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After leaving his second teacher, Uddaka, Prince Siddhartha was known as Ascetic Gautama. He met five friends — Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji — who had also left the palace and a life of luxury to become ascetics, or students of life, living poorly. They went to Uruvela and for six years Gautama struggled and tortured his body while his five friends supported and looked after him.
“I will carry austerity to the uttermost,” thought Gautama. “This is the way to acquire wisdom.” He practised fasting, which was thought to be one of the best ways to acquire wisdom. He lived on a grain of rice a day, and later, nothing at all. His body became so thin that his legs were like bamboo sticks, his backbone was like a rope, his chest was like an incomplete roof of a house, his eyes sank right inside, like stones in a deep well. His skin lost its golden colour and became black. In fact, he looked like a living skeleton — all bones without any flesh! He suffered terrible pain and hunger, yet continued to meditate.
Another way of torturing his body was to hold his breath for a long time until he felt violent pains in his ears, head and whole body. He would then fall senseless to the ground. During the full moon and new moon he went out into the forest or to a cemetery to meditate, wearing rags from graveyards and rubbish heaps. He became frightened at first, especially when wild animals came, but he never ran away. He stayed behind bravely in these dreadful places, meditating all the time.
For six long years he did these practices and in spite of the great pain and suffering he did not find wisdom or the answers to his questions. He finally decided, “These austerities are not the way to enlightenment.” He went begging through the village for food to build up his body. When his five friends saw this they felt disappointed. They took their bowls and robes and left, wanting nothing more to do with Gautama.