The Buddha follows the life of what are called the "sadhus" in India (Hindu term for holy men, especially monks). He leaves for the forest to meditate on the world, planning to return and offer the fruits of his meditation for the salvation of his fellow man. In this scene - which can also be found in the Sanchi (central India) stupa, the Ajanta (S. central India) grottoes, and the Ellora (S. central India) bas-reliefs - he leaves with other sadhus to experience self-imposed, full asceticism. He is generally portrayed during this period of his life as progressively thinner and thinner from episode to episode, until nothing but skin and bones - for example, in the Gandhara (ancient region in NW India and Afghanistan) bas-reliefs, where artists favored somewhat expressionist representations. He did in fact grow thinner together with the other sadhus, but came to realize the vanity of fasting. He rejected the conquest of his own body as belonging to the realm of pride, and then came to reject the conquest of the mind in the same spirit: rather than a pseudo death, life is simply to be lived if one wants to be able to give to others.
Having come to grips with the vanity of asceticism, he was ready to accept the first bowl of soup (or milk) from the hand of a woman called Sudjata, and, by the same token, ready to experience enlightenment.