Quang Duc Homepage


Lord Buddha

...... ... .

A Young People's
Life of the Buddha

Bhikkhu Silacara



Chapter I


In times long past, fully twenty-five hundred years ago, where are now the border-lands between Nepal and the northern parts of the provinces of Oudh and North Bihar, there were a number of little kingdoms inhabited by different races of people, each ruled over by its own Raja or King. One of these little kingdoms which lay some distance north of the present-day town of Gorakhpore, on the north side of the river Rapti, was the land of a race called the Sakyas, the king who ruled over them at that time being called Suddhodana. The family to which King Suddhodana of the Sakyas belonged was called the Gotama family, so that his full name was King Suddhodana Gotama; and the name of the chief city in his kingdom where he had his chief palace, was Kapilavatthu.

This King Suddhodana had a chief queen whose name was Mahamaya. And after they had lived together for some time in married happiness, the Queen became aware that the day was drawing near when she should bring forth a child. So, before time came upon her, she asked her husband to give her leave to go and pay a visit to her own people who belonged to a city not very far away called Devadaha. King Suddhodana very willingly granted his chief Queen her wish, and sent out his men with orders to prepare the way for her, and do everything needed to make the journey to her father's house a pleasant and comfortable one for her.

Now half way between Kapilavatthu and the town of Devadaha there was a very fine forest garden called Lumbini where the people of both places used to go in the hot weather to enjoy the cool shade of the great Sal trees of which there were many in the grove. Here in the month of May, these great trees were covered from top to bottom with lovely blossoms. In among their long branches flew many kinds of birds singing their sweetest songs so that the whole air was full of the sound of their warbling. And over and through the myriads of flowers, swarms of bees went cheerfully humming, busily gathering honey on every hand.

When, as her bearers carried her along the road to Devadaha in her royal litter, Queen Mahamaya came to this pleasant place, she thought she would like to rest there a while in the cool shade for it was a hot day, and so she told her bearers to carry her in among the trees. But she had not been there long, walking about and enjoying the pleasing sights and sounds all round her, when suddenly and unexpectedly the pangs of child-birth came upon her, and in a little while, there in the Lumbini Grove, under the Sal trees, among the birds and bees and flowers, she brought forth a son.

The place where this Lumbini Grove stood at that far off time can still be seen to-day. For a great king called Asoka, who ruled over a large part of India about three or four hundred years after King Suddhodana's time, caused a tall pillar to be set up in the forest-garden where thus was born the son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya of Kapilavatthu, in order to mark the place; and on it he had a writing carved in deep-cut letters which can still be read, saying that he had put it there in order that men in the future should know where the great event had taken place. And although in the course of the two thousand and more years that have passed since King Asoka set up this pillar, the upper half of it has been broken off, and the half that is left leans all on one side, it still stands to this day in the place where King Asoka put it with his inscription on it for any one to see. And many people go to see it every day.

Now on the hills outside Kapilavatthu there lived many hermits; and among them there was one old hermit whom every one in Kapilavatthu admired and esteemed for his goodness, King Suddhodana himself being especially fond of him and showing his esteem and affection for him in many ways. This old hermit, when he heard that his great friend the King now had a little son, came down to the King's palace in the city to see the babe; and when he had come, the King asked him to give the babe his blessing, and, as he made his request, he held the infant out toward the hermit in a posture of doing homage to the old man. But the hermit said:

"Nay, Maharaja, it is not your son who should bow his head to me, but I who ought to bow my head before your son. For I see well that he is no ordinary child. I see well that as he grows up to manhood's years he will become a very great religious teacher. Yes, I believe he will become the greatest religious teacher the world has yet seen."

Having said this, the old man sat silent for a little while smiling to himself with a pleased and happy look. Then his eyes slowly filled with tears and he began to weep, the tears trickling down his cheeks.

"Why!" said the King in great bewilderment and some alarm, "What is the matter with you? Just a moment ago you were smiling and now you are weeping. Is anything wrong? Do you foresee some evil thing that is going to happen to my boy?"

"No, no, Maharaja," said the hermit, "do not be alarmed. No evil thing will ever come near your son. All-prosperous shall be his name, and all-prosperous he will be."

"Then why do you weep?" asked the King.

"I weep," said the hermit, "to think that I am now so old I must soon pass away, and I shall not live to see your son become the great teacher I know he one day will be. You Maharaja, will live to see that great and happy day, and so will many another person now alive, but I shall not live to see it. That, Maharaja, is why I cannot help weeping."

With these words the old man rose from his seat, and putting his two hands together, palm to palm, be bowed down before the little infant.

King Suddhodana was very much astonished at all the hermit had said and to see him bowing down his old grey head before the little baby; but he thought so much of him that he felt that he himself must do the same as the hermit had done, so he too bowed down and with folded hands, did obeisance to his own baby son.

Now in India in those days, it was the custom when a boy-baby was born, to gather together the wise men, and on the fifth day after the boy's birth, to bathe his head and give him the name that had been chosen for him by the wise men. And this was done with King Suddhodana's son also. The name the wise men chose for him was Siddhattha, a word which means all-prosperous or all-successful, one who will prosper or succeed in everything he sets out to do. For they said they could see that this boy was not going to be like any ordinary boy. They said they could see that if he followed the ordinary life of the world and in due time became king like his father before him, then he would become a very great king indeed. But, they said, if he did not follow his father on the throne of his country but instead turned to follow the religious life, then he would become a very great religious teacher. One of the wise men, however, spoke a little differently from the others. He said that he, for his part, was quite sure that when the boy grew up he would be certain not to follow the worldly life and take his father's place, but would leave throne and kingdom and everything behind him, and following the religious life, become the very greatest religious teacher in the world. This particular wise man thus said the very same thing that the old hermit had said about the boy's future.

The king, of course, was very much pleased that so many people, and these the wisest and most learned in his kingdom, should think that his little son was going to grow up to be a very great man. But he was not so highly pleased at the thought that he might not follow him upon the throne, but only become a great hermit. He wanted his son to grow up living the ordinary life of the world that every body lives; he wanted him to marry and get children; and when he himself was too old to govern the kingdom any longer he wanted to see his son mount the throne after him and rule the people as he had done, wisely and well. "And then, after a time," he thought to himself, "who knows? Perhaps my son may, become as great a king as any that have ever been, and rule, not only over little Kapilavatthu, but over the whole of India!" Thus did King Suddhodana consider within himself; and the bare thought of such a thing happening to a son of his filled him with the greatest delight; and he resolved to do all in his power to make sure that Siddhattha should live the ordinary worldly life and never think about anything else.

But in the meantime he had cause to be anxious about something else. Ever since she had given birth to Siddhattha, Queen Mahamaya had been ill. She had never recovered her former strength. She received all the best care that a queen could get, all the best doctors, all the most skilled attendants and nurses, but in spite of everything she died just two days after the day on which her baby had been given his name, and seven days after she had brought him into the world. Every one, especially her husband the king, grieved very much at her death, for she had been a good woman and a good queen beyond most women and queens. So now the sorrowful king had to give his motherless baby into the care of his mother's sister, Princess Mahapajapati, and she took care of him now and brought him up just as if he had been her own son. Thus the little boy Siddhattha never knew his own real mother.

* * *

Chapter II


The old hermit and the wise men who gathered together on Siddhattha's name-giving day had agreed in saying that King Suddhodana's son was no ordinary boy, and their words were very soon proved true. After being brought up under the kind care of his aunt Mahapajapati who nursed and attended to her dead sister's child as if he had been her own, until he reached the age of eight years, teachers then were got for the young prince in order that he might learn reading and writing and arithmetic. Under these teachers' instructions he quickly learned all each had to teach in his own subject. Indeed, he learned so quickly and well that every one was astonished, his teachers and his father and foster-mother as well, at the rapid progress he made. For no matter what subject he was being taught, as soon as he was told anything, at once his mind took hold of what he was told and he never again forgot it, in this way showing himself particularly apt at arithmetic. Thus it was easily seen by all that as regarded the power of his mind he was well endowed, indeed, very much beyond the common. Yet with all his so superior ability in learning, and the high position he held in the country as the heir to the throne, he never failed to show to his teachers that respect which a pupil always should show, seeing that it is through them they gain. The prince was always gentle and dignified in his usual bearing towards every one about him, and towards his teachers in particular, ever modest and deferent and respectful.

In bodily attainments also, he was no less well endowed than he was in mind and character. Notwithstanding the gentleness of his manners, notwithstanding that he was a gentle man in the very best sense of the words, he was bold and fearless in the practice of all the manly sports of his country. He was a cool and daring horseman and an able and skillful chariot-driver in this latter sport winning many chariot races against the best drivers in the country. Yet for all his keenness in trying to win a race, he was kind and compassionate towards the horses who helped him to win so often, and frequently would let a race be lost rather than urge his weary, panting horses beyond their strength. And not only towards his horses but towards all creatures he seemed to have a heart full of tenderness and compassion. He was a king's son and had never himself had to suffer hardship or distress, yet in his kind heart he seemed to know by sympathy how others felt when they were afflicted or in pain, whether these others were men or animals; and when he was quite to others as far as he could {sic}, and where it was possible, tried to relieve any suffering they already were enduring.

Thus, once when he was out walking in the country with his cousin Devadatta who had his bow and arrows with him, Devadatta shot a swan that was flying over their head. His arrow hit the swan and it fluttered down, painfully wounded, to the ground. Both boys ran forward to pick it up, but Siddhattha reached it first and holding it gently, he pulled the arrow out of its wing, put some cool leaves on the wound to stop it from bleeding, and with his soft hand stroked and soothed the hurt and frightened bird. But Devadatta was very much annoyed to see his cousin take the swan from him in this way, and he called to Siddhattha to give the swan to him because he had brought it down with his arrow. Siddhattha, however, refused to give it to him, saying that if the bird had been killed, then it would have been his; but as it was alive and not dead, it belonged to the one who actually secured possession of it, and so he meant to keep it. But still Devadatta maintained that it should belong to him because it was his arrow that had brought it down to the ground.

So Siddhattha proposed and Devadatta agreed that their dispute should be sent for settlement to a full council of the wise men of the country. The council, accordingly, was called and the question put before them; and some in the council argued one way and some the other; some said the bird should be Devadatta's, and others said that Siddhattha was quite right to keep it. But at last one man in the council whom nobody had ever seen before rose and said: "A life certainly must belong to him who tries to save it; a life cannot belong to one who is only trying to destroy it. The wounded bird by right belongs to the one who saved its life. Let the swan be given to Siddhattha." All the others in the council agreed with these wise words, and Prince Siddhattha was allowed to keep the swan whose life he thus had saved. And he cared for it tenderly until it was quite cured of its wound; then he set it free and let it fly back once more well and happy to its mates on the forest-lake.

* * *


Chapter III


In those days in India everybody knew that everything man needs for his life comes out of the ground, and that, therefore, the man who cultivates the ground and makes it bring forth food without which men cannot live at all, is the man who does the most useful and necessary work in any nation. So, once a year it was the custom in those days for the king of the country himself, along with his ministers, to go out to the fields and with his own royal hands, plow a field, and so set an example to all his people not to be ashamed of honest, honorable labor.

And one day in the spring, at the beginning of the plowing season, King Suddhodana went out from Kapilavatthu in full regal state, to carry through this yearly observance of the "Royal Plowing," as it was called. And all the people of the city went out after him, for this was their great annual holiday festival, in order to see their King plowing and to share in the feasting and merry-making that always followed. And the King took his young son with him out to the fields, and leaving him in the care of some attendants, he went to the plowing place and taking hold of the shafts of his own plow which was all decorated with gold, he plowed up and down the fallow field, followed by his ministers with their plows and oxen ornamented with silver, the ordinary farmers coming last with their common plows and yokes of oxen, all of them turning over the rich, fat, brown soil so that it might be made ready for the seed.

After a time, when the feasting began, Prince Suddhodana's attendants went off to share in it; and by and by all of them had gone away, quite forgetting the young prince, and leaving him alone by himself. Then, seeing himself thus left alone, the prince felt rather pleased, for already he was a thoughtful boy, and he wanted to get a chance to think quietly about what he had seen on this day of feasting and rejoicing, so he wandered away quietly by himself till he came to a nice, shady apple tree, and there he sat down and began to turn everything over in his mind.

First, so his thoughts ran, there was his father the king and all his ministers and the cultivators after them, plowing the