The Bodhisatta was once a crown prince, the eldest of over one thousand sons. Early one morning as he rode his chariot to the royal park, he saw water drops hanging like pearls from blades of grass, spiderwebs, and other things, and he asked his charioteer what these were. He answered that it’s called dew and it comes during cold weather.
After relaxing at the park for the day, the Bodhisatta returned home and saw that the dew was gone. Again he asked his charioteer about it, and learned that as the sun rises higher in the sky the dewdrops evaporate. This distressed the Bodhisatta because he realized life was impermanent like a dewdrop. He decided to live as an ascetic so he wouldn’t need to worry about disease, old age, and death.
Back at the palace, he asked his parents for permission to renounce the world. They tried hard to dissuade him, promising to give him anything he desired and telling him they would miss him. But he insisted, and his father reluctantly agreed. His youngest brother joined him, and they went to the Himalayas where they built a hut and lived on fruits and roots from the forest.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One time the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing the magnificence of his Great Renunciation, which was the beginning of his path to enlightenment. He told them this story so they knew that he had also forsaken the throne for an austere religious life in the past.
The brother who joined him was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, and the king and queen were earlier births of the Buddha’s parents.