Ascetic Prince

Crossing the river Anoma thus and changing into a mendicant monk’s robes, determined to face whatever hardships in search of ending suffering for humanity, the Prince, now Ascetic Siddhattha set off on his journey  alone in the darkness of the night. He was bear footed and had nothing with Him apart from His bowl and robes. His first resolve was to search out great spiritual masters of the day, and study under them. 

Ascetic Siddhattha meeting the great Guruji of the time Alara Kalama
He felt that he would gain the knowledge of truth on how to end suffering thereby. First he went to a famous teacher called Alara Kalama and becoming a humble pupil, he soon gained all the knowledge and wisdom of this great Sage.  The teacher was delighted to have such a wonderful pupil and once he had passed all the tests and proved himself, he offered all his pupils to Siddhattha, and urged him to stay with him and teach his pupils.  The Sage promised to offer his teacher's position to Ascetic Siddhattha. The Prince however, did not wish for such a position, and all he wished for was to find a way out of suffering for people.  He realized that the “nēva saññā-nāsañña-yatana”- the mental state of “neither perception nor non perception” the highest blissful state that Alara Kalama teaches his pupils to reach...(this is an extremely high state of Samadhi)......, would never free them totally.  He realized that this is not the ultimate.  So long as the consciousness was there that could not be the ultimate truth the “un-created”.  Thus, he very courteously declined and offer and moved on.   He then found out another teacher by the name of Uddaka Ramaputtha.  There too he became the best pupil and soon learnt all that he could learn from this master.  He taught the way to “ākāsha saññã yatana where he learnt the “unlimited (infinite) space consciousness”.  

Bodhisattha Ascetic Siddhattha with Alara Kalama
Ananda Pagoda - Bagan- Myanmar
Ascetic Siddattha withe Uddaka Ramaputta

Here too, the Prince realized this is not the ultimate.  That, there should be a better state where the consciousness would cease was his conviction.  So long as the consciousness would be there, he knew there could not be total freedom from suffering.  However, these were the highest states that anybody could reach at the time, and all the spiritual seekers of the time simply accepted these two states as the highest that could ever be reached. 
As customary in the traditions of India Prince Siddhartha too believed in “Athman”, a “self” , which is inherent with the belief of a “Creator God”. Even though Uddaka Ramaputtha too offered him all his pupils and requested him to stay on with him, the Prince moved on to examine other methods of the day.

He came to know five more ascetics who were searching for the truth on how to end suffering themselves.  One of them was Kondañña. (the youngest sage out of the five wise men, who predicted that Prince Siddhartha would become the perfectly enlightened one, the Samma Sam Buddha at the Prince’s naming ceremony). They became good friends for the young Ascetic Siddhartha.  They too had learnt how to rise up to the states of “nēva saññā-nāsañña-yatana” and the “ākāsha saññã yatana , the extremely subtle states of mind, but realizing that it would not lead them to the ultimate end of suffering were practicing severe austerities. They were convinced that these severe ascetic practices would get rid of “self” completely and lead them to freedom.

Siddhattha, settled for these severe ascetic practices very diligently.  He stopped eating anything except a mustard seed.  Thereafter, he stopped that too.  Still as he did not reach the  state of the “uncreated” he stopped breathing.  This led the body to start breathing from his pores in the skin giving immense pain.  However, ascetic Prince did not let up.  How he went on practicing these extreme austerities is hard to describe.  If I  tried my own five cents worth it would pile up to a heap of pages. It suffices to say here, that the remarkable Prince thus went on practicing for six years until one fine day, he fainted through sheer pain and feebleness.

Fortunately for the world, a “go-pala” a young boy looking after a herd of cows saw him.  He quickly caused some warm milk directly from the cow, to drip into the corpselike lips of the ascetic, which helped him gain consciousness.  Afterwards, the gopala offered him some milk which he took and thereby gained some energy that helped him get up.

Ascetic Siddhartha, then knew that these harsh practices would never lead him to freedom.  He started taking food little by little.  The five ascetics who were his friends, were caring for him all these years.  They thought that once his vitality returned Prince Siddhartha would start the practice again until he becomes enlightened through it.  They had confidence in him, as he was a brilliant guy, and was wont to prove difficult achievements. They too believed in an “athma” and thus had faith in the harsh practices of ascetism which meant that the body should be tortured until the “self” is gotten rid of.

After the gopala gave him the milk, Ascetic Siddhartha started taking food, became much better, and one day after taking a bath in the River Anoma, was sitting in meditation under a banyan tree.  There in this village, lived a damsel named Sujathaa, who used to offer food to the “Deva” whom she believed was resident on this tree.   She prepared some milk rice and placing them inside a bowl of gold, she brought them to the tree to be offered to this Deva. 

When she saw Ascetic Siddhattha, thus seated under the tree, with his extraordinary good looks, she thought that the Deva had descended from the tree and was thus sitting in meditation.   She was elated and offered the milk rice to the Ascetic Siddhattha, who accepted it.

Siddhattha, thus far had not had a proper meal since he started the harsh ascetic practices.  Now, because he had realized that such a practice would never yield to “Nibbana” he  accepted this meal from Sujathaa, and without delving into it mindlessly like any other hungry man would, like the sage he was, he first silently blessed and thanked the damsel in gratitude and mindfully, made 39 balls out of the milk rice. He then very mindfully ate them one by one.  Seeing this his five ascetic friends thought that he had given up his search for enlightenment and started taking food. Thus, disappointed they left him to fend for himself.

Now left all alone, with no one in the world, Siddhattha, went up to the river Anoma.  After washing his hands and the golden bowl, he let the bowl into the river, saying if "I should get enlightened and thus free the world from suffering, this bowl would float up stream".  And lo ! the bowl did float upstream caught in a sudden  current. Seeing this, Ascetic Siddhartha became encouraged even though everything in his quest for enlightenment thus far has yielded nothing for him nor the world, instead he had lost everything he had, even his five friends who stood with him till now had gone away.

Sujatha offering milk rice to Ascetic Siddhattha