Siddhartha spent six years in a forest, practicing asceticism and meditation. Ascetics believe that the human body is the enemy of the soul, and that in order for the soul to be free, the body must be subjugated. Ascetics never bathe, they lock themselves in one posture, they survive on berries and water, and they sleep out in the open air or in caves.
But after a time, Siddhartha realised that this will not bring him any closer to finding freedom from suffering. He then bathed in a river and accepted milk from a village girl. His ascetic companions were mortified and decided to leave him.
Siddhartha then tried meditation, which is a state of neither consciousness nor unconsciousness. Sitting under a bodhi tree, all sorts of thoughts crossed Siddhartha’s mind. These thoughts are embodied in myths, but were essentially stories to describe Siddhartha’s struggle against doubt, fear, and temptations to return to the physical desires of the world. He conquered these thoughts by thinking: If I fight these obstacles, they will become stronger; but if I serenely accept them for what they are, they will lose their power over me.
Then Siddhartha thought of life as a wheel (samsara). We are born in one life, we die, and we are reborn in another life. This is a never-ending cycle of birth and death and re-birth. He also saw in his thoughts that the circumstances of the present life is caused by the actions of a previous life (karma). He concluded: There is nothing substantial in the world of samsara, and people who are ignorant of that truth will suffer over and over again.
Siddhartha realised that he had solved the enigma of suffering: Suffering ends when the cycle of birth and death and re-birth is broken. He touched the earth, and called for his release from the cycle of birth and death.
Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha, the Enlightened One.