5. Extreme asceticism and the middle way
Gautama started to put his body under increasing strain. He ate too little, quit his clothes, slept on nails, stood on one leg and did all kinds of tortures to his body.
Soon he became very good at it. He became so good that he could stay alive by eating just one grain of rice a day. He became so thin that his limbs looked like bamboo sticks. His rib cage was clearly visible. He looked just like a skeleton.
Gautama continued practicing meditation in such conditions. He went through unspeakable pain and suffering during this time.
But even after all that he could not get the answers to his questions. After six years of leaving home and experience of inhuman conditions and activities, everything seemed futile.
Finally Gautama realized that the austere path was not working. It was as useless as his previous life of luxury. Both approaches were unsuitable for gaining insight. The right path was somewhere in between the two extremes.
It was the middle way.
Following the realization, Gautama quit the path of austerity. Wandering through the villages he arrived at a place which is known as Bodh Gaya now.
There a village girl came and offered some rice and milk to Gautama. Since he decided to follow a middle path, he accepted the offer. After eating it he sat under a fig tree, meditating.
This was not perceived well by his five companions. They suspected that Gautama gave up on the quest and fell back to the life of pleasure and gratification. Disappointed, all of them left him one by one.
Gautama remained alone, still pursuing his quest.