The Ascetic Prince
The Story of Buddha penned by followers and painted in monasteries of Ladakh.
MINDSCAPE BY S.SARWAR
Mere sight of May calendar enlivened the scenes painted in monasteries of Ladakh. Of Hemis monastry- the image of the white elephant, of Basgo monastery- the one depicting the horse Kanthaka, of Saspol monastery- showing the two ascetics & the rock relief in cave 26 of Ajanta. All refreshed the story of the ascetic prince whose day of birth, enlightenment and Pari Nirvana- Saka Dawa Day i.e Buddh Purnima, is being celebrated on 17 May; goading me to the keypad.
Ladakh, you know well, is the repository of Lamaism-the monastic form of Buddhism. It is a land of lamas where the sound of percussion instruments, trumpets and cymbals reverberates every night and a mystic-air pervades the atmosphere. It is a land of living, soaring Gompas, serene Chortans, litan-ising Mani walls and omen-scattering, fluttering flags; a land where people go about on daily chores chanting mantras, telling beads and turning prayer wheels. Buddhism is alive in Ladakh; though the present form is different from the primordial one that was propagated by the founder; whose story I narrate today.
Some 600 years before the birth of Christ, an Aryan tribe in Hindustan, named ‘Sakiya’ ruled the principality of Kapil Vastu, (now in Nepal – that is presently a Hindu Kingdom, predominantly, where Buddhism and Hinduism are fused in a unique synthesis. It is about 210 kms north of Banaras city), who’s chief was Suddhodana (Zas-gtsan of Bodhi language). Nearby was a kindred tribe named ‘Koliya’ whose two princesses were the wives of Suddhodana. The elder wife Mahamaya Devi (Gu-tul-chhen-mo) gave birth (Probably in 567 BC;some even say 623) to a somewhat oversized male child, in a pleasant grove called Lumbini (-site marked now by Ashoka Pillar), but herself died after seven days. The child, affectionately called Sakiya Thuba (of enormous size), was nursed by the younger queen, ‘Prajapati, sister of Mahamaya Devi, and received the family name of Gautama ( Some people believe that Gautama’s childhood name was Ton-Tham-Shad Dup-pa (Yuna Tundop) i.e fulfiller of wishes). As he excelled in physical qualities, the prince Gautama was known by the title of Sakiya Sinha-- Lion of the Sakiya tribe. Gautama, was very early, (at the age of 19 i.e. around 548 BC) married to his cousin, Yasodhara(‘Sa-Tsho-ma’- other names given are Subhadra and Bimba ;the beautiful), the daughter of raja of ‘Koliya’, and probably lived like other princes of the age, till he was 29 years old.
It was the time when Hinduism had degenerated and despotism was the rule. The Sakiyas were of course Hindus but it is certain they did not completely accept Vedic religion with unquestioned faith.
Gautama, the prince, developed particular interest in religion and philosophic intricacies. He began to ponder over life and its attendant sorrows and was touched by the sight of an aged man, a sick man and a decaying corpse. Solitary hermits, anchorites and ascetics were also a common sight those days and Gautama was attracted by calm and dignified hermits. The more he saw of life, the more he reflected on it. He lost his calmness. He was assailed by questions to which he sought answers from the sages of the day.
Such feelings must have been ascendant when after ten years of marriage Yashodhara bore him a son, Rahula, (‘Da-Chan-Zin’) -as the moon was eclipsed that night. Lest the new tie might bind, Gautama strongly with homely life, he took the decision of his life. It was that decisive night of 538 BC when Gautama sent ‘Chana’, the charioteer-cum-attendant, to fetch his horse, had a last look of his sleeping wife & child and left his worldly life to become an ascetic. When beyond the Koliyan territory, Gautama, sent back the reluctant attendant and the horse ,named Kanthaka (Ta-Chhok-pa-La-ha), caste his robe, got his long hair shaved off and left towards Rajagriha (modern Rajgir; among the hills of the Gaya district)- the capital of Magadha (also called south Bihar). This event is known as the ‘Great Renunciation’ and thus began the life of an ascetic. In Basgo monastry of Ladakh, a painting depicts Prince Gautama leaving the palace on horse-back, attended by the gods.
Gautama first attached himself with Brahmins, spent six years in the jungles of Uruvela, did penance until fasting and self-mortification reduced him to a shadow; assailed by doubts and disquietudes.
That day he received his meals from a village belle, ‘Sujata’, and some 11 kms from Gaya (Bihar) sat down under a tree- Pipal/Bo tree, Ficus religiosa, contemplating hard till his doubts and allurements were washed away by wisdom. It was the 15th day of Vaisakha, 532 BC, when he was 35 years of age. He worked out ‘the philosophy’ in his mind and became serene and enlightened i.e Buddha (‘Sangs-gyas’). A type of Chortan/stupa revered in Buddhist lands, named Chang Chub, chortan of illumination, symbolizes the enlightenment of Buddha at Bodh Gaya.
Then Buddha proceeded to teach his system with a prophetic zeal, wandering for most of the time, anchoring only during rainy seasons. To five seekers he addressed his maiden sermon at Isipatma Sarnath, near Varanasi, in Pali language. This event is known as ‘Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana’ (‘Chhos- Kor’) -- ‘turning of the wheel of Dharma/law. In this discourse he propounded and advocated the ‘Middle Path’ (‘Ou-me-Lam’) between luxury and extreme asceticism, besides non-violence and casteless-ness.
Gautama remained in Migadaya (the Mrig-dawa or Deer Park, in Sarnath) for three years. Within five months of his propagation he got sixty disciples and these he dispatched in different directions to preach. His peripatetic course led him to Uruwela forest, Rajagriha, Kapilvastu, Anupiya, Sravasti (Nepal), Mukula (near Allahabad), Sunsumara, Pava, etc. At Rajagriha (Magadha) two ascetics named Sha-ri-pu and Mou-Gal-gi-pu (known mostly by names, Shariputra and Moggallana) joined the society who were to achieve a pre-eminent place in Buddhism.In Sanspol monastry of Ladakh Buddha accompanied by Shariputoo on the left and Mongalpoo on his right (accompanied by 16 Arhats) is depicted; also in Ku-Tuk monastry (above muslim graveyard) Leh.
At Anupiya Gautama received his cousins, Ananda (Kun-rga-wo)- later chief disciple, and Dewadatta in the fold. In deference to his father’s wish Gautama came to Kapilavastu. The father, wife and son saw Gautama the mendicant and listened to his doctrines. Rahula was admitted into the order.
In Pava, a goldsmith named Chunda offered Buddha a meal of rice and Mushroom/tender pork (Pali word for both is Sukara maddava) and partaking of it Gautama left for Kusi-nara(modern Kasia, in Himachal Pradesh (Tsa-Chhog-Tong)- 80 miles east of Kapil Vastu in Gorakhpur district. Midway he had an attack of acute dysentery and he felt he was dying. That night he talked to Ananda and his disciples at length and then passed away into Nirvana. In cave 26 of Ajanta Sakyamuni entering final Nirvana, in rock relief, is depicted. In Basgo monastry of Ladakh a painting illustrates his cremation.Over his remains spacious mounds (Stupas) were raised by his followers.
As expected, these events of Gautama Buddha’s life are portrayed, in terms of imaginary & prophetic aura and the exactitude of events can by no means be authenticated by any known written documents because Gautama’s own life-span, most probably, left behind no record, just oral tradition.
The Christian name given to Gautama is ‘Siddhartha’ (‘Tondup’)- the one who has accomplished his aim; seems a latter grand adage, as is ‘Sarvajana’ (the omniscient one) or ‘Jina’ (the conqueror). If a stray question as to ‘any other reasons besides the presence of suffering in the world that forced Gautama to cross the threshold of his royal house’ troubles skeptics there is no positive answer recorded though his spiritual/legendary/mythical predecessor ‘Gohutama Dharmaraja’ was forced to ascetic life, it is believed, when a youth, Mrinala, killed the harlot ‘Do-Wa-Zang-mo’ after indulging in sexual pleasures and placed the sword and her head at Gohutama Dharmaraja’s door, impaling him thus.
One has to rely on the written word and relish the grandiose associated because theists have their own explanation and interpretation of things and events. It is said that the four visions/ideas (Ske- rga-Na-Chhi-dzi) --- aged men, sick man, decaying corpse and dignified hermit -- were caused by a deity. The doubts, disquietude and crisis of Gautama, preceeding ‘beneath-the-tree-clearing-up’ have been presented with dramaturgy aids like earthquake, storm; darkness versus light imagery and likewise the worldly allurements, that came in the way of Gautama are personified in ‘Mara’ --- the spirit of evil appearing from the sky--- equivalent to the Satan of Jewish-Christian-Islamic theism. As Zoraster had put forth the concept of Ahurman (Satan) before Buddhism was born, so the character of Mara was not difficult to evolve. The tree is known as sacred ‘Bo-tree’(‘Chang-Chhub-Ljon-Shing’) or tree of wisdom and it occupies a place in the theistic world just as the Christian cross. Gautama, after the tree event, becomes Gautama the Buddha -- the enlightened and his system of doctrines/teachings Buddhism--- now one of the greatest religions whose adherents comprise an impressive portion of the world population.
As in other religious myths, miracles and legends are also a part of Buddhist belief. Lalita-Vistara is said to give a story that remotely hints at the virgin birth of Gautama. Holy Maha Maya Devi dreamt at the time of conception that the Buddha in the form of a white elephant descends from Heaven (Tushita) and enters her right side.
This scene is depicted in the Hemis monastry of Ladakh. It is interesting to note that a type of Chortan having steps usually, called Lhababs is seen in Buddhist lands-that symbolizes the descent of Buddha from heaven to teach mankind. Also the one with windows, called Tashi sGo-mang- that symbolizes Sakyamuni’s birth.
Further appearance of 32 major and 80 minor signs of joy occuring at Gautama’s conception; Gautama preaching while still in his mother’s womb; Bodhi tree at Gaya began to grow when Gautama was born from his mother’s right armpit without being defiled by the impurity of womb; sage Asita came to see the child Gautama after reading the signs and foretold his greatness as Simeon of Christ’s story does; child Gautama brought to do reverence to an aged saint but miraculously Gautama’s feet were placed on the ascetic’s head; gods of Hindu Pantheon doing obeisance to Gautama as he enters a Hindu temple; trees and animals came to listen to Gautama’s first sermon; and ‘Sala’tree rendering homage by letting fall upon Gautama’s corpse fragrant flowers out of season, are a part of myth and belief that lend a rich colour to the story of Buddha.
Lastupdate on : Mon, 16 May 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 16 May 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 17 May 2011 00:00:00 IST
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