The Buddha's Conception
Before descending to Earth in 563 B.C., Buddha Shakyamuni was born in the Tushita Heaven as Devaputra with great clear mind and profound recollection. Seated on the lion throne, he gave teachings to all the gods. At this time, he heard the celestial sound of the cymbals and the songs of the Buddhas of the three times perfectly invoked, addressing him thus: "In samsara, burning with the fire of emotions, you, great warrior, pervade the clouds. The falling rain of your ambrosia pacifies the afflicting emotions of those who are not gods." Hearing these words, he looked for the five sights - the continent called Jambudvipa; the six cities such as Champaka; the Shakya clan which for seven generations, has not declined through intermarriage; a mother named Mahamaya, who was free from the 32 negative qualities; and a time of the five increasing degenerations in which people suffer greatly and become objects of compassion, for they are difficult to tame, hold wrong views, have a declining life span, are defiled by the five mental poisons, and gain wealth through impure means.
Seeing these things, he said to the gods: "I will blow the conch shell of impermanence, beat the gong of emptiness, and roar with the sound of selflessness." He then empowered Maitreya to take his place on the throne, and declared three times to the six realms of the gods that he was descending to this world.
Then he manifested as the precious elephant having an immense, though glorious and gentle, body with six trunks. He was adorned with the golden nets and a beauteous red hat, and gave forth a pleasant odor because of the medical herbs he ate. In the middle of the fifteenth day of the second month at the time of the full moon, when Mahamaya was in retreat, the Lord Buddha entered her womb through the right side. Mahamaya then dreamed that a mountain had become her pillow, that the sun was rising within her body, and that she was giving teachings to many sentient beings. She felt light and at ease. In the months to come, she had many other auspicious dreams, and experienced bliss and freedom from afflicting emotions.
The Queen became aware that the day was drawing near when she should bring forth a child. So, before time came upon her, she asked her husband to give her leave to go and pay a visit to her own people who belonged to a city not very far away called Devadaha. King Suddhodana very willingly granted his chief Queen her wish, and sent out his men with orders to prepare the way for her, and do everything needed to make the journey to her father's house a pleasant and comfortable one for her.
Now half way between Kapilavatthu and the town of Devadaha there was a very fine forest garden called Lumbini where the people of both places used to go in the hot weather to enjoy the cool shade of the great Sal trees of which there were many in the grove. Here in the month of May, these great trees were covered from top to bottom with lovely blossoms. In among their long branches flew many kinds of birds singing their sweetest songs so that the whole air was full of the sound of their warbling. And over and through the myriads of flowers, swarms of bees went cheerfully humming, busily gathering honey on every hand.
When, as her bearers carried her along the road to Devadaha in her royal litter, Queen Mahamaya came to this pleasant place, she thought she would like to rest there a while in the cool shade for it was a hot day, and so she told her bearers to carry her in among the trees. But she had not been there long, walking about and enjoying the pleasing sights and sounds all round her, when suddenly and unexpectedly the pangs of child-birth came upon her, and in a little while, there in the Lumbini Grove, under the Sal trees, among the birds and bees and flowers, she brought forth a son.
The place where this Lumbini Grove stood at that far off time can still be seen to-day. For a great king called Asoka, who ruled over a large part of India about three or four hundred years after King Suddhodana's time, caused a tall pillar to be set up in the forest-garden where thus was born the son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya of Kapilavatthu, in order to mark the place; and on it he had a writing carved in deep-cut letters which can still be read, saying that he had put it there in order that men in the future should know where the great event had taken place. And although in the course of the two thousand and more years that have passed since King Asoka set up this pillar, the upper half of it has been broken off, and the half that is left leans all on one side, it still stands to this day in the place where King Asoka put it with his inscription on it for any one to see. And many people go to see it every day.
Now on the hills outside Kapilavatthu there lived many hermits; and among them there was one old hermit whom every one in Kapilavatthu admired and esteemed for his goodness, King Suddhodana himself being especially fond of him and showing his esteem and affection for him in many ways. This old hermit, when he heard that his great friend the King now had a little son, came down to the King's palace in the city to see the babe; and when he had come, the King asked him to give the babe his blessing, and, as he made his request, he held the infant out toward the hermit in a posture of doing homage to the old man. But the hermit said:
"Nay, Maharaja, it is not your son who should bow his head to me, but I who ought to bow my head before your son. For I see well that he is no ordinary child. I see well that as he grows up to manhood's years he will become a very great religious teacher. Yes, I believe he will become the greatest religious teacher the world has yet seen."
Having said this, the old man sat silent for a little while smiling to himself with a pleased and happy look. Then his eyes slowly filled with tears and he began to weep, the tears trickling down his cheeks.
"Why!" said the King in great bewilderment and some alarm, "What is the matter with you? Just a moment ago you were smiling and now you are weeping. Is anything wrong? Do you foresee some evil thing that is going to happen to my boy?"
"No, no, Maharaja," said the hermit, "do not be alarmed. No evil thing will ever come near your son. All-prosperous shall be his name, and all-prosperous he will be."
"Then why do you weep?" asked the King.
"I weep," said the hermit, "to think that I am now so old I must soon pass away, and I shall not live to see your son become the great teacher I know he one day will be. You Maharaja, will live to see that great and happy day, and so will many another person now alive, but I shall not live to see it. That, Maharaja, is why I cannot help weeping." With these words the old man rose from his seat, and putting his two hands together, palm to palm, be bowed down before the little infant. King Suddhodana was very much astonished at all the hermit had said and to see him bowing down his old grey head before the little baby; but he thought so much of him that he felt that he himself must do the same as the hermit had done, so he too bowed down and with folded hands, did obeisance to his own baby son.