The life of Buddha dates back to the sixth century B.C., when the land of Kapilavastu was ruled by the Sakya clan. Kapilavastu corresponds to the modern day Uttar Pradesh, North India. The adept ruler Suddhodana was a man of great military prowess, married to the gracious Mahamaya and her sister, Mahaprajapati. Together with the king, they dwelled in absolute happiness and glory that was known far and wide.
The queen’s dream
One beautiful summer, the great queen Mahamaya shared the news of her conception with the delighted king. It so happened that queen dreamt herself in the Himalayas with a Bodhisattva—Sumedha, asking for her consent to be reborn on the earth as her off-spring. As Mahamaya consented, a beautiful white elephant entered her womb from the right side.
The next morning the queen narrated her dream to Suddhodana. The confused king summoned eight Brahmins, most famous with their foretelling, for guidance. The Brahmins comforted the king asking him to give up worry as he was about to have a great son. They also foretold that in case he continues to lead a householder’s life, he would be as prosperous and as great as Suddhodana himself. However, if he were to leave his home, he was destined to become a sanyasi. In that case, he would become the enlightened one, a dispeller of illusions.
Birth of Siddhartha
The term of pregnancy was coming to an end when queen Mahamaya undertook a trip to her maternal home in Devadaha for the delivery. While passing through Lumbini, she felt extreme discomfort and took shelter under a Sal tree. In a matter of minutes, she gave birth to a beautiful boy. It was 563 B.C. and Vaishakha Purnima.
A few days later, the great sage Asita visited the palace and observed the child. He announced that the child was endowed with thirty-two marks of a great man and also had eighty minor marks-thus, his body surpassed that of many gods themselves.
Asita also made the same prophecy that the child would either become a great king or leave his home to become the enlightened one or the Buddha. Asita was in his heart so convinced of the fact that the child was the Buddha that he started shedding tears and sighed deeply. He was old and knew that he himself would not be alive by then to learn from the great preaching of the Buddha. He left announcing that the boy would work for the harmony and happiness of all. The child was named Siddhartha, which means, ‘He who reaches his goal,’ with the name of his clan Gautama attached, he came to be known as the great Siddhartha Gautama.
Soon after, queen Mahamaya fell terminally-ill and entrusting the responsibility of her newborn to Mahaprajapati and Suddhodana, she left for the heavenly abode.
At the age of eight, Siddhartha started his education under the guidance of the same eight Brahmins who had interpreted Mahamaya’s dream. He later acquired the knowledge of Vedas, Vedangas and Upanishads from a great philologist Sabbamitta. Siddhartha also learned the science of concentration and meditation from Bharadawaj, the disciple of Alara Kalam. Even in his childhood days, Siddhartha would search for secluded places in nature in order to sit in meditation.
Siddhartha was also trained in combat, particularly, in archery and the use of weapons. Although, he never liked practising and refused to join the hunting expeditions with his friends and family, he never refused the lessons out of respect for his father. However, he was often teased to be a loser by some of his friends.
Compassion for all
Siddhartha was very compassionate towards all living beings right from the beginning and considered them all to be equal. He categorically explained that it was our thinking that created distinction and discrimination amongst life forms. We ourselves classify them as friends and enemies, animals and human beings. He also insisted that we discriminate between friends and enemies the same way as discriminate pets from wild animals. He believed and propagated the theory of universal love among the various forms that can be developed by meditating on the right subjects.
His supreme sense of compassion for all living beings was not agreeable with many, who began to nurture deep grudge against him. His cousin Devadutta was an avid hunter and once he took perfect aim at a bird in the garden. Indecently, the wounded bird fell before Siddhartha, resting under a tree. Siddhartha gently picked up the bird and removed the arrow. While he was nursing the bird, Devadutta came close and demanded his kill. A long argument ensued and it was taken before the king. Both the parties placed their argument before the king. Devadutta argued that he had shot the bird and so the bird belonged to him. Siddhartha, however, explained with great confidence that the person who saved the life had the right to claim it. His impressive argument won him the bird.
The above is the first part of our series on the life of Buddha, referenced from ‘The Buddha and His Dhamma’, by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and other prominent sources. Watch the space for more details on how the Buddha’s life further progressed.