STORY OF GAUTAMA SIDDHARTHA: THE BUDDHA'S EARLY LIFE BEFORE ENLIGHTENMENT

BUDDHA'S BIRTH FROM HIS MOTHER'S SIDE

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Buddha's birth
The Buddha was born about 563 B.C., though the date is a matter of some dispute, near the foothills of the Himalayas in the town of Lumbini (in present-day Nepal near the Indian border). The son of a local king, he was a Kshatriya, the Hindu caste of nobles and warriors that traced its descent to the sun. Gautama was his family name, Siddhartha, his first name.

Buddha was born in Kapilavastu, a small kingdom in the Himalayan foothills, in Lumbini in present-day Nepal near northern India. Siddhartha was a prince: the son of a king of the Shakya clan (hence the name Buddha Shakyamuni, which means "sage of the Shakya clan," by which he is often referred. Siddharatha’s father Suddhodhana was the Shakya dynasty King of the kingdom of Tilaurakot. His mother’s name was Mayadevi. Lumbini today is a vibrant place, welcoming pilgrims and visitors from all over the world.

According Buddhist legends both his conception and birth were miraculous. He was conceived when his mother, Queen Maya, had dreamed that a magnificent white elephant entered her body and her right side. This was interpreted by holy men in her court as sign that she would give birth to a great king or a spiritual leader. She gave birth to him in a standing position while grasping a tree in a roadside garden.

The Buddha was born fully developed in a a "delightful grove, with trees of every kind, like the grove of Citraratha in Indira's Paradise" and "he did not enter the world in the usual manner, he appeared like one descending from the sky...He came out of his mother's side, without causing her pain or injury. His birth was as miraculous as that of...heroes of old who were born respectively from the thigh, from the hand, the head, or the armpit."

After his birth, "with the bearing of a lion, he surveyed the four quarters, and spoke these words full of meaning for the future: 'For enlightenment I was born, for the good of all that lives. This is the last time that I have been born into this world of becoming.'" In one version the Buddha took seven steps in each cardinal direction, with lotus blossoms springing up after each step. Seven days after he was born his mother died. He was brought up by his aunt and foster-mother Mahapajapati.

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index

Young Gautama Siddhartha


Little Buddha

Once back in the palace, seven Brahman priests or a soothsayer --- depending on the version of the story --- told Siddhartha's father, that if the young prince stayed at home he would be the ruler of the world, but if he left he home he would become a Buddha. Siddhartha's father preferred he become the latter. To prevent him from becoming a spiritual leader, Siddhartha’s father kept him confined within palaces, providing him with luxuries and pleasures and shielding him from the harsh realities of the world. His father presumably thought that any contact with unpleasantness might prompt Siddhartha to seek a life of an ascetic. As a result Siddhartha grew up knowing nothing about the the ravages of poverty, disease, and even old age.

Siddhartha Siddhartha was a prince of Sakya, a kingdom in the fertile plains and foothills below the great Himalayas. He was brought up in luxury. During his youth he lived in three different palaces---one for winter, one for summer and one for the rainy season---where his father kept him entertained with beautiful dancing girls and musicians so that he would not be tempted to venture out into the world. Siddhartha, which means "He who achieves His Goal", enjoyed good health and was good at manly sports. He lived a life of luxury and didn’t leave his sumptuous palaces until he was 29.

Siddhartha was married at the age of sixteen to his cousin Yashodhara who was known as "chaste and outstanding for her beauty, modesty, and good breeding, a true Goddess of Fortune in the shape of a woman...It must be remembered that all Bodhisattvas, those beings of quite incomparable spirit, must first of all know the taste of the pleasures which the senses can give. Only then, after a son has been born to them, do they depart to the forest."

Siddhartha Witnesses Suffering


Siddhartha (Buddha) discovering sorrow

When Siddhartha finally did venture out to see the world, with his charioteer, he came upon: 1) a diseased man, 2) a senile old man, 3) a corpse and a funeral ceremony with grieving relatives; and 4) a wandering holy man. These four encounters are known as the Four Signs. He witnesses these things on four successive chariot rides outside the palace grounds. On the fourth trip, he saw a wandering holy man whose asceticism inspired him to follow a similar path in search of freedom from the suffering caused by the infinite cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]

Upon witnessing death, poverty and old age for the first time, Siddhartha was shocked that such suffering could exist in the world. "This is the end," he exclaimed, "which has been fixed for all, and yet the world forgets it fears and takes no heed!...Turn back the chariot! This is no time or place for pleasure excursions. How could an intelligent person pay no heed at a time of disaster, when he knows of his impending destruction."

Afterwards, the gods sent forth a religious mendicant who told Siddhartha that it was his mission to deliver mankind from suffering. "O Bull among men," the mendicant said, "I am a recluse who, terrified by birth and death, have adopted a homeless life to win salvation! Since all that lives is to extinction doomed, salvation from this world is what I wish and so I search for that most blessed state in which extinction is unknown." The mendicant then rose into the sky like a bird. "Then and there," Buddhist scripture report, "he intuitively perceived the and made plans to leave his palace for the homeless life."

Siddhartha Encounters Old Age

According to to 'Digha-nikaya,' XIV of 'Mahapadana suttanta': “Now the young lord Gotama, when many days had passed by, bade his charioteer make ready the state carriages, saying: 'Get ready the carriages, good charioteer, and let us go through the park to inspect the pleasaunce.' 'Yes, my lord,' replied the charioteer, and harnessed the state carriages and sent word to Gotama: 'The carriages are ready, my lord; do now what you deem fit.' Then Gotama mounted a state carriage and drove out in state into the park. [Source: From Clarence H. Hamilton, Buddhism (New York, 1952), pp. 6-11, quoting translation by E. H. Brewster, in his Life of Gotama the Buddha, pp. 15-19. See also Rhys Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, part 2 (Oxford, 1910), pp. 18 ff., which follows Brewster's translation closely, Eliade Page website]

“Now the young lord saw, as he was driving to the park, an aged man as bent as a roof gable, decrepit, leaning on a staff, tottering as he walked, afflicted and long past his prime. And seeing him Gotama said: 'That man, good charioteer, what has he done, that his hair is not like that of other men, nor his body?' 'He is what is called an aged man, my lord.' 'But why is he called aged?' 'He is called aged, my lord, because he has not much longer to live.' 'But then, good charioteer, am I too subject to old age, one who has not got past old age?'


'You, my lord, and we too, we all are of a kind to grow old; we have not got past old age.' 'Why then, good charioteer., enough of the park for today. Drive me back hence to my rooms.' 'Yea, my lord,' answered the charioteer, and drove him back. And he, going to his rooms, sat brooding sorrowful and depressed, thinking, 'Shame then verily be upon this thing called birth, since to one born old age shows itself like that !'

Thereupon the raja sent for the charioteer and asked him: 'Well, good charioteer, did the boy take pleasure in the park? Was he pleased with it?' 'No, my lord, he was not.' 'What then did he see on his drive?' (And the charioteer told the raja all.) Then the raja thought thus: We must not have Gotama declining to rule. We must not have him going forth from the house into the homeless state. We must not let what the brahman soothsayers spoke of come true. So, that these things might not come to pass, he let the youth be still more surrounded by sensuous pleasures. And thus Gotama continued to live amidst the pleasures of sense.”

Siddhartha Encounters Sickness

According to to 'Digha-nikaya,' XIV of 'Mahapadana suttanta': “Now after many days had passed by, the young lord again bade his charioteer make ready and drove forth as once before...And Gotama saw, as he was driving to the park, a sick man, suffering and very ill, fallen and weltering in his own water, by some being lifted up, by others being dressed. Seeing this, Gotama asked: 'That man, good charioteer, what has he done that his eyes are not like others' eyes, nor his voice like the voice of other men?' 'He is what is called ill, my lord.' [Source: From Clarence H. Hamilton, Buddhism (New York, 1952), pp. 6-11, Eliade Page website]


'But what is meant by ill?' 'It means, my lord, that he will hardly recover from his illness.' 'But I am too, then, good charioteer, subject to fall ill; have I not got out of reach of illness?' 'you, my lord, and we too, we are all subject to fall ill; we have not got beyond the reach of illness.' 'Why then, good charioteer, enough of the park for today. Drive me back hence to my rooms. 'Yea, my lord,' answered the charioteer, and drove him back. And he, going to his rooms, sat brooding sorrowful and depressed, thinking: Shame then verily be upon this thing called birth, since to one born decay shows itself like that, disease shows itself like that.

Thereupon the raja sent for the charioteer and asked him: 'Well, good charioteer, did the young lord take pleasure in the park and was he pleased with it?' 'No, my lord, he was not.' 'What did he see then on his drive?' (And the charioteer told the raja all.) Then the raja thought thus: We must not have Gotama declining to rule; we must not have him going forth from the house to the homeless state; we must not let what the brahman soothsayers spoke of come true. So, that these things might not come to pass, he let the young man be still more abundantly surrounded by sensuous pleasures. And thus Gotama continued to live amidst the pleasures of sense.”

Siddhartha Encounters Death

According to to 'Digha-nikaya,' XIV of 'Mahapadana suttanta': “Now once again, after many days the young lord Gotama . . . drove forth. And he saw, as he was driving to the park, a great concourse of people clad in garments of different colours constructing a funeral pyre. And seeing this he asked his charioteer: 'Why now are all those people come together in garments of different colours, and making that pile?' 'It is because someone, my lord, has ended his days.' 'Then drive the carriage close to him who has ended his days.' 'Yea, my lord,' answered the charioteer, and did so. And Gotama saw the corpse of him who had ended his days and asked: 'What, good charioteer, is ending one's days?' [Source: From Clarence H. Hamilton, Buddhism (New York, 1952), pp. 6-11, Eliade Page website]


'It means, my lord, that neither mother, nor father, nor other kinsfolk will now see him, nor will he see them.' 'But am I too then subject to death, have I not got beyond reach of death? Will neither the raja, nor the ranee, nor any other of my kin see me more, or shall I again see them?' 'You, my lord, and we too, we are all subject to death; we have not passed beyond the reach of death. Neither the raja, nor the ranee, nor any other of your kin will see you any more, nor will you see them.' 'Why then, good charioteer, enough of the park for today. Drive me back hence to my rooms.' 'Yea, my lord,' replied the charioteer, and drove him back.

And he, going to his rooms, sat brooding sorrowful and depressed, thinking: Shame verily be upon this thing called birth, since to one born the decay of life, since disease, since death shows itself like that I Thereupon the raja Questioned the charioteer as before and as before let Gotama be still more surrounded by sensuous enjoyment. And thus he continued to live amidst the_ pleasures of sense.

Siddhartha Encounters a Holy Man

According to to 'Digha-nikaya,' XIV of 'Mahapadana suttanta': Now once again, after many days . . . the lord Gotama . . . drove forth. And he saw, as he was driving to the park, a shaven-headed man, a recluse, wearing the yellow robe. And seeing him he asked the charioteer, 'That man, good charioteer, what has he done that his head is unlike other men's heads and his clothes too are unlike those of others?' 'That is what they call a recluse, because, my lord, he is one who has gone forth.' [Source: From Clarence H. Hamilton, Buddhism (New York, 1952), pp. 6-11, Eliade Page website]

'What is that, "to have gone forth"?' 'To have gone forth, my lord, means being thorough in the religious life, thorough in the peaceful life, thorough in good action, thorough in meritorious conduct, thorough in harmlessness, thorough in kindness to all creatures.' 'Excellent indeed, friend charioteer, is what they call a recluse, since so thorough in his conduct in all those respects, wherefore drive me up to that forthgone man.' 'Yea, my lord,' replied the charioteer and drove up to the recluse. Then Gotama addressed him, saying, 'You master, what have you done that your head is not as other men's heads, nor your clothes as those of other men?'


'I, my lord, am one whose has gone forth.' 'What, master, does that mean?' 'It means, my lord, being thorough in the religious life, thorough in the peaceful life, thorough in good actions, thorough in meritorious conduct, thorough in harmlessness, thorough in kindness to all creatures.' 'Excellently indeed, master, are you said to have gone forth since so thorough is your conduct in all those respects.' Then the lord Gotama bade his charioteer, saying: 'Come then, good charioteer, do you take the carriage and drive it back hence to my rooms. But I will even here cut off my hair, and don the yellow robe, and go forth from the house into the homeless state.' 'Yea, my lord,' replied the charioteer, and drove back. But the prince Gotama,. there and then cutting off his hair and donning the yellow robe, went forth from the house into the homeless state.

Now at Kapilavatthu, the raja's seat, a great number of persons, some eighty-four thousand souls, heard of what prince Gotama had done and thought: Surely this is no ordinary religious rule, this is no common going forth, in that prince Gotama himself has had his head shaved and has donned the yellow robe and has gone forth from the house into the homeless state. If prince Gotama has done this, why then should not we also? And they all had their heads shaved and donned the yellow robes, and in imitation of the Bodhisat they went forth from the house into the homeless state. So the Bodhisat went up on his rounds through the villages, towns and cities accompanied by that multitude.

Now there arose in the mind of Gotama the Bodhisat, when he was meditating in seclusion, this thought: That indeed is not suitable for me that I should live beset. 'Twere better were I to dwell alone, far from the crowd. So after a time he dwelt alone, away from the crowd. Those eightyfour thousand recluses went one way, and the Bodhisat went another way. Now there arose in the mind of Gotama the Bodhisat, when he had gone to his place and was meditating in seclusion, this thought: Verily, this world has fallen upon trouble-one is born, and grows old, and dies, and falls from one state, and springs up in another. And from the suffering, moreover, no one knows of any way of escape, even from decay and death. 0, when shall a way of escape from this suffering be made known-from decay and from death?'

Siddhartha Leaves His Family

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Buddha leaving his family
Realizing that pleasures are transitory and cannot prevent suffering, he put aside all his jewelry and fine clothing, Siddhartha renounced his rich upbringing and decided to become a monk. Leaving his wife and son at the palace, he embarked on a journey to seek the meaning of life and the ways in which humans can attain peace.

. Because he knew his father would try to stop him, he secretly left in the middle of the night and sent all his belongings back with his servant and horse. Before setting off on his quest "to win the deathless state" he looked in on his sleeping wife and child but failed to awaken them out of fear they would try to dissuade him.

The 29-year-old Siddhartha left loved ones and life of luxury behind, accompanied only his charioteer and horse. The choice to leave his family is known as the Great Renunciation or the Great Going Forth. It represented both his break from his family and his break from the world of pleasure and desire for a quest characterizes as "baffling episodes of mysticism” that were "interrupted by blinding flashes of common sense."

Siddhartha's Wandering and Search for Enlightenment

Siddhartha tried Hinduism, the predominant religion at that time, and the Jain faith. He studied under the erudite teachers Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputra who were reputed to have psychic powers. But their teachings did not satisfy him. He abandoned these beliefs because their followers practiced sacrifices and rituals beyond the understanding of common people. He then became an ascetic.

Siddhartha looked inward in his quest for knowledge. He went into the forest to seek the advice of holy men and to meditate. He spent six years as an ascetic, attempting to conquer the innate appetites for food, sex, and comfort by engaging in various yogic disciplines. In Siddhartha’s time, yoga was already an ancient way to seek inner knowledge and under- standing of universal truths.


Great Going Forth

Siddhartha learned from sages how to escape selfhood and enter the "sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception." He lived like a recluse and tried many forms of traditional asceticism. Once he meditated for so long without food that his eyes sunk so deeply into their sockets they looked like water "shining at the bottom of a deep well." During his six year period of asceticism, The Buddha said, "Because of so little nourishment, all my bones became like some withered creepers with knotted joints; my buttocks like a buffalo's hoof; my backbone protruding like a string of balls."

Self-punishment became a sort of pleasure in reverse, a kind of addiction that he needed to move beyond. Eventually near death from extreme fasting, he accepted a bowl of rice from a young girl. Once he had eaten, he had a realization that physical austerities were not the means to achieve spiritual liberation. Having recognized that extreme deprivation was not the way, he once again took food and followed the Middle Path (Majjhima Patipada'). He said: "This is not the Dharma which leads to dispassion, to enlightenment, to emancipation...Inward calm can not be maintained unless physical strength is constantly and intelligently replenished." When he returned to his normal diet "he gained the strength to win enlightenment."

The Buddha’s First Masters

The Buddha said: “Yes, I myself too, in the days before my full enlightenment, when I was but a bodhisattva, and not yet fully enlightened, - I too, being subject in myself to rebirth, decay and the rest of it, pursued what was no less subject thereto. But the thought came to me: -Why do I pursue what, like myself, is subject to rebirth and rest? Why, being myself subject thereto, should I not, with my eyes open to the perils which these things entail, pursue instead the consummate peace of Nirvana,-which knows neither rebirth nor decay, neither disease nor death, neither sorrow nor impurity? [Source: Translation by Lord Chalmers, Further Dialogues of the Buddha, I (London, 1926), pp. 115-18, Eliade Page +/]


Siddhartha with the Group of Five

“There came a time when I, being young, with a wealth of coal-black hair untouched by grey and in all the beauty of my early prime despite the wishes of my parents, who wept and lamented-cut off my hair and beard, donned the yellow robes and went forth from home to homelessness on Pilgrimage. A pilgrim now, in search of the right, and in quest of the excellent road to peace beyond compare, I came to A1ara Kalama and said — It is my wish, reverend Kalama, to lead the higher life in this your Doctrine and Rule. Stay with us, venerable sir, was his answer; my Doctrine is such that ere long an intelligent man can for himself discern, realize, enter on, and abide in, the full scope of his master's teaching. Before long, indeed very soon, I had his Doctrine by heart. So far as regards mere lip-recital and oral repetition, I could say off the (founder's) original message and the elders' exposition of it, and could profess, with others, that I knew and saw it to the full. Then it struck me that it was no Doctrine merely accepted by him on trust that Alara Ka1ama, preached, but one which he professed to have entered on and to abide in after having discerned and realized it for himself; and assuredly he had real knowledge and vision thereof. So I went to him and asked him up to what point he had for himself discerned and realized the Doctrine he had entered on and now abode in. +/

“Up to the plane of Naught, answered he. Hereupon, I reflected that Alara Kalama was not alone in possessing faith, perseverance, mindfulness, rapt concentration, and intellectual insight; for, all these were mine too. Why, I asked myself, should not I strive to realize the Doctrine which he claims to have entered on and to abide in after discerning and realizing it for himself? Before long, indeed very soon, I had discerned and realized his Doctrine for myself and had entered on it and abode therein. Then I went to him and asked him whether this was the point up to which he had discerned and realized for himself the Doctrine which he professed. He said yes; and I said that I had reached the same point for myself. It is a great thing, said he, a very great thing for us, that in you, reverend sir, we find such a fellow in the higher life. That same Doctrine which I for myself have discerned, realized, entered on, and profess,-that have you for yourself discerned, realized, entered on and abide in; and that same Doctrine which you have for yourself discerned, realized, entered on and profess,-that have I for myself discerned, realized, entered on, and profess. The Doctrine which I know, you too know; and the Doctrine which you know, I too know. As I am, so are you; and as you are, so am 1. Pray, sir, let us be joint wardens of this company! In such wise did Alara Kalama, being my master, set me, his pupil, on precisely the same footing as himself and show me great worship. But, as I bethought me that his Doctrine merely led to attaining the plane of Naught and not to Renunciation, passionlessness, cessation, peace, discernment, enlightenment and Nirvana,-I was not taken with his Doctrine but turned away from it to go my way. +/

“Still in search of the right, and in quest of the excellent road to peace beyond compare, I came to Uddaka Ramaputta and said;-It is my wish, reverend sir, to lead the higher life in this your Doctrine and Rule. Stay with us . . . vision thereof. So I went to Uddaka Ramaputta and asked him up to what point he had for himself discerned and realized the Doctrine he had entered on and now abode in. Up to the plane of neither perception or non-perception, answered he. +/

“Hereupon, I reflected that Uddaka Ramaputta was not alone in possessing faith . . . show me great worship. But, as I bethought me that his Doctrine merely led to attaining the plane of neither perception nor non-perception, and not to Renunciation, passionlessness, cessation, peace, discernment, enlightenment and Nirvana,-I was not taken with his Doctrine but turned away from it to go my way. +/

“Still in search of the right, and in quest of the excellent road to peace beyond compare, I came, in the course of an alms-pilgrimage through Magadha, to the Camp township at Uruveld and there took up my abode. Said I to myself on surveying the place:-Truly a delightful spot, with its goodly groves and clear flowing river with ghats and amenities, hard by a village for sustenance. What more for his striving can a young man need whose heart is set on striving? So there I sat me down, needing nothing further for my striving. +/

“Subject in myself to rebirth-decay-disease-death-sorrow-and impurity, and seeing peril in what is subject thereto, I sought after the consummate peace of Nirvana, which knows neither sorrow nor decay, neither disease nor death, neither sorrow nor impurity;-this I pursued, and this I won; and there arose within me the conviction, the insight, that now my Deliverance was assured, that this was my last birth, nor should I ever be reborn again.” +/


Buddha ans the Five Ascetics


Buddha Talks of his Ascetic Practices

'Majjhima-nikaya,'XII from the 'Maha-sihanada-sutra' reads: “Gotama Buddha is speaking to Sariputta, one of his favourite disciples. Aye, Sariputta, I have lived the fourfold higher life; I have been an ascetic of ascetics; loathly have I been, foremost in loathliness, scrupulous have I been, foremost in scrupulosity; solitary have I been, foremost in solitude. [Source: Translation by Lord Chalmers, “Further Dialogues of the Buddha,” I (London, 1926), pp. 53-7, Eliade Page website]

“(I) To such a pitch of asceticism have I gone that naked was I, flouting life's decencies, licking my hands after meals, never heeding when folk called to me to come or to stop, never accepting food brought to me before my rounds or cooked expressly for me, never accepting an invitation, never receiving food direct from pot or pan or within the threshold or among the faggots or pestles, never from (one only of) two people messing together, never from a pregnant woman or a nursing mother or a woman in coitu, never from gleanings (in time of famine) nor from where a dog is ready at hand or where (hungry) flies congregate, never touching flesh or spirits or strong drink or brews of grain. I have visited only one house a day and there taken only one morsel; or I have visited but two or (up to not more than) seven houses a day and taken at each only two or (up to not more than) seven morsels; I have lived on a single saucer of food a day, or on two, or (up to) seven saucers; I have had but one meal a day, or one every two days, or (so on, up to) every seven days, or only once a fortnight, on a rigid scale of rationing. My sole diet has been herbs gathered green, or the grain of wild millets and paddy, or snippets of hide, or water-plants, or the red powder round rice-grains within the husk, or the discarded scum of rice on the boil, or the flour of oil-seeds, or grass, or cow-dung.

“I have lived on wild roots and fruit, or on windfalls only. My raiment has been of hemp or of hempen mixture, of cerements, of rags from the dust-heap, of bark, of the black antelope's pelt either whole or split down the middle, of grass, of strips of bark or wood, of hair of men or animals woven into a blanket or of owl's wings. in fulfilment of my vows, I have plucked out the hair of my head and the hair of my beard, have never quitted the upright for the sitting posture, have squatted and never risen up, moving only a-squat, have couched on thorns, have gone down to the water punctually thrice before nightfall to wash (away the evil within). After this wise, in divers fashions, have I lived to torment and to torture my body-to such a length in asceticism have I gone.

“(ii) To such a length have I gone in loathliness that on my body I have accumulated the dirt and filth of years till it dropped off of itself-even as the rank growths of years fall away from the stump of a tinduka-tree. But never once came the thought to me to clean it off with my own.hands or to get others to clean it off for me;-to such a length in loathliness have I gone. (iii) To such a length in scrupulosity have I gone that my footsteps out and in were always attended by a mindfulness so vigilant as to awake compassion within me over even a drop of water lest I might harm tiny creatures in crevices;-to such a length have I gone in scrupulosity. (iv) To such a length have I gone as a solitary that when my abode was in the depths of the forest, the mere glimpse of a cowherd or neatherd or grasscutter, or of a man gathering firewood or edible roots in the forest, was enough to make me dart from wood to wood, from thicket to thicket, from dale to dale, and from hill to hill,-in order that they might not see me or I them. As a deer at the sight of man darts away over hill and dale, even so did I dart away at the mere glimpse of cowherd, neatherd, or what not, in order that they might not see me or I them;-to such a length have I gone as a solitary.


ascetics Sumedha and Dipankara (former incarnations of the Buddha)


“When the cowherds had driven their herds forth from the byres, up I came on all fours to find a subsistence on the droppings of the young milch-cows. So long as my own dung and urine held out, on that I have subsisted. So foul a filth-eater was I. I took up my abode in the awesome depths of the forest, depths so awesome that it was reputed that none but the passion-less could venture in without his hair standing on end. When the coil season brought chill wintry nights, then it was that, in the dark half of the months when snow was falling, I dwelt by night in the open air and in the dank thicket by day. But when there came the last broiling month of summer before the rains, I made my dwelling under the baking sun by day and in the stifling thicket by night. Then there flashed on me these verses, never till then uttered by any: Now scorched, now froze, in forest dread, alone, / naked and fireless, set upon his quest,/ the hermit battles purity to win. / In a charnel ground I lay me down with charred bones for pillow. When the cowherds' boys came along, they spat and staled upon me, pelted me with dirt and stuck bits of wood into my ears. Yet I declare that never did I let an evil mood against them arise within me.-So poised in equanimity was I.

“Some recluses and Brahmins there are who say and hold that purity cometh by way of food, and accordingly proclaim that they live exclusively on jujube-fruits, which, in one form or other, constitute their sole meat and drink. Now I can claim to have lived on a single jujube-fruit a day. If this leads you to think that this fruit was larger in those days, you would err; for, it was precisely the same size then that it is today. When I was living on a single fruit a day, my body grew emaciated in the extreme; because I ate so little, my members, great and small, grew like the knotted joints of withered creepers; like a buffalo's hoof were my shrunken buttocks; like the twists in a rope were my spinal vertebrae; like the crazy rafters of a tumble-down roof, that start askew and aslant, were my gaunt ribs; like the starry gleams on water deep down and afar in the depths of a well, shone my gleaming eyes deep down and afar in the depths of their sockets; and as the rind of a cut gourd shrinks and shrivels in the heat, so shrank and shriveled the scalp of my head,-and all because I ate so little. If I sought to feel my belly, it was my backbone which I found in my grasp; if I sought to feel my backbone, I found myself grasping my belly, so closely did my belly cleave to my backbone;-and all because I ate so little. If for ease of body I chafed my limbs, the hairs of my body fell away under my hand, rotted at their roots;-and all because I ate so little. Other recluses and Brahmins there are who, saying and holding that purity cometh by way of food, proclaim that they live exclusively on beans or sesamum rice-as their sole meat and drink. Now I can claim to have lived on a single bean a day- on a single sesamum seed a day-or a single grain of rice a day; and [the result was still the same]. Never did this practice or these courses or these dire austerities bring me to the ennobling gifts of super-human knowledge and insight. And why?-Because none of them lead to that noble understanding which, when won, leads on to Deliverance and guides him who lives up to it onward to the utter extinction of all ill.”

Buddha Becomes a Yoga Master by Practicing the Most Severe Form of Asceticism


emacited Buddha

The Buddha says in 'Majjhima-nikaya,' XXXVI in the 'Maha-saccaka-sutra': “Thought I then to myself:-Come, let me, with teeth clenched and with tongue pressed against my palate, by sheer force of mind restrain, coerce, and dominate my heart. And this I did, till the sweat streamed from my armpits. just as a strong man, taking a weaker man by the head or shoulders, restrains and coerces and dominates him, even so did 1, with teeth clenched and with tongue pressed against my palate, by sheer force of mind restrain, coerce, and dominate my heart, till the sweat streamed from my armpits. Resolute grew my perseverance which never quailed; there was established in me a mindfulness which knew no distraction,-though my body was sore distressed and afflicted, because I was harassed by these struggles as I painfully struggled on.Yet even such unpleasant feelings as then arose did not take possession of my mind. [Source: Translation by Lord ChaImers, Further Dialogues of the, Buddha, I (London, 1926), pp. 17.4-7, Eliade Page website]

“Thought I to myself: Come, let me pursue the Ecstasy that comes from not breathing. So I stopped breathing, in or out, through mouth and nose; and then great was the noise of the air as it passed through my ear-holes, like the blast from a smith's bellows. Resolute grew my perseverance . . . did not take possession of my mind. Thought I to myself: -Come, let me pursue further the Ecstasy that comes from not breathing. So I stopped breathing, in or out, through mouth and nose and ears; and then violent winds wracked my head, as though a strong man were boring into my skull with the point of a sword. Resolute grew my perseverance . . . did not take possession of my mind.

“Thought I to myself: -Come, let me pursue still further the Ecstasy that comes from not breathing. So I kept on stopping all breathing, in or out, through mouth and nose and ears; and then violent pains attacked my head, as though a strong man had twisted a leather thong round my head. Resolute grew my perseverance . . . did not take possession of my mind. Thought I to myself: -Come, let me go on pursuing the Ecstasy that comes from not breathing. So I kept on stopping breathing, in or out, through mouth and nose and ears; and then violent winds pierced my inwards through and through,-as though an expert butcher or his man were hacking my inwards with sharp cleavers. Resolute grew my perseverance . . . did not take possession of my mind.

“Thought I to myself: — Come, let me still go on pursuing the Ecstasy that comes from not breathing. So I kept on stopping all breathing, in or out, through mouth and nose and cars; and then there was a violent burning within me,-as though two strong men, taking a weaker man by both arms, were to roast and burn him up in a fiery furnace. Resolute grew my perseverance . . . did not take possession of my mind. At the sight of me, some gods said I was dead; others said I was not dead but dying; while others again said that I was an Arahat and that Arahats lived like that ! Thought I to myself: Come, let me proceed to cut off food altogether. Hereupon, gods came to me begging me not so to do, or else they would feed me through the pores with heavenly essences which would keep me alive. If, thought I to myself, while I profess to be dispensing with all food whatsoever, these gods should feed me all the time through the pores with heavenly essences which keep me alive, that would be imposture on my part. So I rejected their offers, peremptorily.

“Thought I to myself:-Come, let me restrict myself to little tiny morsels of food at a time, namely the liquor in which beans or vetches, peas or pulse, have been boiled. I rationed myself accordingly, and my body grew emaciated in the extreme. My members, great and small, grew like the knotted joints of withered creepers . . . (etc., as in Sutra XIII) . . . rotted at their roots; and all because I ate so little. Thought I to myself:-Of all the spasms of acute and severe pain that have been undergone through the ages past or will be undergone through the ages to come-or are now being undergone-by recluses or brahmins, mine are pre-eminent; nor is there aught worse beyond. Yet, with all these severe austerities, I fail to transcend ordinary human limits and to rise to the heights of noblest understanding and vision. Could there be another path to Enlightenment?


Buddha's renunciation

“A memory came to me of how once, seated in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree on the lands of my father the Shakyan, I, divested of pleasures of sense and of wrong states of mind, entered upon, and abode in, the First Ecstasy, with all its zest and satisfactions state bred of inward aloofness but not divorced from observation and reflection. Could this be the path to Enlightenment? In prompt response to this memory, my consciousness told me that here lay the true path to Enlightenment. Thought I to myself:-Am I afraid of a bliss which eschews pleasures of sense and wrong states of mind?-And my heart told me I was not afraid. Thought I to myself: -It is no easy matter to attain that bliss with a body so emaciated. Come, let me take some solid food, rice and junket; and this I ate accordingly. With me at the time there were the Five Almsmen, looking for me to announce to them what truth I attained; but when I took the rice and junket-, they left me in disgust, saying that luxuriousness had claimed me and that, abandoning the struggle, I had reverted to luxuriousness. Having thus eaten solid food and regained strength, I entered on, and abode in, the First Ecstasy.-Yet, such pleasant feelings as then arose in me did not take possession of my mind; nor did they as I successively entered on, and abode in, the Second, Third, and Fourth Ecstasies.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia, Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org , “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); “ National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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