Buddhism Simplified
Brief notes on Buddhist thought and practice
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The Death of Maya

Everyone was overjoyed at the news of the baby's promising future. But in the midst of this celebration, on the seventh day after the baby was born, disaster struck: Prince Siddhartha's mother, Queen Maha Maya, died.

King Shuddhodana arranged to have another of his wives raise the boy. Maha-Prajapati was Siddhartha's mother's sister, so she was both his step-mother and his aunt. In fact, she had just given birth to a baby boy on the day Maha Maya died, so she raised the two boys together, treating Siddhartha like he was her own son. Later, after he became the Buddha, she became the first nun.

The King was grieved, not only over the loss of his chief wife, but also because he worried about his son's future. Was this not the type of sadness that might turn the boy onto the religious path, preventing him from becoming a great king? Something must be done...

Many see in the death of the future Buddha's mother a clear symbol. "Maya," her personal name, also means "illusion." With the death of his mother, the boy could have no illusions about the cruelties of life.

  1. "In the midst of joy, sorrow." Does the juxtaposition of events in this story feel "authentic"?
  2. What effect might the death of a mother have on a seven-day-old infant? Were Shuddhodana's fears reasonable?
  3. What is the complex relationship between illusion, truth, and sorrow indicated by the phrase "the death of Maya"?
Next time: The Education of a Prince

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