THE BIRTH Morning had broken. The dawn the world and the heavens had for epochs waited to break upon the land, had finally come to pass. And on that Vesak full moon day over 2500 years ago, in the year 623BC, the rising sun sheds its tender early morn light to reveal the scene [...]


The Birth, the Enlightenment and Nirvana of Gautama the Buddha


THE THRICE BLESSED DAY: To rid the seed incessant death, all exulted Buddha’s advent



Morning had broken. The dawn the world and the heavens had for epochs waited to break upon the land, had finally come to pass.

And on that Vesak full moon day over 2500 years ago, in the year 623BC, the rising sun sheds its tender early morn light to reveal the scene of a royal litter emerging from the gates of Kapilavasthu, the capital of the Shakyas, in northern India.

At the centre of this royal convoy, borne upon a golden palanquin, sits the queen of the domain. She is accompanied by her sister and a host of royal attendants. With the blessings of her husband the king, she is leaving the gates of his kingdom, embarked upon a journey to her parents’ palace in Devadaha. Heavy with child, Queen Mahamaya is going home for her confinement to bear a son to her husband King Suddhodana and provide an heir to his  royal throne.

As the royal litter progresses upon its chartered path at a sedate pace so as not to jolt the expectant mother and cause any untoward happening, the Queen reflects on the extraordinary events that had occurred in the months recently past. The failure to bear a child for many years had been the subject of vicious social comments and snide court gossip. Her barrenness was taken as an omen to the terrible fate that awaited the royal kingdom and, though none dared to express it in her presence, she knew they privately ostracised her for it. Perhaps even the king, though so kind, gentle and loving, bore some ill will, secretly and unconsciously deep in his heart; and it had caused her pain to think that she was the source of his unspoken grief over her inability to conceive.

And then, just when she had resigned herself to a life of sorrow, there came the dream.

Ah, yes, how vividly she remembered that dream — the dream she had had nearly a year ago. She had dreamt that she had been carried forth by the four world deities to the tableland of the Himalayas. There the wives of the four world guardians had welcomed her and taken her to the Lake Mansarovar. In its cool, clear and refreshing waters they had bathed her and then dressed her in a robe of exquisite beauty and decked her with gold ornaments and garlanded her with sweet smelling flowers of divine scent.

Then, through the distant hazy mist that engulfed the plateau, she saw approaching her, a white silvery elephant of magnificent appearance, which walked with measured steps and noble bearing. It circled her thrice; and then, with a salutation with its raised trunk, entered her soul.

When she awoke, she had related the dream to the king who immediately summoned the royal astrologers to interpret its import. They prophesied that the queen was destined to give birth to a son who will do his father proud. “He will be,” they proclaimed, “A ruler not only of this province but of the world. An emperor whose empire will be forever.”

Even as she recalled those words now, Mahamaya experiences a sudden surge of tears break out from her eyes and cascade down her cheeks, the same surge of joyous emotion she had felt that day hearing the astrologers proclaim the greatness her son was destined to achieve. As she brushes her tears away with her hand, she also recalls how she had asked them, not in disdain but whimsically, “but will not death steal the spoils of any empire?” and how, and with what confidence, they had replied, “Nay, while death will indeed rob the accumulation of wealth and power, it is impotent in the face of the eternal. Your son, may not rule with arms which is but fleeting but conquer, with his philosophical doctrine, the souls of all mankind which is eternal.”

The queen cannot but help let a smile light her face, as she remembers how the king had not been amused to hear this part of the sages’ prophecy. The king would have none of that. Not for his son to become another wondering fakir babbling stanzas from the Upanishads when he had a kingdom to overlord, administer and to defend as any noble Kshatriyan, the warrior caste, was duty bound to do.

The king had flared. “Religion is for the Brahmins,” he had declared with scorn. “Let them use the monopoly they enjoy having sole access to God. But no son of mine is going to be a hermit, a beggar, parroting lines from the Rig Vedas in return for a measly bowl of alms. My soon to be born son is a Kshatriyan, a warrior born of noble blood, born to be king, born to rule in the self same manner of his ancestors. In the manner his caste dictates and Kshatriyan honour demands. I will see that my son will follow in the path of his ancestors”.

Little did the king know that the path of the Prince’s ancestors lay in the way twenty seven Buddhas had trod before.

Out of a sudden whim, Queen Mahamaya draws the curtains in her palanquin aside and glances out to take in the passing scene and fresh air. What beholds her eye moves her. The royal litter is passing the beautiful tranquil Lumbini Park.

The park’s serenity and its natural beauty which appears akin to the divine grove of Cittalatha, stirs in the queen a strong desire to break journey and to pause there for rest. And she orders the litter to stop and alights from her palanquin. She strolls with her sister and attendants the broad acres of the lush and verdant park; and comes across a sprawling sal tree, where she reclines under its placid soothing shade. A gentle breeze flutters, the leaves rustle and she suddenly sees a branch of the sal tree swoop to the earth until it almost touches the ground.

Drawn by some inexplicable, invisible force, she grasps the bough and is lifted by its upward return and the sudden movement causes her to experience the first pangs of imminent labour. With curtains hastily drawn around her, with one hand clutching the sal bough in direct touch with nature, the other clasping her loving sister Prajapathi’s hand, within cloistered cool and selected privacy, she gives birth to her son.

Thus was the Prince born. Amidst the windblown flow of nature. Amidst the song of birds, amidst the sounds of nature. Amidst the scene of beauty, flushed with greenery. A prince of noble royal blood, born not in the ornate and artificial confines of stately palaces but by the wayside, beneath the leafy shade of a sprawling sal tree, born in nature, alike nature’s beings on earth.


It is a full moon day in the month of Vaisakha. It is his thirty fifth birthday. Soon the evening gives way to night. He is seated under the sacred tree of wisdom, the Bodhi, the Peepal tree under which he had sat all day determined never to rise until he had gained the ultimate. The lotus is about to blossom and he sits poised in meditation on the threshold of discovery.

THE BUDDHA: The Enlightened One

The hours pass but for Siddhartha time stands still. He is absorbed with his surroundings With every breath he takes he takes in the subtle rustle of the wind, the soothing ripple of the stream, the sweet smell of the earth until nature becomes one with him. He enters the First Watch.

From the depths of his consciousness, he feels a deep stirring. The demons within him rise. They appear incarnate before his eyes, the living creatures of life’s torments. And then the storm breaks. The assault begins in earnest. From all sides the demons strike but his aura exudes a powerful shield.

Then Mara, the God of the Underworld makes his entrance in a chariot drawn by his ghouls. In sonorous voice he warns Siddhartha, “Turn back. None can threaten my kingdom built on man’s insatiable greed.” Mara unleashes his forces. The demons multiply and attack but fail to penetrate the armour of his concentration. Finally Mara retreats. And Siddhartha realises Mara was his own creation; the overlord of his consciousness. He enters the Second watch.

With Mara defeated his consort Maya rises to challenge Siddhartha. Maya of a thousand dances, Maya the great deceiver, Maya, the bewitching seductress. She takes up the gauntlet. This is her forte. She sends in the dancing girls. Mara’s demons now transform into beautiful damsels, their pouting breasts tightly clasped, the full round hips swirl in motion as they advance to break his concentration. He sees them taking shape, becoming more and more beautiful as they near. The music of the past rings in his ears. He feels their hands caressing his body, enticing him with their seductive allures but they fail to move him. His mind remains unshaken. He defeats Maya and her girls.

He now enters the state of Samadhi. He enters into another dimension. The dimension of space. Time and space converge; the past, present and future merge into a single entity. And he sees his past births flashing before his eyes. He enters the second state and sees how all life repeats the cycle of rebirth. Born only to perish and in death to be reborn again.

He enters the third state. And he dwells on the obstacles that prevent man from realising the way out of this cycle of woe. The five hindrances namely lust, anger, languor, restlessness and doubt that springs from a lack of understanding of the nature of the world. And he dwells on seven factors to realise clear vision: mindfulness, true inquiry, energy, relaxation, concentration, equanimity and joy to transcend the melancholy and gloom of the mind.

Then with joy he enters the fourth state: Higher consciousness.  He begins to meditate on the law of cause and effect and realises that whatever being or thing, if it has within the nature of arising, it also has within its own seed, the nature of its own cessation. The answer lay not in an external power but within the core of oneself.

Absorbed thus in the nature of things, his body starts to emit colours. Blue from his mind, yellow from his flesh, red from his blood and orange from his nerves and bones. There he sits under the Bodhi, rapt in meditation, in serene calmness, radiating from within a whole spectrum of colours with a giant cobra standing guard. Mara he had defeated. Maya he had vanquished but enlightenment still eludes him. One more barrier remains, the greatest obstacle of all had to be overcome.  And then there dawns perception. The final chain he has to shed is his own ignorance, his own ego. It is ignorance that lay at the core of all suffering. Ignorance, the root of all ills.

As the heavens resound with delight, as the Gods bow in reverence, and as the earth wraps in enchantment, Siddhartha attains  the supreme state of tranquility; the quintessence of bliss. He gains Enlightenment. And as twenty seven
others have done before him, he  becomes a Buddha.


NIRVANA: The finale to a samsaric journey

NIRVANANight was falling. And even as the morning star must meet its evening doom, even as all life must end in death, what was true for all beings on earth was inevitably coming true for the mortal frame of Gautama the Buddha. The house, karmic action had erected birth after birth throughout the samsaric journey, now stood poised to fall and would not be built again

And as his disciples peered into the gloom of the dying light on that full moon night of Vesak, they could scare forbear to brood in dread what luminosity now lay left to illumine the gathering dark in a world bereft of a Buddha.

They had known it was coming three months earlier when the Buddha had chosen to announce it publicly at Capala Ceitya near Vesali, though the Enlightened One had known of its approach much earlier. With his two chief disciples Venerable Sariputta and Moggalana predeceasing him as had his son Venerable Rahula and wife Yasodhara, the Buddha, now in his eightieth year, had described himself as ‘a worn out cart.’

It was time, he decided, to leave Rajagaha where he was then residing; and embark on his last journey restating what he had preached for forty five years. The final destination was not to be the great cities of Savatthi or Benares but the little known hamlet of Kusinara.

The journey is long and arduous. He reaches Vesali where he retires with his retinue to the Mango Grove of Ambapali, the beautiful courtesan.

Knowing Ambapali to be a potential Arahant, he preaches the Dhamma and edifies her on the path to enlightenment. It’s the onset of the rainy season; and the Buddha decides to spend his retreat – his forty fifth and last – in the village of Beluva in Vesali. He tells his closest disciple, ‘Come, Ananda, let us proceed to Beluva,” and they proceed thither.

But with the rains, come the pains. It comes in sharp, short shocks, pointed arrows from the illness which has taken hold. Tormented by these relentless pangs of deadly pains, and with his body wracked by the severe disease and made weak, he realises the end is fast approaching.

But there is still some work of noble note to be done before he can bid final farewell. It will not be fitting if he came to his final passing away without addressing his disciples and clearing the last vestiges of doubt they may have. And so he resolves to suppress his illness by his superhuman strength of will and resolves to maintain his life course and live on. Thus is the illness flayed and he makes an astounding recovery.

Then the Blessed One takes his bowl and proceeds to Vesali for his alms. On his return, he tells Ananda, “Come Ananda, take a mat and let us spend the day at the Capala Ceitya.” They reach the shrine of Capala and sit down. And then the Buddha tells Ananda, “Whosoever, Ananda, has brought to perfection the four constituents of psychic power could, if he so desired, remain throughout a world-period or until the end of it. The Tathagata, Ananda, has done so. Therefore the Tathagata could, if he so desired, remain throughout a world-period or until the end of it.”

But Ananda’s mind is dominated at that moment by Mara. He does not beseech the Buddha to remain for the lasting good of the world, but remains silent. The message is lost on him.

The Buddha repeats it for the second time. But Ananda remains silent. Then repeats it for the third and final time but still Ananda stays silent. The significance of the moment eludes him. The opportunity to invite the Buddha to remain on earth for an eon for the lasting good of all mankind flies.

When Ananda returns, the Buddha tells him of his decision. Ananda recalls what the Buddha had told him earlier and realises his folly of having remained silent. He now beseeches the Buddha to remain, but the Buddha cuts him short and says, “Enough, Ananda, do not entreat the Tathagata, for the time is past, for if you had done so earlier, Ananda, twice the Tathagata might have declined, but the third time he would have consented.”

He then leaves Vesali and proceeds on his journey to Kusinara, until he reaches Pava. Here he is served his last meal and then falls violently ill with dysentery. The pains come and, though extremely weak and severely ill, he determines to walk the final lap of his journey to Kusinara, six miles away.

The Buddha arrives in Kusinara and heads to the Sala Grove of the Mallas. There between twin Sala trees he lies down on the couch Ananda has prepared for him. He lies on his right side with his head to the north, with one leg resting on the other. Though in pain, he remains with perfect composure, mindful and self possessed.

Then the Tathagata states his last words” “All compounded things are subject to change and decay. Strive on with diligence,” and enters the first ecstasy. Then rising from the first, he enters the second ecstasy, then the third and fourth. Rising from the fourth ecstasy, he enters the sphere of infinite space, then infinite consciousness then nothingness, the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception. Then rising from that sphere, he attains the cessation of perception and feeling.

Then the Buddha rises from the state of cessation of perception and feeling and enters the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, then, in reverse order, enters nothingness, then infinite consciousness, infinite space, then the fourth ecstasy, the third, the second and then the first. The he rises from the first ecstasy, the second, the third and then the fourth. And finally rising from the fourth ecstasy, the Buddha immediately passes away in the third watch of the night; and attains that indescribable state of permanent bliss, the supreme state of Nirvana.

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