HIs next step was to join a group of ascetics. Wondering if his physical body was keeping him from reaching enlightenment he set about taming his physical drives and impulses. He ate so little, just six grains of rice a day during a fast, that he finally collapsed. If he hadnt had companions with him, to feed him some warm rice gruel, he may well have died. Years later Guatama would describe his physical condition during the time he spent with the ascetics, When I thought I would touch the skin of my stomach I actually took hold of my spine.
Although Guatama reached the conclusion that enlightenment through
deprivation and self abuse was impossible, his time as an ascetic gave him the first tenet of his coming philosophy: The Principle of the Middle Way. Give the body what it needs to function optimally, but no more.Guatama devoted the final phase of his search for enlightenment to a combination of rigorous thought and mystic concentration along the lines of the raja yoga. One evening near the town of Gaya in northeast India, he sat down under a peepul tree that has come to be known as the Bo Tree, short for bodhi or enlightenment, vowing not to rise until enlightenment was his.
Sensing the possibility of his success Mara, the Evil One, rushed to the spot to distract Guatama. He appeared first as Kama, the God of Desire, tempting Guatama with three beautiful women. He then appeared as Mara, the Lord of Death, bringing hurricanes, and showers of flaming rock, but Guatama had so emptied himself of his physical body that the stones Mara used against him found no target to hit and turned to flower petals when they entered his field of concentration. Mara then challenged Guatamas right to even attempt
enlightenment. In response to this challenge, Guatama touched the earth with his right fingertip. The earth responded thundering, I bear you witness! With a hundred thousand roars Maras army fled and the gods of heaven descended in rapture covering Guatama with garlands and perfumes.
While the Bo tree rained down red blossoms, Guatamas meditation deepened until his mind pierced the bubble of the universe and shattered the dream world of human existence. The Great Awakening had come. Guatamas being was transformed and he became the Buddha, the Enlightened One, the One Who is Awake.
Mara waited for him with one last test. Appealing to the reasoning skills that had always been Guatamas strong point. Mara asked the new Buddha how he ever hoped to communicate the meaning and magnitude of his experience to the ordinary humans surrounding him? Yes, he had reached enlightenment, but what would be the point if no one could understand his message? Buddha answered, There will be some who will understand, and Mara was banished from his life for ever.
Siddhartha Guatamas path to enlightenment took six years. The ministry of the Buddha lasted forty-five years. At the age of eighty, around the year 483 B.C.E., the Buddha died of dysentery after eating a meal of dried bears meat. The meal had been served to him by Cunda the smith. Realizing that Cunda may feel responsible for causing his death, the Buddha had the man brought to his deathbed. Buddha explained to the smith that of all the meals he had eaten in his life, only two stood out as having blessed him. The first was the meal that brought him the strength to meet the challenges under the Bo Tree. The second was the one that was opening the final gates to nirvana. He then thanked Cunda for the exceptional gift he had given him.
In his farewell to his followers and companions, the Buddha spoke two
sentences that continue to guide those on his path.
“All compound things decay. Work out your own salvation with diligence.
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