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Enlightenment

Siddhartha's mind was calm and relaxed. As he sat under the tree his concentration deepened and his wisdom grew brighter. 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.

As he saw how everything was connected in this way, deeper truths appeared to his mind. He looked deeply into himself and discovered that his life as Siddhartha the Prince was but the latest in a series of lifetimes that had no beginning - and that the same was true of everyone. We are born, live and die not one time, but again and again. He saw that death is only the separation of the mind from its present body. After death the importance of Karma is central to the next journey. After death the mind goes on to find a new body in the same was that a traveller leaves a guest house and moves on to find another. When one life ends, another begins - and in this way the wheel of death and birth keeps spinning around and around.

He also saw that in our travels from one life to the next we are constantly changing and constantly affecting one another. Like actors changing parts in a play, our roles change as we move from life to life. Sometimes we are rich and comfortable; sometimes we are poor and miserable. Occasionally we experience pleasure, but more often we find ourselves with problems. And Siddhartha also saw that as our conditions change, so do our relations with others: we have all been each other's friend and enemy, mother and father, son and daughter thousands upon thousands of times in the past.

Then he looked at all of the suffering in the world. He saw how everyone - from the smallest insect to the greatest king - runs after pleasure, only to end up with dissatisfaction. When we do not find what we are searching for we are miserable, and even when we do find the pleasure we seek it soon fades and we have to look for something else.

And he saw how living beings create their own misery and joy. Blind to the truth that everything is always changing, they lie, steal and even kill to get the things that they want, even though these things can never give them the lasting happiness they desire. And the more their minds fill with greed and hate, the more they harm each other - and themselves! Each harmful action leads them to more and more unhappiness. They are searching for peace yet find nothing but pain.

Finally, he discovered the way to end all this suffering. If a person could see the truth clearly - as he himself had seen in this night - then all confused running after pleasure and away from pain would stop. Without any more greed and hatred in our mind, we should never do anything to harm anyone else. Having overcome all the selfishness in our mind, we shall have destroyed the causes of unhappiness completely. With our hatred removed, our hearts will fill with love, and this love will bring us a peace and happiness unlike anything we have ever felt.

When Siddhartha had seen all this, even the last speck of darkness disappeared from his mind. He was filled with a radiant clear light. He was no longer an ordinary person. With a calm and peaceful smile, he arose from his meditation. In the golden daybreak, so it is said, Siddhartha looked up and saw the morning star. And then a great understanding came to him. He saw in his mind all the life of the world and the planets; of all the past and all the future. He understood the meaning of existence, of why we are here on this earth and what has created us. At long last he found the truth, he established the principles of Karma.

Now he was the Buddha, the fully liberated one, awakened, enlightened. The search of six long years had ended. It was a day when the full-moon shone, casting a bright silver light on the whole countryside, a day in the month of Vesak (May).

The Buddha was thirty-five years old and, for a week, following Enlightenment, he sat under the tree enjoying the state of perfect happiness he had achieved. The Tree later became known as the Tree of Enlightenment or the Bodhi-Tree and the place is still known as Buddha Gaya. He spent a further six weeks near the tree. It is said that for a whole week, he gazed at the tree with gratitude for having sheltered him.

Whom to Teach?

Buddha himself was filled with the highest happiness. His mind, free from all darkness and pain, felt a boundless joy. Then he thought, "It was so difficult for me to reach the end of suffering and become a Buddha. I had to work so hard for so long. When I see how blind and ignorant most people are, I wonder if there is anyone who can understand the truths I have discovered. How could I possibly teach them? Perhaps it is better for me to live the rest of my life in the forests alone and enjoy the happiness of being a Buddha myself."

Then he heard an inner voice which said. "Please do not forget us! We are the suffering beings of the world. We have been waiting for this moment ever since your birth, and even before that. We have hoped and prayed these many years that you would leave the princely life and discover the way to end all suffering. Now that you have found this path, please teach it to us. Unlike you, we are still suffering."

But another thought arose in Buddha's mind: "Who will be able to follow the teaching I have to give? Who is strong and brave enough? Who will try hard and long enough?"

And the inner voice came again: "It is true that our minds are clouded in ignorance, O Buddha. But for some people this ignorance is not so thick. They will be able to understand you. For their sake, please teach us all the true Path!"

Then Buddha smiled and said, "Of course; of course, I shall teach. The only reason I left the princely life was to find a way to help others. Now that I have become a Buddha, I shall do everything I can.

"But even a Buddha cannot remove the sufferings of others if they do not try to help themselves. People must want to get better before a doctor can cure them. In the same way, they must want to hear the teachings of the truth before anyone can help them. But whoever comes to me with an open mind will find that I am ready to teach them in every way I can."

Then he thought, "Who, among all the people in the world, should be the first I teach? Who is the most ready?" He remembered Arada and Udraka, the two teachers he had met six years before. "They would be the best to teach, but I can see that they have already died and left this world."

Then he thought of the five men who lived with him for so long in the forest. "They are ready to understand the truth." he thought. "I shall teach them first."

He knew that he would find these men in the Deer Park near Varanasi, the holiest city of ancient India. "I shall go there," Buddha proclaimed, "and begin the work I came to do."

Early life | Four signs | Bodhi tree | Enlightenment | Noble Truths | Life & Death | Asoka | Books | Buildings | Festivals | Practices | Rites | Glossary