ORIGINS OF SECRET MANTRA (DAY 11): ‘CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION’; FROM PRINCE SIDDHARTHA TO SHAKYAMUNI THE ASCETIC: the early life of Buddha, family lineage, name, locations and practicing austerities in the forest (by 17th Karmapa)
“That ruler of men, sporting with his queen,
Enjoyed as it were, Vaishravana’s sovereign might,
Free from sin, then, she produced the fruit of her womb,
As knowledge does, when united with trance.
Before she conceived she saw in a dream
A white elephant king
Entering her body, yet she did not
Thereby feel any pain.”
“But when queen Maya saw the immense might
Of her son, like that of a seer divine,
She could not bear the delight it caused her;
So she departed to dwell in heaven.”
Here is the write-up of the eleventh day of the 17th Karmapa’s teachings on Origins of Secret Mantra (video is here). The Karmapa spoke about the decline of Brahmanical religion and the oppression of the lower caste that led to people hoping for a new kind of religion that was more inclusive and focused on the inner life. Buddhism provided such an open door religion for all castes.
The teaching ended with a discussion of Siddhartha’s ‘going forth’ and leaving the palace and his wife and child behind to meditate in the forests, achieving high level samadhis and then practicing austerities for years. The latter part of his life would be considered in the next teaching.
Written, compiled and edited by Adele Tomlin, 16th September 2021.
17th Karmapa’s Teaching on Origins of Secret Mantra (Day 11) “For the next four days I will be speaking about Buddhism. The teaching this year is meant to be about Secret Mantra but I have taken the opportunity to give people an introduction to Buddhism in India. Having explored the history of India and Brahmanical religions, I will begin teaching on the Buddha’s life and Buddhism.
“The date of Buddha’s birth is not known for certain, I will speak about it in detail later, but it was probably the end of the 6th century BCE. because of his birth there was a major transformation of the religions in India. Before the birth of the Buddha, Brahmanical religions had helped India develop a rich philosophical tradition and a great deal of freedom, and
investigation of the Upanishads. There were also many women who became very learned experts. However many were mainly interested in sophist logic and debating. In the end, most ended up with developing wrong views. Because there weren’t that many differences between their positions, they began to rely on sophistry and many developed wrong views.
There were people who investigated the fundamental philosophical questions during that time. However, most people began to cling to the external aspects of the tradition, and not so much the internal traditions. So people from all walks of life viewed this old decaying tradition in the same way we say in Tibetan expression ‘looking at your father’s cup as being
important’. It might be old and beat up, but it’s important because it’s your father’s cup. it is similar to that way of thinking. So this old, battered and meaningless tradition they still considered important. Gradually even the old traditions became pointless, even people’s faith in them
declined. As if people lost their faith in them. They were also turned off by the people who were too into the external aspects of it. They wanted to find a more vibrant, living religion and had a new hope to encounter a ‘new religion’. People who wanted to practice the inner meaning, hoped that a new tradition would provide that.
Even worse than that, the Brahmins became more audacious and had the religious power and considered like Gods. They used their power for anything. The caste system tradition was never really based on good reasons, but people had worked hard to entrench it into law, and the Brahmin
power grew. Before, it had been merely oral and so they got stronger and their oppression of the lower Shudra castes was worse than before. For that reason, Brahmins were seen as people “whose thirst would not be quenched by drinking an ocean and whose hunger would not be sated by eating a mountain.” They became a symbol of oppression and untrammelled power.
The lowest, laboring caste of Shudras were in the opposite situation of the Brahmins. They were not valued or respected at all. The Shudra caste was a little more broader at that time and they also made a great contribution to the development of society and had a impacy on society but
they were treated badly. They were indispensable because they did all the work that others did not want to do. However, when it came to religious affairs and their legal rights, the situation for the Shudra did not improve. They were oppressed more cruelly than before. In such an unequal and unjust
society Buddha was born into that and had a profound feeling in his heart and seeing the disrespect and oppression of the Shudras and the abuse of the Brahmin power. This inspired a strong feeling in him.
Buddha also surveyed all the philosophies in India at that time and wanted to see if they had beneficial ideas. He considered this deeply. Similarly, he taught that all the castes were the same in being able to eliminate the stains in their mind and achieve liberation. In this way, he said everyone could practice and opened the doors to all people.
Also, Buddha taught that loving-kindness and compassion were very important qualities in a person. It is as if he were encouraging people to hold two hands together and fit well together. People’s hopes and the Buddha’s teachings really matched each other well. For that reason, many people came together as a community and became Buddhists.
In particular, people of the lower Vaisya and Shudra castes received a warm welcome from Buddhists. There were also many among the Kshatriya caste, including kings, who took refuge in Buddhism. Thus, Buddhism was ‘like a tiger who grew wings’. Or if explained in the Tibetan way, ‘like a great Garuda bird flying in the sky’. It did not take more than a century or two for Buddhism, to become the largest religion in the world, with the most followers.”
“You need to know the Buddha’s family lineage and clan. Buddha was a member of the Shakya linage and the Gautama clan, whose name means “supreme bull,” or “best cattle.” he was Prince Siddhartha and his father was King Shuddhodana; his mother was called Maya; and his aunt was called Prajapati (she was a very important figure, I will explain this later). who raised him after his mother died.
His mother gave birth to him in Lumbini, and he lived in Kapilavastu. This is a list of the characters of the people in his life
“All the philosophies and histories agree that the founder of the Buddhist religion was the Buddha. Other Indian religions and philosophies called his followers Buddhists. These days, we say Buddhism in English. It was something like Buddhanta in Sanskrit. In Tibetan, we say ‘Nangpa’ which means ‘insiders’ . We gave it to ourselves and the followers of other religions are outsiders. So sometimes I will say Nangpa or Sangyepa, they both mean Buddhist.
The word Buddha was not only used by Buddhists. Yesterday, I spoke about the Jain religion and the Jains also used the term ‘buddha’. They say that all of their 45 Sages were called buddhas, meaning they would not take rebirth. Also, Buddhists and Jains both use the words Muni (Sage), Bhagavan, arhat, jina, etc. In
Tibetan, Chomdende. However, the Jain founder Mahavīra (which means “the great hero”) was called the Jina or Victor. As they called their teacher, Jina, their religion was called the Jains (or people of the Jina). Generally, we do say Victor in Buddhism too, particularly in the Mahayana Yet, he was commonly called the Buddha too. Thus, the religion was called Buddhism.
Generally, Buddhists assert that there are many buddhas, such as the buddhas of the three times, but the historical Buddha Shakyamuni is accepted as the founder and teacher of Buddhism. So the name Buddha Shakyamuni is an individual name of the Buddha of
our period. He was called Shakyamuni because he was the greatest being born in the Shakya ethnic group. His clan within that ethnic group was called Gautama. So many westerners call him Gautama Buddha. In the Northern tradition he is called the Buddha Shakyamuni.”
The reason is it called that, there are many explanations, is that in the long poem, Saundarananda-kāvya (The Poem of Saundarananda), the great Indian poet and Buddhist master Aśvaghoṣa wrote that the Shakyas were descendants of King Ikṣvāku. He was the father of many sons.As they
got into a dispute, King Ikṣvāku had to send his feuding children to practice austerities in a forest where śāk or teal trees were plentiful. As they spent such a long time in that forest of such trees, they were given the name Śākya.
The same text also says that Kapilavastu got its name because the sage Kapila (who was probably the teacher or founder of the Samkhya tradition) had lived there. The Shakyas became students of Kapila, and after he had passed away, the inhabitants named their town after him.[i]”
“At the time of the Buddha, the leader of Kapilavastu was Buddha’s father, King Shuddhodana, who ruled there. There was another town nearby called Devadaha (or Rāmagrāma) and the leader of that town was called Shakya Suppabuddha. These two were related and thus formed an alliance and got along very well.
The rulers or kings of the Shakya were chosen according to their age and qualities. They would pick their Kings in turn. In general, Shakya had political independence and power over its internal affairs. However, they were not completely independent and had to be vassal state of Kosala, the largest kingdom of Northern India at that time. The Kingdom of Kosala is on the map. From one perspective, they still had a lot of freedom and were prosperous though.
Kosala was led by Prasenajit, a skillful king who ruled from the city of Shravasti. For that reason, the region Kosala he ruled over covered a very large area. Thus, the lands of the Shakya were encircled almost entirely by Kosala.
To the south of Kosala was another powerful kingdom, Magadha, which was ruled by King Bimbisara. Its capital was Rajagriha. To the east of Magadha was the kingdom of Anga, whose capital was Champaka. Those two kingdoms were allies. There were many other smaller kingdoms, I will not explain these now, perhaps in a few days.”
“Among the four castes, what caste was Buddha? He was probably Kshatriya, the caste of warriors and kings. However, is it not definitely so. From one perspective, it seems that there were no distinctions of the four castes among the Shakyas themselves. Also, they were all primarily farmers growing rice. Therefore, we cannot say they were Kshatriyas as they did not practice farming.
Were the Shakyas Aryans? It is not possible to say decisively that they were. Were they an Asian ethnic group? They were not. It is difficult to say. Researchers have done a lot of work on this and have not been able to come to any conclusions. Yesterday, I spoke about the Sun clan (the Suryvamsara), and they belonged to that clan. They were a high class that everyone respected in India at that time.
In terms of the family lineage of the Shakyas, there are disagreements, but it is beneficial to talk about it generally. I will explain it according to a Chinese translation of the Abhiniṣkrama Sutra (there are editions of it in Tibetan) and they speak about the family lineage of the Buddha.
Suddhodhana had two children, the Buddha, Siddharta and a younger son, Yanda. he was the Buddha’s younger brther. He was a half-brother. They had the same father but a different mother. After there was another son called, he had two sons called who both later became monks.
As the son of Dhonodhana, one of King Suddhodhana’s brothers, Devadatta was Buddha’s cousin. There were two Devadattas so they are sometimes confused. One was the Buddha’s student, and the other as his rival. In the Theravada /Southern tradition, Devadatta was from the city Devadatta. He was like an Uncle of the Buddha. According to the Northern/Chinese tradition, Devadatta was the opponent of the Buddha.
“Lumbini, was King Lekpa-rab-se’ s queen. Lumbini bore two girls, Māyā and Prajapati, who both became Shuddhodana’s queens. Māyā gave birth to Siddhartha, who became Buddha. Prajapati gave birth to Nanda, Buddha’s half-brother.
Some say that Maya and Prajapati were the daughters of Shakya Suprabuddha; in the Abhinsishkrama Sutra it says that Prince Siddhartha’s wife was Shakya Dandapani’s daughter Yashodhara. There are many different explanations but the most important thing to remember is
that the Buddha’s father was called Śhuddhodana, and he was the ruler of, or king of the Shakya ethnic group. Buddha’s mother was called Māyā. However, she passed away seven days after the Buddha’s birth.
Many explanations are given as to why she passed away. One explanation given is that if she had continued to live, she would have died of shock when Buddha left and renounced the kingdom. She would have had such love for her son and there was danger she might have had a heart attack. That’s a nice explanation. However, when I think about it, my own view is that at the time when
Buddha was born both Shuddhodana and Maya were both old. To have a baby when you’re older is dangerous even these days. In those days, there were not the same health facilities we have now. So I think she had some health problems after and she died from childbirth. I don’t have any text as a source for that view.
So when his mother passed away, the Buddha was raised by his maternal aunt, Mahāprajapati, the second queen of Shuddhodana and mother to Nanda, Buddha’s half-brother
“When Buddha entered the womb, his mother had a extraordinary dream of a white elephant dissolving into her body. That is called “the deed of entering the womb.” Just before the Buddha was born, his mother Māyā developed the wish to return to her homeland of Devadaha. While traveling there, she came to the grove of Lumbini, which was like a garden or park, and there she gave birth to the Buddha.
it is commonly said that Buddha was born from Māyā’s right side, between her ribs. This story probably arises from the Hindu tradition that says different castes were born from different parts of Brahma’s body: Brahmans from the top of his head; the Kshatriya from his arms; the
Vaishyas from his thigh; and Shudras from his feet and so on. It was a way of saying the Kshatriya caste was important. I’m sure he probably came out the normal way. If he came out between her ribs it would be strange and quite frightening.’
“Later the Buddhist emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini, the Buddha’s birthplace and erected a temple and a pillar there, as was described by the Chinese master Xuanzang in records of his travels to India. In 1896, some archeologists excavated the site and found the pillar underground, with an inscription that identified the spot as the Buddha’s birthplace. The place is now called Rummindei. It is a Nepali word.
“At the time Buddha was born, he was given the name Siddhartha. The reason he was called this was because all of King Shuddhodana’s aims or wishes were accomplished, such as the discovery of a treasure of precious jewels. As a result he was named Siddhartha, which means “the accomplishment of all aims.”
“Now there is a big question, which is when was the Buddha born? What year, month, day was he born on? The answer is ‘Take your pick’. You can’t even say what year, never mind what month or date he was born. There are only disagreeing positions. In the next day or two, I will speak about the dates of the Buddha’s birth and passing away.
“At that time, there was tradition at that time for skilled soothsayers to examine a baby for marks and signs on his body and face, in order to predict the child’s future. The soothsayer said Siddhartha might become a universal emperor, means someone who would gain control over all of India, or he might go forth and become a monastic, becoming a great being who realized wisdom.
King Shuddhodana thought if he becomes a powerful emperor that will be great. However, if Siddhartha became a monk, he worried about that happening as he only had one elder son and would have no one to care for his kingdom. So he had faith but he also had worry and so he took special care in raising Siddhartha.
In the sixth century CE the Indian master Jñānagupta translated Abhiniṣkramaṇa Sūtra into Chinese by an Indian master. It’s an early sutra I mentioned before. Prince Siddhartha was allowed to play games without study until the age of eight; at that time he began to learn reading, writing and athletic or military skills. By the age of 12 Siddhartha reached mastery of those areas of knowledge.”
“At that time, Siddhartha and some Shakya youths were practicing archery in a park when a crane, or a goose, flew in the sky. The young Devadatta, who was later to be called the ‘demon’ one, decided to show off and shot the bird with an arrow, which fell to the ground in front of Prince Siddhartha. Siddhartha picked up and stroked the bird, pulled out the arrow, and treated the wound with honey and so on.
Devadatta insisted that Siddhartha give him the bird because he was the one who shot it. Prince Siddharth sent a message back to him saying, “If this bird dies, I will give it to you, but if it does not, I won’t give it.” Then, Devadatta sent another message back: “Whether it dies or not, you absolutely must give it to me. I shot it first and then it fell to the ground. So how can you keep it? You must give it back to me.”
Prince Siddartha replied, “In the past I made an aspiration to protect all sentient beings and this bird is one of those sentient beings. So I must protect it and I will.” The two could not agree and got into a dispute. So the Shakya elders had to convene a meeting to resolve the dispute. From then on, the life-long rivalry between Devadatta and Buddha began from then, at the killing of that bird. So then Devadatta only caused problems for the Buddha it seems. “
According to the Abhiniṣkramaṇa Sūtra, King Shuddhodana took Prince Siddhartha out with him to the fields one day. The Shakyas were mainly farmers and he wanted to see the crops in the fields. Siddhartha saw how the animals suffered, how the stronger ones ate the weaker ones, and how the farmers were bent over and sweating with hard labour. He felt a great world weariness,
a great sadness to see it. He went and sat under a tree, meditated. So even from a very young age the Buddha enjoyed meditation, naturally and instinctively. At that point it is said in the Sutras, that he achieved the level of the first dhyana, which he was able to do because of his practice in prior lives.”
There is a story about how Prince Siddhartha displayed his athletic prowess and martial skills – “kind of like kung fu,” he had been studying martial arts from a young age, and at a gathering and amazed his fellow Shakyas with a display of his skills. There are different positions
as to when this happened. . The Southern tradition says Siddhartha displayed his athletic prowess after getting married. The Northern tradition says that it happened before the marriage, in order to choose who would become Yaśodhara’s husband, they had an athletic competition. There is some difference about this.
It was important at that time for members of the Kshatriya caste to show off their martial skills, as they would have to go off to war, right? It’s not like these days, one had to fight face to face in battle by hand. The Shakyas were also very skilled in archery in all of India, and no one who could rival them. The Buddha showed off his skills in archery and became well-known for it.”
“Ten years after getting married, Prince Siddhartha decided to leave the palace and become a wandering mendicant. The reason he did this was *(as we recite in the Buddha’s deeds) ‘showing his weariness with the world” at the four gates of the city. So when he left the palace and saw an old person, a sick person, a
corpse, and a monk and when he saw them he felt he had to become a practitioner and leave home. He had a very strong heart-felt feeling that he needed to leave behind worldly life. He was still young when he decided to do that. Hi mother was not around, but his father wanted him to continue maintaining his power as the King. He also gave up his wife and son and left the city.
How old was Siddhartha when he left the palace? Some say 31, but some say 29 and that is the age that most people accept these days. He had no choice but to flee the palace. If he had told the King, it would not have been allowed. Prince Siddhartha’s deed of fleeing the palace, was taken as an important example by
many later practitioners. They thought going forth meant you had to flee the house suddenly, like Prince Siddhartha, without considering whether they truly had renunciation. They just think we have to leave like he did, and leave the home suddenly.
After leaving the palace, Prince Siddhartha cut his hair, put on the robes of a mendicant, and became a wandering practitioner. As I said before about the four stages of life, the last stage is going forth, its called samyasa. He skipped the phase of forest-dwelling
and went straight into being a wandering practitioner. The next morning King Shuddhodana discovered he was not there and sent a messenger to ask Prince Siddhartha to return to the palace, but they sent the messenger back and refused to go back.”
[[King Bimbisara’s advice, following a guru and [attaining samadhi]]
“Then he went to Magadha because there were many excellent dharma practitioners there. He went alone and on his way there, he went to the capital of Magadha, Rajgir and when he begged for alms there, King Bimbisara recognized him and advised him to listen to his father, return home, and become a king. However, the Prince did not follow his advice.
“Instead, he went to study with Āḷāra-Kālāma, one of the two most famous dharma practitioners in Magadha. Āḷāra-Kālāma was not ordinary and had developed a high level samadhi of the third formless level of nothingness. He taught Prince Siddhartha the technique of “nothingness samadhi.” Samadhi was very easy for him but he found it unsatisfactory because he realized that he would not achieve liberation using it and went to search for another teacher.
Who was that? His name was Uddaka-Rāmaputta, who had achieved an even higher and amazing level of samadhi of the four formless realms, called “neither existent nor nonexistent.” It is the highest type of samadhi. Siddhartha also achieved this samadhi and had an extremely peaceful mind. There was no motion in his mind;
it became the one taste in flavour as the unchanging nature, “like water poured into water.” Whether he had achieved one taste or not, we don’t know, but it felt like he had. However, the Prince felt there was an issue still. His mind was extremely peaceful during meditation, but when he arose from the samadhi, his mind would move as before and many thoughts arose. Thus Siddhartha realized that even though his mind had
become peaceful, this was not realisation of the actual nature of things. Samadhi meditation does change the mind but the nature of things has to come through the individually distinctive awareness and one cannot achieve liberation from samadhi alone. So even though he had achieved that aim, he had not attained liberation from samsara and realising the ultimate nature of reality.”
“So he decided to go practice in a forest alone in the forests. He went to the banks of the Nairañjana River, next to the Uruvela forests. He thought this is a good place to do practice and began severe ascetic practices that we can hardly imagine. The point of these practices was to learn to rest his mind one-pointedly, even as he experienced physical suffering.
I will give two examples of such practices. One practice was blocking the movement of breath. Normally when we breathe it is via the mouth or nostrils. Siddhartha blocked all the breath from moving through his mouth and nostrils. This is similar to what we say in secret mantra is ‘binding the prana’. So one has to stop
breathing completely, so then the air came in through his ears, they say. However he was able to stop that as well. When you stop all breath, you die right? He was really diligent in doing this and within that suffering of the body keep the mind one-pointed. He had to make sure the hardship of the body did not effect his mind from remaining one-pointedly. He almost died several times.
The second example is the austerity of not eating any food. He decreased the amount of food he ate to very little, then he stopped eating altogether. He was fasting for so long that his arms and legs grew very thin and his skin hung off his body, his hair fell out, and he had to experience extreme physical suffering.”
“He was so emaciated that when the farmer’s daughter gave him yogurt (though some say it was kheer). When she offered it to him, it says in the Sutras that she thought it was the tree god. She didn’t see a person, she just saw something that was blending into the trees.
When Siddhartha was practicing austerities alone in the forest, he remembered his life, and probably had thoughts about returning home to the luxurious life he had known and whether he could achieve liberation or was pointless. He might have had such deceptive thoughts. The nights in the
forest were filled with birds and beasts of prey, who wandered around at will. In the middle of the night you would hear them moving and giving their calls. That would provoke fear in any human being. Whoever you are, you are going to be afraid, right?
scary person. The demon is a personification and suffering from ascectiism and saw them all as maras. In any case, all these different fears and appearances happened he refused to seriously give them an opportunity to distract him.
In brief, all on his own, Prince Siddhartha faced up to hardships such as no one else had ever experienced. He also had to maintain mindfulness and awareness continuously in his mind. He had an aim. There was a reason for doing austerities, it was to realize the nature of
things. Despite his strenuous efforts, he was unable to achieve the view and state that he wanted, even though he had practiced with so many hardships. So how did he achieve that? That is what I will speak about tomorrow.”
Chris Hellier (March 2001). “Competing Claims on Buddha’s Hometown”. Archaeology.org. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
[i] Kapilavastu was an ancient city on the Indian subcontinent which was the capital of the clan of the Shakyas. King Śuddhodana and Queen Māyā are believed to have lived at Kapilavastu, as did their son Prince Siddartha Gautama until he left the palace at the
age of 29. uddhist texts such as the Pāli Canon claim that Kapilavastu was the childhood home of Gautama Buddha, on account of it being the capital of the Shakyas, over whom his father ruled. Kapilavastu is the place where Siddhartha Gautama spent 29 years of his life. According to Buddhist sources Kapilvastu was named after Vedic sage Kapila.
The 19th-century search for the historical site of Kapilavastu followed the accounts left by Faxian and later by Xuanzang, who were Chinese Buddhist monks who made early pilgrimages to the site. Some archaeologists have identified present-day Tilaurakot, Nepal, while some others have identified present-day Piprahwa, India as the location for the historical site of Kapilavastu, the seat of governance of the Shakya state that would have covered the region. Both sites contain archaeological ruins.