The Quest for Enlightenment: The Life of the Buddha (4)

Speaker: Ven. Zhi Sheng

Fo Guang Shan Institute of Humanistic Buddhism

I. Introduction

Hello, welcome to the Fo Guang Shan English Dharma Services. My name is Zhi Sheng and thank you for tuning in today. This is the last part of “A Quest for Enlightenment: Life of the Buddha.”

As mentioned previously, I have been making references to the book, The Biography of Sakyamuni Buddha written by Venerable Master Hsing Yun. Last week, we talked about “The Four Sights” that led to Prince Siddhartha’s determination of renunciation. Today, we will look at “His birth.”

Firstly, we will talk about Prince Siddhartha’s parents, King Suddhodana and Queen Maya. Secondly, Queen Maya’s dream. Thirdly, the birth of Prince Siddhartha. Lastly, Asita’s prophecy.

So let’s begin.

II. About King Suddhodana and Queen Maya

King Suddhodana was a brave, capable, wise, and virtuous person. He came to power early in life, becoming the head of his clan and leader of Kapilavastu. He governed the kingdom, efficiently and justly, and the land was prosperous and peaceful.

Many princesses and young noblewomen quietly hoped that they would have the good fortune to be married to this young, majestic king.

However, the young King Suddhodana entered a joyous marriage with the beautiful princess Maya, who was known to all as generous, compassionate, and virtuous. After the marriage, they fell deeply in love, sharing an unbreakable bond.

Unfortunately, for many years, the royal couple failed to conceive a son that could become heir to the throne.

After performing his duties, King Suddhodana would return to the palace, see his warm and loving wife, look upon the lonely rooms and furnishings, and moan and sigh in unhappiness.

One day, Queen Maya, knowing what was troubling the king, spoke to the king, “…We are slowly growing older and yet we have no children to call our own. You are the king of this land. How can a king be without an heir?” The king sighed and furrowed his eyebrows.

Queen Maya continued, “You shouldn’t be so stubborn. Listen to me. All of the kings of the past had concubines in their royal families. Why should you not do the same? In this palace, there is only me. You should invite more women to the palace, so that they may bear you a son.”

“No,” the king refused, “If it is my fate to have no heir, then even if all the women in the world came to the palace, it would not make a difference.”

Even though the king said that, in his heart anxiety grew by the day.


Let us pause here for a moment to reflect. We have just read about the king, wishing so much for a son to succeed his throne. And Queen Maya, knowing her role as a wife, she has the responsibility of bearing a child for her husband.

I see similar situations with friends and family. For some traditions, the Chinese for instance, the pressure of having a son to carry on the family name can be huge. How often I hear people who have 6 daughters and 1 son, the son being the youngest. They just kept trying until they had a son. Having said that, there are people who wished for a daughter, and yet they had boys. Such is life, isn’t it?

Despite the traditions, how can we be accepting of what is?

Just as the Buddha realized about dependent origination, which can also be understood as “This existing, that exists; this arises, that arises; this not existing, that does not exist; this ceasing, that ceases.”

We can learn to understand that everything comes to existence requires a lot of causes and conditions.

These causes and conditions are like the terms and conditions for something to work. If one is missing, then it becomes difficult and challenging.

In the case of the king and the queen, the causes and conditions of conceiving a child is not there. But we can see Queen Maya did not simply sit to wait for things to happen, that’s why she suggested to the king to have concubines.

This is a good example of proactively handling challenges by changing the conditions to my best ability. I am not asking everyone to have concubines if they can’t conceive a child, please do not take this out of context. Nowadays, there are many different fertility methods available. We can learn to be proactive in understanding the situation and assess our options when things aren’t working out. Like this picture shows a plant that manages to find its way to grow out of concrete, it would have gone through its own struggles.

III. Queen Maya’s Dream

Let’s look further on what happened to Queen Maya. Quoting from the book,

“…One calm, clear night, in Queen Maya’s fortieth year, she was sleeping soundly on her bed. She dreamt of a powerful, impressive being riding a white elephant through space towards her. When he reached her, entered into her body through an opening on her right side and settled into her womb.”

The queen was startled and woke from her slumber, discovering that it had all been a dream. After she awoke, Queen Maya told King Suddhodana of her dream. Both the king and queen could not understand what the dream meant.

“Not long afterwards, the queen happily informed King Suddhodana of her pregnancy. Having waited twenty long years for these words, all of the sadness that had gathered in the king’s heart was swept away by a wave of joy.”

Queen Maya spent her pregnancy in happiness.

One night, Queen Maya spoke to King Suddhodana about her plan to visit Lumbini Grove on the edge of Kapilivastu. Then, she would return to her mother’s home to give birth, as custom dictated. King Suddhodana approved of her plans.

“Not long after arriving at Lumbini Grove, Queen Maya rested under a large and flourishing asoka tree and gave birth to a boy. When she gave birth, she felt no pain, and the newborn baby entered the world peacefully. The birth of the prince was accompanied by many other miracles.”

“Shortly after birth, the child walked seven steps. After looking about in every direction, the child declared, ‘This is my last birth into this world. It is for the sake of realizing Buddhahood that I have come into this world. I am the greatest enlightened being, and am here to liberate all beings.’”

“After these words, two streams of water, shimmering silver fell from the heavens, one warm and one cool. The prince bathed in them, leaving his body and mind free and at ease.”


Wow, finally! After so many years, the king and the queen finally had a son! It is like a wish come true. Hence, the prince was named Siddhartha, which means, wish-fulfilled.

With regards to the birth of the prince, have you heard different versions? For instance, that the Buddha was born from Queen Maya’s right flank? What do you think about a newborn being able to take 7 steps? And that there were 9 dragons that appeared from the sky and sprinkled water on him?

Venerable Master Hsing Yun mentioned in Buddha-Dharma Pure and Simple that, I quote: When he wrote the Biography of Sakyamuni Buddha, it was intended so that people could know more about the founder of Buddhism. He too asked, was it humanly possible for Queen Maya to give birth to Prince Siddhartha from her right flank? Who healed her wound? Moreover, right after birth, the prince was able to walk seven steps, with a lotus flower blooming under each footstep. The prince was then bathed in water spouted by nine dragons.

Can a newborn immediately walk with ease? This is improbable from a medical perspective. As for the dragons, where are the dragons? The Venerable Master said, he had never seen one.

However, famous historical figures tend to have legendary narratives.

Furthermore, we can think of it as, we needed to add the “wow” factor into the narratives of these famous historical figures. Otherwise, they would seem too ordinary and we would not be much interested.

It is important to note that, how the prince was born and whether or not he took the seven steps shall not be our focus. We ought to remember who was he? What did he realize and what had he taught us that can still help us in our lives in this present day?

IV. Asita’s Prophecy

Let’s now look at Asita’s Prophecy about the prince.

While the elder Asita, a sage untainted by worldly desires, was meditating, a heavenly being appeared before him and told him that King Suddhodana has had a son who shall become the future Buddha.

And so, he arrived at the palace to pay homage to the prince, who shall become the enlightened one of this world.

When the prince was brought to the elder Asita, with great reverence, he looked upon the handsome prince. He had never seen such perfect and auspicious features before.

Asita looked away. Tears began to fall, and soon the sage was sighing and weeping.

“Deeply disturbed, the king asked, “Revered sage, why do you cry? Did you not say that my son had many excellent characteristics? What do you now see that moves you to tears? Do you see in my son the mark of a short life? Long have I wished for a son, and now that my thirst has been quenched by sweet dew, will he be taken from me?

“Does his birth mark the fall of this nation and the loss of treasure? Revered sage, even if it is so and all my riches will vanish, if he can grow to adulthood I shall have no regrets. Why do you sigh and weep? Please tell me what you know, so that I may be at peace.”

Seeing the king filled with grief and fear, the elder Asita spoke to him respectfully and sincerely, “Great king, cast all pain from your heart. From the moment I first spoke to the instant I laid eyes upon the prince, my words have remained unchanged. I am truly fortunate to have seen the prince with my own eyes.

“Yet, as I think of myself, I am advanced in years, fragile like a flickering flame in the wind. I wept, for I will not live to hear the teaching of this young prince, who in the future will become the Buddha.”

“Will the prince truly renounce the householder’s life and become a Buddha?” King Suddodana asked, still filled with anxiety.”

“Great king,” the elder Asita declared sincerely, “This child is in his last rebirth into this world…The birth of this child brings great joy not only to you, but to all of humanity. This is not a priceless treasure only for you, but a great boon for all of human-kind! He is destined to renounce the worldly life and become a Buddha.”

“How can this be? Who then will be heir to my throne?” the king asked.

“He will renounce the throne and begin spiritual practice, and will seek true awakening…Truly he is the everlasting lamp of wisdom in the world. My lord, pity me, for I will not be able to hear of the great path of the Buddha…”


With Asita’s Prophecy, this explains why the king always had to make sure that everything provided for the prince had to be perfect and without flaws. He gave the prince the best in the world so that he would be distracted from thoughts of the spiritual path. As we already mentioned in this series, the Four Sights that he encountered made a huge impact on him. He realized how much pain and suffering everyone has to go through endlessly. His meeting with the renunciant gave him hope and a direction to find the answers to end the cycle of old age, sickness, and death. In the episode of renunciation, we also saw how the prince debated with his father and was determined to keep going on his quest to enlightenment. And truly, he attained the supreme enlightenment, realizing the twelve links of dependent origination.

V. Conclusion

We have come to nearly the end of today’s talk.

In conclusion, I would like to briefly mention, each year, we celebrate the Buddha’s Birthday as a reminder for us. We commemorate the birth of a great being by a ritual, which is bathing of the Buddha. It symbolizes the cleansing of our body, speech, and thoughts to eradicate anger, greed, and ignorance in order to purify our minds to cultivate merits and wisdom. The true significance of bathing of the Buddha is that, “It is easy to wash away physical dirt, but much more difficult to cleanse one’s inner impurity of greed, anger and ignorance.” As we bathe the little prince, we remind ourselves to practice what he taught and aspire to attain supreme enlightenment.

With that, I shall end my talk.

Thank you so much for listening. May you find peace and joy in the Dharma.

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