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The Birth of the Buddha 1. The Conception of the Buddha

The Birth of the Buddha

2. The Birth of the Buddha

Having carried the Boddhisattva in her womb for precisely ten lunar months, Maya gave a birth to him. On the full moon in May, passing by the Lumbini grove on her way to her home town, she was captivated by the beauty of the flowering sala trees and stepped down from her palanquin to walk amongst the trees in the grove. As she reached for a branch of a sala tree, which bent itself down to meet her hand, the pangs of birth came upon her. Thus, while other women are depicted as giving birth sitting or lying down, the Bodhisattva's mother is shown delivering her child while standing and holding on to the branch of a sala tree in the garden of Lumbini.
(See this moment illustrated on the murals of Baiya Monastery, Tibet.)

(Still under construction: Figure 3 illustrates the Bodhisattva issuing forth from his mother's right flank, where he entered at the time of conception; his head is encircled by a halo.) The baby is caught by the god Brahma, identifiable by his brahmin attire and turban. The woman who is to the right side of Maya is Mahaprajapati, Maya's sister who raises the boy after her imminent death.

Figure 4 depicts the Bodhisattva almost diving from his mother into the swaddle held by a maidservant. It is said that this kind of birth didn't hurt his mother at all. As soon as the Bodhisattva was born he took seven steps to the north and proclaimed: "I am chief in the world, I am best in the world, I am first in the world. This is my last birth. There will be no further rebirth." Because no child can immediately walk or talk, let alone make proclamations at birth, it is by these acts that the Buddha's prodigious nature, even as an infant, is revealed. We are told that he was already the size of a six-month-old child and had the "thirty-two marks of a great man." The Bodhisattva was thus born among the Shakya people into a khsatriya family whose name was Gautama. Seven days after his birth his mother died and was born in the Tushita heaven. The child was named Siddhartha-"he whose purpose is accomplished."

Soon after his birth the infant Bodhisattva was examined by brahmin specialists in "the thirty-two marks of the great man." According to Buddhist tradition two destinies are open to one who possesses these marks in full: either he will become a great "wheel-turning" king ruling the four quarters of the earth in perfect justice, or he will become a buddha. On hearing that the brahmins had pronounced his son was one who possessed the marks, Shuddhodana determined that his son should become a wheel-turning king. To this end he arranged matters that Siddhartha should have no occasion to become unhappy and disillusioned with his life at home. In this way Shuddhodana hoped that he might prevent Siddhartha from renouncing his home-life for the life of a wandering ascetic.

After the strange and marvelous circumstances of his birth Siddhartha grew up as a son of a royal family, confined within his palace, leading a life of luxury enjoyed by the very wealthy and privileged. This lifestyle made him more and more delicate and sensitive. Following is the Buddha's recollection of his youth:

I was delicate, most delicate, supremely delicate. Lotus pools were made for me at my father's house solely for my use; in one blue lotuses flowered, in another white, and in another red. I used no sandal wood that was not from Benares. My turban, tunic, lower garments and cloak were all of Benares cloth. A white sunshade was held over me day and night so that I would not be troubled by cold or heat, dust or grit or dew.Yet even while I possessed such fortune and luxury, I thought, "When an unthinking, ordinary person who is himself subject to aging, sickness, and death, who is not beyond aging, sickness, and death, sees another who is old, sick or dead, he is shocked, disturbed, and disgusted, forgetting his own condition. I too am subject to aging, sickness, and death, not beyond aging, sickness, and death, and that I should see another who is old, sick or dead and be shocked, disturbed, and disgusted---this is not fitting." As I reflected thus, the conceit of youth, health, and life entirely left me. (Gethin, p. 20-21)

The Birth of the Buddha 3. The Four Encounters