THE LIFE OF BUDDHA SHAKYAMUNI
Buddha Shakyamuni was born Prince Siddhartha around 563 B.C. among the southern foothills of the Himalayas, the son of the great king Shuddhodana Gautama and Queen Maya.
One night when the moon was full, Queen Maya dreamed that a white elephant descended and entered into her womb through the right side of her chest, and she became pregnant. According to their custom, the Queen Maya returned to her parents' home for the birth, and on her way, in the beautiful spring sunshine, she took a rest in the Lumbini Garden. All about her were Ashoka blossoms. In delight she reached her right arm out to pluck a branch, and as she did so, a prince was born. In great joy King Shuddhodana Gautama named the child Siddhartha, which means " Wish Fulfilled."
The Buddha's birthday was on the eighth day of April.
The King and Queen then consulted the hermit sage Asita, who came to the palace to honor the child. He predicted: "This Prince, if he remains in the palace, when grown up will become a great king and subjugate the whole world. But if he forsakes the court life to embrace a religious life, he will become a Buddha, the Savior of the world."
At the age of seven, Prince Siddhartha began his lessons in the civil and military arts, but his thoughts more naturally tended to other things. One spring day he went out of the castle with his father. Together they were watching a farmer at his plowing when he noticed a bird descended to the ground and carried off a small worm which had been turned up by the farmer's plough. He sat down in the shade of a tree and thought about it, whispering to himself: "Do all living creatures kill each other?"
The Prince, who had lost his mother so soon after his birth, was deeply affected by the tragedy of these little creatures. This spiritual, wound deepened as day goes by; like a little scar on a young tree, the phenomenon in worldly existence became more and more deeply engulfed in his mind.
The King was increasingly worried as he recalled the hermit's prophecy and tried in every possible way to cheer the Prince and to turn his thoughts in other directions. The King arranged the marriage of the Prince at the age of nineteen to the Princess Yashodhara. She was the daughter of Suprabuddha, the Lord of Devadaha Castle and a brother of the late Queen Maya.
For ten years, in the different Pavilions of Spring, autumn and the rainy Season, the Prince was immersed in rounds of music, dancing and pleasure, but always his thoughts returned to the problem of suffering as he pensively tried to understand the true meaning of human life.
"The luxuries of the palace, this healthy body, this rejoicing youth! What do they mean to me?" he thought. "A man struggling for existence will naturally look for something of value. These pride of youth, pride of health, pride of existence only veiled me from recognizing that there is no escape from sickness, old age and death. In my life of pleasures I seem to be living in falsehood."
Thus the spiritual struggle went on in the mind of Prince Siddhartha... until his only child, Rahula was born when he was 29. This seemed to bring things to a turning point, for he then decided to leave the palace and look for the solution of his spiritual unrest in the homeless life of a mendicant. He left the castle one night with only his charioteer, Chandaka, and his favorite horse, the snow-white Kanthaka. His departure was silent because earth spirits supported the horse hooves so their sound would not awaken the palace guards.
The Prince first visited the hermit Bhagava and watched his ascetic practices. He then went to Arada Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra to learn their methods of attaining Enlightenment through meditation; but after practicing them for a time he became convinced that they would not lead him to Enlightenment. Finally he went to the land of Magadha and practiced asceticism in the forest of Uruvilva on the banks of the Nairanjana River, which flows by the Gaya Village.
The methods of Siddhartha practice were rigorous. He spurred himself on with the thought that "no ascetic in the past, none in the present, and none in the future, ever has practiced or ever will practice more earnestly than I do." Still the Prince could not realize his goal. After six years in the forest he gave up the practice of asceticism. He went bathing in the river and accepted a bowl of milk from the hand of Sujata, a maiden, who lived in the neighboring village. The five companions who had lived with the Prince during the six years of his ascetic practice were shocked that he should receive milk from the hand of a maiden; they thought him degraded and left him. Thus the Prince was left alone. He was weak, but at the risk of losing his life he attempted yet another period of meditation, saying to himself, "Blood may become exhausted, flesh may decay, bones may fall apart, but I will never leave this place until I find the way to enlightenment."
It was an intense and incomparable struggle. He was desperate and filled with confusing thoughts, dark shadows overhung his spirit, and he was beleaguered by all the lures of the evils. Carefully and patiently he examined them one by one and rejected them all. It was a hard struggle indeed, making his blood run thin, his flesh fall away, and his bones crack. But when the morning star finally appeared in the eastern sky, the struggle was over and the Prince's mind was as clear and bright as the breaking day. He had, at last, found the path to Enlightenment. It was December eighth, when Prince Siddhartha became a Buddha at thirty-five years of age.
From this time on, Prince Siddhartha was known by different names: some spoke of him as Buddha, the Perfectly Enlightened One, Tathagata; some spoke of him as Shakyamuni, the Sage of the Shakya clan; others called him the World-honored One.
He went first to Mrigadava in Varanasi where the five mendicants who had lived with him during the six years of his ascetic life were staying. At first they shunned him, but soon after the Buddha preached his sermon at the Deer Park at Sarnath, they believed in him and became his first followers. He then went to the Rajagriha Castle and won over King Bimbisara who had always been his friend. From there he went about the country living on alms and teaching men to accept his way of life. Men responded to him as the thirsty seek water and the hungry food. Two great disciples, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana came to him. Soon afterward, two thousand and more followers had joined theBuddha.
King Shuddhodana was still inwardly suffering because of his son's decision to leave the palace, remained aloof; but then he too became his faithful disciple. Mahaprajapati, the Buddha's step- mother, and Princess Yashodhara,his wife, and all the members of the Shakya clan began to follow him. Multitudes of others also became his devoted and faithful followers. For forty-five years the Buddha went about the country preaching and persuading men to follow his way of life. But when he was eighty, at Vaisali and on his way from Rajagriha to Shravasti, he became ill and predicted that after three months he would enter Nirvana. Still he journeyed on until he reached Pava where he fell seriously ill from some food offered by Chunda, a blacksmith. Eventually, in spite of great pain and weakness, he reached the forest that bordered Kusina- gara. Lying between two large sala trees, he continued teaching his disciples until his last moment. Thus he entered into perfect tranquility after he had completed his work as the world's greatest teacher.
Under the guidance of Ananda, the Buddha's favorite disciple, the body was cremated by his friends in Kusinagara. Seven neighboring rulers as well as King Ajatasatru demanded that the relics be divided among them. The People of Kusinagara at first refused and the dispute even threatened to end in war; but under the advice of a wise man named Drona, the crisis passed and the relics were divided among the eight great countries. The ashes of the funeral pyre and the earthen jar that contained the relics were also given to two other rulers to be likewise honored. Thus ten great towers commemorating the Buddha were built to enshrine his relics andashes .