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A Young People's
Life of the Buddha
After a short period of quiet reflection in a grove near the river bank where he had parted from Channa, the young Prince who was now only a wandering beggar, turned his steps southward towards the Magadha country, and in due time reached the chief city of that country, Rajagaha by name, where the King of the country, Bimbisara, had his principal palace. Here, with begging bowl in hand, Siddhattha went round the streets of the city, begging his food from door to door like any other religious mendicant. But he did not look like a common beggar. Those who saw him pass along could see by his very look that he was no ordinary religious mendicant, and they put into his bowl the best food they had.
When he had gathered enough, the prince-beggar left the city again, and in a retired spot outside the walls, sat down to eat what he had collected. But O, what a meal it was! Never in his life before had he, a prince by birth, and accustomed to the best of food served up in the most attractive and tempting way, had such a mixed mess as this set before him. His stomach simply turned in disgust at the sight of that bowl full of scraps and portions of all kinds of different foods, all flung together into one dish. He simply could not bring himself to eat the repulsive mixture. He wanted to throw it away and eat nothing rather than such a mess.
And then he stopped and began to think: and this is what he thought and said to himself:
"Siddhattha, you were born of a good family, in a king's house, where you got everything good to eat that you could wish, the very best of rice, the richest and tastiest of curries, in all abundance. But in spite of this you made up your mind deliberately to live the life of a homeless beggar, and fare the same as every such beggar fares on what-ever was given you by the charitable. And you carried out your resolve: you became a homeless beggar: yet now, what are you doing? You do not want to eat the food proper for homeless beggars to eat -- the food that is given them, whatever it may be. Do you think that is a right thing to do?"
In these and in other words the prince-beggar reasoned with himself, chiding and scolding himself for his daintiness and fastidiousness in the matter of food, so unfitting in a beggar. And in the end, after a struggle with himself, he succeeded in overcoming his repugnance to the food lying in his bowl before him, and he ate it up without further ado, and never afterwards had any more trouble about eating what was given him to eat.
Meanwhile, the people of Rajagaha, King Bimbisara's city, were all talking about the new religious mendicant who had been begging in their streets that morning, he had looked so different from the common run of religious mendicants, so refined, so noble looking! The talk even reached the ears of King Bimbisara in his palace, and he sent his servants to make enquiries and find out who the stranger mendicant could be. Very soon his messengers learned all about Siddhattha, and came back and told their master that he was the eldest son of the King of the Sakyas, the heir to the throne; and that he had left everything behind him in order to become a beggar and try to discover if he could, some way that would lead men beyond the reach of old age and sickness and death. As his servants told King Bimbisara this, he listened to them very much perplexed. Never before had he heard of a religious mendicant looking for anything so strange, so extraordinary. But it sounded great and grand, and worthy of a prince's looking for it and perhaps is was not so impossible as it seemed, he thought. So he sent his men to ask the prince-beggar to stay in his city, and and he would provide a place for him to live in, and food, and everything else he required for his comfort; and he could settle down there and study and meditate and carry on his search. But Siddhattha declined the King's kind offer, saying that he could not stay still anywhere until he had found what he sought. After he had found it, perhaps then he might be able to stay in one place. So then the King made him promise that when he had found what he was seeking, he would come and stay in his city and let him and his people know about it first.
So the prince-beggar left Rajagaha behind him, and passed upon his wandering way into the open country towards a hill on which a great many hermits were living from whom he thought he might be able to learn something about life and death and how all the ills connected with them might be overcome.
And as he went along the road, he saw a cloud of dust coming down the mountain side, and heard the patter of feet; and then out of the dust there came into sight a herd of sheep and goats making their way to the plain. But behind them all, painfully limping along, came a little lamb, its leg hurt, and bleeding, but still trying hard to keep up with its mates. And when Siddhattha saw it, and noticed how anxious about it the mother sheep was, his heart was filled with pity.
He picked up the little creature and walked alongside the rest of the sheep carrying the lame lamb in his arms. "Poor little thing," he said, speaking to the lamb, "I was going to join the hermits on the hills, but it is at least as good a deed to ease your little heart of suffering as to sit up there with these praying hermits."
Then he saw the men who were driving the herd and he asked them where they were going and why they were driving their flocks away from pasture in the heat of the day instead of in the cool of the evening. They answered him that they had been ordered to bring a hundred sheep and a hundred goats down to the city during the day in order that they might be on hand and ready for the great sacrifice that was going to be offered that night by the King. "I will go with you," said the prince-beggar; and he walked along with them and their flock, still carrying the lame lamb in his arms.
And now, as he came near to the riverside, a young woman came up to him, and after saluting him with great respect, said to him: "O Reverend Lord, have pity on me and tell me where I shall be able to find that seed which keeps away death."
Siddhattha looked at her as if he would ask her what she meant.
The woman noticed his look, and went on:
"Do you not remember, Lord? Yesterday I brought you my little son who was sick, so sick that he was near to dying, and asked your reverence if there was no medicine at all that would keep him alive, for he is my only son. And your reverence said yes, there was something that might save him from dying, if I could get it -- a tola's weight of black mustard seed got from a house in which no one ever had died."
"And did you get that seed, sister?" said Siddhattha with a tender, wistful smile.
"Nay, Lord, I did not," said the woman sadly. "I went round all our village to every house asking for black mustard seed, and everybody was very willing to give me some, but when I told them that I only wanted it from them if no one had ever died in their house, they said that that was a queer thing for me to say, for everybody knew there had been a death in their house, and sometimes more then one death. Some said a slave had died with them. In some houses it was the father who had died; in some the son; in some the mother; in some the daughter. But in every home, every house, some one had died. I could not get my seed. O Reverend Sir, tell me where I may get that seed before my little son dies. Are there no homes at all where death has not been?"
"You have said it," Siddhattha answered the now weeping woman. "In all the wide world there are no homes where death has not been. Now you have found this out for yourself. Now you know that yours is not the only grief in the world. Now you know with your own knowledge that all the world weeps along with you for some dear one dead. Go home and bury your child. As for me, sister, I go to find if I can, what will put an end to your and all men's sorrow; and if I find it, I will come again and tell it to you."
So Siddhattha passed on his way and entered the city along with the herd of animals that were going to be killed, and still went with them right up to the palace where the sacrifice was to be made. Here the King was standing with the priests all round him chanting their hymns to the gods; and soon the altar fires were lit and the priests made ready to kill the animals that had now arrived. But just as the chief priest was about to plunge his knife into the throat of the first goat that had been picked for the sacrifice, Siddhattha stepped forward and stopped him. "No, Maharaja,' he said to King Bimbisara, "do not let the priest strike that poor goat." And before any one knew what he was going to do, he untied the rope of grass with which it was fastened, and let it go back to its mates. And no one, not even the King nor the chief priest, thought of trying to stop him from doing it, so great and noble did he look as he set the goat free and allowed it to run back to the rest of its fellows.
Then the Prince-beggar began to speak to the King and the priests and all who had gathered there to see the great sacrifice of blood, about what a wonderful thing life is; how anybody can destroy it, but how impossible it is for any one to restore it once it has been destroyed. Every creature that lives, so he told those round him, is fond of its life, fears to die, just as much as men do. Why then should men use their power over these poor brothers of theirs only to rob them of what man himself is most fond of -- the wonderful thing, life. If men wish to receive mercy, he said, they ought to show mercy. If men kill, then according to the law that rules in the world, they will be killed. And what kind of gods, he asked them, can they be who are pleased with and take delight in blood? Certainly not good gods, he said. Rather they must be demons to take pleasure in suffering and death. No, he ended, if men wish to taste happiness themselves in the hereafter, they must not cause unhappiness to any living creature, even the meanest, here in this world. Those who sow the seed of unhappiness, of pain and suffering, will certainly have to reap a full-grown crop of the same in the future.
In this way did Siddhattha speak to the King and the priests and people of Rajagaha, and did it so gently and kindly, and yet so powerfully, that the minds and hearts of the King and the priests were quite changed. There and then the King issued an order that henceforth throughout the whole of his Kingdom there were to be no more sacrifices in which living creatures were deprived of life. After this day, everybody in his realm, King and priests and people alike, were to offer to the gods only such gifts as did not involve the taking of any living creature's life. They were only to offer as sacrifices to gods, flowers and fruits and cakes, and other similarly bloodless offerings.
And now once more King Bimbisara begged Siddhattha to stay in his kingdom and teach him and his people the good way of kindliness and pity and compassion towards everything that has life. The prince-beggar thanked him for his kind offer but told him that he had not yet found what he was seeking, and until he had found it, he could not rest, but must still go on searching for it everywhere among all the wise men of India, in case any of them knew or in any way could help him in his search.
* * *
In those days in ancient India there were very, many different teachers of religion, the same as there are now, who took pupils and taught these pupils all they themselves knew. One of these religious teachers, well known for his knowledge and attainments, was called Alara Kalama, and to this teacher Siddhattha now went in order to learn what he had to teach. And Siddhattha stayed with Alara Kalama a long time and studied under him and practiced the practices his master taught him so diligently that at length he had learned and practiced everything his master knew and practiced. And his master Alara Kalama thought so highly of him and of his great ability that one day he said to him: "Now you know everything I know. Whether you teach my doctrine or whether I teach it, it is all the same. You are the same as I: I am the same as you. There is no difference between us. Stay with me and take my place as teacher to my disciples along with me."
"But have you nothing more you can teach me?" said Siddhattha. "Can you not teach me the way to get beyond the reach of life and death?"
"No," said Alara Kalama. "That is a thing I do not know myself, so how can I teach it to you? I do not believe that anybody in the whole world knows that."
Alara Kalama only knew what he had already taught Siddhattha -- the way to a state of consciousness called "the realm of neither perception nor nonperception," which was a very high state of consciousness, but one which does not save the man who reaches it from the necessity of being born, and therefore of growing old, and falling ill, and eventually dying, over and over again. So, very much disappointed, Siddhattha left his master Alara Kalama, and went away again to wander this way and that throughout the country, looking for some one who knew and could teach him more than he had learned from Alara Kalama.
And after a time he came to hear of another famous teacher of the name of Uddaka, who was said by everybody to possess great knowledge and powers. So Siddhattha now went to this Uddaka and became his pupil and diligently studied and practiced under him until as with Alara Kalama, he was as clever and learned as his master, and knew and practiced all that his master knew and practiced. And Uddaka also, just like Alara Kalama, was so pleased with Siddhattha's quickness and ability, that he also wanted him to stay with him, and along with him become the leader and teacher of his band of disciples. And Siddhattha asked him the same question that he had asked of Alara Kalama. He asked him if he had no more to teach him, if he could not teach him how to overcome birth and death and all the disagreeable things connected with the same. But Uddaka was in the same position as Alara Kalama in this matter. He did not know how men could get out of the round of birth and death altogether, and had never heard of any one who did know such a thing. So disappointed once more, Siddhattha took leave of Uddaka too, and made up his mind that he would not go to any more teachers to ask about what he wanted to know but henceforth would try to find it out for himself, by his own labor and efforts.
Now it was quite a common thing then in India, as indeed it still is to-day, for those men who leave their homes and follow a religious life to imagine that by going without food and making their bodies uncomfortable and miserable in a number of other ways, that they would earn the right to a long period of peace and happiness hereafter in the world of the gods. They thought that if only a man made himself unhappy enough here, he would make sure of being happy hereafter; and that the more unhappy he made himself now, the more happy he would be in the future. And they carried out this belief of theirs in actual practice just as many of them still do in India to-day.
Some of them reduced the quantity of food they ate, little by little, day after day, until at last they were eating hardly anything at all, so that their poor bodies became mere skin and bones. Some practiced standing on one leg all the time until it turned stiff and lifeless with the continual strain. Others held one arm up in the air all the time until it withered and dried up through the blood not flowing into it properly in that unnatural position. Others, again, held their fists tightly clenched, never letting them loose, until the nails at the ends of their fingers actually grew into the palms of their hands, and through the flesh, and out at the backs of their hands! Others never lay down at night except on a bed of thorns, or else on a board with sharp nails all over it, their points sticking upwards.
And Siddhattha, because he was anxious and determined to find out what he wanted to know, and did not care how much trouble and pain he had to go through if only at last he might succeed, did very much the same as these other ascetics who were seeking religious truth. He did not know any better way than to do just as the others did. He honestly hoped and believed that if only he tortured and tormented his body enough, at last as reward he would obtain enlightenment of mind.
Here is part of the story of what he did in those days, as he told it himself in after years to one of his foremost disciples, the Thera Sariputta.
"I practiced the holding in of my breath," said the Buddha to Sariputta, "until it made a great roaring in my ears, and gave me a pain in my head as if some one was boring into it with a sharp sword, or lashing me over the head with a leather whip. In my body also, I suffered pains as if a butcher were ripping me up with a knife, or some one had flung me into a pit of red-hot coals.
"And then I practiced loneliness. On the nights of the new moon and of the full moon, I went out to lonely places among the trees where the dead lay buried, and stayed there all the night through hearing the leaves rustling and the twigs dropping when a breeze blew, with my hair all standing on end with fright. When a bird came and lighted on a bough, or a deer or other animal came running past, I shook with terror, for I did not know what it was that was coming up to me in the dark. But I did not run away. I made myself stay there and face the fear and terror I felt until I had mastered it.
"I also went without food. I practiced eating only once a day, then only once in two days, then only once in three days, and so on until I was only eating once in fourteen days. I have lived eating nothing but grass, nothing but moss, wild fruits and roots, wild herbs and mushrooms, wild rice, and the dust I scraped up of thrashing floors. I covered my body only with garments made out of rags from graveyards and dust-heaps, with old skins of animals that had died in the fields, with woven grass, with patches made of birds' wings and tails that I found lying here and there.
"In the lonely forests I lived alone never seeing a human being for weeks and months. In winter, when it was cold at night, I stayed out in the open without a fire to keep me warm. And in the day-time, when the sun came out, I hid myself among the cold trees. And in the burning heat of summer, I stayed out by day in the open under the hot sun; and at night I went into the close, stifling thickets.
"I also practiced what was called 'purification by food'. I lived on nothing but beans, then on nothing but sesamum seed, then on nothing but rice. And I reduced the quantity I ate of these day by day, until at last I was eating only one bean a day, one sesamum seed a day, one grain of rice a day.
"And through eating so little food, my body became terribly thin and lean. My legs became like reeds, my hips like camel's hoofs. My backbone stood out on my back like a rope, and on my sides my ribs showed like the rafters of a ruined house. My eyes sank so far in my head that they looked like water at the bottom of a deep well and almost disappeared altogether. The skin of my head grew all withered and shrunken like a pumpkin that has been cut and laid out in the sun. And when I tried to rub my arms and legs to make them feel a little better, the hair on them was so rotted at the roots that it all came away in my hands.
"And yet, Sariputta, in spite of all these pains and sufferings, I did not reach the knowledge I wanted to reach, because that knowledge and insight was not to be found that way, but could only be got by profound reasoning and reflection, and by turning away from everything in the world."
In this way, for six or seven long years, Siddhattha put his body to all kinds of torment, thinking that by doing this, if only he went on long enough, at last he would get to know what he wanted, all the while wandering about here and there through the country of Northern India.
At length, in the course of these wanderings, he came to the land of Magadha again, to a nice quiet place in a bamboo grove beside a broad, smooth-flowing river, with a good bathing-place, and a village close by where he could easily go and beg food. He liked the look of this place as soon as he saw it. "This is a good place to stay in," he said to himself, "for any ascetic like myself who wants to strive and struggle for knowledge. Here I will stay."
So in this place, called Uruvela, Siddhattha now took up his fixed residence, under the trees meditating and striving hard, fasting and otherwise treating his poor body very badly, all in the hope that by such pains and endeavors he would gain a knowledge of the truth he sought.
Meanwhile there had gathered round him a little band of disciples who admired him very much as they saw how he starved himself and otherwise made himself undergo severe hardships. And these disciples, five in number, waited upon him and attended to his few wants, for they thought that an ascetic who could make himself suffer such pains and privations, and persevere in them as did Siddhattha, must be no common man. They thought, indeed, they felt sure, that an ascetic with so much endurance and determination, must be certain to get what he was looking for, and that when he had found it, then he would tell it to them, his pupils and followers.
But one day it happened that as he sat alone under a tree, the poor prince-ascetic, all worn out with fasting and hardships, and added to that, the strain of intense and prolonged meditation, fell down in a dead faint, and lay there on the ground so completely exhausted and without strength that perhaps he would never have risen again but died there just where he lay. Fortunately, however, a boy who was watching some goats near by happened to come along by the tree under which Siddhattha lay in a swoon; and when he saw the holy man lying there, the boy at once guessed that he was dying for want of proper food, for everybody round about knew that he was a very holy man, and went without food for days and days. So the boy ran back to his goats and brought up one of them, and milked some milk from its teats into the half-open mouth of the holy man, without touching him with his hands, for he did not dare, he a common herd-boy, to lay his hands on a saint.
Very soon the good, fresh milk began to produce its effect upon the half-dead Siddhattha. After a little while he was able to sit up, feeling very much better than he had felt for a long time. And he began to think about why it was he had fainted, and why he was now feeling so much refreshed in body and mind. And these are the thoughts that passed through his mind:
"O how foolish I have been! I left my wife and family and home and everything, and became a homeless wanderer because I wanted to get to know the truth about man's life and how he must live it to the best purpose. But in order to gain a knowledge so difficult to gain as this, I needed to have a brain and a mind as strong and vigorous as I possibly could get, so that I might be able to think and meditate steadily and strongly. And then I went and made my body weak and wretched with starvation and those other practices I practiced! But how can a man have a strong and healthy mind if his body is weak and miserable and unhealthy? O how foolish I have been to make myself weak just when I need all the strength I can get to carry through the great task I have set myself to perform! After this I shall eat all the food my body requires to keep it in god condition. I shall not eat too much, for that will make me dull and heavy and sleepy, and then I shall not be able to think and meditate properly. But I shall eat enough to keep me well and strong, so that I may have a clear, unclouded mind, and so perhaps, at last, I shall be able to gain the truth I want to reach."
So, with thoughts like this in his mind, Siddhattha turned to the goat-herd boy who now was kneeling before him in veneration, and asked him if he would kindly give him a little more of his goat's milk in a dish, as it was doing him very much good.
"O Reverend Lord," said the boy, "I cannot do that. I cannot give you milk in a dish that has been touched by my hand. I am only a common herd-boy of low caste, and you are a holy man, a Brahmin. If I were to touch you with anything I had touched, it would be a crime."
But Siddhattha replied: "My dear boy, I am not asking you for caste: I am asking you for milk. There is no real difference between us two, even although you are a goat-herd and I am a hermit. It is blood that flows in the veins of both of us. If some robbers were to come and cut us both with swords, the blood that would flow from both our bodies would be of the same red colour. And if it went on running and nobody stopped it, we should both of us die with no difference between us. If a man does high and noble deeds, then he is a high and noble man. And if a man does low and ignoble deeds, then he is a low and ignoble man. That is all the real caste there is. You have done a good kind deed in giving me milk when I was almost dead for want of food; therefore you are of good caste to me. Give me some more milk in a dish."
The herd-boy did not know what to say to these strange but so very pleasant words from this extraordinary hermit who did not send him away from him because he was a low-caste herd-boy, but instead wanted more milk from him, and would take it out of a dish. But he went off, and soon came back with a bowl full of his best goat's milk which he joyfully offered to the kind hermit who had told him that he was of as good a caste to him. Then he took back his empty bowl, and after bowing down before the hermit and asking his blessing, went back glad and happy to his goats.
But the prince-ascetic, now thoroughly refreshed with the good drink of milk, sat on beneath the tree, meditating more successfully than he had done for a long time. And as he still sat there in the dark after the sun had gone down, he heard the sound of girls' voices singing. It was a band of professional singers and dancers going to a neighboring town to give an entertainment; and as they passed along close to where he sat, he distinctly heard the words of their song which was about the instrument they played when they sang, called a lute. They were saying, in their song, that if the strings of the lute were hung too slack, they made very poor music; and if they were stretched too tight, then they broke and made no music at all. Therefore, so they sang, it was best to stretch the strings neither too slack nor too tight, but just medium, and then they would give proper music.
"That is true what these girls sing," thought the prince-ascetic as he heard them. "These girls have taught me something. I have been stretching the strings of my poor body far too tight this long time, and they have come very near to breaking altogether. If that boy had not come and brought me the milk to-day, I should have died, and then what would have become of my search for the Truth? There and then it would have come to an end. My search for that which I and all men need to know would have failed miserably just for want of a little food for my body. This harsh way of treating the body cannot be the proper way to find Truth. I will give it up at once and treat my body with proper care and attention henceforth."
So when, next day, a young woman called Sujata, who lived near by, came to him in his hermitage among the trees with a bowl full of extra good rice boiled with very good rich milk, which she had specially prepared for him, saying as she gave it to him: "May you be successful in obtaining your wishes as I have been!" He did not refuse her gift, but accepted it with pleasure, and felt the benefit of it at once in a greatly strengthened body and mind.
After this, Siddhattha went out again every morning to the village to beg food, and eating what he got there each day, he soon became strong again and his skin became a good colour, almost as clear and golden as it used to be in the old days when he lived in his father's palace.
But although he himself now saw that the pains and hardships to which he subjected himself were just like trying to tie air into knots, or weave ropes out of soft sand, for all the help it was to him in his search for the Truth, the five disciples who believed in him and had hitherto stayed with him through everything did not think this at all. They still believed, like everybody else in India in those days, that the one only way to find the Truth in religious matters was to make yourself miserable in body.
So when they saw the master and teacher they had hitherto admired, so much for the way in which he starved and in other ways ill-treated and tormented his body, beginning to eat all his body required of the rice and curry he got when he went out begging, they were very much disappointed with him, and they said among themselves: "Ah, this Sakya ascetic has given up striving and struggling. He has gone back to a life of ease and comfort." And the whole five of them turned away from their old master and left him, for they felt sure that there was no use in staying any longer with a teacher who did not starve himself and in other ways make himself miserable. Such an ascetic, they were sure, could never possibly attain to any great knowledge of religious truth.
How very much mistaken, how very far wrong, these five disciples of the prince-ascetic were, was soon made clear to them. Their master and teacher, far from having turned back from his goal, was now on the very point of reaching it.
* * *
Any one to-day who wishes to see the very spot where, twenty-five hundred years ago, Prince Siddhattha of the Sakya race at last found the Truth he had sought so long and with such painful efforts, need only go to the town of Buddha Gaya in Behar, and from there walk six or seven miles along a road which more or less follows the course of a broad, sandy stream now called the river Phalgu, but which in those days was called the Neranjara. As he comes near his destination, he will see rising above the neighboring flat fields on a slight elevation, a tall solid structure of dark stone, with a few terraces running round its oblong form, which rises into the air, growing smaller and smaller towards the top where there is a small open platform from which rises a spire of stone, of the solid Hindu pattern, the whole structure being decorated with a great variety of sculptured work of all descriptions. This is the celebrated monument of Buddha Gaya. And in the shadow of this great memorial structure, surrounded by a low stone wall, the visitor yet may see the tree beneath whose branches Prince Siddhattha at last obtained the light he sought; for it was towards this tree that he turned his steps one evening, having resolved to make one last mighty effort of mind and will, and penetrate the final secret of life and all existence.
And as he went towards that tree -- in memory of Siddhattha's great achievement ever since called the Bodhi Tree, or Tree of Enlightenment -- Sujata's words to him must have been in his ears: "May you be successful in obtaining your wishes as I have been!" For now he sat down beneath the tree and made a solemn vow to himself that even if all the blood in his veins dried up, and all his flesh wasted away, and nothing was left of his body but skin and sinews and bones, from this seat he would not rise again until he had found what he sought, reached his goal, discovered for himself and for all men the way by which they might gain the highest happiness, be delivered once and for all from the need to be born and to die, again and again in a wearisome, never-ending round of the same pleasures and pains, over and over again. He sat down there under the Bodhi Tree, resolved to sit there, no matter what might happen to him, until he had discovered the way that leads out of Samsara, the world of birth and death and change, to the constant, lasting, deathless state called Nibbana.
This was a tremendous resolve to make. It had never been made before by any mortal man of our epoch of the world. There were indeed many other ascetics and hermits in Siddhattha's native land of India, who had spent long years of bodily hardship and severe mental labor, in order to obtain what they thought was the highest good possible. But what they won after all their years of toil and struggle of mind and will, was the attainment of a very great happiness, only it was not a constant, lasting happiness. It was not permanent. It was not for ever secure against all chance and change. After a time, when the energy they had put forth in order to bring them to these high states of bliss in the heaven-worlds was all exhausted; all spent, then these people, these ascetics and hermits, fell down again from these blissful states to lower states of existence, to life on this earth again, with all its unpleasantness and disappointments. It was with them as it might be with a man who had gathered together a lot of money in a box, and started spending it all. Very soon it would all be spent, the box would be empty, and he would have to begin getting more. And so with these hermits and ascetics, if they wanted to enjoy great happiness again, they had to begin all over again the painful things they had done before, so as to get to the heaven-world again and enjoy its delights. And this they would have to do again and again as long as they wanted such delights. Again and again they would have to go through a course of misery endured on earth so as to get happiness in heaven, and then the same again, always and always, without any end. Their way of doing was like that of a man who with great trouble rolls a heavy ball to the top of a high hill, only to find it roll back to the bottom again; whereupon he has to go through all the labor of rolling it up the hill again, and has to do this over and over again, without any end to his labor.
But what Siddhattha wanted was to find some way by which he and all men would not need any more to be for ever rolling the ball of life to the top of some high peak of happiness, see it roll down again into the valley of unhappiness, and then have all their work to do over again, if they wanted happiness again; and this for ever and ever, without any end to it. He wanted to find some state that would be permanent and lasting, some kind of wellbeing that would not be lost again, so that those who reached it once, would not need any more to be always striving and struggling to get it again. And on this great night under the Bodhi Tree at Uruvela he was determined to find such a state of lasting wellbeing, or perish in trying to find it. And now when Siddhattha wished to give the whole force of his mind to this great work, his mind fought against his will, and turned itself to dwell upon all the unlasting, all the passing, temporary delights and pleasure of life that he ever had tasted. He wanted to leave aside whole thoughts of worldly things, and concentrate all his attention upon trying to find out how all things arise, but his thoughts, in spite of all he could do, turned back to his former pleasant life, and brought before his mind's eye the most attractive pictures of the happy life he used to live in his father's palace before he came out on this painful search for Truth.
Again he saw before the eye of his mind, the splendid rooms and halls of his palace, its beautiful grounds and gardens, its lovely lotus-ponds and bowers of delight; and the many attendants who had nothing else to do but wait upon his will and minister to his pleasure. And then he saw his beautiful young wife; her lovely pleading eyes, her pleasant charming ways rose before him in vision; her very voice, so low and sweet, sounded in his ears. And then he saw his little son, his only child, a merry little babe who might grow up to be a son of which any father might be proud. And he saw his father, too, grey-haired now, and getting on in years, and grieving that his eldest son was not beside him to help him to govern the country and take his place when soon he would have to give it up through sheer old age.
With his mind's eye the prince-ascetic Siddhattha Gotama saw all this, and his heart misgave him as the thought he did not wish to think, forced itself into his mind:
"You might have had great glory and power as a famous king if you had stayed in household life like everybody else. But you have gone and left behind you all that sensible people prize and value, in search of something nobody but yourself has ever even thought about, something that perhaps never can be found at all, perhaps does not even exist for anybody to find! How do you know you are not a fool or a madman to leave behind all these real, solid things you certainly once had and enjoyed, to look for something you cannot even be sure exists for you to find?
"But even if you so want to leave the good things of the world behind you and go in search of something beyond them which you think is better, why could you not continue to search for it in the same way that other religious men search by fasting and mortification and the other religious practices all the other ascetics and religious men of the country follow? Is it likely that they are all wrong in their way of looking for religious truth, and that only you are right? And any way, why cannot you be content to gain the same kind of happiness they are content to gain, even if it is not as lasting as you would like it to be?
"Life is short. Men soon die: soon you too will die. Why do you not use the little time you have to live in getting all the pleasure you can out of it before the night of death comes on, when you cannot have pleasure any more? There is love: there is fame: there is glory: there is the praise of man: all to be had if you try for them: all solid, certain things: all of them things you can feel, not dreams and visions made out of thin air. Why should you make yourself wretched in this lonely forest looking for something nobody has ever found?"
Thus did Siddhattha's thoughts torment him on that great night when he sat down beneath the Bodhi Tree to seek the way of deliverance from birth and death, tormenting him with the keen memory of the pleasures he had left behind, with doubts about his power ever to find what he sought, with uncertainty about whether he was seeking it in the right way. But he did not allow himself to be turned from his purpose. Rather did he the more strenuously pull his mind together for a yet stronger effort to discover what he wanted.
"Begone, Mara, Evil One!" he cried. "I know you who you are. You are the evil spirit that would keep men back from everything that is good and great and noble. Try no more to keep me back from what I have set out and am determined to do. My mind is made up. Here I sit until I have found what I seek, even if I have to sit until all the blood in my body dries up, and my flesh wastes all away, and nothing is left of my but dry skin and bone."
And there Siddhattha sat and still continued sitting, striving and struggling, laboring and wrestling with all his mind and will to find what would bring to an end all infelicity, all undesirable and unpleasant things, searching for what would end all evil things for ever, and bring in their place a wellbeing, a happiness that would not pass away, a felicity that would be sure and lasting, eternally beyond the reach of any change.
And he was successful. After a time as he still persisted in his meditations, putting away out of his thoughts all evil things that were trying to disturb him and distract his mind, at length his mind became still and quiet like a still and quiet lake. It ceased to trouble him with memories and suggestions of pleasures he once had owned and enjoyed. It vexed him no more with doubts and uncertainties about what he now was seeking. In the calm, close concentration of his mind, now wholly calmed and collected, in the intense power of his will now directed towards one thing only, there where he sat under the Bodhi Tree, Prince Siddhattha, the ascetic of the face of the Sakyas, of the family of Gotama, became the Enlightened One, the Awakened One, the All-Knowing One; he became Gotama the Buddha, the bringer of the light of truth to the men of this epoch of the world, to the whole human race that now lives on the earth. For now He was enlightened in a way compared with which all other men were stumbling and groping in the dark. Now He was awake in a way compared with which all other men are asleep and dreaming. Now He knew with a knowledge compared with which all that other men know is but a kind of ignorance.
For now He had penetrated the real true meaning of life through and through from its root upward. Now He knew how and why men were born and died again and again, and how they might cease thus to suffer repeated birth and death. But the first thing He saw clearly with His new and penetrating insight this night as He sat meditating under the Bodhi Tree, was the long line of His own lives and deaths through ages after ages, in all kinds of bodies, in all kinds of conditions of life, low and high, humble and exalted, gross and refined, until at last He was born in this present life as the son of King Suddhodana and Queen Mahamaya.
Then with His keen, penetrating power of mind, He next perceived how all men are born and pass away again, to be born elsewhere anew, strictly according to the deeds they do. He saw how some are born to happy lives because their deeds were good deeds; and He saw how others were born to lives of unhappiness because the deeds they did were evil. He saw as plainly as anything that it is men's own actions and nothing else whatever which make them happy or unhappy in this and in all worlds.
And then, last and greatest of all He saw on this great night, He saw and understood clearly, beyond all doubt, that is it not well for men always to be at the mercy of the continual changes of the world; that it is not good that they should be now happy and now unhappy, now up and now down, like boats tossed on a sea. He perceived that the reason why men come in to existence to be thus tossed about on the waves of the changing world, is because they are fond of, and cling to all the little bits of happiness that existence in the world provides at times. He saw that men are caught in the snare of existence in the world because like deer they fling themselves greedily upon any little bit of pleasure they see. Then He saw that if men do not want to be caught in the snare of existence, the only way for them to do is not to jump heedlessly upon every scrap of pleasure they see, not to abandon themselves recklessly to its enjoyment, not to set their hearts so eagerly upon the things existence offers. And then He saw the Way by following which men at length would be able to refrain from flinging themselves recklessly into enjoyment of pleasure, because they would have learnt to know and like something better, and so they would no longer be bound to come back to the world where such pleasures are found, to the world of change and disappointment and uncertain happiness, and would be able to attain the true and certain happiness of Nibbana. And this Way or Path, He called the Noble Eightfold Path, because it is the Path followed by everybody who has noble aims and desires; and it has eight distinct branches or parts or members.
The first branch or part or member of this Noble Eightfold Path to deliverance from all things evil taught by the Buddha is called -- Right Seeing. This Right Seeing means, to see that everything in the world, even one's own existence, is changeable, not really solid and lasting, and so only leads to disappointment and pain when we cling to it too closely. Right Seeing also means to see that good deeds always lead to happiness and evil deeds to unhappiness, both here and hereafter.
The second member of the Noble Eightfold Path was called by the Buddha -- Right Mindedness. This means an attitude which, because it sees rightly the nature of the world and everything in it, turns away from clinging tightly to it. Right Mindedness also means a right attitude of mind in which we have pity and compassion for all beings who, through clinging too close to worldly things, are suffering distress of body or mind, while at the same time we have a keen desire to relieve their suffering and help them as far as possible.
Right Speaking, the third part of the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path, means speaking only what is true and kindly and sensible. It means to avoid lying and rude and slanderous and silly talk.
Right Doing, the fourth part of the Noble Eightfold Path, means to refrain from killing, and stealing, and impurity, and the drinking of intoxicating liquors which make men mad and reckless so that they do things they otherwise would never have done.
Right Living, the fifth part of the Eightfold Path, means earning one's living in any way that does not cause hurt or harm to any other living creature.
Right Endeavour the sixth part of the Noble Eightfold Path, means endeavoring, trying to control one's thoughts and feelings in such a way that bad, harmful thoughts and feelings may not arise, and that those which unhappily may have arisen, may die out. It also means trying to keep alive and strong in our minds all good and helpful thoughts and feelings that already are there and causing to arise in our minds and hearts as many as we can of new, good and helpful thoughts and feelings.
Right Remembering, the seventh member of the Noble Eightfold Path, means always remembering, never forgetting, what our bodies really are, not thinking of them as finer and grander than they are actually. It also means remembering all the movements and actions and functions of the body as being just the movements and actions and functions of the body, and nothing else beside. Right Remembering also means remembering what our minds are, a constantly changing succession of thoughts and feelings in which nothing is the same for two moments together. And it means, lastly, bearing in mind and never forgetting the various steps Buddha has taught us we must take in order to set the mind free from all bondage and bring it at last to the state of perfect freedom -- Nibbana.
And Right Concentration, the eight and last member of this Noble Eightfold Way to Nibbana made known by the Buddha means not allowing our minds to wander about as they like, but fixing them firmly upon whatever we are thinking about, so as to arrive in this way at a correct understanding or whatever we are trying to understand.
Such are all the eight parts or members of the Noble Eightfold Path which Prince Siddhattha Gotama, who now became the Buddha Gotama, discovered under the Bodhi Tree at Uruvela twenty-five hundred years ago. The last three parts or members, Right Endeavoring, Right Remembering and Right Concentration, in their full and perfect meaning are mainly intended to be practiced by men who are trying to follow the Buddha closely, and in order to do this better and more easily, have left the household life and become Bhikkhus. But every one, whether he is a Bhikkhu or not, can practice them to a certain extent as they are here described.
The first two members of the Eightfold Path, also, Right Seeing and Right Mindedness, in their full perfection are only possessed by those men who, after many years of training and practice of meditations, at last have come very near to understanding and realizing the true nature of things in the same way that the Buddha did. Yet still, every one who wishes to follow the Buddha, must have a little of Right Seeing, and a little of Right Mindedness. They must think sometimes how all things round them are not really so fine and splendid as they often seem to be. And they must sometimes entertain in their minds the thought that some day they will turn away from the transient things of the world to something better, to something more sure and lasting.
But the three middle members of the Noble Eightfold Path are for everybody to practice to the fullest extent of their powers. Everyone ought to try to live without doing harm to any one either in word or in act. Every one ought to try, and can try to avoid wrong-speaking and wrong-doing; and according as they do this, they prepare the way for some day controlling their thoughts and properly training their minds, and so coming at last to true knowledge and insight, that knowledge and insight which the Buddha discovered and teaches, which is truly called Wisdom.
And when they come to this true wisdom, then the mind is delivered from clinging any more to anything in any world. And because it does not cling any more to such things, therefore it does not any more for ever take shape or form in any world. That is to say: For if there is no more being born into the world, and so no more of all the troubles and unpleasant things that follow men who are born into the world; and so the whole mass of distress of any kind is brought to an end for ever. All this the Buddha discovered beneath the Bodhi Tree: He discovered the Noble Eightfold Path of Right Seeing and Right Mindedness, of Right Speaking and Doing and Living, of Right Endeavoring and Remembering and Concentration, which is also called by the name of the Triple Path of Right Behavior, Mind-culture and Wisdom; or in the Pali, Sila, Samadhi, and Panna.
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last updated: 13-06-2005