However, after mastering it he realised that the path that his master showed was not the path he was in search of. Finally, in all politeness he sought his teacher’s leave and moved away. Five of Ramaputra Rudraka’s disciples also left with the Sakya Muni. They all reached Gaya and stayed there at Gaya Shirsha hill for some days. In the course of his journey and during his stay at Gaya Buddha, the Sakya Muni, reviewed whatever he had so far learnt, experienced or mastered. He was convinced that the light that he was looking for could not be attained by torturing the body with severe penance. In the most sublime moments during meditation he had often realised that one would not arrive at the ultimate knowledge unless he had become absolutely detached from all material desires, passions and emotions, and his mind had become still and tranquil, and that such state of mind would not arrive at when the body is in torture, even if it be by penance.
After staying for sometime at Gaya Shirsha hill they arrived at the village Uruvilva. The village had streaming along it the river Nairanjana with crystal transparent water and prevailed around its banks a kind of gentle tranquility. Close to the river they saw a grove of trees and decided to stay there for the time being and further their quest for truth. The Sakya Muni had rejected the path of rigorous penance, however, he decided to subject himself to it, perhaps for finally determining its merit. His five colleagues felt disappointed with his U-turn for it was the Sakya Muni’s rejection of rigorous penance as the means of attaining enlightenment that they were attracted to him. Hence, they deserted him and retired to Deer Park for pursuing their own way. Left alone, the Sakya Muni submitted himself to meditation subjecting himself to rigorous penance.
He sat down cross-legged under a Pipal tree and continued to be seated as such for months after months. He ate less and less everyday till his diet reduced to a single sesame seed. He was reduced to a mere skeleton, however nothing disturbed him, neither the scorching sun, hunger or sharp winds, nor torrential rains. With body and mind in full control he remained fixed in his purpose for months with his mind unswerving from the truth. This state of his being is said to have continued for six years, though at the end his realisation was the same as before : severe penance would not bring enlightenment. It was at this juncture that a low-born girl Sujata happened to bring him some pudding eating which the Sakya Muni broke his fast.
This emaciated figure of the Buddha represents this state of his being : one reduced to a mere skeleton on account of years’ long rigorous penance. As this phase of his life did not reflect a Buddhist tenet or a step leading to Enlightenment or spread of Buddhism, it does not comprise one of the Buddha’s main iconographic forms such as are ‘Bhumi-sparsha-mudra’, ‘Dharma-chakra-pravartana’ or ‘Maha Parinirvana’, and is hence a far rarer form in the Buddhist art. This replica, which reproduces with absolute exactness the Buddha’s stone-statue in the Lahore Museum, displays an artistic skill which takes centuries to mature, and the tools of which are not the iron chisels or hammer but a devotional mind’s careful strokes and an imaginative mind’s deep insight, and the overall feeling of pain which it must have had when exposing the Compassionate Master’s each rib, bone and blood-vessel beyond binding skin, carving the face only for portraying wrinkles and overgrown rugged hair, eyes for defining pits and the limit of their receding, and belly for revealing a cave-like hollow, practically a mere skeleton. More than the skin his sanghati – sash-like wear, has sustained the rigour of his penance and yet covers his body, though a mere part.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.