Gautama’s Journey To Enlightenment

At the age of 29, Siddhartha Gautama left behind all worldly attachments and possessions to begin his search for enlightenment. Following the practice of the time he became a wandering “holy man” begging for his food and finding shelter wherever he could. As was the custom he sought out a guru, or teacher, to help him on his quest. Early on he was joined by five others also seeking enlightenment.

Their first teacher taught a meditation leading to achieving a level described as “a state of Nothingness.” Although he mastered this path, Gautama realized it did not free him from the suffering of old age, sickness and death. He then moved on to another teacher whose system was the development of an advanced form of deep concentration. Once again, he mastered this technique but did not find the answer he was seeking.

At this point, Gautama and his companions decided to try to find their own way unaided by any teacher. They choose the path of self-mortification, the denial of even the most basic needs. Slowly they diminished their intake of nourishment until they had become extremely gaunt. All throughout this time, Gautama continued a practice of deep meditation. For six years, he continued this practice until he realized it was not leading him to enlightenment. One day he collapsed. A shepherd found him and nursed him back to health. Upon his return, his companions shunned him. They perceived him as being weak and insincere. Gautama then went off on his own to continue his search.

Legend tells of Gautama sitting beneath a banyan tree when a local maiden, struck by his radiance and peacefulness, brought him a bowl of milk rice, a rich mixture of cream and rice. Gautama accepted this offering and fully nourished he was ready for the final stage of his search. Later that evening Gautama sat beneath a pippal tree, now known as the Bodhi tree, determined to find his answer. He entered a deep trance, lasting seven days, during which time all the worldly temptations confronted him. He moved through stages of spiritual ecstasy and the recalling of previous forms of existence. He pondered the nature of defilement, its causes and how it can be destroyed. Through this process he rid himself of all sensual desires, fear of sickness, old age and death and worldly delusion. He now understood clearly how to overcome the suffering of human existence. He had attained enlightenment.

A dilemma now faced him. Should keep this knowledge to himself, and lead a life of radiant happiness, or should share he this path with others? Gautama Buddha chose the latter and for the next 45 years, he traveled throughout India sharing the teachings with all that wanted to hear. He delivered his first sermon at Deer Park near Benares. This sermon is known as “The Turning of the Wheel of Truth.” He spoke of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, the basic teachings common to all Buddhist traditions.