The Life of Buddha (or the Story of Buddha) thangka painting depicts key episodes in the life of Siddhartha Gautama, known as Gautama Buddha.
These major events are traditionally called the "Twelve Great Deeds of the Buddha's Life":
- Descending from Tushita Heaven
- Entering into his mother's womb
- Birth in the garden of Lumbini
- Training in the sciences
- Achievement in sports competition
- Enjoying the palace and marriage
- Renouncing the life of a prince
- Practicing austerity for six years, then renouncing that
- Obtaining victory over the Maras
- Enlightenment under the bodhi tree
- Turning the wheel of dharma
- And passing into Parinirvana
Descending from Tushita Heaven
The Bodhisattva Mahasattva gave his last teaching to the countless bodhisattvas in Tushita Pure Land.
He made a promise to be reborn again in the human realms to guide human beings to liberation from the ocean of cyclic existence.
ENTERING INTO HIS MOTHER'S WOMB
Buddha’s descent to this world is represented by his mother, the princess Maya Devi, dreaming a white elephant.
The legend says that during one night of full moon, Maya Devi dreamed to be taken by four devas(spirits) to a lake in the Himalaya. There she encountered a white elephant that ripped the right side of her belly with his tusks.
Finally the elephant disappeared and the queen awoke, knowing that she had been delivered an important message, as the elephant is a symbol of greatness in Nepal.
Birth in the garden of Lumbini
When Queen Maya knew the time of the birth was near, she left Kapilvastu for her father's kingdom to give birth. However, her son was born on the way, at Lumbini, in a garden while she was holding a branch of a sal tree.
According to legend, Buddha was born from the right side of his mother. Immediately upon his birth, he stood up and took seven steps in each of the four directions, raised his hand and said: "Thus have I come for the wellbeing of the world."
At the time of birth the Hindu gods Indra and Brahma were present. In the painting Indra stands ready, holding a cloth to wrap the baby.
Training in the sciences and arts
As the son of the king, Siddhartha Gautama was provided with the finest upbringing. He received the finest education in the palace and excelled all lessons taught to him.
In his younger years, he excelled in all kingly sports and other contests of skill. He was said to particularly master the horse riding and with the bow.
Enjoying the palace and marriage
5. Princely Life
After growing up, prince Siddhartha assumed royal duties.
He married the beautiful princess Yashodhara at the age of 21 and they had a son together named Rahaula. and had a retinue of many attendant ladies.
The painting depicts him in his royal robes at the court while enjoying the company of the royal consorts.
Renunciation of worldly life
The first thing Prince Gautam did after leaving his father's palace was to severe his long and beautiful hair with his princely blade as a way of showing he is renouncing his previous worldly life.
Practicing austerities for six years
Siddhartha Gautama studied with several teachers, and in each case, he mastered the meditative attainments each of them taught. Yet he found that what he learn from these teachers did not provide a permanent end to suffering, so he continued his spiritual quest.
He next joined a group of five other ascetics and for the next several years, Siddhartha practiced extreme austerities along with his companions. These austerities included prolonged fasting, breath-holding, and exposure to pain. Siddhartha almost starved himself to death in the process, becoming so skinny that when he touched his stomach, he could almost feel his spine.
He then realized that it was not possible to attain enlightenment through asceticism alone.
Striving for enlightenment to the foot of the bodhi tree
8. Adopting the Middle Way
When, like decadent palace life, austere penance did not lead him to inner fullfilment and liberation, he eschewed the two extremes of excessive indulgence and physical austerity and adopted the Middle Way to enlightenment.
He met a young village girl named Sujata who offered him a bowl of rice pudding (kheer). It was the first food he had accepted in years and it instantly restored his strength. He went to Bodhgaya in Magadha to attain enlightenment.
He sat under the Bodhi Tree and vowed not to rise before attaining enlightenment.
Overcoming Mara’s demons
9. Overcoming Evil
While Siddhartha was sitting at the Bodhi Tree, Mara, the demon of death and desire, sent many kinds of ghosts, both wrathful and sensual, to defeat and lure him. Yet he remained concentrated an unmoved by all of these demons sent to him.
After defeating Mara's demons, he touched the earth with his right hand and summoned the Earth Goddess to be his witness.
Enlightenment under the bodhi tree
The Buddha sat under the tree in solitude.
He saw his countless past lives and the beings who have perished in the cycle of endless rebirths.
During the third watch of the night he attained full enlightenment.
Turning the wheel of Dharma
After his enlightenment, the buddha kept sitting and contemplating for seven more weeks under the Bodhi Tree. The gods Brahma and Indra beseeched him not to pass into Nirvana but to teach other beings in the world.
He went to Varanasi to "turn the wheel of the Dharma" for the first time at the Deer Park. He ordained the five ascetics as his first disciples, and taught the Four Noble Truths.
Passing into Mahaparinirvana
12. Passing Away
At the age of 81, in the city Kushinagar, the Buddha gave his last teaching and passed into parinirvana.
The Buddha, despite being able to live forever in this world, chose to pass away and teach that loss is inherent in everything. In passing away, he fully passes out of Samsara and suffering.