The Life of Gautama Buddha
Awakening & Teaching

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 2:
Birth & Youth

Page 5:
Awakening & Teaching


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


096: The Bodhisattva attains Awakening and becomes the Buddha

Then the Bodhisattva in the three watches of the night attained the divine eye, the knowledge of the arising and falling of beings according to karma, and the knowledge of the destruction of the pollutants, and attained complete and perfect Awakening.

In the relief we see the gods have come to strew divine flowers and other gifts around the newly Awakened Buddha, some fly through the air, others sit on the ground.

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097: Other Buddhas send umbrellas to shade Gautama Buddha

All the other Buddhas in the great universe also became aware of the Gautama Buddha’s achievement, and they sent gifts of Dharma, jewels and umbrellas to mark the occasion.

The apsaras are sat around, holding divine flowers and the like, but the other Buddhas are not pictured, we see only the umbrellas, flowers and jewels that they sent.

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098: The Gods bathe the Buddha (end of first week)

The Buddha spent the first week adoring the Bodhi Tree under which he attained Awakening, and at the end of that period the gods (devaputra) approached and bathed the Buddha with scented water.

We can see that the Buddha is in the same position he was in when Awakening, and hasn’t changed his posture since that time. The gods stand round with pitchers waiting to bathe him.

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099: The Buddha showing the Fearless Sign (third week)

The scene is probably from the third week after the Awakening, and the Buddha is sat on the Diamond Throne (Vajrāsana) reflecting about his Awakening.

Still the gods sit round rejoicing in the Buddha’s attainment, while the Buddha himself shows the fearless sign (abhayamudrā), warding off evil from all beings.

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100: The Buddha traversing from Ocean to Ocean (fourth week)

In the fourth week after the Awakening the Buddha traversed the ocean in the east to the ocean in the west, with a youthful gait.

The gods hold an umbrella over the Buddha as he walks surveying the lands. On the left someone is seen sitting in the forest, with wild animals around.

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101: The Buddha meets Mucilinda (fifth week)

In the fifth week a great storm arose and in order to protect the Buddha from the elements the Nāga King Mucilinda wrapped himself around the Buddha and held his seven hoods above him like an umbrella.

There is a mystery in this depiction in that we have a child sat on an elephant next to the Buddha, but there is no known story to account for that. Mucilinda himself, with his seven hoods, is seen worshipping, and other nāgas stand behind him holding gifts.

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102: The Buddha meets Ascetics in the Vicinity (sixth week)

The Buddha now meets with representatives of various ascetic groups, including wanderers and Jainas, who ask him how he spent the inclement week. His reply is, those who know the Dharma always live pleasantly.

The gods are once more pictured behind the Buddha, while those in front are from the various ascetic groups enquiring after the Buddha’s comfort.

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103: The Buddha meets Trapuṣa and Bhallika (seventh week)

In the seventh week after the Awakening two merchants, Trapuṣa and Bhallika, who were headed north, see the Buddha, but at first think he must be a god come to Earth; he then shows his ascetics robes, and they decide to offer alms-food.

The merchants are seen on the right of the panel, standing over their alms-gifts, and around them are other members of their party. On the left the gods wait in attendance on the Buddha.

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104: The Four Great Kings offer the Buddha four Bowls

Then the Buddha, seeing that he had no way to accept the merchants alms-food thought to himself: how did previous Buddhas accept gifts? And he knew they did so in stone bowls.

The Four Great Kings, who protect the four quarters, knowing this thought of the Buddha, brought four stone bowls for him, as can still just about be seen in this worn-down panel.


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105: The Buddha accepts the refined curds in the vessel called Candra

Taking the milk of a thousand cows, and refining it over and over again Trapuṣa and Bhallika prepare food for the Buddha, and present it in a jewelled vessel called Candra.

On the left we see Trapuṣa holding up the wonderful vessel filled with refined curds, with his followers behind him. On the right sit the gods.

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106: Śikhī Mahābrahmā requests the Buddha to Teach

The Buddha was disinclined to teach because of the difficulty of getting others to understand his realisation. Śikhī Mahābrahmā, realising this, surrounded by other gods, approaches the Buddha and asks him to teach.

Śikhī Mahābrahmā is on the right of the Buddha, and all around are the other gods. Unfortunately a lot of this panel is worn, and we cannot see the expressions on the face of the Buddha or some of the gods.

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107: Śakra, Lord of the Gods, requests the Buddha to Teach

The Tathāgata has still not agreed to teach so the Lord of the Gods, Śakra, approached him and begged him to do so in verse.

Again the panel is badly damaged in places, and we can hardly see Śakra sat on Buddha’s right, but we do see most of the other gods, including a couple who sit on the clouds above the Lord of the Gods.

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108: The Buddha agrees to Teach for the Benefit of Gods and Men

Now the Buddha is requested once again by Śikhī who speaks eloquently in verse, reminding him that a false Dharma has arisen in the world, and he alone knows and can teach the true Dharma.

The Buddha looks around the world, and realises there are three classes of beings, and that some will be able to understand his teachings, he therefore agrees to the gods’ request, and informs them so.


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109: Beginning the Journey to Ṛṣipatana

We cannot identify this or the following panels for sure. As it appears the next panel must be the meeting with Upaga this scene needs to represent a meeting before that one, but no such scene is mentioned. What we do see is the Bodhisattva has now stood up and is presumably starting his journey to Ṛṣipatana.

The Bodhisattva extends his hand to receive something from the three people in front of him. The female has a lotus shoot. The standing male a dish of some sort. On the far left of the relief what looks like four gods are sat on the floor watching.


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110: The Meeting with the Ājīvaka Upaga

After the Buddha had begun his journey he met with a group of Ājīvakas near to Gayā. One of them remarked on how serene the Buddha looked and asked who his teacher was? The Buddha replied that he had no teacher but was Awakened by himself.

The Buddha is standing on a lotus cushion, and behind him a god holds an umbrella. In front of him are three ascetics, who must be Ājīvakas. They all have on very light and fairly simple clothing and two of them hold their hands in añjali.


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111: Nāga Sudarśana at Aparagayā

The text mentions that just after the meeting with the Ājīvakas the Buddha was entertained by the nāga-king Sudarśana, and this relief probably represents that meeting.

The Buddha is now sat on a throne, no doubt prepared by the nāga-king. Towards the centre we see the king himself and his retinue, identifiable by the snake-hoods atop their heads. A great retinue has gathered round to honour the Buddha.


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112: Being Entertained at Rohitavastu

The text mentions three other places where the Buddha stopped along the way to Ṛṣipatana, and these reliefs presumably show those imagined scenes. There is in fact nothing in the text describing these meetings, but they were perhaps included to emphasise the respect the Buddha received along the way.

The Buddha sits on a throne again in a pavilion, and has his hand held in blessing. Several of his hosts sit on the floor while a number of standing females hold gifts of one sort or another.


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113: Being Entertained at Urubilvakalpa

The Buddha is standing on the right with his hand held out in blessings again. On the far right of the relief kneels a nāga. It is clear if he is the host, it rather seems not to be so, but then what his role is we do not know.

In front of the Buddha are several people, one of whom has his hands on the floor in front of him. I think this would be the host. Behind them is a lion throne, which is where the Buddha will sit while being fed.


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114: Being Entertained at Sārathipura

Before Sārathipura another place, Aṇāla is mentioned. We have no way of identifying any of the places, of course. The Buddha is sat in this relief in the midst of a large gathering of people, many of whom bear gifts. He has his hand raised in vitarka-mudrā and is therefore teaching.

On either side many people gather round, either holding gifts or showing signs of respect. Some of the expressions on their faces are sublime.


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115: The Buddha crosses the Ganges by flying through the Air

This panel represents a famous scene where the Buddha had reached the shore of the Ganges and needs to cross over. The ferryman, however, demands payment for the crossing, which the Buddha cannot give. He therefore crossed over by his own spiritual powers.

The ferryman is depicted sitting dejected at his unwholesome deed in refusing to take the Buddha over. The ferryman reported this incident to King Bimbisāra, who henceforth exempted all ascetics from having to pay to cross the rivers in his land.


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116: The Buddha is offered Alms in Vārānaṣī

The Buddha, having now crossed the river Ganges, enters Vārānaṣī and proceeds on his alms-round through the city early in the morning.

We see people beside the gate, pictured on the left of the panel, the ones who are standing are presenting alms-food to the Buddha in his bowl.


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117: The Buddha meets the Auspicious Group of Five

The Buddha now leaves Vārānaṣī and walks to the Deer Park at Ṛṣipatana where he meets up with his previous companions, the auspicious group-of-five monks.

They at first agree amongst themselves not to greet him or pay respect to him, but as the Buddha approaches they are unable to keep to their agreement, and they rise and treat him with all due respect.


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118: The Group of Five become Bhiksus

The Buddha is now sat in the middle of the relief on a large throne and the Group of Five have been transformed miraculously into monks (bhikṣus) following their acceptance of the Awakening of the Buddha.

We see three of the new bhikṣus on the right of the relief, and two on the left. The park is shown by the trees which form the background. On the far left we see four devas who witness the scene sat under one of the trees.


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119: The Buddha is washed with scented water by the monks

The monks, having asked for forgiveness for their transgressions in not accepting the Buddha, now made arrangements to take the Buddha to a nearby pond where they will bathe him.

The Buddha is once again sat on a throne, this time in the midst of a lotus pond, while water is poured over him by two of the monks. Another holds fresh robes for him to don before teaching. On the right stand four nāgas who have emerged from the pond


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120: The Buddha turns the Wheel of the Dharma

Having sought out the place where all previous Buddhas sat when they delivered their First Discourse, the Buddha approached the spot and sat down, and began his teaching career.

The Buddha sits on a throne in the middle of the relief, with the Group of Five on the left and many gods gathered round, either sitting in respectful posture or watching from the clouds.

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Photographs and Text by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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