Thread: Did Buddha Return to Extreme Asceticism?

  1. #1
    Forums Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    Posts
    3

    Did Buddha Return to Extreme Asceticism?

    Subject sounds simple, but let me explain why I'm asking. So Gautama joined the ascetic lifestyle and lived it to the most extreme. Then it dawned on him that he would eventually die never finding out the cause/solution to suffering.

    Accounts I've seen vary: He then got up and went begging in a village, other accounts say a farm boy with cattle found him and offered him food, and then there's that story of Sujata with the rice milk which Siddhartha accepted. Going a little further on the last account, he divided the rice milk into 49 potions for the next 49 days, after which he got up and went to the Bodhi Tree where he attained enlightenment. Usually the different stories I read have one or a mix of these events.

    Now here's where I'm confused. By this point, the Future Buddha had tried extreme mortification, realized that wasn't working, vowing to eat and sustain his life, going under the Bodhi Tree, then makes the vow to not leave again until he finds the answer, EVEN til his body is dried and shriveled. How does the Middle Way operate in this part of the story? Isn't he just returning to that previous practice he renounced? What am I missing here?

    I suppose my analysis of Buddha's life is probably disorganized, but there are certain events and the order in which I find them that I cannot reconcile and make sense in my mind. If anyone can better explain to me this, that would be most appreciated.

    PS
    I don't know if this is the right place to post this question, so if I don't get an answer soon enough, I may repost this under another category in this forum.

  2. #2
    Forums Member Element's Avatar
    Location
    Australia
    Posts
    4,307
    Quote Originally Posted by Pattidharma View Post
    Subject sounds simple...
    The subject sounds unessential (unless you are required to do a high school or university essay on the subject).

    Quote Originally Posted by Pattidharma View Post
    Accounts I've seen vary: He then got up and went begging in a village...
    MN 26 states:

    In search of what might be skillful, seeking the unexcelled state of sublime peace, I wandered by stages in the Magadhan country and came to the military town of Uruvela. There I saw some delightful countryside, with an inspiring forest grove, a clear-flowing river with fine, delightful banks, and villages for alms-going on all sides. The thought occurred to me: 'How delightful is this countryside, with its inspiring forest grove, clear-flowing river with fine, delightful banks, and villages for alms-going on all sides. This is just right for the exertion of a clansman intent on exertion.' So I sat down right there, thinking, 'This is just right for exertion.'

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipit....026.than.html
    MN 36 tells a different story:

    ...with this racking practice of austerities I haven't attained any superior human state, any distinction in knowledge or vision worthy of the noble ones. Could there be another path to Awakening?'... I thought: 'I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana'... but that pleasure is not easy to achieve with a body so extremely emaciated. Suppose I were to take some solid food: some rice & porridge.' So I took some solid food: some rice & porridge. Now five monks had been attending on me, thinking, 'If Gotama, our contemplative, achieves some higher state, he will tell us.' But when they saw me taking some solid food — some rice & porridge — they were disgusted and left me, thinking, 'Gotama the contemplative is living luxuriously. He has abandoned his exertion and is backsliding into abundance.'..."So when I had taken solid food and regained strength, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities, I entered & remained in the first jhana: ...

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipit....036.than.html


    Quote Originally Posted by Pattidharma View Post
    other accounts say a farm boy with cattle found him and offered him food, and then there's that story of Sujata with the rice milk which Siddhartha accepted. Going a little further on the last account, he divided the rice milk into 49 potions for the next 49 days, after which he got up and went to the Bodhi Tree where he attained enlightenment. Usually the different stories I read have one or a mix of these events.
    I have be unable to find whether the story of Sujata exists in the suttas. It may only be part of the later Commentary tradition: http://ignca.nic.in/jatak088.htm

    Quote Originally Posted by Pattidharma View Post
    vowing to eat and sustain his life, going under the Bodhi Tree, then makes the vow to not leave again until he finds the answer, EVEN til his body is dried and shriveled. How does the Middle Way operate in this part of the story? Isn't he just returning to that previous practice he renounced? What am I missing here?
    This is common phrase in the suttas, where it refers to exerting energy (rather than to starving the body to death):

    Here, a bhikkhu.. has aroused energy thus: ‘Willingly, let only my skin, sinews, and bones remain, and let the flesh and blood dry up in my body, but I will not relax my energy so long as I have not attained what can be attained by manly strength, energy, and exertion.’

    https://suttacentral.net/en/an8.13
    https://suttacentral.net/en/sn12.22
    https://suttacentral.net/en/sn21.3
    Quote Originally Posted by Pattidharma View Post
    I suppose my analysis of Buddha's life is probably disorganized, but there are certain events and the order in which I find them that I cannot reconcile and make sense in my mind. If anyone can better explain to me this, that would be most appreciated.
    Buddhism, similar to every major religion, includes many later-day scriptures, myths & stories. None of these stories can be verified as true. The only aspects of Buddhism that can be verified as true are the Four Noble Truths, Dependent Origination, the Three Characteristics, Emptiness, the Elements, etc.

    Regards

  3. #3
    Forums Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    Posts
    3
    Quote Originally Posted by Element View Post
    The subject sounds unessential (unless you are required to do a high school or university essay on the subject).
    No worries, I gave up my further college education under extreme circumstances.


    As for the accounts in MN 26 and MN 36, and the questionability of the account of Sujata in the suttas, I do then earnestly ask what happened when Buddha figured out that abstinence from food wasn't the way and went under the Bodhi Tree? Did he return to refusal to leave his meditation despite hunger, remaining under the Tree no matter what?


    Quote Originally Posted by Element View Post
    This is common phrase in the suttas, where it refers to exerting energy (rather than to starving the body to death): {...}

    Buddhism, similar to every major religion, includes many later-day scriptures, myths & stories. None of these stories can be verified as true. The only aspects of Buddhism that can be verified as true are the Four Noble Truths, Dependent Origination, the Three Characteristics, Emptiness, the Elements, etc.

    Regards
    So if I understand correctly, the Buddha did not make this proclamation himself, but rather the phrase was transposed upon him in latter writings? This is telling me that once he realized the Middle Way, to not exert too much or too little, he somehow sustained this Middle Way under the Bodhi Tree? and if so, how? Or is what is being said is that we cannot determine what exactly happened in regards to the Buddha's practice right before his enlightenment? Bear with me.

  4. #4
    Forums Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2017
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    395
    I was taught that the session under the Bodhi tree was using middle way meditation. He used a cushion of some kind, much to the disgust of ascetics, and I guess he ate and drank if he needed to. I think the determination you talk about was to get enlightenment this way, not the extreme way he had been practicing in the past. He came to understand that anyone can attain enlightenment without using extreme techniques.

Los Angeles Mexico City London Colombo Kuala Lumpur Sydney
Fri, 9:35 AM Fri, 11:35 AM Fri, 5:35 PM Fri, 10:05 PM Sat, 12:35 AM Sat, 2:35 AM