Indian Mythology


What is the mythology of the Buddha?

Some of the earliest myths about the Buddha are found in the Jataka Tales, many of them dating to the Pali tradition of Theravada. These myths include birth stories of the Buddha and his former incarnations. Other stories have emerged out of the Buddhist folk tradition over the centuries.

One myth tells how the Buddha was conceived miraculously by his mother, Queen Maya of the Shakas, during a dream about a white elephant who walked around her three times and touched her right side. In this myth, Maya gave birth in a Lumbini grove. As soon as the boy was born he took several steps and proclaimed, “I am the most honored one in all the world.”

Maya died seven days later. The boy, named Siddhartha Gautama, or Shakyamuni, prince of the Shakas, received a princely upbringing and was protected from the world. His father had been told by a prophet that his son would become a great leader if he remained at home or a teacher if he left home. The father preferred the former path and might have succeeded in keeping Siddhartha from the world if, during a ride with his charioteer, the boy had not witnessed an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a wandering ascetic. Moved by his visions of aging, sickness, death, and asceticism, Siddhartha left his wife and child and the comforts of the palace to confront and understand reality—to seek enlightenment as a wandering ascetic himself. In time he found his way to the Bodhi Tree, under which he sat and began meditation. There he was tempted in many ways by Mara the Fiend. But Siddhartha resisted these temptations and became The Enlightened One, the Buddha. He remained seated for seven days, relishing the bliss of nirvana. The Buddha spent the rest of his life as a bodhisattva, teaching others. When he died, his funeral pyre ignited spontaneously and nothing was left after the fire but a pile of relics.

Prince Siddhartha, shown here in a 1914 illustration, fulfills his destiny by leaving his home and life of privilege to become a teacher, the Enlightened One called the Buddha.


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