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Queen Māyā of Sakya was the birth mother of the historical Gautama Buddha, Siddhārtha of the Gautama gotra, and sister of Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī the first woman ordained by the Buddha. "Māyā" means "illusion" or "enchantment" in Sanskrit and Pāli. Māyā is also called Mahāmāyā ("great Māyā") or Māyādevī ("Queen, literally 'goddess,' Māyā"). In Tibetan she is called Gyutrulma. Queen Mayadevi was born in Devadaha kingdom of ancient India (modern Nepal).
Marriage and childbirth
The birth of the Buddha-to-be
Queen Māyā and King Suddhodhana did not have children for twenty years into their marriage. One day however, according to legend, Queen Māyā dreamt of a divine Bodhisattva on white elephant touching her side, and became pregnant. According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha-to-be was residing as a Bodhisattva, in the Tuṣita heaven, and decided to take the shape of a white elephant to be reborn, for the last time, on Earth. Māyā gave birth to Siddharta c. 563 BCE. The pregnancy lasted ten lunar months. Following custom, the Queen returned to her own home for the birth. On the way, she stepped down from her palanquin to have a walk under the ashoka trees in the beautiful flower garden of Lumbini Park, Lumbini Zone, Nepal. She was delighted by the park and she reached for an ashoka branch to take a rest. Again according to legend, at this time Prince Siddhārtha emerged from her right side and was born. It was the eighth day of April. She gave him his first bath in the Puskarini pond in Lumbini Zone. Siddhārtha means "He who has accomplished his goals" or "The accomplished goal".
After Prince Siddhartha had gained perfection and became the Buddha, he visited his mother in heaven for three months to pay respects and to teach the Dharma.
Some interpretations of the life story of the Buddha attribute his birth to a virgin birth. This is likely due to a specific interpretation of the prophetic dream Queen Māyā is said to have had prior to conception and is not a widely held view amongst Buddhists. As she is described to have been married to King Śuddhodhana for many years, there is no indication that she would have been a virgin at the time of Siddhārtha's conception, but the conception of the Buddha is often held to have occurred without sexual activity. Nonetheless, this interpretation has led to parallels being drawn with the birth story of Jesus.
The story of the birth of the Buddha was known in the West, and possibly influenced the story of the birth of Jesus. Saint Jerome (4th century CE) mentions the birth of the Buddha, who he says "was born from the side of a virgin". Also a fragment of Archelaos of Carrha (278 CE) mentions the Buddha's virgin-birth.
Other interesting parallels in the birth stories include:
- The similarity in the sounds of the names of Mary (Aramaic: מרים, Maryām) and Maya.
- Maya conceived during a dream, Mary conceived around the time of a visitation from an angel.
- Both women gave birth "outside" of a home.
- Heavenly wonders appeared in the sky.
- Heavenly beings (angels or devas) announced the newborn as "savior" of the world.
- Sages came to visit the newborn and make prophecies of auspicious careers.
Alleged false etymologies
- The name Māyā is allegedly completely unrelated to Maria (Mary), which is a Greek form of the Hebrew name Miriam.
- Also allegedly unrelated is the Greek goddess Maia, the mother of Hermes, whose name means "mother" in Greek. The fact that the planet Mercury (the Roman name for Hermes) is called Budha in Sanskrit has been viewed as a mere coincidence: budha means "intelligent", and reflects the traditional association of gods of learning (such as Mercury, Hermes, and Nabu) with the planet Mercury. Budha is also used as a different word from Buddha in Sanskrit and is written differently. However, this does not necessarily suggest that no relationship exists between the two.
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