The Buddha repairs to the mucalinda tree; a rain storm; a naga king coils himself around the Buddha to ward off the rain
Just after his enlightenment, having not yet decided who to first teach the Dhamma to and so begin his mission, the Buddha moved from place to place, seven days in each place. In this picture we see him in the third week, at the third place he stayed, which his the mucalinda tree, which stood to the southeast of the bodhi tree.
The mucalinda is a tree that grows commonly in India, and figures in much Indian literature, such as the Jatakas and elsewhere. In the Vessantara Jataka the mucalinda is the tree to which the Bodhisatta resorted when he was banished to the forest.
In Thailand we call the mucalinda the "jik" tree. This seems to be right, as the places in which the two trees tend to take root are similar: both tend to arise in damp places, such as on river banks, near ponds, along canals and lakes. Its wood is resilient, its flowers hang down, and are white and red in color. The leaves are about the same size as roseapple leaves. The tender leaves are astringent and are tasty used as a vegetable and dipped in chili sauce. The flavor is similar to the leaves of the roseapple tree. Usually the tree has rich foliage and offers good shade.
When the Buddha arrived at the tree, a heavy rain and cold wind arose and continued for seven days continuously. The writer of the Pathamasambodhi says of this event that a naga king, by name of mucalinda, came up out of the nearby pond, wound himself around the Buddha seven times, then spread his hood over the Buddha to prevent the wind and the rain from blowing at him and soaking him. When the storm subsided and the sky cleared, the naga king unwound himself and transformed himself into a young man standing to the north of the Buddha.
The statue depicting the Buddha protected by the naga is a depiction of this event in the Buddha's life. The image is believed to have special powers in terms of metta, loving kindness, because it indirectly teaches the benefits of developing loving kindness: even a great naga king living at the bottom of a pond went to the Buddha and provided protection for him as a result of the powers of the Buddha's great compassion.
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