Life of Gautama Buddha

KING Suddhodana was the Sakya ruler of Kapila-Vastu. Maya was his Queen. One night she dreamed that a milk-white elephant came down from the sky and entered her womb. The dream readers said that the Queen would give birth to a male child who would deliver the world from ignorance.

At the end of nine months, Queen Maya delivered a male child at noon, one day, under a spreading sal tree on the palace grounds, without minor pain. Thus Lord Buddha was born with the thirty-two marks of blessed birth.

Among those who came to see the young Prince was the great sage, Asita. Instead of blessing the babe, the sage prostrated himself before it and said, “This is Lord Buddha who will save humanity.”

On the seventh day of his birth, the babe lost its mother and was nourished by a foster nurse. The boy was named Siddhartha. At the age of eight, he was put under Viswamitra for studies; but the boy already knew all that was to be known. Though he did not know about pain and sorrow, he seemed to understand them; he was very kind and considerate to the dumb creatures.

One day a flock of wild swans were flying over the royal garden, and Devadatta, the cousin of Siddhartha, aimed an arrow at one of them and brought it down. Siddhartha took the bird tenderly, removed the hand from its wing, and caressed it. Devadatta claimed the bird, but Siddhartha refused to give it up, saying that living things belonged to one who saved their life, not one who tried to kill them. He let the swan go away after it was healed.

Now the Prince was eighteen. Because it was predicted that he would either become a great ruler or renounce the world and go away, the King was anxious that the boy should be surrounded by luxuries. The Chief Minister suggested that the Prince should be married to a maid who could take his fancy.

To this end, the King arranged a function at which Siddhartha was to give away prizes to all the comely maidens of Kapila-Vastu. The girls passed by the Prince one after another and took gifts from his hand. At last came young Yasodhara, the comeliest of the lot, but the facilities were all spent. The Prince took off his necklace of emeralds and clasped it around her slim waist. As they looked at each other, the Prince fell in love with Yasodhara.

Before the marriage took place, a formality had to be gone through. Yasodhara had several suitors, and Siddhartha could claim her only by proving himself superior to them in manly sports. Devadatta was an expert archer, Arjuna excelled in horse riding, and Nanda was a master of the sword. But Siddhartha, who never learnt any of these sports, defeated them all and married the beautiful Yasodhara.

Siddhartha’s life was full of love, beauty and happiness, and he did not know how other people lived. But one day, he had the desire to go into the city. The King made such arrangements that the Prince would not witness any misery or suffering on the way. Yet the Prince did. See an eighty-year-old man with shrivelled skin, toothless mouth and shaking limbs begging for alms. From his charioteer, Channa, he learnt that old age came to every- one if death did not prevent it.

On another occasion, he saw the real people-the poor, the untouchable and the sick. He saw the whole struggle of life in all its nakedness, men living in fear waiting for death! He also saw a corpse accompanied by mourners. All this stirred him and made him uneasy. Life was fear and happiness a mockery, and he could not understand it.

The Prince finally departed one night to achieve this understanding that would not come. Yasodhara was sleeping with her child. He touched her feet, went thrice round her cot, and stole out. He softly called Channa and asked him to get his horse ready. Not a soul woke up. For him, the gates opened by themselves without any noise.

Riding till dawn, the Prince got down from his horse, Kantaka, and removed his rich robes, ornaments, and sword. He cut off his locks, gave everything to Channa, and sent him back.

In the vicinity of Raj-griha, where King Bimbisara ruled, the future Buddha engaged in fasts and penance. He discussed with the sages, but Truth eluded him. One day he saw a flock of sheep and goats being driven to be sacrificed. He found one of the lambs could not walk well, and its mother kept looking back anxiously. Carrying it on his shoulder, the Buddha went to where the sacrifice took place. He told the King to stop the gift. “All can take life, but none can give it,” he said. “Pity makes the world soft to the weak and noble for the strong.” As he spoke, there was a change in every heart, and the sacrifice was abandoned.

For seven years, the Buddha searched for the Truth, which would liberate humanity, and finally, he found it under the Bodhi tree near Gaya. He realised the nature of Sorrow, Desire and Karma. He found the Path to peace and Nirvana.

After seven long years, the Buddha returned to Kapila-Vastu, no longer a prince but a simple sadhu, clad in yellow robes, with a begging bowl in hand. Yasodhara awaited him in great joy, along with her son, Rahul. But the King was angry that his successor should be a beggar instead of a ruler.

But this was ordinary, no beggar. He was the King of kings. People came flocking to hear him reveal the Truth. King Suddhodana, Yasodhara, Rahul and all the rest listened to the Master and took the Path.

The teachings of the Buddha, the Divine Message, spread from land to land, and there was a new urge among humanity to lead a virtuous life, to treat life with compassion, and to tread the Path to a higher life.

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