Shakyamuni Buddha lived 2500 years ago. We know many stories about him both from before his enlightenment and after his enlightenment. One of the famous stories from his childhood is the story of him beneath the rose apple tree.
When he was a little boy, he went to the ploughing festival which happened in the spring. This was a big event for these people, who had recently become agriculturalists and settled down to plough the fields. So, the ploughing festival was a big occasion and Siddharta Gautama’s father had the honour of being the person who cut the first furrow. So, the little boy is watching his father go out and guide the plough that is pulled by richly decorated oxen who stride across the field; and the little boy sees the ground cut open, and he feels it like a wound - the flesh of Mother Earth is being cut open - and he sees how, when the earth is cut open, all the little animals that live in the earth, their lives are disrupted and the birds of the air fly down and have a meal, eating all these little creatures.
The little boy is very troubled by this sight and he slips away needing to think about it. He’s being looked after by nurse maids, but they are so taken up with the excitement of the festival event that for a while they don’t notice that he’s gone. Then somebody sounds the alarm: “Where’s Siddharta gone?” and they all go looking for him and they find him in rapt contemplation, sitting under the rose apple tree. They’re all very charmed to see him sitting there and they think: “Oh, he’s going to be a great sage one day.”
What is usually taken from this story is the methodology. It is said that later, on the night of his enlightenment, the Buddha remembered the rapture that he had entered into under the rose apple tree and he applied this method to enter into dhyâna, the state of rapture, the state of meditation, and this resulted in his enlightenment.
But I think, we should reflect a little on the content of his reflection at this time. Enlightenment is not brought about by a technique, but by an encounter with existential reality. This was what was happening for little Siddharta at that time. Here on this day, he saw that it is impossible to live in this world without harm and destruction. The birds could not live without eating the insects and the worms. The humans could not live without growing the food, and in the growing of that food much death and destruction was involved. There is no escape from this. This is the great dukkha, the great grief. There is no way to live a completely harmless life.
Later the Buddha was to encounter Jaina ascetics who strove valiantly to live a totally harmless and pure life, but he knew that that path was not possible. Shakyamuni Buddha taught us how to live a noble life in the midst of such a world as this one. Not a world in which we, by our spiritual effort, enter into a completely different world, but one which accepts the true reality of our situation.
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much