Story of the Buddha - Edith Holland




The Kingdom of the Sakyas

The people of India have always been religious; their religion is very real to them, and has a great influence over their lives. The prevailing religion of India is Hinduism, or, as it is often called, Brahminism. This religion has existed, with various changes, since the earliest times of which we have any record. It seems to have had its beginnings in the worship of the powers of Nature, or rather of the beings who were, supposed to control those powers. Thus there was Indra, the god of the air or sky; Rudra, the god of the storm, whose arrows, in the form of lightning, struck down men and beasts. There was a god of fire, of the sun, of the wind, and all these gods or spirits were believed to hear the prayers of men and to accept their sacrifices. In course of time new gods were imagined, or new names were given to the old gods.

By degrees the people of India awoke to the belief in a supreme God, far above these gods of Nature. They gave him the name of Brahma, and believed him to be the creator of the world and of gods and men—the source of life, in whom all beings have their beginning and their end. The Indian people have long believed in what is called the transmigration of souls, which means the rebirth of the soul in another body. Thus they think that when a man dies his soul will enter the body of some other being about to be born into the world. The good or bad actions of a man determine the conditions of his next life—if his deeds have been good, he will be born again to enjoy a happier state, but if evil, he will be born to sorrow and misery, either as a man or an animal.

The Hindus believe that most of the misfortunes we suffer are punishments for sins committed in a former life. They have great sympathy with animals, feeling that they too possess souls like their own, striving to arrive at a state of perfection. But a man must live countless lives before his soul can be perfected and fit for union with Brahma, to whom in the end all life must return, even as the moisture which rises from the sea and falls over the land as rain will find its way into the rivers and so return to the ocean. When the soul has been perfected it will no more be born into the world to suffer the miseries of mortal life, but will attain ever-lasting peace. It is this deliverance, this union with Brahma, which is looked forward to by all devout Hindus.

Though the people worshipped many gods, there were from very early times thoughtful men, or philosophers, who believed that all the lesser gods were but symbols of the great creator Brahma. These holy men gave up all worldly occupations and went to live in the great forests where they could be undisturbed, to think of the mysteries of life, death, and the world beyond the grave. They believed that if they subdued their bodies by fasting, their minds would become enlightened, and better able to grasp the great truths they sought to find. The people deeply respected these holy men because of their wisdom and knowledge; even kings bowed down to them, and asked their advice on important matters.

In olden days India was not under one ruler, but was divided into many small states. The rulers of these states were called rajas, or kings, but their kingdoms were sometimes very small. If you look at the map of India, you will better realize where the events I am going to tell you about took place. And first you must find the great river Ganges, for it was in the fertile lands bordering this river on either side that the hero of our story passed many years of his life, and wandered from place to place teaching his doctrines. What is now the province of Oudh was in those days the powerful kingdom of Kosala, and the province of Behar, which lies eastward of Oudh, was once the kingdom of Magadha. You will hear a good deal about these two kingdoms in the course of our story.

Across the northeast corner of Oudh flows the river Rapti; to the east of this river there is a long strip of fertile and well-watered land, where there are many rice-fields, fine forests, and groves of mango and tamarind. In the days of our story this land was an independent little state, not quite so large as Yorkshire. It was bounded on the east by the river Rohini, which flows into the Rapti near the present city of Gorakhpur; to the north rose the dark mountains of Nepal, and beyond these the snowy peaks of the Himalaya. The inhabitants of this land were known as Sakyas, and on the banks of the Rohini stood their capital—Kapilavatthu. Eastern names are always rather hard to remember, and, as this is an important one, which must not be forgotten, I will tell you the story of the founding of the city, and you will then understand the meaning of its name, as well as that of the tribe who possessed this land.

Long, long ago, so far back in the dim mist of bygone ages that it is impossible even to guess at the date, there was a certain King who had five sons. He reigned over a country called, Potala. He had promised the Queen that he, would make his youngest son heir to the, throne, and when this boy grew up the four elder sons were banished. Accompanied by their sisters and a great number of attendants, they left their royal home, to seek their: fortunes elsewhere. Turning their steps north ward, they travelled many weary days, until, at last they came to a rich and fertile land, where rivers flowed and thick forests grew, and in the far distance the white summits of the Himalaya stood up against the deep blue of the sky.

Near a pleasant river the brothers stayed their wanderings, built themselves huts of leaves, and provided their food by hunting the wild beasts in the neighbouring jungles. Now, on the banks of this river lived a hermit, a holy man, who had retired from the world to spend his days in pious meditation. Kapila, as the hermit was named, gave the brothers much wise advice, and in the end persuaded them to build a city. He marked out the boundaries with golden sand mixed with water, and when the building was finished the city was named Kapilavatthu. The word 'vatthu' means 'soil,' and as the hermit Kapila had given the land on which the city stood it was called the Soil of Kapila, or Kapilavatthu.

Some time after this the King of Potala, inquiring as to what had become of his four sons, was told the story of their adventure. When he heard how they had wandered into a strange land and founded a city of their own, he was filled with wonder at their boldness, and called them daring youths. And from that day the King's sons, and their descendants after them, were known as the Sakyas, which means 'the Daring,' or 'Enterprising.' Thus was founded the kingdom of the Sakyas, and the old stories relate that many hundred kings succeeded these adventurous youths, and ruled the land from Kapilavatthu. In the course of time a second city, named Koli, was built on the other side of the river Rohini.

Between five and six hundred years before the birth of Christ King Suddhodana reigned over the Sakya land. He was a descendant of one of the four brothers whose story I have, just told you. King Suddhodana married the two daughters of the King of Koli, who was related to him. The names of the King's wives, were Maya and Pajapati. Up to the time of which we are writing neither of them had any children, and it was a great grief to the King, that he had no son to succeed him.

Siddhartha's Father and Prophet

THE PROPHECY OF THE WISE MEN.


Now it happened that Queen Maya had four dreams, in which there appeared many signs and wonders, and in the last of her dreams she saw a great multitude of people who bowed down to her. As dreams were considered of importance in foretelling events, the King sent for sixty-four wise men, who were invited to the palace to explain the meaning of the Queen's dreams. A feast was prepared, and rice and honey served in gold and silver dishes; costly presents of cattle and silken robes were made to the wise men, for they were held in great honour. When they had discussed the meaning of the dreams, they told the Queen to rejoice, for she would have a son, who would have on him the thirty-two marks of a great man. But there was a choice between two different kinds of greatness. "If," said the wise men, "he stays in his royal home, he will become a mighty ruler, such as only appears in the world once in ten thousand years—his conquests shall extend to the far corners of the earth, and all nations shall bow down to him. But if," the wise men continued, "he chooses to renounce the world, to leave his home and go into homelessness, shaving his head and putting on the clothes of a beggar, then he will become a great saint—an enlightened one."

In due time a son was born to Queen Maya, and great were the rejoicings in all the land of the Sakyas. The legends tell of many signs and miracles that took place at the time of the child's birth. All nature seemed to rejoice—springs of water burst forth from the dry ground, cool breezes gently stirred the trees of the forests, and a great light illumined the whole earth. The world of spirits rejoiced, and the devas, or angels, made offerings of flowers to the newborn babe.

On a mountain in Himalaya dwelt a holy man. Hearing of the birth of the child, he came to see him, and, taking him in his arms, prophesied that he would become a Buddha, or Enlightened One; "but," said the old man sadly, "I shall not live to see that come to pass." And King Suddhodana, hearing of the babe's future greatness, bowed himself down before him.

Seven days after the birth of her son, Queen Maya died, but her sister Pajapati, the King's, other wife, took care of the child as if he had been her own, and became a second mother to: him. The Prince was named Siddhattha, and, grew up in his father's house beloved of all.