The Life of the Buddha (Lalitavistara) from Borobudur
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.
Conception & Pregnancy
Birth & Youth
Signs & Renunciation
Meetings & Striving
Awakening & Teaching
Introduction to the Lalitavistara Reliefs at Borobudur
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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.
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 gods 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
109: Nāga Sudarśana at Aparagayā
The next six panels are hard to identify exactly, as we appear to depart from following the Lalitavistara story for some time. It may be that the sculptors had access to parts of the text now lost to us, or they may be using another work like the Mahāvastu, to fill in this part of the story.
What is sure is that these panels represent the Buddha’s journey to Ṛṣipatana. This may represent the hospitality of the Nāga Sudarśana, who has taken the Buddha’s bowl and filled it, and is now offering him the alms-food. The Nāga Queen behind him is holding a lotus flower, a symbol of purity.
110: Brahmin Nadī at Vaśālā
The panel has sometimes been identified as being the meeting with the naked ascetic Upaka, but this does not seem to fit the case, as Upaka was alone and naked, whereas the people here are in a small group and dressed.
I incline to think that this is the meeting with the Brahmin Nadī at Vaśālā, who was known to say ‘hum hum’. The Buddha proclaims his Awakening, and says that his is the true teaching.
111: Nāga Kamaṇḍaluka at Rohitavastu
Again the identification is uncertain, but it is nāgas that are depicted, as we see from the snakes on their heads, and this could be the Nāga Kamaṇḍaluka at Rohitavastu, and entertained the Buddha with many gifts and lodging.
Nāgas and Nāginīs stand and sit in a beautiful array on the Buddha’s right; they appear to hold gifts and offerings of different sorts.
112: Yakṣa Cunda at Cundadvīla
Again the identification is uncertain, but this could be the Yakṣa Cunda, who ordered a grand feast for the Buddha at Cundadvīla, and where he stayed for one night.
Next to the Buddha we see the gifts piled high, and the gods are holding more. What appears to be three dancing apsaras are standing on the left of the panel.
113: Yakṣa Kandha at Gandhapura
On the following night the Buddha was received by the Yakṣa Kandha at Gandhapura, and this may represent that scene.
There is a lot of detail in the relief, including the lotus placed on the empty throne, presumably meant for the Buddha. The expressions of the gods are particularly well drawn in this scene.
114: Unnamed Householder at Sārathipura
In the last of these uncertain panels we may see the unnamed householder at Sārathipura entertaining the Buddha.
To the right of the Buddha are what appear by their dress, in this case, to be female householders, and it is only on the Buddha’s left that we see gods helping with the offering.
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.
116: The Buddha is offered Alms in Vārānāṣī
The Buddha, having now crossed the river Ganges, enters Vārānāṣī 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.
117: The Buddha meets the Auspicious Group of Five
The Buddha now leaves Vārānāṣī 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.
118: The Buddha teaches his First Sermon
The Buddha now teaches his First Sermon which outlines the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path and lays down the foundations for the teaching to come.
The group-of-five, who sit three on the Buddha’s left, and two on his right, have now been miraculously transformed into members of the Sangha, with their hair cropped and their attitude respectful of their teacher. Further on the left are lay people with offerings in their hands.
119: The Buddha is washed with scented water by the Gods
This scene doesn’t appear in Lalitavistara, but it appears that the gods have assembled round the Buddha and two of them are pouring hot and cold water over him to bathe him after his first teaching.
We see lotuses blooming all round the Buddha and many of the gods hold gifts for him, and other offerings.
120: The Buddha praises the Lalitavistara to Gods and Men
The Lalitavistara ends the life story at this point, having brought the story from the Bodhisattva in Tuṣita Heaven being requested to take rebirth to his First Sermon, which establishes his teaching career.
The text then has the Buddha praise anyone who would memorise and pass on this story, and also anyone who listens to it, and promises great rewards to all who place faith.
May you too be blessed with good fortune and happy rebirths, until you attain Nirvāṇa!
Birth and Youth
Photographs and Text by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
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