Rahula's gestation period

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Rahula's gestation period

Postby gene » Mon Apr 05, 2010 7:27 pm

This matter obviously does not have any major impact on doctrinal understanding, but I've always been meaning to get to the bottom of it.

A long time ago I read an extract from a chinese buddhist master's teaching that the Buddha's son Rahula spent five years in his mother's womb. The reason for this was the fruition of bad karma incurred in a past life where he had plugged up the lair of a snake, trapping it. Where in the sutta canon can this abnormal gestation period be corroborated? I often wondered if this was a mahayana fable cooked up to serve as a teaching device on karma. A five-year gestation period is asking for the same kind of credulity as the Immaculate Conception.:roll:

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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Apr 05, 2010 7:38 pm

The pregnancy was 10 lunar months, which would be pretty much 9 modern months like any other human being. The Mahayana story is an exaggeration, in my opinion.
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby Stephen » Mon Apr 05, 2010 7:39 pm

It's pretty obvious that it's not literal. There are a lot of things that are meant to train our minds to be able to see the truth; to set up the conditions for liberation. We shouldn't waste too much time on trying to nail anything down. Hell, we can't even know what the Buddha actually taught. :)
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby PeterB » Mon Apr 05, 2010 7:49 pm

I dont agree Stephan. I think we have good reason to suppose that we have a very good idea what the Buddha taught.
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby bodom » Mon Apr 05, 2010 7:51 pm

This story is from the 1997 book called Sacred Biography in the Buddhist Traditions of South and Southeast Asia and used in Sallie Tisdale's Women of the Way: Discovering 2,500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom.

The story goes like this: Yasodhara keeps Rahula in her womb for six years, giving birth only after Siddhartha returns as the Enlightened One. But Siddhartha leaves again, collecting students wherever he goes—stealing sons and widowing women, as Tisdale puts it. When the Buddha comes back six years later, Rahula begs to go to live with him and his monks, and so does his stepmother Pajapati, and five hundred women whose husbands have joined the Buddha’s retinue.

I do not know if there is any canonical evidence to support the six year theory. I dont ever recall any.

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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby gene » Mon Apr 05, 2010 8:03 pm

Stephen wrote:Hell, we can't even know what the Buddha actually taught. :)


Oh I reckon the Theras know quite well what He taught. ;)

10 months then. I can accept that.
btw I read that five-year gestation variant from the lectures of a quite respected zen master. I hope he was just quoting it as a 'hand-me-down' teaching aid from his sect's tradition. To devise this sort of urban myth borders on the infringement of Right Speech. :?
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Apr 05, 2010 8:10 pm

bodom wrote:I do not know if there is any canonical evidence to support the six year theory. I dont ever recall any.


In the Theravada Pali Canon it is ten lunar months for all samma-sam-buddhas. It is from the Buddhavamsa (one of the books of the Khuddaka Nikaya); sorry don't have my copy with me right now to provide the exact reference.
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby Cittasanto » Mon Apr 05, 2010 8:11 pm

It maybe better to ask on Zen forum international or Dharma Wheel they are going to be more knowledgable on the Zen and other mahayana teachings to answer appropriately than here.
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby bodom » Mon Apr 05, 2010 8:19 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
bodom wrote:I do not know if there is any canonical evidence to support the six year theory. I dont ever recall any.


In the Theravada Pali Canon it is ten lunar months for all samma-sam-buddhas. It is from the Buddhavamsa (one of the books of the Khuddaka Nikaya); sorry don't have my copy with me right now to provide the exact reference.


That is quite ok David. I take your word for it.

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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby jcsuperstar » Mon Apr 05, 2010 8:54 pm

i dont recall anything about rahula having a long gestation period although i think sivali had one like 6 years or 7 years
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Mon Apr 05, 2010 9:09 pm

Not Rāhula, but Sīvalī spent seven years in the womb.
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue Apr 06, 2010 3:31 am

There is a definite east asian tradition that states "several years". It can be found in translations of texts from India. I'm not going to cite them all here, though, but here is some (Lamotte, Traite, Vol II, pg. 776), highlighting some key passages I discuss below:

[1. Yaśodharā’s lengthy pregnancy].435 – Moreover, in the Lo heou lo mou pen cheng king (Rāhulamātṛijātaka): The Bodhisattva Śākyamuni had two wives: the first was called K’iu p’i ye (Gopiya or Gopā), the second Ye chou t’o lo (Yaśodharā) or Ye chou t’o lo heou lo mou (Yaśodharā Rāhulamātā). Gopā, being sterile (bandhya), had no children. Yaśodharā knew she was pregnant (garbhiṇī) the same night that the Bodhisattva left home (pravrajita). After his departure, the Bodhisattva practiced asceticism (duṣkaracaryā) for six years; Yaśodharā was pregnant also for six years without giving birth. The Śākyas asked her: “The Bodhisattva has left home; whose fruit are you bearing?” Yaśodharā said: “I have not committed adultery; the son that I bear in my womb is truly the descendant of the crown prince (Śākyamuni).” The Śākyas continued: “Why are you so long in giving birth?” She answered that she did not know [the reason]. In public discussion, the Śākyas asked the king [Śuddhodana]to inflict a suitable punishment on her. Gopā said to the king: ”I would like you to absolve Yaśodharā; I have always stayed with her, I am her witness (sākṣin) and I know that she has not committed any sin. Wait until her son is born and you will see whether or not he resembles his father; it will not be too late to punish her.” Then the king treated Yaśodharā with indulgence.

[In the meanwhile], the Buddha had completed his six years of austerities; the very night that he became Buddha, Yaśodharā gave birth to Rāhula. Seeing that he resembled his father, the king was overjoyed and forgot his anger; he said to his ministers: “Although my son has gone, today he has a son completely like him.” Although Yaśodharā had avoided the shame of punishment, her bad reputation had spread in the kingdom; she sought to wash way this bad name. When Śākyamuni, having attained Buddhahood, returned to Kia p’i lo p’o (Kapilavastu) to convert the Śākyas, king Śuddhodana and Yaśodharā invited him at once to come to dine at the palace. Then Yaśodarā took a potion-cake (modaka) of a hundred flavors and gave it to Rāhula to offer to the Buddha. [182c] At the same time, by his miraculous power (ṛddhibala), the Buddha created five hundred arhats who completely resembled. Rāhula, then seven years old, took the potion-cake, went directly to the Buddha and respectfully offered it to the Bhagavat [thus proving that he discovered his father among the five hundred arhats completely like the Buddha]. Then the Buddha suspended his miraculous power and the five hundred [bhikṣus] resumed their initial aspect: they were seated with empty bowls (dhautapātreṇa), whereas the bowl of the Buddha was the only one that contained a potion-cake. Yaśodharā said to the king: ”This proves that I have committed no sin.” Yaśodarā then asked the Buddha why she had been pregnant for six years.

--- Footnotes ---

435 For this episode, compare the following sources:

Mahāvastu, III, p. 142-143: Learning of Buddha’s return to Kapilavastu, Yaśodharā prepared a cake (modaka) and gave it to Rāhula, telling him to offer it to his father and reclaim the paternal heritage. The Buddha told him to enter the order and then he would receive the paternal heritage. This offer and promise prove that Rāhula is truly the son of the Buddha and that Yaśodharā is without blame.

Fo pen hing tsi king, T 190, k. 55, p. 906c (tr. Beal, Romantic Legend, p. 360): When the Buddha arrived in Kapilavastu, Yaśodharā sent Rāhula to greet his father, and Śuddhodana asked the Buddha if Rāhula is truly is his son. The Buddha answered: “Yaśodharā is perfectly pure and innocent: this one is indeed my son.”

Tsa pao tsang king, T 203, no. 117, k. 10, p. 496b seq. Summarized in Chavannes, Contes, III, p. 136): As a result of her prolonged pregnancy, Yaśodharā was suspected of adultery by her father-oin-law and the Śākyas. They dug a ditch filled with flaming wood and threw Yaśodharā into it. She called upon the Buddha, the flaming ditch was instantaneously transformed into a pool of pure water, in the middle of which Yaśodharā with Rāhula in her arms was sitting on a lotus flower. The Śākyas were convinced of her innocence and Rāhula became the favorite of his grandfather. Six years later the Buddha returned to Kapilavastu and Rāhula recognized his father unheditatingly among the 1250 bhikṣus who resembled him perfectly. The Buddha caressed his sons’s head.

Finally, here is the transaltion of a passage from the Mūlasarv. Vin (T 1450, k. 12, p. 158c-150a): The Buddha was dwelling in Rājagṛha. At the time when the Bodhisattva left his (native) city, Yaśodharā was pregnant (garbhiṇī). When the Bodhisattva was practicing austerities (duṣkaracaryā) for six years, Yaśodharā was also practicing austerities in her palace; this is why her preganancy escaped being noticed. Then, understanding the futility of his ascetic practices, the Bodhisattva took his ease and breathed deeply as he pleased; he took good food and regained his strength; he anointed his body with oil and bathed in warm water. Hearing that, Yaśodarḥa in her palace also relaxed her physical and mental efforts to conform to the conduct of the Bodhisattva; her womb and belly began to develop and enlarge under her joyfulness. Seeing this, the Śākyas jeered at her and said: “While the Bodhisattva, away from the palace, gave himself up to austerities, you in your palace were secretly meeting another man. Now you are pregnant and your belly is getting big!” Yaśodharā swore that she was not guilty. Shortly afterwards, she gave birth to a son, at the very moment when the (demon) Rāhu was eclipsing the moon. Her retinue (parivāra) gathered together to congratulate her. They were invited to give a name to the baby, and being coonsulted, they said: At the moment when this child was born, Rāhu was holding the moon with his hand; he must be given the name of Rāhula.” The Śākyas, discussing together, claimed that this child was not the son of the Bodhisattva. Hearing that, Yaśodharḥa wept. Holding Rāhuula in her arms, she made an oath; she took Rāhula and set him down on the “Bodhisattva”, i.e., on a rock which was once in the palace and which [was consulted] to resolve enigmas. She set this “Bodhisattva” in the pool, making the following vow: “If this child is truly the son of the Bodhisattva, may he float; if he is not, may he sink to the bottom.” She spoke, and Rāhula as well as the rock on which he was placed floated easily. Then Yaśodharā said: “I wish that they go from this shore to the other shore and then come back here”, and it went according to her wish. Seeing that, the crowd cried out at the miracle. Taking up her son, she thought: “The Buddha Bhagavat has practiced austerities for six years; he has attained enlightenment and, since them six more years have passed. Twelve years having passed, he must return here. I will arrange it so that everyone will see the truth with their own eyes.” Then the Bhagavat returned to Kapilavastu; one day he dined in the king’s house; the next day he dined at the palace. Yaśodharā said to herself: Let us find a way that the Bhagavat will bend to my wishes.” At that time there was in the city a heretic woman skillful at making love potions. Yaśodaharā sent her five hundred pieces of gold, asking her to make a potion and bring it to her. This woman made a little cake (modaka) of unique nature and brought it to the palace. Rāhula’s mother took it, and before all the palace people, put it into Rāhula’s hands, saying to him: “My child, take this cake and give it to your father.” The Buddha, endowed with omniscience, understood in advance: he knew that by giving birth to Rāhula, Yaśodharā had been attacked; he wanted to put a stop that very day to the slander. Knowing that, the Bhagavat produced by metamorphosis (nirmāṇa) five hundred individuals looking exactly like himself. Holding the cake in his hands, Rāhula passed by all these, not offering them anything, but he stopped in front of the (true) Buddha and gave him the cake. The Buddha accepted it, then gave it back to Rāhula who took it and swallowed it. The Buddha knew that after having eaten it, he would be under the influence of a spell. {Actually), when the Buddha arose from his seat and went away, Rāhula went with him. The courtesans wanted to prevent him from leaving the palace, but Rāhula wept with anger; he insisted that he would go with the Buddha. On leaving, the Buddha thought: “I know that Rāhula will not take up another existence (punarbhava), that he will realize the fruits of the (Noble) Path (āryaphala) and that he will not want to live in the world.” Knowing that, the Buddha took him away with him. Thanks to his earlier vows (pūrvapraṇidhāna), Rāhula had been able to recognize the Bhagavat in the midst of the five hundred buddhas; he did not want to leave him. Then king Śuddhodhama, the palace people, the retinue and all the Śākyas, seeing this prodigy, were filled with respect for Yaśodharā. They understood the futility of the blame they had thrown on her previously. Free of all blame, Yaśodharā was satisfied.

The visit of the Buddha to Yaśodharā is represented on a stūpa discovered near the village of Goli, (Guntur District): cf. T. N. Ramadhandran, Buddhist Sculptures from a Stupa near the village of Goli, Bull Mus. Madras, a929, p. 5-7, pl. II(F). Rāhula, easily recognized by his head-dress, is represented three times in the same sculpture: on the right, he is respectfully receiving his mother’s orders; in the center, he carefully carries in his right hand the ‘cake potion’ (modaka) that Yaśodharā intended for the Buddha; on the left, he goes to welcome the Buddha who, clothed in the Roman manner with a nimbus and exhibiting the abhayamudrā, is at the gate of the women’s quarters. According to the interpretation of Ramachanran, the Rāhula of the center panel was playing ball; but the round object he holds seems rather to be the modaka that he was told to offer to his father according to the story of the Mahāvastu and the Mūlasarv. Vin. (l. c.)


The text then proceeds with a Jataka explanation. Obviously, though the OP talks about it as if it were a "Chinese" version, it is very obviously an Indian version of the story. There were several versions around.

One of the interesting points is this: Here, the pregnancy begins just before Siddartha leaves home, and the birth occurs six years later when he attains Buddhahood. This differs from the Pali which states that the birth occurred before he left home.

My own personal theory to explain this runs as follows:

There is a passage in the Pali Udana (Ireland trs. pg. 29ff) on "Suppavasa the Koliyan daughter" (remember, Yasodhara is also a "Koliyan daughter", too), which states: "On that occasion Suppavasa the Koliyan daughter had been pregnant for seven years and for seven days had experienced difficult labor. (7)" The footnote #7 reads: "7. Mulhagabbha: difficulty in giving birth, "complications". Malalasekera suggests the "seven years" refers to a series of miscarriages."

Now, my thought is that this term "pregnant for X years" may just refer to "miscarriages for X years". And remember, Yasodhara and Siddartha are both maternal and paternal cousins, so these sorts of things are even more likely. They were married at age 16, and only had their first child at age 29. That's a fairly long gap in between. It could be that well before Siddartha left home, maybe 6-7 years, poor Yasodhara had been pregnant and miscarried several times, hence the idea that "Yasodhara was pregnant for 6-7 years". Then, finally she carries the child to full term, and Rahula is born. But, as soon as this happens, Siddartha leaves them both and becomes a renunciant. The Sakyas are really saddened, and probably looking for someone to blame. Why is it, they ask, that previously Yasodhara could not carry full term, but then she did, and Siddartha left? Is it that Siddartha is not the father? And, knowing this, he left? This would match the story above about the accusations of adultery perfectly. Later one, the Buddha returns, and she is proved innocent.

However, this story may have got a bit garbled. It would have been easy to match up "pregnant for 6-7 years" with the bodhisatta's "6-7 years of austerities", and put the two together. That is what the story above seems to do. Of course, this means that Yasodhara is actually pregnant for that long, which is rather over the top to say the least!

Any thoughts or criticisms on this little theory of mine? I like a bit of Dhammic detective work. :sage:
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Apr 06, 2010 4:22 am

Greetings bhante,

Paññāsikhara wrote:Any thoughts or criticisms on this little theory of mine? I like a bit of Dhammic detective work. :sage:


It seems a plausible interpretation of the evidence, and not the first time I've seen it.

Another possibility is the desire not to let the truth get in the way of a good (Jataka) tale. The mention of Sīvalī having a comparable gestation is mentioned only in the Jatakas, and if I recall, 7 was considered an auspicious number in ancient India too.

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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue Apr 06, 2010 5:12 am

Sivali was the son of Suppavasa the Koliyan daughter, by the way.
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby chownah » Tue Apr 06, 2010 3:18 pm

I'm not surprised that this came from a Chinese source......the Chinese say that Lao Tzu was gestated for 88 years and had a long white beard at birth....and that this is why he was so wise.
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby Annapurna » Tue Apr 06, 2010 5:58 pm

gene wrote:
10 months then. I can accept that.


Caution. Ten lunar months.

A lunar month is a period of time measured in relationship to the movement of the moon. There are actually several different ways to calculate a lunar month, which means that it can vary in length depending on which system is used. Several religions use lunar months to establish their calendars, and the lunar month is also sometimes seen used to mark time in a pregnancy; a pregnancy is around 10 lunar months long.


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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed Apr 07, 2010 2:37 am

chownah wrote:I'm not surprised that this came from a Chinese source......the Chinese say that Lao Tzu was gestated for 88 years and had a long white beard at birth....and that this is why he was so wise.
chownah


I don't know if you read any of my posts above, but it is very clear that this source is originally Indic, and NOT Chinese.

The Laozi mythology actually came into place well after the Buddhists were already established in China. In particular, during the Tang dynasty. As such, it is actually historically more likely that the Indian story influenced the Chinese story of Laozi through translation of Indian Buddhist texts into Chinese, rather than the Chinese re-telling the story of Rahula in their own light.
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby chownah » Wed Apr 07, 2010 2:46 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:
chownah wrote:I'm not surprised that this came from a Chinese source......the Chinese say that Lao Tzu was gestated for 88 years and had a long white beard at birth....and that this is why he was so wise.
chownah


I don't know if you read any of my posts above, but it is very clear that this source is originally Indic, and NOT Chinese.

The Laozi mythology actually came into place well after the Buddhists were already established in China. In particular, during the Tang dynasty. As such, it is actually historically more likely that the Indian story influenced the Chinese story of Laozi through translation of Indian Buddhist texts into Chinese, rather than the Chinese re-telling the story of Rahula in their own light.

In the original post gene attributed this to a Chinese Buddhist....hence the term "Chinese source"....
You did say that there are several versions around and somehow you picked the Indic one but you never gave time lines showing the various versions and except for the Indic version you do not give geographic origins.....clearly there is a Chinese version or else gene wouldn't have heard it from a Chinese Budhist I think...but maybe I'm wrong.
Do you have any information on when it was first declared that Lao Tzu was infact the Buddha and that the reports of his writing the Tao Te Ching is meant to mean that Buddha composed the Tao Te Ching while traveling through the mountains to China?
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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby gene » Wed Apr 07, 2010 4:28 pm

Just to clarify, I read that story of Rahula's long gestation story in an online transcript of a teaching from Ven Hsuan Hua, a chinese ch'an master. That happened around 2000. I have no idea if the html is still online and what was its title. The brief mention of this story was quoted during a rather lengthy discourse on a sutra IIRC.

btw I am very sure the name mentioned in the teaching is Rahula, not Sivali.

I am in the midst of absorbing the information and theories suggested. Thanks to all who offered them.

Oh. While I am happy to hear that Rahula's gestation period was relatively normal, this revelation of Sivali's six-year hiatus is perpetuating the really incredulous miracle gestation thing I was hoping to dispel.

As for the divulgment of the Buddha's other wife (what :shock:) I'll leave any query about that for later.
Why do I feel like I got a can of worms instead of the simple apple I was hoping for? ;)

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Re: Rahula's gestation period

Postby gene » Wed Apr 07, 2010 4:53 pm

I found it. Ven Hsuan Hua's site has changed a lot and the list of documents seems shorter. I first read the Rahula story in a html file but after typing 'Rahula' as keyword and searching all the files, there was no match.

But there is a pdf file and that contains a reference to Rahula's gestation period.

The Shurangama Sutra Vol 4

"Rahula was the Buddha’s son, but he was not conceived through sexual intercourse.
Shakyamuni Buddha was married at seventeen years old and left
the home-life at nineteen. Although he married, it was not a sexual
relationship. Before the Buddha left home, Yashodhara wanted to
have a son by him. So the Buddha pointed to her belly and she
conceived. This may sound like a myth, but this is how it is actually
recorded in the Buddhist Sutras. You may want to figure out how
she could get pregnant just by having him point at her, but you’ll
find it’s an inconceivable and ineffable state of affairs.

Rahula’s name means “Obstacle.” Rahula lived in his mother’s
womb for six years. This is another case of cause and effect. In a
former life, Rahula had plugged up a mouse-hole, and it took six
days for the mouse to gnaw out another passageway. As a result,
Rahula had to undergo the retribution of dwelling six years in his
mother’s womb."

The first paragraph is new to me. But the second one is familiar alright, only it's a mouse hole not snake. Sorry, I'm very bad when it comes to noticing animals. :x

I guess this all goes to show there are more than one source for these biographical accounts of the lives of the Buddha and his disciples.
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