Photograph above : View of ‘Pragbodhi’ (today’s Dhongra Hills near Bodhgaya in Bihar), where the Buddha-to-be practised extreme abstinence for almost 6 years.
After leaving the household life at the age of 29, Siddhattha Gotama looked for teachers in the hopes of finding the answer to overcome the unsatisfactory nature of life. Having studied under two meditation teachers and quickly attaining their highest teachings, he did not find the path to Awakening. After leaving Rajagaha, the ascetic Gotama went to the vicinity of Uruvela to further his cultivation towards liberation.
He was joined by five ascetics in the practice of extreme abstinence from food, rest, and any semblance of comfort, in the belief that such self-mortification can lead to the liberation of the mind from craving and clinging. But alas, that extreme practice almost caused the Buddha-to-be his own life. He experienced acute, painful, sharp and piercing sensations throughout his physical body. Yet amazingly, his mind was as clear as ever!
“Strenuous and indomitable was my (mental) energy; my mindfulness was established and unperturbed. My body was however fatigued and was not calmed as a result of that painful endeavour, being overpowered by exertion. But even though such painful sensations arose in me, they did not at all affect my mind.” [Note 1]
Realizing that self-mortification does not lead one to liberation from suffering, but merely dulls and delays spiritual progress, the Buddha-to-be left the company of others to forge His unique “Middle Way” towards Enlightenment, and slowly walked to the banks of Nerañjara River a distant away.