The Quest for Awakening, Ananda Pagoda, Bagan

high-definition creative commons photographs from Bagan, Myanmar, showing the last 40 of the relief statues illustrating the Life of the Buddha, together with a translation of the plaques describing them, which are based on the Introduction to the Jataka Stories.

Gallery
Gallery - the sculptures photographed
here are on the left at the top,
and are set in niches around the temple,
opposite are niches with various Buddha statues.

These are photographs of the last 40 of the 80 scenes in the Bodhisatta's life that are found at Ananda Temple in Bagan. The first 40 are at around body height and to prevent damage and theft they now have barred windows over them, which have been nailed shut, making it impossible to get good photographs of them. The 2nd set of 40 are set in the wall at around 12 feet - this makes it difficult - and very tiring - to photograph, but because of their position they have not been barred in.

They take up the story at the time of the Great Renunciation and carry if through until Awakening. Elsewhere I have seen these sculptures referred to as The Life of the Buddha in 80 scenes, but in fact only in the last sculpture does the Buddha appear, the rest are of the Bodhisatta, therefore I have entitled the series we have here: The Quest for Awakening.

The translation of the plaques into English was made by Ashin Indavamsa, who was also our guide to the temples in Myanmar, I am very grateful to him for the time and effort he has put in in making them available to others. The story follows the Nidānakatha of the Jātaka, but with some extra material which doesn't occur there.

 

41 - Mounting Kanthaka:

41 - Mounting Kanthaka:
Smoothing the horse's back, the Bodhisatta says, “Oh! Kanthaka, I would like to arrive in the Uruvelā forest within one day with your help because I would like to escape from the bonds of life in Saṁsāra, which is filled with the glowing fire of the defilements.”


42 - The Devas carry Kanthaka:

42 - The Devas carry Kanthaka:
The Bodhisatta mounts the back of Kanthaka and is followed by the Minister Channa. Celestial beings from the six Deva realms, who are afraid of people waking up, pave the way with their hands under the hooves of the horse Kanthaka.


43 - Māra Tempts the Bodhisatta:

43 - Māra Tempts the Bodhisatta:
In the middle watch of the full moon day of July, the Bodhisatta goes forth without hesitation, saying that he is not attached to worldly pleasures, but Māra, who is graceful like the moon, tries to stop him, saying he will soon have a golden opportunity, and that the Universal Treasure will come to him within a week.


44 - Siddhattha enters the Forest:

44 - Siddhattha enters the Forest:
According to his wish to see the palace in the city of Kapilavatthu, although the Bodhisatta is thirty leagues away from it, the earth revolves and he looks at the city until he is content and then continues until he arrives at the Anoma River before dawn.


45 - On the Bank after Crossing the River Anoma:

45 - On the Bank after Crossing the River Anoma:
Wishing to cross the Anoma river, which was around 64 metres wide by horse and letting Channa follow along, the Bodhisatta speaks sweetly and pats its neck, and while holding the sword in his right hand, they cross to the other bank with one jump.


46 - Relinquishing his Ornaments:

46 - Relinquishing his Ornaments:
On his arrival on the bank, the Bodhisatta gets off the horse and gives his earrings to Channa, thinking that he should become a monk in this place taking the noble river Anoma as a good and auspicious omen because of its name which means Superior, and the minister Channa accepts them weeping with his hands held high.


47 - Cutting his Hair:

47 - Cutting his Hair:
The Bodhisatta cuts his hair off with a sharp sword in the right hand, thinking that he will make beings who wander in the whirlpool of Saṁsāra cross over it with the ship of the Noble Eightfold Path, and does not hesitate to remove his top-knot after sitting down cross-legged.


48 - Sakka Catches the Hair thrown into the Sky:

48 - Sakka Catches the Hair thrown into the Sky:
Sakka, the king of Devas, waits to receive the top-knot with due respect, as the Bodhisatta cuts it off and throws it up into the sky, making a solemn resolution; “If I will surely attain Sabbaññutañāṇa, may this hair-knot remain in the sky.”


49 - Ghaṭikāra offering Robes:

49 - Ghaṭikāra offering Robes:
To help him become the fourth Buddha in the Fortuitous Aeon, the Brahmā Ghaṭikāra, offers the robe together with the eight requisites for a monk to the Bodhisatta thinking that it is not appropriate for a noble person to wear valuable cloth from Kāsi State after leaving the palace.


50 - Sending Message to his Family:

50 - Sending Message to his Family:
After entering the monkhood, the Bodhisatta sends a message to the palace with his two companions, Channa and Kanthaka, to console them, including his former wife, Yasodharā and his son, Rāhula. They ask him for permission to remain but he makes them go back.


51 - Under the Anupiya Mango Tree:

51 - Under the Anupiya Mango Tree:
When Channa and Kanthaka return, the Bodhisatta abides enjoying the great joy of monkhood for seven days in the Anupiya Mango Grove alongside the River Anoma near the place where they crossed.


52 - Entering Rājagaha:

52 - Entering Rājagaha:
The Bodhisatta, the noblest person in the world, wears the robe that appeared in the lotus and putting the double robe on his shoulder, starts out alone to Rājagaha thirty leagues away, which is surrounded by five mountains, without taking a rest, as the sun rises from Anupiya Mango Grove.


53 - On Almsround:

53 - On Almsround:
On his arrival in Rājagaha after traveling thirty leagues within one day, two ministers together with the townsfolk, are surprised and heartily welcome the Bodhisatta, who goes around for alms-food looking like a celestial being.


54 - Eating Almsfood:

54 - Eating Almsfood:
When the ministers told that they had seen the noble monk near the palace, king Bimbisāra makes them investigate because he cannot tell by looking at him through the palace window whether the Bodhisatta is a human being or a celestial being.


55 - Meeting King Bimbisāra:

55 - Meeting King Bimbisāra:
When King Bimbisāra understands that the Bodhisatta is having lunch at Paṇḍava Mountain he goes and meets him, and admiringly offers half of his kingdom to the Bodhisatta, who had gone forth despite being a prince of Kapila state. When he rejects the offer he asks the Bodhisatta to pay him a visit him after he becomes a Buddha.


56 - Discussion with Ālāra Kālāma:

56 - Discussion with Ālāra Kālāma:
The Bodhisatta, when he meets the hermit, Ālāra on his way from the Paṇḍava Mountain, tells him that he will leave for another place in the forest because he knows he cannot attain the highest bliss simply through practising mundane jhāna.


57 - Discussion with Udaka Rāmaputta:

57 - Discussion with Udaka Rāmaputta:
The Bodhisatta tells the hermit, Udaka that he will move to another place thinking that he cannot realise the Four Noble Truths in this way, although he had practiced and attained the eight stages of jhānic bliss when he met him in the forest.


58 - At Uruvelā with the Five Ascetics:

58 - At Uruvelā with the Five Ascetics:
The Bodhisatta practices meditation in Uruvelā forest, and the ascetic group of five - Koṇḍañña, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahānāma and Assaji - look forward to hearing the first Dhamma discourse, and follow him taking the form of monks in order to meet him.


59 - Devas Attend on the Bodhisatta:

59 - Devas Attend on the Bodhisatta:
Devas try to insert nutrition through the skin pores when the Bodhisatta starts to lose his marks of a great man after six years of severe austerities, such as taking only one fruit a day.


60 - Collapsing from Exhaustion:

60 - Collapsing from Exhaustion:
Devas look at the Bodhisatta to see whether he is breathing or not, when he falls down and faints while walking to and fro on the walking path during the contemplation of breathing after taking only a very small amount of food.


61 - Taking Solid Food:

61 - Taking Solid Food:
The group of five ascetics leave the Bodhisatta thinking that he cannot attain Buddhahood when he takes almsfood from a market town realising that his practice should be more balanced after his severe austerities for six years and the special bodily marks of the Great Man reappear, and so he now lives alone.


62 - The Five Dreams:

62 - The Five Dreams:
Sujāta's attendant Puṇṇā comes and sees the Bodhisatta who has had a dream of lying down on the whole continent, putting the Himālaya under his head like a pillow, the grass reaching the highest realms through his navel, with many maggots crawling up his legs and white birds who will come and pay respect to him.


63 - Sujāta offers Milk Rice:

63 - Sujāta offers Milk Rice:
The Bodhisatta sitting cross-legged with bodily radiance accepts the golden plate worth 100,000 gold-coins together with milk-rice full of nutrients offered by Sujāta, the daughter of a wealthy man, and her attendant, who give it to him thinking he is a guardian spirit of the tree and they pay due respect to him.


64 - The Bodhisatta Bathing at the Riverside:

64 - The Bodhisatta Bathing at the Riverside:
On the day of attaining Buddhahood, the Bodhisatta went to the bank of River Nerañjarā to take a bath like the former Buddhas, and he took milk-rice at the bank of the Suppatitthita ford and later had a bath, making a resolution that he will not eat again for as long as he has not attained Buddhahood.


65 - Eating Milk Rice:

65 - Eating Milk Rice:
On the bank of River Nerañjarā, the Bodhisatta sat cross-legged facing the eastern direction, and took forty-nine mouthfuls of milk-rice, that were neither too big nor too small, in a gold cup full of cream and different kinds of nutritious things.


66 - Determining the Awakening by throwing the Bowl Upstream:

66 - Determining the Awakening by throwing the Bowl Upstream:
After taking forty-nine mouthfuls of milk-rice, the Bodhisatta looks at the golden cup offered by Sujāta and he makes the following solemn resolution: “If I shall attain Sabbaññutañāṇa and become Buddha, may the gold cup float upstream,” and he places it in the river, and it floats upstream.


67 - Contemplating the Body under the Sāl Tree:

67 - Contemplating the Body under the Sāl Tree:
Knowing that the resolution will come true and that the Bodhisatta must surely become a Buddha when he saw the gold cup floating upstream in the river, he stays in the Sāl grove near the River Nerañjarā, and reflects on the constituent parts of the body in the afternoon.


68 - Devas Escort the Bodhisatta to the Bodhi Tree:

68 - Devas Escort the Bodhisatta to the Bodhi Tree:
In the evening the Bodhisatta goes to the Bodhi Tree under which he will become Buddha; the celestial beings, Devas and Brahmās, also come to know about it, because the dragon named Kāḷa, shouts: Sādhu! as the gold cup floats upstream and sinks down into his realm.


69 - Sotthiya offers Sacred Grass:

69 - Sotthiya offers Sacred Grass:
Sotthiya, the grass cutter, knowing that he wants them, respectfully offered eight handfuls of grass to the Bodhisatta who meets him on his way from the Sāl grove in the evening.


70 - Standing to the South of the Tree:

70 - Standing to the South of the Tree:
The Bodhisatta thinks to scatter the eight handfuls of grass after his approach to the Bodhi Tree from the south, but he realises that it is not the proper place on the earth to become Buddha, as it was not even.


71 - Standing to the West of the Tree:

71 - Standing to the West of the Tree:
The Bodhisatta, who was standing at the East, looks at the Bodhi Tree and thought to scatter the eight handfuls of the grass there, but the earth was again not even, as it sloped half forwards and half backwards.


72 - Standing to the North of the Tree:

72 - Standing to the North of the Tree:
Looking at the Bodhi Tree closely from the north, the Bodhisatta stands without scattering the grass, looking to see if it is the right place and whether it should be done or not.


73 - Standing at the East of the Tree:

73 - Standing at the East of the Tree:
Holding his hand up, the Bodhisatta looks at the Bodhi tree from the East and the throne appears like the shining sun, so he scatters the eight handfuls of grass, thinking that he will become the Buddha at this place, which is even and without slopes.


74 - Devas pay Homage to the Bodhisatta:

74 - Devas pay Homage to the Bodhisatta:
While the Bodhisatta is sitting cross-legged on the throne, fourteen cubits high, facing eastward with his back against the trunk of the Bodhi Tree, the celestial beings, Devas and Brahmās from the ten thousand universes, pay due respect with joined-palms on their forehead and the dragon named Kāḷa pays homage to the Bodhisatta reciting one thousand verses praising his virtues.


75 - Making Resolution to Attain Awakening:

75 - Making Resolution to Attain Awakening:
Sakka, the king of Devas, blows a conch, Brahmā holds a white parasol, and celestial beings from 10,000 universes cheerfully come to the Buddha and He makes a solemn resolution to make four kinds of effort, while sitting on the Aparājita throne, and determines: “Never shall I unfold this cross-legged position until I attain Buddhahood.”


76 - Māra tries to take the Throne:

76 - Māra tries to take the Throne:
Māra, the wicked one, presides over the evil demons who come to violently fight the Bodhisatta sitting cross-legged on the throne. Brahmā, Sakka, the Devas and Nāgas go away frightened, but the nine kinds of celestial weapons fall near the feet of the Bodhisatta, who stays alone unhurt by virtue of the power of his perfections.


77 - Calling Earth to Witness:

77 - Calling Earth to Witness:
Māra, the wicked one, after fighting the Bodhisatta by riding on the Girimekhala elephant and leading a thousand fighting forces armed with various weapons, can do nothing and asks him to step down from the throne, but the Bodhisatta replies that the Aparājita throne which appears for all Buddhas on the day of attaining Buddhahood is unworthy for Māra.


78 - Māra's Attendents Flee:

78 - Māra's Attendents Flee:
Although Māra, the wicked one, claims that the throne is his in the presence of his followers, the celestial beings, the Bodhisatta successfully repulses his force with the help of the guardian god of the earth called as witness to the perfections which he fulfilled throughout Saṁsāra and they go away fearfully. The other celestial beings are joyful together with the Brahmās, Sakka, Nāgas, Garuḷas, Gandhabbas and Asura gods who come to pay homage to the Bodhisatta.


79 - The Devas Pay Homage after the Defeat of Māra:

79 - The Devas Pay Homage after the Defeat of Māra:
The Buddha sits in the gesture of touching the earth with his hand, calling it to witness, under which sit Arahant monks and the donors of the series of friezes.


80 - The First Rains-Retreat:

80 - The First Rains-Retreat:
After expounding the discourse of turning the wheel of Dhamma to all beings - men, Devas and Brahmās - especially to the group of five ascetics, the Buddha observes the first rains-retreat in the Deer Park.


 

Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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