The story of the Buddha (cont.)
One night — as the myth goes, on the same day his wife had given birth to his first son — while everyone was asleep, he left the palace on his horse. Many miles from the city, he stopped at the edge of the forest and there he removed his princely garments, replaced them with the stitched robes of an aesthetic, cut his hair and his beard, and entered the forest seeking a way to deliverance.
At the times there were many systems of philosophy and their schools of meditation. The young seeker went to the best-known teachers. He mastered their philosophies, he practiced their forms of meditation to the highest point.
His teachers, recognizing his attainment, offered to place him on a level with themselves and share the leadership of their communities, but Siddhartha refused and left their orders.
What did he find deficient in these systems of meditation? He recognized that these forms focused exclusively on concentration, samadhi, rather than panna, wisdom. Yes, they led to higher states of consciousness, to rapturous bliss, to stillness and calm of the mind, to deep stages of absorption. But they did not lead to insight into truth, to awakening, to enlightenment, and therefore they were inadequate to bring about the state of liberation.
So Gotama, the bodhisattva, abandoned these teachers and their systems and threw himself deeper into the forest in order to enter upon a new path, the path of self-mortification.
At the time he was accompanied by five ascetics, who gathered around him, willing to serve him and attend on him, believing that if there was anyone who was going to reach supreme enlightenment it was this determined aesthetic, this former prince.
However the bodhisattva found that all of these austerities only proved futile. They didn’t lead to any enlightenment, to any state of higher wisdom. They led only to the wasting of the body and the weakening of the mental faculties.
He understood that for the mind to function properly at full capacity, the body had to be strong and healthy, and therefore he decided to abandon this course of self-mortification and to resume taking food again. And so he went to gather alms, he began to eat until he had regained his strength and vigor. And when this happened the five ascetics became disillusioned with him. Thinking he had abandoned his spiritual exertions and was reverting to a life of luxury, they left him all alone.
Then, when he was alone, the approach of enlightenment drew near.
In the texts this struggle is depicted allegorically as a battle with Mara, the personification of all desire and attachment, the tempter, the evil one.
But the bodhisattva then reached down his hand and touched the ground saying “The earth shall be my witness.”
Then the bodhisattva entered into deeper and deeper states of meditation in which his mind became perfectly calm and still. Then with his mind calm and concentrated, the realizations of wisdom begin to unfold.
These took place over the three watches of the night.
In the first watch of the night, he recollected all the of his former lives. He saw himself again and again through the innumerable eons going through the stages of birth, growth, aging and death. He saw himself with different names, different forms, with different relations. He sees everything changing, transient, mutable. The dreamlike quality of all forms became evident to him, as he went through one life drama after another, seeing how all they all change and all fall away.
In the second watch of the night he developed the divine eye with which he was able to look out upon the world and see the rise and passing away of all sentient beings, He saw how beings take birth according to their karma, how they reap the fruits of their good and evil actions. He saw the world system evolve and dissolve, arise and pass away And he understood the universal laws at work beneath the surface manifestation of things.
And then in the third watch of the night he penetrated the deepest truths of the dhamma. He discovered the law of dependent arising – patticasamuppada. He developed vipassana, insight into the real characteristics of all things. And he arrived at the realization of the Four Noble Truths.
At the end of the night his mind was liberated from all the screens of ignorance, and he sat beneath the bodhi tree no longer a bodhisattva – a seeker of enlightenment – but now a finder of enlightenment, a Sammasambuddha, a perfectly enlightened one.