Birth of the Buddha
The Zen master Daisetz Suzuki once narrated an interesting story. A young student said to his master, "Am I in possession of Buddha consciousness?" The master said, "No." The student said, "Well, I 've been told that all things are in possession of Buddha consciousness. The rocks, the trees, the butterflies, the birds, the animals, all beings." The master said, "You are correct. All things are in possession of Buddha consciousness. The rocks, the trees, the butterflies, the bees, the birds, the animals, all beings-but not you." "Not me? Why not?" "Because you are asking this question."
According to legend, Buddha was born from the right side of his mother. Immediately upon his birth, he stood up and took seven steps, and wherever his feet touched the earth lotuses sprang up. Raising his hand he said: "Worlds above, worlds below, there's no one in the world like me."
Finally, Suzuki elaborated. "They tell me that when a baby is born, it cries. What does the baby say when it cries? The baby says 'Worlds above, worlds below, there's no one in the world like me!' All babies are Buddha babies." So what was the distinguishing characteristic of Queen Maya's baby? He knew that he was a Buddha baby. According to Joseph Campbell, "The whole thing of Buddha consciousness means getting to know you are it. That takes a lot of work, principally because society keeps telling you that you are not it."
But we are here a bit ahead of ourselves. Mayadevi had successfully carried the Buddha-to-Be for ten months without any complications or pain. Near the end of her pregnancy, she took a trip to her parental home to have the baby there with her mother, an ancient custom that is still sometimes practiced. On the way however there was a pleasant grove, overflowing with a rich profusion of fruits and flowers.
Desiring to rest among them, the queen instructed her party to put camp there. She stepped out of her palanquin and reached to grasp one of the branches of a flowering tree. No sooner had she done so than she felt the throes of giving birth. Standing thus, with her hand to the branch, she delivered, and the Buddha-to-Be emerged from his mother's right side.
In visual depictions, Mayadevi's unique posture has given rise to an entire genre of feminine imagery, where amply endowed female forms stand sinuously in dance postures with the left leg crossed in front of the right.
The lifted hand grasps a tree, entwined around the branch in a manner identical to that of the tree goddesses and female tree-spirits (yakshis) of yore, who denoted fertility in early Indian art.
Here, not only does Mayadevi's posture provide a powerful statement presenting her as fertility incarnate, but as the mother of the Buddha-to-Be, she is also the generative source of the enlightenment process.
Present at the time of birth were the Hindu gods Indra and Brahma. Normally in those ancient circumstances, everything connected with death, birth, excrement, and blood would have been considered unclean. The presence of these two important deities of the Hindu pantheon has significance over and above political interpretations. It indicates that the birth in question was non-defiling one, graced by their auspicious presence. In paintings, Brahma is easily recognized by his four heads (three visible and fourth invisible at the back). Indra too stands ready, holding a cloth to wrap the baby.
The advent of the newborn was accompanied by many pleasurable happenings not the least of which was a bountiful rainfall, leading to a rich harvest and prosperity all around the kingdom. Hence his father gave him the name 'Siddhartha,' meaning 'accomplisher of aims.' He was also called 'Gautama,' which was his clan name (gotra). How he got the third of his popular epithets (Shakyamuni), we will see later.