The Buddha's life exemplifies a very important principle--a certain amount of hardship is necessary in one's spiritual pursuit. We can also see this principle at work in the lives of other great religious teachers, such as Jesus Christ or the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Furthermore, I think that the followers of these teachers, if they wish to attain the highest spiritual realizations within their tradition, must themselves undergo a process of hardship, which they endure through dedicated perseverance. There is sometimes the tendency among the followers of the Buddha to imagine, perhaps only in the back of their minds, that "Although the Buddha went through all of those hardships to attain enlightenment they aren't really necessary for me. Surely, I can attain enlightenment without giving up life's comforts." Perhaps such people imagine that, because they are somehow more fortunate than the Buddha, they can attain the same spiritual state as he did without any particular hardships or renunciation. This is, I think, mistaken.
...While Buddhism has adapted to the culture of each new civilization it has encountered, it nonetheless retains its emphasis on morality and discipline as essential for spiritual maturation. If we ourselves want the attainments described by the Buddha--the deep concentration and the penetrating insights--then we too must endure some amount of hardship and observe ethical behavior.
--from Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings by H.H. the Dalai Lama, translated & edited by Geshe Thupten Jinpa