Story of the Buddha - Edith Holland

The Day of Enlightenment

On the outskirts of the jungles of Uruvela there was a small village called Senani. It was a pleasant spot, situated on the banks of the river Neranjara, in the shade of spreading sala-trees. The chief man of this village had a daughter called Sujata. When Sujata was old enough to be married, she, being a pious Hindu, prayed to the god of a certain tree, beseeching him to give her a good husband and to grant that her first child might be a son. In the course of time Sujata was married to a man in her own village, who owned many flocks and herds, and it so happened that her first child was a son. Full of thankfulness she remembered her vow to the god of the tree and prepared to make her offering on the day of the full moon of the month of May. Rising very early in the morning Sujata milked the best cows of the herd, and taking the richest of the milk boiled some fine rice in it. Having cooked and sweetened the rice-milk with the greatest care, she poured it into a priceless golden vessel, fit to hold an offering to a god. Then Sujata put on her finest clothes and her jewels, and, carrying the vessel on her head, went out to make her offering. As she approached the tree which was, as she believed, the dwelling of the god, she noticed the figure of a man seated beneath its shade. So glorious and yet so gracious he seemed, surrounded with a shining halo in the golden light of morn, that Sujata took him for the god who had answered her prayers. Humbly she offered the golden vessel containing the rice-milk, and then went on her way.

Gotama, for he it was, gratefully accepted the food, of which he stood in need. Carrying the vessel to the banks of the Neranjara, he went down into the river and bathed; then he put on his yellow beggar robes, and sat down to eat his meal. During the heat of the day Gotama wandered along the river banks under the shade of the sala-trees, his mind intent on the ideal he was still unable to reach. He had been sorely tempted to give up the struggle. Thoughts of home, of the wife he had not seen for six years, of the son he knew not except as a day-old baby, of the father who had so loved him and was now advanced in years, perhaps also of the ease and comfort of his life at home—these visions swam before his eyes, filling his mind with unrest. What was the use of continuing the struggle for this wisdom which he could not attain! Again and again had Gotama fought fiercely with temptation, with the evil thoughts suggested by the great tempter Mara. At times he felt an assurance that the light would soon dawn, and again darkness and despair would possess his mind.

Not far from the banks of the river Neranjara stood a peepul-tree, which is a kind of wild fig. On the evening of the day on which he had received Sujata's offering Gotama walked up to this tree with a great resolve in his mind. Seating himself cross-legged, with his back to the trunk of the tree and his face to the east, he determined that he would not stir from the spot until his mind had grasped the highest wisdom—no, not though his skin were to become parched and every drop of blood dry up in his body. Now Mara, the spirit of evil, knew that if he could not overcome Gotama before he became a Buddha, his power would be for ever broken. So fierce were the temptations with which he assailed the Holy One that the old legends have pictured a real and visible attack. They tell us that Mara, knowing that his time was short, called on his hosts to arm themselves, and the legions of hell, aroused by Satan's war-cry, gathered together in battle array. Many leagues they spread over the earth, and as far up into the sky, until the stars were blotted out, and the darkness became solid. A sound as of thunder rent the air, and the earth shook and trembled as the powers of evil were let loose; their force was like that of a mighty whirlwind, so that trees were uprooted, mountains split in two, and the rivers were turned backward to their sources. The angels, who had come in their thousands to help the Holy One, fled to the outer boundaries of the world, unable to stand before the army of Mara. And Gotama looked round to the right and to the left and saw that he was alone. There was no help for him but in his own steadfast mind and in the power of holiness. But so strong was this power within him that the deadly darts of Satan's warriors fell harmless as autumn leaves. Then Mara urged on the fiends to tear the future Buddha limb from limb, but their fury was unavailing, and they were unable to hurt him. When Mara saw that he had no power to do Gotama any bodily harm, he tried to shake him by all the terrors that affright the human mind. On all sides flames burst forth, and columns of fiery steam rose higher and higher until they reached to heaven; the fiends appeared in shapes hideous and horrible, such as would scare the reason of any ordinary man. But though all the powers of hell raged around him, the Holy One sat unmoved—a sight most strange and wonderful, such as had never before been seen.

When the night was spent Mara owned himself defeated. "Truly," he said, "in all the world there is no man like Siddhattha, the son of Suddhodana." And the hosts of Satan vanished away as the morning dawned, leaving Gotama alone.

In the world of spirits the angels and archangels and all the winged creatures rejoiced at the victory which had been won, and came to do honour to him who had put to flight the powers of evil—'Jina,' the Victorious One, whom Mara and his hosts had been unable to vanquish. And there fell upon the earth showers of heavenly flowers, while lilies and lotus flowers sprang up and bloomed, even out of the dry rocks.

Gotama remained seated under the peepul-tree, and before night fell there came upon him the Peace which passeth understanding—called by the Buddhists 'Nirvana.'



Like a man who comes forth from a dark prison into the glorious light, where each object appears in clearness and certainty, so the mind of the perfectly enlightened Buddha passes into the region where all truth becomes clear, all secrets of life and death stand revealed in the light of the supreme wisdom.

To Gotama, now the Buddha, life seemed no longer full of dark mysteries and contradictions, for he perceived that the universe is governed by unchanging laws of truth and justice, that the Power which makes for Righteousness regulates all things in an orderly way. This Law—the 'Dhamma,' the Buddhists call it—is summed up in the theory of cause and effect; such a simple theory it sounds, yet it is the foundation of the Buddha's whole system. Nothing can happen by chance or accident, every event is caused by some other event which happened before it. And in the same way every event must cause some other event to follow it. We see that this is true in the world of Nature; everything that happens there is regulated by fixed and unchanging laws. These same laws the Buddha applied to the things of the mind and to moral actions. Every thought, every action, brings with it its own inevitable result. From good must come good, from evil springs evil. Thus the fruit of the actions of our present life will become the seed of the character of our future lives. For the Buddhists believe that that part of man which survives death will be re-born as a being who inherits the results of his actions—that is, his character, which he has made by his actions. For our characters are not formed only during our present lives, but are the heaped-up results of many previous lives. If we misuse our opportunities of doing good, and lead a life of sin, we shall be multiplying sorrows in countless future lives.

These things the Buddha saw with a clear mind, and he saw, too, the cause of sorrow, and the way of ending sorrow. Sorrow, he said, comes from evil, from the ignorance which hides from us the true values of life and causes us to cling to the things that vanish and pass away. For all visible things are constantly changing, decaying, renewing themselves, and again decaying. In this world there is nothing fixed, no, not for the fragment of a second. From the moment you are born, your body, your mind, and all your powers begin to grow and change, so that you cannot ever be exactly the same for two minutes together. The same law of change affects all plants, all animals, the very soil we tread on. Even the shape of the country we live in is every day slowly but surely changing; in some places the sea is breaking down the cliffs and gaining on the land, inch by inch; in others, the land is reclaiming the sandy flats from which the sea is retreating.

You have probably often looked at the clouds on a windy day, and imagined their shapes to be those of mountains and valleys, towers and pinnacles, or monstrous beasts. Look again, a few minutes later, and all will have changed; the pinnacles may be trees, your castle a large bird with broad wings

outstretched, and the huge monster a puff of smoke. Even as you look the clouds are forming new shapes; the whole scene is changing, and in a little while this picture of your fancy will have melted and vanished away altogether. Even so, the world and all visible things are ever in a state of making or becoming, never can they be finished or stationary.

Christianity has told us that there can be no perfect happiness in earthly life; in the same way the Buddha taught that the perfect state can only be attained when the span of our earthly lives is ended. When a man dies, leaving a debt of unpunished sins, he will be reborn, as the Buddhists believe, to continue the working out of his salvation. He may be reborn as a spirit in heaven or hell, to receive the just reward of his deeds, and then again be born into the world to finish his course. For the Buddhists believe in heaven and hell as places of temporary bliss and suffering. It is only when a being has, after numberless lives, been purified from all sin and earthly longings that he will enjoy the everlasting peace of Nirvana.

Nirvana must be thought of more as a state of mind than a definite place; you are told "the Kingdom of Heaven is within you," and in the same way Nirvana is the attainment of perfect peace within the heart. The Buddha and a few great saints enjoyed the peace of Nirvana while still living.

Gotama told his followers very little about this other world; he gave no descriptions of jewelled cities where the righteous would enjoy all the pleasures they longed for in their earthly lives. He only told them that in Nirvana all suffering will cease, all storms of human passions be stilled, and the fires of hatred and evil thoughts extinguished. Nirvana is often spoken of by the Buddhists as the 'other shore.' When the voyager, weary of battling with the winds and waves of the restless sea of human life, reaches at length that 'other shore,' he will pass into the immeasurable calm, the Peace which passeth understanding—everlasting because unchanging.