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Buddha's first sermon, according to the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta, took place in the Deer Park at Sarnath in northern India.The legends say that a seer predicted that Siddhartha would become either a great king or a great holy man; because of this, the king tried to make sure that Siddhartha never had any cause for dissatisfaction with his life, as that might drive him toward a spiritual path.
Nevertheless, at the age of 29, while being escorted by his attendant Channa, he came across what has become known as the Four Passing Sights: an old crippled man, a sick man, a decaying corpse, and finally a wandering holy man. These four sights, as they are called, led him to the realization that birth, old age, sickness and death came to everyone, not only once but repeated for life after life in succession for uncounted aeons. He decided to abandon his worldly life, leaving behind his wife and child, his privilege, rank, caste, and to take up the life of a wandering holy man in search of the answer to the problem of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
It is said that he stole out of the house in the dead of night, pausing for one last look at his family, and did not return there for a very long time.
Indian holy men (sadhus), in those days just as today, engaged in a variety of ascetic practices designed to "mortify" the flesh. This belief was taken to an extreme in the faith of Jainism. It was thought that by enduring pain and suffering, the atman (Sanskrit; Pali: atta) or "soul" became free from the round of rebirth into pain and sorrow. Siddhartha proved adept at these practices, and was able to surpass his teachers.
However, he found no answer to his problem and, leaving behind his teachers, he and a small group of companions set out to take their austerities even further. He became a skeleton covered with skin, surviving on a single grain of rice per day, and practiced holding his breath.
After nearly starving himself to death with no success (some sources claim that he nearly drowned), Siddhartha began to reconsider his path. Then he remembered a moment in childhood in which he had been watching his father start the season's plowing, and he had fallen into a naturally concentrated and focused state in which time seemed to stand still, and which was blissful and refreshing. Perhaps this would provide an alternative to the dead end of self-mortification?
Taking a little buttermilk from a passing goatherd, he found a large tree (now called the Bodhi tree) under which he would be shaded from the heat of the mid-summer sun, and set to meditating. This new way of practicing began to bear fruit. His mind became concentrated and pure, and then, six years after he began his quest, he attained Enlightenment, and became a Buddha.
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