“The earth is my witness.”
He was emaciated. By his own account, when he touched his abdomen, he felt his spine. He had spent the previous several years determinedly pursuing extreme ascetic practices in the hope of realizing the ultimate truth of human existence. He ate only a grain of rice a day in the hope of eradicating all desire from his body.
Then he had a change of heart. This asceticism was not working. A passing girl offered him some rice, which he gratefully accepted. Seeing him eating, several of his fellow ascetics abandoned him in disgust. He resolved at that moment to sit down under a nearby tree and not move until he had realized ultimate truth. His resolve unleashed the forces of Mara, or the myriad distractions of the untamed mind, determined to obstruct him. His own mind set upon him with visions both terrifying and alluring, irresistibly beautiful and unspeakably hideous. But he kept his seat. The forces of Mara raged on until they finally exhausted themselves, but Mara had one last trick up his sleeve. “What right do you have to realize this wisdom? Who are you to presume to such achievement?” Mara asked contemptuously. The man reached down and touched the ground. “The earth is my witness,” he replied. The earth shook, thunder clapped, and Mara fled.
The man fell into deep meditation. He realized that birth brings human suffering in its train inevitably as the result of ignorance, which brought on volition, consciousness, mind-body, sensual contact, and desire, culminating in cravings, or attachment to sense pleasure. Finally, as dawn neared, he saw the truth of human existence: suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path to the end of suffering.
He was awake. He was the Buddha.
The Historical Buddha
“I have entered homelessness because I cannot accept the tyranny of sickness, old age, and death. These are enemies I yearn to conquer. Against them your armies are powerless.”
The Buddha, Sherab Chodzin Kohn, A Life of the Buddha,
Shakyamuni Buddha, or Son of the Shakya Clan, was born in the area that is now northern India or southern Nepal so long ago that we cannot be certain of his dates of birth or death. Perhaps…