By Venerable Piyadassi Thera
The Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, lived over 2500 years ago and is known as Siddhartha Gotama.n3 His father, Suddhodana, the kshatriya n4 king, ruled over the land of the Sâkyans at Kapilavatthu on the Nepalese frontier. As he came from the Gotama family, he was known as Suddhodana Gotama. Mahâmâyâ, princess of the Koliyas, was Suddhodana’s queen.
In 623 B.C. on a full-moon day of May,Vasanta-tide, when in India the trees were laden with leaf, flower, and fruit, and man, bird, and beast were in joyous mood, Queen Mahâmâyâ was travelling in state from Kapilavatthu to Devadaha, her parental home, according to the custom of the times, to give birth to her child. But that was not to be, for halfway between the two cities, in the beautiful Lumbini Grove, under the shade of a flowering Sal tree, she brought forth a son.
Lumbini, or Rummindei, the name by which it is now known, is one hundred miles north of Vârânasi and within sight of the snowcapped Himalayas. At this memorable spot where Prince Siddhartha, the future Buddha, was born, Emperor Asoka, 316 years after the event, erected a mighty stone pillar to mark the holy spot. The inscription engraved on the pillar in five lines consists of ninety-three Asokan characters, among which occurs the following: “hida budhe jâte sâkyamuni. Here was born the Buddha, the sage of the Sâkyans.”
The mighty column is still to be seen. The pillar, as crisp as the day it was cut, had been struck by lightning even when Hiuen Tsiang, the Chinese pilgrim, saw it towards the middle of the seventh century A.C. The discovery and identification of Lumbini Park in 1896 is attributed to the renowned archaeologist, General Cunningham.
On the fifth day after the birth of the prince, the king summoned eight wise men to choose a name for the child and to speak of the royal babe’s future. He was named Siddhârtha, which means one whose purpose has been achieved. The brahmins deliberated and seven of them held up two fingers each and declared: “O King, this prince will become a cakravarti, a universal monarch, should he deign to rule, but should he renounce the world, he will become a sammâ-sambuddha, a Supremely Enlightened One, and deliver humanity from ignorance.” But Kondañña, the wisest and the youngest, after watching the prince, held up only one finger and said: “O King, this prince will one day go in search of truth and become a Supremely Enlightened Buddha.”
Queen Mahâmâyâ, the mother, passed away on the seventh day after the birth of her child, and the babe was nursed by his mother’s sister, Pajâpati Gotami. Though the child was nurtured till manhood in refinement amid an abundance of material luxury, the father did not fail to give his son the education that a prince ought to receive. He became skilled in many branches of knowledge, and in the arts of war easily excelled all others. Nevertheless, from his childhood the prince was given to serious contemplation.