When Gautama became the Buddha

When Gautama became the Buddha

The scholar knows the world. The Buddha knows himself.


Around 2,500 years ago, on the full moon day in the month of Vaisakh, Gautama gained enlightenment. Today we celebrate this auspicious day when Gautama became the Buddha, as Buddha Purnima in honour of one of the most significant beings to have impacted human consciousness, leading millions to peace and liberation.


Gautama’s Spiritual Journey

When Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born, sage Asita declared that the child would either grow up to be a great king or a great saint. The story of how the young prince, brought up in the lap of luxury, was deeply moved when he saw the great suffering in the world outside his palace walls, is well-known. The four sights of an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic deeply saddened him and something inside him became hungry to find out the answers to deep existential questions.

Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya, Bihar where Gautama attained enlightenment

Abandoning his princely life, Gautama wandered as an ascetic for almost 8 years, practising severe austerities and seeking out various spiritual gurus. But although his body became a bag of bones through fasting and penance, he realised that he was not getting any closer to the Truth. On the day we celebrate as Buddha Purnima, he came to the realisation that what he was searching for was not to be found outside, but within. With this conviction, he sat down under a tree (that we know today as the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India), determined to not move from his seat until he had realised the Ultimate. As the morning star rose in the sky, Gautama became the Buddha, the Enlightened One.

Gautama’s Enlightenment

Like any spiritual seeker, Gautama was not spared the attacks of forces that rose to block his enlightenment. In Buddhist lore, these internal negative energies are personified as the demon Mara who tried to tempt Gautama and distract him from his goal. But because Gautama had transcended the ego or “I” identity, Mara’s attacks could find no foothold in the consciousness of Gautama.

The story goes that Mara came to attack Gautama with his army which cried out together: Mara is the greatest. I am his witness! They challenged Gautama, Who is your witness? Who will speak for you?

Gautama could turn to no person. He had dissolved all his attachments. Having gone beyond identification with his human form, he identified with the whole earth which he held as the witness to his physical existence. So in response to Mara’s challenge, Gautama reached out his right hand to touch the earth. The earth then itself spoke: I am his witness.

When the Buddha saw the Truth and understood the veil of ignorance (in the form of identity) that had been concealing it, he exclaimed:

“House-builder, you’re seen! You will not build a house again. All your rafters broken, the ridge pole destroyed, gone to the Unformed, the mind has come to the end of craving.”

– Dhammapada, verse 154

As the full moon of Vaisakh rose in the sky, Gautama became the Buddha, the Enlightened One.

One of the first things he said to his group of followers as he rose from his seat was, let’s have dinner. Hearing this, the followers who had been practising severe austerities with Gautama, were surprised. Why was Gautama talking of dinner, wasn’t he supposed to be oblivious to the demands of the senses? They decided that Gautama had surely fallen from grace and became disappointed.

Noticing this, Gautama explained that seeking is not about hard penance and renunciation in itself. It is about realising. The point is not to torture the body or behave in a spiritual way. The point is to become an embodiment of the Truth. Gautama explained (in the words of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudeva):

“You are missing the whole point. It is not about fasting, it is about realizing. The full moon has risen within me. Look at me. Look at the change in me. Just be here.”

Significance for Seekers

Buddha Purnima is the third Purnima (or full moon) during the period of Uttarayana which is the period of the northern run of the sun beginning at the winter solstice. In yogic science, a human being is considered to be more receptive to grace at this time of the year than any other and history indicates that the maximum number of people have attained enlightenment in this phase of the sun in the Northern Hemisphere. (1)

Gautama became a Buddha but he was not the only one. ‘Buddha’ refers to one who has transcended the ‘buddhi’ which is the intellect, our discriminating faculty. Every spiritual seeker, no matter his path, is in a striving to discover his own true Buddha nature.

In Hindu tradition, Gautama, the Buddha is considered as the ninth avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu, the avatar that represents the qualities of a ‘meditative man’.


Gautama, the Buddha’s Message for our Times

Sadly, the Buddha’s teachings were much distorted after his time and to the present day, to include the very things he wanted to move people away from – idol worship, scriptures and rituals. The Buddha held the realisation of the self or enlightenment as the highest. Knowing one’s true nature by using and ultimately transcending the buddhi was his message to the world that we should recall and honour today. Because except for that, as the spiritual teacher Osho so eloquently put it,

“…there is no way to understand Buddha. You cannot study him from  scriptures and you cannot persuade him by your prayers. You can be in his company only by being awakened the same way as he was. On those same sunlit peaks of consciousness you will be able to understand him. In other words, the day you understand yourself, you will have understood the message of the strangest man who has walked on the earth.”



(1)  See: http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/yoga-meditation/demystifying-yoga/significance-uttarayana/



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