Great Teacher of Jen Chen Buddhism - Sakyamuni Buddha
On this green oval-shaped earth, there is the peninsula of central India. About over 2,500 years ago, in the mountain region of the peninsula, at the foot of Mount Himalaya, was a civilised old kingdom called Kapilavastu. The king at that time was King Suddhodana and his wife was Queen Maha Maya. King Suddhodana was getting old but still without children and he earnestly wished to have an heir to his throne. The king and queen carried out benevolent deeds extensively and they frequently prayed to have their wish fulfilled. Not only the king and queen, but all the officials and common people also wished that the virtuous king and queen would have a brilliant, handsome and heroic prince soon.
At that time, at the fourth heaven in the Inner Palace of Tusita was a great Bodhisattva enlightened to be the next Buddha – Sakyamuni Buddha. He had completed his celestial life for preaching and guiding the celestial beings. He observed with his celestial eyes that in the southern continent of the universe – Jambudvipa (earth planet), the conditions for preaching and guiding the sentient beings of the Saha world had ripened. He chose the virtuous and benevolent King Suddhodana and Queen Maya to be his holy parents. So, he left the Inner Palace of Tusita heaven and riding on a 6-tusk bug white elephant, descended from the sky. He miraculously entered the right side (below the armpit) of Queen Maya while she was asleep. The holy mother suddenly woke up and she felt that her body was completely different from normal. She felt as though she was constantly in the brightness of sun and moon, like in azure or crystal, bright, harmonious, carefree, full of wisdom and joy.
Queen Maya told King Suddhodana this auspicious phenomenon. The King, upon hearing it, was most pleased and he took extra care for the Queen’s well being. On a day corresponded to the Zhou Dynasty in China, in the twenty-fourth year of the rule of King Zhou Chow on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, the sky was clear and air was fresh causing people feeling afresh, uninhibited and happy. Queen Maya suddenly wanted to go for a stroll in Lumbini Garden. On arriving at the garden, all flowers were blossoming with sweet fragrance permeating through the air. Such wonderful atmosphere was different from normal and Queen Maya in a joyous and happy mood, walked in front of the maids to under a tree. She watched the flowers hanging on the bough as if they were smiling warmly to welcome people. Queen Maya held up her right hand thinking of holding a flower to admire it. Whilst she was holding up her arm, the Prince miraculously was born from under her right arm without causing her any pain or discomfort. At that moment, there was calm, serene brightness that was never seen before. The new born Prince’s body was in radiance, standing on a lotus flower appearing from the ground and many celestial beings dispersing fragrant flowers as they descended from the sky. Nine dragons sprayed warm water to bathe the Prince and lotus flowers naturally surfaced from the ground. The Prince walked on seven lotus flowers and with one hand pointing to the sky and the other pointing to the ground, he said, “In heaven and on earth, the Buddha-nature is the most honoured.” When the prince stepped on the ground, sweet scented breeze blew past, instantaneously he grew up like a small child learning to walk. His body colour was golden and the celestial ladies clothed him. They praised, “Excellent! In heaven and on earth, this is absolutely rare …” The King heard the great news and was overjoyed. He welcomed and took the Prince into the palace and arranged to take good care of the Queen. However, the holy mother was not exhausted; she was filled with contentment and blissful joy. King Suddhodana, bestowed with such a precious Prince, rejoiced day and night and congratulatory messages kept pouring in from all the civil and military officials as well as from the common people.
King Suddhodana gave the newborn Prince the name of ‘Siddhartha’, which meant all wishes fulfilled. The name also referred to the many extraordinary phenomena during his birth. Unfortunately, seven days after the Prince’s birth, the holy mother Queen Maha Maya passed away without any ailment. After her departure from this world, she was born in the palace of the Heaven of Thirty-Three Devas where she enjoyed the blessings and happiness of celestial realm. The Prince was brought up by his aunt, Maha Prajapati and was taught and coached by Bhadrapada. When he was sixteen, he followed his father to Kapilavatthu. His majestic appearance and calm, serene and quiet behaviour together with his thirty-two great man physical features and eighty good physical characteristics, his pure and benevolent conduct, and amiable and elegant demeanour won the respect of those arrogant young men of the Sakya clan. King Suddhodana observed this and was very happy. When he returned to the palace, he gathered officials and added another name ‘Sakyamuni’ to the Prince.
Prince Sakyamuni started schooling at the age of seven. Owing to his past wisdom, he could understand subjects ranging from astronomy to geography without being taught by his teachers. He started learning martial arts when he was ten. No one in the whole kingdom could match up to his strength. When he was twelve he saw farmers ploughing the land and observed that the worms that were dug up together with the earth were being snatched and pecked by a flock of birds. He sat under a Jambu tree and reflected on this sight. He felt pity for sentient beings, eating each other – the weak are the prey of the strong and fighting among themselves. Oh! When will suffering end? At that young age, he had the thought of renouncing worldly life.
At the age of sixteen, King Suddhodana held an auspicious ‘Crowning Ceremony’, and officially named Sakyamuni as Crown Prince.
At seventeen, Prince Sakyamuni married the most beautiful lady in ancient India by the name of Yasodhara. Later, she gave birth to their only son, Rahula. After the wedding, King Suddhodana specially built for him a big garden wherein there were the majestic, glamourous and luxurious palaces for spring, summer, and autumn (no winter in the tropical zone). Further, the king chose groups of gentle, soft, beautiful and well poised maids who were excellent in singing and dancing to entertain the Prince day and night in hope to ingratiate favour and confer happiness to the Prince. However, being a reticent Prince of a few words, he felt that everything was empty and void. Everyday, he was unhappy and wanted to think of a Way leading to ultimate and thorough liberation.
One day when he was nineteen, he suddenly thought of going to the countryside for a ride to relieve his depressed state of mind. So, he rode off in his chariot through the east gate. First, he saw an old man with white grey hair, dark wrinkled skin, toothless, sunken dim eyes, hunched back and crooked waist, and walking with difficulty. The Prince saw this, he heaved a sigh and contemplated in his mind without any show of expression, he ordered the charioteer to take him back to the palace. This time, his spirit was dampened.
A few days later, he left again for the south gate. Outside the south gate, he saw a sick woman whose life was hanging on edge as she was lying by the roadside, moaning and short-breathed with indescribable pain and suffering. The Prince saw this with a heavy heart and lost interest to further his trip, so he ordered to return to the palace. Although the Prince did not breathe a word, he had lost his courage to go for another trip. The heavier he felt in his heart, the more he was disgusted with the worldly pleasure in the palace.
When the king learned of this, he ordered his followers to urge the Prince to go out for another trip. This time the Prince ordered to go by the west gate. After a short distance, with birds flying above and gentle breeze blowing past, the Prince’s spirit was raised slightly. Unfortunately, a funeral procession was passing him from the opposite direction. The family members, relatives and friends of the deceased were crying and weeping all the way. The funeral procession and burial saddened the Prince, he sighed and said, “Life in this world, birth is the root of suffering. Greed for fame and profit; promptness of impermanence; fighting and bigotry among people, calculative and manipulative even to the extent of killing resulting in distress and suffering. Once death happens, everything is gone, what is left is a rotten corpse which finally ends up as a heap of bones …” After the normally reticent Prince commented, the followers and servants were all stunned and they were unable to say anything to explain or console the Prince. This time, the Prince was even more depressed than the previous two times. Again, they followed his instructions and returned to the palace.
Many days passed. One day, the Prince’s spirit was extraordinary brisk and bright. This was possibly due to the effect of spring scenery of green mountains and running waters, warm sunny days and gently breeze on the Prince! The Prince ordered his charioteer to drive him out for a ride. This time they left through the north gate. After passing a number of houses, they came to the outskirts of the city where big fields with green seedlings and shoots looked like carpets, trees lined the roadsides and wild flowers blossomed. The Prince alighted from the chariot and strolled along. He looked near and afar, enjoying the beautiful scenery of nature. Coincidentally, there was a monk walking slowly towards him from the opposite direction. The Prince quickly walked towards him, put his palms together and asked about the Way to liberation of life. How could there be a monk at that time? Maybe that was the manifestation of an ancient Buddha! The monk explained to the Prince the truth of how humanity could distant from suffering, embrace happiness and attain liberation, to free from transmigrating in the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death as well as all worries and afflictions. After explanation, the monk put his palms together and took leave. On hearing the teaching, the Prince was delighted. He knew in his mind what he wanted to do and ordered to return to the palace. People in the palace observed that the Prince was full of joy and happiness; everyone had the feeling liken to the arrival of spring and passing of winter.
Since then, the Prince appeared to be jovial and happy, there was no sign of sadness and depression. It was like dispersing of the dark clouds and clearing of sky as if expecting the rising sun at dawn. In particular, when King Suddhodana learned of this news, he was so relieved and very delighted.
However, in the least expected, one night before dawn, on the eighth day of the second lunar month, the Prince rode off on his white horse in the moonlight through the north gate and left the palace. When this news broke out on the following day, the whole kingdom of Kapilavastu, from the king down through the officials to the common people, all were worried and concerned. Princess Yasodhara, in particular, cried her heart’s out which was not unimaginable!
The Prince arrived at the mountain. He dismounted and handed over his ornaments and horse to his charioteer to return to the palace. The Prince then shaved his head, put on the yellow robe and started a life wandering in search of an enlightened teacher to seek the Way to universal truth.
After six years, although the Prince had met with quite a number of ascetics, he realized that what they were cultivating and practicing was not the ultimate and thorough truth. So, he went to the great Snow Mountain where he endured all suffering and cultivated diligently in meditation. Six years had passed, his cultivation was still not accomplished and complete; there he went to the kingdom of Magadha and sat under a Budhi tree where he entered the state of ‘stillness’. On the year of thirty years of age, on the eighth day of twelve lunar month, while he was watching the shining stars, he suddenly realized to the universal truth and attain Supreme Enlightenment. He became the Great Buddha. At this moment on, he was no longer Prince Sakya, but the World-honoured One, the kind Father of four births (from eggs, wombs, humanity and energy form) and the Teacher of three fields of existence (desire, form and formless). From then on, he was known as ‘Sakyamuni Buddha’.
After the World-honoured One attained Buddhahood, he returned to the Grove called ‘Deer Park’ where he first turned the Dharma wheel and started teaching and guiding Kaundinya and four other Bhikshus. From then on, his footsteps covered many countries. He also went to the Dragon Palace and the Heavens as well as the other worlds to expound his Teachings to benefit sentient beings. In this Saha world of ours, he expounded the Dharma for 49 years and delivered more than three hundred discourses, influenced and saved immeasurable sentient beings. When he was eighty years old, due to his causal conditions of outreach on earth had come to an end, the Buddha, on the fifteenth day of the second lunar month, between the Sala trees in Kusinara, entered the state of Nirvana.
This is the story of the fourth Buddha of the thousand Buddhas of the Bhadra-kalpa in our world – the earth. Sakyamuni Buddha attained Buddhahood through the human form. He is the Great Teacher of Jen Chen (Humanity Vehicle) Buddhism that we promote, one that we pay homage and make offerings to. As the sphere of the Buddha’s teachings is the three thousands great chilocosm, a universe; therefore the Buddha is the Great Teacher of the Universe.