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26.09 00:05 - The last days of Siddhartha Gautama - part II
Автор: andorey Категория: История   
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Последна промяна: 27.09 10:03

Part II 

The city of Rajagaha  

After crossing the Great river, Siddhartha continued southeast. After a few days, spending the nights in inns along the road, he reached Rajagaha, the royal city, the capital of Magadha. From afar the great white walls, with rectangular towers, were gleaming. Here was the court of Bimbisara – the young but skilful ruler of the vast kingdom of Magadha.  In the vicinity of the city, in caves, in rock dwellings, under bamboo sheds, or sited under sacred trees, there lived renowned ascetics, sramanas, yogis, and wandering Brahmins. They all preached their own way to reach salvation, conquering the consciousness, the fusion of the individual and the eternal Atmen. It was to them that Siddhartha came, to learn the truth about salvation.  Early the next morning, surrounded by travelling merchants, royal messengers and suppliers, vagrants and other newcomers, Siddhartha walked through the gates, and entered Rajagaha. The food he carried with him was finished and the time had come to use the clay bowl he carried to collect food and alms. He paced from door to door to receive his daily ration. The citizens had long been accustomed to the wandering homeless who gathered food every morning on the streets, markets, craft shops, and homes. The prince knocked on doors, with cast down eyes, but his appearance, behaviour and clear speech provoked surprise and even astonishment. Everyone the prince stood in front of divided part of their scant household food and soon Siddhartha filled the bowl. He climbed one of the hills overlooking over the city, settled down and looked in the bowl. The food inside was raw, rough and tasteless, such as he had never eaten on the table in Kapilavastu. The prince was still refined and his taste was discriminating. It was not easy for him to eat the food of the common people but slowly he ate everything that was collected in the bowl.   That is how the days of the new sramana started in Rajagaha. Every morning he gathered his food and withdrew to the surrounding hills where he gave himself up to reasoning and contemplation. Soon the news of the samana with noble bearing, who was going along the city with a clay bowl in hands, reached the royal palace.      “In your city, o King, a noble young man has appeared. Humble and with cast down eyes, he circuits among the homes to receive his daily ration. Dressed in a yellow robe he has cut off hair and beard, but his illustrious breeding is recognized“.  “This would be Siddhartha, the son of Sudhodana”, Bimbisara replied. “I have received news that the prince has left the palace of Kapilavastu. He dressed in the yellow robe and took off the insignia. He took the path of a sramana. I want to meet him. Find the place where he dwells and then bring him before me“.   The officials quickly found sramana Gautama but he did not want to enter the palace. The young king Bimba was compelled to go personally to the northeast hill named Pandava, accompanied by several officials, in order to meet him. Near a large rock, under the loose shade of a young tree, the sramana sat alone. It was not difficult for Bimbisara to understand what kind of man stood before him. He recognized a representative of the royal family, a man of his own blood.  “Where do you come from, honorable man?” the king asked, “You have a look of someone belonging to the eminent warrior caste“. “There is a prosperous country, o king, stretching right up the foothills of Himalaya, inhabited by Kosalans and, related to them, Sakyans. I am a descendant of the white-coloured Sakyans, and the clan Gautama.    “Yes, all this can be seen, ill-concealed by the dark-yellow robe”, said king Bimba.  “We do not know what brought you to this, honourable sir, but my heart fills with sorrow. It is not worthy that a man like yourself should wander in this city of mine, with such an appearance, and given to contemplation but not to action. You, honourable sir, deserve to be a leader of a first class army, a leader of a squadron of battle elephants. I offer you a place with us so that you can receive that which your status demands. I offer you wealth and position in my court“. Siddhartha barely smiled and replied: “Thank you, o king, for the good words and the high recognition. But I have renounced the worldly life, wealth, fame, high position and the search for sensual pleasure. I left them and ran away from them because I see a danger in them. I subjected myself to this ordeal because, in this way, I seek salvation from them. Do not pity me – my heart hankers after no vulgar profit. Illusory is the nature of wealth, better than everything is the fruit of holiness. Your offer deflects me from my goal, so I can not accept it. May your kingdom enjoy peace and prosperity, and may wisdom be shed upon your rule like the brightness of the midday sun. May your royal power be strong, and may righteousness be the sceptre in your hand!” The king clasped his hands with reverence, bowed down before the sramana and said:    “May you obtain that which you seek, and when you have obtained it, come back, we pray thee, let us also hear the great revelation”.  The sage of the Sakyans gave a sign of consent. The visit was over and king Bimba went away, followed by his entourage.       

Alara Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra  

There were in Rajagaha, and its vicinity famous ascetics, yogis and sages – Brahmins and Rishis. One of the famous schools was that of Alara Kalama. Alara, a great yogi, was able to achieve a state of trance, in which he stood awake but without perceiving anything from the surrounding world. Once seated upon a tree in that state of consciousness, he did not notice the five hundred carts loaded with goods which trundled along on the dirt road nearby.  Sramana Gautama visited the place where the students of the yogi gathered, and where he taught his method. The sramana watched Alara and his students. Seated on the ground cross-legged, with long curly beard and hair, with black eyes wide open, Alara taught special postures, control of breathing, concentration of consciousness. Afterwards he fell into a trance.   After the end of the meditation, sramana Gautama approached Alara Kalama and greeted him reverently. Coming out of the trance into which he had sunk,  Alara, with surprise, looked toward the well-built sramana standing in front of him. His black eyes, in which emptiness was showing, gradually began to fill with contentment.  “Reverend Kalama”, sramana began, “I would like to join your community and lead a religious life according to your discipline and teaching”.  Alara replied:    “Please stay, friend. This teaching is such that one can, in a short time, attain understanding equal to that of the teacher, and dwell in it”.  Sramana Gautama bowed and withdrew. Thus he became one of the students of Alara and began to follow the way of life established in that community. In accordance with the rules of the school he learned and recited what he had heard from the elder students. He was also mastering the exercises. In a short time he learned everything needed. “Alara must have proclaimed his teaching not out of mere faith, but because of having realized it himself by direct knowledge”, sramana Gautama reasoned. One day he went to see Alara and asked him: “Reverend Kalama, how far have you yourself realized this teaching by direct knowledge?”. “Following this doctrine”, Alara replied,  “you can reached the realm of nothingness. This is a place where nothing exists – neither men, nor gods, nor objects, nor plants nor animals. There is no “me” or “you” or “we” there. It is a great emptiness– there is nothing there!”. Sramana Gautama bowed and left. “Not only Alara has faith, strength of will, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom. I have these things as well”, he thought. “I will try to reach the place that Alara has reached.” And indeed, soon the sramana reached the state of nothingness, the great emptiness. In such a moment it overwhelmed him completely, and he failed to notice what was happening around him. Sramana Gautama went to Alara again, and shared with him his experience in the realm of nothingness. “A gain, it is great gain for us, it is profitable for us, to have the reverend sramana as our companion in the holy life!”, exclaimed Alara,  “This doctrine which I have realized, attained and proclaimed, you too have realized, attained and proclaimed. As I am, so you are; as you are so am I. Come, friend, we will lead this community of pupils together”. Sramana Gautama felt honoured and recognized as equal to master Alara, but he put off the answer to the suggestion until the next day. Reaching, and then dwelling, in the realm of nothingness could really bring peace and liberation. But only for a short period. The doctrine of Alara Kalama did not actually lead to dispassion, to cessation, to awakening, to true knowledge. It was only a temporary nirvana, only a stay in the realm of nothingness. Here, sramana Gautama had learned everything that could be learned, without achieving what he was seeking. On the next day he said goodbye to Alara Kalama and left the community.   There was in the region another famous teacher – Udraka, son of Rama. He descended from a Brahmin family, and inherited the doctrine that he was teaching from his father. Like other Brahmins his hair was short, his face pale and shaven. He spoke quietly but with grace, often quoting long passages from the Vedas and the Upanishads.   Sramana Gautama visited the place where Udraka taught the doctrine to his students, seated in a semicircle around him. With attention they listened to his words. The sramana waited till the end of the teaching, approached Udraka and said: “Reverend Udraka, I would like to join your community and lead a righteous life according to the principles of your teaching”.  “Please stay with us, honorable sir”, Udraka replied, “Our talks are such that one can, in a short time, attain understanding equal to that of the teacher, and dwell in it”. Sramana Gautama bowed and sat together with the other students face to face with the Brahmin. So he became one of them and started leading their way of life. In a short time he remembered and learned everything that was taught. He understood and realized the principles of the doctrine. “Udraka must have proclaimed his teaching not out of mere faith, but because he really understood and realized it himself and came to its essence”, thought the sramana. One day he came to Udraka and asked him: “Venerable Ramaputra, what is the extent of this doctrine which you have attained and which you proclaim?”. “Honorable Gautama”, Udraka said, “following this doctrine one can perceive the illusiveness of this world, reaching the frontier of neither perception nor non-perception”.  Following the methods of the teaching, sramana Gautama soon reached this state of mind and body in which he neither perceived nor non-perceived the outside world. He reached that frontier which revealed entirely the illusiveness of the world.  Soon he went to see Udraka again and, sharing his experiences, he asked him: “Is that the extent of the doctrine you have proclaimed, and that can be reached?”. “This is it, my friend”, replied the teacher Udraka.  “Nobody would believe it, that someone would so quickly, following the methods of this teaching, reach its essence. This doctrine, from my ancestors inherited, which I myself have comprehended, realized, attained and proclaimed you too have comprehended, realized, attained and proclaimed. What I am, is the same as what you are; what you are is the same as what am I. Come my friend, you have proved to be more capable than me, so I leave you the sole leadership of this community”.  Sramana Gautama felt honoured and recognized as more capable than master Udraka, but he put off the answer to the suggestion for the next few days. “That doctrine he taught allows someone to reach the state of neither perception nor non-perception, but it could not actually lead to dispassion, to cessation of suffering, to a gain of true knowledge, peace and nirvana.” On the next day sramana Gautama thanked Udraka, but announced that he has taken a decision to leave the community. He bowed down said goodbye to the teacher and the students, and left Rajagaha with a thoughtful face.       

The Middle country  

Still in search of what is good, and striving for the supreme state of peace, sramana Gautama continued his way through the kingdom of Magadha. Here, those who searched for liberation from earthly matters, who tried to overcome the body, passion and everything transient, were many. Wandering from place to place, sramana Gautama faced fakirs who subjected their bodies to torment and self torture, aiming to crush the passion so they could achieve full control of the body and mind. He saw a devotee, who stood for many years with his hand raised in the air, till his raised hand has became stiff and lifeless. He saw also another, who stood upright, leaning on a horizontal piece of wood, and standing like that, without sleep and rest, had spent many summers. The bodies of the devotees suffered hardship, but their eyes remained keen and sharp, focused on eternity, filled with flame.  Sramana Gautama came across wandering healers and diviners, who were concerned in divination, conjuring spirits, and spells. Some of them enjoyed the benevolence of the elders in the villages and the population because they could predict the weather, cast spells for fertility and the prevention of wounds, from arrows or other weapons. Others benefited from the benevolence of the wealthy merchants because they taught them how to live so as to secure a successful future rebirth and a happy life.  There were sramanas who taught inaction and skepticism. Others preached that all in the world is one. Their faith had gone as far as to assert that the day and the night is the same thing. There were wanderers who toured around different areas imitating the life and behaviour of different animals. Some were taking their foot from the ground with their mouth, like the dogs did. Others imitated the life and the behaviour of the sacred cows, yet another leaped and crowed like a rooster.  Wandering through the Middle country sramana Gautama failed to find a suitable place where he could practice contemplation and concentration. Finally he journeyed south where he reached the small city of Uruvela, where a small garrison of the Magadha’s king was located. A broad river, named Neranjara, with convenient fords flowed nearby. On the other side of it was situated the village Senani. Behind the village stretched a plot of land, forests and a clean flowing river with even banks. “This place” considered sramana Gautama “will surely fit someone searching and striving with his own self and someone ready to endure suffering.” Near Uruvela the municipality of Kassapa the Elder was also situated. He had five hundred disciples. Down the course of the river the middle brother of Kassapa has established his municipality, with three hundred followers. Further north near Gaya, was the municipality of the younger brother, with two hundred disciples. The three brothers came from a Brahmin family and were fire-worshipers. Morning and evening they poured libations on the altar upon which the sacred fire was burning. At the same time they sang hymns which praised Agni – the Fire, the mediator between gods and humans, the one that burns, shines, illuminates, opens the gates of darkness, strengthens Earth and Heaven.  Sramana Gautama kept aloof from the nearby settlements, and settled in an abandoned old cowshed, near the place where the forest-thickets began. A few people would dare to live alone in abandoned places near the jungle. “Indeed” thought sramana Gautama “remote and abandoned places, near the forest and the jungle are hard to endure, seclusion is hard to achieve, isolation is hard to enjoy. One would think the forest must rob the wandering man of his mind if he has not a correct approach to concentration.” Near the place, sramana Gautama made a pathway, clear from bushes and vegetation, away from the big trees – as the old tradition required. While walking back and forth on it, he reflected on his present condition. “Suppose some sramana or Brahman is insufficiently purified in bodily verbal or mental conduct, or in his livelihood, is covetous and keenly sensitive to lust for sensual desires, or malevolent, with thoughts of hate, or a prey to lethargy and drowsiness or agitated and not calm in mind, or doubting and uncertain; is given to self-praise and denigrating others, is subject to fright and horror, desires, gain, honour and renown; is idle and wanting in energy, forgetful and not fully aware,  not concentrated and confused in mind, devoid of understanding – when some such a sramana or Brahman lives near the forest-thickets, then because of those faults he evokes fear and dread, which is unwholesome. But I do not live near the forest-thickets as one of those. I have none of those defects. Seeing in myself this freedom from such defects, I find great solace in living near the forest.” After spending some time at this place sramana Gautama decided to spend the night at other places too. The people feared especially the orchard shrines, woodland shrines and tree shrines. At half moon and quarter moon these places were filled with the spirits of the dead, evil forces hovered about and such things happened that made the hair stand up. “Suppose I spent the night in such an awe-inspiring place?” wondered sramana Gautama, and began spending the nights near the orchard shrines, woodland shrines and tree shrines which at night made the hair stand up out of fear and dread. “Perhaps I should encounter that fear and dread?” thought the sramana. And while he dwelt there, a deer would approach him, or a peacock would knock off a branch or the wind would rustle the leaves. These sounds aroused anxiety and the sramana thought: “Surely this is the fear and dread coming.” For several nights the fear and dread were companions to the sramana Gautama until finally he thought: “Why do I dwell in constant expectation of the fear and dread? Why not subdue that fear and dread while maintaining the posture I am in when they come to me?” And while walking at night, the fear and dread suddenly swooped upon him, but he neither stood, nor sat nor lay down until he had subdued that fear and dread. While standing the fear and dread came upon him but he neither walked, nor sat, nor lay down until he had overcome these feelings. While sitting it happened the same, but he took no other action till he had overcome the feelings provoked in him. While he lay in the night, the fear and dread called upon him, but he neither walked, nor stood not sat until he was completely freed from these feelings. In that way, after a while, sramana Gautama subdued completely the fear and dread. 

  The austerities  

After several years of wandering across the Middle country, sramana Gautama had tried and achieved everything. He had traveled from place to place and became well acquainted with the different schools and doctrines. He had spent the nights in deserted buildings and in places where it was rare to see someoneset foot. He had overcome the vicious thoughts, passion and desire, had subdued the fear but had not yet achieved what he was striving for. He could not find the true knowledge, which leads to overcoming pain, suffering and death.  Near Uruvela there was a closed shelter, in which alms for the poor and homeless were given. Here had gathered many wandering mendicants from the territories of Magadha. Among them there were ascetics, who practiced severe exercises, leading to the imposition of control over the feelings, mind and the body. Sramana Gautama could not find another possible way towards the acquiring of true knowledge, so he decided to subdue completely his feelings, mind and body, in this way. Near the closed shelter he found a suitable place and sat on the ground. He tried to overcome the flow of his thoughts. With teeth clenched, and tongue pressed to the palate, he tried to restrain, to crush and burn out his mind and thought. While doing this, sweat began to flow from his armpits. The feeling was such as if a strong man were to seize a weaker man by the head or shoulders. Again and again the sramana tried with firmly clenched teeth and with a tongue strongly pressed to the palate, to restrain, to destroy, to crush and burn out his mind and thought. More and more sweat flowed from his armpits. After making a final effort the undisturbed state of mindfulness was achieved, but the body was not calm, even through the painful feeling that overwhelmed him had passed away. Thus, despite the painful feelings, the body and mind could not become completely subdued.  Sramana Gautama saw ascetics who stopped their breathing for a very long time. Perhaps that was the way to the complete the overpowering of mind and body. The sramana found a suitable place and began to practice non breathing for long periods of time. He restrained breathing in and out from mouth and nose. And as he did so, there was a violent sound of winds issuing from his ears. Just like the violent sound coming from the blowing of a blacksmith’s bellows, so was the sound which pierced his ears. The practitioner understood that he had begun to breathe through the ears. The air came in and out through them and thus he maintained his body. When he realized it, he decided to stop the breathing through the ears, nose and mouth. And when he did so, violent winds roared in his head. Just as a strong man were to crush one’s head with a sharp sword, so did the violent winds which roared in his head. Sweat came out of his body and he fell, exhausted, to the ground.  The pain was unbearable. It was as if someone had twisted a strap round his head, as if a butcher were cutting his intestines with a sharp knife, as if two strong men were holding a weaker one over a fire of coals. The pain and the exhaustion were enormous. The body of the ascetic lay on the ground lifeless. People thought he was dead, but others said  “He is not dead, but is dying.” “Not dead is the ascetic Gautama, nor dying.”  A third said, “He is a holy man – an Arahant, because such is the behaviour of the Arahant.” The inhabitants of the area already knew about the ascetic who punished his body so severely. The rumours about him spread even further. “Ascetic Gautama is a holy man” said those who lived nearby.  “A holy man this is” said those who came from afar and saw the suffering of the ascetic. “A holy cheil is Gotama”, said Kassapa the Elder, the fire-worshiper, who had also seen the behaviour of the ascetic.  But the torments with which ascetic Gautama had subdued himself could not help him completely overcome his thoughts and his body. Then he met one of those called niggantha – free from fetters. These were also called acelaca – naked, because their leaders were traveling naked and taught that way: “Whoever kills a living being – they all go on the downward path, to hell. Whoever takes that which is not given, or who does not behave decently and gives way to passion, whoever tells lies – they all go on the downward path, to hell.”  And they said also: “Refrain from bad deeds, but also from all kind of deeds, because they bind up the man with the world, with the karma, and hinder the liberation of our soul. Only abstinence and repentance can save us”. Arcelaca regarded striving for death as the only right way of leaving the world.  Ascetic Gautama began to follow the righteous life, which led to the purification of karma and to liberation from the fetters of the body. Sitting under the big tree, asvattha, he spent his time in meditation and the restriction of thoughts, speech and deeds, of anything which could bind him to the world, eating of food included. When he had to move, the ascetic trod cautiously trying not to cause accidental death of some little insect. He was careful where he was sitting or resting. He was aware that to even to touch a grass or a plant may cause unintentional harm to some very small living being.  Five Brahmins joined the holy ascetic – Kondanna, Bhadrika, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji – conquered by his behaviour and the way he unflinchingly followed the path to liberation. Abstaining from everything which the others considered necessary, the ascetic was eating daily only a handful of boiled beans, vetches, pulse or chickpeas. Out of the little food his body became lean, but nevertheless he diminished his daily ration, till at last he accepted only one bean a day. He ceased moving and confined himself only to the most necessary needs of the human body. From near and afar people came to watch the ascetic, whose body already looked like a skeleton and who deliberately embraced starvation.      

Closing to the end  

The seasons passed one after another, day and night shaded in a continuous circle, but the ascetic Gautama failed to notice this. During the rainy season the nearby river Neranjara filled with water, then it dried up, the trees blossomed, smelled sweet and gave fruits, and their leaves fall off. Farmers ploughed the land, sowed, cultivated the harvest and gathered it, but ascetic Gautama failed to notice this. Liberation, victory over the body and everything transient, was all he concentrated upon. The five Brahmins watched him closely.  A hot and muggy night, at the beginning of the month of asvina, descended. The ascetic stood motionless and meditating. A dark shadow, surrounded by glimmering radiance, appeared before him and stood motionless. It was Mara, Master of temptation, Lord of death. Slowly he began to speak these words.
  “O, you are thin and you are pale, And you are in death’s presence too. A thousand parts are pledged to death, But life still holds one part of you. Live, prince! Life is the better way; Come, live the holy life and pour libations And thus win the blessing of the Gods. What can you do by struggling now? The path of struggle is too thorny And difficult and hard to bear.”   The ascetic slowly raised his head and turned his empty, sunken eyes and looked in the direction of Mara. The great ascetic slowly began to speak. “O, Evil One, a cousin of the Negligent, You have come here for your own ends, No merit need I, nor protection, Talk to someone else about them.”   Ascetic Gautama stood silent for a moment, looked down at the ground and continued: “What if the blood, mucus, bile and my flesh run dry. This curbs the passions and becalms the mind. I will gain more mindfulness and understanding. And thus I will come to know the limits of feelings. Your squadrons are numerous, Namuci – Sense, Desires, Boredom, Hunger, Craving, Sloth and Lethargy. Cowardice, Uncertainty, Malice and Obstinacy, besides the desires for notoriety, self-praise and denigrating others. This army is powerful, but will not conquer me. I am not afraid of anything, not even death.” The vision remained silent for a moment and then disappeared into the darkness. The ascetic bent to one side, then to the other and tried to get up. But this proved to be impossible. He had been sitting still for so long and his limbs had become so stiff that they refused to obey the body and the mind. With great difficulty ascetic Gautama started to move his hands and rubbed his thin thighs and calves. While doing this, the hairs of his skin faded long ago, started to fall on to the ground.  After some time the ascetic was able to move his limbs and to stand up. With slow steps he staggered west to the nearby village Senani. Outside the village, but not far from it, the graveyards of the poor people were situated. These were people whose relatives had no means for raising a burial pile, and buried the dead there. The graves were shallow and often jackal, foxes and other wild animals exhumed the bodies onto the surface, and scattered the bones of the deceased. Such places were shunned by all, so some ascetics prefered them as a place where they could indulge themselves in contemplation and concentration without being disturbed by anyone. To these graveyards headed ascetic Gautama. With slow paces he entered the deserted place and slowly gathered from the ground a few scattered bones, human tibias and femurs. He arranged them in a small pile and after he rested on the ground laid his head upon them. That is how he intended to spend the rest of the night. He was not afraid of death, he was ready for it.  Early on the next morning a group of girls, from the village of Senani, headed to the cemetery. When they approached it one of the girls saw the ascetic lying on the small pile of bones and cried in fear. The other girls also started crying. Ascetic Gautama had got up off the ground but his appearance scared the girls even more. “An evil spirit, a frequenter of graves”, cried one of them. “Get out of here, ghost”, cried another, and she bent down and took a handful of dust and small rocks and threw them in the direction of the ascetic.  He stood in hesitation looking at them. Then he turned and at a slow pace walked in the opposite direction. This gave courage to the girls, who had overcome their initial fear.   “Get away from here, evil spirit, ghost”. They started shouting one after another and threw ash, sand, dirt and rocks at the ascetic.  One of the rocks flew through the air and hit the body of the ascetic. He had long ago forgotten pain, but the collision of the rock with the bones below his dry skin was piercing. His thin, skeleton like body slowly left the boundaries of the graveyards and, at last, the girls calmed down and stopped pursuing him.  Ascetic Gautama ceased moving. He felt on his body and face the ashes, sand, dust and dirt. With a slow step he walked to the river Neranjara. The waters of the wide river drifted slowly north, towards Gaya. At that place there was a ford where the waters were shallow. Ascetic Gautama entered the river and began, with slow movements, to wash and clean his body. Once he had finished he tried to return to the shore, but he failed. His body was so emaciated that he could not overcome the resistance of the water. His feet remained buried in the sand that covered the river bed. The ascetic was trying to move, but his strength was leaving him. After some time the current slowly took the dry body and he drifted downstream. The water began to fill the ears, mouth and nose of the ascetic. His consciousness was slowly leaving him. Then he saw hanging over him the thin, sinewy branches of a willow tree that grew on the shore. He stretched his hands and caught the branches. Then he succeeded in getting onto his feet and, still holding the branches in his hands, was able to get out of the water. He set foot on the shore and kept moving away from the river. But he failed to cover much distance and his body, after the experience of the river, dropped lifeless on the ground. 

  The mother  

In the village Senani, situated on the other side of the river, opposite Uruvela, lived Sujata, the daughter of the military governor. The family of the governor was wealthy, owning much land and livestock. Sujata had been married for many years, but she still had no children. For six years she visited the temples of the different gods, offered prayers, poured libations and donated gifts, with only one purpose – to conceive a child. Sujata was helping the poor, serving food to the beggars, and doing everything to win the favour of the gods, so she could get a child. She had also seen the starving ascetic, but he had refused to accept food.  After six years of visiting temples and sacred sites, prayers to the gods, serving food to the living and commemorating the dead, the day finally came when Sujata knew that she had conceived. Great was her joy. With even greater zeal she continued to help to those in need, to frequent holy places and utter words of gratitude to the gods. In these days of joy her only concern was the holy ascetic, sitting nor far from the village, under the big tree asvattha. The child in her womb was growing, but ascetic Gautama remained lifeless and looked to be approaching death. Sujata wanted to talk with the holy ascetic and convince him to start eating again, but she was afraid. She feared to meddle in the deeds of the holy people and the gods, who had been so gracious to her.  The day had begun and the sun had risen high in the sky. The others had gone out, performing their habitual duties and in the house only Sujata and the maid Puna were left. Together they prepared lunch  –  boiled rice with milk, and after that Sujata sent Puna outside the house. It was not long before Puna came back, rushing into the room as never  before, and crying. “Mistress, come quick! The holy ascetic lies dead nearby, under the big banyan tree”.  Sujata stood up, troubled, and they quickly went to see the ascetic. Under the tree not far from the house lay the lifeless body of ascetic Gautama. The two women looked at each other fearfully. At the same time the ascetic started to move. Alone he managed to rise and sit on the ground, with crossed legs, making a pose for meditation. His body seemed even more pale, like the body of a dead man. It seemed as if he did not see the outside world. Sujata approached him, so that he could hear her, and started to speak these words: “Oh, holy man, you are extremely thin and you are pale! You are in death’s presence too! It looks like thousand parts of you are dead, but life still holds one part of you. Live, sir – I beg you! You can gain merit only if you live! Come, live the Holy Life, pour libation on the holy fire, and thus a world of merit gain. What can you do by struggling now? The path of struggle is too rough, and painful. You’ve had enough of that”.  Without changing the position of his head or body, the ascetic replied quietly: “Oh, Mara, go away. We discussed that matter in the hours of the night. I will not repeat my words”.  Sujata and Puna looked at each other again.  “He is delirious, poor man!”Sujata said.  “This is sure to be from the extreme hunger and exhaustion. Go quickly to the house, Pune, and bring a bowl full of cooked rice and milk. Our duty is to feed the pale ascetic”.  Puna quickly got up and set off for the house. Sujata came closer to the ascetic. She looked at him and her heart sank with grief. With her hand she touched his left shoulder, and began to speak again: “ Ascetic Gautama, look at me! I am Sujata from the village of Senani. You have seen me before. I have watched for a long time how you suffer and I know that you don’t accept any food. But, please – eat! Cease the striving! Without taking food you can not achieve anything, you will not understand the thing that you strive for”.  Ascetic Gautama turned his head and looked at Sujata. In his eyes glittered a spark of mindfulness and consciousness. Puna had already brought a bowl, full of boiled rice and milk, and placed it gently beside Sujata.  “Please accept this dish served by me!”  said Sujata.  “I beg you as a mother – eat! For six years I have waited for a child, and now after so much suffering, expectation and pain, now it is about to be born. I know that in this world life is the most precious thing! Don’t end it in a senseless struggle! For your own good and for the benefit of the many – live!  Accept this food!”. Sujata silently retreated, leaving the bowl in front of the holy ascetic.  Her eyes filled with tears.  Ascetic Gautama stood mute and cool. Then his consciousness slowly began to emerge from within the deep orbits of his eyes. A slight smile appeared at the edge of his tight lips. With his left hand he slowly took the bowl and placed it on his lap. With the fingers of his right hand he scooped a pinch of the dish and presented it to his mouth. His jaws had fallen out of the habit of chewing and they opened and closed with difficulty. Ascetic Gautama slowly chewed and swallowed the first bite. He waited for a moment and took a second. The two women stood by silently and watched him. Then a third and a fourth time he took the food. An unexpected and rapid change took place in him. His eyes began to purify. The skin on his pale and dry face seemed to tighten and become rosy. His gestures looked more determined and not so clumsy. Sujata bowed, stood up and, together with Pune, quickly returned to her home.  Gautama continued to take food. He began to feel in his extremely exhausted body an incredible influx of power and vitality. He took the whole meal at forty nine bites and left the empty bowl beside him. His thoughts and the five senses awoke gradually. For the first time in a long time he began to hear the sounds of the surrounding world – the rustle of the leaves, the singing of the birds, the buzzing of the insects, the distant voices of the men who worked in the field. He began to smell the scent of the grass. He felt the heat of the air with his skin.  Suddenly, from afar, the wind brought the song of girls, who played a sitar. A flood of memories rushed into the mind of the ascetic. He saw the fields near Kapilavastu, he saw the city, the palace, the relatives and other people. He saw himself as a young man, sitting under the cool shade of the jambu tree in the fields not far from the city. Then, twenty summers ago, at this same time of the year, he had witnessed the ceremonial ploughing of the land, prior to the sowing of the wheat. Five pairs of white oxen, with gilded horns, were harnessed to a wooden plough, ending with an iron ploughshare. King Sudhodana held the plough of the pair standing in the middle. Two by two on both sides stood his assistants. Slowly and solemnly trod the oxen and the ploughs turned the heavy brown soil making large furrows. Deep excitement and a joyful feeling had seized the prince whilst watching. Without ill intentions, without sensual desires, free from everything, the prince stood in joy, under the cool shade of the big tree.  “Why now?”  ascetic Gautama asked himself.  “I am afraid to be happy?  Why should I be afraid of the happy state that is without sensual desires and without ill intentions? Is it unwholesome the joy that comes from the seclusion, reflection, reasoning, and the sense of freedom? By these extreme austerities that I have experienced, I have not attained salvation and supreme wisdom. May be it is not these, but the feeling I experience at the moment that is the right path to liberation?” In his weak body the newly awakened feelings suggested new thoughts. “Yes, this is the right path to liberation!” In a state of joyful concentration he arose from seclusion, dispassionately exploring the surrounding world and the feeling of freedom. The strength that he received from the food given by Sujata began to abate. Then the ascetic Gautama thought: “It’s not easy to keep this happy state of concentration, joy and peace, when my body is so weak. I should start again to take solid food”.  Slowly he got up and was directed to the place where he had spent so much time in asceticism and total abstinence, where the five Brahmins still stood, perplexed by his absence.  Whilst approaching the big tree asvattha and the sacred well, ascetic Gautama saw a goad-herd boy who was returning the goats to the village. Gautama called the boy, who was initially scared of the appearance of the ascetic. Gautama asked the boy for some milk. Still scared, the goat-herd hastened to fulfil the request of the fearful strange man. After that he quickly retreated, together with the herd.  The five Brahmins were also not far away and watched with surprise the actions of the ascetic. But they stood silently and asked no questions. Their surprise grow stronger on the next day when, early in the morning, the ascetic stood up and with a clay bowl in his hand went to the nearby village to collect alms. That lasted for several days and between them the Brahmins decided: “Ascetic Gautama gave up the fight. He abandoned the striving and reverted to luxury.” Silently and without warning, they stood up and quit the failed ascetic. They went northwest to Benares, away from this fraudulent place, away from the man who misled and failed them. The sage of the Sakyas, watched them silently. The look on his face was serious, but about his lips there was a slight smile. 



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