The Buddha’s Enlightenment:
Article by Craig Hamilton-Parker. Extract from my book called The Timeless Wisdom of the Tibetans which contains a psychic’s take on Buddhism including how psychics and mediums can be inspired by Buddha for their psychic readings and their work with tarot, mediumship and readings in general. In this extract be inspired reading about how the Buddha attained enlightenment.
Five hundred and twenty eight years before Christ on the night of the first full moon of the Indian month of Vesakha, Siddhartha Gautama sat down under a Pippala tree on the banks of the river Niranjana in India, at the site which later came to be known as Bodhgaya. Vowing not to get up until he had found the enlightenment he was looking for, he entered a deep state of meditation. As the night wore on he dived deeper and deeper into the nature of reality until at last he achieved a total and direct realisation of the truth. As the morning star rose over the eastern horizon his enlightenment was complete and unshakable. Siddhartha Gautama had become the Buddha- a Sanskrit word meaning ‘One who is fully awake.’ (You will remember that the Tibetans call him Shakyamuni whose name literally means ‘the sage of the Shakya clan’) A Buddha is not a god, a prophet or a messiah- he is a normal human being who, through his own efforts, has unlocked his own potential and directly perceived the true nature of reality.
The entire Buddhist tradition exists in order to try and share this insight with others.
Although the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama happened in the course of one night, the spiritual struggle to achieve this end had taken many years of strenuous and unremitting effort. Buddhists believe that not only his earlier life, but countless previous lives, prepared the ground for this total insight into reality. The Tibetan tradition says that innumerable eons ago, the Buddha-to-be happened to be born as a bull in one of the hells and was pulling a cart in a team. He felt compassion for a weaker fellow bull beside him and informed the Yama-demon Alang that he would like to pull the load alone. Alang burst into a rage and killed him with his trident whereupon his soul, propelled by this act of compassion was born immediately into the Thirty-three heaven. Here he began to accumulated merit during three incalculable eon’s of time. (This is an Indian time span of billions of years that rise and fall in extremely long cycles within an infinity of time. I have written more about this and the Future of the World here)
I explain in the book how Siddhartha leaves his life as Prince and lives a life of self-mortification. However he sees that this path is not the right one and resumes his search for enlightenment. Here we pick up the story:
The Path to Enlightenment via Austerity
Although it may appear as a defeat to turn away from the path of self-mortification it was actually a great victory for Siddhartha. He had overcome the very human tendency to refuse to admit that one has made a mistake and been proved wrong. Siddhartha had renounced everything to follow this path yet he was prepared to change his course in the desire to find truth. He did not mind losing his disciples, he did not mind being on his own again, instead he admitted he had made a mistake, and continued his quest.
Eventually, after five premonitory dreams and on the same night as accepting the meal Siddhartha sat under a tree in Bodhgaya and spent the whole night in meditation. He vowed to himself to make one last effort and that he would not move from the spot until he had fulfilled his quest for enlightenment. Tibetan art depicts this moment with the Buddha-to-be sitting on a heap of kusa grass beneath the spreading branches of the ficus religiosus or sacred fig that was later to be known as the Bodhi tree, or ‘tree of Enlightenment’. Surrounding him on all sides are thousands of fearsome fire breathing demons and deformed figures. Some shoot arrows wield spears or tear up mountains. The myth relates that the Shakyamuni Buddha was confronted by Mara (the Buddhist personification of change and death, often called ‘the evil one) and his army of evil forces. Mara tempts the Buddha in the hope that he will give up his quest.
This is a symbol of the difficulties every individual will encounter on the struggle towards enlightenment. The temptations represent our fears, doubts and the desire to return to worldly pursuits and pleasures. But the Buddha takes no notice of this display and, seeing all things as like magic illusions, has no fear of these devil armies. The Bodhisattva had gained enough merit and self control to conquer these temptations. As the various arrows and missiles touched his aura they turn into flowers and fall to the ground. Buddha continues meditating. Mara then changes his tactics and tries to seduce the Buddha. He summons his three daughters and orders them to dance in the most seductive manner. Again the Buddha remains in serene meditation; nothing can persuade him from his path. Finally Mara accepts defeat and together with his confused daughters withdraw leaving the Buddha alone beneath the Bodhi tree.
MORE: Reincarnation and Past Lives and about people who may have been lovers in a past life. A psychic explains.
THE TEMPTATIONS OF THE BUDDHA BEFORE ENLIGHTENMENT
Many texts elaborate this story and tell of how Mara tries to entice Buddha to take up his princely duties; how Buddha eats up the devil armies and frightens them with a flaming sword and we read tales of how he touches the earth and calls the earth goddess Prithivi as his witness to the truth. The Tibetan Yamantaka Tantra says he conquered the devil by arising in the bodies of the red-and-black Yamantakas and in other Tibetan texts are told stories of how he left his body by the river bank and in his astral body entered Akanishta heaven where he merged with the great mandala of the diamond realm. Of course these stories are mythical ways to describe what happened. The truth is that the Buddha sat alone beneath the Bodhi tree and no man witnessed what really happened. These stories, like the story of the temptation of Jesus on the mountain top, are symbols that represent the stages of enlightenment and the obstacles that everyone will one day have to overcome for themselves.
SIDDHARTHA ATTAINS ENLIGHTENMENT
After forty-nine days of intensive meditation Siddhartha attained final enlightenment as a result of which the prince turned ascetic became a Buddha- Enlightened One. Shakyamuni Buddha’s realisation of the ultimate truth of reality unfolded in stages like a lotus unfurling its petals. The first stage is a kind of detached and calm thinking, where one feels joy and peace but is only just removed from everyday consciousness. In the next stage Shakyamuni Buddha became detached from the chatter of the mind and transcended thought to enter a state of exalted rapture. In the third stage he reached an even purer joy until he enters the fourth and final level of consciousness. Here even joy fades away leaving a mind so peaceful and clear that it can perceive directly into reality.
These four stages of consciousness prepared Shakyamuni Buddha to realise the super conscious states. The first of these realisations occurred in the first watch of the night (6 to 10 p.m.) when he spontaneously remembered all of his past existence. He recalled tens of thousands of lives in detail as if living them again in their entirety. Everyone has these detailed memories locked away somewhere inside of them. I’ve seen ordinary people describe lives in detail under hypnosis. Sometimes they have given give facts that we verified in the public records. Also when I knelt at the feet of my own guru, Sai Baba, in India I saw my past lives flash before me like a video on fast forward. The truth is that everyone can attain the exalted states that Shakyamuni Buddha and others before and after him have revealed to us. Shakyamuni Buddha was human. Some Buddhists claim that some of his previous lives are retold in the Jatka tales of the Pali Canon. Shakyamuni is the Buddha of this age, Kali Yuga, before him lived Buddha Dipankara, and the Enlightened One of the next age will be Buddha Maitreya. Someone who has attained enlightenment departs from the wheel of life and no longer needs to be reborn. However, Buddha Shakyamuni resolved to remain in the stream of life in order that he may teach people the truth as Dipankara once had and as Maitreya will in centuries to come.
THE BUDDHA’S COMPASSION
Shakyamuni Buddha was filled with compassion when he saw how all other beings are bound to this process of life after life in a seemingly pointless cycle. As the night progressed at the next watch (10 p.m.-2 a. m.) he gained another superconscious insight, known in Buddhism as ‘the heavenly eye’. His powers of ESP and clairvoyance expanded so that he had direct vision of all the possible dimensions and realms of existence. He saw not only the human realms with people moving between earthly, heavenly and hell states but saw the realms of the gods, ghosts, elementals, fairy and the multitude of animal kingdoms. In all of these ‘many mansions’ he observed that all beings made their own suffering through their own behaviour. A Christian may see similarities again in the teachings of Jesus: “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”
In Buddhism this law of cause and effect is called karma. The equilibrating law of karma is also expounded in the Hindu scriptures. In the course of natural law, each man by his thoughts and actions becomes the moulder of his destiny. Whatever actions he has set in motion must return to him as their starting point like a circle of events. It is the ultimate justice and man’s karma follows him from incarnation to incarnation until fulfilled or spiritually transcended. Shakyamuni Buddha saw these eternal laws unfolding and felt pity for all beings who endlessly went through this cyclic process without knowing why or how to escape it.
At the third watch (2 a.m. to 6 am.) Shakyamuni Buddha attained absolute knowledge and absolute enlightenment. For him karma had lost its object, since it is the same as dharma, the law of the Absolute. The enlightenment that he realised is impossible to put into words because it is beyond words, form or even thought itself. It can be known but never, even by Shakyamuni Buddha, expressed in its entirety. It consists of a perfect peace, bliss and the unshakeable knowledge that you have experienced absolute Truth. It is infinite joy, infinite bliss and infinite compassion.
This breakthrough of realisation coincided with the rising of the sun at 6 in the morning. Siddhartha had defeated the forces of Mara, had seen through the illusionary ego and extinguished all mental defilement. The struggle was now over he had realised the everlasting, supreme, bliss and, like the sun he saw rising in the morning sky, had awoken from the dark night of the soul. He had not just glimpsed Truth but had become one with it. He was now the Buddha.
Note: Many psychics and mediums disagree about past lives and say that psychic readings should never make references to past lives as these things remain unproven. There’s been some hot debate on the comments for this article about Past Lives and Reincarnation here.
WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT?
Enlightenment is best described as a state of being rather than as an insight into reality. From the point of view of wisdom it is the direct insight into the nature of reality and into truth. This is not an intellectual knowledge but a direct merging with this truth. With it comes the release from ignorance, worries, sorrow and all unhappiness. And, as a bonus perhaps, we experience the ecstatic bliss of pure being. This state is a real possibility for everyone who has taken human birth. Known as ‘the hearts release’ Buddhists of all creeds seek this same goal. The Buddhist name for this indescribable state, beyond existence and non-existence, where all craving, ignorance and suffering are eliminated is nirvana. It can be achieved both in this life and after death.
The word literally means ‘blown out’ symbolising that the fires of greed, hatred and ignorance are extinguished. Nirvana is first of all cessation, it is the ending of the cycle of life (samsara) and the final release from suffering. This concept is quite difficult for westerners to grasp and at first glance may appear like a total annihilation of everything we hold dear. It seems to say that by destroying ourselves we escape suffering. The soul commits suicide in the penultimate selfish act.
But what Shakyamuni Buddha is describing is the same mystical experience that men have described at all times and in all cultures. For example, the Greek neoplato philosopher Plotinus experienced a fusion of his soul with God. He taught that everything is wholeness, everything is one. Many other western philosophers have argued that what we usually call ‘I’ is not the true ‘I’ and at times it is possible to have short glimpses of a greater ‘I’. Some mystics call it God or the ‘cosmic spirit’ the infinite, Nature or the Universe. Similar ideas to those expressed by Shakyamuni Buddha can be found in the philosophies of Decsartes, Spinoza, Locke, Bjerkley, Kant and Kierkegaard. In particular Schopenhauer’s (1788 – 1860) great achievement lay in his recognising the intrinsic dignity of human consciousness which he saw standing above all gods, and as the source of all things- a truth he rediscovered independently. Also, the Christian mystic Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) likened this merging with the infinite to a droplet becoming one with the ocean: “Every drop becomes the sea when it flows oceanward, just as at last the soul ascends and thus becomes the Lord.”
POETIC DESCRIPTION OF THE BUDDHA’S ENLIGHTENMENT
Edwin Arnold’s epic poem The Light of Asia which aims to present the life of the Buddha as understood by a Southern Buddhist describes the enlightenment is a similar way:
Unto Nirvana. He is one with Life, Yet lives not. He is blest, ceasing to be. Om, mani padme hum! the Dewdrop slips Into the shining sea!
Similarly the Hindu holy text called Upanishads describe the Atma which is the divine reality of the individual, existing above and beyond the body, mind and intellect. This essence can merge with Brahman, the universal soul, resulting in self-realisation or the equivalent of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment. The modern day Hindu Avatar, Sai Baba says: “Who ever subdues his egoism, conquers his selfish desires, destroys his bestial feelings and impulses and gives up the natural tendency to regard the body as self, he is surely on the path of Dharma. He knows that the goal of Dharma is the merging of the wave in the sea; the merging of the self in the overself.” (Dharma Vahini Page 4). And “You are but the shadow of Supreme Consciousness and you are, essentially, not the personality, but Supreme Consciousness Itself.”
These ideas that are at the heart of Eastern mysticism and Buddhism can be hard for many westerners to grasp. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam the mystic emphasises that his union is with a personal God. Although God is present in the world nature and the human soul he also transcends the world. However in Eastern religions it is usual to emphasise that the mystic experience is a total fusion with God. Buddhism does not believe in an independent creator God yet, as you can see the Truth that Shakyamuni Buddha reveals to us is, in essence, the same what is at the heart of most philosophies and religions.
You can read more about the Buddha’s Enlightenment in my book titled The Timeless Wisdom of the Tibetans which is available at the Psychic Bookshop section. In the Psychic Bookshop you can also but my books about Learning to Give Psychic Readings, how to develop mediumship as well as spiritual topics such as books about the afterlife and how psychics protect themselves from negative energies. You can also buy psychic readings on this website from people who genuinely follow good human values as well as endeavoring to live by the principals of Right Livelihood.
References and Works Cited
Hamilton-Parker, Craig (2014) Tibetan Buddhism in Daily Life – a Beginner’s Guide BUY THE BOOK HERE