A Sketch of the Buddha's Life

Readings from the Pali Canon

13,055 words

This modest selection of excerpts from the Pali Canon provides a rough sketch of the life of the Buddha. I hope you will find enough in this rather sparse selection to gain at least an inkling both of the range of the Buddhas teachings and of the sweeping trajectory of his extraordinary life....

The Bodhisattva


Asita the seer, in his mid day meditation,
saw the devas of the Group of Thirty
-- exultant, ecstatic --
dressed in pure white, honoring Indra,
holding up banners, cheering wildly,
and on seeing the devas so joyful and happy,
having paid his respects, he said:

"Why is the deva community
so wildly elated?
Why are they holding up banners
and waving them around?
Even after the war with the Asuras
-- when victory was the devas,
the Asuras defeated --
even then there was no excitement like this.
Seeing what marvel
are the devas so joyful?
They shout,
they sing,
play music,
clap their hands,
So I ask you, who live on Mount Merus summit.
Please dispel my doubt quickly, dear sirs."

"The Bodhisattva, the foremost jewel,
has been born for welfare and ease
in the human world,
in a town in the Sakyan countryside,
Thats why were all so wildly elated.
He, the highest of all beings,
the ultimate person,
a bull among men, foremost of all people,
will set turning the Wheel of Dhamma
in the grove named after the seers,
like a strong, roaring lion,
the conqueror of beasts."

Hearing these words,
Asita quickly descended from heaven
and went to Suddhodanas dwelling.
There, taking a seat, he said to the Sakyans:
"Where is the prince?
I, too, want to see him."
The Sakyans then showed
to the seer named Asita
their son, the prince,
like gold aglow,
burnished by a most skillful smith
in the mouth of the furnace,
blazing with glory, flawless in color.
On seeing the prince blazing like flame,
pure like the bull of the stars
going across the sky
-- the burning sun,
released from the clouds of autumn --
he was exultant, filled with abundant rapture.
The devas held in the sky
a many spoked sunshade
of a thousand circles.
Gold handled whisks
waved up and down,
but those holding the whisks and the sunshade
couldnt be seen.
The matted haired seer
named Dark Splendor,
seeing the boy, like an ornament of gold
on the red woolen blanket,
a white sunshade held over his head,
received him, happy and pleased.
And on receiving the bull of the Sakyans,
longingly, the master of mantras and signs
exclaimed with a confident mind:
"This one is unsurpassed,
the highest of the biped race."
Then, foreseeing his own imminent departure,
he, dejected, shed tears.
On seeing him weeping,
the Sakyans asked:
"But surely there will be
 no danger for the prince?"
On seeing the Sakyans concern
he replied, "I foresee for the prince
no harm.
Nor will there be any danger for him.
This one isnt lowly: be assured.
This prince will touch
the ultimate self awakening.
He, seeing the utmost purity,
will set rolling the Wheel of Dhamma
through sympathy for the welfare of many.
His holy life will spread far and wide.
But as for me,
my life here has no long remainder;
my death will take place before then.
I wont get to hear
the Dhamma of this one with the peerless role.
Thats why Im stricken,
afflicted, and pained."

[Snp III.11]

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