The Function of withdrawal
(also called the desert or wilderness phase)
The ‘Fasting Buddha’1 sculpture is a visual metaphor for extreme withdrawal from life ≈ interaction, that is to say, from the relative. The initial affect of extreme withdrawal from relative contact is increased inner turmoil, usually experienced as massive inner heat2 accompanied by intense suffering.3
The purpose of withdrawal (i.e. of asceticism) is the reduction of turmoil, indeed, of the heat of contact (in this case the heat of fission) and the suffering that causes in order to achieve calm and its affect, namely coolness accompanied by bliss, in a word, Nirvana.
When he eventually attained full awakening (i.e. full arousal to (hence full knowledge of) to the bio-mechanics of suffering), he proposed gradual withdrawal and which is variously described as: practicing (pro rata to @100%) detachment, non-contact (or non-contention). Many metaphors have been invented for withdrawal, namely fence sitting, going into neutral, going on standby, going into ‘waiting time’, taking no (or the zero or null) position, becoming a ‘Yes’ person and so on.
Though the Buddha appears to have proposed gradual withdrawal from relative contact (thus from the cause to life, Sanskrit: samsara) for the common folk, he and his followers actually returned to be pre-full-awakening extremism by practicing complete (hence extreme) withdrawal.
Whereas initially only a few life functions were deemed to produce suffering (i.e. distress), eventually his nutty followers, and who turned his simple and effective distress elimination strategy into a lucrative business ≈ religion declared that all life produced distress. Consequently the drivers of life (and life itself) needed to be eliminated if absolute calm ≈ coolness was to be attained.
1 … The original title of the sculpture was: The bodhisattva (to wit: the future Buddha) Gautama practicing extreme austerity (Sanskrit: tapas). He is attempting to suppress the unpleasant affects of incomplete contact with incomplete and uncertain relative conditions.
2 … The heat released by fission.
3 … The term ‘suffering’ is a deliberate (Western) mistranslation of the Pali term dukkha. No one knows precisely what that term (actually a metaphor) meant when first used. It’s possible it simply meant stress. Stress becomes distress ( ≈ sorrow, suffering, anguish and so on) when it can not be usefully managed.