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To seek enlightenment, a Prince foregoes his opulent lifestyle and family. The legend of Gautama’s search for enlightenment and nirvana is one of the most inspiring stories of our time.
An Emperor or a Renunciate?
When Raja Shuddhodana and Mayadevi were blessed with Prince Siddharth – Gautama Buddha on the sacred day of Vaishakh Purnima at Lumbini, it was prophesied that he would grow up to be either a powerful Chakravarti (Emperor) or a sannyasi (renunciate) who would soothe thousands of lost souls. The monarch was determined on keeping his beloved son from giving up the world. He lavished the prince with every conceivable luxury and amenity. In due time, the prince married Princess Yashodhara, the daughter of the Koliyan king.
Rahul, their son, was born soon after. Siddharth went out to tour his kingdom and meet his subjects when he was twenty-nine years old. He saw the ‘four signs,’ as described in Buddhist texts, which are witnesses to the world’s impermanence. He saw a monk, an old man, a diseased man, and a dead man. And a vision of dukkha, or world-sorrow, appeared in his mind. “What is the way out of the world sorrow?” he kept asking himself. The unanswerable question led him to renounce worldly life, leave his wife and son and set out in quest of the Truth of life.
Gautama practised severe austerity for six years. He didn’t eat a grain of rice for several days in a row. His muscular, athletic body had been reduced to a skeleton. However, it was futile. The Buddha then built a seat for himself by scattering a handful of grass on the ground beneath the Bodhi tree. This time he was more determined than ever and vowed to not give up until he attained enlightenment.
The Middle Path
Then he had a vision with a revelation for him, which proved as a spiritual catalyst for him. After the vision, he understood that he had tortured his body and pushed it to its extreme. He decided to then follow the middle path. When he tried to get up to take a bath in the river, he realized that he was too weak to get up. Sujata, a lovely young lady, stood in front of him, bringing a golden bowl filled with sweetened milk and rice.
She offered the bowl to the weakened ascetic when she saw him. Buddha graciously accepted her offering. After many days of hunger, this was his first meal. It reinvigorated him and gave him new strength. He recognised that torturing his body was not the road to truth and enlightenment.
Gautama had yearned for enlightenment for a great many years. He discovered the answer to his question later that night. What is the source of your grief? Desire is the source of sadness. Giving up all desires and adopting Right Living is the antidote for sadness. The Buddha was born under a tree and acquired his illumination there as well. We still refer to this tree as the Bodhi Tree.
Life must be lived simply. It is the constant desires and attractions that deviate us from the true meaning of life and hinder our happiness. The more we have, the more we want. The cycle never ends, but it is essential to understand that we complicate our lives by setting worthless goals, such as – if I have this only then can I be happy.