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The monk Gotama eventually found himself in a lovely forest. It was the day of the full moon of May. Today was his 35th birthday. A wealthy woman named Sujata presented him with an offering of rich milk-rice, saying, "Venerable Sir, whoever you may be, god or human, please accept this offering. May you attain the good which you seek." Later that day, the Buddha-to-be met a grasscutter who offered him sweet-scented grass for a cushion. He spread the grass at the foot of a beautiful large fig tree which later became known as the Bodhi Tree, or Tree of Enlightenment. He knew that death had almost captured him. Now, today, he would make a final effort. Confidently, he sat beneath the tree and vowed, "Though my skin, my nerves and my life blood go dry, I will not abandon this seat until I have realized Supreme Enlightenment." He began meditating on his breath. With lashing fury, doubts and fears hidden in the deepest recesses of his mind suddenly burst forth as a horde of worldly distractions and temptations. He thought of his wife and child, his parents and the luxurious life he had led in the palace. Cravings for sensual pleasures arose, as well as thoughts of abandoning the renunciate life. The glories of fame, power and prestige loomed as gross temptations. All kinds of disturbing thirsts flooded his mind. Most powerful were the hosts of fears about dying which sprung up to shake the Bodhisatta's resolve. Symbolically, these gross defilements manifested as an invading army waging war with him. Personified as Mara, or Death, fears assaulted him in the guise of armies of menacing terrifying demons, dreadful screaming sounds, great floods, a shower of meteors, horrendous whirlwinds, deadly mud avalanches, crackling thunder and lightning bolts and, worse of all, a great, silent, all-enveloping darkness. Legend states that when Mara sent a raging storm to force the Future Buddha from his seat, a serpent king, the giant cobra Muchalinda, wrapped his body in coils under the seated Bodhisatta and raised his hood to protect him from the storm's fury. 
The Future Buddha, suffused with perfect poise, alert, mindfully attentive and unshakeable, confidently sat unmoving, serenely observing each mental phenomena as it appeared in consciousness, watching closely its arising-and-passing away. His long practice, in many lifetimes, of the Ten Perfections acted as his vanguard to persevere and resist these fears and temptations. Mara, seeing the Great Being winning the war, challenged his further efforts, booming forth, "Get up from this seat, Siddhattha! It does not belong to you, but to me!" The Buddha-elect countered Mara's claim, asking Mother Earth itself to testify to his fulfillment of the Ten Perfections. Stretching out his right hand and touching the earth with his fingertips, the ground quaked and trembled and in a great roar burst forth from its depths, and with a tremendous utterance:
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"I, EARTH, BEAR YOU WITNESS!" Mara and all his forces became fearful and fled. All through the night, the Great Being, at different stages of his meditation, with deep intuitive insight, came to know how mental pollutions are born, how they are destroyed, moment to moment, never to be reborn in the mind. He destroyed past, present and future spiritual ignorance. He shed from his mind the snares of sensual desire and every passion died. He conquered the wish for continued existence in rarified meditative states or the desire for annihilation at death. The texts say that he came to know his past births and how human beings are born over and over again. Once and for all time, delusion gave way. He understood "things as they are." He breathed the utterance:

"Looking for the maker of this house (of self) I have run through a course of many births not finding him. Painful is birth again and again. But now, maker of this house, you are seen. I know you! Delusion fashioned you. You shall not construct this house again. All your rafters are broken, your ridgepole is shattered!
My heart has peace having cut the bonds of craving. Liberation is won!"

Prince Siddhattha had realized his goal. He became the Buddha Sakyamuni, sage of the Sakyans - an All-Awakened Perfectly Enlightened One. The Great Being realized the Four Noble Truths, namely
1. Life, by its unstable nature, has the potentiality of uneasiness, dissatisfaction, frustration and stress. Life hurts.
2. This dissatisfaction is caused by thirsting and craving.
3. There is a path leading to the cessation of dissatisfaction.
4. It is the Noble Eightfold Path which leads out of dissatisfaction, namely:
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Right (Balanced,Perfect) View or Understanding
Right Aim or Purpose
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

The Buddha came to understand that it is impossible for the body, being born, to escape death. A system of practice exists leading to Deathlessness (within the mind). Its development removes attachment to whatever is born as belonging to one or one's self. With such attachment removed there will be no feeling of death, no fear when what is born is certainly destined to die. This process will be seen merely as a natural and impersonal phenomena of birth and death which has no connection with one or one's self. Enlightenment is a personal experience. Worldly terms cannot convey its inner depths. The texts, however, give some description calling the final realization of Enlightenment (Nibbana or Nirvana) the Ideal Refuge, the Cool Cave, Absolute Security and the abandoning of all forms of greed, hatred, delusion and mental negativities.

 

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Enlightenment is unique in that no divine intervention comes into play or transcendent illumination from some cosmic power, source or higher Self. The here-and-now is the ground for cultivation and not some other realm. The Buddha came to the Truth as a human being and became the Perfect One through human effort. Further, the Eightfold Path leads to perfect mental health and the development of high levels of Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity. Based on the practice of humane living, Insight (Vipassana) Meditation is the primary tool for spiritual development. The Buddha's Teachings are known as Dhamma (or Dharma), the Truth. The Buddha taught an exceptionally profound analysis of mental components called Abhidhamma, or Buddhist psychology. Ordinary Buddhists are taught the teachings and eventually develop the Path in four stages until Enlightenment (arhatship) is realized. The historical Buddha, who did not have a teacher showing Him the way to Enlightenment, is considered to possess special attainments. Thus, at age 35, Prince Siddhattha became the Blessed One, the Buddha.

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