The itinerary of a more than spoiled child

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

Saga of the birth and youth of Siddhartha Gautama, who preferred enlightenment to universal kingship.

Vassal of the kings of Koçala, the Çakya clan reigns over a small principality in northeastern India, not far from the border which today marks the boundary between India and Nepal. We are at the beginning of the fifth century before the Christian era. King Çuddhodana does not yet have an heir. His main wife, Mayadevi, informs him of her wish to respect a period of abstinence. It was then that she was visited in a dream by a cohort of deities who escorted a marvelous white elephant with six tusks. Some texts tell that the latter enters her womb, while others speak of a child of six months, perfectly formed. The next day, the sages are called upon to interpret the queen's dream, in which they unanimously perceive the announcement of the forthcoming birth of an heir.

The closely watched royal pregnancy proceeded without major incident. Approaching the end, Queen Maya expresses the desire to leave the palace. It is possible that she intended to visit her own parents to give birth to her firstborn in their home, in accordance with a tradition of the time. Be that as it may, the chariot and its escort stopped at the Lumbini garden, whose exact site, the current Rumindei, was identified in the XNUMXth century by the discovery on the site of an inscription of King Açoka. The queen, accompanied by her servants, takes a few steps towards a magnificent tree which is covered with flowers as she approaches. Mayadevi raises a hand to pluck a twig and the miraculous birth occurs: the child emerges from its mother's right flank without causing her the slightest pain. His exceptional status is immediately manifested by a whole set of wonders, the details of which vary significantly according to the texts: two serpent kings give him his first bath, unless it is the two Hindu gods Indra and Brahma; he takes seven steps in each of the cardinal directions, lotuses springing up under his feet; he utters his first words, announcing, it seems, his future dignity as Buddha.

A great man of Indian tradition

Brought back to the palace, the infant is, in the days that follow, presented to the protective deities of his clan, who bow before him. A name is chosen for him. Siddhartha returns frequently, but as often, the sources do not agree: certain texts do not give a personal name and designate it only by the term of Bodhisattva or future Buddha. The sages, summoned again, notice on his body the 32 major marks of Mahapurusa (the Great Man of the Indian tradition) and predict two possible destinies for the child: if he chooses to remain in the world, he will become a universal sovereign; if he opts for renunciation, he will be a Buddha. This last option is not to the liking of King Çuddhodana, his father, for whom the newborn is the heir to the throne. The young prince therefore grows up in ignorance of the unpleasant aspects of existence. He nevertheless received the education that befits a future monarch and showed, on many occasions, exceptional gifts. At a very young age, he had his first experience of meditation when his father performed a traditional rite. His knowledge turns out to be infinitely more extensive than that of the masters assigned to him. When the hour of marriage arrives for him, his physical strength and his skill leave far behind the other suitors for the hand of the young girl who is destined for him during the traditional ordeals which preceded princely unions at the time. King Çuddhodana now thinks the danger averted and his succession assured. He couldn't be more wrong...

2500 years after

Buddha Shakyamuni having lived, according to most historians, in the XNUMXth century BC. BC, the tangible elements on which to build a biography remain very fragmentary and the legend hastened to fill in the gaps and embellish the rest. It is therefore very tempting to wonder about the significance that these distant events can have for the man and the woman living today, in a modern universe, apparently radically different. And yet...

If he chooses to remain in the world, he will become a universal ruler; if he opts for renunciation, he will be a Buddha.

I really like this very colorful parallel which helps to fully realize the exceptional character of the coming of a Buddha into the world.

Imagine an ocean covering our planet. On its surface floats a wooden plank with a hole in it. In its depths evolves a solitary turtle which only surfaces once every 1000 years. What is his percentage chance, at this moment, of sticking his head through the hole in our board? Tiny. In fact, the same percentage that we ourselves have of being born into the human condition at a time when it is possible to benefit directly from the teaching of a Buddha. On the scale of time, the 2500 years that have passed since the birth of the future Shakyamuni are only a small thing, and our beginning of the XNUMXst century is in this sense very privileged to still live, through texts and masters on inheritance almost direct from the preaching of a Buddha

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

Leave comments