He lived on leaves and roots, on a steadily reduced
pittance of food, he wore rags from dust-heaps; he slept among corpses
or on beds of thorns. The utter paucity of nourishment left him
a physical wreck.
'Rigorous have I been in my ascetic discipline. Rigorous have
I been beyond all others. Like wasted, withered reeds 'became
all my limbs. . . .' In such words as these, in later years, having
attained to full enlightenment, did the Buddha give his disciples
an awe-inspiring description of his early penances. Struggling
thus, for six long years, he came to death's very door, but he
found himself no nearer to his goal. The utter futility of self-mortification
became abundantly clear to him by his own experience; his experiment
for enlightenment had failed. But undiscouraged, his still active
mind searched for new paths to the aspired-for goal. Then it happened
that he remembered the peace of his meditation in childhood under
a rose-apple tree, and confidently felt: 'This is the path to
enlightenment'. He knew, however, that, with a body so utterly
weakened as his, he could not follow that path with any chance
of success. Thus he abandoned self-mortification and extreme fasting
and took normal food. His emaciated body recovered its former
health and his exhausted vigour soon returned. Now his five companions
left him in their disappointment; for they thought that he had
given up the effort to live a life of abundance.
Nevertheless with firm determination and complete faith in his
own purity and strength, unaided by any teacher, accompanied by
none, the Bodhisatta (as he is known before he attained enlightenment)
resolved to make his final search in complete solitude. Cross-legged
he sat under a tree, which later became known as the Bodhi tree,
the 'Tree of Enlightenment' or 'Tree of Wisdom', on the Bank of
the river Neraiijara, at Gayii (now known as BuddhaGaya)-'a pleasant
spot soothing to the senses and stimulating to the mind making
the final effort with the inflexible resolution:
'Though only my skin, sinews and bones remain, and my blood and
flesh dry up and wither away, yet will I never stir from this
seat until I have attained full enlightenment (samma-sam-hodhi).'
So indefatigable in effort, so unflagging in his devotion was
he, and so resolute to realize Truth and attain full enlightenment.
Applying himself to the 'Mindfulness on in-and-out Breathing'
(ana + pana sati), the meditation he had developed in his childhood,
the Bodhisatta entered upon and dwelt in the first meditative
absorption. By gradual stages he entered upon and dwelt in the
second, third and the fourth jhanas. Thus cleansing his mind of
impurities; with the mind thus composed, he directed it to the
knowledge of recollecting past births. This was the first knowledge
attained by him in the first watch of the night (6 p.m. to 10
Then the Bodhisatta directed his mind to the knowledge of the
disappearing and reappearing of beings of varied forms, in good
states of existence, and in states of woe, each faring according
to his deeds (cuti + upapata). This was the second knowledge attained
by him in the middle watch of the night (10 p.m. to 2 a.m.). Next
he directed his mind to the knowledge of the destruction of the
taints. He understood as it really is: This is suffering (dukkha),
this is the arising of suffering, this is the cessation of suffering,
this is the path leading to the cessation of suffering.' He understood
as it really is: These are the taints, this is the arising of
the taints, this is the cessation of the taints, this is the path
leading to the cessation of the taints.
Knowing thus, seeing thus, his mind was liberated from the taints:
of sense-pleasures, of becoming and of ignorance (avijjiisava).
When his mind was thus liberated, there came the knowledge: 'liberated'
and he understood:
Destroyed is birth, the noble life (brahma cariyam) has been lived,
done is what was to be done, there is no more of this to come
(meaning, there is no more continuity of the mind and body, that
is, no more becoming, rebirth). This was the third knowledge attained
by him in the last watch of the night (2 a.m. to 6 a.m.).' Thereon
he spoke these words of victory:
'Being myself subject to birth, ageing, disease, death, sorrow
and defilement; seeing danger in what is subject to these things;
seeking the unborn, unageing, diseaseless, deathless, sorrowless,
undefiled, supreme security from bondage-Nibbana, I attained it
(literally I experienced it). Knowledge and vision arose in me;
unshakable is my deliverance of mind. This is the last birth,
now there is no more becoming, no more rebirth. Thus did the Bodhisatta
Gotama on another full moon of May, at the age of thirty-five,
attain Supreme Enlightenment, by comprehending in all their fullness
the Four Noble Truths, the Eternal Verities, and become the Buddha,
the great Healer and Consummate Master-Physician (bhirakko) who
can cure the ills of beings.
For a week, immediately after this enlightenment, the Buddha
sat at the foot of the Bodhi tree experiencing the bliss of deliverance.
Then he thought over the Dependent Arising (paticca samuppada).
The Blessed One then spent six more weeks in lonely retreat at
six different places in the vicinity of the Bodhi tree. At the
end of the seven weeks, he made up his mind to communicate the
Dhamma, his, discovery of the Ancient Path (puranam maggam), to
his former friends, the five ascetics. Knowing that they were
living at Varanasi in the deer park at Isipatana, the Resort of
Seers (modern Sarnath), still steeped in the unmeaning rigours
of extreme asceticism, the Buddha left Gaya for distant Varanasi,
India's holy city, walking by stages some 150 miles.
There at the deer park (migadaya) he rejoined them. Now on a full
moon day of July, at eventide, when the moon was rising in a glowing
Eastern sky, the Blessed One addressed the five ascetics:'Monks,
these two extremes ought not to be cultivated by the recluse,
by one gone forth from the house-life. What two? Sensual indulgence
and self-mortification which lead to no good. The middle way,
understood by the Tathagata,' the Perfect One, after he had avoided
the extremes, gives vision, and knowledge, and leads to calm,
realization, enlightenment, Nibbana. And what, monks, is that
middle way? It is this Noble Eightfold Path, namely:
right understanding, right thought, right
speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness,
Then the Buddha explained to them the Four Noble Truths. Thus
did the Enlightened One proclaim the Dhamma and set in motion
the matchless 'Wheel of Truth' (anuttararm dhammachakkam). With
the proclamation of the Dhamma, for the first time, and with the
conversion of the five ascetics, the deer park at Isipatana (Sarnath)
became the birth place of the Buddha's Dispensation (Buddha-sasana),
and of the Sangha, the community of monks, the ordained disciples.
Before long fifty-five others headed by Yasa, a young man of wealth,
joined the order of the Sangha. When the rains ended (vassana,
July-October), the Buddha addressed his disciples, the Accomplished
Ones (arahats), now sixty in number and said:
'Released am I, monks, from all ties whether human or divine.
You also are delivered from fetters whether human or divine. Go
now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many out of compassion
for the world, for the gain, welfare and happiness of gods and
men. Let not two of you proceed in the same direction.
Proclaim the Dhamma (doctrine) that is excellent in the beginning,
excellent in the middle, excellent in the end, possessed of meaning
and the letter and utterly perfect. Proclaim the life of purity,
the holy life consummate and pure. There are beings with little
dust in their eyes who will be lost through not hearing the Dhamma.
There are beings who will understand the Dhamma. I also shall
go to Uruvela, to Senanigama to teach the Dhamma."
Thus did the Buddha commence his sublime mission which lasted
to the end of his life. With his disciples he walked the highways
and byways of Jambudipa, Land of the rose apple (another name
for India), enfolding all within the aura of his boundless compassion