"My body reached a state of extreme emaciation. Because of eating so little my limbs became like the jointed stems of creepers or bamboo; my backside became like a buffalo's hoof; my backbone, bent or straight, was like corded beads; my jutting and broken rafters of an old house; the gleam of my eyes sunk deep in their sockets was like the gleam of water seen deep down at the bottom of a deep well." 1
This was the Prince Siddhartha at the age of thirty-five. For six years, he had practiced the 'severe austerities,' depriving himself of food and water as well as torturing himself in a seemingly endless search for enlightenment.
Who was this Prince Siddhartha? Better known as Buddha, he was born on April 8, 2 in the year 566, 563 3 , or 560 4 B.C. to King Suddhodana and Queen Maya (also known as Mahamaya or Mayadevi) of Sakya (or Sakhya or Shakya) in present day Nepal. Both of his parents came from the Gautama (or Gotama) clan of the royal warrior caste. Maya died one week after Siddhartha was born, and he was raised by her sister, Mahaprajapati.
Buddha grew up in the midst of great luxury. When he was born, prophets had predicted that he would either be a great king or a buddha (truly enlightened one.) He would become a buddha after seeing four signs - an old man, a monk, a corpse, and someone who was ill. Siddhartha's father wanted him to become a king, so he kept him away from all places where he might meet such people. When Buddha was either 16 or 19, he was married to a young woman named Yashodhara. Buddha was apparently somewhat content with the life at his father's palace for the first twenty-nine years of his life, but in his late twenties, he encountered the four signs. He began to think about life in general, and came to the conclusion that all things are changeable. However, instead of acknowledging the one true unchangable God, he sought 'enlightenment' to free him from the cycle of reincarnation which he believed existed. To do this, he left behind his wife, son, and family.
For six years, Siddhartha wandered, begged, starved himself, and tried by other means to find enlightenment. Nothing worked. Finally, he ate a good meal, bathed in a river, and sat down under a tree, later named the Bo-tree, or tree of wisdom, vowing not to leave it until he was enlightened. That night, he passed into a "super-conscious state" and was enlightened. After he came out of the super-conscious state, he danced for seven days and seven nights 5 . Another account says that he meditated for forty-nine days before being enlightened and does not mention any dancing 6 .
It was at this time that Buddha received his name, which means 'enlightened one'. He was also known as 'Sakyamuni'(sage of the Sakya clan), Gautama Buddha (since that was his family name), or simply 'Blessed One' 7 . He immediately began to tell others of his experience. For the next forty-five years, he traveled, teaching throughout India. The area in which he taught was particularly receptive to the new religion because the former religion had become extremely corrupt.
Buddha re-visited his family seven years after he'd left it. His wife had also practiced the severe austerities from the day he left, and became the first of an order of Buddhistic nuns. Buddha's son, Rahula, was sent by his mother to ask for his inheritance, and Buddha made him a monk and bequeathed his wisdom to his son.
Buddha died between 486 and 480 at the age of eighty. It seems that, although feeble, he decided to make one last trip. On this trip, he evidently ate something which caused him to become very ill. He died between two sala trees, teaching up until the moment of his death. His final words were: "Now, monks, I declare to you: all elements of personality are subject to decay. Strive on untiringly!" 8 Many Buddhists think that his power is still present in his relics, and in the many images of Buddha.