How Siddhartha, the prince of Kapilavastu, became Buddha, the "Enlightened One".
Siddhartha the prince began to live like an ascetic and, like them, began to beg for food, and moved from place to place, never staying in one place for long.
Siddhartha initially went to Rajgir (part of Magadha kingdom in today’s Indian State of Bihar). King Bimbisara of Magadha learned of this wandering ascetic and invited him to the palace. He knew of Siddhartha’s parentage, and offered him half his kingdom. Siddhartha rejected the offer, but promised to visit his kingdom when he became successful in his mission.
Siddhartha left Rajgir and began seeking out renowned teachers, who taught him about the many religious philosophies of his day as well as how to meditate. After mastering the teachings of Alara Kalama, he went on to become a student of Udraka Rāmaputra. But after he had learned all they had to teach, his doubts and questions remained. He moved on.
By now Siddhartha had five companions who were on a similar quest as him. They tried to find enlightenment and release from suffering through physical discipline—enduring pain, holding their breath, and fasting nearly to starvation.
One day, he collapsed in a river while bathing, and almost drowned. Realizing that extreme asceticism didn’t work, he began to reconsider his path. He then accepted milk and rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata.
The five companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left.
Gautama (another name for Siddhartha) then seated himself under a pipal (Ficus religiosa) tree—now known as the Bodhi tree—in Bodh Gaya, India, and vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment. He had discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of moderation, away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.
Siddhartha, now called Buddha, realized complete insight into the cause of suffering, and ways to eliminate it. These discoveries became known as the “Four Noble Truths“, which are at the heart of Buddhist teaching. By mastering these truths, anybody can attain Nirvana, a state of supreme liberation and a perfect peace of a mind, free from ignorance, greed and hatred.
Buddha devoted himself to teaching, attracting hundreds of followers. At first, he was reluctant to teach, because what he had realized could not be communicated in words. Listeners without that direct experience would be stuck in conceptualizations and would surely misunderstand everything he said. But compassion persuaded him to make the attempt.
After his enlightenment, he went to the Deer Park in Isipatana (today’s Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh). There he found the five companions who had abandoned him, and he taught them a path of practice centered on the Four Noble Truths to realize enlightenment for themselves.
He also converted Emperor Bimbisara to Buddhism at the Griddhakoota Hill in Rajgir.
Eventually he became reconciled with his father, King Suddhodana. His wife, the devoted Yasodhara, became a nun and a disciple.
Rahula, his son, became a novice monk at the age of 7 and spent the rest of his life with his father.
In the next set of articles, we will visit places connected with Buddha’s life.