The Middle Way
As he had demonstrated himself to be a meditation prodigy with Alara Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra, Siddhartha attempted to be an ascetic prodigy, only taking a grain of rice or drinking mud for sustenance each day. Together with his five companions he wore little or no clothing, slept out in the open no matter the weather, starved himself beyond measure, and even ingested his own waste matter. He lay on the most uncomfortable surfaces possible and inflicted severe deprivation on himself, convinced that external suffering would banish the internal suffering forever. He became very ill — his ribs showed through his skin, his hair fell out, and his skin became blotched and shrunken. But still he was plagued with desires and cravings. For years he had been determined to conquer his body and its senses. After seven long years of effort he was close to death.
“Moderate effort over a long time is important, no matter what you are trying to do. One brings failure on oneself by working extremely hard at the beginning, attempting to do too much, and then giving it all up after a short time.” — The Dalai Lama
Fortunately, a young girl named Sujata offered him some rice porridge and he took it, breaking his vows of asceticism. When the Five Ascetics saw him partaking of nourishment they grew disgusted with their companion and hurriedly distanced themselves from him. They thought he was returning to the life he had lived before and was leaving the life of a holy seeker.
This was the beginning of his awakening and finding the middle path between the extremes of sensual indulgence and dangerous denial of his physical needs. He recalled his meditation experience under the rose apple tree and realized there was another way to accomplish his goal. With the strength gained from that meal, the emaciated Siddhartha sat beneath a pipal tree and made a new vow: To not get up until he had found what he was looking for.