The middle path: Gautama Buddha's search between luxury and asceticism

Siddhartha thought that neither the extreme luxury of his palace life nor the extreme asceticism of his meditative life had brought him enlightenment.

Published: 22nd January 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th January 2023 12:20 PM   |  A+A-

Gautama Buddha

Gautama Buddha

Gautama Buddha was born in Lumbini, present-day Nepal. He was born in a sub-Himalayan clan called Sakya of which his father was the elected chief. He was named Siddhartha and his family name was Gautama. A seer predicted that the child would become either a great king or a great religious leader. Worried that he may become an ascetic, his family provided Siddhartha with every conceivable luxury and kept him unaware of religious teachings. He was always kept inside the royal palace and great care was taken to make sure that he did not witness any suffering.

One day, Siddhartha commanded his charioteer, Chandaka, to take him outside the palace because he wanted to see the world. He was moved by seeing old age, sickness and death. When he saw an ascetic, he felt motivated to explore the cause of this suffering, like the ascetic. Against the wishes of his family, he left the palace at night, leaving behind his son Rahul and his wife Yashodhara. Siddhartha went to remote jungles and engaged in meditation. He took minimal amounts of food and controlled his breath and his mind.

In his quest for enlightenment, Siddhartha took his asceticism to the extreme. He became so emaciated that his bones were visible through his skin. He came close to dying of starvation, but still did not attain enlightenment. His life was saved when he accepted milk and rice pudding from a village girl.

Siddhartha thought that neither the extreme luxury of his palace life nor the extreme asceticism of his meditative life had brought him enlightenment. He realised that he needed to preserve his life and nourish his body, if he was to continue his quest for enlightenment. Rejecting both extreme pleasure and extreme denial, he took up ‘the middle path’. Though he was shunned by his fellow ascetics who thought he was abandoning the quest for nirvana, Siddhartha persevered. Ultimately, he achieved nirvana under a peepal tree–known as the bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, Bihar.

The principle of the middle path that the Buddha derived out of his own life experiences can be useful to all. In today’s times, we are seeing an increasing polarisation in society. Social media and mainstream media have created echo chambers where one only listens to one kind of view and starts becoming rigidly attached to it. The adherents of the opposite view are equally rigid. If each side refuses to see the other’s point of view, there can be no co-existence. It helps to remember that on any issue, where views are extremely polarised, usually neither side is entirely correct. The truth, most often, lies, as the Buddha said, somewhere in the middle.


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