Praises to Shakyamuni Buddha, The Twelve Deeds of his Life Story
"The Twelve Deeds of the Buddha” is the first prayer we recite during Nyungne practice.
So, what are the 12 Deeds of Shakyamuni Buddha?
The twelve deeds are the twelve major activities of Lord Buddha:
Descending from Tushita Heaven
Entering into his mother's womb
Birth in the garden of Lumbini
Training in the sciences
Achievement in sports competition
Enjoying the palace and marriage
Renouncing the life of a prince
Practicing austerity for six years, then renouncing that
Obtaining victory over the Maras
Enlightenment under the bodhi tree
Turning the wheel of dharma
And passing into Parinirvana
Different Buddhist traditions have different understandings of the extraordinary activities of the Buddha. As the Mahayana tradition, Lord Buddha came to the world as a tenth-bhumi bodhisattva. He made the final transition to perfection, the eleventh bhumi, and complete Buddhahood.
The Twelve Deeds of the Buddha, explained as Mahayana Tradition:
Before coming to Earth, Buddha was believed to be preaching to the gods in the heavenly realm of Tushita. This realm is where the fortunate beings receive precious dharma teachings and practices.
His spiritual aspiration and accumulation of spiritual merit from his countless previous lives finally came to complete fruition when he attended Buddhahood.
As time passed by, Buddhas of the ten directions inspired him for his final step of Buddhahood to benefit all sentient beings. It was heard in the form of music in the sky. This was the sound of the original prophecy made by Buddha Dipamkara that he would become Shakyamuni Buddha.
Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in Eight Thousand Lines, Shakyamuni Buddha said:
"So it is, O Gods! So do I, when I met a Tathagata, Dipamkara, in the bazaar of Dipavati, the royal city, possess the fullness of this perfection of wisdom, so Dipamkara, a Tathagata, predicted one day I am to be fully enlightened, and said to me, "You, young Brahmin, in this future period, after incalculable aeons, become a Tathagata, Shakyamuni by name, endowed with knowledge and virtue, Well-Gone, a world-knower, unsurpassed, tamer of beings to be tamed, teacher of gods and people, a Buddha, a Blessed Lord!"
Lord Buddha was reigning in Tushita Heaven as a spiritual leader. So, he passed over his spiritual responsibility to Maitreya Bodhisattva and prophesied him to be the future Buddha.
He then descended to earth from the heavenly realm. This took place with the five specific observations on location, caste, father, mother, and Time.
When all the five aspects were appropriate, he came down to the world and entered into the mother's womb. While the mother was dreaming of a white baby elephant with six tusks, Buddha entered her womb.
The pregnancy was a pleasant experience for his mother. Her mind was filled with tremendous joy. Buddha spent ten months in the womb as a symbolic representation of completing the tenth-bhumi level of a bodhisattva.
And finally, his mother traveled from the palace toward her parent's home to give birth. On the way, she stopped in a forest in Lumbini and spontaneously placed her hand on the branch of a tree.
And when the time was right, Buddha miraculously came out from under her right arm without causing her any discomfort.
As soon as Buddha was born, gods and heavenly beings offered him special baths. He took seven steps in each of the four directions. With each step, a natural lotus flower arose.
The time of Buddha's birth coincided with the rising of a special star named Gyal (Skt. Tisya, Lat. Cancri). Buddha pointed his finger up toward the sky and said,
"I am the supreme being in the world."
At that exact moment, all kinds of flowers blossomed, Earth shook gently, and the sky was lit up in a golden color.
According to the Tibetan history book The Blue Annals, the Emperor of China and his attendants were looking at the West exactly at the same time. They saw an unusual, golden color in the sky. The amazed Emperor consulted with a wise man about the incident. And he indicated that a perfect being was born there in the West. The sky's golden color was the aura of that perfect being. The same book mentions, this event occurred in the Year of the Male Wood-Tiger.
Buddha's father consulted an ascetic wise man who told him, "This child is a remarkable child. If the child renounces the kingdom, he will become a buddha. And if he remains in the royal kingdom, he will rule the world."
Buddha's father did not know what it means to be Buddha. But he hoped his son would become the ruler of the world. Seven days after his birth, her mother passed away. He was nursed by thirty-two surrogate mothers.
Buddha studied many subjects such as the arts, letters, and science with many teachers. He surpassed all of them. One day his father consulted his advisors regarding his marriage. They recommended that he marry one of the Shakya clan. However, Buddha stated that he was going to marry a very special woman. She was the one who was free from the five defects and possessed the eight qualities.
The father was concerned that he might not be able to find such women. Still, he sent a search party to look for a woman, they finally found one. She was the daughter of a skilled archer.
But when Buddha's father asked for her hand, the daughter's father refused. He said, "My daughter shall marry someone with talent in archery, and since your son is a royal prince who has no such skill, the marriage will not work."
The king was very disappointed at this refusal and told Buddha what had happened. Buddha assured him there was no problem; he would compete with everybody in all areas of sports. Hearing him speak with such confidence, his father was very proud and he organized a huge competition to take place.
Buddha competed in every sport and was victorious in them all. Archery was the final event. All the skilled archers placed their targets at a certain distance. The daughter's father placed his target farther than anyone. Then it was Buddha's turn and he placed his target even farther away. It was right in front of a line of nine sandalwood trees. When he shot his arrow it hit the target, penetrating through all nine sandalwood trees, and disappeared into the ground. Springwater came out of that spot in the ground and became a small pond.
Buddha then married her as a skillful means to silence those heretics who might accuse him of being a eunuch. His wife later gave birth to a son. Buddha dwelled in the royal palace and enjoyed marriage and his life as a prince.
Celestial sound in the form of music reminded him to completely abandon ordinary life. He understood it to be the result of his former resolve to seek enlightenment. As a consequence, Buddha went outside the palace and saw the suffering of birth, old age, illness, and death. Finally, he saw a peaceful monk meditating, and he said, "That's what I want to be".
He made a strong commitment to renounce his present life and seek a solution to all suffering.
The king was now afraid that Buddha would leave the kingdom. So he ordered his men to guard him strictly. On the last day, Buddha went to his father and honorably asked his permission to leave the kingdom. His father refused him permission.
But that evening, Buddha blessed the guards and they all fell asleep. Accompanied by one of his attendants, he flew from the palace upon a horse with the help of four guardian kings. In the presence of Nam Da Stupa, he shaved his own hair. He ordained himself by abandoning the royal clothes and put on the robes of a monk.
Initially he followed two great ascetics and practiced austerity for six years. At the final year, he had achieved the highest meditative stabilization possible in samsara. But he realized that he still remained in samsara. He knew that he had to go beyond.
At that exact moment, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas encouraged him towards the path of complete enlightenment. So he rose out of his six years of practicing austerity. He also explained to his ascetic teachers that they too were still bound by samsara.
When he renounced his practice of austerity, his five followers were all disappointed in him. Buddha went toward Bodhgaya. On the way, two girls named Nanda and Nandabala offered him milk and honey. They had prepared the offerings from the milk of one thousand cows. After drinking the milk, Buddha turned a golden color.
In Bodhgaya, Indra incarnated as the grass merchant Svastika. Buddha took some grass from him and prepared a mat for himself. He sat on the mat at the foot of the bodhi tree. He promised to sit there steadfastly until reaching complete enlightenment. At dusk, he entered into a meditative absorption. This stage was called "destruction of the forces of Maras."
His power of meditation reached everywhere. The king of the Maras came in the form of a messenger and told him,
"The town of Kapilavastu has been captured by Devadatta and the palace has been ransacked. All the Shakya's were murdered. What are you doing here?"
Buddha answered, "I'm here in order to attain perfect enlightenment."
Mara replied, "In order to attain perfect enlightenment, you must have an enormous accumulation of merit. You, a prince who just enjoys the royal life, how can you attain such an accumulation?"
Buddha said, "You know, you have merely done some ritual prayers and practices. And because of that you've been born as a powerful Mara in the god realm. I have accumulated two types of merit for countless numbers of eons. Why wouldn't I become a perfect, enlightened being?"
Mara responded, “If that is so then, there has to be a witness to such accomplishment. Where is your witness?"
And the Buddha touched his hand to the ground: "The earth is my witness."
As soon as he said that, the Goddess Earth, gold in color, rose halfway out of the ground. She hold a handful of minuscule particles.
She then told Mara, "I could count each and every one of the particles in my hand, but I could not count how many times this great being has sacrificed his head and limbs for the benefit of others. It is certainly the time for him to become a completely enlightened being." So saying- she disappeared.
Mara was upset, and he went back and brought a whole army to attack Buddha. Buddha was a now completely realized being, none of the attacks affect him. Not even the slightest trace of hate existed in him. With his enormous power of compassion, all the weapons were transformed into flowers. All the horrific sounds came in the form of music.
Again Mara tried to seduce Buddha by appearing in the form of seven beautiful women. Since Buddha had overcome all desire, Mara was not able to cause even the tiniest special of desire to arise in him. Those beautiful females all transformed into seven hags and made confessions before him. Buddha forgave them all.
At midnight it was time for him to enter into meditation, and at dawn Buddha became a perfect, enlightened being. At that moment, the earth gently shook again and a lunar eclipse occurred. It was the full moon day of Vaisakha, the fourth month of the lunar calendar.
Immediately after his enlightenment, Buddha began to preach but nobody understood. The time was not right, as nobody could hear his teaching. He decided to go into silence for seven weeks. After seven weeks, Brahma and Indra made a special request that Buddha should teach. Brahma offered Buddha a thousand-spoked golden wheel. Indra offered a special white conch shell that spiraled clockwise.
Buddha then saw that it was time to turn the wheel of dharma. At that exact moment, the sound of Buddha's preaching were heard on the entire universe.
Buddha walked toward Varanasi. He knew that because of aspiration prayers and virtuous karma coming together, his five followers were his first disciples.
But they were disappointed by Buddha earlier. So, they decided to ignore him. But as Buddha approached them, they couldn't help but go to receive him. Once they had received him, they couldn't help but bow to him and ask for teaching.
Together with the five disciples, eighty thousand gods came to Buddha's teaching. He gave the first sermon, which was on the Four Noble Truths. Upon hearing the teaching three times, all five disciples became Arhats. This was the first turning of the wheel of dharma.
The second turning of the wheel of dharma was on the doctrine of emptiness. It took place on Vulture Peak Mountain in Rajgir. Among the disciples were five thousand Arhats, five hundred fully ordained nuns, and lay practitioners. There were also celestial beings such as gods, and Gandharvas.
The third turning of the wheel was primarily on the tantric doctrines. There were numerous sutra teachings included in these sermons as well. There were great Bodhisattvas, monks, nuns, gods, nagas and other fortunate beings.
Buddha was thirty-five when he attained enlightenment. And altogether he taught for forty-five years. At 80 years of age, he knew that his time here on earth was coming to an end. He said to Ananda, “If there are those who wish to truly practice, I would live for eons and eons."
Buddha repeated that three times. But because of the influence of Maras, Ananda was unable to hear. So he never made the requests for Buddha to live a long life. Buddha could see that there was nothing more he could do. Then an emanation of Mara appeared and requested him to leave. Buddha promised to leave in three months.
During this time, he tamed and benefitted sentient beings. Then he went to Kushinagar. There he told his fellow disciples to look at this perfect form of a Tathagata. "It is as rare as the Udumbara flower"
He told them that all composite phenomena are subject to decay. Even the perfect body of Buddha passes into Nirvana. He lay down in the posture of a sleeping lion. At that very moment, the entire universe system shook once again.
For seven days, offerings were made by gods and men. His body was prepared for cremation by his fellow disciples. It spontaneously burned and innumerable round relics appeared. Those relics were divided into eight portions and distributed to eight regions to be put into stupas.
Those who lived at the time of the Buddha were so fortunate. Usually, just by hearing Buddha's teachings, they were liberated. He cannot be compared to any historical human. The extraordinariness of Buddha is only really understood by enlightened beings.
In the Vajrayana tradition, Buddha was already a completely enlightened being when he came to the world. The tantric definition is quite for ordinary beings to understand.