He had been sitting there for no one knows how long, absorbed deep in meditation with a firm resolve to find the root of all suffering and possibly a cure too. His body had grown weak by the austerities and the fire of meditation. Though his mind was still, the truth continued to elude him.
For last several years he had gone from teacher to teacher, in the quest for truth, the truth that could set him free from the suffering that he saw everywhere. Indeed, the entire existence was full of suffering and decay. But no teacher could give him what he wanted. Bidding farewell to all his teachers, he decided to pursue his journey alone and stake his whole life in the quest for truth. He began to practice extreme austerities and embarked on a path of self-mortification, depriving his body of food, water and sleep.
And that’s how he had spent the last few months in this jungle, sitting alone under this particular tree, resolving not to get up till he found the answers. Finally, he opened his eyes and realized that it had been several days since he had a meal and that his body was no more able to tolerate the fire of meditation. He had a moment of realization and he understood how wrong it was to torture one’s body like this. He decided to give respect and care to his body, which was an important tool for meditation.
He decided to take a walk till the nearest village to beg for food. His body needed strength to continue its pursuit. He got up and began to walk. The village was still a mile away and he could notice that his legs were not able to take the strain of walking. After some distance, he fell to the ground exhausted, and became unconscious. His body looked like a dry log of wood from which every drop of moisture had been taken. That’s when the village girl Sujata saw him. She thought she had chanced upon the tree God whom she had been praying for too long. With great care and showing her reverence, she took the bowl of sweet milk to his lips and poured a bit of the milk into his mouth. After a few moments, he opened his eyes and asked for more, in his trembling voice. He drank some more of it and found a new life circulating in his body. Sujata kept feeding him milk from the bowl, till he regained his consciousness in full.
Finally the ascetic got up on his feet with her help and thanked the young girl, “You have saved my life. What’s your name, my child? “, he asked her in a voice full of love and gratitude.
“Sujata”, she replied. “I came here to offer this kheer to the tree God when I noticed you”.
“I live in the village nearby and come here often along with my friends”, she continued.
He thanked her again and went to a cool spot under the trees to sit there in silence.
Over the next few days, he began to eat and drink normally. Sometimes Sujata brought him food and sometimes he went to the village to beg for it. His meditation grew deep and profound with each passing day. From the realm of body, he went to the realm of feelings. From the realm of feelings, he went to the realm of perceptions and finally he was able to see the oneness of mind and body. He realized that every cell of his body contained the wisdom of the entire universe and the inter-connectedness of Being. Day and night he sat beneath the ashvattha tree as new levels of consciousness awoke in him like bright flashes of lightening.
One day as he sat under the ashvattha tree, his concentration was deeper than ever. He realized that all suffering was due to ignorance. People suffer because they take what is impermanent, to be permanent. He realized that the key to liberation would be to break through ignorance and to enter deep into the heart of reality and attain a direct experience of it. He opened his eyes and looked up in gratitude as he noticed a ashvattha leaf hanging from the branches against the backdrop of clear blue sky. He realized the presence of the entire universe in the ashvattha leaf. He understood the essential unity of all creation. And thus, the Buddha was born.
The village children who used to gather around him daily, along with the Sujata, were the first recipients of his teachings. He would often tell them stories from his previous births and answered their numerous questions. He stayed in the forest for several months, thinking how to share his teachings with the world.
Wherever he went, he never forgot Sujata’s help and the children of the village, many of whom became his disciples in later years. He never forgot the vital lesson he had learned when he was practicing self- mortification.
Several years later, when one of his disciples, Sona was trying too hard in his practice and over exhausting himself, the Buddha advised him thus.
“Before you became a monk, you were a musician. Were you not Sona?”
“Yes lord that is correct”, the humble Sona replied.
The Buddha asked Sona, “If you play the sitar, whose strings are too slack, what will be the result”.
“If the strings are too slack, Lord, the Sitar would not make any sound or it would be out of tune”.
“And what if the strings are too tight?”.
“If the strings are too tight, they would likely break”, Sona replied again.
“Just so Sona, if one is idle or lazy in practice or rests his body too much, one cannot progress in meditation. But if one tries too hard, one will suffer fatigue and discouragement and cannot quieten his mind. Avoid both extremes. Don’t force your mind and body too much. Only then you can attain the fruits of your practice.”, Buddha replied remembering his old days, several years ago in a distant forest.