Friday, March 12, 2010

The Middle Way

While I see the value of being free from attachments, self-denial can become an obsession. Buddha did not achieve enlightenment until he discovered the ‘Middle Way’.

Siddhartha Guatama was born around 563 BC. According to the traditional biography his father was King Suddhodana. After examining the infant, the hermit seer Asita announced that the child would become either a great king or a great holy man. He was given the name Siddhartha, meaning “the one who achieves his aim”. Wanting his son to be a great king, not a holy man, King Suddhodana, shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering. He built three palaces to isolate him from the outside world. When he was 29, he went out to meet his subjects. His father did his best to hide those who were old, sick or suffering. When he saw an old man, his charioteer explained that all people get old. Later he saw a rotting corpse, a diseased man, and an ascetic. When Siddhartha discovered the poverty and disease that existed in the kingdom outside the walls of his palace, he renounced his life of wealth and luxury for one of asceticism. Giving up all his belongings, he turned to begging for alms in the street. In search of enlightenment, he pushed his austerities even further, by practising deprivation of nearly all worldly goods. One day, after nearly starving himself to death, he collapsed in a river while bathing and nearly drowned. After that, he began to reconcider his path. In his quest to give up attachments, he found asceticism had become a crutch and was keeping him from enlightenment just as much as the wealth and materialism from which he had escaped. Upon deep meditation, he discovered what Buddhists now refer to as ‘The Middle Way’; a moderation between self-indulgence and self-mortification.

After 49 days of meditation, at age 35, Guatama attained enlightenment. From that point on he was known as the Buddha or “The Awakened One.”