Buddha’s Birth Story – Myth


This story comes from Burmese Buddhist teachings. My mother learned it from her grandmother.

Before Buddha’s birth, a white elephant came to see his pregnant mother. My mother could not remember the significance of this, but did remember that Buddha was not born naturally – he magically emerged from the side of his mother’s womb. The “natural” way was seen as impure, and this was a sign of his enlightenment. As soon as he was born, he was able to walk. He did not cry or act like a baby. Instead, he walked across a lake to sit by a lotus flower and meditate. 

There are other versions of this story, and the more complete telling involves a dream of Buddha’s mother, Queen Maya. In the dream, the white elephant carries a lotus flower and strikes Maya on her side. Then, Brahmin monks were called to interpret the dream, and advised the king and queen to let their son leave the home so he could become Buddha. If he stayed, he would become a world conqueror.


My mother heard lots of religious stories from her grandmother. This was the main method that Buddhism was taught to her – from parables about Buddha’s life. My mother is no longer very religious but the morals that she learned from these stories have stuck with her for her whole life. Despite marrying a non-Buddhist, she taught my sister and I how to properly pray and sometimes used examples from Buddhism to teach us how to be good people. My parents wanted us to be exposed to both Christianity and Buddhism so that when we were older we would have a solid foundation if we decided to practice either.


I always found Buddhism interesting because even though there are some deities that vary throughout different types of Buddhism, the main recipient of prayer is someone who was still a human. My mother always emphasized that Buddha was just a human who achieved enlightenment. She made it seem that technically, anyone could become a Buddha. It certainly wouldn’t be easy, but it would be possible. This belief may not be common to all types of Buddhism. Anyways, this origin story seems like it undermines that belief. Buddha had a more “pure” birth than the rest of us so we’re all already all off to a rough start. This story lends Buddha a lot of mythical elements, which I think helps make him a figure worthy of prayer. I also don’t think the point of Buddhism (for most people) is to fully achieve enlightenment, even if that is technically possible – it’s just to follow in Buddha’s example and have a positive impact on the world and people around us.