This thanka painting as it’s name suggests depicts the life story of Buddha.
Buddha’s life can be categorized into 12 segments namely. 1. Conception 2. Birth 3. Education 4. Life in the Royal palace 5. The Great departure 6. Escape 7. Austerities 8 . Enlightenment 9 . The subjugation of Mara( Lord of temptation ) 10. Doctrine 11. Miracles 12. Paranirvana .
On the top centre part of the painting , Queen Maya Devi ( Buddha’s mother ) is lying on her bed having a dream in which a white elephant is seen descending from Tushita heaven , which eventually enters her womb (Here the white elephant represents Buddha himself ).
It is believed that after this incident took place , Queen Maya Devi gave birth to Buddha while wondering in the forest of Lumbini with the palace helpers. She gave birth to Buddha standing in the Salbhanjika posture holding a branch of Plaksa tree.This scene is depicted on the centre right part of this painting. Prince Siddharta Gautama was born some 2,500 years ago as a prince in Lumbini in Nepal. At his birth, many special signs had appeared. His father had asked a sage living in his kingdom for advice on his son. The sage predicted that Gautama would become either a great King or a great spiritual teacher.
The King wanted his son to be his successor and tried to keep him far away from all matters of life that could incline him to a spiritual life. Gautama usually spent his life in his father’s palace, surrounded by all the possible luxuries of the time. He proved to be a special child, being quite intelligent as well as an excellent sportsman.
On the top right corner of the painting we can see Prince Siddhartha enjoying the worldly pleasures of his royal life – style .
When prince Siddhartha was 29 years old, he discovered there was much suffering in the world around him. Traditionally it is explained that he suddenly recognized the problems of sickness, old age and death when visiting the city. Being shocked by the suffering of all living beings, he decided to search for way to end it. He left his wife and child, the palace and even his royal clothes, and started out on a spiritual quest.
These scenes are depicted in various parts of the painting.
After realizing there was so much suffering in the world Prince Siddhartha followed his spiritual quest in order to understand the reason behind it and how he could help to liberate the sentient beings from these miseries. He shaved his head as the initiation of his vow to become a monk near a stupa(Buddhist temple) which is depicted in the centre top part of the painting .
Gautama studied under various teachers and followed their practices until he mastered them all. His first teacher was Alara Kalama who taught a form of meditation leading to an exalted form of absorption called “the state of nothingness”, a state without moral or cognitive dimension. Gautama saw this was not going to solve suffering, and continued his search.
The next teacher was Udraka Ramaputra who taught him meditative absorption leading to “the state of neither perception nor non-perception”. Again, Gautama realised this was not the state he was looking for. Next, he tried extreme ascetic practices , with five other ascetics who turned into his followers. In the end, Gautama nearly died of starvation. Which is depicted in the bottom left part of the painting.
After about six years of searching, he realized that just wearing down his body did not generate new insights, but rather lead to weakness and self-destruction. He then sat down in a place now called Bodhgaya , under a Bodhi-tree and decided not to get up until he discovered the truth. This part of his life is depicted on the centre right part of this painting.
Just a short time later, he became a fully enlightened Buddha. This means that he actualized all positive potentials of a sentient being and rid himself of all negative qualities. With this, he realized the true nature of existence and suffering (emptiness), and how suffering can be ended.
Buddha continued to teach during his life, until passing away at the age of 81.
The Buddha once summarized his entire teachings in one sentence:
“I teach about suffering and the way to end it”.