The Meaning of the Buddha’s Birth
Martine & Stephen Batchelor
The Buddha was born in a garden, under the branches of a tree, in Lumbini, a town situated near the India-Nepalese border 2543 years ago. His mother was going to her family to have her child but he arrived early. He was born in a prominent family of the Gautama clan in the republic of Shakya.
The Buddha was born like any other human being with a body, a mind and a heart. As he was born, he took his first breath like we take our first breath when we are born today. Just like ourselves, he was born with various senses and the faculty of consciousness.
He was born with a great potential. He could use this potential to grasp or to release, to cause suffering or to discover the root cause of suffering and dissolve it. He choose to renounce the lures and distractions of the world in order to know himself better and to help others relieve their own suffering.
The birth of the Buddha shows that each child that is born has the same potential as the Buddha, the same possibility to awaken, to be wise and compassionate. Can we encounter each child as the Buddha himself? Can we see in each person the potential for wisdom and compassion?
The Buddha shows us in his birth and in his life what is humanly possible, what any human being can aspire to. We need to respect this potentiality within each of us, within each human being. Any potential can be encouraged or thwarted. What can we do as parents or as adults to help children realise their potential like the Buddha? What can we do as adults to realise our own potential?
What is it that stops us from being Buddhas? Grasping is what limit our potential. We grasp at ideas, feelings, people, material things. As soon as we grasp we are limited by what we grasp at. When we grasp, we identify with what we grasp at as we feel that ‘this is my thought, my feeling, my sensation, my situation, my problem, my partner, my car’.
As soon as we identify and grasp, we limit and reduce ourselves to what we grasp at and then magnify it in such a way that our potential for wisdom and compassion is blocked. Being caught by a view or a feeling, we reduce ourselves to that view or feeling, we become deluded or angry. We are blinded by the delusion or by the anger, we cannot see or feel anything else. The Buddha’s potential we were born with cannot come into play to release the grip and to resolve the situation.
The Buddha’s birth reminds us that we too have the potential to become a Buddha within this life. But we need to activate this potential like the Buddha did. The Buddha did not wait and see, he did not expect someone else to do it for him. He used the body, mind and heart he was born with to inquire and practice diligently to realise awakening. We too have this great potential. Can Buddha’s birthday remind us of our potential? Can it inspire us to renew our efforts on the path to awakening?
As the Sixth Seon Patriarch Huineng said: “For an ordinary person is Buddha and defilements are awakening. A foolish passing thought makes one an ordinary person, while an awakened second thought makes one a Buddha. A passing thought that clings to sense-objects is defilement, while a second thought that frees one from attachment is awakening”.