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Genesis of traditions

The significance of Esala Full Moon Poya

If Vesak is important because Prince Siddhattha was born, then Esala is equally important as the prince was conceived in Queen Mahamaya. If Vesak is important because of the Buddha’s awakening, then Esala is equally important as Siddhartha left all his luxuries for an ascetic life; this is when his son Rahula was born.

Queen Maya was born to King Anjana and Queen Yasodhara of the Koliya caste. That night she dreamt of gods, arrived from four directions, take her to lake Anotatta. She was bathed and donned in heavenly garb and jewellery. A white baby elephant, after circling around her three times, entered her body. As it is famously known, King Sudhodhana’s prophets predicted this as a sign of a great being’s arrival. The baby was conceived while the queen was on the way to her mother’s.

The queen’s death, which occurred seven days after the prince’s birth, has caused contention. Some misunderstand that this took place as a result of the prince’s birth. The prince verified five factors, which included the mother’s age-span, before expiring for his last birth. Queen Mahamaya’s life was any way spanned only up to 40, and when a princely sage is born, that particular womb would not be suitable for another being.

Rahula, the son of Siddhartha and Yasodhara, was born after a long time the couple got married. When the news was brought, the prince uttered: “A fetter (Rahula) has been born, a bondage has been born," and this is how the wee prince got his name. Some scripts believe he was named after a lunar eclipse (Rahu) that might have occurred around the time of his birth. Whatever it is, the little prince made his father take that giant leap, and life to become harder later on. Towards evening Siddhartha finally decided to leave, taking one last look at Rahula and his mother in a peaceful slumber. But mother’s arm was covering the child’s face protectively – just as if to inspire him to go ahead with the decision.

Leaving the mansions

King Suddhodana did not ever want his son to leave the throne. It is common knowledge that the prince was given three palaces to spend the different seasons and the common man’s life is kept out of his sight. Siddhattha was already surrounded by the sights of pleasure: beautiful women, dancers, singers and musicians.

But all this only made the prince curious about life. One day while sentries are in deep slumber, the prince is said to have taken a tour of the city with his ally Channa. Then, the scriptures state, deities have sent him the four ominous signs. And then he was determined to leave for sanctity. Another day, the day his son was born, Siddattha renounced. Legend has it that he cut off his hair and threw it up to the sky. Deities from the thirty-three heavens got hold of that and offered saffron robes worn. He exchanged his royal garments with a deity, as scriptures relate. Prince Siddhatta thus became an ascetic.

The little prince in the meanwhile knew his father was in robes, but his grandfather took every step to give him a proper education. No one can say the Buddha neglected his fatherly duties. He was particularly concerned about the moral education of his son in robes. He put him directly under Sariputta and Moggallana. Genes do wonders, and Rahula could grasp anything in a second. He was always concerned about his teachers’ instructions. The Buddha was happy about him, and named him as the ‘monk most concerned about training’. He gave his entire heritage, no matter how little his son is.

Prince Siddhattha is much scoffed at, mostly among non-Buddhists, for leaving his son and wife when they needed his warm company. The question is what would happen if he did change mind seeing his own baby’s face – Siddhartha, by all odds, was a 29-year robust young man. Some say the prince left the palace in the broad daylight when everybody was up. In that case, everyone must have attempted to make him stay. Suddhodana’s palace would have looked like a funeral. Becoming a monk, ironically or sadly, is still considered a bad option in many families, unless they have financial issues. Siddhartha had no hard feelings about his small family. A poet sees the Buddha’s giant step in that way:

’Twas not through hatred of children sweet,

’Twas not through hatred of His lovely wife,

Whether he left in the broad daylight or at the night in secrecy, is still a mystery.

First discourse

Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta comes in the 56th chapter of Samyutta Nikaya of Sutta Pitaka. In English Dhamma can mean ‘nature’ or the Buddha’s teachings. In this case, it is the Buddha’s teachings, and Dhamma Cakka is the ‘wheel of the Buddha’s teachings’. Pavattana is ‘setting in motion’. The sutta is thus named because it was the Buddha’s first discourse, hence it’s the starting point of a long mission. Wikipedia introduces a list of English translation by authoritative scholars:

1. Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1843–7)

2. Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth (Piyadassi, 1999)

3. Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth (Ñanamoli, 1993)

4. Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion (Thanissaro, 1993)

After enlightenment and the invitation to preach his teachings, the Buddha scanned the world for a being who should be taught first. This is his show of gratitude. He realizes his first teachers - though their teachings did not help in the enlightenment - Alara Kalama and Uddakaramaputta are dead. Then he examines the five ascetics who helped him.

The ascetics accept only the extreme of self-mortification. This is why they left Siddattha when he took up the middle path. They saw their erstwhile companion approaching towards them, and they had a resolution not to attend to him.

But things took a different shape when the Buddha got closer. They noted something different, positive. They just forgot about their resolution and attended to him with care. In the discourse, the Buddha warns the ascetics against the two extremes: pleasure and mortification, and praised the middle path.

The Buddha introduces four noble truths and the noble eightfold path to explain the middle path. The path leads to the right path of the journey of which the destination is enlightenment and Nibbana. The revelation was simple - basically the four noble truths - yet it was so deep to grasp. The truths, the Buddha explained, must be achieved through three aspects: recognizing, pursuing and fully achieving.

Only Kondanna, of the five ascetics, could attain the first sainthood.



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