Six Years of Struggle

Eventually Siddhartha came to the forest where the wise men lived. He studied first with Arada and then with Udraka. In a short time he mastered everything they had to teach him. But still he was not satisfied. "My teachers are holy people, but what they have taught me does not bring an end to all suffering. I must continue to search on my own." He continued his travels until he came to the Nairangana River, Near the holy town of Gaya. He crossed the river and entered the forests on the other side. There he found a group of five men. Their life was extremely simple. They ate very little food, lived out in the open, and sat perfectly still for many hours each day.

"Why are you doing such painful thing to your bodies?" Siddhartha asked these men. "Most people in the world treat their bodies very gently," they answered, "yet still experience such suffering. We feel that if we can learn to master pain, we shall have found the way to control all suffering." Siddhartha thought to himself, "For so many years I lived in those luxurious pleasure palaces. I was treated very gently, yet still my mind did not find peace. Perhaps these men are right. I shall join them in their practices and see if this leads to the end of sufferings."

And so he began these difficulty and painful practices. He sat for hours and hours in the same spot. Even though his legs and back hurt very much, he would not move a muscle. He let himself be burned by the blazing summer sun and chilled by the winter winds. He ate barely enough food to remain alive. But no matter how difficult it was, he thought, "I must continue and discover the way out of all misery!"

The five men were amazed at Siddhartha. They said to themselves, "we have never seen anyone with as much determination as this man. He drives himself on and on and never quits. If anyone is ever going to succeed in these practices it will be Siddhartha. Let us stay near him so that when he discovers the true path we shall be able to learn it from him."

Siddhartha treated his body more and more harshly. In the beginning, he slept only a few hours for each night, but eventually he stopped going to sleep . He stopped taking even the one poor meal a day that he used to eat, and would only eat the few seeds and berries that the wind blew into his lap. He grew thinner. His body lost its radiance and became covered with dust and dirt. Eventually, he looked like little more than a living skeleton. But still, he did not give up his practices.

Six long years passed. Siddhartha was thirty five, having spent six years with hardly any food, sleep, shelter or decent clothing. One day he thought to himself, "Am I any closer to my goal now than I was six years ago? Or am I still as ignorant as before? When I was a Prince and lived in luxury, I had everything a person could desire. I wasted many years in those prisons of pleasures. "Then I left and began my search. I have lived the forests and caves and have had nothing but poor food and much pain. But I still have not learned how to put an end to suffering. I can see now that it is a mistake to punish my body like this, just as it was a mistake to have wasted so much time in those palaces. To find the truth I must follow a middle path between too much pleasure and too much pain." He remembered that many years ago, after he had seen the dead man, he had meditated under a rose apple tree. "After that meditation," he thought, "my mind was very calm and still. I was able to see things clearly for the first time. I shall try to meditate like that again now."

But when he looked at himself he realized, "I have been sitting here for such a long time with no food that I am tired, dirty and weak. I am so thin that I can see my bones through my skin. How can I meditate when I am too hungry dirty even to think clearly?" And so he slowly pulled himself up and went to bath himself in the river. He was so weak, however, that he fell and was almost drowned. With great effort he just managed to pull himself to the shore. Then he sat for a while, resting.