Prince Siddhartha had renounced the world and left his city of Kapilvastu in search of the ultimate enlightenment and to attain the state of deathlessness. His quest for ultimate enlightenment took him to two of the greatest teachers of his time, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramputta.
It was not long before he mastered all their teachings. Soon he realized that the ultimate purpose of the ascetics was not to find the ultimate enlightenment and nirvana but to become Sakka (The king of Gods) or Brahma (The creator God).
Siddhartha had realized that there was no teacher capable enough in the Jambudweep, under whom he could attain the ultimate enlightenment and Nibbana (Nirvana).
He had realized that the highest truth was to be found within himself and seeking external help was futile.
He left these teachers unsatisfied, and traveled through the land of Magadha, and came to a small army township of Uruvela (now called Bodhgaya), the market town of Senani district in those days.
Standing on the bank of river Niranjana, he was lost in deep contemplation about the spot and its bliss. He thought that the location was ideal for an ascetic to endeavor tapas (extreme self-mortification) to attain the ultimate enlightenment.
The clear waters of the river Nirajnana flowed through a rich fertile land with several small hamlets scattered around in the landscape.
Siddhartha thought that the place was very pleasant and the right spot for meditation and penance for attaining ultimate enlightenment. He decided to dwell at that spot, a charming forest grove. There were villages and township nearby where he could obtain food during his alms round.
In ancient India, great importance was attributed to sacrifices, penances, rites, and ceremonies. It was believed that the sufferings of life could be won over only by the sufferings of the body. There was no scope of deliverance without leading a life of asceticism, sacrifices, and penances.
Siddhartha made extreme endeavours towards this end for the next six years. He moved up the Dungeshwari hills and practised extreme forms of asceticism and self-mortifications to attain ultimate enlightenment. His soft and shining royal body was reduced to a skeleton and his skin turned black.
He spent the entire period living alone and naked in the forest of Dungeshwari hills, sleeping on beds of thorns. He never took shelter from rain, heat, and cold and spent the hot summer days and winter nights, meditating on the open grounds.
He hardly ate and he denied every kind of nourishments to his body. At most, he used to eat one fruit or a few grains of rice or a few sesame seeds. He started torturing his body to extremes. His body got covered in dirt and filth and he appeared loathsome. He stopped cutting his hair or beard for months.
Impressed by the renunciation of Siddhartha and his extreme penances the five Brahmins, whom he had met in Rajgraha, came to him and requested him to accept them as his disciple. Siddhartha accepted all these five Brahmins, Kondana, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama, and Assaji as his disciple.
Later Buddha shared the details of his self-mortification during his struggles for attaining ultimate enlightenment, with his chief disciple Sariputta.
Buddha told Sariputta that because of his practices of these extreme forms of asceticism his limbs became like knotted joints of the wasted creepers. His backbone appeared like a string of balls and his ribs like exposed rafters of a dilapidated hovel. His eyes sunk deep in the socket and his sparkling pupils appeared like water at the end of a deep well.
His scalp shrunk like a shriveled bitter gourd cut into two and left in the heat of the sun. When he touched the skin of his belly he got hold of the skin of his back and when he tried to touch the skin of his back he actually got hold of the skin of his belly. His rotting hairs used to fall from his body whenever he stroked his legs with his hands.
He used to negate breathing and used to hold his breath for long periods, which produced extreme sweating, loud roaring inside his head, severe pain in his stomach and severe headaches.
Due to these extreme forms of self-mortification one day, he collapsed and lost consciousness. The deities of heaven thought that the Bodhisattva has died and they were very sad for the fate of humanity, now that the future Buddha was dead. However, Siddhartha regained his consciousness but by the time he had already realized that there was no higher realization in self-mortifications.
He realized that the starvation to death and penance did not lead to the attainment of the state of supreme consciousness or ultimate enlightenment nor the extreme self-mortification led to true knowledge. He had realized that supreme liberation cannot be attained with a weak and starving body. He decided that he will find his path of ultimate enlightenment on his own and will not depend upon the teachings of other ascetics.
He decided to regain his strength and take nourishment. He started to go back to the village and beg for food and gradually he began to regain former strength and beauty of his tender body. His five disciples thought that Siddhartha has left the higher path and instead selected the easier path of comfort and luxury, and soon they abandoned him in disgust.
You must see the self-mortification image of Buddha in the cave on the hill, the abode of Buddha during the six years of his struggles, and extreme self-mortification. The Tibetan monastery on the top of the Dungeshwari Hills is also a must-visit Buddhist site.
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