By Mervyn Samarakoon.
The three great wonders on earth, the great celebrations of mankind are the birth, attainment of perfection and parinirvana of the Incomparable One among men and gods, the fully enlightened Buddha.
On the days the memorable events and the collateral incidents occurred, the multitude of world systems inanimate as they are, thundered and shook in boundless acknowledgement of their profundity. The supernormal happenings associated with the first occurrence itself, birth of Prince Siddhartha, befitted the effort and sacrifice of an individual who strove for faultlessness from the era of Deepankara Buddha far too long for one to fathom, except a Buddha Himself.
From thenceforth, he roamed the habitats of the universe for million upon millions of years but never did he fall among denizens of the dark (avichi) nor in the four named ghost realms. Even when born low, never was he born as a lowly insect. As a human, never a blind man, a deaf and dumb mute, an imbecile, a woman or a hermaphrodite - Nidhanakatha. When he appeared among heavenly beings, it was never on the plane of the conscious-less (asangna) or on a pure abode (sudassa).
Eight conditions are prerequisite for a Bodhisattva to attain Buddhahood - birth as a human being, manhood, good fortune to behold the sight of a Buddha, bhikkhuhood, an abundance of wholesome qualities, a great desire to attain Buddhahood, adequate merit to reach arahanthood in that birth itself and willingness to sacrifice his life to a Buddha. A Bodhisattva is accomplished in several absolute perfections (parami). His dana paramitha never falls short of sacrificing his own life for another (Sasa Jataka). His degree of forgiveness does not reach an end when his life is robbed of him. ( Shanthivadi Jataka). Neither does his total truthfulness nor his steadfast determination (Magapakkha Jataka). He fears no one and no one him (Sāma Jataka). Save a Buddha Himself, none can surpass his absolute equanimity (Lomahansa Jataka). Being mundane, improprieties may occur, but he wouldn’t utter a falsehood even if he is done to death. Why? He is on an unfailing journey in search of truth. The times he abandoned kingdoms fell in his lap in favour of paramitha of renunciation (Nekkhamma) are countless. Development of wisdom reached its very summit. So was the enormity of his effort.
Fulfilling these perfections to the letter, he makes his final appearance in the human world as king Vessantara where he makes the ultimate sacrifice of them all - forsaking his wife and children in favour of his avowed goal. That moment the feelingless, emotionless great Earth devoid of whatever sentiments shuddered seven times. At the end of his lifespan Bodhisattva is born in Thusitha deva world, the penultimate appearance of his as god or man or any other.
The world knows of three great commotions, Kalpa, Buddha and Chakravarthi. Gods of the kamavacara deva worlds descend upon earth in horrible disguise and move about with tearful eyes, lowered heads, disheveled hair to announce the end of the world many hundred thousand years later with the drying of the oceans and the earth ending up in a ball of fire. They invoke people to extend Metta, Karuna, Muditha to others, to care for the mother and father and respect elders. It is the kalpa commotion.
The second commotion is when they make the joyful announcement of the arrival of a ‘Sarvagna’ Buddha in a thousand years. The third is the appearance of a wheel-turning monarch. On hearing the Buddha commotion heavenly beings of a hundred thousand world systems come together to remind Bodhisattva in Thusitha that time is ripe for dawn of Buddhahood among humans. He does not directly commit himself to the suggestion, but examines whether the five preconditions are present, the time, country, specific district, particular caste and life span of the intended mother.
A Buddha necessarily arises when human life is between a hundred and hundred thousand years, for a shorter period implies beings with advanced defilements, and when lives are extraordinarily long notions of old age, impermanence and death remain obscure and remote. Buddha Dhamma is beyond the grasp of both groups. The chosen land of Buddhas is India, specifically the mid district. All Buddhas, Pacceca Buddhas, chief disciples, the eighty great disciples and chakravarthi kings make their appearance is it. A Buddha is always born into a royal or Brahmin family, a rule of the world. The rule prevalent now is the former.
The prospective mother Queen Mahamaya’s lifespan was right, ten months and seven days at the extreme. A mother of a Buddha ceases to be fond of men or of intoxicants. Fulfilling perfections (parami) for ten thousand Kalpas, she abides by the five precepts forms birth.
On this particular day, Bodhisattva whilst being surrounded by heavenly beings in the spectacular Nandana garden of the Thusitha world, instantly exited from it and conceived in the womb of Queen Mahamaya. It was the celebration of Esala at Kapilawastu. The queen had bathed in perfumed water in the morning, offered a ‘maha dana’ costing a forty thousand, had had her breakfast, observed the eight precepts and entered the gaily furnished chamber where she fell asleep, as if awaiting the momentous occasion.
The unparalleled event in human history was conveyed to her in a fitting manner. She dreamt a wondrous dream where she was carried with her bed to the Himalayas by the four Guardian Gods of the world, bathed in Anothaptha lake to cleanse her of the impurities of the human world, dressed her in heavenly garb and placed on a golden bed when Bodhisattva in the form of a white elephant perambulated her thrice and entered her body from the right side on ‘Uturusal Nekatha’. Instantly, the universe erupted in uncontrollable spasms of joy and a brilliant radiance spread across the entire cosmos. The deaf began to hear and the blind could see. The dumb spoke and cripples walked. Fires in the hells died out. Constant hunger of the ghost worlds disappeared, so did the animals’ ever present fear. The sick were cured; people spoke kind words to each other. Elephants trumpeted and horses neighed in melodious harmony. Mild winds swept across the earth, rains fell out of season. Birds stopped flying and the rivers flowing. Blossoms sprang from the four corners of the earth. Heavenly music was heard in the skies and sweet fragrance of flowers drifted over entire galaxies thirty two such mystical happenings in all. (Apadanattakatha).
From the moment of conception the mother is protected by four ‘devaputtas’. Her tiredness disappeared. The womb in which a Bodhisattva lives is likened to a chetiya. No other being can conceive in it, so seven days from his birth the mother necessarily passes away to appear in the Thusitha world. Women deliver children seated or while reclining in less or more than ten months of gestation, not so the mother of a Bodhisattva who always delivers the child while standing, again a norm of the world. Instantly four Maha Brahmas receive the newborn on to a golden mesh and announce a son of great omnipotence in born to the queen. The newborn isn’t smeared in excreta and other impurities but rather bears the appearance of an erudite preacher descending from his hallowed seat of preaching.
He was handed to the four Guardian Gods of the world by the Maha Brahmas who is turn placed him in the hands of the people present. He stepped down from their hands and took seven steps in the northern direction in the midst of unprecedented celebrations amongst gods in the heavens and humans on Earth, to pronounce as do all Buddhas-to-be the immortal stanza ‘Aggo Hamasmi.........’ proclaiming unsurpassed eminence and uniqueness in the world as well as banishment of renewed existence for all time. It wasn’t the first occasion Bodhisattva spoke at birth, he did so twice before as Mahoshada Panditha and as Vessantara - miracles of all time.
On the same day several other phenomena occurred, the births of Rahula’s queen mother, ministers Channa and Kaludai, Kanthaka the regal horse later devaputta, Bodhi tree and the appearance of four stupendous treasures beneath the earth’s surface. Bodhisattva thus born in Lumbini sal grove was taken back to Kapilavattu in great procession. A marvelous incident here gives an inkling of the state of mental and spiritual development of certain beings when a Samma Sambuddha , makes His appearance on earth.
Kaladevala aka Asitha the ascetic, a close associate of King Suddhodana was the possessor of eight absorptions of find material and immaterial spheres (Ashta Samapaththi). This particular day he was spending his mid-day siesta in the Thavathimsa deva world, a customary practice of his, when he observed the heavenly inhabitants engaged in joyous celebrations on a hitherto unknown scale. On inquiry, the gods told him of the birth of a son to king Suddhodana, of impending Buddhahood under the bo tree, setting in motion the Wheel of the Law (dhammachakka) and their absolute good fortune to witness His astounding glory and to hear His sublime Dhamma.
Instantly the ascetic descended on the king’s palace and when the king attempted to make Bodhisattva in his arms worship him, miraculously his feet came to rest on his turban, whereupon the mighty ascetic worshiped the child Bodhisattva. The king followed suit. Asitha had the capacity to see forty Kalpas into the past and forty Kalpas beyond and saw that the child was definitely destined for Buddhahood. Peering into his own life, he began to shed tears as he saw he would not live to see the amazing event, neither would he see another hundred or thousand Buddhas of the future since he would be gaining upon death, a formless existence (Arupa Bhava) of incomprehensible duration. On considering his relatives he visualized his nephew Nalaka of sufficient merit to meet and to benefit from a Samma Sambuddha. He went upto him, made him abandon an inheritance of eight hundred and seventy million and ordained him then and there with instructions to seek out the Buddha after thirty five years. He did exactly as was told, lived a solitary life in the Himalayas for thirty five years, learned from the Blessed One on the very first meeting itself, the rigorous ‘moneiya’ discipline of spending not more than one night in a single place, a samsaric aspiration of his. He passed into parinirvana after a brief seven months of Arahanthood. The singularly exceptional Bhikkhu earned the sacred honour of becoming the first disciple in the name of our Gautama Buddha.
Glad tidings the visitors from the heavens brought many centuries ago did indeed come true.