WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: As one of the most widespread and inspiring stories, the life of the Buddha is told in many biographies, histories, prayers and poems. The eighty years of Buddha Śākyamuni’s life and works are told in numerous versions and languages.
In Bhutan and Himalayan countries, the Buddha’s long and rich biography is often presented in the framework of Dzepa Chunyi (མཛད་པ་བཅུ་གཉིས་) or the twelve great acts. This framework is traced to the earliest sutras and masters such as Nāgārjuna used it to sing hymns and say prayers to the Buddha as well as to recollect his enlightened personality and activities. It is also commonly illustrated in art forms in Bhutanese temples.

1. Descent:
The Buddha, in his previous life, was at the helm of gods in Tusita heaven. When it was time to come down to earth, he passed on the celestial regal duties to his successor, Maitreya, and descended to earth. This is the first act of the Buddha although it should not be confused with the descent from Trāyastrimśa heaven later in his life.

2. Conception:
After checking the appropriate place, race, time, father and mother, the Buddha entered the womb of Queen Māyādevī in the form of a white elephant with six tusks.

3. Birth:
In the third act, the Buddha was born miraculously in Lumbini, allegedly from the right armpit of his mother. He is believed to have taken seven steps right after his birth and declared: “I am the supreme in the world.”

4. Upbringing:
The Buddha, as Prince Siddhārtha, grew up in the palace of Kapilavastu mastering all the arts and skills expected of a prince in his days.

5. Princely Life:
Prince Siddhartha ruled over the kingdom with his father and lived a luxurious life in the palace. He married Yaśodhara and had a son named Rāhula.

6. Renunciation:

Disillusioned with the state of ordinary life after he came in direct contact with illness, old age, death and renunciation, Prince Siddhārtha renounced his palace life in search of solution to the problems of life.

7. Austerity:
As was common in his time, he followed physical penance as a way to liberation. Siddhārtha spent six years undergoing a severe fast and meditation.

8. Adopting Middle Way:
When austere penance, like decadent palace life, did not lead him to inner fulfilment and liberation, he eschewed the two extremes of excessive indulgence and physical austerity and adopted the Middle Way to enlightenment.

9. Overcoming Evil:
After eating the cream he received from Sujātā and sitting on the comfortable mat, Siddhārtha entered a meditative absorption and overcame the evil forces of attachment, aggression and ignorance.

10. Enlightenment:

Having defeated the inner demons, the Buddha attained full enlightenment under the Bodhi tree when he turned 35.

11. Teaching:
Seven weeks after he attained enlightenment, the Buddha gave his first sermon at Deer Park to his five former colleagues. This began 45 years of his teaching and spiritual career.

12.  Passing Away:

The Buddha finally entered the state of Mahāparinirvāna on his 81st birthday. As he did with his life, the Buddha used his final act of dying also to deliver the message of impermanence.

Dr Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation, director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’ Cultural Documentation and author The History of Bhutan.


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