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In the forests of Northern India, Prince Siddhartha studied with two Shramana teachers of meditation. The first teacher, known as Kamala Alada, taught him the meditations required in order to access the altered states of consciousness or dhyanas that still entail thought forms. Thereby he attained what is called Savikalpa-samadhi, or absorption with forms, enabling him to access and explore the higher mental planes beyond the world of sense experience. If an individual dies while absorbed in such a dhyana, one will realize rebirth in a Devaloka or divine world as a Deva. These Devas are rather similar to the Christian notion of angels. His second teacher, Udraka Ramaputra, taught him how to ascent beyond these mental planes that still entail subtle forms and ascend into the Samapattis or the formless planes of cosmic consciousness. He accessed these levels of mystical experience by mastering what is known as Nirvikalpa-samadhi, or absorption that is without forms, and thereby come into a mystical union with the entire universe as infinite space or as infinite consciousness. By the dedicated and methodical practice of these dhyanas and samapattis, accompanied by austerities and asceticism that evoke tapas or psychic heat, he attained these samadhis or higher states of consciousness. However, he then came to realize that all of these altered states of conscious, no matter how exalted, were conditioned by antecedent causes and therefore impermanent. All of these dhyanas and samapattis, both divine consciousness and cosmic consciousness, belonged to Samsara or conditioned existence. They did not represent release (moksha) or Nirvana. The divine consciousness of the Devas and the cosmic consciousness of the Brahmas are all Samsaric states of mind; they are conditioned and brought about by causes and circumstances. Therefore, they are impermanent. They are impermanent and insubstantial and ultimately they represent suffering. The mere ascent to heaven by the spirit does not represent release from Samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth.
THE ENLIGHTENMENT OF THE BUDDHA
Prince Siddhartha became dissatisfied with this dualistic philosophy and its ascetic path leading to spirituality and therefore he sought elsewhere some higher path genuinely leading beyond Samsara to a state of awareness transcending cause and effect. At that point he broke his fast and accepted nourishment in the form of a bowl of rice and milk from a young beautiful village girl named Sujata. Symbolically, she represented the Dakini or the feminine principle and his reintegration with the feminine. The five yogis, who were his companions in ascetic practice, were thoroughly scandalized and disgusted by this action, feeling that he had betrayed them and had abandoned the ascetic path. They turned their backs upon him.
Siddhartha then crossed the Niranjana river to the farther shore. Symbolically, the crossing of water by the hero signifies a change in state of consciousness and a change in one’s state of being. He sat down beneath the Bodhi Tree and vowed to stay there until he found the way beyond Samsara. Symbolically, this tree, which is both the Tree of Life and the Tree of Wisdom, stands at the center of the world. By sitting in meditation here, he re-connected with the center of existence. Practicing meditation, he entered into a condition of mindfulness, that is to say, a remembering to be aware and present at all times and under all circumstances, and this represents the very foundation of meditation practice. Then, in terms of his meditation, he entered into a condition of peaceful calm and practicing higher insight known as shamatha and vipashyana respectively. Thereby he came to discover that the mind, a notion that is just an abstraction, is nether a thing nor a substance, but actually a stream of consciousness in constant flux and change, much like a river. He came to speak to others about this stream of consciousness, not in terms of some entity or substance, but in terms of five interactive processes called skandhas.
At that time, Mara, otherwise known as Kamadeva, the demon-god of lust and death, the lord of this world, came to him, offering him temptations of wealth and power in order to distract his concentration. Mara was afraid that if Siddhartha found the way that led beyond Samsara, this would completely depopulate the world and Mara would have no more subjects in his kingdom. Then Mara called upon his three beautiful scantily-clad daughters to dance and distract the meditation of the yogi with sex fantasies and thoughts of lust. When this strategy failed, he sent forth his terrifying demon armies against Siddhartha in order to frighten him into distraction. But the future Buddha was unmoved and called upon the Earth Goddess herself to manifest and to witness this fact. Symbolically, this was another indication of centering and grounding, of integrating and being in touch with the earthly and the feminine. Thus Mara and his delusions were overcome and defeated.
Siddhartha continued his meditations through the three watches of the night. Shortly before dawn, he entered into contemplation (samadhi) and discovered the Nature of Mind that lies beyond the mind, or what we normally know as the thought process, but which, is, at the same time, its source and matrix. He discovered the clear, open, unobstructed space of the Nature of Mind, where there is room enough for the manifestation of all possible phenomena of past, present, and future. Moreover, he discovered the clear light of the intrinsic awareness of this Nature of Mind. In brief, he discovered his own Buddha-nature at the core of his being. So, at the first light of dawn, he manifested his enlightenment, like the rising of the sun signifying the dawning of the inner light. Symbolically, this represents the rebirth of the sun, the passage through the darkness of night into the light of dawn. Through his meditation practice, Siddhartha discovered the state of contemplation beyond the mind, the intrinsic awareness of the Nature of Mind, and thereby attained enlightenment. This contemplation represents the non-dual awareness that is beyond the mind, beyond all time, all conditioning, and all causality. The discovery of this and the remaining in that state is what as meant by enlightenment or Bodhi. It was not a temporary experience, like a mystical experience, but a state of being. Siddhartha had awakened, and because he had awakened to the nature of reality, he was thereafter called the Buddha, the awakened one or the enlightened one. And because he belonged to the Shakya tribe, be became known as Shakyamuni, the sage of the Shakyas.