One night — as the myth goes, on the same day his
wife had given birth to his first son — while everyone
was asleep, he left the palace on his horse. Many miles
from the city, he stopped at the edge of the forest and
there he removed his princely garments, replaced them with
the stitched robes of an aesthetic, cut his hair and his
beard, and entered the forest seeking a way to deliverance.
At the times there were many systems of philosophy and
their schools of meditation. The young seeker went
to the best-known teachers. He mastered their philosophies,
he practiced their forms of meditation to the highest point.
His teachers, recognizing his attainment, offered to place
him on a level with themselves and share the leadership
of their communities, but Siddhartha refused and left their
What did he find deficient in these systems of meditation?
He recognized that these forms focused exclusively
on concentration, samadhi, rather than panna, wisdom. Yes,
they led to higher states of consciousness, to rapturous
bliss, to stillness and calm of the mind, to deep stages
of absorption. But they did not lead to insight into truth,
to awakening, to enlightenment, and therefore they were
inadequate to bring about the state of liberation.
So Gotama, the bodhisattva, abandoned these teachers and
their systems and threw himself deeper into the forest
in order to enter upon a new path, the path of
At the time he was accompanied by five ascetics, who gathered
around him, willing to serve him and attend on him, believing
that if there was anyone who was going to reach supreme
enlightenment it was this determined
aesthetic, this former prince.
However the bodhisattva found that all of these austerities
only proved futile. They didn’t lead to any enlightenment,
to any state of higher wisdom. They led only to the wasting
of the body and the weakening of the mental faculties.
He understood that for the mind to function properly at
full capacity, the body had to be strong and healthy, and
therefore he decided to abandon this course of self-mortification
and to resume taking food again. And so he went to gather
alms, he began to eat until he had regained his strength
and vigor. And when this happened the five ascetics became
disillusioned with him. Thinking he had abandoned his spiritual
exertions and was reverting to a life of luxury,
they left him all alone.
Then, when he was alone, the approach of enlightenment
In the texts this struggle is depicted allegorically as
a battle with Mara, the personification of all desire
and attachment, the tempter, the evil one.
But the bodhisattva then reached down his hand and touched
the ground saying “The earth shall be my
Then the bodhisattva entered into deeper and deeper states
of meditation in which his mind became perfectly calm
and still. Then with his mind calm and concentrated, the
realizations of wisdom begin to unfold.
These took place over the three watches of the night.
In the first watch of the night, he recollected all the
of his former lives. He saw himself again and again through
the innumerable eons going through the stages of birth,
growth, aging and death. He saw himself with different
names, different forms, with different relations. He sees
everything changing, transient, mutable. The dreamlike
quality of all forms became evident to him, as he
went through one life drama after another, seeing how all
they all change and all fall away.
In the second watch of the night he developed the divine
eye with which he was able to look out upon the world and
see the rise and passing away of all sentient beings, He
saw how beings take birth according to their karma, how
they reap the fruits of their good and evil actions. He
saw the world system evolve and dissolve, arise and pass
away And he understood the universal laws at work
beneath the surface manifestation of things.
And then in the third watch of the night he penetrated
the deepest truths of the dhamma. He discovered the law
of dependent arising – patticasamuppada.
He developed vipassana, insight into the real characteristics
of all things. And he arrived at the realization
of the Four Noble Truths.
At the end of the night his mind was liberated from all
the screens of ignorance, and he sat beneath the bodhi
tree no longer a bodhisattva – a seeker of enlightenment – but
now a finder of enlightenment, a Sammasambuddha, a
perfectly enlightened one.