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By Charles S. Prebish, Damien Keown

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Although many beautiful images were created, however, it is highly unlikely they bear any close likeness to the historical individual they depict, since they are largely based on stylized conventions of the kind just described. 54 The Buddha Sources for the Buddha’s life There is no continuous narrative biography Contents | Chapter 2: ↑start | ↓end in the early literature, but the most important sources for details of the Buddha’s life include: • The Pāli Canon. Certain sūtras provide biographical details, such as the Discourse of the Great Decease (Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra) which recounts the last few months of the Buddhaʼs life and confirms he was eighty years old when he died.

Ramaṇas like Siddhārtha depended on the laity for alms, although many of them wandered far away from towns and villages to live an arduous life of seclusion in the forest. In the time-honored fashion, Siddhārtha sought out a religious master (guru), turning first to a well-known teacher called Ārāḍa Kālāma who showed him a meditational technique which allowed him to enter a profound state of trance. This state, attained through yogic concentration, was known as the “sphere of nothingness,” and was one in which the mind transcended all thought Contents | Chapter 2: ↑start | ↓end 62 Austerities producing a sensation of deep spiritual peace.

In the second phase, as a śramaṇa in the forest, he had gone to the other extreme and deprived himself of all comforts, pushing his mind and body to their limits in the hope of a spiritual breakthrough that never came. He therefore declared his six-year experiment with self-mortification at an end, and adopted a more balanced and moderate lifestyle. He became convinced that the way forward involved a lifestyle that avoided extremes of all kinds and steered a “middle way” between over-indulgence and extreme self-denial.

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