate condition which you see.”

Again the youth asked: “What will happen to him next, when he will live a great many more years?”

And they replied: “Nothing, but that death will take him.”

Museum Address: 188414, Izvara Village, Volosovo District, Leningrad Region, Russia.
Phones: +7-813-73-73-273 (group tours); Phone/Fax +7-813-73-73-298 (general)
Museum Director: Cherkasova Olga Anatolievna E-mail: