Part 3 The Birth of Siddhartha

Months passed. Then, one day, the queen knew that the time was approaching for her son to be born. She went to King Suddhodana, and she said to him: “My lord, I would wander through the happy gardens. Birds are singing in the trees, and the air is bright with flower-dust. I would wander through the happy gardens.” “But it will weary you, O queen,” replied Suddhodana. “Are you not afraid?” “The innocent being that I carry in my womb must be born amid the innocence of budding flowers. No, I will go, O master, I will go into the flower-gardens.” The king yielded to Maya’s wish. He said to his servants: “Go into the gardens and deck them out in silver and in gold. Drape the trees with precious hangings. Let everything be magnificent, for the queen will pass.” Suddhodana was obeyed, and when the queen reached the palace-gates the guards greeted her with joyous cries. Bells peeled gaily, peacocks spread their gorgeous tail-feathers, and the song of swans throbbed in the air.

They came to a wood where the trees were in bloom, and Maya ordered them to set down the palanquin. She stepped out and began wandering about, aimlessly. She was happy. And behold! She found a rare tree, the branches drooping under their burden of blossoms. She went up to it; gracefully extending her hand, she drew down a branch. Suddenly, she stood very still. She smiled, and the maidens who were near her received a lovely child into their arms. One of Maya’s maidens hastened to King Suddhodana and joyously exclaimed: “My lord, my lord, a son is born to you, a son who will bring great glory to your house!” He was speechless. But his face was radiant with joy, and he knew great happiness. Presently he summoned all the Sakyas, and he commanded them to accompany him into the garden where the child had been born. They obeyed, and, with a host of brahmans in attendance, they formed a noble retinue as they gravely followed the king. When he came near the child, the king made a deep obeisance, and he said: “Do you bow as I bow before the prince, to whom I give the name Siddhartha.”

The great hermit Asita, whose austerities were pleasing to the Gods, heard of the birth of him who was to save mankind from the torment of rebirth. Overwhelmed with joy, the king went to fetch the child. Taking him from his nurse’s breast, he showed him to the aged Asita. The hermit noticed that the king’s son bore the marks of omnipotence. His gaze hovered over the child, and presently his lashes were wet with tears. Then he sighed and turned his eyes to the sky. The king saw that Asita was weeping, and he began to fear for his son. He questioned the old man: “You say, O venerable roan, that my son’s body differs little from that of a God. You say that his birth was a wondrous thing, that in the future his glory will be supreme, yet you look at him with eyes that are filled with tears. Is his life, then, to be a fragile thing? Was he born only to bring me sorrow? Must this new branch wither before it has burst into flower? Speak, O saintly man, speak quickly; you know the great love a father bears his son.”

“Be not distressed, O king,” replied the hermit. “What I have told you is true: this child will know great glory. If I weep, it is for myself. My life draws to a close and he is born, he who will destroy the evil of rebirth. He will surrender sovereign power, he will master his passions, he will understand truth, and error will disappear in the world before the light of his knowledge, even as night flees before the spears of the sun. From the sea of evil, from the stinging spray of sickness, from the surge and swell of old age, from the angry waves of death, from these will he rescue the suffering world, and together they will sail away in the great ship of knowledge. To those tormented by sorrow, to those enslaved by the senses, to those wandering in the forest of existences like travellers who have lost their way, he will point out the road to salvation. To those burning with the fire of passion, he will be the cloud that brings refreshing rain; armed with the true law, he will go to the prison of desires where all creatures languish, and he will break down the evil gates.”

Notes

Lumbinivana: A park situated between Kapilavastu and Devadaha. It was here that the Buddha was born. A pillar now marks the spot of Asoka’s visit to Lumbini. According to an inscription on the pillar, it was placed there by the people then in charge of the park to commemorate Asoka’s visit and gifts. The park is now known as Rummindei, inside the Nepal frontier and two miles north of Bhagavanpura.

Sala Tree: The tree under which Queen Maya is said to have given birth to Siddhartha Gautama, in Lumbinivana. The image of Maya, holding onto a branch of the Sala Tree (Shorea robusta, or sal in Hindi), while giving birth to the Buddha, is a popular motif in Buddhist art.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is the reproduction of a mid-19th century Burmese painting, ‘The Queen gives Birth to the Bodhisatta’, preserved in the Asian Collection of the Wellcome Library, London, UK. The panel to the left shows Queen Maya stopping on her way to Devadaha, in Lumbini Park, to admire the sala trees and give birth to Siddhartha. The panel to the right shows the infant Siddhartha being received by Devas in a golden net, a leopard skin and a white cloth.

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