Life of the Buddha: Dipankara's Prediction of Enlightenment

Dipankara Buddha Giving the Prediction of Enlightenment
Gandhara, Kushan Period

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Gandharan art is notable for the large repretory of scenes representing in minute detail the events of the life of Shakyamuni Buddha. Typically, the bases and drums of Gandharan stupas -- both arichtectural and votive stupas -- carry scenes of the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, occasionally arrayed in a chronological sequence. This relief panel, which tells the story of one of the past lives of the Buddha Shakyamuni, probably came from the base of a votive stupa.

In this story, the being who will become Siddhartha Gautama was born to a Brahmin family during the time of Dipankara Buddha, one of the Buddhas of the remote past. When the Brahmin was a youth he heard of the arrival in his town of Dipankara Buddha, and in his religious fervour rushed out to greet the arriving Buddha. The road into town was in some disrepair and a large muddy patch lay in Dipankara's way. The Brahmin youth laid down on the ground and draped his long hair over the mud puddle so that Dipankara would not have to step in the mud. At this moment Dipankara recognized the enormous faith of the Brahmin youth and predicted that he would later be reborn as the Buddha Shakyamuni. The prediction of enlightenment and of future Buddhahood is extremely important -- all Buddhas must have had a prediction of their enlightenment during one of their previous incarnations.

Dipankara Buddha is here presented in the typical manner of a Buddha: he has the characteristic lakshana including the protruduing ushnisha, and wears the simple monk's robe. He is noticeably larger than the other players in this scene. The Brahmin youth can be identified as the small figure who prostrates himself at the feet of Dipankara.

The life of Shakyaumi served as the most eloquent demonstration of the Buddhist dharma. Buddha-life-scenes such as this were part of cycles of reliefs that revealed the message of Shakyamuni's life.