Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 10:39 PM
Just as the teaching of Buddhism is a development of Upanisadic philosophy, so the mythology which grew up about Buddhism drew upon the traditions of the land in which the doctrine was first taught. It sought both to prove the historic Buddha's divine origin and to set him in the pattern of previous incarnations familiar to Indian believers and interesting enough to compete with the existing pantheon. As we have seen, Buddhism in turn provoked in early Hinduism a clarification of doctrine and elements of the mythology.
Buddha's Previous Lives
Many stories of Buddha's previous lives are related in the collection of stories called the Jatakas, which show how he gradually acquired greater strength and moral stature as his soul passed from one incarnation to the other.
We first see him as the young Brahmin Megha, who while visiting the city of Dipavati spoke to a young girl carrying seven lotus flowers. He asked her what they were for and she replied that she wished to honour with them Lord Dipankara; that she had bought five of them for five hundred coins and was given the other two by a friend. Megha was interested in her description of Dipankara for he too wished to attain enlightenment, and offered her five hundred coins for the five lotus blooms. She accepted them only on condition that he would marry her. After seeing the glory of Dipankara, the Buddha of the age before ours, and hearing his sermons, Megha was strengthened in his resolve one day himself to become a Bodhisattva. His calling had been predicted by Lord Dipankara.
In order to commemorate his self-sacrifice, the god squeezed a mountain and, drawing forth its juice, painted an image of a hare on the moon. In another life Bodhisattva was Chadanta, a white elephant with six tusks who had two wives. One of the wives, who was jealous of the other, prayed to be reborn as a human princess.
When she was grown up she was married to the King of Benares, and asked him to call together all the huntsmen of his kingdom. When he had done so she instructed them to hunt down an elephant with six tusks and bring her back the tusks. One of the huntsmen, Sonuttara, captured Chadanta in a pit and wounded him with arrows. Chadanta asked the huntsman why he wanted to kill him and was told about the Queen of Ben-arcs. Now he understood the meaning of his fate and submitted to it.
He helped Sonuttara to climb up to the root of his tusks, hut the huntsman found that they were too hard to cut. So Chadanta took the saw in his trunk and himself cut off the tusks. He then collapsed in a pool of his own blood and died. On hearing the story the queen also died.
Bodhisattva in one of his many in-carnations as a priest was a member of the household of King Yasapani of &flares. He aroused the enmity of the corrupt Kalaka, for he had given a fair judgment on a case where Kalaka had given unfair judgment. Kalaka aroused the fears of the king at Bodhisattva's popularity, and suggested that he should ask him to do some-thing impossible -and then put him to death for not doing it. Yasapani therefore asked Bodhisattva to construct a pleasure garden in a single day.
That night as Bodhisattva lay awake wondering what to do, Sakra appeared before him and assured him that the garden would be ready by the morning. Next day Sakra's promise was seen to be fulfilled, and so it was with the subsequent tests which the alarmed Yasapani set. Sakra created in turn a lake containing the seven precious stones, a palace to go with the lake, and a jewel to match the splendour of the palace. Finally Yasapani was convinced' of Bodhisattva's divine support and adopted him as his friend. Kalaka was put to death.
In another life Bodhisattva was the son of a rich king, Maharatha, and was called Mahasattva. One day he and his two brothers were walking in the forest and came across a tigress with her cubs. The tigress was emaciated and too weak to stand up. At last Mahasattva began to reflect on the futility of physical existence and determined to sacrifice his own life so as to feed the tigress. He lay down before her, declaring that he wished to obtain release and enlightenment for the benefit of the world. But the tigress was too weak to kill him; so Mahasattva slit his throat, and the tigress, seeing the blood, began to eat.
Similarly, in one of his lives as an ascetic, he sacrificed his own life, this time in order to preach the virtue of patience. One day a king who had been an enemy of Bodhisattva in previous lives came to disport himself with his wives in the forest where the hermit lived. His wives, bored when the king fell asleep, wandered into Bodhisattva's hermitage, where many came to hear his words, including the gods. They too were entranced with his teaching, and hardly heard the king when he entered the hermitage looking for them. The king began to storm against them and the hermit, but Bodhisattva advised him to be patient. The king retorted that he would teach the hermit to practise what he preached, and drew his sword. Bodhisattva was cut to pieces, enduring his pain without complaint.
Mahamaya, the wife of King Suddho-dana of Kapilavastu, dreamt one night of a white elephant entering her womb. She became pregnant and her womb became transparent like a crystal casket. She felt an urge to with-draw for meditation to the forest and there, while beneath a Sal tree, she gave birth from her side. The child was born in full awareness and looking like the young sun; he leapt on to the ground, and where he touched it there sprang up a lotus. He looked to the four cardinal points, to the four half points, above and below, and saw deities and mortals acknowledging his superiority. He made seven steps northwards, a lotus appearing at each footfall. His birth was greeted by Asita, a sage from the Himalayas, who likened him to Skanda, son of Agni. Astrologers made the prediction that either he would be a great emperor or he would renounce life and become a Buddha. He was named Siddhartha at a great ceremony at-tended by eighty thousand relatives and one hundred and eight Brahmins, and was given a hundred godmothers. Mahamaya, filled with joy, died two days after his birth. Her sister Praia-pati, another of Suddhodana's wives, took charge of the infant.
Siddhartha was carefully educated for what his father hoped would be his destiny as a great king. He was a proficient pupil, but not interested in military exercises. His childhood companions were his cousin Devadatta and his half-brother Ananda. Ananda became his great friend but Devadatta was a rival, for the two boys were of opposed natures. Devadatta never forgave Siddhartha for once nursing back to health a bird which he had shot for pleasure nor for gaining the approval of the Elders for his action.
All through his childhood, Suddho-dana took care to protect his son from exposure to the outside world for, remembering the astrologers' prediction at the child's birth, he wished above all to prevent him from renouncing life. He built him three palaces, barring them to the outside world and its cares.
When Siddhartha came of age the bride chosen for him was Yasodhara, daughter of Dandapani. But Dandapani insisted that he show military competence before he would grant his daughter's hand, and so Siddhartha had to compete in a tournament against Devadatta and Sundarnand. But the first event of the day was no part of the formal tournament. Devadatta, on his arrival in the arena, killed a white elephant. The next arrival was Sundarnand who, discovering who had killed the elephant, threw it outside the city gate. Siddhartha than arrived, lifted the elephant with his toe and threw it two miles, over seven walls and seven moats. The tournament, composed of physical and intellectual tests, now began. Siddhartha won in the horse race, the chariot race, in music, recitation, mathematics and elocution. He and Devadatta tied in archery, then in wrestling; at last, in the fencing test, Devadatta won. He expected to be declared winner of the tournament on the basis of this, and so was doubly chagrined when Yasodhara passed him over and gave the garland to Siddhartha, for Yasodhara was his wife in previous lives and had promised to be his wife in all.
According to another version, five hundred princesses were assembled so that Siddhartha could make a choice of bride. His father gave him jewels to distribute among them according to his preferences. Siddhartha gave each one a jewel, and just as he had given out the last one, Yasodhara arrived. Having no more jewels, Siddhartha gave her his signet ring, and this was a sign of their betrothal.
Siddhartha and his young bride led an idyllic life, despite the fact that Suddhodana, becoming more fearful as the years went past that somehow his son would get to know of sickness and death, had confined him to the upper floors of the palace. Suddho-dana made sure that they were ever filled with charming and voluptuous women so that Siddhartha could fully indulge all the pleasures of the senses. The Bodhisattva thus led a life of thoughtless pleasure and never dreamt of the outside world, for a necessary preliminary to enlightenment is full knowledge of the senses.
The Four Signs
Before long, however, the devas decided that it was time for the Bodhisattva to begin his life's work, and so they filled the universe with the thought that it was time to go forth. Siddhartha became conscious of a wish to leave the palace and to see the city and persuaded his father to allow him to go forth accompanied by a charioteer, Chandaka. Suddho-dana took elaborate precautions: he had the streets cleaned and decorated and issued orders that no old or sick men should be allowed near the route to be followed. But the devas had other plans. On Siddhartha's first outing one of them took the form of a feeble broken-down old man and stood by the wayside. Siddhartha was astonished when he saw this figure, for no one had even spoken to him of old age, and he was more surprised when Chandaka, at his insistence, explained that all people were subject to aging.
Siddhartha took three more chariot rides into the city, and on each occasion one of the gods stood by the route to teach him the true nature of life lessons to which his previous ignorance made him especially receptive. Thus he saw in turn a helpless sick man, a dead man being carried on a bier, and a monk, calm and self-controlled. The prince came to learn that all that is born must die; that sickness comes to all; that he himself would one day die; and that renunciation was the path to peace of mind and honour and to salvation both for the man who withdraws from the world and for others. These revelations confirmed Siddhartha in his half-felt instincts, and he formed the idea that he too would withdraw from the grief of the world. Soon after this, Yasodhara gave birth to a son, Rahula. Each Buddha has to have a son before renouncing the world, and so the birth of Rahula was a sign to Siddhartha that the moment had come for departure. He in-formed his father of his intention, but Suddhodana was horrified and locked him up in the palace. He lavished everything on his son, increasing the comfort and gaiety of his life.
But this did nothing to weaken Siddhartha's resolution. On the night that he decided to make his escape there was revelry in the palace; the devas caused all the company to drink too much, and then to fall asleep suddenly in the midst of their pleasures. Siddhartha alone was awake. He saw with disgust the mass of men and women, lying in immodest postures, their mouths hanging open and their clothes in disarray. He went to the apartments of Yasodhara, and looked for a while on his sleeping wife and son. Then he departed.
The Search for Enlightenment
The devas aided Siddhartha in his firm resolve. As he approached the heavy gates of the palace their locks swung open; the devas lulled the guards to sleep, and they softened the footfalls of Siddhartha's horse, Kan-taka. So he escaped from his father's vigilance, accompanied only by Chandaka. Shortly they reached the River Anoma ('illustrious'), and here Siddhartha instructed Chandaka to return to the palace. He divested him-self of all his jewels, the symbols of his princely estate, cut off his long black hair, and gave them to the faithful charioteer, telling him to take back to Kapilavastu the message that either Siddhartha would extinguish old age and death and would return soon to Kapilavastu, or, lacking the strength, he would go to perdition and never be seen again. Chandaka, tears in his eyes, kissed his master's feet and then Kantaka licked them. Then, leading the horse, the charioteer returned unwillingly to the cap-ital. But before he had gone many paces the faithful horse died. When he returned with Siddhartha's message there was great lamentation in Kapilavastu; but Yasodhara, faithful to her husband, cut off her hair and became a nun.
As Siddhartha continued on his journey in search of truth the devas once more intervened. One appeared before him as a hunter, and ex-changed clothes with him; the other appeared as a barber and shaved his head, so that Siddhartha now looked like a simple monk. After a few days he joined the three hundred pupils of Arara Kalama, a great sage, at Vaisali. He completed his studies with Kalama but still was not satisfied. He then attended the philosophy classes of Rudraka, but this was no better, and Siddhartha decided that know-ledge cannot bring enlightenment. He and five other students left Rudraka and began to practise austerities. They continued, under Siddhartha's leadership, for some time and with such ardour that they were all reduced practically to skeletons. But once more Siddhartha was disappointed, and decided that asceticism was no more the path to enlightenment than knowledge, for it so weak-ens the body that the physical shell encumbers the spirit. Siddhartha abandoned his five disciples, much to their scorn, and went to bathe in a river. There, in his weakness, he nearly drowned, but was saved by a deva living in a tree, who stretched out his jewelled arm to save him.
Then Siddhartha sought his first meal. The dish from which he ate was seized by a Naga and taken to the nether regions, but was afterwards snatched tip to heaven by Sakra (Indra), taking the form of Garuda.
Siddhartha then spent seven fruitless years in search of enlightenment. Almost daily Suddhodana sent messengers to him imploring him to re-turn, but Siddhartha steadfastly refused to come home until he had found enlightenment.
Despite his refusals to go back to his home Siddhartha began to wonder whether after all enlightenment was attainable, or whether he had under-gone seven years of privation for nothing. He was 35 years old. At length he passed through the country of Magadha, and decided that he would stake all in a last attempt. Near the town of Uruvela he seated himself in a lotus posture beneath a pipal tree born on the same day as himself, determined not to rise until he had achieved enlightenment.
As he settled himself for the great spiritual discovery the gods rejoiced in heaven and birds soared overhead in joyful anticipation. But the evil spirits were troubled, and their chief, Mara, attempted to distract him. First he informed him that his rival Devadatta had usurped the throne; but Siddhartha was unmoved. Then he raised a great storm which assailed the Bodhisattva with showers of rain, javelins, swords, arrows, rocks, hillocks and burning charcoal; but Siddhartha took no notice. Lastly he sent his three daughters, Discontent, De-light and Thirst, to seduce him; but the Bodhisattva addressed them and they were converted by his words. These temptations continued throughout the night, but Siddhartha resisted them all.
After four times seven days of fasting and deep meditation he obtained enlightenment, and became the Buddha. As he rose from his seat under the Bodhi tree (the tree of enlightenment), he declared that Mara was overcome, that all evil was destroyed and that he, Buddha, was the lord of the three worlds.
Buddha now had to make the choice between preaching the truth to all the world and seeking only his own salvation. Brahma appeared before him and asked him to do the former; Mara, having failed to prevent Buddha's own enlightenment, now urged the latter course. But Buddha decided to remain and teach. Two merchants, with whom he had his first meal after enlightenment, became his first disciples. Then Buddha decided to seek out his old teachers. Trying to cross the Ganges, he had no money to pay the ferryman, who refused to take him over for the price of 'rowing him across the ocean of life'. So Buddha took flight and soared over the river.
He found his teachers dead, but his five disciples still deep in their asceticism in the Deer Park at Sarnath near Benares. As they saw him approaching they resolved not to rise and greet him, because he had abandoned his vows; but despite them-selves they got up and showed him reverence. But they did not yet call him Buddha, and laughed when he explained to them that they should show him the proper respect. Nevertheless he had the patience to teach them the Four Holy Truths and the Holy Eightfold Path, the product of his enlightenment. Though the teaching of the Law (Dharma) came to Buddha by sudden revelation, we can see how it is the product of the experience of all his lives as a Bodhisattva. The Four Holy Truths are that birth, age, sickness and death are sorrow, and so is the clinging to earthly things; that the chain of reincarnation is. the direct result of attachment to life and of desire; that the extinction of desire is essential for the attainment of detachment; and that the only way to extinguish desire is to follow the Eightfold Path. The Path consists of right belief (freedom from illusion, maya); right intention; right word truth and openness; right conduct, peaceful and pure; right living, causing no injury; right effort to-wards self-control; right thinking applying the mind to religious experience; and right meditation on all the mysteries of life.
Buddha's exposition of the Dharma in the Deer Park is referred to as the first turning of the Wheel of the Law. The Buddha revealed by this doctrine is clearly very different from that portrayed as the ninth avatar of Vishnu, for his teaching is that neither asceticism nor indulgence is the path to enlightenment. But this part of Buddha's life hardly belongs to mythology; it is, however, the core round which the specifically Buddhist mythology was constructed.
Buddha's five disciples were joy-fully converted, and after them many others. Buddha exhibited his miraculous powers as an aid to conversion. Among his converts were five hundred robbers, reclaimed in a mass conversion, who all became mendicants; thousands of people at Sravasti, who watched him walking on air and emitting light from his body; others before whom he multiplied his body; and King Bimbisara and his retinue of 'twelve myriads of men'.
At last, at the invitation of his son Rahula, Buddha went back as promised to his home at Kapilavastu. At first his return seemed hardly the triumph that Suddhodana had expected. Before seeing his family Buddha went begging for food in the streets of Kapilavastu; his father was horrified that his son should thus bring disgrace on his family. Buddha explained that he was no longer of the race of kings, but of the race of those who beg for their food; and that a man's station in life should depend on him and not upon his birth. He then preached the Dharma to his father and converted him. Next he went to seek his wife, who alone of the family had not greeted him. As soon as they were reunited she fell down and worshipped him and, upon her conversion, resolved together with Siddhartha's foster-mother Prajapati to found an order of nuns.
Two more important conversions were to follow. The first was of Ananda, to whom Buddha spoke on the eve of his wedding. The wedding, however, never took place; for Buddha, giving him a begging bowl, convinced Ananda that the greatest festival is the life of a monk who has attained Nirvana. Ananda, granted a vision of heaven and goddesses, was now to become Buddha's most faithful follower. The other conversion was of his own son Rahula, who came to his father asking for his patrimony and through Buddha's teaching was given an everlasting spiritual inheritance and became a monk. Fin-ally Buddha ascended to the Heaven of the Thirty-three Divinities to convert his mother. He remained there for three months and accepted alms from the gods, who gained spiritual calm from his presence. On his return he was accompanied by Sakra (Indra) and the other gods and by a host of Brahmins, and was greeted on earth by all its kings, who bowed low to receive him.
The Opposition to Buddha
The great success of Buddha's teaching created enemies for him and these were led by Devadatta, his rival from childhood. Devadatta's hatred of Buddha had steadily grown and now he sought to destroy him and his movement. His first tactic was to engineer a schism among Buddha's followers. Having weakened the movement from within, Devadatta removed one of its most powerful supporters, Ajasat, the son of King Bimbisara, Buddha's patron. He made an alliance with the king, and after gaining his confidence incited Ajasat to murder his own father. Next he planned an attack on Buddha himself. Enlisting the help of thirty-one of Ajasat's servants, he instructed one of them to murder Buddha. Then he arranged that another two would murder the first; another four would murder these two, a further eight would murder the previous four, and sixteen would murder the eight. Then he intended to murder the sixteen.
But the plan came to nothing, for as soon as Ajasat's servants heard Buddha preaching they became firm converts. Devadatta made a second attempt on Buddha's life; he had a great boulder rolled down a mountainside in the hope that it would crush Buddha; but before it reached him it split in two and fell to either side. The third plan was to set a drunken elephant, Malagiri, to crush Buddha as he was begging for alms. The people all around were terrified and fled; only Ananda, despite his fear, remained, admiring Buddha who advanced calmly, quite unmoved. As the elephant came nearer, Buddha's spiritual power overcame its spirit; the creature faltered, and finally came to Buddha and laid its head on the ground before him. Following this incident all Devadatta's followers were converted and he, in despair, fell ill. When he recovered from his illness it was generally believed that he had repented. He went to visit Buddha in his monastery; but his true motives were revealed as he approached the gate, for flames shot out of the earth and consumed him.
The Desire for Death
Buddha's ministry continued for forty-five years, and one day Mara, the Evil One himself, approached him, again attempting to persuade him to accept Nirvana for himself and to forget about helping others to attain it through his preaching. To Mara's surprise, for Buddhas have the power to live to the end of the aeon, Buddha replied that he would live for only three months more. As he spoke the earth trembled and Indra's thunderbolts flashed. Ananda came to him and asked why the universe was moved and filled with portents, and Buddha explained that he had given up his desire to live. He then adopted a position of yogic concentration and shook off the life remaining to him; thereafter his psychic power alone sustained him in a state where he was free from the bonds of Becoming.
As Buddha's soul entered into Nirvana the earth trembled and was shrouded in darkness, while the heavens were lit up with a strange light and crossed by flashing thunderbolts. High winds swept over the earth and the rivers seemed to boil.
The lesser spirits Nagas, yakshas and Gandharvas bowed in grief, but the higher gods who understood the meaning of these portents rejoiced. The body lay in state for six days and on the seventh was placed on a great funeral pile. There was great difficulty in igniting the pyre, but when the moment had come, divinely ordained, the fire lit of its own accord. When the fire had done its work Buddha's remains were seen, looking like a heap of pearls. They were divided into eight parts and taken reverently by eight princes into kingdoms near and far.
Buddhist Cosmology and the Buddhist Pantheon
Buddhism, with its strictly philosophical nature, was to the ordinary mind a distant and lofty creed. As time went by some of the age-old beliefs crept in and mingled with the new. Popular Buddhism is a strange mixture of Mahayana and the Hindu pantheon and cosmology.
The Buddhist universe is called Chakravala and there are three planes: above, around and below Mount Meru. The lower plane contains one hundred and thirty-six hells, each reserved for a particular type of sinner. Revilers of Buddha and the Law are sent to Avici, the lowest. Souls arc reborn into the world after a period in one of these hells. These periods last at least five hundred hell years, each day of which equals fifty years on earth. The plane around Mount Meru contains the worlds of animals, ghosts (Pretas beings consumed with hunger and thirst), demons and men.
Around the peak of Mount Meru is the Heaven of the Four Great Kings: Dhritarashtra, guardian of the East; Virupaksha, guardian of the South; Virupaksha, guardian of the West; and Kubera, or Vaisravana, guardian of the North. Above this heaven is the Heaven of the Thirty three Divinities or the Heaven of Sakra (Indra). Above these two heavens and the summit of Meru are twenty four more heavens, one on top of the other, all lit with their own radiance. Six are inhabited by those who enjoyed the pleasures of the senses. The other heavens above are the Chyana Lokas (regions of abstract meditation) and the Arupa Lokas (formless worlds), reserved for souls of a high order such as Buddhas and Arhats.
Much of the Hindu pantheon has also been adapted to meet the needs of popular Buddhism, though the gods' functions are generally quite different. Indra (Sakra) is still king of the gods and Yama, called Dharma-raja, presides over the hells. But Shiva and Parvati, usually called Mahakala and Mahakali, are reduced to being Buddha's doorkeepers, while Kubera, called Jambhala, is his bodyguard. The goddesses of the Buddhist pantheon are reminiscent of the Shiva/ Sakti cults, though in their cruel aspects they often outdo Durga and Kali. The most revered of these goddesses is Tara, who is yellow, red or blue when she threatens and white or green when gentle and loving. Other terrifying goddesses are Kurukulla, and Cunda who, according to the spirit of the onlooker, appears to bear either arms or symbols of divine charity. Hariti, Kubera's wife, suckles five hundred demons and her principal feature is her inexhaustible fecundity. Ushas, the goddess of dawn, has her counterpart in Marishi but unlike Ushas she is frightening; she has a third eye on her brow like Shiva, three hideous faces and ten threatening arms. Gentler goddesses are Saraswati, goddess of teaching, and the chief goddess, Prajna, goddess of knowledge.
The gods exceed Shiva in his terrifying aspect. One, Yamantaka, accompanies Manjusri, the con-sort of Saraswati, and like Shiva wears a necklace of skulls, has several heads and many arms. Another, Trailoky-vavijaya, has four heads and four menacing arms and tramples Shiva underfoot.
Writer - Veronica Lons