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Buddhism and Tarot: King Suddhodana and Queen Maha Maya, the Emperor and Empress
(c) Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2002

Over 2,500 years ago, the Sakyas were a warrior tribe who lived in northern India is what we now call Nepal. The capital city, Kapilavatthu, stretched across the Himalayan foothills and their king was named Suddhodana. Their neighbours were the Koliya. King Suddhodana was married to the daughter of Anjana, the King of the Koliya tribe, Queen Maha Maya. They had called her Maya, which meant "vision", because of her extraordinary beauty but she was also virtuous, talented, highly intelligent and pious. King Suddhodana was honoured and respected by nobility and commoners alike. He was called the "King of the Law" because he ruled according to the law. King Suddhodana and Queen Maha Maya were destined to be the parents of the Buddha.

One night during a full moon Queen Maha Maya had a powerful dream. She was carried away by four spirits (devas) and taken to Lake Anotatta in the Himalayas. They bathed her in the lake, dressed her in heavenly clothing, anointed her with perfumes and covered her in flowers. A white elephant appeared carrying a white lotus blossom in its trunk. The elephant circled the young Queen three times and entered her womb through her right side. The elephant disappeared and the Queen woke up from her dream knowing that she had received a great vision. The elephant is a Nepalese symbol of greatness. She told her husband about her dream and the King sent for his wise men to understand and interpret its meaning. The wise men told them that they were very lucky as the spirits (devas) had chosen Queen Maha Maya to be the mother of the Purest-One. A child destined for greatness of being.

The King and Queen were so overjoyed that they invited all of the noblemen to the palace to share the good news. The poor were not left out of the celebrations, food and clothing were distributed and the kingdom waited with great anticipation for the birth of the prince. Queen Maha Maya had a healthy and joyful pregnancy. She lived her life with purity for both herself and the child she was carrying.

It was customary for the expectant mother to return to her father's house to give birth and as she approached her due date, arrangements were made by King Suddhodana for Queen Maha Maya to return to Koliya. Soldiers were sent to clear the roads and were made ready to guard the Queen on her journey. She was carried in a gold palanquin and a large entourage which travelled with her from Kapilavatthu. They travelled through a garden called Lambini Park, near Nepal, at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains. There were beautiful scented flowers, Sala trees and an abundance of birds and bees. The Queen thought this would be a good place to stop and rest under the trees. While she rested her labour began and a baby boy was born.

His birth occurred on a full moon in 623 B.C. and is now celebrated as Vesak, a triple holiday commemorating the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. After the Buddha's birth, legend says that the young prince took seven steps leaving a lotus blossom blooming with each step. Upon taking the seventh step, he proclaimed, "I am chief of the world, Eldest am I in the world, Foremost am I in the world. This is the last birth. There is now no more coming to be." Queen Maha Maya returned home to the great rejoicing of King Suddhodana and their people at the birth of such a wondrous heir.

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This page was created on October 28, 2002 and updated August 10, 2006.