Today is Buddha’s birthday, May 7th, or Baisakh full moon in Nepal’s calendar, together with the anniversary of his enlightenment and of his death. In Kathmandu almost every single person will be visiting temples, monasteries and shrines to celebrate. We have experienced such a day in Nepal as we walked to the top of the hill to Swayambhu with tens of thousands of people, young and old, fit and infirmed …….. a magical experience. We cannot be there today, but we will eat rice pudding as is traditional and reflect on that visit. Here’s our usual approach as a tribute to Siddhartha Gautama…. The Buddha.
“Happy birthday Sid” we both said in unison, as he sat down beside us in our favourite wine bar, “in fact triple happy birthday” said Dr C, “a glass of your usual fizzy water to celebrate?”
“Why not, it only comes round once a year!” said the Enlightened One.
“How about telling us the story Sid, from the day you were born …. and why a triple birthday” I said.
“OK, I was born Siddhartha Gautama, a prince, around 500BC in your calendar. My parents were Suddhodana the king of the Shakya clan, and Maya Devi, the queen. My actual birthdate was the full moon of the month of Baisakh in the lunar calendar, Bikram Sambat, in Nepal. My place of birth was Lumbini, a city in the south of Nepal as you know …… NOT in India!”
“We’ve been to Lumbini Sid, seen ruins of the palace I guess and the possible spot where you were born. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site now with lots of temples, monasteries and places of learning”.
“It had been predicted that I would become either a great warrior or a spiritual leader, so my father trained me as a warrior and prevented me from travelling away from the palace grounds. He believed he was sheltering me from observing the suffering of ordinary people and I would continue to develop towards following in his footsteps.Then one day when I was 29, I went out on a journey around the surrounding area and saw old age, infirmity, disease and death for the first time. The next day I just knew what I had to do and decided to leave the palace and seek answers to the suffering I had observed and it’s causes. I left the palace secretly because I knew my father would try to stop me so I set off alone into the forest.”
“To cut a long story short, over the next six years I met many talented meditation teachers and mastered their techniques. Always I found that they showed me the mind’s potential but not the nature of mind itself. Finally I wandered to a place called Bodhgaya, and decided to remain in a meditative state until I knew the mind’s true nature and could benefit all beings. It took me six days and nights before I finally understood and reached enlightenment on the full moon morning of Baisakh. This was my “second birthday”, exactly the same date on which I was born, a rebirth you would call it.”
“So is it correct that the first thing you ate on awakening was Kheer (rice pudding flavoured with cardamoms)?”
“Yes, it was given to me by a woman passing by, her name was Sujata. It was the beginning of a new life for me as a teacher, sharing my view of the causes of human suffering and the path to be followed in order to eliminate that suffering”.
“So the 4 Noble Truths and the 8 Fold Path had been revealed to you during this meditation and this is what you decided to spend the rest of your life teaching, the next 45 years of your life in fact before passing away, your third birthday?”
“Thank you Sid, maybe next time you can give us the 4 Noble Truths and the 8 Fold Path in your own words, simply stated so that some of my followers can get some basic understanding of Buddhism as a way of living one’s life. In the meantime, it might help folks if they want to know a little bit more now to consider these two books. The first is The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh which describes Buddhist philosophy together with the Truths and Path. The second is quite different, Buddha-A Story of Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra which tells the story of Siddhartha Gautama‘s life, almost like a novel and very easy reading.”