Twelve significant episodes in the life of the Buddha
His Promise to Take Birth in the Human Realm & Guide Sentient Beings from Ignorance to Enlightenment: Before the Buddha was born, he was a bodhisattva in the Tushita heaven (home of the contented gods). His name there was Shvetaketu ("White Banner"). From here he witnessed the dark ages engulfing the human realm, leading to its spiritual impoverishment. Moved to compassion like a true bodhisattva, he vowed to manifest himself in the sentient world & relieve people from their sufferings. Visually, Buddha is depicted making this vow surrounded by other sacred beings, holding aloft a lotus flower in his right hand, symbolizing the purity of his intention.
Queen Maya's Dream: Buddha himself selected the time, place, & caste of his birth. The bodhisattva's descent from the Tushita heaven occurred as a dream to Mayadevi. In this dream, a white elephant approached & touched her right side with its trunk. Through this symbolic act, the bodhisattva entered the womb of Mayadevi & impregnated her.
The Birth of Buddha: Immediately upon his birth, he stood up & took seven steps, & wherever his feet touched the earth lotuses sprang up. Raising his hand he said: "Worlds above, worlds below, there's no one in the world like me."
A Youth Dedicated to the Mastery of Learning & Athletics: Seven days after giving birth Mayadevi died. As the son of the king, Siddhartha was provided with the finest upbringing. His life had ample quantities of both opportunity & security. He received the finest education & mastered all lessons taught to him. The vigorous training befitted the grooming of a future monarch.
The Skillful Conduct of Worldly Affairs: When he came of age & assumed royal duties, the prince became a true man of the world & had a retinue of many queens & attendant ladies. Narrative paintings depict him at court, consulting his experienced father in the skillful conduct of material affairs.
The Four Encounters: The king had tried his best to shield him from the harsh realities of life. However one day, Siddhartha encountered an old man, a sick man & a dead man, leading to great turbulence in his mind. He then came across an ascetic mendicant - a beggar, wandering without hope, accepting any fare, living for nothing but the highest good. Convinced that herein lay the way to quell his mental agitation, Gautama resolved to follow this holy man's example.
The Renunciation of Worldly Life: Having made the decision, Siddhartha requested his father to allow him to proceed in his quest for truth. Gautama later left the luxurious palace of his father in the middle of the night, leaving behind his sleeping wife & son. The first thing Gautam Buddha did after leaving his father's palace was to sever his long & beautiful hair with his princely blade. Taking hold of his top-knot & diadem, he threw them into the air, saying: "If I am to become a Buddha, let them stay in the sky; but if not, let them fall to the ground." They rose into the air for a distance of one league before Vasava, the chief of gods, received them in an appropriate jeweled casket, & established them in heaven.
The Six Years of Austerities: Wandering in his search for enlightenment, for six years, he joined 5 mendicants in a way of discipline based on progressively fasting. Consequently, his bones stuck out like a row of spindles. But all this was in vain. He seemed more conscious of himself than ever. It dawned upon him that physical austerity is one of the two extremes, & that the 'Middle Way between these two extremes is the path to enlightenment. Sujata offered him a bowl of rice pudding (kheer) - first food he had accepted in years & it instantly restored his body to lustrous good health. Abandoning himself to meditation, he vowed not to move from bodhi tree until he had attained full enlightenment.
The Defeat of Mara: Hearing this solemn vow, Mara, the Buddhist manifestation of death & desire, felt threatened. Mara first sent his three beautiful daughters named Desire (Future), Fulfillment (Present), & Regret (Past). He generated an army of wrathful & hideous creatures, the very personifications of death. But all through the tribulations, Buddha sat calm & unflinching, & Mara had no other recourse then to withdraw, & thus was cleared the final hurdle on the way to Buddha's enlightenment.
The Proclamation of the Teachings: Having gained enlightenment, Gautama came to be called Shakyamuni. He first went up to Varanasi, India where he met the 5 disciples with whom he had previously traversed the path of asceticism. Thus, characteristically, in the narrative paintings outlining the significant episodes of Buddha's life, there is nearly always at the center, a dominating image of Shakyamuni, flanked by his two devoted disciples Shariputra & Maudgalyayana.
The Descent from the Trayastrimsa Heaven: Queen Maya, was said to have been reborn in the Trayastrimsa heaven. Buddha decided to ascend to the Trayastrimsa heaven to visit his mother. With three strides Buddha reached the heaven, where he preached before the divine congregation, including his mother, for several months. In painted depictions, we see the Buddha seated on the throne of Indra, the king of the gods, sitting in the so-called European position, with his legs hanging down.
The Passage into Parinirvana: Traveling great distances to disseminate his teachings, Buddha reached the city of Kushinagara, where he asked his disciples to spread a couch for him in a grove. He lay there, reclining on his right side, facing west, with his head supported by his hand. Shakyamuni realized clearly that death was approaching. Towards midnight of the same day, the event known in Buddhist terminology as the Parinirvana, or "Final Nirvana," took place. It was a full-moon night & also his 80th birthday. The Enlightened One passed through progressively higher planes of meditation until he attainedentry into Parinirvana.