*Editor’s note: fasting should never be used to lose weight or reach enlightenment unless carefully employed under the guidance of an experienced professional.
I didn’t realize how much Buddha and I had in common until I reviewed his life from my perspective.
When he was young, even though he was protected from seeing old age, sickness and death, in one day, he saw all three. Obviously shocked by these events, he renounced a comfortable life of being waited on hand and foot and embarked upon a stringent career of doing extreme austerities, hoping to mentally escape from the trauma of witnessing suffering.
It’s obvious Buddha received a great shock in witnessing the agonies of human life and had he been diagnosed in our time, we would say that he suffered from extreme reactive response brought on by unbridled trauma.
While I did not engage in austerities such as sitting naked on a rock for a number of years, I did leave the comforts of home at an early age and similarly, life had a way of whipping me around in its fashion until I had to let go of parts of my ego.
Buddha obviously witnessed an uncontrolled life where aging, dying and sickness were inevitable, except he really knew they were inevitable, unlike us who can immediately fall into an ice cream cone or trip to Paris to escape the thought of the inevitable.
In an effort to bring control back to his life, he underwent extreme austerities designed to control the desires of his flesh and turned out to be one disciplined guy.
Seeking that final liberation from the pain of living, at one point, he met his Waterloo. Nothing that he devised worked: sitting in trees for years, submerging in icy waters, fighting off wild animals, myriad hundred day fasts and if lucky, subsisting on a few berries. Nothing he conjured up brought about that final release from suffering.
Finally, in a moment of despair, he let go, and said, “Dang it, (no Sanskrit translation) I’m going to eat some soup.” And then after drinking this soup after many months of fasting, he fell asleep under a bodhi tree. When he awoke, our Buddha looked around and didn’t see himself anymore: the definition of enlightenment.
After hearing this story, being a food addict, my immediate thought was what kind of soup did he drink? This gave rise to a persistent desire for another marketing tool to stave off poverty: “Drink the soup Buddha drank, and lose hundreds of pounds.”
Nevertheless, I feel very close to Buddha fighting off my own desires, of course with a few exceptions:
1. I have never fought off any wild animals. (Oh, well, maybe a few overly romantic men who got very persistent.)
2. I have never lived in trees nor submerged in icy water. Those who know me will now laugh hysterically at the thought.
But bring on those hundred day fasts. Let’s try sometimes all year-long privation diets, barely existing on 800 or less calories per day. At least the Buddha might have sneaked in a few tigers along the way, although I hear zebra meat is a lot tastier. But his motive behind all of that was his desire to be “liberated.”
What was my motive from the age of 17 up to 55?
I’m not putting Buddha down because he did all those austerities nor myself for those endless diets. Nor do I think they weren’t worthwhile.
In fact, I think that Buddha and I had a lot in common. Both of us wished for release from suffering. My enlightenment now is that the end result of all those austerities and my many diets eventually brought me to the “emptiness.” I now get the difference between Buddha and me.
I walk away from emptiness all the time.
Which brings me back to Buddha. I think at the end, right before drinking his soup, Buddha didn’t walk away from his emptiness trying to conjure up another austerity to fill it. Nope, he just drank his soup, and surrendered to the void. And when it came, it brought the Great Emptiness to fill it. Some might call this God.
I hope one day to meet the Buddha.
Editor: Cassandra Smith
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