The Life of Buddha/Part One/18. Siddhartha Under the Tree of Knowledge
18. Siddhartha Under the Tree of Knowledge
THE hero's clothes had become threadbare in the six years he had been wearing them, and he thought: "It would be well if I had some new clothes; otherwise I shall have to go naked, and that would be immodest."
Now, Sujata, the most devout of the ten young girls who had been bringing him food, had a slave who had just died. She had wrapped the body in a shroud made of a reddish material and had had it carried to the cemetery. The dead slave was lying in the dust. The hero saw the body as he passed; he went over to it and removed the shroud.
It was very dusty, and the hero had no water in which to wash it. Sakra, from the sky, saw his perplexity. Coming down to earth he struck the ground, and a pool appeared before the eyes of the Saint.
"Good," said he, "here is water, but I still need a wash-stone."
Sakra made a stone and set it down on the edge of the pool.
"Man of virtue," said the God, "give me the shroud; I shall wash it for you."
"No, no," replied the Saint. "I know the duties of a monk; I myself shall wash the shroud."
When it was clean, he bathed. Now, Mara, the Evil One, had been watching for him for some time. He suddenly raised the banks of the pool, making them very steep. The Saint was unable to climb out of the water. Fortunately, there was a tall tree growing near the pool, and the Saint addressed a prayer to the Goddess who lived in it.
"O Goddess, may a branch of this tree bend over me!"
A branch immediately bent over the pool. The Saint caught hold of it and pulled himself out of the water. Then he went and sat down under the tree, and he began to sew on the shroud and make a new garment for himself.
Night came on. He fell asleep, and he had five dreams.
First, he saw himself lying in a large bed that was the whole earth; under his head, there was a cushion which was the Himalaya; his right hand rested on the western sea, his left hand on the eastern sea, and his feet touched the southern sea.
Then he saw a reed coming out of his navel, and the reed grew so fast that it soon reached the sky.
Then he saw worms crawling up his legs and completely covering them.
Then he saw birds flying toward him from all points of the horizon, and when the birds were near his head, they seemed to be of gold.
Finally, he saw himself at the foot of a mountain of filth and excrement; he climbed the mountain; he reached the summit; he descended, and neither the filth nor the excrement had defiled him.
He awoke, and from these dreams he knew that the day had come when, having attained supreme knowledge, he would become a Buddha.
He rose and set out for the village of Uruvilva, to beg.
Sujata had just finished milking eight wonderful cows that she owned. The milk they gave was rich, oily and of a delicate savor. She added honey and rice flour to it, then set the mixture to boil in a new pot, on a new stove. Huge bubbles began to form and kept floating off to the right, without the liquid rising or spilling a single drop. The stove did not even smoke. Sujata was astonished, and she said to Purna, her servant:
"Puma, the Gods are favoring us to-day. Go and see if the holy man is approaching the house."
Purna, from the doorstep, saw the hero walking toward Sujata's house. He was diffusing a brilliant light, a golden light. Puma was dazzled. She ran back to her mistress.
"Mistress, he is coming! He is coming! And your eyes will be blinded by his splendor!"
"Let him come! Oh, let him come!" cried Sujata. "It is for him that I have prepared this wonderful milk."
She poured the milk mixed with honey and flour into a golden bowl, and she awaited the hero.
He entered. The house was lighted up by his presence. Sujata, to do him honor, bowed seven times. He sat down. Sujata kneeled and bathed his feet in sweet-scented water; then she offered him the golden bowl full of milk mixed with rice flour and honey. He thought:
"The Buddhas of old, it is said, had their last meal served to them in a golden bowl, before attaining supreme knowledge. Since Sujata offers me this milk and honey in a golden bowl, the time has come for me to be a Buddha."
Then he asked the young girl:
"Sister, what must I do with this golden bowl?"
"It belongs to you," she replied.
"I have no use for such a bowl," said he.
"Then do as you please with it," said Sujata. "It would be contemptible of me to offer the food and not offer the bowl."
He left, carrying the bowl in his hands, and he walked to the banks of the river. He bathed; he ate. When the bowl was empty, he threw it into the water, and he said:
"If I am to become Buddha this very day, may the bowl go upstream; if not, may it go with the current."
The bowl floated out to the middle of the river, then rapidly started upstream. It disappeared in a whirlpool, and the hero heard the muffled ring as it landed, in the subterranean world, among those other bowls the former Buddhas had emptied and thrown away.
The hero sauntered along the banks of the river. Night slowly descended. The flowers wearily closed their petals; a sweet fragrance rose from the fields and gardens; the birds timidly rehearsed their evensongs.
It was then the hero walked toward the tree of knowledge.
The road was sprinkled with gold-dust; rare palms, covered with precious stones, lined the way. He skirted the edge of a pool whose blessed waters exhaled an intoxicating perfume. White, yellow, blue and red lotuses spread their massive petals over the surface, and the air rang with the clear songs of the swans. Near the pool, under the palms, Apsarases were dancing, while in the sky the Gods were admiring the hero.
He approached the tree. On the side of the road, he saw Svastika, the reaper.
"They are tender, these grasses you are mowing, Svastika. Give me some grass; I want to cover the seat I shall occupy when I attain supreme knowledge. They are green, these grasses you are mowing, Svastika. Give me some grass, and you will know the law some day, for I shall teach it to you, and you may teach it to others."
The reaper gave the Saint eight handfuls of grass.
There stood the tree of knowledge. The hero went to the east of it and bowed seven times. He threw the handfuls of grass on the ground, and, suddenly, a great seat appeared. The soft grass covered it like a carpet.
The hero sat down, his head and shoulders erect, his face turned to the east. Then he said in a solemn voice:
"Even if my skin should parch, even if my hand should wither, even if my bones should crumble into dust, until I have attained supreme knowledge I shall not move from this seat."
And he crossed his legs.