RE-TELLING (AND RE-NAMING) ‘LHABAB DUCHEN’: WHEN MILK STREAMED FROM MOTHER’S BREASTS TO BUDDHA’S MOUTH AND BUDDHA’S GREAT ACT OF REPAYING MOTHER’S KINDNESS

“From women…buddhas come into this world….”

“But when Queen Māyā saw the immense might
Of her son, like that of a seer divine,
She could not bear the delight it caused her;
So she departed to dwell in the divine realms.”

—excerpt from Buddhacarita on Queen Māyā’s death

“I tell you, monks, there are two people who are not easy to repay. Which two? Your mother and father. Even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder and your father on the other shoulder for 100 years, and were to look after them by anointing, massaging, bathing, and rubbing their limbs, and they were to defecate and urinate right there [on your shoulders], you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. “

—Shakyamuni Buddha’s advice to monks on the importance of parents, in the Aṅguttaranikāya 

“You who have been born from my womb so many times, have now rendered me a recompense. In one birth, from being a slave I became the wife of the king of Benares, but that exaltation was not equal to the privilege I now receive. From the time of Piyumatura [Buddha], during an [eon], you sought no other mother and I sought no other son. Now, my reward is received.”

–Buddha’s mother, Māyā speaking to the Buddha in the divine realms on him bringing her to arhatship after his ascent there

Today is Lhabab Duchen , one of the most sacred times (duchen) in the Buddhist calendar when Buddha descended (bab) from the divine/God realms (lha) after teaching his mother, Māyā there and bringing her to arhatship, before he passed away. Traditionally, even though Buddha ascended to the heavenly realms to teach his mother there, the day is androcentric, predominantly focused on Buddha and his actions descending to earth, but not so much attention is paid to his mother’s story, and other women who were present, not only when he descended back to the earth but also in the main event that led up to him even being in the divine realms, to meet his mother.

To counter-balance this biased male-centred history, last year, I wrote an article about one of the main female students of Buddha Utpalavarṇā , The power of a woman’s devotion: Utpalavarṇā, the first to greet Buddha’s Descent from the Heavens (Lhabab Duchen), who was the first person (and woman) to greet Buddha as he descended to the earth on that day.

This year, I focus on the Buddha’s mother, Māyā and the events that led up to Lhabab Duchen. This post uses some recent  research by  Wendy Garling (2021) as well as a brief article by Kim Gutschow (2016), Death of the Buddha’s Mother.   As well as Garling’s books, there is a video interview with Garling about Buddha’s mother, Māyā and Lhabab Duchen, which I have quoted here too. In it Garling explains how most of her sources were English translations of primary sources, which obviously leaves it open to critique, as she is relying on other people’s work. However, the fact Garling is bringing to our attention the overlooked, yet important, women in Buddha’s life is valuable and commendable indeed.

I add to this here, that not only do we not know much about Māyā but also about the origin of the event, Lhabab Duchen itself. In fact, I assert below that when we consider why Buddha went to the divine realms and how important it was for his mother, one could argue that even the naming of Lhabab Duchen is a male-centred one and should be re-named as Lha-DZEG Duchen (Ascent to divine realms) or Ma Kadrin Drenpa Duchen (Remembering Mother’s Kindness).

In this post, I first consider Māyā in terms of the birth of Buddha and her death which resulted from it. Then consider her life and role in the events leading up to Lhabab Duchen. This includes a  fascinating, and emotional, account from the Mahamayasutra, originally composed in Sanskrit but now extant only in Chinese (translated by Durt and cited by Garling) in which upon hearing the words of her son, milk streams from Māyā’s breasts. If the Buddha is indeed Siddhartha, she says, then her milk will reach his mouth directly. So, miraculously, her milk enters his mouth from afar.  As any mother will tell you, breastfeeding a child can be very blissful and profound, like making love and the fact that Māyā offers her breast milk again to Buddha who takes it, shows the unshakeable love of mother to son and vice versa. No wonder you don’t find many monastic accounts on that!

Thankfully, a more balanced emphasis on women during the Lhabab Duchen event is also now happening at Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery, India and the reclaiming of the centuries-old Dakini Dances the nuns now perform there for the commemoration (livestreamed on their FB today).

Today, may we all remember Lhadzeg and Lhabab Duchen, and the incredible acts of Buddha in ascending to the divine realms to repay his mother’s great kindness and bring her to arhatship. Perhaps we could even call it the Buddhist Mother’s Day!

Music? Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin (of course) and Woman by John Lennon ‘Woman, hold me close to heart, however distance may keep us apart….After all, I’m forever in your debt! I love you, now and forever…..” 

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 27th October 2021.

The general invisibility of the Buddha’s mother in male-composed Buddhist textual accounts
Queen Maya, mother of Buddha was praised for her extraordinary beauty in Lalitavistara Sūtra

“Her beauty sparkles like a nugget of pure gold.
She has perfumed curls like the large black bee.
Eyes like lotus petals, teeth like stars in the heavens.”
— description of Queen Māyā from the Lalitavistara Sūtra

In The Woman Who Raised the Buddha: The Extraordinary Life of Mahaprajapati,  Garling (2021: Chapter 2) explains how despite the importance of Māyā to the Buddha’s birth, and how she died shortly afterwards, she has generally been made invisible and absent from textual accounts and traditions of the Buddha’s life by male (monastic) editors and writers who saw women as largely irrelevant. In fact, I would go further and say that until recently, even contemporary lay-people’s focus has unquestionably gone along with such male-centred readings making Māyā’s relevance seem insignificant.

 “It’s fortunate indeed that we have early Buddhist art to serve as a counterpoint, if not a corrective, to literary narratives. Unlike written records generated more or less contemporaneously, artistic images—some literally chiseled in stone—could not be altered or redacted over time to suit Buddhism’s evolving androcentrism. Further comparative investigation in the prodigious areas of early Buddhist art and literature is certainly warranted.” (Garling 2021)

Image of Māyā, Buddha’s mother and her dream of a white elephant before she gave birth to Buddha
Mahā Māyā dreaming of the white elephant, Gandhāra relief, 2nd century CE; in the British Museum.

 

Queen Māyā‘s death due to childbirth – joy or fatigue?

But Queen Māyā, does not live much longer. Kutschow (in The Death of the Buddha’s Mother, 2016) cites how the Buddhacarita describes Māyā ’s death after the return to Kapilavastu in a brief, elliptical stanza:

“But when queen Māyā saw the immense might
Of her son, like that of a seer divine,
She could not bear the delight it caused her;
So she departed to dwell in heaven.

Here, the Buddhacarita offers a possible motive for Maya’s death: that Maya chose death over the unbearable joy that her son’s spiritual power would bring her. Modern scholars imply that Maya preferred death to seeing her son renounce home to become a monk. However, this interpretation seems odd, given the universal experience most mothers have of children growing up and leaving home, which rarely drives them—especially those as enlightened as Maya—to suicide. If Maya’s temperament is indeed such that she is full of benevolence and devotion and is free from all envy, jealousy, intrigue, fault, and deceit, why would she choose death over seeing her son become a Buddha? Later textual sources inform us that Maya heard the Buddha’s teachings in Tushita Heaven, yet it is unclear why Maya would prefer to hear her son’s teachings after her death rather than live to see her son become a Buddha. The lack of mention of Maya’s funeral rites suggests a silencing of an unfortunate event rather than one preordained by an omniscient Buddha, as the later Lalitavistara would have us believe. As Vishvapani Blomfield notes, the brief mention of Maya’s death “strikes a dissonant note, as if an uncomfortable but important fact has somehow survived within the litany of marvels.”

Garling (2021) adds to that, the lack of emotion in the accounts of her death too:

“Missing from nativity accounts, both Pali and Sanskrit, is any emotional response to Māyā’s death. She was, after all, a beloved and generous queen to a large population in addition to being the Buddha’s birth mother. Most narratives simply note the fact of her death, some adding a brief, if inadequate, explanation, such as she died of joy at having such a marvelous son, or her body could never again be sullied by sex. Understandably it was a tough call for the early bards and storytellers, since Māyā’s postpartum death was clearly linked to the Bodhisattva’s birth. That she died as a consequence of childbirth is acknowledged in the Abhinishkramanasutra[1].

Personally, I think such interpretations that she died due to the childbirth and physical weakness make her and the Buddha sound more worldly. However, considering the enormous merit of giving birth to Buddha, and her pronouncements that she had given birth to him many times so that she herself could attain arhatship, lends more weight to a reading that she did in fact die out of having accomplished her task and at great joy!

However it is clear that there are few accounts of details about her death:

“The legends all stall after Māyā’s death. Where and how did she die? What happened next? What about a funeral? We don’t find satisfactory answers in the literature. The narratives fall into silence or fragmented, murky contradictions at this point in the timeline where Māyā simply vanishes after giving birth. With scant evidence to the contrary, the premise here is that she died in Lumbini’s Grove, never to return home with her son to palace life in Kapilavastu.”

Gutschow (2016) also explains the absence of accounts of Māyā’’s death

“The early textual silence around Māyā’’s death and funerary rites may reflect a Brahmanic aversion to death pollution. Yet this is at odds with an early Buddhist focus on death as a means of teaching the impermanence and emptiness of all things, including the self. Further, a central Buddhist doctrine known as dependent origination is grounded in the fundamental connection between birth and death that shapes human existence and that is perpetuated by an ignorance that Buddhist practice is supposed to dispel. So why does Maya’s death play such a small role in the Buddha’s own life and teachings? Many modern commentators, who have subjected almost every detail of the Buddha’s biography to scrutiny, seem all too willing to dismiss Maya’s death as a necessary but uninteresting footnote to the Buddha’s mythical birth. As such, they miss an opportunity to explore what Māyā’’s death can teach us.

Whether or not the Buddha’s mother actually died after childbirth is less important than the insights that her death may provide. Given the paucity of textual and archaeological evidence for the Buddha’s life, we will never know whether Māyā’s really died in childbirth; the first biographies of the Buddha were only committed to print at least four centuries after his death. Asking whether or not Māyā really died shortly after giving birth to the Buddha is about as useful as asking whether or not the lore of an elephant piercing Māyā’s side at conception is true. Yet the descriptions of Māyā’s pregnancy, delivery, and death may shed some light on the contradictory awe and revulsion that early Buddhist and Brahmanic authors felt toward birth and the female body.

After death, Maya ‘lives on’ in the divine realms
Thangka image of Māyā

 Yet, even though Māyā is invisible in many accounts of her death and after, according to Garling, ‘she lived on’, mainly in the Northern sources who say she went straight to heaven and was incarnated as a goddess. Garling also brings to our attention that these stories of Māyā are more emotional and profound in their content too:

“This is not a one-off story that she is in heaven, this is also told in some of the Sanskrit sources, that as soon as she passed away, she went to the heavenly realms. There are a few little notes that say she came back to earth immediately to reassure her husband who was grieving that she was alright and could not feel more joyous at having given birth to the Buddha.

There is also a funny passage that she became a goddess of her husband’s harem of women, in other words she kept an eye on things there, even though she was gone. The point is that even in the imagination of the early story-tellers, Māyā lives on, and very specifically in heaven.

One thing I appreciated in particular, is she retains all the qualities of a mother, she does not become iconic as a goddess. She does not gain any supernatural powers, she is Siddhartha’s mother. So in all the snippets and scenarios, she is still worried about him, or keeping an eye on him, and she never leaves that role of a mother and she always kept her loving mother eye on him. So it was like Buddha always had his mother’s protection. For many people that is a comforting thought about mothers we have lost.  The unconditional loving mother that never dies.

These stories are much more profound and emotional than other stories about the Buddha that are unemotional and exclude women and speak more about the Buddha’s heroism and so on. Finding the stories of the women added lots of beautiful, emotional depth that we can all welcome in revisiting the life of Buddha.”

These accounts of Māyā ‘s continuing support for Buddha in his life are important not only as part of historical accounts in general, but also as part of the events leading up to the Lhabab Duchen itself.

Mother Māyā appears to Buddha  again when he is almost dying of starvation from austerities

As Garling says explains in the Shambhala interview, Māyā  lived on and appeared at least twice to the Buddha during important events in his life, as she recounts:

“I am going to tell you one story that is very clearly spelled out in the Sanskrit Lalitavistara Sūtra, which appears in Tibetan and Sanskrit. It is essentially about the life of the Buddha and is familiar to those who study it. What is beautiful in this version, is Māyā appears to her son in it.

The story begins when Buddha is starving to death and is emaciated and corpse-like and the Gods are watching over him and hoping he gets enlightened and they see him in that state and they think he is dead and go to his father and seek his help.  In this version, however, they go to his mother and say it looks like your son is dying, he needs help go to your son.”

Garling then reads a quote from her book which she says gives a sense of the Buddha’s closeness with his mother:

‘Finding the Buddha’s mother in the celestial realms, surrounded by a retinue of celestial maidens, they report to her the terrible news that the Prince is about to die. As any mother would, she departs immediately for the Naranja River where he has collapsed. Arriving at midnight, she finds her son cadaverous and unconscious on the ground. Choking with tears, she sings to him:

When I gave birth to you my son, in the Lumbini Grove without support, like a lion you took seven steps on your own, you gazed in the four directions and said these beautiful words ‘This is my last birth.’ But now those words will never come to pass. A siddha predicted that you would be a Buddha in this world, but his prediction was wrong as he did not forsee impermanence. My son, you have not yet had the joys of a universal monarch’s splendours and now you are passing away in this forest without even attaining awakening. To whom can I turn to about my son? To whom shall I cry out in my pain? Who will give life back to my only son who is barely alive?’

Now awakening in confusion, the Bodhisattva responds ‘Who are you? You cry so heart-wrenchingly, with disheveled hair and your beauty impaired, lamenting your son so intensely and throwing yourself on the ground.”

Again, Māyā sings to him ‘It is I, your mother, O son, who for ten months carried you in my womb like a diamond. It is I who now cry out in despair.”

Prince Gautama then consoles his mother and assures her that the predictions about his awakening will happen. That Māyā should not despair but be joyous, as he will soon be a fully, awakened Buddha.  Māyā is said to have been overjoyed and circumambulates him three times and returns to her celestial abode.

Second Appearance of Mother Māyā to Buddha when he is battling the maras
Buddha, resisting the demons of Mara, who are attempting to prevent him from attaining enlightenment, as angels watch from above. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

Garling also refers to another story about Māyā appearing, when Buddha is just about to attain awakening in his battle to defeat the maras. According to some texts, she hovers around in the background concerned about her son and the outcome. When he defeats them, she descends again from the heavenly realm to tell her husband, the King Suddhana, and transforms into a servant girl to  relay the news to the King.

Lhadbab Duchen or Lhadzeg Duchen?- Absence of mother’s voice and story in conventional accounts of this event
Image of Buddha Shakyamuni descending from the divine realms after teaching for three months (human time) there

Even though the events leading up the Lhabab Duchen are significant, not much has ever been written about them. The name ‘Lhabab Duchen’ is a Tibetan term and does not seem to have any origin outside Tibetan-speaking countries. If anyone knows the origin of commemoration of this event and who invented it, please do let me know. Like the oral transmission of the Kangyur, it is not clear at all how or when these (now commonplace) events first began.

Here, I assert that for a more female-centred and accurate portrayal of Lhabab Duchen, it would be suitable to re-name it Lhadzeg Duchen (Ascending to the Divine Realms), or even Ma Kadrin Drenpa Duchen (Remembering Mother’s Kindness)  in order to better commemorate the Buddha’s amazing act of ASCENDING to the divine realms and thus bring out the central role of his mother in that act.

Ascending to the celestial realms to teach his mother the Abhidharma
Buddha depicted in the God realms.

 

In the video interview with Shambhala Publications, Garling speficially explains how in the telling of Lhabab Duchen,  the absence of the mother in textual accounts (and even contemporary commemorations) is yet another example of sexism and male-centredness, ‘where women have obviously been overlooked and dismissed in the telling of the stories.’  Not only that Garling explains why the teachings Buddha gave his mother in the divine realm are important:

‘They are said to be the source of the Abhidarma (in the Pali Canon), and this is where he delivers those sermons. It is is said in some traditions that he chose those teachings in particular to suit his mother. He wanted to honour her with the most difficult and esoteric teachings . That is one way of looking at it. We are also told that he is now at the end of his life, and know he is going to pass away. It is forty to forty-five years into his teachings and he sees the passing away on the horizon.”

Garling asserts in the interview that ‘every Buddhist bucket list’ is to convert one’s parents to Buddhism in this life’ ( which is questionable as Buddhism does not aim to convert people unlike other religions) and that Shakyamuni had not completed that task at the end of his life, in terms of his mother, because she died shortly after he was born.

“Prior to that, he had converted his father, but whom never became an arhat. However, in the last seven days of his life, the Buddha went to his father and gave him teachings. It is said that the Buddha completely relieved all his father’s suffering, first his physical suffering and then by the seventh day, after giving him constant teachings, his father attained arhatship. It is said then that his father cheerfully then proceeded to give teachings to his wife and the other women in his inner close circle[2]. That was the Buddha’s gift to his father.

I never think of Mahaprajapati as an aunt but as his mother. The only mother he ever knew. They are ‘co-mothers’….There are profound dialogues between the two of them and her gifts to him as his mother and his gifts to her in the Dharma. This is then repeated somewhat in the upcoming story about Māyā. He had already covered Prajapati. The last person was Māyā, as she was in the heavenle realms, he had to go there to find her.”

In addition, according to the texts, Buddha preached the Abhidhamma to his mother (and the gods) continuously for three months without break. This would not be possible for most human beings. However,  as 100 years on earth is just 1 day in Tāvatiṁsa heaven, 3 months on earth is only 3.6 minutes there. To the gods, it would be a short teaching and they would have no difficulty listening to it.

Repaying mother’s kindness  and bringing Māyā to arhatship
Buddha teaching in the divine realms

The Buddha’s notion of reciprocating and repaying people with gratitude is prevalent in the life story of the Buddha. Garling quotes a passage of Buddha speaking (in the Pali canon), in the Aṅguttaranikāya  (lit. ’Increased by One Collection’, also translated “Gradual Collection” or “Numerical Discourses”) [3] in which Buddha explains the importance of gratitude for and repaying one’s parents:

“I tell you, monks, there are two people who are not easy to repay. Which two? Your mother and father. Even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder and your father on the other shoulder for 100 years, and were to look after them by anointing, massaging, bathing, and rubbing their limbs, and they were to defecate and urinate right there [on your shoulders], you would not in that way pay or repay your parents.

If you were to establish your mother and father in absolute sovereignty over this great earth, abounding in the seven treasures, you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. Why is that? Mother and father do much for their children. They care for them, they nourish them, they introduce them to this world. But anyone who rouses his unbelieving mother and father, settles and establishes them in conviction; rouses his unvirtuous mother and father, settles and establishes them in virtue; rouses his stingy mother and father, settles and establishes them in generosity; rouses his foolish mother and father, settles and establishes them in discernment: To this extent one pays and repays one’s mother and father, and more than repays them for what they have done.” {II,iv,2} [4]

Thus, due to such thinking:

“With her welfare in mind, the Buddha determined to travel to the heavenly realms to find her. The stories about this significant event typically focus on the important teachings the Buddha reputedly gave while abiding three months in Trayastrimsha heaven. However a few narrative fragments center on the interactions between mother and son that took place at that time.” (Garling: 83)

 Before doing so, Buddha performs a series of miracles in Shravasti and then after that, in some versions after that, he reflects that this is the time to teach my mother; to repay her gift of life. There are beautiful descriptions of how he gets the divine realms of ‘mountains bending down so that he can step on them to go upwards and he creates these steps and finally arrives in the divine realm.

“The Buddha ascends to heaven without difficulty because immense mountains lower their summits and lift him up, taking him to the sacred teaching spot at the nexus of the celestial realms. The Kangyur describes this seat as a gleaming white stone surrounded by a beautiful grove of trees. Multitudes of goddesses and gods gather around, including the Buddha’s mother, to whom his subsequent teachings are directed. In some traditions, Māyā has become male; for example, in the Sinhalese story, she appears as the male leader of the entire celestial assembly but is still conspicuously named Matru, or “mother.” In the Burmese tradition, she remains female and appears as the daughter of an unnamed god. The Lalitavistara concludes before this event takes place, but we know from earlier accounts that Maya in heaven retained her femaleness both as a goddess and as an emotionally engaged mother. Now the Buddha’s profound teachings convert not only her, but everyone within earshot. Due to her exceptional merit, Maya attains arhatship on the spot. As other women in the Buddha’s life have expressed, she states that her goal over countless lifetimes has now been fulfilled. Her son’s karmic debt to her has been repaid. She says,

‘You who have been born from my womb so many times, have now rendered me a recompense. In one birth, from being a slave I became the wife of the king of Benares, but that exaltation was not equal to the privilege I now receive. From the time of Piyumatura [Buddha], during an [eon], you sought no other mother and I sought no other son. Now, my reward is received.’

Soon after this, the Buddha descends to earth on a resplendent staircase surrounded by rainbows and retinues of newly converted celestial devotees.” (Garling 2021).

Buddha’s longing to see the sublime Face of his mother – milk streaming from Māyā‘s breast to the Buddha’s mouth and Māyā’s teachings to the gathered assembly

There is another version of the Lhadzeg (Ascending to the Divine Realms) story.  Garling shares a quote from the Mahamayasutra (tr. by Durt), in which milk streams from the breasts of Māyā to her son as a way of showing that he is indeed Siddhartha her son.

“A much more complete story of mother and son reuniting in heaven appears in the Mahamayasutra, originally composed in Sanskrit but now extant only in Chinese. This account opens with the Buddha already in Trayastrimsha heaven, seated under a tree in meditation and surrounded by a vast assembly of disciples. In lengthy verse, he opines to a messenger stories of his birth and his long-held wish to see again the sublime face of his mother and preach to her the dharma as an act of gratitude for giving him life.

The messenger swiftly conveys this message to Māyā some distance away. Upon hearing the words of her son, milk streams from her breasts. If the Buddha is indeed Siddhartha, she says, then her milk will reach his mouth directly. So, miraculously, her milk enters his mouth from afar.”

Garling explains in her interview that milk spouting breasts are a well-known trope used in such stories, that an authentic mother, who has not seen her child in a long time, will spontaneously start generating milk when they meet them.

“As miracles attend this event, she declares that she has not experienced such joy since the moment of his birth. Thus, mother and son are reunited. Māyā greets him ceremoniously by taking refuge, with the stated purpose of realizing the fruits of awakening. For innumerable eons, as his mother nourishing him at her breast, her motivation has been to cut the bonds of rebirth and enter the stream of arhatship.‡ The Buddha demonstrates his gratitude by giving her a teaching that notes the inevitability of separation and his impending nirvana. When the time comes for him to depart, Māyā is beset with sorrow.

There are two details of special note for women in this sutra. First, before the Buddha delivers his homily, Māyā herself gives extensive teachings to the assembled disciples. In fact, most of the dharma passages are delivered in her voice. Further, in a departure from the convention that only deities can appear in the celestial realms, the seated assembly witnessing the reunion of Māyā and her son numbers both human and nonhuman living beings, including a host of earthly laywomen, laymen, nuns, and monks. Together, they accompany the Buddha on his return to earth via the magical staircase. Greeting them below is King Prasenajit, similarly surrounded by a throng of the fourfold community, which has been clamoring to see their beloved teacher again.” (Garling 2021: 84).

And of course, let us not forget,  there is the female nun, Utpalavarṇā waiting first to greet Buddha back on earth!

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 27th October 2021.

Further Reading/Sources

Vishvapani Blomfield (2011). Gautama Buddha: The Life and Teachings of the Awakened One (Quercus, 2011).

Hubert Durt (2007). “The Meeting of the Buddha with Māyā in the Trāyastrimśa Heaven: Examination of the Mahāmāyā Sūtra and Its Quotations in the Shijiapu, Part 1,” Journal of the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies 11 (2007): 44–66.

Wendy Garling (2021):

The Woman Who Raised the Buddha: The Extraordinary Life of Mahaprajapati (Shambhala Publications).

Lha Bab Duchen | The Buddha’s Descent from Tushita (https://www.shambhala.com/lhabab-duchen/)

Shambhala Publications Interview with Wendy Garling on Maya and Lhabab Duchen (2021).

Karen Greenspan (2021) Dakini Dances at Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/dakini-dances/

Kim Gutschow (2016), The Death of Buddha’s Mother. Harvard Divinity Review.

Reiko Ohnuma, (2006). Debt to the Mother: A Neglected Aspect of the Founding of the Buddhist Nuns’ Order,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74, no. 4 (2006): 861–901.

Reiko Ohnuma (2012). Ties That Bind: Maternal Imagery and Discourse in Indian Buddhism (Oxford University Press.

Vanessa Sasson, The Birth of Moses and the Buddha (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007).

Adele Tomlin (2020), The power of a woman’s devotion: Utpalavarṇā, the first to greet Buddha’s Descent from the Heavens (Lhabab Duchen).

Jonathan Walters, “A Voice from the Silence: The Buddha’s Mother’s Story,” History of Religions 33, no. 4 (1994): 358–79.

“Maya’s Disappearing Act: Motherhood in Early Buddhist Literature,” in Family in Buddhism, Liz Wilson, ed. (State University of NY Press, 2013)

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an02/an02.031.than.html

 

 


Endnotes

[1] “The prince royal now being seven days old, his mother the Queen Maya, being unable to regain her strength or recover the joy she experienced whilst the child dwelt in her womb, gradually succumbed to her weakness and died.  How does one tell Maya’s sad story without detracting from the Bodhisattva’s joyous one? Perhaps the grief was too profound for the storytellers to relate. Most narratives simply switch gears at this point in the chronology and move on to stories of the precocious young prince growing up in Kapilavastu.”

[2] Garling uses the word ‘harem’ a few times in her interview to describe women connected to the King. I prefer to use the word community, as harem has the connotation that the women were slaves, or prostitutes, which is not an accurate way to portray them.

[3] The Anguttara Nikaya (aṅguttaranikāya; lit. ’Increased by One Collection’, also translated “Gradual Collection” or “Numerical Discourses”) is a Buddhist scripture, the fourth of the five nikayas, or collections, in the Sutta Pitaka, which is one of the “three baskets” that comprise the Pali Tipitaka of Theravada Buddhism. This nikaya consists of several thousand discourses ascribed to the Buddha and his chief disciples arranged in eleven “books”, according to the number of dhamma items referenced in them.

The Anguttara Nikaya corresponds to the Ekottara Āgama (“Increased by One Discourses”) found in the Sutra Pitikas of various Sanskritic early Buddhists schools, fragments of which survive in Sanskrit. A complete version survives in Chinese translation by the name Zēngyī Ahánjīng (增一阿含經); it is thought to be from either the Mahāsāṃghika or Sarvāstivādin recensions. According to Keown, “there is considerable disparity between the Pāli and the Sarvāstivādin versions, with more than two-thirds of the sūtras found in one but not the other compilation, which suggests that much of this portion of the Sūtra Piṭaka was not formed until a fairly late date.”[

[4] This teaching is introduced by Buddha in the following way, as a teaching about a person of integrity and a person of no integrity:

“Monks, I will teach you the level of a person of no integrity and the level of a person of integrity. Listen and pay close attention. I will speak.” “As you say, lord,” the monks responded.  The Blessed One said, “Now what is the level of a person of no integrity? A person of no integrity is ungrateful and unthankful. This ingratitude, this lack of thankfulness, is advocated by rude people. It is entirely on the level of people of no integrity. A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity.”

2 thoughts on “RE-TELLING (AND RE-NAMING) ‘LHABAB DUCHEN’: WHEN MILK STREAMED FROM MOTHER’S BREASTS TO BUDDHA’S MOUTH AND BUDDHA’S GREAT ACT OF REPAYING MOTHER’S KINDNESS

  1. Thanks for reminding this special Buddha Day. Written sources says
    that during time of teaching and liberate his mother in Tushita heaven , Buddha entered into 30 ? days long meditation state in sitting posture and was not giving teaching on Earth. In similar fashion in Rechungpa biography ??? is story about Milarepa entering meditation state in locked cave. After Rechungpa came back from India ( is not given
    how long he stayed there and he was crossing Tibet – India with technique of fast walking in 7 ? days ) door to cave was still locked and Rechungpa was thinking that Milarepa died but it appeared that
    Milarepa was still alive but very weak and close to death.
    Concluding : even for Buddha and enlightened masters to enter Tushista and other divine realms
    switching off from Earthly realm is necesarry.
    Interesting note is that motive of repaying of mother and father kindness is somehow central in Milarepa meditation life.
    Milarepa left Marpa in order to see his mother only to discover her remainings in ruined family
    house. This caused him to make vow to sit in meditation til enlightenment. Also at this point Milarepa meditation skill was so advanced that during meditation state he was able find her in other realm and liberate her. Much later his sister Peta was worrying about
    their father afterlife and Milarepa said to her that already he managed to liberate their father too.
    Looking into great masters biographies ( please correct me if I am wrong ) theme of repaying parents kindness is somehow non existing with exception of Milarepa . Why?
    Somewhere on internet met Milarepa words that concerning gratitude most important is repaying kindness of Lama, next repaying kindness of parents and in last repaying kindness of all sentients beings. Interesting isnt it ?
    As final reminder today merit is multiplied many ? million ? times .
    All best. Thank for compiling
    wonderful Buddha and his mother post.
    P.S. As teenager XVI Karmapa composed quite long song of repaying kindness of his mother.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on that Jerzy and how it compares with Milarepa’s view on repaying the kindness of our parents! Interesting to note that he said those things. Any sources for that?

    Also, what text are you referring to by 16th Karmapa on repaying kindness of his mother? Is this in English or Tibetan? Did I mention it in the catalogue I did of his works on this website?

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