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a child is born
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In the sixth century B.C., at the foot of the snow-capped Himalayas, in northern India (modern Nepal), in the prosperous city of Kapilavatthu, lived Queen Maha Maya, wife of King Suddhodana. History often ascribes miraculous births to great spiritual beings. According to legend the Queen, who was observing religious vows, had a wonderful dream of a beautiful white elephant who encircled her and entered her right side. Perplexed by this dream, both the Queen and the King summoned the Brahmin wise men to interpret its meaning. They predicted a beautiful son would be born to the royal couple. If the child remained in the palace, he would become a Universal Monarch. But if he retired from royal life he would become a Buddha, a fully-enlightened Awakened One. Tradition says that the birth of such a Great Being is a unique event in world history. When the child's birth was imminent, according to custom, the Queen prepared to return to her parents' home in the neighboring kingdom. Early in the morning, the King sent soldiers to guard the Queen, along with courtiers and servants, and she was carried in the royal palaquin in a long procession to her ancestral home. Passing the magnificent Lumbini Grove, with its majestic trees and scented flowers, the Queen decided to stroll through the shady walks and rest awhile. When she reached a giant sal tree, she was suddenly in labor. Her attendants hung a curtain about her and retired. As the Queen stood and held a branch, the Future Buddha, known as the Bodhisatta (Bodhisattva), was born. His birth was greeted by celestial music and other wondrous events. Celestial beings hailed the child, chanting, "Great Being, you are Chief in all the world." The Golden Child came into this world on the full moon day of May (Visakha or Wesak). He was given the name "Siddhattha" (or Siddhartha), meaning "All wishes fulfilled." His family name was Gotama, clansman of the Sakyan people.
Wise Brahmins again predicted that two courses in life were open to the baby Prince. Only one seer, Kondanna, stated he would definitely leave the household lay life and become a Buddha. He said, "A time will come when he will witness four sights. He will see an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a holy man who has renounced the world." The idea of a royal prince forsaking his heritage caused considerable concern for the King and members of the royal family. His mother died on the seventh day of his birth. He was lovingly raised by his aunt, his mother's sister, the Lady Maha Pajapati, who later married the King. Siddhattha excelled as a student and won prominence as a skilled athlete. He had an inquiring mind and a contemplative nature. He developed into a young man of strength, considerable charm and great beauty. Ever-compassionate and helpful, the youth endeared himself to everyone. One day during the Ploughing Festival, while still quite young, the Prince was left to rest under a tree and, being alone, he sat cross-legged, closed his eyes, and began to focus his mind attentively on breathing in-and-out, attaining the first stage of mental bliss. This childhood experience would influence him later in his spiritual journey.
 

 

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As the young prince matured, his father became ever more concerned that his son would abandon palace life. To distract and bind him to worldly life, the King built extensive pleasure gardens, surrounding him with every luxury and delight imaginable. The King ordered that Siddhattha was never to lay eyes on anyone seriously ill, very old, dying, or on a wandering holy man. He ordered a high wall to be built round the palace, including the pleasure garden. Guards were posted at the gate. Thus, Siddhattha was kept confined in his golden cage. At age 16, the Prince married the beautiful and charming Princess Yasodhara, and lived a happily married life for 13 years, oblivious to the vicissitudes of life which lay outside the palace gates. The Prince was given to introspection and his inquisitive nature led him to ask many questions. Though surrounded by luxury, eventually the pleasures of the royal household somehow seemed tasteless, dry, fleeting and superficial. The Prince was never really happy. An ennui set in amidst affluence, privilege and indulgence. Something was not right. Trapped in a circumscribed world of idleness and pleasure-seeking, his intuition told him there was a dark side to life. Bored, restless and preoccupied with these feelings, he pondered what lay beyond the palace walls.

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