Q&A, The Life of the Buddha, Part I
Buddhism is the Teaching of the Buddha.
3. Who is the Buddha?
The Buddha is the All-Knowing One.
The Birth of Prince Siddhattha
4. What was the Buddha's name?
His name was Siddhattha Gotama.
5. Who was he?
He was Sakya Prince.
6. Who was his father?
His father was King Suddhodana.
7. Who was his mother?
His mother was Sri Maha Maya
8. When was he born?
He was born around 623 BC on the Vesak full moon day of May.
He was born in Lumbini Park in Kapilavatthu on the borders of [ancient India, possibly in present-day] Nepal.
10. What happened to the mother after his birth?
The mother died seven days after his birth.
11. Where was she reborn?
She was reborn in the Tusita celestial realm (space).
12. Who raised the prince?
His mother's younger sister [his father's second wife], Maha Pajapati Gotami, brought him up.
13. Was she also married to King Suddhodana?
Yes, she was also married to King Suddhodana.
14. Did she have any children?
Yes, she had a son named Nanda and a daughter named Sundari [beautiful] Nanda.
15. Were the people happy over the birth of Prince Siddhattha?
Yes, the people were very happy.
16. Did wonderful things happen at his birth?
Yes, many wonderful things happened.
17. What attended the wonderful event?
[Legend says,] the infant prince walked on seven lotuses. At each step, a lotus flower sprung up from the ground to support his feet.
18. Did he say anything?
He said (in Pali), "Aggo hamasmi lokassa..."
19. What is the meaning?
"I am supreme in the world. This is my last birth: henceforth there shall be no more birth for me."
He said so because he would become a supremely-enlightened teaching buddha later.
21. Was the prince a common child?
No, he was a wonderful child.
22. Did any great person come to see this infant prince?
[Sages including] a great sage named Asita, also called Kala Devila, came to the palace to see him.
23. What did the king do?
His father, the king, brought the child to pay him due respect.
24. So what happened?
The prince's feet turned and rested on the matted locks of the sage.
25. Was the sage displeased?
No, he at once rose from his seat and saluted him with joined hands.
26. Why? Hid he do so because he knew the prince would become a fully enlightened teacher in the future.
27. What did the royal father do?
He saluted him in the same way.
28. Was there any change in the sage?
The sage at first smiled and then wept.
29. Why did he smile?
He smiled because the prince would become a buddha.
30. Why did he weep?
He wept because he would not live long enough to benefit from his teaching.
31. What happened on the fifth day after the birth of the prince?
The king invited many learned brahmins to name the prince.
32. What did they recommend?
They named him Siddhattha [Sanskrit, Siddhartha], which means "wish-fulfilled."
33. Did those brahmins foretell anything?
Seven of them raised two fingers to say that the prince would either become a universal monarch (cakkavartin) or a universal teacher (buddha).
34. What did the younger Kondanna say?
The younger brahmin Kondanna raised one finger to say that he would definitely become a buddha.
35. Why was he called Gotama [Gautama]?
Gotama was his family name.
36. Did any wonders take place in his childhood?
A strange thing took place during the annual Ploughing Festival.
37. What happened?
On one festival day the king with the baby prince and his nurses and many others went to the field to plough to commence the sowing season.
38. Where was the prince?
He was placed on a couch in the shade of a rose-apple tree.
39. Who are watching him?
The nurses were watching him, but later they also went to see the ceremony.
40. What did the prince do?
The prince sat meditating.
41. Was that unusual?
It was certainly a very strange thing for a little child [age 7].
42. What did the king do seeing this strange sight?
The king marveled and saluted him saying, "This, dear child, is my second salutation."
43. Was the prince happy?
The prince was very happy as a royal child.
44. Did he receive a good education?
Yes, he got the best education available, and he was even better than his teachers.
45. Was he skilled at art too?
As a male member of the warrior caste, he was trained in warfare. But as the future ruler, he was given a very wide course of instruction by his teachers and father.
46. Was he well behaved?
He was very well behaved [in contrast to his cousin Devadatta].
47. Was he kind?
He was very kind to all from a young age, particularly to poor animals. [Trained in archery, he excelled. Jealous to outdo him, Devadatta shot a bird, the prince then nursed to health.]
48. Was he sad?
No, but he was very pensive.
Buddha at Yungang, China (Johntrthome/Flickr.com)
49. What happened to the prince at the [marriageable age of] 16?
He married off to his beautiful cousin, Princess Yasodhara.
50. Why did he marry at such an early age?
It was the custom in that part of ancient India. [This tradition continues, according to some reports, in Central Asia. But the exact location of the Sakyan Kingdom is disputed.]
51. Who was Yasodhara?
She was the daughter of his father's sister, Pamita.
52. Who was Yasodhara's father?
Her father was King Suppabuddha.
53. Did she have any brothers?
She had one brother named Devadatta [who was later to figure so prominently in Buddhism as the "Judas" figure].
54. How old was she when she married?
She was also 16.
55. Who else was 16?
Kaludayi, Channa [the charioteer], and Kanthaka [the prince's white horse].
56. What was the tree that sprang up when the prince was born?
Legend has it that Yasodhara, Kanthaka, and the great Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya [under which he would attain supreme enlightenment] were all born when the prince took birth.
57. How did the prince win Yasodhara's affection?
He impressed her by showing his skill in archery, horseback riding, and other esteemed skills (related to warfare) in their caste [all of which point to the kingdom being in the Himalayan foothills of modern Bamiyan, Afghanistan rather than the Nepalese terai].
58. Did they have a happy married life?
They were very happy being married [as they had been together in many past lives] because they agreed with each other in every way.
59. How many palaces did they have?
They had three palaces for the three [Indian] seasons.
60. What did the prince do after getting married?
He merely enjoyed worldly pleasures being entertained by many showgirls, musicians, chefs, and attendants within the palace compound.
61. What happened as time passed?
The prince always used to think alone.
62. He worried?
No, he felt pity and sympathy for living beings.
63. What happened one day when he visited the park [and saw the world for what it really was -- namely, beset by old age, sickness, and death]?
He realized that he would get old, fall ill, and eventually die.
64. What did he see?
He saw four common sights.
He saw an old man, a sick person, a corpse, and a noble hermit who had renounced the worldly life.
66. Was the prince changed by seeing these four signs?
The prince was greatly changed after having understood the unsatisfactory nature of life and sensing that there was a way to overcome its disappointments.
67. What did he think?
He thought of leaving the world in search of truth and peace and a way solution to the problem of suffering that could save everyone.
68. Did he immediately decide to go?
He was undecided until he was very soon informed that Yasodhara had just given birth to a son. [They were now 29].
69. Was he not glad to hear the news?
Of course he was glad, but he also realized that this would be a great impediment or bond keeping him from his mission to find a solution to the problem of suffering. He regarded his son as a bond and, we are told, named his son Rahula ("bond"). [Of course, the official naming would have waited for the traditional ceremony, particularly for a prince. Rahula was the heir apparent when Siddhattha renounced the world and abdicated.]
70. If he was both glad and sad, what did he say at the news of his son's birth?
He said, Rahu jato. ("A bond has arisen").
71. Hearing of this, what did King Suddhodana name his grandson?
He name him Rahula.
72. What happened on his way home?
A young lady named Kisa Gotami saw him and said: "Nibbuto nuna sa mata Nibbuto nuna so pita Nibbuto nuna sa nari Yassa'yam idiso pati."
73. What does this verse mean?
"Peaceful is the mother, peaceful is the father, peaceful is the wife who has such a husband as he."
74. Did this utterance have any effect on him?
Yes, it urged him to seek peace.
75. How did he show his gratitude to the lady?
By sending his necklace as a present to her.
76. Returning home, what did he decide?
He decided to leave the world to seek the ultimate truth and peace. [He had been on this quest for many lives, so it came as second nature and was accompanied by a strong impulse, which the brahmins had predicted at his birth.]
77. What did he do?
At midnight he went to Yasodhara's room, opened the door, and stood at the threshold.
78. What did he say?
He gazed silently at his sleeping wife and newborn.
79. Did he love them?
He loved them deeply as he loved everyone.
80. Then why did he even consider leaving?
He had great sympathy pitying them and the world bound up with suffering, sorrow, and an inescapable unsatisfactoriness.
81. So out of love for all what did Prince Siddhattha do?
Without telling his beloved father and adoptive mother, his lifelong friends or anyone else, he left the palace at midnight.
82. How did he leave?
Taking his charioteer Channa, he rode into the dark on his devoted horse Kanthaka.
83. At what age did he renounce the world?
He renounced the world at 29.
84. Where did he go?
He went far to the boundary of the Sakyan land. And crossing the river Anoma, he rested on its banks.
85. What did he do from there?
Siddhattha removed his royal finery and handed them over to Channa.
86. What did Channa do?
Channa asked for instructions and was told, "Friend Channa, take these garments and Kanthaka and go home. I will become a mendicant."
87. What did Channa say?
Channa asked to join him instead, out of affection or perhaps to protect him or out of fear of how much trouble he would be in when the king found his son gone. But Siddhattha did not allow him to do so.
88. What did Kanthaka, the horse, do?
He died of grief [and was reborn in the celestial World of the Thirty-Three (Tavatimsa), having fulfilled his mission to help the Bodhisatta as much as he could].
89. How did Siddhattha become a spiritual seeker?
He took his sword and used it to cut off his hair and beard and took to wearing simple saffron robes.
90. Who gave him these robes?
They were provided by a former friend of his, Ghatikara Maha Brahma [an extraterrestrial god].
91. Did he get only robes?
No, he received all eight requisites of a mendicant wanderer.
92. What are those?
Attha-parikkhara is their Pali name.
93. And what do they consist of?
They are the upper robe, under robe, bowl, knife, needle, belt, and water strainer.
94. Was Siddhattha still a prince?
No, he had renounced all of that for the freedom of becoming a wandering ascetic.
95. Was he called the Buddha now?
No, that title means supremely enlightened. At this point he was continuing his quest begun many lives before to reach enlightenment, so he was the Bodhisatta.
96. What is the meaning of Bodhisatta?
Bodhi-satta [Sanskrit, Bodhisattva] literally means "enlightenment-being," one bent on supreme enlightenment. It is a name for one trying to become a buddha.
97. Where was the Bodhisatta going to live?
He had no fixed abode. He was now a wanderer going about wherever he wished like a deer in search of food. Food, medicine, shelter, and other requisites were provided by people in India who were happy to support spiritual people in their quest. He was now free to live in parks, sheds (with permission), caves, or at the foot of trees.
98. How was he to support himself?
He lived on alms (dana) given by the charitable.
99. What kind of life was this to lead, particularly for someone who had been rich?
He was now leading a pure and blameless life seeking truth and peace.
Striving for Enlightenment
100. What did the Bodhisatta do on his quest?
He spent a week fasting in the Anupiya Mango Grove, enjoying the bliss of solitude for the first time in his life.
101. What did he do after those seven days?
With robe and bowl, eyes cast down, he went about receiving alms from willing donors -- an ancient custom in India -- eventually ending up in the capital of Magadha, Rajagaha (modern Rajgir). CONTINUED