Life of the Buddha

(Part One) 1. Queen Maha Maya's Dream

More than 2,500 years ago, there was a king called Suddhodana. He married a beautiful Koliyan princess named Maha Maya. The couple ruled over the Sakyas, a warrior tribe living next to the Koliya tribe, in the north of India, in what is now known as Nepal. The capital of the Sakya country was laid out across the foothills of the Himalayas and called Kapilavatthu.

Queen Maha Maya was the daughter of King Anjana of the Koliyas. Such was her beauty that the name Maya, meaning "vision" was given to her. But it was Maya's virtues and talents that were her most wonderful qualities, for she was endowed with the highest gifts of intelligence and piety. King Suddhodana was indeed worthy of his lovely wife. He himself was called "King of the Law" because he ruled according to the law. There was no other man among the Sakyas more honored and respected. The king was admired by his nobles and courtiers, as well as by the householders and merchants. Such was the noble family from which the Buddha was to arise.

One full moon night, sleeping in the palace, the queen had a vivid dream. She felt herself being carried away by four devas (spirits) to Lake Anotatta in the Himalayas. After bathing her in the lake, the devas clothed her in heavenly cloths, anointed her with perfumes, and bedecked her with divine flowers. Soon after a white elephant, holding a white lotus flower in its trunk, appeared and went round her three times, entering her womb through her right side. Finally the elephant disappeared and the queen awoke, knowing she had been delivered an important message, as the elephant is a symbol of greatness in Nepal. The next day, early in the morning, the queen told the king about the dream. The king was puzzled and sent for some wise men to discover the meaning of the dream.

The wise men said, "Your Majesty, you are very lucky. The devas have chosen our queen as the mother of the Purest-One and the child will become a very great being." The king and queen were very happy when they heard this.

They were so pleased that they invited many of the noblemen in the country to the palace to a feast to tell them the good news. Even the needy were not forgotten. Food and clothes were given to the poor people in celebration. The whole kingdom waited eagerly for the birth of the new prince, and Queen Maya enjoyed a happy and healthy pregnancy, living a pure life for herself and her unborn child.

(Part One) 2. The Birth of the Prince

About ten months after her dream of a white elephant and the sign that she would give birth to a great leader, Queen Maya was expecting her child. One day she went to the king and said, "My dear, I have to go back to my parents. My baby is almost due." Since it was the custom in India for a wife to have her baby in her father's house, the king agreed, saying, "Very well, I will make the necessary arrangements for you to go."

The king then sent soldiers ahead to clear the road and prepared others to guard the queen as she was carried in a decorated palanquin. The queen left Kapilavatthu in a long procession of soldiers and retainers, headed for the capital of her father's kingdom.

On the way to the Koliya country, the great procession passed a garden called Lumbini Park. This garden was near the kingdom called Nepal, at the foot of the Himalayan mountains. The beautiful park with its sala trees and scented flowers and busy birds and bees attracted the queen. Since the park was a good resting place, the queen ordered the bearers to stop for a while. As she rested underneath one of the sala trees, her birth began and a baby boy was born. It was an auspicious day. The birth took place on a full moon (which is now celebrated as Vesak, the festival of the triple event of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death), in the year 623 B.C.

According to the legends about this birth, the baby began to walk seven steps forward and at each step a lotus flower appeared on the ground. Then, at the seventh stride, he stopped and with a noble voice shouted:

"I am chief of the world,

Eldest am I in the world,

Foremost am I in the world.

This is the last birth.

There is now no more coming to be."

After the birth of her baby son, Queen Maha Maya immediately returned to Kapilavatthu. When the king learnt of this he was very happy, and as news of the birth of the long-awaited heir spread around the kingdom there was rejoicing all over the country.

(Part One) 3. The Naming Ceremony

King Suddhodana had an old teacher who was known to be very wise. He was called Asita the Sage. Asita lived in the jungle. While sitting one day he heard the devas singing and saw them dancing. "Why are you so happy?" he asked. "Because the most excellent of all beings has been born at Lumbini Park to Queen Maha Maya," replied the devas. When he heard this, Asita went quickly to see the king and queen and their newborn son.

The king was very happy to see his wise old teacher again. In the palace, after the sage was seated, the king brought the prince before him and said, "Teacher, my son was born only yesterday. Here he is. Please see if his future will be good."

As the king said this, he lowered the infant prince before the sage so that he might examine him properly. However, the baby turned his feet on to the sage's head. Thus surprised, Asita took hold of the baby's feet and examined them very carefully, finding some marks on them. He got up and said, "This prince will become a very great teacher in this world." The sage was very pleased and, putting his palms together, paid due respect to the baby prince. The king, seeing this, did the same. This was the first salutation of the king.

On the fifth day of his son's life, the king invited five wise men to witness the naming ceremony and to suggest a good name for the prince. The wise men examined the birthmarks of the prince and concluded, "The prince will be King of Kings if he wants to rule. If he chooses a religious life then he will become the Wisest—the Buddha."

The youngest of the five wise men, Kondanna, then said, "This prince will be the Buddha and nothing else."

Then the wise men gave him the name Siddhartha meaning "wish-fulfilled" or "one who has accomplished his goal".

(Part One) 4. The Prince's Education

On the seventh day after his birth, Prince Siddhartha's mother died. The king had another queen, who was called Prajapati Gotami. She was the younger sister of Queen Maha Maya, and she had given birth to a son on the same day that Queen Maha Maya died. Prajapati Gotami gave her own son to a nurse and brought up Prince Siddhartha, whom she loved very much, as her own son. Prince Siddhartha could not remember his own mother.

When Prince Siddhartha was only a few years old, King Suddhodana sent him to school. There were many children in his class, all of them from noble families. His teacher was called Sarva Mitra.

He studied languages, reading, writing, mathematics, history, geography, science, and games like boxing, archery, wrestling and many others. He learnt all these subjects faster than any other pupil in his class. He was the cleverest in the class and the best at games. He gained distinction in every subject and became cleverer than his teachers. He was the wisest and the only one who asked many questions from his teachers and elders. He was the strongest, the tallest and the most handsome boy in the class. He was never lazy, he never misbehaved and was never disobedient to the teachers. He loved everybody and everybody loved him. He was a friend to all.

(Part One) 5. Prince Siddhartha's Kindness

Prince Siddhartha was very kind to people, animals and other living things. He was also a very brave horseman and won many prizes in the country. Although he did not have to suffer any hardships and difficulties, as he had everything, he always thought of the poor people and living things who were working hard to make him happy. He felt sorry for them and wanted to make them happy too.

One day he was walking in the woods with his cousin Devadatta, who had brought his bow and arrows with him. Suddenly, Devadatta saw a swan flying and shot at it. His arrow brought the swan down. Both the boys ran to get the bird. As Siddhartha could run faster than Devadatta, he reached the swan's injured body first and found, to his surprise, that it was still alive. He gently pulled out the arrow from the wing. He then got a little juice from cool leaves, put it on the wound to stop the bleeding and with his soft hand stroked the swan, which was very frightened. When Devadatta came to claim the swan, Prince Siddhartha refused to give it to him. Devadatta was very angry to see his cousin keeping the swan away from him. "Give me my bird! I shot it down," said Devadatta.

"No, I am not going to give it to you," said the Prince. "If you had killed it, it would have been yours. But now, since it is only wounded but still alive, it belongs to me."

Devadatta still did not agree. Then Siddhartha suggested, "Let us go to the court of the Sage and ask him who really owns the swan." Devadatta agreed, so off they went to the court of the Sage to tell him about their quarrel.

The Sage, hearing both boys' version of the story, said, "A life certainly must belong to he who tries to save it, a life cannot belong to one who is only trying to destroy it. The wounded swan by right belongs to Siddhartha."

(Part One) 6. Prince Siddhartha's Wife

The five wise men who were at Prince Siddhartha's naming ceremony not only predicted the great future of the new prince, but had given the king a warning. "When your son sees a sick man, an old man, a dead body and a monk, he will want to leave the palace and become a monk himself," they had said.

These words worried the king. He became afraid that this son would see these four sights and leave the palace. To shield Siddhartha from any such experiences he employed many young servants to distract and protect him, and did not allow any sick or old people or monks to go into the palace. He built Siddhartha three palaces: one for winter, one for summer and one for the rainy season, as well as enclosed parks and hunting grounds.

Siddhartha played in a sunny world of gardens and groves, attended by dancing girls and musicians. He lived in a world of plenty and beauty. He could have whatever he wanted, yet he was not happy.

One day the king asked some wise people, "What shall I do to make my son happy? He seems depressed and sad always." They answered, "Now your son is sixteen years old, why not find him a beautiful girl to marry?"

The king agreed and sent for all the beautiful girls in the country to come to the palace. When they had all arrived, a grand parade was arranged and the king asked the prince to choose one to be his wife.

Among them there was a most charming and kind girl by the name of Yasodhara. When Prince Siddhartha gave her a present more valuable than any he had given to the other maidens, the king saw that the prince had chosen his love. The king happily accepted Yasodhara and allowed his son to marry her.

Part One) 7. The Four Sights: Old Age .

The king did everything he could think of to ensure his son Prince Siddhartha would grow up prepared for a life following in his own footsteps and become a king. He ordered a high wall to be built around the palace, including its parks and gardens, but the prince was not happy living like a prisoner. One day he told his father, "I must go out of the palace gate and see how other people live."

"Very well, my son," said the king, "you shall go outside the palace wall to see how people live in my city. But first I must prepare things, so that all would be good and proper for my noble son's visit."

The king ordered the people of the city to prepare for his son's visit by making the streets and homes beautiful and welcoming him as he passed them by. When the people had decorated the city the king said, "Now you can go, my dear son, and see the city as you please."

As the young prince was going through the streets all of a sudden, from a small old hut beside the road, out came an old man with long silver-grey hair, wearing very old, torn and dirty rags. The skin of his face was dried and wrinkled. His sunken eyes were dim and he was almost blind. There were no teeth in his mouth. He stood up, trembling all over, almost bent over double and clutching at a shaking stick with two bent and skinny hands to save himself from falling.

The old beggar dragged himself along the street, paying no attention to all the happy people around him. He was speaking very feebly, begging people around him to give him food, as he would die that very day if he could find nothing to eat. When the prince saw the old man, he didn't know what he was looking at. It was the first time in his life that he had seen an old man of this type.

"What is that, Channa?" he asked his driver. "That really cannot be a man! Why is he all bent? What is he trembling for? Why is his hair silver-grey, not black like mine? What is wrong with his eyes? Where are his teeth? Is this how some people are born? Tell me, oh good Channa, what does this mean?"

Channa told the prince that it was an old man and he was not born like that. "When young he was like us and now, due to his old age he has become this way." Channa told the prince to forget this man. But the prince was not satisfied. "Everyone in the world, if he lives long enough, becomes like this man. It cannot be stopped," said Channa.

The prince ordered Channa to drive back home at once, as he was very sad and wanted to think carefully about that terrible thing called old age.

That night there was a grand royal feast for the prince, but he was not interested or happy at all during the dinner and dance. He was thinking all the time, "Some day you will all grow old and frail and bent—every one of you, even the prettiest."

He could not sleep when night came. He was in bed thinking that one day, everyone would grow old, grey, wrinkled, toothless and ugly like the old beggar. He wanted to know if anyone had found a way to stop this horrible thing—old age.

The king, when he heard this story, was very sad and worried that his son would leave the palace. He told his attendants to put on more dances and dinners. But the prince begged his father to allow him to see Kapilavatthu on an ordinary day without the people being told of his visit.

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(Part One) 8. The Four Sights: Sickness

The king very unwillingly allowed the prince to visit the city a second time. He thought it would do no good to try to stop him, and would only add to his confusion and unhappiness. On his second visit to the city the king did not warn the people to be ready or to prepare the streets. The prince and Channa dressed up as young men from noble families so the people would not know them.

When they arrived, the city was quite different to their last visit. No ...

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