Part 9 Siddhartha Becomes the Buddha
He rose and set out for the village of Uruvilva, to beg. Sujata had just finished milking eight wonderful cows that she owned. The milk they gave was rich, oily and of a delicate savor. She added honey and rice flour to it, then set the mixture to boil in a new pot, on a new stove. She poured the milk mixed with honey and flour into a golden bowl, and she awaited the hero. He entered. The house was lighted up by his presence. Sujata, to do him honor, bowed seven times. He sat down. Sujata kneeled and bathed his feet in sweet-scented water; then she offered him the golden bowl full of milk mixed with rice flour and honey. He thought: “The Buddhas of old, it is said, had their last meal served to them in a golden bowl, before attaining supreme knowledge. Since Sujata offers me this milk and honey in a golden bowl, the time has come for me to be a Buddha.”
Then he asked the young girl: “Sister, what must I do with this golden bowl?” “It belongs to you,” she replied. “I have no use for such a bowl,” said he. “Then do as you please with it,” said Sujata. “It would be contemptible of me to offer the food and not offer the bowl.” He left, carrying the bowl in his hands, and he walked to the banks of the river. He bathed; he ate. When the bowl was empty, he threw it into the water, and he said: “If I am to become Buddha this very day, may the bowl go upstream; if not, may it go with the current.” The bowl floated out to the middle of the river, then rapidly started upstream. It disappeared in a whirlpool, and the hero heard the muffled ring as it landed, in the subterranean world, among those other bowls the former Buddhas had emptied and thrown away.
The hero sauntered along the banks of the river. Night slowly descended. He skirted the edge of a pool. On the side of the road, he saw Svastika, the reaper. “They are tender, these grasses you are mowing, Svastika. Give me some grass; I want to cover the seat I shall occupy when I attain supreme knowledge. ” The reaper gave the Saint eight handfuls of grass. There stood the tree of knowledge. The hero went to the east of it and bowed seven times. He threw the handfuls of grass on the ground, and, suddenly, a great seat appeared. The soft grass covered it like a carpet. The hero sat down, his head and shoulders erect, his face turned to the east. Then he said in a solemn voice: “Even if my skin should parch, even if my hand should wither, even if my bones should crumble into dust, until I have attained supreme knowledge I shall not move from this seat.” And he crossed his legs.
The light emanating from the hero’s body reached even to those realms where Mara, the Evil One, reigned supreme. It dazzled Mara, and he seemed to hear a voice saying: “The hero who has renounced royalty, the son of Suddhodana, is now seated under the tree of knowledge. He is concentrating his mind, he is making the supreme effort, and soon he will bring to all creatures the help which they need. The road he will have taken, others will take. Once set free, he will set others free. Once he has found peace, he will bring peace to others. He will enter nirvana, and he will cause others to enter. He will find wisdom and happiness, and he will give them to others. Because of him, the city of the Gods will be crowded; because of him, the city of the Evil One will be deserted. And you, Mara, a commander without an army, a king without subjects, will not know where to take refuge.”
Mara was filled with apprehension. He tried to sleep, but his slumber was disturbed by terrible dreams. He awoke and summoned his soldiers. Mara’s army was a fearful sight. Before attacking the hero, Mara sought to frighten him. He roused against him the fury of the winds. Fierce gales rushed toward him from the horizon, uprooting trees, devastating villages, shaking mountains, but the hero never moved; not a single fold of his robe was disturbed. The Evil One summoned the rains. They fell with great violence, submerging cities and scarring the surface of the earth, but the hero never moved; not a single thread of his robe was wet. The Evil One made blazing rocks and hurled them at the hero. They sped through the air but fell as flowers. Mara commanded his army to loose their arrows at his enemy, but the arrows, also, turned into flowers. The light he diffused acted as a shield to protect him. Filled with terror at the sight of these prodigies, the soldiers of the Evil One fled.
And Mara wrung his hands in anguish, and he cried: “What have I done that this man should defeat me? I have often been kind and generous! And he, what proof has he given of his generosity? What sacrifices has he made? Who will bear witness to his kindness?” Whereupon a voice came out of the earth, and it said: “I will bear witness to his generosity.” Mara was struck dumb with astonishment. The voice continued: “Yes, I, the Earth, I, the mother of all beings, will bear witness to his generosity. A hundred times, a thousand times, in the course of his previous existences, his hands, his eyes, his head, his whole body have been at the service of others. And in the course of this existence, which will be the last, he will destroy old age, sickness and death. As he excels you in strength, Mara, even so does he surpass you in generosity.”
Nothing had disturbed the hero’s meditation, and, in the first watch of the night, he arrived at the knowledge of all that had transpired in previous existences. In the second watch, he learned the present state of all beings. In the third, he understood the chain of causes and effects. And the hero thought: “How miserable is this world that is born, grows old and dies, then is reborn only to grow old and die again! And man knows no way out!” And in profound meditation, he said to himself: “What is the cause of old age and death? There is old age and death because there is birth. There is birth because there is existence. There is existence because there are ties. There are ties because there is desire. There is desire because there is sensation. There is sensation because there is contact. There is contact because there are six senses. There are six senses because there is name and form. There is name and form because there is perception. There is perception because there is impression. There is impression because there is ignorance.”
And he thought: “Thus does ignorance lie at the root of death, of old age, of suffering, of despair. To suppress ignorance is to suppress impression. To suppress impression is to suppress perception. To suppress perception is to suppress name and form. To suppress name and form is to suppress the six senses. To suppress the six senses is to suppress contact. To suppress contact is to suppress sensation. To suppress sensation is to suppress desire. To suppress desire is to suppress ties. To suppress ties is to suppress existence. To suppress existence is to suppress birth. To suppress birth is to suppress old age and death. To exist is to suffer. Desire leads from birth to rebirth, from suffering to further suffering. By stifling desire, we prevent birth, we prevent suffering. By leading a life of holiness, desire is stifled, and we cease to endure birth and suffering.”
When dawn appeared, this most noble of men was a Buddha. He exclaimed: “I have had numerous births. In vain have I sought the builder of the house. Oh, the torment of perpetual rebirth! But I have seen you at last, O builder of the house. You no longer build the house. The rafters are broken; the old walls are down. The ancient mountain crumbles; the mind attains to nirvana; birth is no more for desire is no more.” Twelve times the earth shook; the world was like a great flower. The Gods sang: “He has come, he who brings light into the world; he has come, he who protects the world! Long blinded, the eye of the world has opened, and the eye of the world is dazzled by the light. O conqueror, you will give all beings that which they hunger after. Guided by the sublime light of the law, all creatures will reach the shores of deliverance. You hold the lamp; go now and dispel the darkness!”
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows Mara attacking the Buddha just before he attains Enlightenment. It is based on a mural from Wat Tha Suthawat, in central Thailand, and was uploaded by Hdamm.