Buddha: From Birth to Enlightenment


The Birth of a Buddha

Before His Mission on Earth the future Buddha was born in Tusita Heaven, as a deity named Setaketu, enjoying a contented and blissful life. He was also known as Santussita deva the name derived from the divine abode he was staying

Nearing the end of his divine lifespan, all the divine beings from the ten thousand universes cordially requested him saying:

Dear Bodhisattva deva it is the right time for you to become a Buddha in the human world, for the welfare and benefit of all beings!

First he reviewed the Five Great Observations and thereafter he consented to their request.

From Tusita heaven, he passed away and was duly conceived in the womb of Queen Mahā Māyā, the Chief Consort of King Suddhodana.

On an auspicious night Queen Mahā Māyā had a strange dream, in which a white elephant carrying a white lotus in its trunk, circumambulating her, keeping to the right side, entered into her womb through the right side. Thereafter she became pregnant on Thursday Āsāḷhī Full moon day in the year 67 Maha Era.

When it was nearly childbirth time, and in accordance with the ancient custom, accompanied by a large retinue, she proceeded to return to her royal parents’ home in Devadaha.

However during the long journey, she took a rest in Lumbini Park which was between Devadaha and Kapilavatthu on the border of Nepal.

In the garden, while holding a branch of a fully bloom sāl tree, the baby Prince was born, that was on a Friday the Fullmoon Day of Viśākhā (May) in 623 B.C. in 68 Mahā Era.

1. “Aggo hamasmi lokassa” which means “Chief am I in this world
2. “Jettho hamasmi lokassa” which means “Greatest am I in this world
3. “Settho hamasmi lokassa” which means “Most Exalted am I in this world

Pointing to the North, he said “This is the Northern Quarter!” and he walked towards the North stepping on seven lotus flowers that sprouted out from the ground.

This took place in the midst of many wonderful miracles, happening all over, causing great rejoicing in heavens and on earth as a natural expression of their heartfelt delight in the glory of the Queen and her royal baby.

After the unique birth of the baby Prince in Lumbini Park, the Queen was no longer traditionally obliged to proceed to Devadaha. She returned to Kapilavatthu in great triumph and rejoicing, accompanied by an even greater supporting retinue of both countries.

On the fifth day of the Prince’s birth, the King invited one hundred and eight learned Brāhmaṇs to choose a suitable and auspicious name for the Prince.

Finally the name Siddhattha Gotama was chosen and agreed upon. “Siddhattha” means wish-fulfilled whilst “Gotama” was his family name.

Furthermore, an elite team of eight highly distinguished Brāhmaṇs was specially selected to predict the future of the Prince:

Of them, seven raised two fingers to signify that the Prince would either become a Universal Monarch or a Buddha. However, the youngest Brahman Kondañña raised only one finger and confidently affirmed that the Prince would surely become a Buddha.

On the seventh day after the birth of the Prince, Queen Mahā Māyā passed away and was reborn in Tusita Heaven, as a Santusita deva; and there upon, her sister Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī, became the foster mother:

She brought up the Prince with her utmost care and love. She herself had two children; one son named Nanda and one daughter named Rūpa Nanda.

His Childhood

The Prince was very happy as a royal child. He received an early and complete education, being specially trained in academic skills.

As a son of the warrior race, he was honed in skills of archery and the art of war-fare. Although a Prince of the warrior race, he was kind and gentle to everyone, including animals.

At the young age of sixteen, as was the ancient custom then in vogue, he was married to his beautiful cousin Princess Yaśodharā, the daughter of King Suppabuddha and Queen Pamitā who was the sister of King Suddhodana. Princess Yaśodharā had a brother named Devadatta.

Eighty thousand royal relatives headed by King Suddhodana assembled at the grand coronation of Prince Siddhattha and Princess Yaśodharā as the future King and Queen. They were duly anointed as rightful heirs to the Throne with absolute rights to sovereignty.

Prince Siddhattha and Princess Yaśodharā lived a very happy married life because they were compatible and agreed with each other in every way.

They lived in three beautiful palaces named Ramma, Suramma and Subha respectively for the three seasons namely Winter, Summer and Rainy Season.

Although he was enjoying worldly pleasure, the Prince was also concerned with the bare realities of life. This often made him think about the dissatisfactions in life. Curious about the life outside the palace, the Prince wanted to visit the royal park.

So preparations with great care were taken by his royal father to make the journey pleasant and enjoyable so that the Prince could forget about suffering and the negative side of life.

When everything was ready, the Prince went to visit the royal park with his charioteer Channa.

During the journey he saw a very old decrepit man and being upset he returned to the palace, pondering deeply about life he never knew before;

on the next journey he saw a sick and groaning man, again upset, he returned to the palace;

on the third day he saw a corpse and still upset, he returned to the palace.

Finally he saw a serene mendicant monk on his fourth journey and being very pleased, proceeded on to enjoy his successful visit to the park.

Later on and still in the park he was told about the birth of his son, at which he exclaimed that a fetter had been born (Rahu jato) and this prompted the royal grandfather to name his new-born grandson “Rāhula”.

Going home from the royal park the Prince heard lady Kisa Gotamī singing an admiring hymn from her window when she saw him passing by:-

The meaning of which is as follows:

Peaceful is the mother
Peaceful is the father
Peaceful is the wife
Who has such a husband as he.

As an appreciation of the deep meaning verse to urge him in his search for Peace, the Prince presented her through someone his necklace which prompted her to believe that the Prince had fallen in love with her.

Back home in the palace, the Prince was much agitated and filled with a great urgency to renounce. He made up his mind to renounce that very night.

The Great Renunciation

That night the Prince woke up at midnight and saw the musicians lying in disarray, looking like so many corpses.

He became disgusted and quickly went away from that place and ordered Channa, his charioteer to saddle his favourite horse, Kanthaka for the epic journey of renunciation.

On the way out, he peeped into the bedroom to see Princess Yaśodharā and baby Rāhula in deep sleep. Casting aside the paternal sentiment to kiss the child, he quickly proceeded to the waiting stallion and Channa.

Riding on the horse, he was met by Mara (evil one) who abortively attempted to stop his great renunciation at the city gate. The Bodhisattva Prince ignored Mara and rode far into the night until he reached and crossed over the river Anoma.

Getting down from his stallion, he took off all his royal jewellery and princely garments. He then cut off his hair with his sword and threw them up into the air:

Sakka Devarāja, the King of heaven, took the Bodhisattva’s hair and enshrined them in the Cūḷāmaṇi ceti in Tāvatiṁsa Heaven.

Next the Bodhisattva Prince donned the monk’s yellow robes and took the other requisites given by his former friend Ghaṭikāra Maha Brahma who took back the Siddhattha’s princely clothes and enshrined them in the Dussa Ceti in the Brahma loka.

This meant that the Prince had become a penniless wandering ascetic with no fixed abode but wandered from place to place, living under trees, in shrubs or at the foot of trees and inside caves. As such he was also dependent on alms food given as charity. He was also called a Bodhisattva.

Bodhisattva means a wisdom being. It is also the name given to one who is trying to become a Buddha. In this way the Bodhisattva Prince was living a simple life alone, spending his time in search of Truth and Peace by avidly practising meditation.

The ascetic Prince then told Channa to take his royal jewellery back to King Suddhodana.

Channa offered thrice to renounce with the Prince but was firmly refused permission. So he sadly carried on as ordered, walking away slowly from the Bodhisattva Prince as the stallion Kanthaka had died out of grief and was reborn in Tāvatiṁsa Heaven.

After his ordination, he spent seven days in the Anupiya Mango Grove near the Anoma river enjoying the bliss of renunciation and solitude. On the eighth day he went for alms-round in the city of Rājagaha.

At the sight of the noble figure of the Bodhisattva Prince going for alms-round, the people and King Bimbisāra were greatly amazed. Curious the King ordered his courtiers to enquire who he was.

After the alms-round, he went to have his food at Pāṇḍava rock:

On looking, he was upset at the first sight of the mixed alms-food and was unable to immediately start eating. However after consoling himself, he eventually ate the food.

Upon learning about the renunciation of the Bodhisattva Prince, King Bimbisāra offered him his Kingdom. But the Bodhisattva Prince refused stating that he was intent on Buddha-hood.

The king was very pleased to hear his lofty ideal and invited him to visit his Kingdom first after his enlightenment.

The search for Truth and Peace

In his search for supreme truth, the Bodhisattva Prince sought learning the Truth from a well-known ascetic Āḷāra Kālāma, who taught him up to the seventh ecstatic meditation attainment.

As this could not bring about the Ultimate Truth he was looking for, he left his ascetic teacher and went to another.

The next ascetic teacher Uddaka Rāmaputta, though more famous and well-known, was only able to teach him the eighth and final ecstatic meditation attainment but not the Noble Ultimate Truth.

As he was still not satisfied with this highest worldly meditation attainment, he again left his second ascetic teacher. He then decided to seek out the Ultimate Truth alone all by himself.

Though he was disappointed he was not discouraged. He had already made up his mind to do this and chose a beautiful quiet spot, in the Uruvela forest.

At this juncture, the 5 monks, Kondañña, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahānāma and Assaji attended on him:

- Kondañña was the youngest amongst the eight specially chosen Brahmans to predict the future of baby Prince Siddhattha. The other four monks were the sons of the fellow Brahman colleagues of Kondañña.

The Bodhisattva had to struggle for 6 futile years before he could attain Buddha-hood. During the severe extreme ascetic practise, his body was reduced to almost a skeleton.

At that juncture, Mara (the Evil One) approached and urged him to give up his struggle and to go on living, performing meritorious actions: He said to the Bodhisattva Prince that by doing so he would become a Universal Monarch in seven days.

Nevertheless he was told off by the Bodhisattva Prince, who identified Mara’s army as of Ten Defilements/Passions. Sad and disappointed at his own failure, Mara left dejectedly.

As the Bodhisattva realised the futility of self-mortification (extreme austerities) to attain enlightenment, he gave up total fasting and ate some food. Whereupon the five attendant monks left him, thinking that the Bodhisattva Prince had given up struggling.

Being of iron-will, he was happy to be alone.

His Struggle for Enlightenment

One day when he was seated under a banyan tree, a generous lady named Sujātā, offered him some milk rice.

After the meal he threw his alms-bowl into the river and made a solemn resolve that the alms-bowl would float upstream if he would succeed in his quest for enlightenment.

The alms-bowl floated upstream for a distance and sank into the Nāga world, rested as the fourth on the stack of alms-bowl belonging to the three previous Buddhas.

The milk rice made him feel strong and he left for Buddha Gaya. On the way he met a grass-cutter, Sotthiya by name who gave him eight bundles of grass which the Bodhisattva used to make his meditation seat in his struggle for enlightenment. He made a firm resolution not to rise from his seat until he had gained Buddha-hood.

At that time he was seated under the famous Bodhi Tree in Buddha Gaya and firmly resolved that “Though my skin, my nerve, my bone and my life blood dried up yet I would not leave my seat until I had attained enlightenment.

The Bodhisattva vanquished Mara and his hosts before the sunset.

During the first watch of the night (6.00 p.m. to 10 p.m.) he gained the knowledge by which he was able to remember past lives.

He next obtained the power to see earthly or heavenly events, near or far and the death and rebirth of all beings in the second watch (10 p.m. to 2 a.m.).

In the third watch (2.00 a.m to 6.00 a.m.) he gained knowledge by which he could destroy all defilements (passions), understood the Four Noble Truths and became a Sammā Sambuddha by himself.

Ascetic Siddhattha attained Supreme Enlightenment

The Bodhisattva attained Supreme Enlightenment on Wednesday, at the beginning of sunset and moon rise on the Fullmoon Day of Viśākhā month (May) in 93 Maha Era, 588 BC at the age of 35. After His enlightenment, He was called Buddha Gotama.

Soon after enlightenment, the Buddha uttered a song of joy,

Thro’ many a birth in Samsara wandered I,
Seeking, but not finding, the builder of this house.
Sorrowful is repeated birth.
O house-builder! Thou art seen.
Thou shalt build no house again.
All thy rafters are broken, thy ridgepole is shattered.
The mind attains the unconditioned.
Achieved is the end of craving!

In His first hymn of joy, He exclaimed that He had seen the “builder” of His house (aggregates) and so by attaining the enlightenment, He is able to see the “builder” of His house and put an end to His craving; thus He was no longer subject to rebirth.

After the Enlightenment, He spent 7 weeks fasting as well as experiencing the various aspects of Realisation.

Buddha's fasting after His Enlightenment 7 weeks

In the first week He sat under the Bodhi Tree enjoying the bliss of Emancipation and reviewed the Wheel of Life (Dependent Origination) in its dual order.

The Buddha spent the second week, standing and gazing with motionless eyes at the Bodhi Tree and the Throne as a mark of gratitude.

In the third week, He mindfully walked up and down the jewelled promenade (Ratana Cañkamana).

When the fourth week came, the Buddha sat in the jewelled chamber and contemplated on the Higher Dhamma (Abhidhamma) in the neighbourhood of Bodhgaya.

In the fifth week, He sat in meditation under the Ajapāla banyan tree and was unsuccessfully tempted by Mara’s three daughters, Taṇhā, Aratī and Rāgā after their father’s failed attempt.

The Buddha spent the sixth week under the Mucalinda Tree in deep contemplation:

There arose a heavy rain storm and the serpent King Mucalinda who ruled in the lake underneath, sheltered the Buddha with the seven coils of its body and opened its hood as a protective umbrella over Him.

In the end when the storm abated, the serpent King transformed itself into a youth, paid obeisance and straight away returned to its abode.

In the seventh and final week the Buddha sat under the Rājayatana tree enjoying the bliss of Nibbāna and so completed the forty-nine days of Ariyan fasting.