Excerpt from Sid by Anita Feng.
The Himalayan foothills, Nepal, 5th c. BCE
Ask anyone and they will tell you that Kapilavastu is built out of a fragment of sky mixed with a bit of Tusita heaven. The city walls spread thick like clouds of buttery light, and every house within exudes a splendor that even its residents can’t quite believe. Precious stones litter the paths. Precious blossoms embroider the trees. Within the city’s magnificent gates, darkness is as alien as a hungry ghost.
By night, silver moonbeams polish each turret and spire so the city shines like a pond of alabaster lilies. By day, terraces bathe, supine, in golden sunlight. Year by year, the city swirls around itself like a river of lotuses in which no one ever drowns.
For forty million years and from a hundred thousand worlds ago, precious beings have lived there, each awaiting the perfect time to awaken.
Listen, and you will hear just how it comes to pass that one among them attains the supreme enlightened state, the incomparable nirvana, exquisite teaching of formless form.
In the same precipitous hour that spring is born, she has a vivid dream.
On a distant mountainside a pure white elephant keeps watch over her while pacing back and forth between dripping sala trees. At the sound of temple bells, the elephant steps off a ragged ledge and glides on roiling clouds toward her bedchamber. With a pure white lotus held at the tip of one of its six prodigious trunks, the elephant steps down lightly in front of Mahāmāyā. He walks three times around her high-platform, jewel-encrusted bed, and then, without sound or effort, the elephant enters through her right side, instantly concealed within her womb.
Awakening, Mahāmāyā summons her husband, King Śuddhodana, who then calls for the six royal seers to foretell a thousand true effects from this most auspicious sign.
They swarm around her body, listening at her womb, peering at her profile, until finally they agree that a son will be born distinguished by the favor of the gods. He will become the greatest of kings, the noblest leader of men! Yes, most certainly.
However, the most honored of the seers breaks away from the group and announces to the king and queen, “All that has been said is true. However, if he should ever leave the palace grounds, he will cast all privilege and love aside and become an ascetic, a holy man. But you needn’t worry. Even if this happens, he will be universally adored, for he will give the people what they truly hunger for—he will become the Awakened One.”
But he does worry. In a troubling yet strangely peaceful dream, he dreams of a lotus pond so large that it has no edge, no shore of any kind. He, the king with his entourage, stands above it all, entranced and horrified at the thickened, noxious brew churning at the surface of the water.
Then his child, the one not yet even born, springs from his arms and jumps nakedly and alone into the lotus pond. The king cannot move or speak; no one can. The threefold world and thousands of gods watch as King Śuddhodana’s infant son easily swims away. None of the mud sticks to his skin. He rides the current without strain, like an ivory swan. With a tranquil smile and steady gaze he looks back at his father.
Finally the king regains the power of his limbs and wit and jumps into the water after his son. But his seven-layered robes drag, and he struggles mightily. Just at the moment when he touches his son’s hand he rouses from his sleep with a gasp and a sob. He looks out from his fine wide couch, awake, but unsure of where he is. His hands are shaking, still, with a residue of fear.
On the night of a full moon, Mahāmāyā passes through the Lumbinī gardens, accompanied by pealing bells and swansongs throbbing in the evening air. Tiny rabbits hop across the pathways. She wanders further, among fragrant blossoms, until she comes to a sala tree that gently lowers one of its branches to meet her hand.
She stands very still. All sentient beings, it seems, conspire in energetic joy. She smiles. And a moment later a lovely child steps out of her side.
How the heavens tremble! The earth quivers and the oceans sigh. A pure, tranquil light appears in a broad swath across the sky.
Instantly, the sick are rid of suffering and madmen recover reason. Horses exhibit signs of excessive joy, and elephants, in solemn and resounding voice, express their gladness in deep harmonies never heard before in the history of humankind.
All sentient beings offer their adoration. Mahāmāyā can only watch in awe as he stands in a firm and upright posture upon the ground and looks out to each of the ten directions with the resolution that in every realm only he is holy; only he is sublime. “This is my last birth,” he proclaims. “There shall be for me no other state of existence.”
Birds of the air stand still in amazement, forgetting their usual flight; all animals give pause; rivers suspend their meandering course, seized with a mighty astonishment. Hundreds of thousands of worlds simultaneously approach each other and embrace.
At which point Siddhārtha begins to walk steadily, straight ahead. A chief of the Brahmas holds a white umbrella over his head and a wise man brings forth, for the brilliant infant, a golden fan.
Once called, she becomes the universal door. There is no dwindling end in the ten directions where one cannot present one’s life as a plea at her gate. With her thirty-three forms and eightyfour thousand heads, she will turn to listen, and listen, and listen again. She will hear all.
If anyone should be lost at sea and call on Avalokiteśvara, he or she will find a shallow place. Even if hundreds, thousands, and millions of living beings flounder in the great ocean, if one of them calls on her true name, they will, each one of them, become free at once and safe to journey forward. She is the thousand-handed and thousand-eyed. Once called, she becomes the most intimate, eternal companion.
Therefore, when King Śuddhodana asks that the infant Siddhārtha be given over to her care, Avalokiteśvara answers with the cosmos at her beck and call. She takes the name of nursemaid. She answers with her entire being. With perfect joy, Avalokiteśvara postpones ascending to the heavenly realm so that she might protect him.
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