Story of the Golden Bowl going upstream

An account narrates a miracle in the Buddha’s life involving a golden bowl. It goes like this:

One day, Buddha had a vivid dream and interpreted it to mean the day he would achieve his enlightenment.

He went to have his meal of the day at the house of a devotee named Sujata. She was a rich noblewoman who believed in charity and providing to bhikkus.

She served him his meal in a golden bowl, offering it to him along with the food. Gautama asked her as to what shall he do with the bowl. To which she said that it belonged to him and he can do whatever he wishes with it. He remarked that he had no use of such a bowl, to which she told him that it would be rude of her to not offer the bowl despite offering the food.

Thus, he left with the bowl in his hands. He came across banks of a river and bathed and ate. Now that the bowl was empty, he threw it into the water as he said “If I am to become a Buddha today, then may the bowl go upstream, else let it go with the current.”

The bowl is said to have floated out of the river and have went upstream, eventually disappearing in a whirlpool. Said to have eventually gone to where bowls of previous Buddhas too went when they were emptied and thrown.

Thus, Buddha ventured forth to find a suitable spot along the river to meditate. Evening came and he discovered a tree of Peepal, now considered the Bodhi tree, or the “Tree of Knowledge”.

He came across a man reaping grass. The reaper is said to have given him eight handfuls of grass for his seat.

Gautama then sat under the tree and began meditating with the strongest resolve to attain the supreme truth.

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The Buddha’s Discovery of the Middle Path

Siddhartha Gautama discovered the Middle Path upon contemplation of his practiced lifestyles. He understood that the moderate path with no extremes would be the best.

Now that Gautama had seen and practiced both extremes of life, he had realised that neither of the two extremes would do any good to him or any individual who would indulge in them. He was now convinced that self harm was no good. Despite the fact that it was considered essential for enlightenment in his day, it actually weakened the body and intelligence.

He thus gave up this extreme of painfulness as he had given up indulgence in his life as a prince. He then thought about swaying towards neither side but rather living a life which would be the mean of these two. This would later be known as the Middle Path.

Gautama then recalled the ploughing incident in his childhood and how he had attained the first jhāna. He realised that this was the path of enlightenment; by living by the Middle path and meditating as he did back then, he can attain his goal.

Realising that enlightenment cannot be achieved with a weak and exhausted body, he decided to take care of his body. Even when his companions had left him alone, he did not lose hope. Contrary, it benefitted him in the same manner as it did when they had accompanied him in struggles.

After his enlightenment, this concept of moderation was manifested as the Eightfold Noble Path. Which is now considered a means to live by moderation and achieve enlightenment with practice.

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Struggle for Enlightenment in Uruvela

Prince Siddhartha came to be known as the Ascetic Gautama after taking leave from his second teacher. He wandered from place to place in Magadha and decided to live and practice in the forest of Uruvela. He found the place to be beautiful and worthy to live and meditate in as the forest was calm and pleasant. He thus began his struggle to seek truth by the means of enduring suffering.

5 young men, who too had become ascetics, sought him and eventually met him at his new abode. They were Kondanna, the one who had predicted his Buddhahood, and four sons of other sages: Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji. They joined his company and decided to struggle together and practice various forms of ritual tortures with him. They looked after him and encouraged him to strive to endure more pains. They were convinced that doing so would eventually lead to his enlightenment.

It was believed that one cannot gain enlightenment unless one is fully detached from pleasures of this world. Interpreting it as instead making one’s body suffer and torment. Thus, the company of these 6 monks did the same and endured various forms of pains.

Gautama practiced fasting, he used to live on a grain of rice a day, and then, nothing at all. This affected his body and he became frail and weak. Among other methods he would practice was the practice of holding one’s breath for a long time until it started to hurt violently. He would later describe his efforts in great details in the Sutras.

For six years, he would endure such practices. He eventually realised that such struggle was futile and he is not getting any wiser or getting close to his goal. He then began to beg for food to build his body back. Upon seeing this, his five companions left him in disappointment.

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Buddha’s second teacher – Uddaka Ramaputta

After leaving Alara Kalama, Gautama went in search to find a new teacher. He came across Uddaka Ramaputta, who was well known for his wisdom and meditation techniques.

“Ramaputta” implies that he was either son or disciple of Rama. His predecessor had achieved the highest realm of “jhana” and was able to attain a deep state of mind with meditation.

He expressed his desire to lead Holy Life in solace and became his pupil. However, here too, he soon mastered the teachings and was able to achieve a high level of meditation as taught to him; It is called “N’eva Sanna N’asannayatana” or the realm of neither perception nor Non-perception.

The difference here was that while Alara Kalama had taught to concentrate on ‘nothingness’, Uddaka taught him to enter this state of mind.

Uddaka too was delighted to hear of his pupil’s success. Unlike Alara Kalama, Uddaka Ramaputta invited Gautama to take full charge of all the ascetics and lead them.
Yet, he felt that his aim was not yet achieved. He had attained mastery of his mind but his ultimate goal extended these limits. Ascetics of his day considered this to be the highest level of achievement, even so, it did not satisfy Gautama. Even Uddaka had no heard of somebody who could help him further. Uddaka himself was not enlightened and realised that Gautama’s goal was beyond his confinements of doctrine and teachings.
Still searching for Nirvana/Nibbana, he left his company.

By now he had realised that his aspirations surpassed under those who taught him. He came to understand that nobody could teach him the highest truth unless he searches for it within himself rather than seek external aid. Thus, he endured by himself to seek a means to find a means to end the cycle of suffering.

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Alara Kalama: One of Buddha’s First Teachers

Alara Kalama was one of the first ascetic teachers the Buddha came across in his journey.

As a wandering bhikku, a searcher after what is great, seeking the ultimate Peace, he came across Alara Kalama, a recognized monk, and stated his desire to live a holy life under his guidance. Alara Kalama agreed and let him stay in the abode. Alara Kalama said that his teachings are simple and a smartman can realize them by his own wisdom and contemplation and follow it likewise.
A while later, he had learnt his teachings, however they presented to him no acknowledgment of the most astounding Truth.

At that point there came to him the idea that the doctrine is not just based on faith. When Alara Kalama himself agrees that anybody can understand it with their own endeavours and follow it; undoubtedly, Alara Kalama lives having comprehended and seen this teaching.

So he went to him and asked “How far does this teaching of intuitive wisdom extend to?”. Alara Kalama told him about the Realm of Nothingness (Akincannayatana), a advance phase of Concentration.

He thought that while his teacher possessed confidence, power, focus, and knowledge, he too had those qualities. Likewise, he also understood the doctrine which his guru had arrived at.

Thus, he realised that while he understands the doctrine, it is not helping him realise his goal. He sought the higher Truth of life.
He then approached Alara Kalama and asked him if his doctrine was limited to this extent, he wanted to learn more.

Kalama was glad to hear how much Siddhartha had achieved. He honoured him by offering him to lead his company of ascetics.

Siddhartha Gautama was not content. He sought more than just mental concentration, he wanted to cease disgust, suffering, and achieve detachment and calmness. He was not anxious to lead the company too, yet he felt the need to perfect himself before he does something similar. He likened it to blind leading the blind and politely took his leave.

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Offer made by King Bimbisara of Magadha

The youthful prince meandered from place as a bhikku. He eventually came to Rajgir City, where King Bimbisara of the Magadha Kingdom lived. Siddhartha strolled round the streets asking for food from house to house, with his bowl in his hand, similar to any other samanna. People started to call him “Sakyamuni” the sage of the Sakyas, some others called him “Samanna” or “Ascetic Gotama”. However, he was not called Prince Siddhartha anymore.

He was youthful, handsome, healthy, and neat. He talked compassionate and gracefully. He didn’t request people to give him anything but individuals were cheerful and satisfied to give him food.

A few people went and told the ruler about him. They narrated how a young and polite man, who somehow stood out from the other beggar monks was making rounds of the city.

Upon hearing the name “Gotama”, King Bimbisara knew without doubt that this was the prince of the Shakya kingdom, son of King Suddhodana, his friend. He went up to him and asked him about why he was doing it? If he had a quarrel with his father? For what reason would he go about like this? Bimbisara offered him to remain in his kingdom and rule alongside him with half of Magadha to Siddhartha’s name.

Siddhartha thanked Bimbisara but affirmed his decision and explained that he cherishes his family and everybody. He needed to figure out how to overcome sufferings. Saying so, he left.

Bimbisara made sure that all the wandering Ascetics were protected in his kingdom. He is appreciated in Buddhist writings for his cultural achievements.

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Renunciation of the Buddha : Siddhartha leaves the Palace

Prince Siddhartha’s renunciation soon took place after the birth of his son Rahula. He affirmed his decision to leave after a feast failed to distract him.

Suddhodana organised a great feast for the young prince to celebrate the birth of his son, Rahula. The best dancers and musicians in the country were invited to perform. It was not out of delight that Suddhodana arranged it. He saw that Siddhartha was unhappy and that his new infant child was not giving him joy. The king was worried about the prince’s plans to leave the Palace. For the last time, he tried his best to divert him far from his solemn reflections.
Siddhartha went to the gathering just to satisfy his father. Siddhartha was worn out from his thoughts and he soon nodded off.

The performers soon stopped and they too rested when they saw this. Soon thereafter, the prince arose, stunned to see these people asleep. All the best performers and entertainers in the kingdom were now in such positions. These same people, who, hours prior, were endeavoring to make the prince so cheerful were now snoring loudly, some crushing and biting their teeth, they were tired from the effort. This change in their appearance made Siddhartha much more sickened and sad. He thought how oppressive it was. His mind turned again towards leaving the castle. He got up silently from the room and, woke up Channa, and made a request to saddle Kanthaka, his steed.

As Channa was saddling up Kanthaka, Siddhartha went to see his infant child for the first time. Yasodhara was laying down with the child next to her, her hand laying on the infant’s head. Siddhartha thought that if he attempts to move her hand so he can hold the baby for one final hug, he might wake her and she will keep him from his renunciation. He should leave at any cost, however, when he has discovered what he seeks, he shall return and see them once more.

Discreetly, Siddhartha left. At midnight, and the ruler was on his white steed Kanthaka with Channa, his loyal servant, held its tail. No one halted him as he rode far from all who knew, regarded and cherished him. He looked at the city of Kapilavastu one last time in the moonlight. He was renouncing his life to figure out to understand old age, disease and death. He rode to the bank of the stream Anoma (“celebrated”) and got off from his steed. He took off his adornments and royal garments and offered them to Channa to take them back to Suddhodhana. He then took his sword and trimmed off his long hair, wore simple robes, took a begging bowl and requested Channa to return with Kanthaka. Channa was asked to tell the king about his renunciation and that he shall return only when he had found the truth.

Channa was reluctant to return, but he began to go, however Kanthaka won’t follow him. The prince tried to persuade him, but Kanthaka won’t budge. Kanthaka figured that he might never see his master again. Kanthaka died of sadness as Siddhartha vanished into the horizon.

Thus was the renunciation.

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Monk : The sight which gave Buddha inspiration

The sight of a monk was the last of the four sights which compelled the Buddha to seek a means to end suffering and eventually be enlightened.
After numerous days of consideration and pain, Siddhartha went to the city for the fourth time. As he was heading to the park, he saw a man wearing an orange shaded robe. He asked Channa about the man in robes. Channa told him that the robed man was a monk. He was enthralled by the ascetic in saffron robes. The monk’s serene strides, calm face, tranquility and the look of being unbound from the world. The Prince wondered how brilliant it would be, to become a Samanna. At that point it struck Him, this is the path, to go in seeking for the truth. He knew, when one doesn’t have anything to own, one feels free. In this manner, letting the characteristics of the psyche to develop and appear, bringing peace, and the acknowledgment of the cause of suffering.

Living in the Palace could never give the freedom of the monk. It would, however, be a deterrent to the path of freedom and truth. He made plans to leave the Palace and turn into a sammana(wandering monk), and carry on with an ascetic life, endeavoring until discovering the cause of suffering. By doing so, he could help everybody live a tranquil and content life. Resolved to do that, the Prince came back to the Palace.

He strolled for a while to think some more. As he was sitting under the cool shady tree, news came that his wife had given birth to a son. When he heard the news he stated, “An obstruction (“rahula”) has been destined to me, a barrier to my abandonment has been conceived,”. Along these lines, his child was named Rahula. Rahula implies a block in way. A newborn child implies a barrier on the way to become a monk.

As he was coming back to the palace he met a Princess named Kisagotami. She had been watching out of the castle window and, seeing the sovereign coming, was so taken by his attractive looks that she said uproariously, “Gracious! How cheerful must be the mother, and father, and the spouse of such a nice looking youthful prince!”

As he passed this lady, Siddhartha heard this and pondered internally, “In a nice looking figure the mother, father and spouse discover bliss. Be that as it may, but how can one escape snags and enduring to achieve nirvana?”. He understood what he should do after this question and decided to abandon his family life and resign from the world in journey of illumination. He sent her a teacher’s fee. Siddhartha respected his pledge and sent it to Kisagotami to appreciate what she unknowingly taught him.

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Death: the Third of the Four Sights

The third of the four sights which influenced the Buddha and compelled him to seek a means to enlightenment was death. More specifically, witnessing a dead corpse. Living a sheltered life, he was unaware of death and that nobody could escape it.

Siddhartha was disappointed and discouraged. He was often found in deep contemplation in his room after seeing the diseased man. Suddhodhana was pitiful after seeing him so changed. The prince soon approached him again for his consent to leave the castle to witness more things about the life in the city. Suddhodhana knew there would come no good by attempting to stop his child. So, he agreed to let him go again.

Siddhartha and Channa went out from the royal residence and strolled in many parts of Kapilvastu dressed as young aristocrats. The prince saw a group of people tagging along the road crying, while four men at the back were bearing a board on which a thin man lay level and still. The carried man resembled a stone, never letting out the slightest breath. The group soon ceased and the board bearers rested the man down on a heap of wood and set the wood ablaze. The man did not move as the flares were consuming the board, and afterward his body, from all sides.

Siddhartha asked Channa about it. He wondered why that man was burned like that. Channa answered that the man had died. The prince learned that everybody dies, even rulers, and nothing can stop death.

The prince was stunned. He thought about death and how it comes to everybody, sparing nobody. Was there no real way to stop it? He went home quiet. He went straight to his own room in the royal residence and sat somewhere down in thought for the remaining day.

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Sickness / Disease : the second of the Four Sights

Second of the four sights was sickness.

Suddodhana unwillingly enabled Siddhartha to visit the city again. He figured that it would not be good to stop him, and would just add to his perplexity and despondency. Suddodhana did not warn the people to be prepared or to decorate the city this time. The prince and Channa disguised themselves as young noblement so they are not recognized.

The city was very different from their last visit. No more blissful groups of people hailed the prince. There were no banners, or flowers, yet common-people carrying on with their day by day life. A metal forger was sweating and beating to make blades. The gem dealers and goldsmiths were making pieces of jewelry, bangles, studs and rings out of precious stones, gold and silver. The garments dyers were coloring materials of stunning shading and hanging them up to dry. The pastry specialists were hectically preparing bread, cakes and desserts and pitching them to the clients, who ate them still hot. The ruler took a gander at these straightforward everyday citizens. Everybody was extremely occupied, glad and satisfied in their work.

As the two strolled along they went over a man on the ground, curling his body, holding his stomach with two hands and shouting out in torment as loud as possible. Everywhere all over his body were purple fixes, and he was panting for breath as his eyes rolled. His sickness made him suffer greatly.

This was the second time that the Prince was very sad. Immediately, the prince rushed to help and rested the man’s head on his knee, asking what was wrong with him. The diseased man was not able to speak owing to his sickness, yet he cried.
He asked Channa about the reason this man was like this.

Channa warned the prince to not touch the man since he was suffering from the plague and the prince might contract it too. The Prince asked him if there are more people like it, if there are more things than this kind of plague. Channa’s answer confirmed both of these. The Prince was deeply troubled upon further learning that nobody can stop it and it can happen any time to anybody.

The prince was even sadder at the second sight, fixated on the sick man and his suffering.

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