Fasting Buddha

Fasting Buddha

Having renounced his former life, Siddhartha travelled from place to place, begging for his food and questioning all the holy men he met about their beliefs and practices.  All were seeking the same goal – the complete extinction of mind and body and entry into the state of pure being. Many of these yogis believed that the only way to achieve this was by undergoing terrible penances such as gazing into the sun until their eyes dissolved away, sitting or standing in rigid positions until their limbs became immobile, or starving them to the point of death. Siddhartha wandered through the plains and forests of northern India. Sometimes he was afraid of the great woods, where tigers roamed: 'How hard it is to be a lonely forest-dweller. The silent trees bear heavily on the man who has not yet found his true self.'

But yet he went on, for he knew he must find out the truth about his own existence. He found two religious teachers, who taught him yoga, concentration and meditation, but he did not find enlightenment there.

Eventually the Bodhisattva went to live in a forest on the banks of the river Nairanjan, where five yogis joined him. For six years he fasted and performed penances, and although these weakened his body, his spiritual powers became strong. His emaciated state is clearly indicated in this Japanese image – the use of lacquer over the gilding refers to a tradition that while fasting, his radiant skin became dark. He became very weak and ill.

One day a milkmaid went past and offered him a bowl of milk. He drank it. Then he ate some food and began to feel strong again. Eventually, however, it became clear to Siddhartha that extreme physical discipline would not lead to liberation. This could only be achieved by calm meditation – impossible for anyone whose body was worn down by hunger and thirst. 'From now on I will take the middle way. I shall neither starve my body nor feed it too richly, but will eat just what is needed and no more.'  The five yogis could not believe and accept that Siddhartha had broken his fast and left him.

Fasting Buddha has been depicted in numerous Buddhist sculpture and Buddha Images. These Buddhist art show him weakened and . A malnourished figure is used to depict the fasting Buddha in various Buddha statues (as shown in the above photo).