Nothing else in recorded history has created as much a sensation or evoked as much sentiment among living beings as that rarest of events on earth, the attainment of Absolute Omniscience and discovery of the liberating law by Gautama Buddha over twenty five centuries ago. Its origin runs back to the extremely hazy past,where a young Brahmin named Sumedha received a definitive assertion from Piyamatura Buddha of his impending Buddhahood. The episode as revealed by the Blessed One through His absolute psychic power of recollection provides a veritable window into the astoundingly wondrous world of a Bodhisatta, a Buddha in the making.
In plentiful and resplendent Amarawathie likened in the canon to paradisiacal city of Alamakanda was an immensely wealthy young Brahmin called Sumedha who had lost his parents in childhood. Still in the prime of youth he reached the zenith in veda, study of history and lineaments (lakkhana) contained in the ten thousand Purana texts. In solitude the deep thinker engaged himself in an incisive process of philosophical rationalization that almost borders a subliminal homily of a Perfectly Enlightened Being to be found in scripture.
He reasoned, in this cycle of re-becoming conception is painful, so is disintegration of the body. There necessarily ought to be a path of escape, and I shall discover it. He reasoned further. If birth and suffering are perceived in the world, so should be non-suffering and non-birth. Where there is evil there is also lenity, so also when existence is manifest in the world non-existence too ought to be equally manifest. If a man smeared in excreta avails not of a water filled pond it is no fault of the pond, so also if one fails to shed his defilements it is none other’s blunder. As a man freeing himself of a rotting carcass dangling from his neck, so I shall abandon this body of mine of gross impurities without reservation.
Being constantly absorbed in the concentration of this superior knowledge, he failed to observe any of the thirty two extraordinary phenomena that accompanied the conception of Deepankara Buddha
Even as men and women having cast aside excrement move away with indifference, so too I shall cast away this body filled with loathsome odours. My ancestors departed this world leaving behind this immense fortune, but when I leave I shall certainly take it with me to the next world. So saying be opened the doors of his treasure houses allowing anyone and everyone, rich or poor, straight or crooked to remove whatever and however much he wishes and left for the foot of the Himalayas to embark on a regime of sheer asceticism is search of the perennial truth.
Covered in tattered robes with twelve-fold immanent features of holiness, seated under a tree signified by the ten-fold meritorious characteristics, consuming only ripe fruit fallen off branches, he attained the five magical powers abinna within a week. Being constantly absorbed in the concentration of this superior knowledge, he failed to observe any of the thirty two extraordinary phenomena that accompanied the conception of Deepankara Buddha, His birth, the Total Awakening and preaching of the first Great Sermon.
One day while traveling through air with the rag rustling in the wind, he observed the inhabitants of a border town clearing a pathway with delightful enthusiasm. On descending, he was informed that they were anticipating the arrival of Deepankara Buddha who has made His appearance on earth. Elated beyond expression, uttering the words ‘Buddha, Buddha” he too began clearing a stretch of road assigned to him at his request. Before he could complete the task Great Being Deepankara, accompanied by four hundred thousand bhikkhus, arrived amidst unprecedented jubilation of men and of Gods who were visible to all. Ascetic Sumedha let loose the knotted hair and lay himself prostrate on the leather spread on the ground with half-open mouth in awe. ‘Let Samma Sambuddha and the multitude of great Arahants tread upon me without soiling their feet.’ A thought came upon him, ‘if I wish I could burn out all the cankers today, but of what use is it? I must attain that state of omniscience of a Samma Sambuddha myself to rescue the mass of men and heavenly beings from recurring misery’. The eight conditions-existence as a human, being a male, adequate merit to attain holiness in that birth itself, seeing a living Buddha, having gone forth, possession of the eight attainments, willingness to sacrifice one’s life in the cause, a fervent desire of Buddhahood – with these the resolve succeeds.
The knower of the worlds Deepankara Buddha came near him and declared, “Do you see this very severe ascetic, this matted hair ascetic? Innumerable eons from now he would be a Buddha of the world. Leaving the delightful city of Kapila he will perform the austerities with great vigour. On the banks of river Neranjana, he would partake of the milk-rice accepted under the Ajpal and proceed to the foot of the Bodhi tree along the magnificent path prepared by the luminous ones; there the Great Awakening of the Unsurpassed One will take place. His mother will be Mahamaya and father Suddhodana. He himself would be Gautama. The upper age limit of the Awakened One will be a hundred years’’ Denizens of the ten thousand planes rejoiced and sang paeans over those words of the Peerless One. If we miss this opportunity of the sorrowless state before Piyamatura Buddha we would definitely reach it in Gautama Buddha’s dispensation, they said.
In solitude the deep thinker engaged himself in an incisive process of philosophical rationalization that almost borders a subliminal homily of a Perfectly Enlightened Being to be found in scripture
This solemn occasion was marked by an event of extraordinary nature. A young girl in the crowd approached the ascetic with a bundle of flowers in her hand, eight of which she offered him and three kept behind with a prayer that she be his companion through his long journey right to the end. The prayer came true, she was his partner in life up to his last birth of Siddhartha as Princess Yasodhara.
When all were gone, the Bodhisatta rose from the ground and sat cross-legged right there, elated, entranced, enraptured. In the ten thousand world systems there isn’t an austere ascetic like me, neither in mastery of the five powers. All strange omens visible during previous Bodhisatta’s conferments by Samma Sambuddhas were present on this occasion too.
Amidst a myriad such miraculous occurrences and benign pronouncements of the exultant Gods and Brahmas, Bodhisatta Sumedha’s resolve was unshakeable. There is no doubting a Buddha’s word. Seated cross-legged he contemplated the celestial and human worlds, the ten directions and Parami (Perfections) required for the Great Awaking, liberality, morality, renunciation, energy, forbearance, truthfulness, resolution, loving kindness and equanimity. Parami of ultimate liberality denotes letting go in the manner of a downturned pot, of all possessions priceless, mediocre and inferior. The mass of people in the hall where Deepankara Buddha was partaking of his midday meal lay sprawled on the ground in fright. The Great Seer allayed their fears that ascetic Sumedha is examining as did all previous Bodhisattas the necessitudes of omniscience, hence the occurrence of strange phenomena, whereupon the people returned to worship Bodhisatta again. The Bodhisatta then paid obeisance to Deepankara Buddha from where he was and retreated to the great forest to perfect the Paramis.
Amidst a myriad such miraculous occurrences and benign pronouncements of the exultant Gods and Brahmas, Bodhisatta Sumedha’s resolve was unshakeable. There is no doubting a Buddha’s word
In the fathomless journey from ascetic Sumedha of Amarawathie to Prince Siddharatha of Kapilawattu there wasn’t virtually a life unlived by him or a role not played - the mystery of samsara. Yet mundane, there was no sin uncommitted or precept not violated sans the fourth, of uttering falsehoods since he was on an unfailing voyage in search of the Universal Truth. Save the blazing Niraya and the five pure abodes, there wasn’t a world he was not born in. ‘If born on a pure abode I would not have returned to the human world’ declared He. On occasions he was an adulterer and a robber chief. He was born a lion, a fox, an ape, a serpent, an oxen and as other creatures but none smaller in proportion than a snipe. At every such turn he was leader of the group.
Likewise the times he ruled districts and kingdoms and was born a Wheel Turning Monarch (Sakvithi) were countless. Consummation of the ten perfections brought forth a plethora of wonders in his final life such as the thirty two great male features, just to mention one. Yet, as explained in Pilopadana Sutta, He faced twelve hindrances even in Buddhahood by way of residue kamma.
The Sumedha narrative as enunciated by the Blessed One defines the limits of intellectual and spiritual endeavour that precede Buddhahood and as masterfully prefaced in Buddhawamsa of Kuddhaka Nikaya, is indicative of the path to elimination of human ego, lingering sorrow, life’s tedium and the last fetter.