lundi 1 avril 2024

Luminous immaculate conception

The dream of Queen Maya, Gandhara, 100-299 AD (British Museum)

Just like a “a pure ray of wisdom and power[1] cant die, it is not conceived and born either like an ordinary human being. According to the “Great Event” (Mahāvastu), a canonical text of the Mahāsāṃghika Lokottaravāda school of Early Buddhism, compiled between the 2nd century BCE and 4th century CE, the Exalted One was luminously conceived, like all other Buddhas waiting for their turn in Tuṣita heaven, after having reached the tenth bodhisattva bhūmi. The topic is discussed by the venerable Mahākāśyapa and the venerable Mahākātyāyana. The prefix “mahā” to the names of these śrāvakas indicate we are entering mahāyāna territory. Mahākātyāyana is the great mythocosmic traveler of early Buddhism. He is the one to explore the various worlds of the Buddhist cosmos and to tell his fellow bhikkhus about it.

The future Buddha in Tuṣita,  Life Story, the ladder is ready,
Nepal, 15th century, detail (HA30579)

When it’s time the future Buddha looks down and searches for an appropriate womb.
Who can bear me for ten months ? Who has merit to win such honour ? Who, now, shall be my mother ? Whose womb shall I now enter ? ” 
And as he looked down he saw in the court of King Śuddhodana Māyā, his queen, a woman like the consort of an immortal, with beauty that dazzled like the lightning.

Seeing in her his mother he addressed the immortals, saying, “I am passing hence to enter her womb for my last existence, for the sake of the well-being of Suras and men
.’’ (JJ Jones, p. 115)
Queen Māyā conceiving the Buddha-to-be
descending the ladder from Tuṣita detail (HA30579)    

Mahākāśyapa asked:
And how do Buddhas take up their position in the womb ? ” 
Bodhisattvas, having entered their mothers' bodies, stand in the womb, or in the back, or in the belly, or in the side. But just as a fine thread on which has been strung beads of coral or beryl is not visible in any part because it is hidden, although it really exists in its whole length, so Bodhisattvas have and have not a position in their mothers’ bodies.

They do not hurt their mothers. Nor, indeed, do Bodhisattvas, when they are in their mothers’ bodies, hurt them either when they sit or when they lie on their side or when they stand up in any position whatsoever. Again, they do not hurt their mothers when they sit cross-legged.”

Further, my pious friend, when they are yet in their mothers’ bodies, by the power of the root of goodness that is in them they relate the story of their existences. Celestial musical instruments play without ceasing day or night in honour of the Bodhisattva who has entered his mother’s womb. Again, in honour of the Bodhisattva(145) who has entered his mother’s womb a hundred thousand Apsarases cause to appear never-failing showers of celestial blossoms and aromatic powders. From the time they are Bodhisattvas in their mothers’ womb until as Daśabalas they pass finally away, the celestial incense of aloe-wood does not cease.

Verily, my pious friend, Bodhisattvas are not born of the intercourse of a father and a mother, but by their own merit independently of parents.”
Feast of the gods, detail, Cornelis van Poelenburgh 

Aware of the holy presence, Queen Māyā took eleven vows (śīla), including chastity, during her pregnancy and the “birth” of the future Buddha.
Do not then, O king, desire me with thoughts of sensual delight. See to it that you be guiltless of offence against me, for I would observe chastity."

The king replied to his wife, "I shall comply with all your wishes. (146) Be at ease. You have taken up a noble life, and I and my whole realm will obey you."
The Annunciation, Fra Angelico (Museo del Prado)

Then Queen Māyā retired with her thousand principal maidens into the “fair mansions”, blissfully going through her “pregnancy”.
When a Bodhisattva comes down into the womb of a preeminent woman, his mother experiences no pain, as other women do.

"From the time of their sojourn in Tuṣita onwards all Bodhisattvas have surmounted the five hindrances, (148) although they have not yet won the sovereignty of dharma. And when the ten months are fulfilled, all Bodhisattvas emerge from their mother’s womb on the right side, yet without piercing that side. There is no delay; a Bodhisattva is born in as short a time as it takes to tell
Confirmation of the Buddha-to-be, detail (HA30579)    

The “birth” of a bodhisattva into his last existence needs to be confirmed by the proper officials, in this case the devas from the Pure abodes (śuddhāvāsa). And these great Lords, like the Three magi, came to Kapilavastu disguised as brāhmans, to confirm the birth of a future savior.
As soon as they were seated one of them addressed the king saying, "Let his majesty hear what the cause of our coming hither is.

"A son is born to you who is of a wholly faultless body, and bears the marks of excellence to perfection.

"For we, skilled in the science of signs can distinguish the defects from the excellencies by their marks. If it is not inconvenient for you we would see your son who bears the form of a Great Man [mahāpuruṣa]".

Then the king brought in the Sugata, the adored of devas and men, lying like unto a piece of gold in soft swaddling clothes of gaily coloured wool.

When the great lords saw from a distance the lovely feet of the Best of Men,(153) they bowed their heads crowned with glittering diadems to the ground; they bowed down their milk-white glossy heads to the ground, and stood in greeting to the Daśabala whose coming had been so long expected.”
Two magi, 3rd Century Sarcophagus, Vatican Museums

Buddhas-to-be go through all the motions of the world, even though they are already perfect in every way. They only pretend to indulge in the pleasures of sense for our sake.
When Bodhisattvas are born, my pious friend, they are able even without teachers to practise all the arts of mankind. From the time of their sojourn in Tuṣita they no longer indulge in the pleasures of sense.”
Siddhartha leaving sleeping Yashodhara and Rahula
Roundel 17 buddha ivory tusk (wikimedia)

The obvious question, and one that Mahākāśyapa indeed asked is Pray, what about the harem, the marriage with Princess Yaśodharā and the conception of young Rāhula?
The venerable Maha-Katyayana replied to the venerable Maha-Kasyapa, “ Bodhisattvas do not indulge in the pleasures of sense because of their accumulation of virtue, and because of their predilection for what is lovely, ideal, and excellent; because they abhor lust; because knowledge is their banner; because they are not unduly attached to any particular person or thing; because they are not disposed to envy; because of their nobility, their high-mindedness, and their cultivation of goodness ; because, finally, of the esteem in which the world holds the perfect man, saying of him, ' He will become a Buddha.’

" Now Rāhula, passing away from Tuṣita, came down into the womb of his mother, the Katriyan maiden, Yaśodharā —this, my pious friend, is the tradition.”

In that conception, my pious friend, in which the mothers of Bodhisattvas conceive a Bodhisattva for his last existence, those best of women live a pure, completely perfect and chaste life. For in the hearts of these peerless women no passion for any man arises, not even for their husbands. And when a Bodhisattva has entered his mother’s womb, her body becomes clothed in celestial raiment and adorned with celestial jewels, while troops of Apsarases attend to the bathing, rubbing, massaging and anointing of her body."
No hanky panky, no involvement of genitals, no indulging in the pleasures of sense, a Buddha-to-be painlessly enters the womb of his future mother, as a ray of light, or in the form of a white elephant (with six husks), and is painlessly born from her side without piercing it. All this without any sexual intercourse between “the parents”, that are not the Buddha’s “biological” parents, but rather his “host family”.

And, if you have to know, the same is true for all the great universal kings (cakravartin, p. 121). They are all “pure rays of wisdom of power” sent from the heavens above, great men (mahāpuruṣa), that enter and leave wombs painlessly. Both Buddhas and great kings are deified, without mentioning devas… If I were a Buddhist scientist (e.g. biochemistry), or Elon Musk (who may very well be a pure ray), I would very much like to find out more about it.

Although he was only stooping down to the lower understanding of his hearers (śrāvaka) --fools and cattle-thieves-- the old non-deified Buddha said this about brahmins:
Actually, Vāseṭṭha, the brahmins are forgetting their tradition when they say this[2] to you. For brahmin women are seen menstruating, being pregnant, giving birth, and breast-feeding. Yet even though they’re born from a brahmin womb they say: ‘Only brahmins are the best class; other classes are inferior. Only brahmins are the light class; other classes are dark. Only brahmins are purified, not others. Only brahmins are Brahmā’s rightful sons, born of his mouth, born of Brahmā, created by Brahmā, heirs of Brahmā.’ They misrepresent the brahmins, speak falsely, and create much wickedness.” (Aggañña-sutta, tr. Bhikkhu Sujato)
Sounds pretty emotional eh? Not a very transcendent Buddha apparently.

[1]This is Sakyamuni in Heroic Progress, a pure ray of wisdom and power, who manifests himself simultaneously in our little universe of four continents, in the Great Cosmos from which the latter derives, and in all the great cosmic systems as numerous as the sands of the Ganges; here, he repeats the feat of the historical Buddha; there, he is some divinity; there again, he is a banker, householder, minor king, great king, warrior, brahmin or sudra (§§ 122-3).” Śūraṃgama Samādhi Sūtra, Etienne Lamotte, The Concentration of Heroic Progress, English translation by Sara Boin-Webb, MOTILAL BANARSIDASS PUBLISHERS, Delhi, p. 3

[2]Sir, the brahmins say: ‘Only brahmins are the best class; other classes are inferior. Only brahmins are the light class; other classes are dark. Only brahmins are purified, not others. Only brahmins are Brahmā’s rightful sons, born of his mouth, born of Brahmā, created by Brahmā, heirs of Brahmā. You’ve both abandoned the best class to join an inferior class, namely these shavelings, fake ascetics, primitives, black spawn from the feet of our kinsman. This is not right, it’s not proper!’ That’s how the brahmins insult us.

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