What the heck happened under the Bodhi tree?
So we all know about Buddha and my hope is that you have seen a statue of him somewhere other than a Chinese restaurant. And while they may have different features depending on the region of the worshipper who made the statue, the original Buddha, Shakyamuni, is the one who helped spread the idea of Enlightenment.
The Shakyamuni Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama, a prince in what is now India. Some men told the king that his son would become a really important person, someone who will go on to help others. Siddhartha's dad replied with a "Fuck that. He is going to be a great leader and I am going to give him everything his ruling heart desires. Oh, and I will shelter him from pain in the world so that he doesn't see any of the bad things." And the king did just that. Siddhartha had multiple palaces and had a little hottie with a body for a wife. They even had a son. The king, by some accounts, would even send guards out ahead of the prince to get the unwanted people (old, poor, sick, dying) off the streets before the prince ventured out so that Siddhartha wouldn't realize that people where suffering. (Foreshadow alert!)
But like all children, Siddhartha did venture out and he realized that not everything was quite as pretty as in thepalace. He saw sick people. He saw dying people. He saw overly involved pageant moms and kids juiced up on Red Bull. One day, he came across a monk who had given up everything he owned and Siddhartha thought, "Yeah, I think I'm going to do that." So Siddhartha wandered around for years, asking everybody he could the question that was on his mind: "How do you end suffering?" Siddhartha went as far as becoming an ascetic, depriving himself of food and comfort while he pondered this question.
That's when he came upon the concept of the Middle Way. "Life in the palace with my every need being fulfilled didn't satisfy me. Yet, this not eating to the point of starvation also sucks. Going overboard either way must not be the way to end suffering. Now where is the nearest curry food truck?" The Middle Way says to do nothing to excess and nothing to deprivation.
One day, Siddhartha came upon a Bodhi tree and decided to sit under it to pray about suffering, vowing not to leave that spot until he could find a way to bring about suffering's demise. Because all stories need an antagonist, here enters Mara. Mara was kind of a pest; some stories liken him to a demon. As Siddhartha is in a deep meditation under that tree, Mara sends him some distractions, including trying to tempt him with sexy women, supposedly Mara's own daughters. (If there is one thing I know as the parent of a young girl, I will not be throwing my daughter at anybody.) Mara caused storms and fireballs to come to distract Siddhartha but he defeated ignored all of these.
After 49 days, Siddhartha had reached enlightenment and became the Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni means "enlightened one" or "awakened one." His answer to how you end suffering: You don't because you can't. Rather than write a self-help book he then wandered all over to teach others the Dharma, or teachings, while emphasizing the "Noble Eight Fold Path.