(Last Updated on : 16/04/2015)
Gautama Buddha was a true saint, who had explored for truth in the universe, transcending every possible barrier in his earthly life. Occurring several centuries ago, it today becomes obvious that his life will be under subsequent scanning, with philosophers and historians tapping every possible thread to establish a link between the original 'Gautama' and the 'Buddha' everybody understands now. In order to re-link such sublime stories that have been passed on for generations, one always leans towards legends surrounding Gautama Buddha's life and passage to nirvana. Umpteen legends and lore can be recounted, adding prestigiously to the much-admired legends surrounding Buddha's birth, early life and of course his path to enlightenment.
On one such occurrence, there resided a man in a village, who was legendary as a mad murderer. He had taken a vow that he would slay one thousand people, not fewer than that, because the society had not treated him well. And from every person slain, he would seize one finger and make a rosary around his neck with one thousand fingers. Due to this horrific instance, he was termed Angulimala, the man with a rosary of fingers. Angulimala had slain nine hundred and ninety-nine people. Nobody would traverse in those parts wherever people came to know that Angulimala was residing. And hence it became pretty tough for him to find one man and only one more man was needed. Meanwhile, Buddha during his journeys, was moving towards a forest. People came to him from the villages and warned him not to travel in the parts where Angulimala loitered about. But Lord Buddha calmly replied, "If I don't go, then who will go? And he is waiting for one more, so I have to go."
Angulimala was almost on the verge of completion of his vow. And he was a man of tremendous energy because he was fighting the whole society. Only one man and he would successfully have killed a thousand people. Kings were afraid of him; generals were terrified, including the government, the law and the police. Gautama, however, was willing to take the risk of either being killed or himself turn the killer. Buddha started to trudge towards the forest. Legends surrounding Gautama Buddha inform that even the closest disciples who had vowed that they would remain with him up to the very end, started lagging behind. Finally when Buddha reached the hill where Angulimala was sitting on a rock, there was no one behind him; he was alone.
Angulimala looked at the innocent man: childlike, so beautiful. He thought that even a murderer was bound to feel compassion for him. The man looked so innocent, so beautiful, that even Angulimala thought, "It is not good to kill this man. I'll leave him, I can find somebody else." Then he shouted towards Buddha and ordered him not to take a step forward and return back. He proclaimed that he was Angulimala and was indeed adorning the nine hundred and ninety-nine fingers around his neck. He continued that he was not a believer in religion and did not bother who Buddha was. But Buddha continued to move. Furious, Angulimala thought that the man was either deaf or mad and ordered Buddha one last time to stop.
At this Buddha replied that he had stopped long ago and was not moving. In fact, it was Angulimala who was moving. Angulimala, sitting on the rock started laughing aloud. He contradicted Gautama's statement that he was sitting and not moving and Buddha was moving and did not stop. He could not gauge the man's intelligence. Buddha went near him and said that he had heard that Angulimala needed just one more finger. As far as his body was concerned, his goal had been achieved and the body was useless. After his bodily death, it would be burned. So, Buddha requested Angulimala to make use of his own body. Angulimala's resistance and remonstrance did not come to any action. Buddha requested for a dying wish and asked Angulimala to cut off a branch of the nearby tree. Angulimala hit his sword against the tree and a big branch fell down. Buddha then asked him to join the branch again to the tree. Angulimala quite apparently turned furious and replied that it was an impossible task for him.
Buddha, laughingly answered that if Angulimala did not possess the power to create he had no right to destroy. And if he did not in the least have the power to join back a branch to the tree, he had no right to cut off human heads. The beauty and sublimity about legends surrounding Gautama Buddha is that they were recited by the Saint in a people-friendly and understandable way; scriptural and knotty words were never in Buddha's usage.
Angulimala then closed his eyes, fell down at Buddha's feet and urged the saint to lead him to that very path. And it is said that in a single moment Angulimala had turned enlightened. Next day he was a bhikkhu, a beggar, Buddha's monk and begging in the city. The whole city was closed up. People were extremely afraid. They denied lending that mad murderer any alms. People stood on their terraces looking down. And then they started throwing stones at him because he had killed nine hundred and ninety-nine men of that town. Almost every family had been a victim, so they started throwing stones.
Angulimala fell down on the street with blood flowing from all over his body. He had received numerous wounds. Then Buddha came with his disciples and asked Angulimala how he felt then. He opened his eyes and answered that he was extremely grateful to Buddha; the people could kill the body but they could never touch him and he had finally realised the fact.
With several stages existing in legends surrounding Buddha from his enlightened discourses, there is never a dearth of stories about good-will and realisation. In one such occasion, a young child had expired; the father of the child had already died and the woman was alive only for this child. That child was her whole life and her only hope. And the child had expired; the mother was almost on the verge of turning frenzied. She did not allow anyone to carry the child to the crematorium. She was hugging the child in the hope that perhaps he might start breathing again. She was ready to give her own life if the child could live; which was deemed highly improbable. Then somebody suggested that the best way was to take the mother to Gautam Buddha who, just by chance, was residing in the village.
This appealed to the woman. A man like Gautam Buddha could perform anything. She went, crying and weeping, placed the child's dead body at the feet of Buddha and pleaded with him to make her child breathe again by his secret powers. Buddha replied that he would do the task willingly, but she had to fulfill a condition before such an act. The mother impatiently answered that she was ready to satisfy any condition, she was ready to give her own life, but earnestly requested Buddha to make her child alive once more.
Buddha asked the mother then to just move about the village and find a few mustard seeds from a house where death had never materialised. She was in huge despair as she travelled from one house to another. Every house answered that they would willingly lend her as many mustard seeds as she needed, but those would not help her because not only one, but several had died in every family. By evening, a great awakening had dawned on the woman. She had visited every household in the village and received the same reply. They were all ready to help her but they said, "These mustard seeds won't help. Buddha has made it clear to you, 'Bring the mustard seeds from a family where nobody has ever died.'" When she returned, she was a totally transformed woman. She was not the same woman who had arrived in the morning. She had become absolutely aware that death was a reality of life, it could never be altered. Even if her child lived for a few years, he would have to die again. She did not shed any more tears and was extremely quiet and serene. She came and fell at Buddha's feet.
Buddha then asked from the mother the mustard seeds he had been awaiting the whole day. The woman, instead of crying, laughed out. She answered that Buddha had played a sound joke upon her. She had comprehended the reality about her child. All she wanted was to become initiated and be a sanyasin. She wanted now to find the truth that was undying, the way Buddha had found out. She was no longer concerned with the child or anybody else.
Legends surrounding Gautama Buddha seem never to cease in their object of surprising his disciples or followers. In one another occasion, Amrapali, one of the most beautiful women during Buddha's contemporary times, was residing in Vaishali. Buddha during the said times, was staying in Vaishali, where Amrapali lived. This is perhaps one of the most unique legends surrounding Gautama Buddha and his capability to stretch his mind-set. Amrapali was a prostitute. During Buddha's time in India it was a convention that the most beautiful woman of any city would not be allowed to get married to any one person, because that would create unnecessary jealousy, conflict or fighting. Hence, she had to become nagarvadhu, wife of the whole town. This was not disrespectful at all; on the contrary, she was deeply respected. Her function was that of a prostitute, but she was visited only by the very rich, by kings or princes and generals.
One day Amrapali was standing on her terrace and she witnessed a young Buddhist monk. She had never fallen in love with anybody, although every day she had to pretend to be a great lover to unknown kings, rich men, or generals. But this time she fell suddenly in love with this Buddhist monk who had nothing except a begging bowl. The young man was of a tremendous presence, awareness, grace. Amrapali rushed down and earnestly solicited the monk to accept her food that day.
Other monks were also coming behind him, because whenever Buddha moved anywhere, ten thousand monks moved with him. They were filled with jealousy and anger and all the human qualities and frailties as they saw the young man enter the palace of Amrapali. Amrapali told him that just after three days the rainy season was about to begin and it was a customary habit of Buddhist monks to not move for four months when it rained. Those are the four months they resided in one place and for the remaining eight months they continuously are on movement. Amrapali hence invited that young monk to stay in her house for the four months. The young monk replied that he would have to ask his master and if Buddha allowed him he would come.
As he went out, the mass of monks asked him what had happened. He answered that he had taken his meal and the woman had asked him to stay the four months of the rainy season in her palace. They were actually angered this time. They rushed to find Gautama Buddha. Before the young man could reach the assembly there were hundreds of monks standing up and telling Gautam Buddha that the young man had to be stopped. Buddha rebuked them to keep quiet and allowed the monk an opportunity to speak. He continued that the monk had not agreed to stay with Amrapali by his own wish; he had agreed only on the condition if Gautama allowed him.
Legends surrounding Gautama Buddha scaled to even greater heights when the young monk arrived, touched Buddha's feet and recited the whole story. Buddha looked into his eyes and said, "You can stay." It was a shock of disbelief. There was great silence. The monks could not believe that Buddha had allowed a monk to stay in a prostitute's house. After three days the young man left to stay with Amrapali and the whole city was agog with gossip. Buddha however asked his monks to maintain silence and also maintained that he had bestowed huge trust upon his young monk. Nobody believed Gautama Buddha. His own disciples thought that he was trusting too much and taking an unnecessary risk.
After four months the young man came, touched Buddha's feet and following him was Amrapali herself dressed as a Buddhist nun. She touched Buddha's feet and replied that she had tried her best to seduce the monk, but he seduced her. Amrapali continued that he had convinced her by his presence and awareness that the real life is at Buddha's feet. She possessed a beautiful garden and a beautiful palace and requested all the ten thousand monks to stay there in the monsoons.
The following legends are associated with Lord Buddha's last days. A poor man had invited Gautama to take his meal at his home. This was the routine: Buddha would open his doors early in the morning and whoever would invite him first he would accept the invitation for that day. He would go to the house and take only one meal each day. It was almost impossible for a poor person to invite him; it was accidental. The king was coming to invite him, but on the way a catastrophe came about and the chariot in which he was coming broke down; the king was delayed. He reached there just a few minutes late. By that time Buddha had already accepted the invitation of the poor man. The king said that he knew that man who was trying his whole life to invite Buddha but was unsuccessful. The king once more requested Buddha to drop the idea to visit the poor man's house.
But Buddha replied that the proposal would be impossible and he could not reject the invitation. So he went to accept the invite. And his going became fatal to his body. In Bihar it was a habit that poor men collected mushrooms, dried them and kept them for the rainy season. They then utilised them as vegetables. Sometimes mushrooms turned poisonous due to heavy rains. And the poor man had prepared mushrooms for Buddha; he had nothing else, just rice and mushrooms. Buddha looked at what he was being offered, but said nothing to the poor man that would hurt him; so he ate the mushrooms. They were extremely bitter, but to say that would hurt the poor man immensely, so he ate them all without saying anything, thanked the man and left. Buddha later expired of food poisoning. He was asked at the last moment the reason for his accepting the invitation in spite of his being aware that it would be fatal. Gautama Buddha was eighty-two years old, he needed the right nourishment. Buddha only smiled and replied that it would be impossible for him to shun a poor man's invitation and he had invited Buddha with such passion and love as nobody has ever done before. According to Buddha it was worth risking his life.
The legend being spoken about is pleasantly beautiful beyond words. Buddha was so true about ultimate truth: all that is needed on everybody's part is total invitation, not holding back even a small part of one's being. Likewise, the list is never perhaps complete with Buddha's legends never ending in a particular spot. His whole life amounted to umpteen stories, curious retellings and Buddha's word of mouth being converted to legends. In fact, these legends are hence divided into three significant sections, comprising: legends surrounding Gautama Buddha's birth, legends surrounding Gautama Buddha's early life and of course and legends surrounding Gautama Buddha's enlightenment.