the birthplace of the Buddha and is now located near the
Nepal-India border north of Gorakpur.
Immediately before his birth, the bodhisattva was lord of
Tushita deva realm. There he had resolved to be reborn for
the last time and show the attainment of enlightenment to
the world. He had made the five investigations and
determined that this southern continent, where men lived for
one hundred years, was the most suitable place and, as the
royal caste was then most respected and the lineages of King
Suddhodana and his Queen Mayadevi were pure, he would be
born as their son, a prince of the Shakya dynasty. Placing
his crown upon the head of his successor Maitreya, the
bodhisattva descended from Tushita to the world of man.
During the night of his conception, Queen Mayadevi, who is
to be the mother of all the thousand buddhas of this aeon,
dreamt of a great white elephant entering her womb. The
earth trembled six times. It is said that in the manner of
all bodhisattvas in their final birth, he remained sitting
cross-legged for the whole time within the womb.
Furthermore, all buddhas are born in a forest grove while
their mother remain standing.
the appointed time Queen Mayadevi was visiting the Lumbini
Garden some ten miles from the Shakya city of Kapilavastu.
Emerging from a bath with her face to the east, she leant
her right arm on a sala tree. The bodhisattva was then born
from her right side and immediately took seven steps - from
which lotus flowers sprang up - in each of the four
directions. To each direction he proclaimed as with a lion's
roar: "I am the first, the best of all beings, this is my
last birth.'' He looked down to predict the defeat of Mara
and the benefiting of beings in the lower realms through the
power of his teachings. He then looked up to indicate that
all the world would come to respect and appreciate his
The gods Brahma and Indra then received him and together
with the four guardian protectors bathed him. At the same
time two nagas, Nanda and Upananda, caused water to cascade
over him. Later a well was found to have formed there, from
which even in Fa Hien's time monks continued to draw water
to drink. The young prince was next wrapped in fine muslin
and carried with great rejoicing to the king's palace in
Many auspicious signs accompanied the bodhisattva's birth.
Also, many beings who would play major parts in his life are
said to have been born on the same day: Yasodhara, his
future wife; Chandaka, the groom who would later help him
to leave the palace; Kanthaka, the horse that would bear him;
the future kings Bimbisara of Magadha and Prasenajit of
Koshala; and his protector Vajrapani. The bodhi tree is also
said to have sprouted on the day of Buddha's birth.
When Ashoka visited Lumbini two centuries later, his
advisor, the sage Upagata, perceived by clairvoyance and
described all these events, pointing out their sites to the
emperor. Ashoka made many offerings, built an elaborate
stupa and erected a pillar surmounted by a horse capital.
When Hsuan Chwang saw it, the pillar had already been
destroyed by lightning. Nevertheless, when discovered at the
end of the last century the inscription which remained on
the present ruin was sufficiently legible to clearly
identify the site as Lumbini.
The prince, now named Siddhartha, spent his first
twenty-nine years in Kapilavastu. There he performed three
more of the twelve principal deeds of a buddha. Surpassing
all the Shakya youths and even his teachers in all fields of
learning, skill and sport, he showed that he had already
mastered all the worldly arts.
day while still a child he was left unattended beneath a
tree as his father performed the ceremonial first ploughing
of the season. He sat and engaged in his first meditation,
attaining such a degree of absorption that five sages flying
overhead were halted in mid-flight by the power of it.
Later he was married to Yasodhara and experienced a life of
pleasure in the palace amongst the women of the court. Yet
despite King Suddhodana's efforts to protect him from
unpleasant sights, one day when riding in his chariot
through Kapilavastu he happened to see a man feeble with
age, another struck down with sickness, and a corpse. He
immediately realized the suffering nature of men's lives.
Then he saw a monk of holy countenance, and recognized his
path and vocation.
It is said that a buddha renounces the world only after
seeing these four signs and when a son has been born to him.
Accordingly, seven days before Siddhartha would have been
crowned as his father's heir, a son Rahula, was born to
Yasodhara. Without further delay Siddhartha told his father
of his resolve to leave the transient luxury of worldly life
and live as a renunciate in order to discover the causes of
true happiness and the end of misery.
Suddhodana was reluctant to let him go. Therefore, riding
the horse Kanthaka and accompanied by the groom Chandaka,
Prince Siddhartha left Kapilavastu with the aid of the gods.
Some distance away he performed the great renunciation,
cutting off his hair and donning the robes of an ascetic. He
sent Chandaka back to the palace with his jewels and horse,
and entered into the homeless life.
Some years later, after attaining enlightenment, Buddha
returned briefly to Kapilavastu at his father's invitation.
The Buddha and his followers were welcomed and treated well
by the king and the people, who listened to his teachings.
Five hundred Shakya youths became monks at this time,
including Rahula, the Buddha's own son, Nanda, his half
brother, and Upali, the barber, who was to later become one
of the Buddha's most important disciples.
The splendour of Kapilavastu did not last for long, for the
city and many of the Shakya clan were destroyed by the rival
king Vaidraka even within the Buddha's lifetime. When the
Chinese pilgrims visited the area they found nothing but
ruin and desolation and merely a handful of people and monks
dwelling there. Yet all the sites of the events mentioned in
the early scriptures were pointed out to them, and several
of these were still marked by stupas. After this, the area
was lost in jungle and earlier in this century, was still
only accessible by elephant.
Now only Lumbini, the birthplace itself, has been identified
with certainty. Kapilavastu has been but tentatively
located. At present these sites are still being explored and
some ruins have been unearthed. The remains of Ashoka's
pillar can be seen, as well as a shrine of indeterminate age
dedicated to Queen Mayadevi. A Nepalese Buddhist temple was
built in 1956 and a Tibetan monastery of the sakya order was
completed in 1975, which, as well as possessing a beautiful
and elaborate shrine, is well illustrated within by
traditional murals. Here many young monks are studying and
practicing the Buddha's teachings, thereby both aiding the
revival of Lumbini as a place of buddhist practice and
preserving the great traditions lost in Tibet.
The Nepalese temple, which is cared for by a monk of the
theravada tradition, also has rest houses within its
grounds, provided by buddhists from Japan and the former
U.N. General Secretary U Thant. In cooperation with the
Nepalese Government, UNESCO is also helping to improve and
develop this first of the eight pilgrimage places.