How did the Buddha become enlightened?

buddha enlightenment

According to scripture, Buddha Shakyamuni attained enlightenment through three phases or “watches” of the night while sitting underneath a ficus tree like the one seen here in Kandy, Sri Lanka. | Robert Harding / Alamy Stock Photo

After the Buddha-to-be, then still known as Siddhartha Gautama, became a spiritual seeker, he spent six years practicing with different teachers and subjecting himself to extreme austerities. He eventually came to the realization that nothing he had been doing was going to bring him the lasting freedom from suffering that he so earnestly sought.

According to the early Buddhist scriptures, it was then that he remembered an experience he had had as a boy, when he had spontaneously entered a deep and joyful meditative state. It occurred to him that the same kind of meditative state might help him gain the insight he was looking for.

So at the age of 35 he vowed to sit in meditation, without getting up, until he had discovered ultimate freedom. There he remained, in the shade of a large ficus tree, for seven weeks, in a northeastern Indian town known as Bodhgaya.

On the 49th day, according to legend, the Buddha entered into a state of concentration so deep and clear he began to see the nature of his mind and that of the universe. During three phases or “watches” of the night, he apprehended how suffering and unhappiness are caused by our actions, and by our clinging to an illusory sense of self. And he became aware of how to let go of all that.

When the morning star rose in the sky, the man who had been Siddhartha Gautama, the prince of the Shakya tribe, was now the Buddha—the Awakened One.

The Buddha would spend the next 45 years of his life sharing the path of practice that leads to awakening so that others could work to attain the same state of enlightenment—freedom from suffering and samsara—that he had achieved.


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