According to the early Buddhist texts, after realizing that meditative jhana was the right path to awakening, but that extreme asceticism didn’t work, Gautama discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. In a famous incident, after becoming starved and weakened, he is said to have accepted milk and rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata. Such was his emaciated appearance that she wrongly believed him to be a spirit that had granted her a wish.
Following this incident, Gautama was famously seated under a pipal tree—now known as the Bodhi tree—in Bodh Gaya, India, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. Kaundinya and four other companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment. According to some traditions, this occurred in approximately the fifth lunar month, while, according to others, it was in the twelfth month. From that time, Gautama was known to his followers as the Buddha or “Awakened One” (“Buddha” is also sometimes translated as “The Enlightened One”). He is often referred to in Buddhism as Shakyamuni Buddha, or “The Awakened One of the Shakya Clan.”
According to Buddhism, at the time of his awakening he realized complete insight into the cause of suffering, and the steps necessary to eliminate it. These discoveries became known as the “Four Noble Truths“, which are at the heart of Buddhist teaching. Through mastery of these truths, a state of supreme liberation, or Nirvana, is believed to be possible for any being. The Buddha described Nirvāna as the perfect peace of a mind that’s free from ignorance, greed, hatred and other afflictive states, or “defilements” (kilesas). Nirvana is also regarded as the “end of the world”, in that no personal identity or boundaries of the mind remain. In such a state, a being is said to possess the Ten Characteristics, belonging to every Buddha.