At the appointed time Queen Mayadevi was visiting
the Lumbini Garden some ten miles from the Shakya city of Kapilavastu.
Emerging from a bath with her face to the east, she leant her right
arm on a sala tree. The bodhisattva was then born from her right
side and immediately took seven steps - from which lotus flowers
sprang up - in each of the four directions. To each direction he
proclaimed as with a lion's roar: "I am the first, the best
of all beings, this is my last birth.'' He looked down to predict
the defeat of Mara and the benefiting of beings in the lower realms
through the power of his teachings. He then looked up to indicate
that all the world would come to respect and appreciate his deeds.
The gods Brahma and Indra then received him and together with the
four guardian protectors bathed him. At the same time two nagas,
Nanda and Upananda, caused water to cascade over him. Later a well
was found to have formed there, from which even in Fa Hien's time
monks continued to draw water to drink. The young prince was next
wrapped in fine muslin and carried with great rejoicing to the king's
palace in Kapilavastu.
Many auspicious signs accompanied the bodhisattva's birth. Also,
many beings who would play major parts in his life are said to have
been born on the same day: Yasodhara, his future wife; Chandaka,
the groom who would later help him leave the palace; Kanthaka, the
horse that would bear him; the future kings Bimbisara of Magadha
and Prasenajit of Koshala; and his protector Vajrapani. The bodhi
tree is also said to have sprouted on the day of Buddha's birth.
When Ashoka visited Lumbini two centuries later, his advisor, the
sage Upagata, perceived by clairvoyance and described all these
events, pointing out their sites to the emperor. Ashoka made many
offerings, built an elaborate stupa and erected a pillar surmounted
by a horse capital. When Hsuan Chwang saw it, the pillar had already
been destroyed by lightning. Nevertheless, when discovered at the
end of the last century the inscription which remained on the present
ruin was sufficiently legible to clearly identify the site as Lumbini.
The prince, now named Siddhartha, spent his first twenty-nine years
in Kapilavastu. There he performed three more of the twelve principal
deeds of a buddha. Surpassing all the Shakya youths and even his
teachers in all fields of learning, skill and sport, he showed that
he had already mastered all the worldly arts.
One day while still a child he was left unattended beneath a tree
as his father performed the ceremonial first ploughing of the season.
He sat and engaged in his first meditation, attaining such a degree
of absorption that five sages flying overhead were halted in mid-flight
by the power of it.
Later he was married to Yasodhara and experienced a life of pleasure
in the palace amongst the women of the court. Yet despite King Suddhodana's
efforts to protect him from unpleasant sights, one day when riding
in his chariot through Kapilavastu he happened to see a man feeble
with age, another struck down with sickness, and a corpse. He immediately
realised the suffering nature of men's lives. Then he saw a monk
of holy countenance, and recognized his path and vocation.
It is said that a buddha renounces the world only after seeing
these four signs and when a son has been born to him. Accordingly,
seven days before Siddhartha would have been crowned as his father's
heir, a son, Rahula, was born to Yasodhara. Without further delay
Siddhartha told his father of his resolve to leave the transient
luxury of worldly life and live as a renunciate in order to discover
the causes of true happiness and the end of misery.
Suddhodana was reluctant to let him go. Therefore, riding the horse
Kanthaka and accompanied by the groom Chandaka, Prince Siddhartha
left Kapilavastu with the aid of the gods. Some distance away he
performed the great renunciation, cutting off his hair and donning
the robes of an ascetic. He sent Chandaka back to the palace with
his jewels and horse, and entered into the homeless life.
Some years later, after attaining enlightenment, Buddha returned
briefly to Kapilavastu at his father's invitation. The Buddha and
his followers were welcomed and treated well by the king and the
people, who listened to his teachings. Five hundred Shakya youths
became monks at this time, including Rahula, the Buddha's own son,
Nanda, his half brother, and Upali, the barber, who was to later
become one of the Buddha's most important disciples.
The splendour of Kapilavastu did not last for long, for the city
and many of the Shakya clan were destroyed by the rival king Vaidraka
even within the Buddha's lifetime. When the Chinese pilgrims visited
the area they found nothing but ruin and desolation and merely a
handful of people and monks dwelling there. Yet all the sites of
the events mentioned in the early scriptures were pointed out to
them, and several of these were still marked by stupas. After this,
the area was lost in jungle and earlier in this century, was still
only accessible by elephant.
Now only Lumbini, the birthplace itself, has been identified with
certainty. Kapilavastu has been but tentatively located. At present
these sites are still being explored and some ruins have been unearthed.
The remains of Ashoka's pillar can be seen, as well as a shrine
of indeterminate age dedicated to Queen Mayadevi. A Nepalese buddhist
temple was built in 1956 and a Tibetan monastery of the sakya order
was completed in 1975, which, as well as possessing a beautiful
and elaborate shrine, is well illustrated within by traditional
murals. Here many young monks are studying and practising the Buddha's
teachings, thereby both aiding the revival of Lumbini as a place
of buddhist practice and preserving the great traditions lost in