The Birth of Siddartha
NOWHERE IN ALL JAMBUDVIPA (India) were the midsummer festivities gayer, more joyous, than in Kapilavastu, the chief city of the tiny Sakyan kingdom nestled in the rolling foothills of [the] Himalaya[s], the abode of snows whence arose the little river Rohini which wound its sinuous way through the city.
The Sakyas were ruled in those days by King Suddhodana Gautama, whose two wives were sisters, the older named Maya and the younger Prajapati. Now, Queen Maya had taken vows of abstinence and chastity.
Abstaining from strong drink and resplendent with garlands and perfumes, Queen Maya took part in the festivities for the six days previous to the Asadha full moon. And on the seventh day of the feast she rose up early, bathed in flower-scented water, and sent couriers to the people with four hundred thousand pieces of money as alms to the needy.
Drowsiness overcame the beautiful queen very suddenly that morning; and she could not forbear lying down to rest upon the royal couch in her elegantly furnished chamber. Soon she found herself in the lotusland and this was her dream.
Queen Maya dreamed that the Four Celestial Kings raised her, together with the couch, and conveyed her over the Himalayan range to the high tableland of Tibet. And having arrived at a spot beyond the lofty peaks, they set her down under a jewel-spangled tree and stood respectfully at one side.
Then the wives of the Four Celestial Kings came and conducted her to a shimmering mountain lake in which they bathed her to remove every human stain. And after clothing her in divine garments, the goddesses anointed her with heavenly perfumes and decked her with celestial flowers.
Nearby was a silver mountain surmounted by a golden mansion. Now, the four gods and their wives prepared a divine couch with its head to the east; and upon it they laid Queen Maya.
A star blazing with supernal (celestial) splendor descended from Tusita Heaven; and then a superb white elephant was to be seen wandering about on the hill. Approaching from the north, the magnificent animal plucked a white lotus with his silvery trunk and, trumpeting loudly, he entered the golden mansion.
Walking around his future mother's couch three times, keeping his right side toward it, he struck Queen Maya on her right side and disappeared, mysteriously entering her womb. And thus the Bodhisattva was conceived in the womb of Queen Maya on the full moon day of Asadha.
Now at the moment when the Bodhisattva made himself incarnate in his mother's womb, the atoms constituting ten thousand world-systems vibrated, all at the same instant, and a measureless light shone radiant over all. Good omens were made manifest: the blind received their sight, as if from a yearning to behold the glory of the Great Being; the deaf heard the sound; the dumb uttered praise of the Great Being; the deformed were straightened; the crippled were healed; prisoners in chains were freed from bondage.
In the hells the fires went out; hunger and thirst were allayed in the realm of earthbound ghosts; wild animals ceased to be afraid; the illness of all who were sick was alleviated; all men began to speak kindly to one another.
Beasts of burden gave voice to gentle emotions; musical instruments sounded forth though no one played them; bracelets jingled of themselves; the skies became clear; cool, soft breezes wafted pleasantly; wells and springs became filled with pure water; birds nested; the sea became fresh and covered with lotuses of every color; flowers blossomed everywhere; the trees burst into bloom, and exquisite lotuses broke through the rocks and blossomed forth by sevens.
Celestial flowers rained down from the sky, and celestial music filled the heavens; the ten thousand universes of the chiliocosm revolved and rushed close together like a bouquet of flowers, becoming, as it were, a wreath of worlds, as fragrant and resplendent as a mass of garlands, or as a sacred altar decked with flowers.
Queen Maya awoke with a start, astonished by her marvelous dream; and on the next day she related it to King Suddhodana.
"A Great Being like frosted silver and exceeding the sun and moon in radiance, a lovely elephant as strong as thunderbolts entered my womb. Then I beheld universes like globes of silver fire shining brightly, I heard countless gods and goddesses singing hymns of praise to him as I lay there in the manse of gold. With tranquil mind I knew the bliss of trance divine.
"It would be well, O King, to summon brahmins quickly and tell this dream to them that they may inform us whether it presages good to me or misfortune to the family."
Suddhodana immediately summoned sixty-four eminent brahmins and told them the dream.
"It is honor, not calamity, that is coming to the house of Gautama," replied the brahmins. "A son is going to be born to you. And if he lives the household life, he will become a great king, a universal monarch; but if he leaves the household life and retires from the world, he will become a Buddha, a remover in the world of the veil of ignorance."
Indian sculpture depicting the birth of the Buddha
"Are you certain of that?" asked the King.
"Yes, O King, the signs are unmistakable. The earth quaked mightily this full moon day. An immeasurable light spread through ten thousand world-systems. The blind received their sight as if from a desire to see the Great Being, and the deaf received their hearing as if from a desire to hear the music sounding from on high. The heavens rained down flowers, and the fires in all the hells went out."
Queen Maya carried the Bodhisattva in her womb for ten lunar months (two hundred eighty days); and when the day of her delivery had arrived, she journeyed forth from Kapilavastu to Devadaha, the city of her relatives. Now, between the two cities and belonging to the inhabitants of both was a pleasure grove of sala trees called Lumbini Garden.
At that particular season the grove was one mass of flowers from the roots of the trees up to the topmost branches. And among the blooms bees of many colors hummed in swarms, and among the boughs various kinds of birds sported, warbling sweetly.
The moment Maya saw the beauty of Lumbini, she desired to enter it and disport herself in the midst of that paradise of color and perfume. Expressing her wish to the courtiers of her retinue, she alighted from her golden palanquin and entered the park with a number of female attendants, tripping gaily from tree to tree while birds of brilliant plumage followed her like divine attendants appointed by the gods.
Coming to the foot of a magnificent sala tree, Queen Maya was strangely thrilled by its heavenly beauty. She stretched out her hand and seized a flower-laden branch; but as she stood there playfully looking up to the sky with open mouth, she was shaken by the pains of childbirth.
And at the moment of birth, the gods exclaimed: "Rejoice, O Queen, a mighty son has been born to you!"
No sooner had these words resounded through the sky when a warm rain began to fall softly, and the rain was followed by a shower of celestial flowers.
Queen Maya was still standing under the towering sala tree when her maids discovered her with a baby boy of radiant golden color clasped lovingly to her breast.
"A charming baby, a prince indeed!" cried the people joyfully when they saw Queen Maya's son. And while they were worshiping the holy child with offerings of flowers and rare perfumes, innumerable celestial voices chanted in concert: "Great Being... you are chief in all the world!"
As eventide had not yet fallen, Queen Maya and her train returned with the newborn prince to the palace at Kapilavastu instead of going on to her native city of Devadaha.
And thus was the Bodhisattva delivered from the womb of Maya Gautami on the full moon day of Vaisakha.
Excerpted from Robert Allen Mitchell's The Buddha: His Life Retold, and reprinted with permission from Paragon House.