This 5-part series consists of Rev. Dr. Jăbō Prajñā’s lecture notes for a series of talks she is giving on Thursdays at Buddhamouse, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. For a more detailed biography of the Buddha, we recommend Buddha (Penguin Lives Biographies) by Karen Armstrong.
Siddhârtha begged and slept under trees. Until some of King Bimbisara’s men recognized him as King Śuddhodana’s son. They took him to Bimbisara, who told him to go home. Siddhârtha said he couldn’t; he was seeking. Bimbisara was so impressed, he offered to let Siddhârtha take over his kingdom. Siddhârtha still said no, but that he would come back and teach once he found the answer to his question.
Siddhârtha’s first teacher was Ananda Coloma. Siddhârtha learned so fast that Ananda Coloma asked him to be his lineage holder. Siddhârtha said no, he was still searching.
His second teacher was the yoga teacher Udrapa Rajapudra. Siddhârtha stayed longer this time, mastering the teachings. Again he was asked to be the lineage holder, and again he said no.
Siddhârtha tried several other teachers and eventually decided that teachers don’t have the answer, and to try asceticism with five old friends: Kaundinya, Bhadrika, Vashpa, Mahanaman, and Ashvagit. They competed with each other to push one another.
As Siddhârtha got stricter, he grew weaker. He was nearly washed away in a river while bathing. He remembered sitting under a rose-apple tree on the first day of planting as a child; his father was there, he’d felt a connection to the earth, and had experienced deep meditation, peace, and happiness.
He realized that the middle was is the path. He’d lived at both extremes and neither had worked. Meditation was the route! His friends saw this as slacking and, vowing never to speak to him again, left him.
He decided to eat something. A village woman named Sujātā, wearing a dark blue dress, saw his fall in the river. She offered him rice milk, the closest thing to mother’s milk. He accepted it, and the feminine, back into this life.
Siddhârtha started eating again and felt rested. After recovering in the home of Sujātā and her husband, he decided to meditate until he got his answer. After the heat of the day was passed, he crossed the river. There he met a grass cutter and asked for a bunch of grass to make a seat. With that, he sat under the bodhi tree, vowing not to get up until he reached enlightenment or died.
Mara appeared and said, “That’s my seat.” Siddhârtha replied that it was not Mara’s seat, but his own. Mara countered, “By what right?”
Siddhârtha answered, “By my work as a Bodhisattva.”
“Who’s your witness?” Mara asked.
Siddhârtha said, “The earth.” He reached down and touched the earth, and the earth goddess reached up and touched her fingertips to his. Then she came up from the ground and shook the world in an earthquake.
Siddhârtha continued to sit in meditation, so Mara sent his daughters. This represents the sexual desire in the future Buddha’s mind. He neither grasped after them nor pushed them away; he just sat. Mara asked for help from the god of love. The god pulled out his bow made of humming bees and shot the arrow of desire at Siddhârtha’s heart. But it fell short.
Mara sent his warriors after Siddhârtha, but still he continued to sit.
During the First Watch of the night, Siddhârtha saw suffering arising. The watcher in his mind opened and he saw the interconnectedness of all things, the 12-Link Chain of Dependent Origination.
During the Second Watch, the night went silent. He saw the universe as a mirror, and beings being born and passing away according to their karma. He saw causality. Siddhârtha relinquished the watcher and his mind opened. He turned his mind inward to look at his question.
“When this is present, that comes to be. From the arising of this, that arises. When this is absent, that does not come to be.”
Siddhârtha asked “Who is it that senses?” But then he realized there is a better question: “With what as a condition does sensation occur?” Instead of asking, “Who is it that is reborn?” ask, “With what as a condition does birth occur?”
During the Third Watch of the night, Siddhârtha realized that there was a way out of suffering. He understood how dependent arising can be a cause of liberation.
During the Fourth Watch, he realized that the way out was what came to be called the Noble 8-Fold Path.
At dawn, seeing all of his past rebirths, Siddhârtha saw the last traces of ignorance. As the first star of the morning came out, he saw the underlying truth of reality, the way things are; and through that realization, he was liberated.
Now known as the Buddha, the Awakened One, he thought his approach was too alien to teach. He wandered for six weeks before the deva Samapati asked him to teach in order to save others. The Buddha had been waiting for someone to ask him to teach.
The Buddha went to the Deer Park at Sarnath, a hangout for yogis and seekers. Seven weeks after his enlightenment, he ran into this five friends and taught them the Four Noble Truths and the 8-Fold Path.
Refuge was the first Buddhist ceremony. The Buddha’s friend Condinya, a Brahman, was the first of the Buddha’s followers and the first to take ordination. “Live the holy life in order to completely end suffering.” His other four friends joined soon after and became the nucleus of the sangha. All of them attained Arhatship.