The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes The Conception Of The Bodhisatta contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as the Jewel of the Buddha. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

Part 3 - The Conception Of The Bodhisatta

[For Anudīpanī, see The Conception of The Bodhisatta]

At the precise moment of the demise of Bodhisatta, Deva Setaketu, Sirī Mahāmāyā, the Chief Queen of King Suddhodāna of the Kingdom of Kapilavatthu, was enjoying magnificent regal pleasures. She had now reached the third portion of the second stage of life[1] called majjhima vaya. (The human life span then was one hundred years. Thus the age of Sirī Mahāmāyā Devī was around fifty-five years and four months, This is elaborated in the Samanta Cakkhu Dīpanī.)

The Festival of The Constellation Uttarāsāḷha

It was the ninth waxing day of Āsāḷhā (June-July) in the year 67 Mahā Era, when the Chief Queen Sirī Mahāmāyā was fifty-five years and four months old. The people of the kingdom were joyously celebrating the festival of the constellation Uttarāsāḷha, a traditional annual event. Everyone participated hilariously in the festivity, outdoing one another in merry-making.

Sirī Mahāmāyā Devī also took part in the festival which was celebrated from the ninth to the fourteenth waxing moon. The festival was distinguished by total abstinence from liquor and by beautification with flowers, perfumes and ornaments. On the full-moon day of the month, the Chief Queen woke up early, took a perfumed bath, made a most generous donation by giving money and materials worth four hundred thousand. She then dressed herself and had breakfast of choicest food, after which she took the eight precepts (from her teacher hermit Devila), and proceeded to the exquisitely decorated royal chamber and spent the entire day on a couch of splendour, observing the eight precepts.

Mahāmāyā’s Dream

Observing the eight precepts and lying on the couch of splendour in the last watch of the full-moon night, Sirī Mahāmāyā Devī fell into a short slumber and had a dream, which foretold the conception of a Bodhisatta, as follows:

The four Catumahārājā devas lifted and carried her in her bed to Lake Anotatta in the Himalayas. Then she was placed on the flat surface of the orpiment slab measuring sixty yojanas under the shade of a sāla tree which was seven yojanas high.

Thereafter, consorts of the four Catumahārājā devas came on the scene. They took the queen to Lake Anotatta and bathed her and helped her get clean. Then they dressed her in celestial costumes and applied celestial cosmetics to her. They also adorned her with celestial flowers. Then she was put to bed with her head towards the east, in the inner chamber of a golden mansion inside a silver mountain, which was not far away from the lake.

At that moment, in her dream, she saw a pure white elephant grazing around the golden mountain, which was not far from the silver mountain where there was the golden mansion, inside which she slept. Then the white elephant descended from the golden mountain, ascended the silver mountain and entered the golden mansion. The white elephant then walked around the Queen clockwise, and effected entry into her womb from the right side by breaking it open.

The Conception of The Bodhisatta

At the time when the Queen was thus dreaming, Bodhisatta Deva Setaketu, was going round Nandavana Garden in Tusitā enjoying delightful sights and sounds; while doing so he passed away from the abode of devas with full comprehension and awareness. At that very instant the Bodhisatta was conceived in the lotus-like womb of his mother with the first great resultant consciousness (mahāvipāka citta), one of the nineteen initial thought moments (paṭisandhi citta), a resultant of the first great wholesome consciousness (mahākusala citta) accompanied by joy (somanassa sahagata), combined with knowledge (ñāṇa sampayutta), unprompted (asaṅkhārika) and caused by preparatory development (parikamma bhāvanā) prior to the attainment of the jhāna of Loving-kindness (mettā jhāna). This event took place on the morning of Thursday, the full moon of Āsāḷhā, in the year 67 Mahā Era, founded by King Añjana, grandfather of the Bodhisatta. The precise moment of his conception was marked by the conjunction of the moon with the constellation Uttarāsāḷha.

(The name of the year and the days of the Bodhisatta’s conception and birth are mentioned here in accordance with the calculations given in secular works of astrology and chronicles of kings. The Pāli Texts, Commentaries and Subcommentaries are silent about them. The Gotamapurāṇa gives the 2570th year of the kaliyuga as the date of birth of Buddha Gotama.)

The Violent Earthquake

Simultaneous with the Bodhisatta’s conception, there occurred a violent earthquake. The ten thousand world-systems trembled and shook in the following six modes:

(1) the earth surface rose up in the east and sank in the west;
(2) it rose up in the west and sank in the east;
(3) it rose up in the north and sank in the south;
(4) it rose up in the south and sank in the north;
(5) it rose up in the centre and sank along the circumference;
(6) it rose up along the circumference and sank in the centre.

The Thirty-Two Great Prophetic Phenomena

Moreover, there appeared the thirty-two great prophetic phenomena that usually accompany the conception of a Bodhisatta in his last existence. From these wonderful events the wise could learn: “The Bodhisatta has been conceived.” The thirty-two prophetic phenomena, as enumerated in the introduction to the Jātaka Commentary, are as follows:

At that moment:

(1) a great light of unsurpassed brilliance spread throughout the entire ten thousand world-systems;

(2) the blind gained eyesight, as if they were desirous of seeing the glory of the Bodhisatta;

(3) the deaf also gained hearing;

(4) the dumb also gained the ability to speak;

(5) the deformed also became normal;

(6) the lame also gained the ability to walk;

(7) the imprisoned and the fettered (with handcuffs, chains, etc., for confinement) become free of all bondages;

(8) fires in every hell became extinguished;

(9) those suffering in the woeful state of petas were relieved of thirst and hunger;

(10) animals became free from danger;

(11) all beings afflicted with diseases were cured;

(12) all beings spoke endearingly to one another;

(13) horses neighed gleefully, in a sweet and pleasant manner;

(14) elephants trumpeted in a sweet and pleasant manner;

(15) all musical instruments, such as cymbals, harps, trumpets, etc., produced their normal sounds without being played;

(16) ornaments, such as bracelets, anklets, etc., worn by human beings tinkled without striking one another;

(17) open spaces and sceneries in all directions became distinct and clear;

(18) soft breeze blew gently, bringing peace and comfort to all living beings;

(19) unseasonal rain fell heavily, (although it was not the raining season, heavy rain fell roaringly);

(20) subterranean waters oozed out of earth and flowed away in this and that directions;

(21) no birds flew in the sky (at that moment birds did not fly in the air at all);

(22) river waters that normally flowed continuously ceased to flow "as a frightened servant stops moving at the shout of his master";

(23) natural salty water in the ocean became sweet at that moment;

(24) all directions were covered with five kinds of lotus in three colours, (all lakes and ponds had their water surface covered with five kinds of lotus);

(25) all aquatic and terrestrial flowers blossomed simultaneously;

(26) flowers on tree trunks (khandha paduma) bloomed exquisitely;

(27) flowers on branches (sākhā paduma) bloomed exquisitely;

(28) flowers on creepers (latā paduma) bloomed exquisitely:

(29) inflorescent flowers (daṇḍa paduma), sprouting all over the land, appeared in seven tiers after breaking through stone slabs;

(30) celestial lotus flowers dangled earthwards;

(31) lowers rained down continuously in the environs;

(32) celestial musical instruments made sound of music automatically.

These thirty-two great prophetic phenomena can also be called the Thirty-two Great Wonders. The Thirty-two Wonders, which were mentioned in the Chapter on the Chronicle of the Twenty-Four Buddhas, were these thirty-two great prophetic phenomena.

The entire ten thousand world-systems, being adorned with such great prophetic phenomena, appeared resplendent like a huge ball of flowers, or like a large bouquet massively made or a vast bed of flowers spread layer upon layer. The air around was laden with fragrance as though this were caused by the gentle movement of a yak-tail fly-flap. (Note on the Thirty-two wonders is mentioned in the Anudīpanī of Chapter 1.) Interpretation of Mahāmāyā’s Dream by Learned Brahmins

When Queen Sirī Mahāmāyā woke up, she reported her dream to King Suddhodāna.

On the following morning, King Suddhodāna summoned sixty-four leading brahmin gurus and offered them prepared seats which were fit for noble ones and the ground was besmeared evenly with fresh cow dung and strewed all over with rice flakes and the like, as an act of honour. The King also offered the Brahmins delicious milk-rice cooked with ghee, honey and molasses, filled to the brim of gold cups covered with gold and silver lids. And to make them pleased and satisfied, the King presented them with starched clothes (new clothes), milch cows, and did other forms of honour.

After serving them with food, etc., and honouring them thus to their pleasure and satisfaction, King Suddhodāna had the Queen’s dream related to the Brahmins and asked them: “What does the dream mean, fortune or misfortune? Read it and give me your interpretations.”

The Brahmins replied to the King, giving their interpretations: “Great King, lay all your anxieties to rest. The Queen has now conceived. The baby in the womb is a boy, not a girl. A son will be born to you. If he chooses to lead a princely life, he will surely become a Universal Monarch reigning over the four continents. If he renounces the household life as a recluse, he will surely become an Omniscient Buddha who destroys and removes the ‘roof’ of defilements in the three worlds.”

The Protection by Deva Kings

From the moment the Bodhisatta was conceived, the Catumahārājā devas, namely, Vessavaṇa and others who lived in this universe, entered the splendid chamber of Queen Sirī Mahāmāyā and gave protection continuously, day and night, each holding a sword to ward off ghosts and ogres, and unsightly beasts and birds which could be seen or heard by the Bodhisatta and his mother. In this way, forty thousand Mahārājā devas residing in the ten thousand world-systems (each system having four such deities) guarded the entire space from the doors of the Queen’s splendid chamber up to the edges of the world-system, driving away the ghosts, ogres, etc.

Such protection was afforded not because of the fear that someone would harm the lives of the Bodhisatta and his mother. Even if one hundred thousand crores of Māras were to bring one hundred thousand crores of gigantic Mount Merus to threaten the lives of the Bodhisatta in his last existence and his mother, all the Māras as well as the mountains would surely be destroyed and the Bodhisatta and his mother would remain unharmed. The protection was just to ward off evil sights and sounds which could possibly cause anxiety and fear to the Queen. Another reason might be that deva kings protected the Bodhisatta through sheer veneration and devotion inspired by the Bodhisatta’s glorious power.

The question may then arise, i.e. whether the deva kings who came and kept guard inside the royal chamber of the Bodhisatta’s mother made themselves visible or not to her. The answer is: They did not make themselves visible when she was bathing, dressing, eating and cleaning her body. They made themselves apparent when she entered her chamber of splendour and lay down on her excellent couch.

The sight of devas might tend to frighten ordinary people, but it did not scare the Chief Queen at all by virtue of the Bodhisatta’s glow and of her own. Seeing them was just like seeing familiar female and male palace guards.

Mahāmāyā’s Steadfast Observance of Moral Precepts

The mother of a Bodhisatta in his last existence is usually steadfast in observing moral precepts. Before the appearance of a Buddha, people usually took precepts from wandering ascetics by bowing and sitting respectfully before them. Queen Sirī Mahāmāyā, prior to the conception of the Bodhisatta, also used to receive the precepts from Hermit Kāladevila. But when the Bodhisatta was conceived in her womb, it was no longer proper for her to sit at the feet of any other person. Only the precepts received from somebody as an equal (not as a subordinate) were observed. From the time of her conception of the Bodhisatta, she kept the precepts by herself. It should be noted that the precepts were kept not at all by submitting herself as a disciple to Hermit Kāḷadevila.

Absence of Sensuous Desires

The mother of a Bodhisatta in his last existence, from the time of pregnancy, becomes totally free of all sensuous desire for any man, even for the father of the Bodhisatta. It is her nature to remain chaste and pure. On the contrary, it cannot be said the sensuous thoughts would not arise in worldlings at the sight of her person. Because, by virtue of her long fulfilment of Perfections and performance at acts of merit, the mother of a Bodhisatta in his last existence is endowed with splendour or superb beauty, and elegance which could not be faithfully represented in any painting or sculpture of her by the most accomplished master artists and sculptors.

On seeing such a mother of the Bodhisatta, if onlookers are not satisfied with the mere sight of her, and if they would attempt to approach her with passionate thoughts, their feet would become transfixed on the spot as if they were fettered with iron chains. Therefore, it should be well borne in mind that the mother of Bodhisatta in his last existence is a noble, unique woman inviolable by any man or deva.

The Mother’s Womb likened to A Stūpa

The auspicious womb, in which a Bodhisatta is conceived, is so sacred like a temple that no one else is worthy of occupying or making use of it. Besides, while the mother of a Bodhisatta is living, no woman other than herself can be raised to the highest position as Chief Queen. Therefore, seven days after giving birth to the Bodhisatta, it is a natural phenomenon that she should pass away to Tusitā abode of devas. The lotus-like womb of Mahāmāyā Devī, in which the Bodhisatta remained, was as if filled with brilliant diamonds.

The Arrival of Gifts

On hearing the good tidings that Mahāmāyā Devī, Chief Queen of King Suddhodāna, ruler of the Kingdom of Kapilavatthu, had conceived a precious son of power and glory, kings from far and near sent most valuable gifts, such as clothings, ornaments, musical instruments, etc., which might delight the Bodhisatta. The gifts which arrived in tribute from various quarters, owing to the deeds of merit performed in previous existences by the Bodhisatta and his mother, were too numerous to be measured or counted.

The Mother seeing The Child in Her Womb

Although Mahāmāyā Devī had conceived the Bodhisatta, she had no suffering at all, such as swelling, pain, heaviness, etc., in the limbs, unlike other pregnant women. Being thus free of these discomforts, she easily passed through the first stage of her pregnancy. When she reached the advanced stage and the embryo took concrete shape with the development of the five main branches of the body, she often had a look at her child to find out whether the child was in a proper, comfortable position and, if not, to do the needful as in the way of all mothers. Whenever she took a look, she saw the Bodhisatta clearly like iridescent silk thread passing through the pure, clean, beautiful veḷuriya gem of eight facets; or, she saw him seated cross-legged reposefully leaning on the backbone of the mother like a speaker of Dhamma, seated on the Dhamma throne, leaning on its back-support.

The Visibility of The Bodhisatta

The reason why Mahāmāyā Devī was able to see, from outside, the son remaining in the lotus-like chamber of her womb was by virtue of the deeds of merit performed by her in her previous existences which resulted in her skin texture and colour became extraordinarily clean and smooth, free from all impurities. The skin around the stomach was also smooth, clean and translucent like a sheet of glass or that of a priceless ruby. Thus the embryo was plainly visible to the mother who could see the Bodhisatta with naked eyes through the skin of her stomach, like an object encased in a crystal clear glass box. Note: Though Mahāmāyā Devī could clearly see the son inside her womb but he, from inside her womb, could not see her because his eye consciousness (cakkhu-viññāṇa) had not yet developed whilst in the mother’s womb.

Footnotes and references:


Third portion of the second stage of life: read Anudīpanī of Chapter 1.

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