15 January 2009

Holy Maya, Mother of Buddha, Have Mercy on Us

Queen Māyā and King Suddhodhana did not have children for twenty years into their marriage. One day however, according to legend, Queen Māyā dreamt of a divine Bodhisattva on white elephant touching her side, and became pregnant. According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha-to-be was residing as a Bodhisattva, in the Tuṣita heaven, and decided to take the shape of a white elephant to be reborn, for the last time, on Earth. Māyā gave birth to Siddharta c. 563 BCE. The pregnancy lasted ten lunar months. Following custom, the Queen returned to her own home for the birth. On the way, she stepped down from her palanquin to have a walk in the beautiful flower garden of Lumbini Park, Lumbini Zone, Nepal. She was delighted by the park and she reached for a branch to take a rest. Again according to legend, at this time Prince Siddhārtha emerged from her right side and was born. It was the eighth day of April. She gave him his first bath in the Puskarini pond in Lumbini Zone. Siddhārtha means "He who has accomplished his goals" or "The accomplished goal".

Queen Māyā died seven days after the birth of the Buddha-to-be, and went to the Tuṣita Heaven. Her sister Prajāpatī (Pāli: Pajāpatī or Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī) became the child's foster mother.

After Prince Siddhartha had gained perfection and became the Buddha, he visited his mother in heaven for three months to pay respects and to teach the Dharma.

Some interpretations of the life story of the Buddha attribute his birth to a virgin birth. This is likely due to a specific interpretation of the prophetic dream Queen Māyā is said to have had prior to conception and is not a widely held view amongst Buddhists. The conception of the Buddha is often held to have occurred without sexual activity. This interpretation has led to parallels being drawn with the birth story of Jesus.

The story of the birth of the Buddha was known in the West, and some even say that it possibly influenced the story of the birth of Jesus. Saint Jerome (4th century CE) mentions the birth of the Buddha, who he says "was born from the side of a virgin". Also a fragment of Archelaos of Carrha (278 CE) mentions the Buddha's virgin-birth.

Other interesting parallels in the birth stories include:
  • The similarity in the sounds of the names of Mary (Aramaic: מרים, Maryām) and Maya.

  • Maya conceived during a dream, Mary conceived around the time of a visitation from an angel.

  • Both women gave birth "outside" of a home.

  • Heavenly wonders appeared in the sky.

  • Heavenly beings (angels or devas) announced the newborn as "savior" of the world.

  • Sages came to visit the newborn and make prophecies of auspicious careers.
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