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Shakyamuni's Life

The Bodhi Tree


Whether we pursue wealth or austerity, our lives are still based on the same conditioning; it’s just running in the other direction. Which direction the conditioning runs makes no difference. Like a train that has been going the wrong direction, we stop, turn around, and go the opposite way, but we are running on the same tracks. The same ideas and assumptions are still operating. To enter the mystery of being, we have to step off the tracks.

After six years of starving himself, Siddhartha could no longer keep his mind clear. He concluded that the practice of asceticism for its own sake would not lead him to understand suffering. Siddhartha stopped his regimen and began to eat normally, despite being rejected by his companions.

With his body restored, he sat under a tree and resolved not to move until he understood the source of suffering. He let his mind rest in attention, undistracted, not trying to make anything happen, not trying to cultivate any particular quality or ability. He stopped everything and simply sat with his question: what is the source of suffering?

How do we step off the tracks? We stop trying to avoid, close down, manipulate, or control what arises in experience. When we do stop, we are inevitably regarded with suspicion, and even rejected, by those who continue to live their lives based on patterns and conditioning. We go forward alone.

Attention in Reaction

That evening Siddhartha entered progressively deeper states of attention. The traditional accounts describe how Mara, the demon of obsession, tried to distract Siddhartha and bring him back into the realm of reaction and confusion, where Mara held sway. He first tried to distract Siddhartha with desire by sending his daughters, in the form of beautiful women, to seduce him with affection, relationships, and sexual pleasure. Understanding that all experience, no matter how pleasurable, comes and goes, Siddhartha remained in attention. Mara tried anger next, sending armies of demons to the attack. Siddhartha saw the demonic armies as the play of mind, so the rain of weapons arose in his experience as a rain of beautiful flowers. Siddhartha then saw that the source of suffering was emotional reaction to what arises in experience. He saw that reactivity is based on the misperception that the “I” exists apart from experience. When he saw through the misperception, it dissolved completely. In that moment, Siddhartha became a Buddha, a person who has awakened from the sleep of unawareness and reactive patterning.

To wake up is hard. We must first realize that we are asleep. Next, we need to identify what keeps us asleep, start to take it apart, and keep working at dismantling it until it no longer functions. As soon as we make an effort to wake up, we start opening up to how things are. We experience what we have suppressed or avoided and what we have ignored or overlooked. When that happens, the reactive patterns that have run our lives, kept us in confusion, distorted our feelings, and caused us to ignore what is right in front of us are triggered. They rise up strongly to undermine the attention that is bringing us into a deeper relationship with what we are and what we experience. When we can see those patterns and everything that is constructed out of them as the movement of mind and nothing else, we begin to wake up.

The Final Challenge

Mara had one final challenge for him and demanded an external validation of his experience. Buddha Shakyamuni smiled, touched the earth, and said, “The earth is my witness.” That was the end of it.

The final challenge of habituated patterns is to question direct experience. How do we know? How can we trust this knowing, which is totally beyond the ordinary conditioned experience of life? Like Buddha Shakyamuni, we turn to no external reference and live in the knowing. We rest in presence, in the very mystery of being itself.

Buddhism In A Nutsell: Shakyamuni’s Life | Shakyamuni’s Teachings  


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