Enlightenment means “awakening” the consciousness. It means to wake up from ignorance and to recover the consciousness. It is the inherent potential of every sentient being to become awakened.
Buddhahood is the attainment of full awakening and becoming a Buddha. During his hunt for enlightenment, the Buddha first wanted happiness through the pleasures of his senses and by getting involved in royal luxuries. This approach only led to more suffering. He then tried extreme asceticism and self-mortification, fasting almost to the point of death. That didn’t work either. He concluded that neither of these extremes was needed. Through contemplation, meditation, and personal experience, the Buddha determined that the Middle Path was the antidote to suffering and limitations of life.
At the age of 29, in the year 533 BCE, Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father’s efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. Those scenes depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome aging, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic.
Initial Meditation Techniques
He got his initial teachings on breathing exercises, mindfulness and insights meditation techniques from Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. After training in these meditations for six years he realized that he was very close to attaining full enlightenment but he was not satisfied, and he moved on. He studied with the most famous sages, but still he did not find an end to suffering. Siddhartha was grateful to his two great teachers for showing him their meditation methods. The methods helped him to calm his mind and to achieve a strong concentration but were not sufficient to transcend the sorrow of life.
Extreme asceticism and Self-mortification:
Subsequently, he joined a group of five men who believed enlightenment could be found by denying the body nourishment and sleep, and thereby mastering pain. For years the prince ate and slept very little. He grew as thin as a skeleton, and though the rain and sun beat down on him, he did not waver from his practices.
Siddhartha with Sujata the Kind Village Girl
Finally, he realized that he was getting nowhere. Though he had neglected his bodily needs, he had not found the end to suffering. He was now 35 years old. One day, while he was going to take bath in the river, he was so weak that he could not walk. He fainted and fell down. Sujata, a young and kind village girl who lived by the river, saw him and brought him a bowl of rice and milk. When the young woman came to him offering food, he accepted. Siddhartha, after accepting the rice milk from the young girl, put aside the rags he was wearing, bathed himself in a nearby river. He recovered his strength. When his five companions saw him taking food from a young girl, they were disgusted, thinking he’d fallen. So they left him. Siddhartha arranged the kusha grass to seat for meditation. He sat down under the shade of the Bodhi tree, and began to meditate.
From then on he began to eat daily. Sujata, the young village girl helped him a lot. Siddhartha developed a friendship with her. The purity and peace of Sujata astonished him. Siddhartha inquired “How are you so peaceful?” Sujata said she had very little demand from life. Siddhartha realized that the deep cause of suffering is desire. With a very calm and peaceful mind Siddhartha deeply meditated for 49 days. One the 50th day, the moon was full. It was springtime. He sat in meditation under the bodhi tree. He sat down and vowed, come what may, he would not move until he found the end to sorrow.
Mara the Negative Force
As dusk fell, Mara, the lord of desire, the chief of all the demons in this world, tried to disturb Siddhartha’s concentration by conjuring up many fearful apparitions. He manifested hosts of terrifying demons, some throwing spears, some firing arrows, some trying to burn him with fire, and some hurling boulders and even mountains at him. Through the force of his concentration, the weapons, rocks, and mountains appeared to him as a rain of fragrant flowers, and the raging fires became like offerings of rainbow lights. Seeing that Siddhartha could not be frightened to abandon his meditation, Mara tried instead to distract him by manifesting countless beautiful women. But Siddhartha responded by developing even deeper concentration. In this way he triumphed over all the demons of the world.
Siddhartha meditated throughout the night, and all his former lives appeared before him. He saw all his previous lives—infinite number of lives—female and male and every other race and every other being in the vast ocean of life forms. And he saw all those phenomena and his awareness expanded until all the moments of the past were completely present to him.
Interconnectedness of Everything
Siddhartha’s mind was calm and relaxed. In this clear and peaceful state of mind he began to examine the nature of life. “What is the cause of suffering?”, he asked himself, ” and what is the path to everlasting joy?” In his mind’s eye he looked far beyond his own country, far beyond his own world. Soon the sun, planets, the stars out in space and distant galaxies of the universe all appeared in his meditation. He saw how everything, from the smallest speck of dust to the largest star, was linked together in a constantly changing pattern: growing, decaying and growing again. Everything was related. Nothing happened without a cause and every cause had an effect on everything else.
Enlightenment of Buddha
As the morning star appeared in the eastern sky, he became an enlightened one, a Buddha. When the Buddha rose from his meditation at last, he gazed at the tree in gratitude, to thank it for giving him shelter. From then on, the tree was known as the Bodhi tree.
In the moment of enlightenment Buddha found the Truth. He found that the whole existence as divine – full with light and consciousness. His heart was full with compassion. He realized three basic facts of life; non-self, impermanence and dissatisfaction. In this existence everything is changing. They arise and cease. They come into being and pass away, releasing them is the supreme bliss.
In the morning, two merchants came into his presence. They were called Tapussa and Bhallika. They were enchanted by seeing his aura of peace. They saluted the Buddha and offered him rice cakes and honey. The Buddha told them some of what he had found in his enlightenment. These two merchants, by taking refuge in the Buddha and his Dharma (translated as “teachings of the Buddha”), became his first followers.