The Dove (II/?)

It is 583 years before the common era.

There is a garden of people. They hang by their wrists from structures of stone, and all around them flowers grow. There are trees, and the soft trickle of a brook, and a gentle wind.

Maya moves from one person to the next. Her expression is rigidly controlled. She looks up at each, studying each face. Then she shakes her head and moves on.

At Prajapati she stops.

“You’re alive,” she says.

Prajapati shakes her head. It’s a refusal. It’s a denial.

“There’s something left in you.”

Maya sits down. She knows she should cut Prajapati down, but she doesn’t have the strength for it. Not yet.

“It’s okay,” Maya says. “It’s okay. He can’t hurt you any more.”

Prajapati frowns, distantly.

“My servants ripped his heart in two and scattered him to the four corners of the world.”

Prajapati licks her lips to moisten them.

“I don’t have anything left,” Prajapati explains.

At the edge of the garden is a bloody mess. It is all that remains of Prajapati’s monster.


It is May. It is the full moon. It is 576 years before the common era.

In the garden, the trees are in bloom.

“Here,” Maya says.

It is the tenth month of her pregnancy, yet she is light on her feet as she steps out of her palanquin and into Lumbini Gardens. She turns, and beckons, and lady Prajapati walks forward to stand beside her.

Prajapati says:

Not Brindovan, not Ashokavan,
Not Nandavana Gardens
Not any place in Earth or Heaven
Compares to this:
The blooming trees and their fragrant flowers
The bees in their five colors
The birds in all their kinds.

I hear the trickling of a brook.
I feel the soft wind on my face.
Ah! Maya! Truly, this is a Paradise.
Yet I find it somehow tainted
By my memories of sorrow.

Maya says:

Today I bring forth a demon-slaying King
Wheel-turning sage of all the world
Ruler of the treasure wheel
Answer to the suffering of all people.

Have I treated you well, Prajapati?

You have treated me well, answers Prajapati.

Maya continues:

Today the Devas roar in Heaven
Carrying gifts,
Their umbrellas covering the vault of Heaven,
Their music filling the spheres.

Have I treated you well, Prajapati?

You have treated me well, answers Prajapati, again.

Maya says:

The fires in Hell are extinguished.
Light spreads through ten thousand worlds.
On every pond the lotus blooms.
Ah! Prajapati! And still I wonder,

Have I treated you well?

Prajapati says:

You ask so awkwardly, Maya,
The question in your heart.

I have never resented
That you came so late,
With all my people dead,
And I so hurt.
There are wounds you cannot heal, Maya,
Even should you be
The Queen of all the World.
There are things you cannot do.
There are things you cannot fix.

You have treated me well.

Maya reaches her hand upwards. One of the tree branches bends down and wraps about her hand. She says:

If my son should know suffering too well, Prajapati,
Then he shall flee the world.
He shall abandon the quest of the wheel-turning sage king
And instead become a Buddha.

Do you understand, Prajapati?

I must go, Prajapati answers.

Maya shakes her head. There’s a trembling in the earth and the sky, and a spasm strikes Maya herself. She shakes it off, and says:

If my son should know suffering too well,
Abominable acts,
His limitless compassion shall empty him.
He shall become a Buddha.

Do you understand, Prajapati?

I must go, Prajapati answers, again.

Maya shakes her head, and says:

I ask a crueler thing than that.

Prajapati’s eyes go blank. She stares at Maya. The rumbling of the earth has become a slow and steady susurrus. Then Prajapati nods, and says:

I will keep him from the wounded.
I will keep him from the sick.
From the old.
From the lame.
And even from the empty.

Your son will become a wheel-turning sage king, Maya.
A demon-slaying lord to rule the world,
And bring an end to suffering.

I will give you this.

And are you not yourself empty? asks Maya.

Prajapati answers:

Not for all the pleasures in the world,
Would I do this thing.
Not for doe-eyed boys,
Sensual massage,
Rare perfumes,
Victuals or silks.
The gifts of Heaven are empty to me,
I have birthed devas and they are nothing to me,
Not for the seven treasures
Would I make a god again.

But I will, for Maya.

There is a burning in the air. There is the fluttering of a dove. It flies up to a high branch. It moves like a wounded thing. It stares down at them both. It keens. Prajapati says:

I name you Yasodhara.
You shall be my fetch.
My secret-keeping god.
To hold my heart
Where it is not seen.
Fly far from here, Yasodhara.
I have no wish
To see you once again.

Then Maya shivers with the pains of birth, and cries out, and only the tree branch wrapped around her hand keeps her from falling. And in that place, the garden where Prajapati once hung, Siddhartha is born; and the devas catch him in a silver net, and he steps down and cries:

I am the foremost among the living beings in the world.
I am the greatest among the living beings in the world.
I am the noblest among the living beings in the world.

And such a world!
All around me
Are fragrant blossoms,
And gentle breezes,
And the shining of the water,
And the singing of the birds,
And the humming of the bees,
And the sweet face of Prajapati,
Transfixed by love
And the distant fluttering of the wings of a dove,
And Maya, dizzied by the pain of birth,
Her body bleeding, weak, and fevered,
But with nothing save fulfillment in her eyes.
There is pain in this world
But there is no suffering.
I shall lead it in its great golden age
I shall be Prince Siddhartha!
The Wheel-turning King!

Maya sinks to the ground. Her head is spinning. Her hand comes down in a pool of blood. From the distant palanquin, servants come running. She whispers:

Is it done, then?
Have I brought him forth?

Rest, her servants urge her.

She is carried away, back to the palace. She asks King Suddhodana:

Is it done, then?
Have I brought him forth?

Rest, he urges her.

Fever takes her. She fades in and out of consciousness. She wakes to see Prajapati by her side. She seizes Prajapati’s hand, and demands:

Tell me!
Is it done?
Have I brought him forth?

Prajapati answers:

Six Brahmins have come to see him.
And each said this:
If he leads the life of a Prince,
He shall become a Universal Monarch.

Maya closes her eyes. In the distance, she can hear the wingbeats of a dove, and over them, a voice:

He shall certainly become a Buddha.


It is 561 years before the common era. Prince Siddhartha lives in peace and plenty. He accompanies his cousin Devadatta on a royal hunt. An arrow flies.

“Why, Devadatta,” Siddhartha says, “you have shot down a dove.”