.Infant life of our Gautama Buddha is full of mythical incidents. They may have been added to show the superiority of this Supreme human being, or there might be some truth to some of them since our Buddha had wished for Buddha hood for incalculable number of births and had collected immeasurable amount of merit at all those births.
This article contains all those incidents since they have been handed down to us for 2600 years and shows the magnitude of our Great Buddha’s mental power which is not a myth at all.
There was a state in Kosala desh in ancient India called Shakya, which belonged to the Shakya clan. The ruler of this state was King Suddhodhana who ruled from the capital, Kapilawastu (now Western region of modern Nepal).
He married Princess Maya Devi who was the daughter of King Suprabuddha who ruled the State of Devdaha in ancient India (Rupandehi district in Terai region of Nepal). Maya Devi was a very virtuous and talented princess apart from her great beauty.
King Suprabuddha was the ruler of the Koliya clan and was the uncle of King Suddhodhana. Therefore, this matrimony was between two cousins.
King Suddhodhana ruled the state righteously and was loved & respected by all.
By this time, our great Buddha, as the ‘Gautama Bodhisatwa’, was waiting patiently in the Thusitha heaven till the time was proper for him to be born in the human world.
It was the 6th century BC. Since it was the right time for a Buddha to be born in the world, the gods invited him to do so.
Queen Maya Devi dreamt of a white elephant
Before being born in the human world, a Bodhisathwa has to consider five major factors regarding his birth. They were, whether the time was right for him to be born as a human, which continent he should choose to be born as human, which state he should choose to be born as a human, which cast he should choose to be born as a human and who he should choose as his mother.
After contemplating the above five factors carefully, ourGautama Bodhisathwa chose Queen Maya Devi as his mother. On an Esala Full moon day (Full moon day in July), our Gautama Bodhisathwa entered his mother’s womb.
As an indication of this great event, Queen Maya Devi dreamt of a white elephant carrying a white lotus flower circling her bed thrice and entering her stomach from the right side.
The wise-men (Brahmins) of the court confirmed that the dream was an indication of the birth of a great being to the royal couple.
As was the tradition (which is still observed in some Eastern countries), Queen Maya Devi travelled to her parents’ home in Devdaha for her first confinement. She was taken in a great procession with thousands of attendants. On the way she stopped at Lumbini (Terai planes of Southern Nepal) which was a beautiful and shady grove of ‘Sal trees’ (Shorea robusta) to admire the surroundings and rest a while. It was the Wesak Full moon day (Full moon day in May) and the queen got labour pains and gave birth to a baby boy under a ‘Sal tree’.
Legend has it that this baby walked seven steps as soon as he was born, on the ground; each step was welcomed by a lotus flower which sprouted from the earth. While standing on the last lotus he proclaimed to the world that he would be the greatest and the noblest being on the Earth and that this would be his last birth.
The procession which took Maya Devi to her parents turned back and returned to Kapilawastu with the new born baby. King Suddhodhana received them half way with great joy.
Learning of the birth, Sage Asitha, who was the teacher of King Suddhodhana visited the king’s palace, the following day. When the king brought his son close to the Sage, the baby’s feet rested on the Sage’s head, on its own accord. Asitha understanding the significance of the incident put his hands together and worshiped the baby, laughing. And then he started to weep. When the king asked for the meaning of his action, the Sage said that he laughed because this infant would definitely become the Enlightened One, the Buddha; he had cried because by that time, he would not be in the human world to hear the Buddha’s preachings. Hearing this, King Suddhodhana too worshipped his son, for the first time.
Fifth day after the baby was born
On the fifth day after the baby was born, the King invited five renowned Brahmins for the naming ceremony. After examining the marks on the body of the infant, four of them said that if the prince chooses to stay in the lay life, he would become the Universal Monarch; if he chooses to follow a religious life, he would become the Enlightened One, the Buddha. The youngest of the five Brahmins, Kondanna firmly said that the baby would become the Enlightened One, nothing else. Since the new born would do lot of good to the world either way, he was given the name “Siddhartha”, meaning, ‘the person who would do good to the world’.
Since his tribal name was ‘Gautama’, the prince was called ‘Siddhartha Gautama’.
After seven days of Prince Siddhartha’s birth, Queen Maya Devi passed away and was born in Thusitha heaven as the mother-god. The infant prince was brought up by his mother’s sister ‘Prajapathi Gothami’, who became the consort of King Suddhodhana after Maya Devi’s death.
On the fifth month of Prince Siddhartha, the royal sowing feast was held at the Royal paddy fields. The baby prince too was taken to the fields and was kept in a tent under a tree. The attendants came out of the tent to watch the feast. After a while, when they peeped inside the tent to see whether the baby was all right, they were astonished to see him meditating. The king was informed of this and for the second time, King Suddhodana paid reverence to his son.
Prince Siddhartha & Princess Yasodara
King Suddhodhanagave all the comforts in life to his son abundantly and a good education as fitting to a king. Prince Siddhartha learnt everything very fast and even his relatives were doubtful of his learning ability since it was too brief. The prince had to prove his skills to them in a public demonstration, which won him his consort PrincessYasodara, a cousin of his.
King Suddhodhana did everything in his power to prevent his son being attracted towards a religious life. He prohibited the old, sick, and the yellow robed ascetics from wandering in the city and display of dead bodies and funeral processions because the astrologers had said that the prince would embrace a religious life after seeing those four sights.
The king gave his son three great palaces suitable for the three seasons called ‘Ramya’, ‘Suramya’ & ‘Subha’. They were full of riches and beautiful, talented young women sang and danced all day along to provide pleasure to the prince. Most of his young life, the prince was confined to those palaces.
The prince saw an old person
But one day, on one of their rare strolls, the prince hard-pressed his faithful attendant Channa, who was following the king’s instructions to the letter and prevented the prince from going outside the city walls alone all these years, to take him out of the city. All the visits to the outside of the city by the Prince had been pre-planned before. Channa knew he was in great danger if the king knew. But, after much deliberation, he took the prince outside the city walls and for the first time, the prince saw an old person trudging on the road pathetically. The prince learnt from Channa that everybody would become old one day.
The prince saw a sick person
On prince Siddhartha’s next visit outside the walls of the city, he encountered a sick person who was lamenting with pain and learnt from Channa that everybody gets sick one time or another.
The prince encountered a funeral on his third visit outside the city gates and learnt that everybody dies and it is inevitable.
The prince saw a yellow robed ascetic
On his fourth visit outside the city, he saw a yellow robed ascetic walking calmly with his head bent. From Channa he learnt that those are the ones who have renounced the lay life for a peaceful living, rid of all worldly desires seeking to end suffering in the world. This explanation captivated the prince immensely.
He was in great thoughts on the way back when he learnt that his wife had given birth to a son. Hearing the news, the prince uttered “A Rahula was born bringing an attachment to life.”
Hearing his son’s words from others, King Suddhodhana named his grandson ‘Rahula’.
The prince entered the palace to the music and dancing of the court women. But he was not interested in them anymore. He fell asleep contemplating about the reality of life. When he suddenly woke up at midnight, he saw the reality much better. All the young beauties who were entertaining him from the previous night have fallen asleep all over the place. Some were groaning and snoring, some were discharging saliva, some were half naked and some were grinding their teeth in sleep. The prince then and there made up his mind to depart the lay life and go in search of deliverance.
He just sneaked a quick look at his new born son who was sleeping cuddled to his mother and walked out of the Palace with Channa and his well trained horse ‘Kanthaka’, never to return to the comfortable palace life.
Prince Siddharthawas 29 years old and it was an Esala Full moon day.
This is called the ‘Great Renunciation’ since he left all the worldly comforts and riches to find the end of suffering, which was a very difficult task.
At the banks of river ‘Anoma’, he cut his long hair with his sword and got rid of all the body ornaments, which he asked Channa to give to his father and became an ascetic. Seeing his master’s transformation, the horse died of broken heart. Channawalked back sadly to the palace with the prince’s belongings and conveyed the message to the stunned family of Prince Siddhartha.