The Life of Gautama Buddha
Meetings & Striving

a complete collection of high-definition creative commons photographs from Borobudur, Java, illustrating the Life of the Buddha as told in the Lalitavistara, together with further information.

 

Page 1:
Conception & Pregnancy
Page 2:
Birth & Youth
Page 3:
Signs & Renunciation
Page 4:
Meetings & Striving
Page 5:
Awakening & Teaching

 

Introduction to the Lalitavistara Reliefs at Borobudur
(opens in a lytebox, without leaving the page)

 

070: The Bodhisattva roams and comes to Padmā’s Hermitage

The Bodhisattva now visits various ashrams looking for spiritual guidance, the first two are run by female ascetics, the first a Śākyan Brāhmaṇī, and the second by Padmā, another Brāhmaṇī.

In the relief we see female ascetics on the left holding rosaries and meditating, while the Bodhisattva talks with their leader Padmā. The deer signify this is in the wilderness.

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071: The Bodhisattva meets with Ārāḍa Kālāma

The Bodhisattva met with two other Ṛṣis, Raivata and Rājaka, before going on to the large ashram of Ārāḍa in Vaiśālī, where three disciples were practising under his tutelage.

In the panel the Bodhisattva has just arrived and Ārāḍa is offering him water, while in the background his disciples sit under the trees. Notice the monkeys sitting under the tree on the right.

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072: Ārāḍa Kālāma offers the Bodhisattva Joint Leadership

Then the Bodhisattva through application of mind managed in a short time to master all that Ārāḍa could teach him, and reported the situation to the teacher, who offered to make him joint leader of the group.

The Bodhisattva, however, realising that this attainment does not lead to complete deliverance, decides to leave the ashram and seek his aims elsewhere. Again we see ascetics sitting with rosaries, and on the right Ārāḍa listens to the Bodhisattva.

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073: King Bimbisāra offers alms to the Bodhisattva

After leaving Ārāḍa the Bodhisattva went to Rājagṛha, the capital of Magadha, which was on the other side of the Gangā river. As he was entering the city on alms-round the people were amazed by his bearing. King Bimbisāra also saw him, and offered him alms.

In the panel the King stands ready to offer alms, while at the feet of the Bodhisattva appears to be a servant. Above on the far right the gods look on from the clouds.

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074: King Bimbisāra venerates the Bodhisattva

King Bimbisāra impressed by the demeanour of the Bodhisattva asks his men to watch where he goes when he leaves the city, and they follow him to Mt. Paṇḍava. The King then goes out to meet him, and offers him half the Kingdom, and when he refuses, asks him to come back and teach when he has attained Awakening.

The animals on the left of the panel signify that this is the wilderness. To the Bodhisattva’s left is King Bimbisāra, and his court, who all sit in a reverential attitude.

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075: The Bodhisattva meets with Rudraka Rāmaputra

The Bodhisattva now approaches another teacher Rudraka, who was teaching the highest levels of concentration meditation to his seven hundred disciples in Rājagaha, and asks for instruction.

The Bodhisattva sits discussing meditation with Rudraka, who has his disciples behind him. All around are the wilderness animals.

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076: The Bodhisattva begins Meditation in Caves with the Group of Five

The Bodhisattva leaves the ashram, and five of Rudraka’s disciples decide to follow him, and become known as the auspicious group-of-five (bhadda pañcavaggiya), after some time they go to the edge of Senāpati village near Gayāśīrṣa, and begin their life of austerities.

The caves are stylistically indicated above the Bodhisattva and the group-of-five, all of whom are practising meditation. On the right we see the river Nairañjanā, with plentiful fish in it.

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077: The Bodhisattva during his Life of Austerity

The Bodhisattva now begins his life of deep austerities, taking very little food, and later engaging in the non-breathing meditation. So severe were the austerities that some gods believed he may have died.

The Bodhisattva is pictured with the auspicious group-of-five ascetics, and appears to be discussing something with one of them.

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078: The Bodhisattva’s Mother tries to persuade him to give up his Austerities

The Bodhisattva’s Mother, who had been reborn in the Trāyastriṁśa Heaven as a god (devaputra), is now asked by the gods to go and speak to the Bodhisattva, so he descends, and questions whether he has failed to fulfil prophecy, but the Bodhisattva asserts he will still fulfil all that was predicted of him.

We see the previous Māyādevī accompanied by divine nymphs (apsara), who have also come to see the Bodhisattva.

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079: Māra tries to persuade the Bodhisattva to stop Striving

Māra now approaches the Bodhisattva and tries to persuade him to give up striving and do good deeds instead, but the Bodhisattva rebukes him and drives him away.

The Bodhisattva is sat in meditation posture, with his hand held up in rejection of Māra’s arguments. He then names Māra’s ten armies and vows to break them.

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080: The Gods offer to give Nourishment to the Bodhisattva

As his efforts have not brought him closer to Awakening, the Bodhisattva now decides to change his approach and to take enough food to sustain himself, and have a steady mind.

The gods then offer to feed him divine food through the pores of his skin, but the Bodhisattva thinks that would be deceitful and instead looks to take food in the normal way.

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081: The Daughters of the Village Head offer Food to the Bodhisattva

The group-of-five monks decide to leave the Bodhisattva thinking he had given up his efforts, then a group of ten maidens led by Sujātā come and offer him broth, which he takes.

To the left is a Palace, presumably the home of the village Headman, and in the middle under a well drawn coconut tree sit four of the girls, one offering a lotus. Nearby stands another who is holding the Bodhisattva’s bowl, having filled it with rice gruel.

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082: The Bodhisattva washes Rādhā’s Shroud

The Bodhisattva now takes a rag robe from Rādhā, who has recently died, and walking away wished to wash it, so the gods made a pond for him, and Śakra set down a beating stone.

The Bodhisattva is pictured with the rag in his hand, and on his right is a lovely lotus pond, made by the gods, who stand behind him. On the far left of the panel is Śakra who is worshipping the Bodhisattva, and offering to wash the robe for him.

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083: The Gods offer Clean Clothes to the Bodhisattva

Then the Śuddhāvāsikā gods descend and offer the Bodhisattva clean dyed robes of a suitable colour, and the Bodhisattva accepts their gift and changes his robes.

There are elephants, monkeys and peacocks on the left of the panel, deep in the forests, while in the centre stand the gods with their offerings in their hands.

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084: Sujātā presents food to the Bodhisattva in her Home

Sujātā prepares milk-rice and sends her servant Uttarā to bring a suitable subject to offer it to. Everywhere Uttarā goes, by the power of the gods, she sees only the Bodhisattva, and Sujātā tells her the milk-rice is prepared for him.

There are two scenes: on the right of the panel the women have prepared the milk-rice (pāyāsa), and are passing it along; on the left Sujātā approaches the Bodhisattva with the filled bowl.

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085: The Bodhisattva takes the bowl and goes to the River to Bathe

Sujātā gave the food in a golden bowl to the Bodhisattva, and he asked what he should do with it, to which Sujātā replied that the bowl was his. He then left for the River Nairañjanā to bathe and cool himself off.

We see the Bodhisattva with the golden bowl in the centre of the panel, and on his right kneel gods (devaputra) in worshipping attitude. The river is on the Bodhisattva’s left and is pictured teaming with fish.

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086: The Gods assist the Bodhisattva as he Bathes, and then collect the Relics

As the Bodhisattva enters the river to bathe the gods perfume the water and sprinkle divine flower petals into it, so that it is suitable for the Bodhisattva to bathe in.

The gods are seen floating on the clouds in this delightful scene, while below others are scooping up the water to take to the various heavens to be enthroned in chaityas. On the right of the panel we see Divine Serpents (Nāgas) rising from the water.

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087: A Nāginī offers the Bodhisattva a Throne

After bathing the Bodhisattva was looking for a place to sit and one of the Nāginīs in the river Nairajñanā, seeing this, offered him a jewelled throne.

The Bodhisattva is once again seen with his bowl, and to his right is the Nāginī, who has created the broad throne behind her. Other gods wait to see the outcome also.

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088: The Bodhisattva eats the remainder of his Food

The Bodhisattva now sits on the throne built for him to eat the remainder of the milk-rice that Sujātā has given him as alms-food.

The Bodhisattva is seen sitting on the throne in an idyllic forest setting, with three goddesses watching over him. Again the river is pictured teaming with fish, a sign of abundance.

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089: The Bodhisattva disposes of the Bowl

When he had finished his meal, the Bodhisattva throws the bowl into the river, and the King of the Nāgas takes it; Śakra appears and begs him for it. The bowl is then taken to Trāyatriṁśa Heaven and a Chaitya built for it, which is worshipped at a festival every year.

There are two scenes depicted: on the right side of the panel the Bodhisattva is floating the bowl in the river, and the Nāga king is taking it up; on the left side the Nāga king gives the bowl to Śakra, King of the Gods, as a relic.

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090: Svastika gives Grass to the Bodhisattva

The grass cutter Svastika gives a sheath of the much-favoured kusa grass for the Bodhisattva to sit on at the Bodhi Tree.

Svastika is on his knees on with far left gathering grass with one hand, and offering it with another. To the Bodhisattva’s left the gods look on as the scene plays out.

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091: The Gods worship the Bodhisattva

The gods now gather round as the Bodhisattva approaches the Bodhi Tree, and pay homage to him.

Lalitavistara is not specific about which gods came to worship, but it looks like we have Śakra on the left, with his gods and goddesses seated and kneeling, and Brahma on the right with his followers standing.

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092: The Gods decorate Bodhi Trees hoping the Bodhisattva will sit there

The gods now prepare 84,000 Bodhi Trees, with different degrees of excellence and magnificence, in the hope that the Bodhisattva will sit under his tree. The Bodhisattva uses his powers of concentration so it seems to their makers that he is sitting under all the trees.

In the panel we see just five of the trees, and the gods preparing the spaces around them with fragrant incense and flowers.

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093: Bodhisattvas pay homage to our Bodhisattva

The Bodhisattva sits down at the root of the Bodhi Tree and, the Buddha Fields throughout the universe are illuminated, and beings in them can all see what is happening.

The leading Bodhisattvas in all the Buddha fields now adore our Bodhisattva, who is on the verge of Awakening; one stands to either side in the relief, while the gods look on. The Bodhisattva is pictured under the Bodhi Tree, and, interestingly, there is the outline of a triangular roof protecting him.

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094: Māra and his Army attack the Bodhisattva who calls the Earth to Witness

In one of the most dynamic of the scenes, Māra and his armies attack the Bodhisattva, trying to prevent him from reaching Awakening, but the Bodhisattva remains calm and focused.

Māra and his followers are shooting arrows at the Bodhisattva, but as they approach they turn into flowers and fall harmlessly to the floor. Notice the elephant, the monkey, and one of the demons using a blow pipe in this scene.

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095: Māra sends his Daughters to entice the Bodhisattva

In one last effort to draw the Bodhisattva’s mind away from Awakening, Māra now sends his three daughters to dance before him.

Here we see the three daughters of Māra, two are dancing to his left, and one is worshipping to his right. They are surrounded by others who display the charms of sensual pleasures. The Bodhisattva though remains set on his task.

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Page 1:
Conception
Page 2:
Birth and Youth
Page 3:
Renunciation
Page 4:
Striving
Page 5:
Awakening

 

Photographs and Text by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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