The First Meditation

       Siddhartha felt revitalized after eating the food offered him by Sujata, a girl from a nearby village. Feeling much better, he walked to the river’s edge. There, he washed. The riverbank was lined with some very tall krusha grass. Siddhartha gathered a good bundle of it and returned to the forest.

      Under the pippala tree, Siddhartha arranged the krusha grass into a seat and sat down. In his heart, Siddhartha knew that his long solitary meditation was to enter a new phase. He remembered his very first meditation under a rose apple tree. . . .

      It was the day of the first plowing of the fields. The tradition was that people would dress in fine clothes to attend a big ceremony held outside in the fields. Flags and colorful cloths hung from the trees. Many tables were set up as altars upon which the finest foods and drinks were placed. The holy men of the Brahman class would chant prayers to ask for blessings. They prayed that the fields would yield healthy and plentiful crops.

      So it was on that day, when Siddhartha was nine, that King Suddhodana, his royal family and all his ministers attended the ceremony. Many children were there. They loved this day because after the prayers and chanting, they were to enjoy the most delicious cakes and sweets. Nevertheless, the prayer readings proved much too long and soon the children tired. The ladies-in-waiting led them to the outer fields to watch the actual plowing. Siddhartha was amongst them.

      In the field, a man naked to the waist was prodding a water buffalo to pull a plow. It was very close to noon, and the sun shone relentlessly on his bare back. He was sweating profusely and visibly tired from walking up and down in the field making the furrows. Intermittently, he would whip the reluctant buffalo. The buffalo had to pull very hard with the yoke upon its body. Its hoofs gripped the ground beneath as its large body inched forward dragging the heavy plow behind it. The plow turned up the soil exposing the worms that made their homes there. The worms wriggled in distress trying desperately to find cover. Others worms writhed in pain as they had just been cut in halves. Siddhartha then realized why so many small birds were hovering near the ground. They were eating the live, defenseless worms and other tiny bugs that laid bare for their easy picking. Just then, a hawk swooped down and caught one of the small birds. With its lunch secured in its claws, it took to the air again giving out the loud cry of a master of the sky.

      Siddhartha watched in silence. He felt the toil of the man who ploughed the field in the hot sun. He felt the struggle of the water buffalo chained to the plow. He felt the pain of the worms cut by the plow. It was heart wrenching to witness the worms, the insects, and the small bird losing their lives so abruptly. Siddhartha felt their fear, their pain, and the unpredictability of life itself.

      The noonday sun was extremely hot. Siddhartha took shelter under a rose-apple tree. The leaves provided a much needed shade away from the heat. He sat down on a stone slab. He curled up his legs to rest on the cool surface of the stone. He straightened his body to gather his breath. He rested his hands on his lap. With his eyes lowered, Siddhartha reflected on the scene that had transpired in the field. He sat detached from the noises of the children laughing and playing around him.

      After sitting quietly for a while, Siddhartha noticed that his thoughts subsided. He experienced a calm and clear awareness from within. He recognized that the man, the water buffalo, the birds, and the worms had one thing in common: each of them was tied to the conditions of its life. A worm was tied to the condition that it was a food source for birds. A small bird was bound by the condition that it might fall prey to larger birds. A water buffalo had to live in captivity and work for its captors.

      Siddhartha continued to look deeper. He recognized that life conditions brought fear and pain at times, and enjoyment at others. In one moment, the small bird was enjoying the worms, but in the next moment, it was food for the hawk.

      Moreover, Siddhartha observed that the conditions were different for everyone. Some animals enjoyed a greater degree of freedom and safety than others. The peacocks of the royal gardens certainly led a better existence than that of a water buffalo. It was the same with people. Some were good looking and some were not. Some were strong while some were weak. Some were smart and some were dumb. One thing stood out above all else: regardless of what conditions they were born with, all living things wanted to live in peace and happiness. All living things wanted to avoid suffering. All living things were thus interconnected with one another through this universal wish to be happy.

      Siddhartha himself was no exception. It was through his own experience of heat, pain, fear, and fatigue that he was able to connect with the man, the water buffalo, the worms, and the birds in the field. His want of happiness and his aversion to suffering connected him to the experiences of others. Without the common ground of experience, there could be no connection. Siddhartha remembered the time when he had tried to describe the taste of chocolate to his attendant who had never tasted one. He could not.

      A very strong conviction then seized Siddhartha. If he wanted to help others, he would need first to find out for himself how he could help. He needed to understand the nature of the conditions that created suffering. Only then would he be able to change them so that every living being could enjoy happiness.

      “Siddhartha!” someone shook the Prince’s shoulder. King Suddhodana and Queen Gotami both saw Siddhartha sitting under the tree. The Queen was in awe of the fact that a nine year old could sit in a meditation posture so serenely. However, the King’s facial expression tensed up right away. In his heart, his greatest fear was taking shape—that Siddhartha would leave him one day in search of the Truth.

      “Reading the holy Veda cannot help the worms!” Those were the first words that Siddhartha uttered when he looked up and saw his parents. The King’s brows could not have been more knitted than in that moment.

      “Ouch!” Siddhartha cried. He had scraped his leg against a sharp edge of the stone slab as he was getting up. Queen Gotami immediately waved for the attendants to come. “It’s nothing. The cut is not deep. Sometimes the skin breaks,” said the Prince. He had understood and accepted pain as a normal experience of the physical body. He took off his scarf and wrapped it around the wound. He smiled at his parents whom he loved dearly. He reached out his two hands to hold one hand from each parent. Giving their hands a loving squeeze he walked between them to rejoin the festivities of the day. . . .

     Sitting under the pippala tree, Siddhartha recollected the events of that day some thirty years ago. Since he had left home, he had learnt a lot. He was grateful to his two teachers, Arada and Udraka, for showing him their meditation methods. The methods were necessary and helpful in the beginning. They helped him to calm his mind and to achieve a strong concentration. The methods revealed to him the deep peace that was within him. But the methods did not show him how to stop the suffering of living beings—neither did the extreme neglect of his physical body that nearly killed him.

      Siddhartha then reflected on how the insights had come to him naturally in that first meditation sitting. He reflected on how relaxed his mind had been. He reflected on how his mind had not been fixed on this or that method. Perhaps that was what was missing in his meditation now, a natural letting go. With this new insight, Siddhartha’s meditation entered another phase.

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