1 The Birth of the Buddha
In the glorious kingdom of Kapilavastu, where the walls were encrusted with jewels and the gardens bloomed all year, there lived a wise and honest king named Suddhodana. His wife, Queen Maya, was as beautiful as a perfect lotus blossom, and she was as kind and good as her husband.
One spring night, while Queen Maya lay sleeping on her perfumed couch high in the palace, she had a dream. She dreamed that a young white elephant with six tusks came to her from the sky, and with it were thousands of gods, all of them singing sweet songs of praise.
When Queen Maya awoke, she felt a great joy that she couldn’t explain. She rose from her bed, dressed in her brightest colors, and walked through the palace gardens to
a shady grove of trees. There she sat on a bench and sent for the king to come to her.
When the king entered the grove, he took his wife’s hand and asked, “Maya, why did you send for me?”
The queen answered, “I have had a strange dream, and I don’t know what it means. I dreamed that a young white elephant with six tusks came to me, and thousands of gods sang my praises. Does this mean good or evil for us? Please call for a dream interpreter and ask him to tell us.”
The king sent for the dream interpreter, who listened to the story with rapt attention. He said, “King Suddhodana and Queen Maya, this dream means that you have been supremely favored by the gods. You will have a son who will be rich in wisdom and praised by the world. Oh King, oh Queen, your son will be an enlightened one, a Buddha.” Suddhodana and Maya looked at each other with radiant eyes and felt a deep happiness and peace.
The king called his servants. “This is a day to celebrate,” he said. “Take money from the palace treasury and give it to the poor. Give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty. See that every woman has flowers and perfume. Everywhere, sing songs of gratitude for the honor that has come to us.”
Months went by, and one day Queen Maya knew it was time for her child to be born. She went to the king and said, “Today I will wander through the gardens. I want to hear the birds singing, smell the fragrance of the flowers, and feel the soft air.”
“But you should rest, my queen. Won’t it tire you to walk those winding garden paths?”
“No, the innocent baby to come must be born among the flowers,” Queen Maya answered.
The king nodded. He turned to his servants and said, “Go to the gardens and deck the branches with hangings of silver and gold. When you carry the queen in her chair, wear necklaces of pearls and precious stones, and bring your flutes and harps so you can play melodies that will please the gods.”
Bells rang as the palace gates opened. Peacocks spread their tail feathers and swans flew overhead while the queen passed by, seated on a chair carried by servants dressed in finery. In the gardens, Queen Maya told the servants to set the chair on the ground. With her maidens she strolled among the flowers, stopping to sniff a perfect rose or watch a butterfly.
When she reached a certain tree that was covered with blossoms, she stopped. With a graceful hand she pulled a branch toward her and held it. She stood quite still, feeling energy and power course through her body, and in that moment a perfect child was born. The maidens near her lifted her son in their arms and sang songs of praise. While the queen rested, they washed him in fresh water from the lotus pond and wrapped him in fine cloths.
The earth trembled, alive with delight. Buds burst into blossom, fruit ripened, and the sky sang.
One of the servants hurried to tell the king. “My lord, your son is born!”
The king and his family went to the garden, where the baby lay in a soft bed of flowers. Birds sang in the trees, and harps and flutes played sweet music. “His name is Siddhartha,” said the king, and he and all the people bowed before the new prince.
One man raised his arms and said, “Prince Siddhartha will bring happiness to the world. We have been in darkness, but now we have light. This blessed child is the one who sees truth, and we will learn wisdom from him.”
The baby, glowing with a golden light, smiled at all who had come to honor him.
Did You Know?
• Kapilavastu was in present-day Nepal, near the northern border of India. Today it’s a village called Piprahwa, where visitors come to see the ruins of the ancient palaces.
• In Buddhism(BOO-dism), elephants are revered as symbols of endurance and strength of mind. A white elephant represents purity, and the six tusks are reminders to overcome all attachments. In Thailand, an Elephant Festival is held every November, paying tribute to the animal with parades, folk dances, sports, and demonstrations of the elephants’ abilities.
• The garden where the Buddha was born is named Lumbini, a holy site with old monastery ruins, a sacred Bodhi tree, temples, and a bathing pond. From dawn to dusk every day, Buddhists come here to chant and meditate.