Buddha, p.1

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  A Story of Enlightenment

  Deepak Chopra


  Author’s Note




  One crisp spring day King Suddhodana turned in his saddle…


  The gray rain blanketed Suddhodana and his men as the…


  The silk curtains to Maya’s chamber parted, and Kumbira rushed…


  The next morning Suddhodana rode his warhorse up the hillside…


  It took a moment before Siddhartha had enough presence of…


  It took Devadatta most of the night to figure out…


  You just might do. In a pinch.”


  The day after the banquet everyone’s attention shifted to the…


  The sky was divided between sun and clouds as the…


  Sujata’s disappearance wasn’t discovered for several days. The first day…




  The skies had given plenty of warning all day. Clouds…


  Gautama passed several travelers on the road who could have…


  The moment Gautama stepped into the small clearing, he knew…


  Gautama wandered down the road, his whole being churning with…


  One morning Ananda didn’t find Gautama in his tent. Several…




  While he lay motionless on the ground, Gautama became dimly…


  The sun rose, and Gautama found himself sitting on the…


  The five monks had retreated to a forest glade near…


  Buddha didn’t spend the night in Kapilavastu but took the…


  For a storyteller, it would be ideal if Buddha’s life…

  The Art of Non-Doing

  After being inspired by Buddha’s life, the most important thing…


  About the Author


  Sneak Preview of Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet

  Title Page

  Author’s Note

  Prelude - The Angel of Revelation


  About the Publisher

  Author’s Note

  Whoever sees me sees the teaching.


  In writing this book, I took a deep breath and created new characters and incidents in the life of one of the most famous people who ever lived. Famous, but still very obscure. I wanted to bring Buddha out of the mists of time, to fill him out in flesh and blood while still preserving his mystery. Fact blended into fantasy centuries ago in the story of the prince who became a living god. Or is “god” the very thing he didn’t want to be? Was his deepest wish to disappear from the material world, remembered only as an inspiration of perfection?

  The Buddha story, as it gathered momentum for two millennia, became chock-full of miracles and gods that got stuck onto its surface. Speaking about himself, Buddha never mentioned miracles or gods. He held a doubtful view of both. He showed no interest in being revered as a personality; none of his many sermons mentions his family life or gives much personal information at all. Unlike Christ in the New Testament, he certainly didn’t see himself as divine.

  Instead, he saw himself as “someone who is awake,” which is what the word Buddha means. That’s the person I’ve tried to capture in this book. Here in all his mystery is the principal human being who ever gained enlightenment, who spent his long life trying to wake up the rest of us. Everything he knew, he knew from arduous, sometimes bitter experience. He went through extreme suffering—almost to the death—and emerged with something incredibly precious. Buddha literally became the truth. “Whoever sees me sees the teaching,” he said, “and whoever sees the teaching sees me.”

  I wrote this book as a sacred journey, fictionalized in many of its externals but psychologically true, I hope, to what the seeker’s path feels like. In all three phases of his life—Siddhartha the prince, Gautama the monk, and Buddha the Compassionate One—he was as mortal as you and I, yet he attained enlightenment and was raised to the rank of an immortal. The miracle is that he got there following a heart as human as yours and mine, and just as vulnerable.

  Deepak Chopra




  The Kingdom of Sakya, 563 BCE

  One crisp spring day King Suddhodana turned in his saddle to survey the battlefield. He needed a weakness to exploit, and he was confident the enemy had left one for him. They always did. His senses were closed to everything else. Screams of the wounded and dying were heightened by the hoarse commands of his officers bellowing orders and calling on the gods for help. Torn by hooves and elephants’ feet, cut by iron-rimmed chariot wheels, the land oozed blood as if the earth itself were mortally wounded.

  “More soldiers! I want more soldiers now!”

  Suddhodana didn’t wait for anyone to obey. “If any man within the sound of my voice runs away, I will kill him personally!”

  Charioteers and infantry moved toward the king, battered figures so filthy with fighting they could have been demiurges fashioned from the mud of the field.

  Suddhodana was a warrior king, and the first thing to know about him is this: he mistook himself for a god. Along with his army, the king would kneel in the temple and pray before he went to war, but he put no trust in divine help. Leaving the gates of the capital behind, Suddhodana turned his head for one last look at home. But as the miles lengthened from Kapilavastu, his mood changed. By the time he came to the battlefield, its roiling activity and the smells that assaulted his nostrils—straw and blood, soldiers’ sweat and dying horses—carried Suddhodana into another world. It smothered him completely in the belief that he could never lose.

  The present campaign wasn’t of his doing. Ravi Santhanam, a northern warlord along the Nepalese border, had taken one of Suddhodana’s trade caravans in a surprise attack. Suddhodana’s retaliation came almost immediately. Even though the warlord’s men had the advantage of the high ground and home terrain, Suddhodana’s forces steadily chewed into their holdings. Horses and elephants trampled over the fallen, dead or still alive but too weak to escape. Suddhodana guided his mount next to the belly of a rearing bull elephant, narrowly avoiding the massive feet as they plunged downward. Half a dozen arrows had pierced it, driving the beast into a frenzy.

  “I want a new line of chariots, close file!” He had seen where the enemy front was exhausted and ready to buckle. A dozen more chariots pulled up in advance of the infantry. Their metal-bound wheels clattered across the hard ground. The charioteers had archers standing behind them who unleashed arrows into the warlord’s army.

  “Make a moving wall,” Suddhodana shouted. “I want to crush their line.”

  His charioteers were experienced veterans; they were hard-faced, merciless men. Suddhodana rode slowly before them, ignoring the strife only a short distance away. He spoke quietly. “The gods command that there can be only one king. But I swear that I am no better than a common soldier today, and you are as good as kings. Each man here is part of me. So what’s left for the king to say? Only two words, but they are the two that your hearts want to hear. Victory. And home!” Then his command cracked like a whip.

  “All together—move!”

  Both armies rushed screaming into the breach like opposing oceans. Violence brought contentment to Suddhodana. His sword w
hirled as he split a man’s head with a single blow. His wall was advancing, and if the gods willed it, as they had to will it, the enemy forces would open, one corpse at a time, until Suddhodana’s infantry moved in, a tight wedge gliding forward on enemy blood. The king would have scoffed at anyone who denied that he was at the very center of the world.

  AT THAT HOUR Suddhodana’s queen was being carried in a litter through the depths of the forest. She was ten months pregnant, a sign, the astrologers said, that the baby would be extraordinary. But in Queen Maya’s mind nothing was extraordinary except the anxiety that surrounded her. She had decided, much too impetuously, to travel back to her mother’s home to have her baby.

  Suddhodana hadn’t wanted to let her go. It was the custom for new mothers to go home to deliver, but he and Maya were inseparable. He was tempted to refuse, until in her guileless way Maya asked his permission in front of the assembled court. The king couldn’t refuse his queen publicly, despite the dangers involved.

  “Who will accompany you?” he asked with an edge of harshness, hoping to frighten her away from this foolhardy plan.

  “My women.”


  He raised his hand in grudging assent. “You’ll have some men, whoever can be spared.” Maya smiled and withdrew. Suddhodana didn’t want to argue, because in truth his wife mystified him. Making her afraid of danger was futile. The physical world was like a thin membrane she glided over, as a midge glides over the surface of a pond without breaking the water’s skin. Therefore, the world could touch Maya, move her, hurt her, but never change her.

  The queen departed from Kapilavastu a day before the army. Kumbira, the eldest court lady, rode at the head of the procession as it moved through the forest. It was a meager company, consisting of six soldiers too old to serve in the war astride six nags too weak to charge the enemy. After them came four litter bearers, who had taken off their shoes to negotiate the stony path, shouldering the tasseled and beaded palanquin bearing the young queen. Maya made no sound hidden behind the swaying silk drapes, except for a stifled moan whenever a bearer stumbled and the litter took a sharp jolt. Three young ladies-in-waiting, who grumbled in low voices about having to walk, brought up the rear.

  Gray-haired Kumbira kept her gaze moving, aware of the dangers that lurked on both sides. This road, which was just a narrow cut in the granite slope, had begun as a smuggler’s trail when poached deer hides, spices, and other contraband were trafficked to Nepal; it was still favored by bandits. Tigers were known to snatch their prey from terrified bands of travelers in this area, even in the brightest hour of the day. To ward them off, the bearers wore masks facing backward on their heads, believing that a tiger will only leap from the rear, never directly at a person who is looking at it.

  Kumbira rode up the trail until she was abreast of Balgangadhar, the head guard. The warrior regarded her stoically, wincing a little when the queen cried out again.

  “She can’t hold out much longer,” Kumbira said.

  “And I can’t make the road any shorter,” Balgangadhar grumbled.

  “What you can do is hurry,” she snapped. Kumbira knew he was ashamed at not being with the king in battle, but Suddhodana wanted one elite guard to honor his wife.

  With the slightest bow from the shoulders that etiquette permitted, the guard said, “I’ll scout up ahead for camp. The locals say there’s a woodcutter’s clearing with some huts in it.”

  “No, we move together,” Kumbira protested.

  “There are other men here to protect you while I’m gone.”

  “Really?” Kumbira cast a critical eye over her shoulder at the ragged band. “And who will protect them, do you suppose?”

  THEY WILL TELL YOU that Maya Devi—the goddess Maya, as she became known—arrived by moonlight in Lumbini Grove, one of the most sacred sites in the kingdom. They will tell you that she did not give birth in the forest by accident. Destiny guided her there. She expressly wanted to visit the sacred grove because a huge tree stood there like a pillar to the mother goddess. Maya’s premonition had told her that this birth would be sacred.

  In reality she was a frightened, fragile young woman who barely escaped being lost in the wilderness. And the sacred tree? Maya clung to the trunk of a large sal tree because it was the closest and most common tree in the clearing. Balgangadhar had found a sheltered place beside the trail, and the royal palanquin arrived there only moments before Maya went into the final stages of labor. The court ladies formed a close circle around her. She held on tight, and deep in the night she was delivered of the son her husband the king so desperately wanted.

  Kumbira died long before the legends grew, so she is not pictured in them, barking commands to the scurrying women, shooing away the men, nearly scalding herself to bring a kettle of water on the run from the bonfire. It was she who first held the baby. Tenderly she scrubbed the blood from his tiny body, making the squalling newborn ready to show to Maya. The queen lay quietly on the ground, almost listless. The first nursing, an important ritual in the native custom, would come in the morning. Despite the baby’s apparent good health, Kumbira was worried, made anxious by every nocturnal sound but most of all by Maya’s labor, which had been too long and painful.

  “Now my husband can die happy,” Maya whispered in a tired, weak voice. “And I will not be cursed when I am gone.” Kumbira started. How could Maya think about death at that moment? Kumbira’s eyes searched the darkness surrounding their stranded camp. The younger court ladies were full of praise for the brave new mother, relieved that the ordeal had come to an end, buoyant at the prospect of returning home to their soft beds and paramours. Their happiness increased when the full moon, an auspicious omen, rose over the treetops.

  “Here, Your Highness,” said Utpatti, one of the handmaidens, leaning close. “There is something you must do.”

  Before anyone could stop her, Utpatti opened Maya’s robe and exposed her breasts. Embarrassed and confused, Maya quickly pulled her robe together again with one hand.

  “What are you doing?” she demanded.

  Utpatti drew back. “It will help with the milk, Your Highness,” she whispered, looking unsure of herself. She gave sidelong glances at the other women. “Having moonlight on your breasts. Country women all know that.”

  “Are you from the country?” Maya asked.

  The others tittered. Making a show of not being bothered by them, Utpatti said, “Once.”

  Maya leaned back again and exposed her full breasts to the moon. They were heavy with milk already.

  “I feel something,” she murmured. Her mood had changed; a note of ecstasy was in her voice, clearing away the pain. If she wasn’t a goddess herself, she exulted in being touched by a goddess, the moon. She took her infant and held him up.

  “See how quiet he is now? He feels it too.” At that moment Maya believed in her heart that her wishes had been fulfilled. There is a name in Sanskrit that expresses this idea. She lifted the baby higher.

  “Siddhartha,” she said. He who has attained all desires. Recognizing the solemnity of the moment, the court ladies bowed their heads, even the ever-wary Kumbira.


  The gray rain blanketed Suddhodana and his men as the towers of home loomed over them. The sentry shouted from his post, and the great wooden gates of the capital opened. “Look sharp!” sergeants shouted down the line. Few citizens had turned out to greet them. Suddhodana knew that the huddled clumps of women lining the street were there to search the army with anxious faces, praying that their husbands and sons were still among the living.

  That morning the queen had awakened at dawn in case her husband returned early, but then the rains set in, slowing everything. The trip down from the mountains had passed in a kind of blurred ecstasy, which grew stronger even as Maya’s body began to fail. There was much whispering at court because she had refused the services of a wet nurse. “It cannot be that loving my child will kill me,” she said.

  Her mind r
eturned to a dream that had visited her ten months ago. It began with Maya waking up in her private bedchamber. She shaded her eyes against a light that had appeared in the room. Out of the light emerged three angelic beings in the form of smiling young maidens. Sitting up, Maya immediately recognized her visitors for what they were—devas, or celestial beings.

  The three devas gestured for her to join them. In wonder that they had chosen her, Maya climbed from her warm bed to follow. With a glance over their shoulders, they walked through the walls of her bedroom as though through smoke. Maya never felt the wall as she too passed through it. On the other side she was pulled faster, until the palace grounds and the world beyond blurred in passing. A brighter light loomed ahead, and in a moment Maya saw that it was the sun reflected off snow. Daylight dazzled across the crystalline surface of a high mountain lake circled by sentinel peaks.

  The Himalayas (for she knew with certainty that the devas had brought her there) had been distant, imposing presences all her life. Maya never imagined being among them, and now the three maidens led her to a pebble shore on the opposite side of the lake. Its surface was calm and mirror-bright.

  The devas began disrobing her. Maya wasn’t disconcerted; she grew relaxed. Almost as quickly as they took her clothes away, they fit her with the finest garments she had ever seen. With silent smiles they reached out to touch Maya’s belly. The contact was warm and exciting. She stepped into the water of the lake, deeper and deeper. Then she awoke, finding herself sitting up in bed as if she’d never left it. Except that her bedchamber was filled by a creature whose eye captured her gaze. Expanding from the eye was a whiteness that took the shape, as Maya’s mind cleared from sleep, of an enormous elephant as pale as snow. The creature looked at her with warm, confident intelligence. Then it lifted its trunk in a kind of salute. Unexpectedly, a burning hunger filled Maya. Then she woke again, sitting up in bed but alone. The unaccustomed desire was still within her and wouldn’t be denied.

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