The Birth

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

There was a descendant of the Ikshvâku family, an invincible Sâkya monarch, pure in mind and of unspotted virtue, called therefore Pure-rice, or Suddhodana. Joyously reverenced by all men, as the new moon is welcomed by the world, the king indeed was like the heaven-ruler Sakra, his queen like the divine Saki. Strong and calm of purpose as the earth, pure in mind as the water-lily, her name, figuratively assumed, Mâyâ, she was in truth incapable of class-comparison. On her in likeness as the heavenly queen descended the spirit and entered her womb. A mother, but free from grief or pain, she was without any false or illusory mind. Disliking the clamorous ways of the world, she remembered the excellent garden of Lumbini, a pleasant spot, a quiet forest retreat, with its trickling fountains, and blooming flowers and fruits. Quiet and peaceful, delighting in meditation, respectfully she asked the king for liberty to roam therein; the king, understanding her earnest desire, was seized with a seldom-felt anxiety to grant her request. He commanded his kinsfolk, within and without the palace, to repair with her to that garden shade; and now the queen Mâyâ knew that her time for child-bearing was come. She rested calmly on a beautiful couch, surrounded by a hundred thousand female attendants; it was the eighth day of the fourth moon, a season of serene and agreeable character.

Whilst she thus religiously observed the rules of a pure discipline, Bodhisattva was born from her right side, come to deliver the world, constrained by great pity, without causing his mother pain or anguish. As king Yu-liu was born from the thigh, as King Pi-t’au was born from the hand, as King Man-to was born from the top of the head, as King Kia-k’ha was born from the arm-pit, so also was Bodhisattva on the day of his birth produced from the right side; gradually emerging from the womb, he shed in every direction the rays of his glory. As one born from recumbent space, and not through the gates of life, through countless kalpas, practising virtue, self-conscious he came forth to life, without confusion. Calm and collected, not falling headlong was he born, gloriously manifested, perfectly adorned, sparkling with light he came from the womb, as when the sun first rises from the East.

Men indeed regarded his exceeding great glory, yet their sight remained uninjured: he allowed them to gaze, the brightness of his person concealed for the time, as when we look upon the moon in the heavens. His body, nevertheless, was effulgent with light, and like the sun which eclipses the shining of the lamp, so the true gold-like beauty of Bodhisattva shone forth, and was diffused everywhere. Upright and firm and unconfused in mind, he deliberately took seven steps, the soles of his feet resting evenly upon the ground as he went, his footmarks remained bright as seven stars.

Moving like the lion, king of beasts, and looking earnestly towards the four quarters, penetrating to the centre the principles of truth, he spake thus with the fullest assurance: This birth is in the condition of a Buddha; after this I have done with renewed birth; now only am I born this once, for the purpose of saving all the world.

And now from the midst of heaven there descended two streams of pure water, one warm, the other cold, and baptized his head, causing refreshment to his body. And now he is placed in the precious palace hall, a jewelled couch for him to sleep upon, and the heavenly kings with their golden flowery hands hold fast the four feet of the bed. Meanwhile the Devas in space, seizing their jewelled canopies, attending, raise in responsive harmony their heavenly songs, to encourage him to accomplish his perfect purpose.

Then the Nâga-râgas filled with joy, earnestly desiring to show their reverence for the most excellent law, as they had paid honor to the former Buddhas, now went to meet Bodhisattva; they scattered before him Mandâra flowers, rejoicing with heartfelt joy to pay such religious homage; and so, again, Tathâgata having appeared in the world, the Suddha angels rejoiced with gladness; with no selfish or partial joy, but for the sake of religion they rejoiced, because creation, engulfed in the ocean of pain, was now to obtain perfect release.

Then the precious Mountain-râga, Sumeru, firmly holding this great earth when Bodhisattva appeared in the world, was swayed by the wind of his perfected merit. On every hand the world was greatly shaken, as the wind drives the tossing boat; so also the minutest atoms of sandal perfume, and the hidden sweetness of precious lilies floated on the air, and rose through space, and then commingling, came back to earth; so again the garments of Devas descending from heaven touching the body, caused delightful thrills of joy; the sun and moon with constant course redoubled the brilliancy of their light, whilst in the world the fire’s gleam of itself prevailed without the use of fuel. Pure water, cool and refreshing from the springs, flowed here and there, self-caused; in the palace all the waiting women were filled with joy at such an unprecedented event. Proceeding all in company, they drink and bathe themselves; in all arose calm and delightful thoughts; countless inferior Devas, delighting in religion, like clouds assembled.

In the garden of Lumbinî, filling the spaces between the trees, rare and special flowers, in great abundance, bloomed out of season. All cruel and malevolent kinds of beings, together conceived a loving heart; all diseases and afflictions among men without a cure applied, of themselves were healed. The various cries and confused sounds of beasts were hushed and silence reigned; the stagnant water of the river-courses flowed apace, whilst the polluted streams became clear and pure. No clouds gathered throughout the heavens, whilst angelic music, self caused, was heard around; the whole world of sentient creatures enjoyed peace and universal tranquillity.

Just as when a country visited by desolation, suddenly obtains an enlightened ruler, so when Bodhisattva was born, he came to remove the sorrows of all living things.

Mâra,1 the heavenly monarch, alone was grieved and rejoiced not. The Royal Father (Suddhodana), beholding his son, strange and miraculous, as to his birth, though self-possessed and assured in his soul, was yet moved with astonishment and his countenance changed, whilst he alternately weighed with himself the meaning of such an event, now rejoiced and now distressed.

The queen-mother beholding her child, born thus contrary to laws of nature, her timorous woman’s heart was doubtful; her mind, through fear, swayed between extremes: Not distinguishing the happy from the sad portents, again and again she gave way to grief; and now the aged women of the world, in a confused way supplicating heavenly guidance, implored the gods to whom their rites were paid, to bless the child; to cause peace to rest upon the royal child. Now there was at this time in the grove, a certain soothsayer, a Brahman, of dignified mien and wide-spread renown, famed for his skill and scholarship: beholding the signs, his heart rejoiced, and he exulted at the miraculous event. Knowing the king’s mind to be somewhat perplexed, he addressed him with truth and earnestness: “Men born in the world, chiefly desire to have a son the most renowned; but now the king, like the moon when full, should feel in himself a perfect joy, having begotten an unequalled son, (for by this the king) will become illustrious among his race; let then his heart be joyful and glad, banish all anxiety and doubt, the spiritual omens that are everywhere manifested indicate for your house and dominion a course of continued prosperity. The most excellently endowed child now born will bring deliverance to the entire world: none but a heavenly teacher has a body such as this, golden-colored, gloriously resplendent. One endowed with such transcendent marks must reach the state of Samyak-Sambodhi, or, if he be induced to engage in worldly delights, then he must become a universal monarch; everywhere recognized as the ruler of the great earth, mighty in his righteous government, as a monarch ruling the four empires, uniting under his sway all other rulers; as among all lesser lights, the sun’s brightness is by far the most excellent. But if he seek a dwelling among the mountain forests, with single heart searching for deliverance, having arrived at the perfection of true wisdom, he will become illustrious throughout the world; for as Mount Sumeru is monarch among all mountains, or, as gold is chief among all precious things; or, as the ocean is supreme among all streams; or, as the moon is first among the stars; or, as the sun is brightest of all luminaries, so Tathâgata, born in the world, is the most eminent of men; his eyes clear and expanding, the lashes both above and below moving with the lid, the iris of the eye of a clear blue color, in shape like the moon when half full, such characteristics as these, without contradiction, foreshadow the most excellent condition of perfect wisdom.”

At this time the king addressed the twice-born,2 “If it be as you say, with respect to these miraculous signs, that they indicate such consequences, then no such case has happened with former kings, nor down to our time has such a thing occurred.” The Brahman addressed the king thus, “Say not so; for it is not right; for with regard to renown and wisdom, personal celebrity, and worldly substance, these four things indeed are not to be considered according to precedent or subsequence; but whatever is produced according to nature, such things are liable to the law of cause and effect: but now whilst I recount some parallels let the king attentively listen:—Bhrigu, Angira, these two of Rishi family, having passed many years apart from men, each begat an excellently endowed son; Brihaspati with Sukra, skilful in making royal treatises, not derived from former families (or tribes); Sârasvata, the Rishi, whose works have long disappeared, begat a son, Po-lo-sa, who compiled illustrious Sûtras and Shâstras; that which now we know and see, is not therefore dependent on previous connection; Vyâsa, the Rishi, the author of numerous treatises, after his death had among his descendants Poh-mi (Vâlmîki), who extensively collected Gâthâ sections; Atri, the Rishi, not understanding the sectional treatise on medicine, afterwards begat Âtreya, who was able to control diseases; the twice-born Rishi Kusi (Kusika), not occupied with heretical treatises, afterwards begat Kia-ti-na-râga, who thoroughly understood heretical systems; the sugar-cane monarch, who began his line, could not restrain the tide of the sea, but Sagara-râga, his descendant, who begat a thousand royal sons, he could control the tide of the great sea so that it should come no further. Ganaka, the Rishi, without a teacher acquired power of abstraction. All these, who obtained such renown, acquired powers of themselves; those distinguished before, were afterwards forgotten; those before forgotten, became afterwards distinguished; kings like these and god-like Rishis have no need of family inheritance, and therefore the world need not regard those going before or following. So, mighty king! is it with you: you should experience true joy of heart, and because of this joy should banish forever doubt or anxiety.” The king, hearing the words of the seer, was glad, and offered him increased gifts.

“Now have I begotten a valiant son,” he said, “who will establish a wheel authority, whilst I, when old and gray-headed, will go forth to lead a hermit’s life, so that my holy, king-like son may not give up the world and wander through mountain forests.”

And now near the spot within the garden, there was a Rishi, leading the life of an ascetic; his name was Asita, wonderfully skilful in the interpretation of signs; he approached the gate of the palace; the king beholding him exclaimed, “This is none other but Brahmadeva, himself enduring penance from love of true religion, these two characteristics so plainly visible as marks of his austerities.” Then the king was much rejoiced; and forthwith he invited him within the palace, and with reverence set before him entertainment, whilst he, entering the inner palace, rejoiced only in prospect of seeing the royal child.

Although surrounded by the crowd of court ladies, yet still he was as if in desert solitude; and now they place a preaching throne and pay him increased honor and religious reverence, as Antideva râga reverenced the priest Vasishtha. Then the king, addressing the Rishi, said: “Most fortunate am I, great Rishi! that you have condescended to come here to receive from me becoming gifts and reverence; I pray you therefore enter on your exhortation.”

Thus requested and invited, the Rishi felt unutterable joy, and said, “All hail, ever victorious monarch! possessed of all noble, virtuous qualities, loving to meet the desires of those who seek, nobly generous in honoring the true law, conspicuous as a race for wisdom and humanity, with humble mind you pay me homage, as you are bound. Because of your righteous deeds in former lives, now are manifested these excellent fruits; listen to me, then, whilst I declare the reason of the present meeting. As I was coming on the sun’s way, I heard the Devas in space declare that the king had born to him a royal son, who would arrive at perfect intelligence; moreover I beheld such other portents, as have constrained me now to seek your presence; desiring to see the Sâkya monarch who will erect the standard of the true law.”

The king, hearing the Rishi’s words, was fully assured; escaping from the net of doubt, he ordered an attendant to bring the prince, to exhibit him to the Rishi. The Rishi, beholding the prince, the thousand-rayed wheel on the soles of his feet, the web-like filament between his fingers, between his eyebrows the white wool-like prominence, his complexion bright and lustrous; seeing these wonderful birth-portents, the seer wept and sighed deeply.

The king beholding the tears of the Rishi, thinking of his son, his soul was overcome, and his breath fast held his swelling heart. Thus alarmed and ill at ease, unconsciously he arose from his seat, and bowing his head at the Rishi’s feet, he addressed him in these words: “This son of mine, born thus wonderfully, beautiful in face, and surpassingly graceful, little different from the gods in form, giving promise of superiority in the world, ah! why has he caused thee grief and pain? Forbid it, that my son should die! or should be short-lived!—the thought creates in me grief and anxiety; that one athirst, within reach of the eternal draught,3 should after all reject and lose it! sad indeed! Forbid it, he should lose his wealth and treasure! dead to his house! lost to his country! for he who has a prosperous son in life, gives pledge that his country’s weal is well secured; and then, coming to die, my heart will rest content, rejoicing in the thought of offspring surviving me; even as a man possessed of two eyes, one of which keeps watch, while the other sleeps; not like the frost-flower of autumn, which, though it seems to bloom, is not a reality. A man who, midst his tribe and kindred, deeply loves a spotless son, at every proper time in recollection of it has joy; O! that you would cause me to revive!”

The Rishi, knowing the king-sire to be thus greatly afflicted at heart, immediately addressed the Mahârâga: “Let not the king be for a moment anxious! the words I have spoken to the king, let him ponder these, and not permit himself to doubt; the portents now are as they were before, cherish then no other thoughts! But recollecting I myself am old, on that account I could not hold my tears; for now my end is coming on. But this son of thine will rule the world, born for the sake of all that lives! this is indeed one difficult to meet with; he shall give up his royal estate, escape from the domain of the five desires, with resolution and with diligence practise austerities, and then awakening, grasp the truth. Then constantly, for the world’s sake (all living things), destroying the impediments of ignorance and darkness, he shall give to all enduring light, the brightness of the sun of perfect wisdom. All flesh submerged in the sea of sorrow; all diseases collected as the bubbling froth; decay and age like the wild billows; death like the engulfing ocean; embarking lightly in the boat of wisdom he will save the world from all these perils, by wisdom stemming back the flood. His pure teaching like to the neighboring shore, the power of meditation, like a cool lake, will be enough for all the unexpected birds; thus deep and full and wide is the great river of the true law; all creatures parched by the drought of lust may freely drink thereof, without stint; those enchained in the domain of the five desires, those driven along by many sorrows, and deceived amid the wilderness of birth and death, in ignorance of the way of escape, for these Bodhisattva has been born in the world, to open out a way of salvation. The fire of lust and covetousness, burning with the fuel of the objects of sense, he has caused the cloud of his mercy to rise, so that the rain of the law may extinguish them. The heavy gates of gloomy unbelief, fast kept by covetousness and lust, within which are confined all living things, he opens and gives free deliverance. With the tweezers of his diamond wisdom he plucks out the opposing principles of lustful desire. In the self-twined meshes of folly and ignorance all flesh poor and in misery, helplessly lying, the king of the law has come forth, to rescue these from bondage. Let not the king in respect of this his son encourage in himself one thought of doubt or pain; but rather let him grieve on account of the world, led captive by desire, opposed to truth; but I, indeed, amid the ruins of old age and death, am far removed from the meritorious condition of the holy one, possessed indeed of powers of abstraction, yet not within reach of the gain he will give, to be derived from his teaching as the Bodhisattva; not permitted to hear his righteous law, my body worn out, after death, alas! destined to be born as a Deva4 still liable to the three calamities, old age, decay, and death, therefore I weep.”

The king and all his household attendants, hearing the words of the Rishi, knowing the cause of his regretful sorrow, banished from their minds all further anxiety: “And now,” the king said, “to have begotten this excellent son, gives me rest at heart; but that he should leave his kingdom and home, and practise the life of an ascetic, not anxious to ensure the stability of the kingdom, the thought of this still brings with it pain.”

At this time the Rishi, turning to the king with true words, said, “It must be even as the king anticipates, he will surely arrive at perfect enlightenment.” Thus having appeased every anxious heart among the king’s household, the Rishi by his own inherent spiritual power ascended into space and disappeared.

At this time Suddhodana râga, seeing the excellent marks (predictive signs) of his son, and, moreover, hearing the words of Asita, certifying that which would surely happen, was greatly affected with reverence to the child: he redoubled measures for its protection, and was filled with constant thought; moreover, he issued decrees through the empire, to liberate all captives in prison, according to the custom when a royal son was born, giving the usual largess, in agreement with the directions of the Sacred Books, and extending his gifts to all; or, all these things he did completely. When the child was ten days old, his father’s mind being now quite tranquil, he announced a sacrifice to all the gods, and prepared to give liberal offerings to all the religious bodies; Srâmanas and Brahmanas invoked by their prayers a blessing from the gods, whilst he bestowed gifts on the royal kinspeople and the ministers and the poor within the country; the women who dwelt in the city or the villages, all those who needed cattle or horses or elephants or money, each, according to his necessities, was liberally supplied. Then, selecting by divination a lucky time, they took the child back to his own palace, with a double-feeding white-pure-tooth, carried in a richly-adorned chariot (cradle), with ornaments of every kind and color round his neck; shining with beauty, exceedingly resplendent with unguents. The queen embracing him in her arms, going around, worshipped the heavenly spirits. Afterwards she remounted her precious chariot, surrounded by her waiting women; the king, with his ministers and people, and all the crowd of attendants, leading the way and following, even as the ruler of heaven, Sakra, is surrounded by crowds of Devas; as Mahesvara, when suddenly his six-faced child was born; arranging every kind of present, gave gifts, and asked for blessings; so now the king, when his royal son was born, made all his arrangements in like manner. So Vaisravana, the heavenly king, when Nalakûvara was born, surrounded by a concourse of Devas, was filled with joy and much gladness; so the king, now the royal prince was born, in the kingdom of Kapila, his people and all his subjects were likewise filled with joy.

  1. Mâra, the king of the world of desire. According to the Buddhist theogony he is the god of sensual love. He holds the world in sin. He was the enemy of Buddha, and endeavored in every way to defeat him. He is also described as the king of death.

  2. That is, the Brahman wearing the twice-born thread.

  3. The “eternal draught” or “sweet dew” of Ambrosia. This expression is constantly used in Buddhist writings. It corresponds with the Pali amatam, which Childers explains as the “drink of the gods.”

  4. The condition of the highest Deva, according to Buddhism, does not exempt him from re-birth; subject to the calamities incident on such a renewal of life.

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