15. Six Years Of Struggle
Eventually Siddhartha came to the forest where the wise men lived. He studiedfirst with Arada (16) and then with Udraka (17). In a short time he masteredeverything they had to teach him. But still he was not satisfied. "My teachersare holy people, but what they have taught me does not bring an end toall suffering. I must continue to search on my own."
He continued his travels until he came to the Nairangana (18) River, nearthe holy town of Gaya (19). He crossed the river and entered the forestson the other side. There he found a group of five men. Their life was extremelysimple. They ate very little food, lived out int the open, and sat perfectlystill for many hours each day.
"Why are you doing such painful things to your bodies?" the Prince askedthese men.
"Most people in the world treat their bodies very gently," they answered,"yet still experience much suffering. We feel that if we can learn to masterpain, we shall have found the way to control all sufferings."
Siddhartha thought to himself, "For so many years I lived in those luxuriouspleasure palaces. I was treated very gentle, yet still my mind did no findpeace. Perhaps these men are right. I shall join them in their practicesand see if this leads to the end of suffering."
And so he began these difficult and painful practices. He sat for hoursand hours in the same spot. Even though his legs and back hurt very much,he would not move a muscle. He let himself be burned by the blazing summersun and chilled by the winter winds. He ate barely enough food to remainalive. But no matter how difficult it was, he thought, "I must continueand discover the way out of all misery!"
The five men were amazed at Siddhartha. They said to themselves,"Neverhave we seen anyone with as much determination as this man. He drives himselfon and on and never quits. If anyone is ever going to succeed in thesepractices it will be Siddhartha. Let us stay near him so that when he discoversthe true path we shall be able to learn it from him."
Siddhartha treated his body more and more harshly. In the beginning heslept only a few hours each night, but eventually he stopped going to sleepaltogether! He stopped taking even the one poor meal a day that he usedto eat, and would only eat the few seeds and berries that the wind blewinto his lap.
He grew thinner and thinner. His body lost its radiance and became coveredwith dust and dirt. Eventually he looked like little more than a livingskeleton. But still he did not give up his practices.
Six long years passed. Siddhartha was twenty-nine years old when he lefthis palaces and all their pleasures behind. Now he was thirty-five, havingspent six years with hardly any food, sleep, shelter or decent clothing.One day he thought to himself, "Am I any closer to my goal now than I wassix years ago? Or am I still as ignorant as before? When I was a Princeand lived in luxury, I had everything a person could desire. I wasted manyyears in those prisons of pleasure.
"Then I left and began my search. I have lived in forests and caves andhave had nothing but poor food and much pain. But I still have not learnedhow to put an end to suffering. I can see now that it was a mistake topunish my body like this, just as it was a mistake to have wasted so muchtime in those palaces. To find the truth I must follow a middle path betweentoo much pleasure and too much pain."
He remembered that many years ago, after he had seen the dead man, he hadmeditated under a rose-apple tree. "After that meditation," he thought,"my mind was very calm and still. I was able to see things clearly forthe first time. I shall try to meditate like that again now."
But when he looked at himself he realized, "I have been sitting here forsuch a long time with no food that I am tired, dirty and weak. I am sothin that I can see my bones through my skin. How can I meditate when Iam too hungry and dirty even to think clearly?"
And so he slowly pulled himself up and went to bathe himself in the river.He was so weak, however, that he fell and was almost drowned. With greateffort he just managed to pull himself to the shore. Then he sat for awhile, resting.