Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C. B. Varma Introduction | Glossary | Bibliography

072 – Birth Story of Gotama

Sumedha abhinihara-karana or mulanidhana before the Dipankara Buddha.
Sumedha later became Gotama Buddha

G otama Buddha is considered as the twenty-fourth Buddha.

The Buddha is a generic and appelative name, which means “one who has attained Enlightenment”. The Pali commentaries mention four categories of the Buddha, first being the category of the Sabbannu Buddhas or the Omniscient Buddhas, which refers to the class of the Enlightened Ones (Buddhas) committed to the Nibbana for others. The second category of the Buddhas is that of the Paccheka Buddhas, who are also Enlightened but do not preach for the spiritual evolution of the others. The third group of the Buddhas commonly designated by Chatusaccha Buddhas refers to the arahantas (i.,e., those who have destroyed their defilements or asavas); and finally there is the category of the Bahussuta Buddhas, which refers to the learned ones.

The Pali tradition furnishes a list of twenty-four Buddhas born before Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha. (See Introduction).

In accordance with the tradition of the Buddhas, the Bodhisatta Sumedha made a solemn pledge (abhinihara-karana or mulanidhana) before Dipankara Buddha for the welfare and liberation of all creatures. (A Bodhisatta is an aspirant of the bodhi or Englightenment). The latter then approved of the pledge (abhinihara) by the declaration (vyakarana) that ‘this Bodhisatta shall become a Buddha’. The Bodhisatta then sought to develop the unique qualities of the Buddhahood (Buddhakarakadhamma) by way of ten perfections (dasa-parami), namely, dana (charity), sila (right-conduct), nekkhama (dispassionateness), panna (wisdom), viriya (steadfastness), khanti (forbearance), saccha (truthfulness), aditthana (pledge), metta (loving compassion), upekkha (non-attachability). His struggle for those perfections are well exemplified in Ekaraja, Khantivadi, Chulla Sankhapala, Maha Janaka, Mahasutasoma, Mugapakkha, Lomahamsa, Sattubhattaka, Sasa and Sutasoma Jatakas.

Before his conception he was born in the Tusita heaven and waited for the opportune time for the final course of his birth. According to the Lalitavistara he had appointed the Bodhisattva Vishvapani as the king of the Tusita Loka before his conception. It may be noted that Vishvapani shall be the next Buddha and is called the Future Buddha or Maitreya (Pali: Metteya) Buddha.

Siddhattha was conceived in the womb of Mahamaya, the consort of the king Suddhodana of Kapilavatthu on the full-moon day of Asalha. Her pregnancy was supernatural as the baby had entered her womb without any physical relationship. This event is particularly ascribed to the Maha Maya’s dream of a white elephant, which entered her womb from her right side.

Further, her conception is marked by the appearance of thirty-two special events like the earth-quake; light flooding the ten thousand world-systems (Chakkavalas); and extinction of the fire in hells.

Ten months later, on the full-moon day of Vishaka (May), Maya Devi undertook a journey to Devadaha to visit her parents. On her way she saw the beautiful grove of Lumbini; and desired to break the journey for a while. Walking around, she came under a great sal tree. No sooner than she reached there she had a sudden labour pain. Thus, seizing one of the branches of the sal she delivered the baby Siddhattha.

When the baby was born it is said that the four regent devas (Chatur-Mahabrahmas) received him in a golden net; and the celestial shower from the sky washed him. When born, the boy instantly stood on the earth and took seven steps towards north and roared like a lion to utter – “I am the Master of the world”.

On the same day, seven other beings were born, namely, the bodhi tree; Yashodhara or Rahulamata (his wife); the horse Kanthaka; Channa, the charioteer; his elephant; Kaludayi (his friend in his child-hood) and seven treasure troves.

He was taken back to Kapilavatthu on the same day. His mother, however, died a week after his birth.

See Acchariyabbhutadhamma Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya iii.118; Digha Nikaya ii.12 f.; Mahavastu ii.47 ff.