Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Enlightenment

Mara holds the Wheel of Life
Mara holds the Wheel of Life
Art Resource, Inc.
View Larger View Larger
Siddhartha resisted every temptation Mara could devise. The lord of desire had one final test. He demanded to know who would testify that Siddhartha was worthy of attaining ultimate wisdom. And his demon army rose up to support him. Siddhartha said nothing. He reached down and touched the ground, and the earth shuddered. Mara’s demons fled.

W.S. Merwin, poet: "The Buddha reaches down, and with his finger, touches the earth. He says, 'The earth is my witness.' He said, 'Mara, you are not the earth. The earth is right here beneath my finger,' and the earth is what we're talking about. Accepting the earth, not owning the earth, not possessing the earth, but the earth just as it is, abused and exploited and despised and rejected and, plowed and mined and shat on and everything else, you know. It's still the earth, and it is, we owe everything to it."

Siddhartha meditated throughout the night, and all his former lives passed before him.

Robert Tenzin Thurman, scholar: "He remembered all his previous lives—infinite number of lives—female and male and every other race and every other being in the vast ocean of life forms. And he remembered all that viscerally so that means his awareness expanded until all the moments of the past were completely present to him."

D. Max Moerman, scholar: "He gains the power to see the process of birth, death, and rebirth that all creatures go through. He’s given this sort of cosmic vision of the workings of the entire universe."

As the morning star appeared, he roared like a lion. "My mind," he said, "is at peace." The heavens shook, and the Bodhi tree rained down flowers. He had become the “awakened one”—the Buddha.

Mark Epstein, psychiatrist: "Something new opens up for him which he calls Nirvana, which he calls Awakening."

Jane Hirshfield, poet: "He said, at this moment all beings and I awaken together. So it was not just him. It was all the universe. He touched the earth. 'As earth is my witness. Seeing this morning star, all things and I awaken together.'"

Thurman: "It’s not like entering a new state; it’s uncovering or surrendering to the reality that has always been there. He realized he’d always been in Nirvana that Nirvana was always the case; your reality itself is Nirvana. It’s the unreality; it’s your ignorance that makes you think you’re this self-centered separate being trying to fight off an overwhelming universe and failing. You are that universe."

Buddha under the Bohi tree
The Buddha sits on demons under the bohi tree.
Cleveland Museum of Art
View Larger View Larger Timeline View on Timeline/Map
Epstein: "You’re already enlightened. He’s saying the capacity for enlightenment, that your awake-ness already exists within you."

Hirshfield: "Nirvana is this moment seen directly. There is no where else than here. The only gate is now. The only doorway is your own body and mind. There’s nowhere to go. There’s nothing else to be. There’s no destination. It’s not something to aim for in the afterlife. It’s simply the quality of this moment."

Merwin: "Just this, just this, this room where we are. Pay attention to that. Pay attention to who's there, pay attention to what isn't known there, pay attention to what is known there, pay attention to what everyone is thinking and feeling, what you're doing there, and pay attention. Pay attention."

Continue to "Teachings"
 

Major funding provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by: the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Shinnyo-en Foundation, the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Bumper Foundation, and viewers like you.