The Buddha and his Teachings
Namo tassa Bhagavato arahanto Sammā Sambuddhassa!
Homage to the Exalted, the Worthy,
the Fully Enlightened One!
The Buddha From Birth to Renunciation
A unique being, an extraordinary man arises in this world for the benefit of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods and men. Who is this unique being? It is the Tathāgata, the exalted, fully Enlightened One.
—Aṇguttara Nikāya — AN 1:13/A I 22.
On the full moon day of May, 1 in the year 623 BCE 2 there was born in the Lumbini Park 3 at Kapilavatthu, 4 on the Indian borders of present Nepal, a noble prince who was destined to be the greatest religious teacher of the world.
His father 5 was King Suddhodana of the aristocratic Sākya 6 clan and his mother was Queen Mahā Māyā. As the beloved mother died seven days after his birth, Mahā Pajāpatī Gotamī, her younger sister, who was also married to the king, adopted the child, entrusting her own son, Nanda, to the care of the nurses.
Great were the rejoicings of the people over the birth of this illustrious prince. An ascetic of high spiritual attainments, named Asita, also known as Kāladevala, was particularly pleased to hear this happy news, and being a tutor of the king, visited the palace to see the royal babe. The king, who felt honoured by his unexpected visit, carried the child up to him in order to make the child pay him due reverence, but, to the surprise of all, the child’s legs turned and rested on the matted locks of the ascetic. Instantly, the ascetic rose from his seat and, foreseeing with his supernormal vision the child’s future greatness, saluted him with clasped hands. 7 The royal father did likewise.
The great ascetic smiled at first and then was sad. Questioned regarding his mingled feelings, he answered that he smiled because the prince would eventually become a Buddha, an enlightened one, and he was sad because he would not be able to benefit by the superior wisdom of the Enlightened One owing to his prior death and rebirth in a formless plane (arūpaloka). 8
On the fifth day after the prince’s birth, he was named Siddhattha, which means “wish fulfilled.” His family name was Gotama. 9
In accordance with the ancient Indian custom, many learned brahmins were invited to the palace for the naming ceremony. Amongst them there were eight distinguished men. Examining the characteristic marks of the child, seven of them raised two fingers each, indicative of two alternative possibilities, and said that he would either become a Universal Monarch or a Buddha. But the youngest, Kondañña, 10 who excelled others in wisdom, noticing the hair on the forehead turned to the right, raised only one finger and convincingly declared that the prince would definitely retire from the world and become a buddha.
A very remarkable incident took place in his childhood. It was an unprecedented spiritual experience which, later, during his search after truth, served as a key to his enlightenment. 11
To promote agriculture, the king arranged for a ploughing festival. It was indeed a festive occasion for all, as both nobles and commoners decked in their best attire, participated in the ceremony. On the appointed day, the king, accompanied by his courtiers, went to the field, taking with him the young prince together with the nurses. Placing the child on a screened and canopied couch under the cool shade of a solitary rose-apple tree to be watched by the nurses, the king participated in the ploughing festival. When the festival was at its height of gaiety the nurses too stole away from the prince’s presence to catch a glimpse of the wonderful spectacle.
In striking contrast to the mirth and merriment of the festival it was all calm and quiet under the rose-apple tree. All the conditions conducive to quiet meditation being there, the pensive child, young in years but old in wisdom, sat cross-legged and seized the opportunity to commence that all-important practice of intense concentration on the breath—on exhalations and inhalations—which gained for him then and there that one-pointedness of mind known as samādhi and he thus developed the first jhāna (ecstasy). 12 The child’s nurses, who had abandoned their precious charge to enjoy themselves at the festival, suddenly realising their duty, hastened to the child and were amazed to see him sitting cross-legged, plunged in deep meditation. The king hearing of it, hurried to the spot and, seeing the child in meditative posture, saluted him, saying, “This, dear child, is my second obeisance.”
As a royal child, Prince Siddhattha must have received an education that became a prince although no details are given about it. As a scion of the warrior race he received special training in the art of warfare.
At the early age of sixteen, he married his beautiful cousin Princess Yasodharā 13 who was of equal age. For nearly thirteen years, after his happy marriage, he led a luxurious life, blissfully ignorant of the vicissitudes of life outside the palace gates. Of his luxurious life as prince, he states:
I was delicate, excessively delicate. In my father’s dwelling three lotus-ponds were made purposely for me. Blue lotuses bloomed in one, red in another, and white in another. I used no sandal-wood that was not of Kāsi. 14 My turban, tunic, dress and cloak, were all from Kāsi.
Night and day a white parasol was held over me so that I might not be touched by heat or cold, dust, leaves or dew.
There were three palaces built for me—one for the cold season, one for the hot season, and one for the rainy season. During the four rainy months, I lived in the palace for the rainy season without ever coming down from it, entertained all the while by female musicians. Just as, in the houses of others, food from the husks of rice together with sour gruel is given to the slaves and workmen, even so, in my father’s dwelling, food with rice and meat was given to the slaves and workmen. 15
With the march of time, truth gradually dawned upon him. His contemplative nature and boundless compassion did not permit him to spend his time in the mere enjoyment of the fleeting pleasures of the royal palace. He knew no personal grief but he felt a deep pity for suffering humanity. Amidst comfort and prosperity, he realised the universality of sorrow.
Prince Siddhattha reflected thus:
Why do I, being subject to birth, decay, disease, death, sorrow and impurities, thus search after things of like-nature. How, if I, who am subject to things of such nature, realise their disadvantages and seek after the unattained, unsurpassed, perfect security which is Nibbāna!” 16
“Cramped and confined is household life, a den of dust, but the life of the homeless one is as the open air of heaven! Hard is it for him who bides at home to live out as it should be lived the holy life in all its perfection, in all its purity. 17
One glorious day as he went out of the palace to the pleasure park to see the world outside, he came in direct contact with the stark realities of life. Within the narrow confines of the palace he saw only the rosy side of life, but the dark side, the common lot of mankind, was purposely veiled from him. What was mentally conceived, he, for the first time, vividly saw in reality. On his way to the park his observant eyes met the strange sights of a decrepit old man, a diseased person, a corpse and a dignified hermit. 18 The first three sights convincingly proved to him, the inexorable nature of life, and the universal ailment of humanity. The fourth signified the means to overcome the ills of life and to attain calm and peace. These four unexpected sights served to increase the urge in him to loathe and renounce the world.
Realising the worthlessness of sensual pleasures, so highly prized by the worldling, and appreciating the value of renunciation in which the wise seek delight, he decided to leave the world in search of truth and eternal peace.
When this final decision was taken after much deliberation, the news of the birth of a son was conveyed to him while he was about to leave the park. Contrary to expectations, he was not overjoyed but regarded his first and only offspring as an impediment. An ordinary father would have welcomed the joyful tidings, but Prince Siddhattha, the extraordinary father as he was, exclaimed —”An impediment (rāhu) has been born; a fetter has arisen.” The infant son was accordingly named Rāhula 19 by his grandfather.
The palace was no longer a congenial place to the contemplative Prince Siddhattha. Neither his charming young wife nor his lovable infant son could deter him from altering the decision he had taken to renounce the world. He was destined to play an infinitely more important and beneficial role than a dutiful husband and father or even as a king of kings. The allurements of the palace were no more cherished objects of delight to him. Time was ripe to depart.
He ordered his favourite charioteer Channa to saddle the horse Kaṇhaka and went to the suite of apartments occupied by the princess. Opening the door of the chamber, he stood on the threshold and cast his dispassionate glance on the wife and child who were fast asleep.
Great was his compassion for the two dear ones at this parting moment. Greater was his compassion for suffering humanity. He was not worried about the future worldly happiness and comfort of the mother and child as they had everything in abundance and were well protected. It was not that he loved them the less, but he loved humanity more.
Leaving all behind, he stole away with a light heart from the palace at midnight, and rode into the dark, attended only by his loyal charioteer. Alone and penniless he set out in search of truth and peace. Thus, did he renounce the world. It was not the renunciation of an old man who has had his fill of worldly life. It was not the renunciation of a poor man who had nothing to leave behind. It was the renunciation of a prince in the full bloom of youth and in the plenitude of wealth and prosperity—a renunciation unparalleled in history. It was in his twenty-ninth year that Prince Siddhattha made this historic journey.
He journeyed far and, crossing the river Anomā, rested on its banks. Here he shaved his hair and beard and handing over his garments and ornaments to Channa with instructions to return to the palace, assumed the simple yellow garb of an ascetic and led a life of voluntary poverty.
The ascetic Siddhattha, who once lived in the lap of luxury, now became a penniless wanderer, living on what little the charitably-minded gave of their own accord.
He had no permanent abode. A shady tree or a lonely cave sheltered him by day or night. Bare-footed and bare-headed, he walked in the scorching sun and in the piercing cold. With no possessions to call his own, but a bowl to collect his food and robes just sufficient to cover the body, he concentrated all his energies on the quest of truth.
Thus as a wanderer, a seeker after what is good, searching for the unsurpassed peace, he approached Álāra Kālāma, a distinguished ascetic, and said: “I desire, friend Kālāma to lead the holy life in this dispensation of yours.”
Thereupon Álāra Kālāma told him: “You may stay with me, O Venerable One. Of such sort is this teaching that an intelligent man before long may realise by his own intuitive wisdom his master’s doctrine, and abide in the attainment thereof.”
Before long, he learnt his doctrine, but it brought him no realisation of the highest truth.
Then there came to him the thought: “When Álāra Kālāma declared:
‘Having myself realised by intuitive knowledge the doctrine, I abide in the attainment thereof,’ it could not have been a mere profession of faith; surely Álāra Kālāma lives having understood and perceived this doctrine.”
So he went to him and said “How far, friend Kālāma, does this doctrine extend which you yourself have with intuitive wisdom realised and attained?”
Upon this Álāra Kālāma made known to him the Realm of Nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatana), 20 an advanced stage of concentration.
Then it occurred to him: “Not only in Álāra Kālāma are to be found faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. I too possess these virtues. How now if I strive to realise that doctrine whereof Álāra Kālāma says that he himself has realised and abides in the attainment thereof!”
So, before long, he realised by his own intuitive wisdom that doctrine and attained to that state, but it brought him no realisation of the highest truth.
Then he approached Álāra Kālāma and said: “Is this the full extent, friend Kālāma, of this doctrine of which you say that you yourself have realised by your wisdom and abide in the attainment thereof?”
“But I also, friend, have realised thus far in this doctrine, and abide in the attainment thereof.”
The unenvious teacher was delighted to hear of the success of his distinguished pupil. He honoured him by placing him on a perfect level with himself and admiringly said:
Happy, friend, are we, extremely happy, in that we look upon such a venerable fellow-ascetic like you! That same doctrine which I myself have realised by my wisdom and proclaim, having attained thereunto, have you yourself realised by your wisdom and abide in the attainment thereof; and that doctrine you yourself have realised by your wisdom and abide in the attainment thereof, that have I myself realised by my wisdom and proclaim, having attained thereunto. Thus the doctrine which I know, and also do you know; and, the doctrine which you know, that I know also. As I am, so are you; as you are, so am I. Come, friend, let both of us lead the company of ascetics.
The ascetic Gotama was not satisfied with a discipline and a doctrine which only led to a high degree of mental concentration, but did not lead to “disgust, detachment, cessation (of suffering), tranquillity, intuition, enlightenment, and Nibbāna.” Nor was he anxious to lead a company of ascetics even with the co-operation of another generous teacher of equal spiritual attainment, without first perfecting himself. It was, he felt, a case of the blind leading the blind. Dissatisfied with his teaching, he politely took his leave from him.
In those happy days when there were no political disturbances the intellectuals of India were preoccupied with the study and exposition of some religious system or other. All facilities were provided for those more spiritually inclined to lead holy lives in solitude in accordance with their temperaments and most of these teachers had large followings of disciples. So it was not difficult for the Ascetic Gotama to find another religious teacher who was more competent than the former.
On this occasion, he approached one Uddaka Rāmaputta and expressed his desire to lead the holy life in his dispensation. He was readily admitted as a pupil.
Before long the intelligent ascetic Gotama mastered his doctrine and attained the final stage of mental concentration, the realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññānāsaññāyatana), 21 revealed by his teacher. This was the highest stage in worldly concentration when consciousness becomes so subtle and refined that it cannot be said that a consciousness either exists or not. Ancient Indian sages could not proceed further in spiritual development.
The noble teacher was delighted to hear of the success of his illustrious royal pupil. Unlike his former teacher, the present one honoured him by inviting him to take full charge of all the disciples as their teacher. He said: “Happy friend, are we; yea, extremely happy, in that we see such a venerable fellow-ascetic as you! The doctrine which Rāma knew, you know; the doctrine which you know, Rāma knew. As was Rāma so are you; as you are, so was Rāma. Come, friend, henceforth you shall lead this company of ascetics.”
Still he felt that his quest of the highest truth was not achieved. He had gained complete mastery of his mind, but his ultimate goal was far ahead. He was seeking for the Highest, the Nibbāna, the complete cessation of suffering, the total eradication of all forms of craving. “Dissatisfied with this doctrine too, he departed thence, content therewith no longer.”
He realised that his spiritual aspirations were far higher than those under whom he chose to learn. He realised that there was none capable enough to teach him what he yearned for—the highest truth. He also realised that the highest truth is to be found within oneself and ceased to seek external aid.
Diagram 2. Prince Siddhattha’s Genealogical Table (Mother’s Side)
Easy to do are things that are bad
and not beneficial to self,
But very, very hard to do indeed
is that which is beneficial and good.
Meeting with disappointment, but not discouraged, the Ascetic Gotama seeking for the incomparable peace, the highest truth, wandered through the district of Magadha and arrived in due course at Uruvelā, the market town of Senāni. There he spied a lovely spot of ground, a charming forest grove, a flowing river with pleasant sandy fords, and hard by was a village where he could obtain his food. Then he thought thus:
Lovely, indeed, O Venerable One, is this spot of ground, charming is the forest grove, pleasant is the flowing river with sandy fords, and hard by is the village where I could obtain food. Suitable indeed is this place for spiritual exertion for those noble scions who desire to strive. (Ariyapariyesana Sutta, MN 26)
The place was congenial for his meditation. The atmosphere was peaceful. The surroundings were pleasant. The scenery was charming. Alone, he resolved to settle down there to achieve his desired object.
Hearing of his renunciation, Kondañña, the youngest brahmin who predicted his future, and four sons of the other sages—Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahānāma, and Assaji—also renounced the world and joined his company.
In the ancient days in India, great importance was attached to rites, ceremonies, penances and sacrifices. It was then a popular belief that no deliverance could be gained unless one leads a life of strict asceticism. Accordingly, for six long years the Ascetic Gotama made a superhuman struggle practising all forms of severest austerity. His delicate body was reduced to almost a skeleton. The more he tormented his body the farther his goal receded from him.
How strenuously he struggled, the various methods he employed, and how he eventually succeeded are graphically described in his own words in various suttas.
Mahā Saccaka Sutta (MN 36) describes his preliminary efforts thus:
Then the following thought occurred to me:
“How if I were to clench my teeth, press my tongue against the palate, and with (moral) thoughts hold down, subdue and destroy my (immoral) thoughts!’
So I clenched my teeth, pressed my tongue against the palate and strove to hold down, subdue, destroy my (immoral) thoughts with (moral) thoughts. As I struggled thus, perspiration streamed forth from my armpits.
Like unto a strong man who might seize a weaker man by head or shoulders and hold him down, force him down, and bring into subjection, even so did I struggle.
Strenuous and indomitable was my energy. My mindfulness was established and unperturbed. My body was, however, fatigued and was not calmed as a result of that painful endeavour—being overpowered by exertion. Even though such painful sensations arose in me, they did not at all affect my mind.
Then I thought thus: ‘How if I were to cultivate the non-breathing ecstasy!’
Accordingly, I checked inhalation and exhalation from my mouth and nostrils. As I checked inhalation and exhalation from mouth and nostrils, the air issuing from my ears created an exceedingly great noise. Just as a blacksmith’s bellows being blown make an exceedingly great noise, even so was the noise created by the air issuing from my ears when I stopped breathing.
Nevertheless, my energy was strenuous and indomitable. Established and unperturbed was my mindfulness. Yet my body was fatigued and was not calmed as a result of that painful endeavour—being over-powered by exertion.
Even though such painful sensations arose in me, they did not at all affect my mind.
Then I thought to myself: ‘How if I were to cultivate that non-breathing exercise!’
Accordingly, I checked inhalation and exhalation from mouth, nostrils, and ears. And as I stopped breathing from mouth, nostrils and ears, the (imprisoned) airs beat upon my skull with great violence. Just as if a strong man were to bore one’s skull with a sharp drill, even so did the airs beat my skull with great violence as I stopped breathing. Even though such painful sensations arose in me, they did not at all affect my mind.
Then I thought to myself: ‘How if I were to cultivate that non-breathing ecstasy again!’
Accordingly, I checked inhalation and exhalation from mouth, nostrils, and ears. And as I stopped breathing thus, terrible pains arose in my head. As would be the pains if a strong man were to bind one’s head tightly with a hard leather thong, even so were the terrible pains that arose in my head. Nevertheless, my energy was strenuous. Such painful sensations did not affect my mind.
Then I thought to myself: ‘How if I were to cultivate that non-breathing ecstasy again!’
Accordingly, I stopped breathing from mouth, nostrils, and ears. As I checked breathing thus, plentiful airs pierced my belly. Just as if a skilful butcher or a butcher’s apprentice were to rip up the belly with a sharp butcher’s knife, even so plentiful airs pierced my belly.
Nevertheless, my energy was strenuous. Such painful sensations did not affect my mind.
Again I thought to myself: ‘How if I were to cultivate that non-breathing ecstasy again!’
Accordingly, I checked inhalation and exhalation from mouth, nostrils, and ears. As I suppressed my breathing thus, a tremendous burning pervaded my body. Just as if two strong men were each to seize a weaker man by his arms and scorch and thoroughly burn him in a pit of glowing charcoal, even so did a severe burning pervade my body.
Nevertheless, my energy was strenuous. Such painful sensations did not affect my mind.
Thereupon the deities who saw me thus said: ‘The ascetic Gotama is dead.’ Some remarked: ‘The ascetic Gotama is not dead yet, but is dying.” While some others said: “The ascetic Gotama is neither dead nor is dying but an arahant is the ascetic Gotama. Such is the way in which an arahant abides.”
“Then I thought to myself: ‘How if I were to practise complete abstinence from food!’
Then deities approached me and said: ‘Do not, good sir, practise total abstinence from food. If you do practise it, we will pour celestial essence through your body’s pores; with that you will be sustained.’
And I thought: ‘If I claim to be practising starvation, and if these deities pour celestial essence through my body’s pores and I am sustained thereby, it would be a fraud on my part.’ So I refused them, saying ‘There is no need.’
Then the following thought occurred to me: ‘How if I take food little by little, a small quantity of the juice of green gram, or vetch, or lentils, or peas!’
As I took such small quantity of solid and liquid food, my body became extremely emaciated. Just as are the joints of knot-grasses or bulrushes, even so were the major and minor parts of my body, owing to lack of food. Just as is the camel’s hoof, even so were my hips for want of food. Just as is a string of beads, even so did my backbone stand out and bend in, for lack of food. Just as the rafters of a dilapidated hall fall this way and that, even so appeared my ribs through lack of sustenance. Just as in a deep well may be seen stars sunk deep in the water, even so did my eye-balls appear deep sunk in their sockets, being devoid of food. Just as a bitter pumpkin, when cut while raw, will by wind and sun get shrivelled and withered, even so did the skin of my head get shrivelled and withered, due to lack of sustenance.
And I, intending to touch my belly’s skin, would instead seize my backbone. When I intended to touch my backbone, I would seize my belly’s skin. So was I that, owing to lack of sufficient food, my belly’s skin clung to the backbone, and I, on going to pass excreta or urine, would in that very spot stumble and fall down, for want of food. And I stroked my limbs in order to revive my body. Lo, as I did so, the rotten roots of my body’s hairs fell from my body owing to lack of sustenance. The people who saw me said: ‘The ascetic Gotama is black.’ Some said, ‘The ascetic Gotama is not black but blue.’ Some others said: ‘The ascetic Gotama is neither black nor blue but tawny.’ To such an extent was the pure colour of my skin impaired owing to lack of food.
Then the following thought occurred to me: ‘Whatsoever ascetics or brahmins of the past have experienced acute, painful, sharp and piercing sensations, they must have experienced them to such a high degree as this and not beyond. Whatsoever ascetics and brahmins of the future will experience acute, painful, sharp and piercing sensations, they too will experience them to such a high degree and not beyond. Yet by all these bitter and difficult austerities I shall not attain to excellence, worthy of supreme knowledge and insight, transcending those of human states. Might there be another path for enlightenment!'”
His prolonged painful austerities proved utterly futile. They only resulted in the exhaustion of his valuable energy. Though physically a superman his delicately nurtured body could not possibly stand the great strain. His graceful form completely faded almost beyond recognition. His golden coloured skin turned pale, his blood dried up, his sinews and muscles shrivelled up, his eyes were sunk and blurred. To all appearance he was a living skeleton. He was almost on the verge of death.
At this critical stage, while he was still intent on the highest (padhāna), abiding on the banks of the Nerañjarā river, striving and contemplating in order to attain to that state of perfect security, came Namuci, 22 uttering kind words thus: 23
“You are lean and deformed. Near to you is death.
A thousand parts (of you belong) to death; to life (there remains) but one. Live, O good sir! Life is better. Living, you could perform merit.
By leading a life of celibacy and making fire sacrifices, much merit could be acquired. What will you do with this striving? Hard is the path of striving, difficult and not easily accomplished.”
Māra reciting these words stood in the presence of the Exalted One.
To Māra who spoke thus, the Exalted One replied:
“O Evil One, kinsman of the heedless! You have come here for your own sake.
Even an iota of merit is of no avail. To them who are in need of merit it behoves you, Māra, to speak thus.
Even the streams of rivers will this wind dry up. Why should not the blood of me who am thus striving dry up?
When blood dries up, the bile and phlegm also dry up. When my flesh wastes away, more and more does my mind get clarified. Still more do my mindfulness, wisdom, and concentration become firm.
While I live thus, experiencing the utmost pain, my mind does not long for lust! Behold the purity of a being!
Sense-desires (kāmā) are your first army. The second is called aversion for the holy life (arati). The third is hunger and thirst 24 (khuppipāsā). The fourth is called craving (taṇhā). The fifth is sloth and torpor (thīna-middha). The sixth is called fear (bhīru). The seventh is doubt 25 (vicikicchā), and the eighth is detraction and obstinacy (makkha-thambha). The ninth is gain (lobha), praise (siloka) and honour (sakkāra), and that ill-gotten fame (yasa). The tenth is the extolling of oneself and contempt for others (attukkaṃsana-paravambhana).
This, Namuci, is your army, the opposing host of the Evil One. That army the coward does not overcome, but he who overcomes obtains happiness.
Some ascetics and brahmins are not seen plunged in this battle. They know not nor do they tread the path of the virtuous.
Seeing the army on all sides with Māra arrayed on elephant, I go forward to battle. Māra shall not drive me from my position. That army of yours, which the world together with gods conquers not, by my wisdom I go to destroy as I would an unbaked bowl with a stone.
Controlling my thoughts, and with mindfulness well-established, I shall wander from country to country, training many a disciple.
Diligent, intent, and practising my teaching, they, disregarding you, will go where having gone they grieve not.”
The ascetic Gotama was now fully convinced from personal experience of the utter futility of self-mortification which, though considered indispensable for deliverance by the ascetic philosophers of the day, actually weakened one’s intellect, and resulted in lassitude of spirit. He abandoned for ever this painful extreme as did he the other extreme of self-indulgence which tends to retard moral progress. He conceived the idea of adopting the Golden Mean which later became one of the salient features of his teaching.
He recalled how when his father was engaged in ploughing, he sat in the cool shade of the rose-apple tree, absorbed in the contemplation of his own breath, which resulted in the attainment of the first jhāna (ecstasy). 28 Thereupon he thought: “Well, this is the path to enlightenment.”
He realised that enlightenment could not be gained with such an utterly exhausted body: Physical fitness was essential for spiritual progress. So he decided to nourish the body sparingly and took some coarse food both hard and soft.
The five favourite disciples who were attending on him with great hopes thinking that whatever truth the Ascetic Gotama would comprehend, that would he impart to them, felt disappointed at this unexpected change of method and leaving him and the place too, went to Isipatana, saying that “the Ascetic Gotama had become luxurious, had ceased from striving, and had returned to a life of comfort.”
At a crucial time when help was most welcome his companions deserted him leaving him alone. He was not discouraged, but their voluntary separation was advantageous to him though their presence during his great struggle was helpful to him. Alone, in sylvan solitudes, great men often realise deep truths and solve intricate problems.
By developing the jhānas he gained perfect one-pointedness of the mind. His mind was now like a polished mirror where everything is reflected in its true perspective.
Thus with thoughts tranquillised, purified, cleansed, free from lust and impurity, pliable, alert, steady, and unshakable, he directed his mind to the knowledge as regards “the reminiscence of past births” (pubbenivāsānussati-ñāṇa).
He recalled his varied lots in former existences as follows: first one life, then two lives, then three, four, five, ten, twenty, up to fifty lives; then a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand; then the dissolution of many world cycles, then the evolution of many world cycles, then both the dissolution and evolution of many world cycles. In that place he was of such a name, such a family, such a caste, such a dietary, such the pleasure and pain he experienced, such his life’s end. Departing from there, he came into existence elsewhere. Then such was his name, such his family, such his caste, such his dietary, such the pleasure and pain he did experience, such life’s end. Thence departing, he came into existence here.
Thus he recalled the mode and details of his varied lots in his former births.
This, indeed, was the first knowledge that he realised in the first watch of the night.
Dispelling thus the ignorance with regard to the past, he directed his purified mind to “the perception of the disappearing and reappearing of beings” (cutūpapāta-ñāṇa). With clairvoyant vision, purified and supernormal, he perceived beings disappearing from one state of existence and reappearing in another; he beheld the base and the noble, the beautiful and the ugly, the happy and the miserable, all passing according to their deeds. He knew that these good individuals, by evil deeds, words, and thoughts, by reviling the Noble Ones, by being misbelievers, and by conforming themselves to the actions of the misbelievers, after the dissolution of their bodies and after death, had been born in sorrowful states. He knew that these good individuals, by good deeds, words, and thoughts, by not reviling the Noble Ones, by being right believers, and by conforming themselves to the actions of the right believers, after the dissolution of their bodies and after death, had been born in happy celestial worlds.
Thus with clairvoyant supernormal vision he beheld the disappearing and the reappearing of beings.
This, indeed, was the second knowledge that he realised in the middle watch of the night.
Dispelling thus the ignorance with regard to the future, he directed his purified mind to “the comprehension of the cessation of corruptions” 29 (āsavakkhaya ñāṇa).
He realised in accordance with fact: “this is sorrow,” “this, the arising of sorrow,” “this, the cessation of sorrow,” “this, the path leading to the cessation of sorrow.” Likewise in accordance with the fact he realised, “These are the corruptions,” “this, the arising of corruptions,” “this, the cessation of corruptions,” “this, the path leading to the cessation of corruptions.” Thus cognising, thus perceiving, his mind was delivered from the corruption of sensual craving; from the corruption of craving for existence; from the corruption of ignorance.
This was the third knowledge that he realised in the last watch of the night.
The Tathāgatas are only teachers.
After a stupendous struggle of six strenuous years, in his 35th year the Ascetic Gotama, unaided and unguided by any supernatural agency, and solely relying on his own efforts and wisdom, eradicated all defilements, ended the process of grasping, and, realising things as they truly are by his own intuitive knowledge, became a Buddha—an enlightened or awakened one.
Thereafter he was known as Buddha Gotama, 32 one of a long series of Buddhas that appeared in the past and will appear in the future.
He was not born a Buddha, but became a Buddha by his own efforts.
The Pali term Buddha is derived from “budh,” to understand, or to be awakened. As he fully comprehended the four noble truths and as he arose from the slumbers of ignorance he is called a Buddha. Since he not only comprehends but also expounds the doctrine and enlightens others, he is called a Sammā Sambuddha—a fully enlightened One—to distinguish him from paccekabuddhas 33 who only comprehend the doctrine but are incapable of enlightening others.
Before his enlightenment he was called bodhisatta 34 which means one who is aspiring to attain buddhahood.
Every aspirant to Buddhahood passes through the bodhisatta period—a period of intensive exercise and development of the qualities of generosity, discipline, renunciation, wisdom, energy, endurance, truthfulness, determination, benevolence and perfect equanimity.
The Buddha was a unique being. Such a being arises but rarely in this world, and is born out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods and men. The Buddha is called acchariya manussa as he was a wonderful man. He is called amatassa dātā as he is the giver of deathlessness. He is called varado as he is the giver of the purest love, the profoundest wisdom, and the highest truth. He is also called dhammassāmi as he is the Lord of the Dhamma (doctrine).
As the Buddha himself says, “he is the accomplished one (tathāgata), the worthy one (arahaṃ), the fully enlightened one (sammā sambuddha), the creator of the un-arisen way, the producer of the un-produced way, the proclaimer of the un-proclaimed way, the knower of the way, the beholder of the way, the cogniser of the way.” 35
The Buddha had no teacher for his enlightenment. “Na me ācariyo atthi” 36 — A teacher have I not—are his own words. He did receive his mundane knowledge from his lay teachers, 37 but teachers he had none for his supramundane knowledge which he himself realised by his own intuitive wisdom.
If he had received his knowledge from another teacher or from another religious system such as Hinduism in which he was nurtured, he could not have said of himself as being the incomparable teacher (ahaṃ satthā anuttaro). 38 In his first discourse, he declared that light arose in things not heard before.
During the early period of his renunciation, he sought the advice of the distinguished religious teachers of the day, but he could not find what he sought in their teachings. Circumstances compelled him to think for himself and seek the truth. He sought the truth within himself. He plunged into the deepest profundities of thought, and he realised the ultimate truth which he had not heard or known before. Illumination came from within and shed light on things which he had never seen before.
As he knew everything that ought to be known and as he obtained the key to all knowledge, he is called sabbaññū (omniscient one). This supernormal knowledge he acquired by his own efforts continued through a countless series of births.
Once a certain brahmin named Dona, noticing the characteristic marks of the footprint of the Buddha approached him and questioned him.
“Your Reverence will be a deva?” 39
“No, indeed, brahmin, a deva am I not,” replied the Buddha.
“Then Your Reverence will be a gandhabba?” 40
“No, indeed, brahmin, a Gandhabba am I not.”
“A Yakkha then?” 41
“No, indeed, brahmin, not a Yakkha.”
“Then Your Reverence will be a human being?”
“No, indeed, brahmin, a human being am I not.”
“Who, then, pray, will Your Reverence be?”
As a lotus, fair and lovely,
By the water is not soiled,
By the world am I not soiled;
Therefore, brahmin, am I Buddha. 42
The Buddha does not claim to be an incarnation (avatāra) of the Hindu god Vishnu, who, as the Bhagavad Gītā 43 charmingly sings, is born again and again in different periods to protect the righteous, to destroy the wicked, and to establish the Dharma (right).
According to the Buddha countless are the gods (devas) who are also a class of beings subject to birth and death; but there is no one supreme god, who controls the destinies of human beings and who possesses a divine power to appear on earth at different intervals, employing a human form as a vehicle. 44
Nor does the Buddha call himself a “saviour” who freely saves others by his personal salvation. The Buddha exhorts his followers to depend on themselves for their deliverance, since both defilement and purity depend on oneself. One cannot directly purify or defile another. 45 Clarifying his relationship with his followers and emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and individual striving, the Buddha plainly states:
“You yourselves should make an exertion.
The tathāgatas are only teachers.” 46
The Buddha only indicates the path and method whereby he delivered himself from suffering and death and achieved his ultimate goal. It is left for his faithful adherents who wish their release from the ills of life to follow the path.
“To depend on others for salvation is negative, but to depend on oneself is positive.” Dependence on others means a surrender of one’s effort.
“Be you isles unto yourselves; be you a refuge unto yourselves; seek no refuge in others.” 47
These significant words uttered by the Buddha in his last days are very striking and inspiring. They reveal how vital is self-exertion to accomplish one’s ends, and how superficial and futile it is to seek redemption through benign saviours, and crave for illusory happiness in an afterlife through the propitiation of imaginary gods by fruitless prayers and meaningless sacrifices.
The Buddha was a human being. As a man he was born, as a Buddha, he lived, and as a Buddha, his life came to an end. Though human, he became an extraordinary man owing to his unique characteristics. The Buddha laid stress on this important point and left no room for anyone to fall into the error of thinking that he was an immortal being. It has been said of him that there was no religious teacher who was “ever so godless as the Buddha, yet none was so god-like.” 48 In his own time, the Buddha was no doubt highly venerated by his followers, but he never arrogated to himself any divinity.
Born a man, living as a mortal, by his own exertion he attained that supreme state of perfection called Buddhahood, and without keeping his enlightenment to himself, he proclaimed to the world the latent possibilities and the invincible power of the human mind. Instead of placing an unseen Almighty God over man, and giving the man a subservient position in relation to such a conception of divine power, he demonstrated how the man could attain the highest knowledge and supreme enlightenment by his own efforts. He thus raised the worth of man. He taught that man can gain his deliverance from the ills of life and realise the eternal bliss of tathāgata without depending on an external God or mediating priests. He taught the egocentric, power-seeking world the noble ideal of selfless service. He protested against the evils of the caste-system that hampered the progress of mankind and advocated equal opportunities for all. He declared that the gates of deliverance were open to all, in every condition of life, high or low, saint or sinner, who would care to turn a new leaf and aspire to perfection. He raised the status of downtrodden women, and not only brought them to a realisation of their importance to society but also founded the first religious order for women. For the first time in the history of the world, he attempted to abolish slavery. He banned the sacrifice of unfortunate animals and brought them within his compass of loving-kindness. He did not force his followers to be slaves either to his teachings or to himself, but granted complete freedom of thought and admonished his followers to accept his words not merely out of regard for him but after subjecting them to a thorough examination “even as the wise would test gold by burning, cutting, and rubbing it on a piece of touchstone.” He comforted the bereaved mothers like Paācārā and Kisāgotamī by his consoling words. He ministered to the deserted sick like Putigatta Tissa Thera with his own hands. He helped the poor and the neglected like Rajjumālā and Sopāka and saved them from an untimely and tragic death. He ennobled the lives of criminals like Aṇgulimāla and courtesans like Ambapāli. He encouraged the feeble, united the divided, enlightened the ignorant, clarified the mystic, guided the deluded, elevated the base, and dignified the noble. The rich and the poor, the saint and the criminal, loved him alike. His noble example was a source of inspiration to all. He was the most compassionate and tolerant of teachers.
His will, wisdom, compassion, service, renunciation, perfect purity, exemplary personal life, the blameless methods that were employed to propagate the Dhamma and his final success—all these factors have compelled about one fifth of the population of the world to hail the Buddha as the greatest religious teacher that ever lived on earth.
Paying a glowing tribute to the Buddha, Sri Radhakrishnan writes:
In Gautama the Buddha we have a master mind from the East second to none so far as the influence on the thought and life of the human race is concerned, and sacred to all as the founder of a religious tradition whose hold is hardly less wide and deep than any other. He belongs to the history of the world’s thought, to the general inheritance of all cultivated men, for, judged by intellectual integrity, moral earnestness, and spiritual insight, he is undoubtedly one of the greatest figures in history. 49
In the Three Greatest Men in History H. G. Wells states:
In the Buddha you see clearly a man, simple, devout, lonely, battling for light, a vivid human personality, not a myth. He too gave a message to mankind universal in character. Many of our best modern ideas are in closest harmony with it. All the miseries and discontents of life are due, he taught, to selfishness. Before a man can become serene he must cease to live for his senses or himself. Then he merges into a greater being. Buddhism in different language called men to self-forgetfulness 500 years before Christ. In some ways he was nearer to us and our needs. He was more lucid upon our individual importance in service than Christ and less ambiguous upon the question of personal immortality.
The Poet Tagore calls him the greatest man ever born.
In admiration of the Buddha, Fausböll, a Danish scholar says, “The more I know him, the more I love him.”
“Happy in this world is non-attachment.”
In the memorable forenoon, immediately preceding the morn of his enlightenment, as the Bodhisatta was seated under the Ajapāla banyan tree in close proximity to the bodhi tree, 50 a generous lady, named Sujātā, unexpectedly offered him some rich milk rice, specially prepared by her with great care.
After those seven days had elapsed, the Buddha emerged from the state of concentration, and in the first watch of the night, thoroughly reflected on “the dependent arising” (paṭicca samuppāda) in direct order thus: “When this (cause) exists, this (effect) is; with the arising of this (cause), this effect arises.” 51
Thereupon the Exalted One, knowing the meaning of this, uttered, at that time, this paean of joy:
“When, indeed, the truths become manifest unto the strenuous, meditative brāhmaṇa, 52 then do all his doubts vanish away, since he knows the truth together with its cause.”
In the middle watch of the night the Exalted One thoroughly reflected on “the dependent arising” in reverse order thus: “When this cause does not exist, this effect is not; with the cessation of this cause, this effect ceases.
Thereupon the Exalted One, knowing the meaning of this, uttered, at that time, this paean of joy (udāna):
“When, indeed, the truths become manifest unto the strenuous and meditative brāhmaṇa, then all his doubts vanish away since he has understood the destruction of the causes.”
In the third watch of the night, the Exalted One reflected on “dependent arising” in direct and reverse order thus. “When this cause exists, this effect is; with the arising of this cause, this effect arises. When this cause does not exist, this effect is not; with the cessation of this cause, this effect ceases.”
Dependent on ignorance arise conditioning activities … and so forth.
Thus does this whole mass of suffering arise.
With the cessation of ignorance, conditioning activities cease … and so forth.
Thus does this whole mass of suffering cease.
Thereupon the Blessed One, knowing the meaning of this, uttered, at that time, this paean of joy:
“When indeed the truths become manifest unto the strenuous and meditative brāhmaṇa, then he stands routing the hosts of the Evil One even as the sun illumines the sky.”
The second week was uneventful, but he silently taught a great moral lesson to the world. As a mark of profound gratitude to the inanimate bodhi tree that sheltered him during his struggle for enlightenment, he stood at a certain distance gazing at the tree with motionless eyes for one whole week. 53
Following his noble example, his followers, in memory of his enlightenment, still venerate not only the original bodhi tree but also its descendants. 54
As the Buddha had not given up his temporary residence at the bodhi tree the devas doubted his attainment to buddhahood. The Buddha read their thoughts, and in order to clear their doubts he created by his psychic powers a jewelled ambulatory (ratana-caṇkamana) and paced up and down for another week.
The fourth week he spent in a jewelled chamber (ratana-ghara) 55 contemplating the intricacies of the Abhidhamma (Higher Teaching). Books state that his mind and body were so purified when he pondered on the Book of Relations (Pahāna), the seventh treatise of the Abhidhamma, that six coloured rays emitted from his body. 56
During the fifth week the Buddha enjoyed the bliss of emancipation (vimutti-sukha), seated in one posture under the famous Ajapāla banyan tree in the vicinity of the bodhi tree. When he arose from that transcendental state a conceited (huhunkajātika) brahmin approached him and after the customary salutations and friendly greetings, questioned him thus: “In what respect, O Venerable Gotama, does one become a brāhmaṇa and what are the conditions that make a brāhmaṇa?”
The Buddha uttered this paean of joy in reply:
“That brahmin who has discarded evil, is without conceit (huhunka), free from defilements, self-controlled, versed in knowledge and who has led the holy life rightly, would call himself a brāhmaṇa. For him there is no elation anywhere in this world.” 57
According to the Jātaka commentary, it was during this week that the daughters of Māra—Taṇhā, Arati and Rāga 58 —made a vain attempt to tempt the Buddha by their charms.
From the Ajapāla banyan tree, the Buddha proceeded to the Mucalinda tree, where he spent the sixth week, again enjoying the bliss of emancipation. At that time there arose an unexpected great shower. Rain clouds and gloomy weather with cold winds prevailed for several days.
Thereupon Mucalinda, the serpent-king, 59 came out of his abode, and coiling round the body of the Buddha seven times, remained keeping his large hood over the head of the Buddha so that he was not affected by the elements.
At the close of seven days Mucalinda, seeing the clear, cloudless sky, uncoiled himself from around the body of the Buddha, and, leaving his own form, took the guise of a young man, and stood in front of the Exalted One with clasped hands.
Thereupon the Buddha uttered this paean of joy:
“Happy is seclusion to him who is contented, to him who has heard the truth, and to him who sees. Happy is goodwill in this world, and so is restraint towards all beings. Happy in this world is non-attachment, the passing beyond of sense desires. The suppression of the ‘I am’ conceit is indeed the highest happiness. 60
Through many a birth in existence, I wandered,
Seeking, but not finding, the builder of this house.
Sorrowful is repeated birth.
O house-builder, you are seen!
You shall build no house again.
All your rafters are broken. Your ridgepole is shattered.
Mind attains the Unconditioned.
Achieved is the end of craving. 61
At dawn on the very day of his enlightenment, the Buddha uttered this paean of joy which vividly describes his transcendental moral victory and his inner spiritual experience.
The Buddha admits to his past wanderings in existence which entailed suffering, a fact that evidently proves the belief in rebirth. He was compelled to wander and consequently to suffer, as he could not discover the architect that built this house, the body. In his final birth, while engaged in solitary meditation which he had highly developed in the course of his wanderings, after a relentless search he discovered by his own intuitive wisdom the elusive architect, residing not outside but within the recesses of his own heart. It was craving or attachment, a self-creation, a mental element latent in all. How and when this craving originated is incomprehensible. What is created by oneself can be destroyed by oneself? The discovery of the architect is the eradication of craving by attaining arahantship, which in these verses is alluded to as “end of craving.”
The rafters of this self-created house are the passions (kilesa) such as attachment (lobha), aversion (dosa), illusion (moha), conceit (māna), false views (diṭṭhi), doubt (vicikicchā), sloth (thīna), restlessness (uddhacca), moral shamelessness and (ahirika), and moral fearlessness (anottappa). The ridgepole that supports the rafters represents ignorance, the root cause of all passions. The shattering of the ridge-pole of ignorance by wisdom results in the complete demolition of the house. The ridge-pole and rafters are the material with which the architect builds this undesired house. With their destruction the architect is deprived of the material to rebuild the house which is not wanted.
With the demolition of the house the mind, for which there is no place in the analogy, attains the unconditioned state, which is Nibbāna. Whatever that is mundane is left behind, and only the supramundane state, Nibbāna, remains.
“He who imbibes the Dhamma abides in happiness
with mind pacified.
The wise man ever delights in the Dhamma
revealed by the Ariyas.”
—Dhp v. 79
On one occasion soon after the enlightenment, the Buddha was dwelling at the foot of the Ajapāla banyan tree by the bank of the Nerañjarā river. As he was engaged in solitary meditation the following thought arose in his mind:
Painful indeed is it to live without someone to pay reverence and show deference. How if I should live near an ascetic or brahmin respecting and reverencing him?” 62
Then it occurred to him:
Should I live near another ascetic or brahmin, respecting and reverencing him, in order to bring morality (sīlakkhandha) to perfection? But I do not see in this world including gods, Māras, and Brahmās, and amongst beings including ascetics, brahmins, gods and men, another ascetic or brahmin who is superior to me in morality and with whom I could associate, respecting and reverencing him.
Should I live near another ascetic or brahmin, respecting and reverencing him, in order to bring concentration (samādhikkhandha) to perfection? But I do not see in this world any ascetic or brahmin who is superior to me in concentration and with whom I should associate, respecting and reverencing him.
Should I live near another ascetic or brahmin, respecting and reverencing him, in order to bring wisdom to perfection? But I do not see in this world any ascetic or brahmin who is superior to me in wisdom and with whom I should associate, respecting and reverencing him.
Should I live near another ascetic or brahmin, respecting and reverencing him, in order to bring emancipation (vimuttikkhandha) to perfection? But I do not see in this world any ascetic or brahmin who is superior to me in emancipation and with whom I should associate, respecting and reverencing him.
Then it occurred to him: “How if I should live respecting and reverencing this very Dhamma which I myself have realised?”
Thereupon Brahmā Sahampati, understanding with his own mind the Buddha’s thought, just as a strong man would stretch his bent arm or bend his stretched arm even so did he vanish from the Brahmā realm and appeared before the Buddha. And, covering one shoulder with his upper robe and placing his right knee on the ground, he saluted the Buddha with clasped hands and said thus:
It is so, O Exalted One! It is so, O Accomplished One! O Lord, the worthy, supremely Enlightened Ones, who were in the past, did live respecting and reverencing this very Dhamma.
The worthy, supremely Enlightened Ones, who will be in the future, will also live respecting and reverencing this very Dhamma.
O Lord, may the Exalted One, the worthy, supremely Enlightened One of the present age also live respecting and reverencing this very Dhamma!”
This the Brahmā Sahampati said, and uttering which, furthermore he spoke as follows:
“Those Enlightened Ones of the past, those of the future, and those of the present age, who dispel the grief of many—all of them lived, will live, and are living respecting the noble Dhamma. This is the characteristic of the Buddhas.
“Therefore he who desires his welfare and expects his greatness should certainly respect the noble Dhamma, remembering the message of the Buddhas.”
This the Brahmā Sahampati said, and after which he respectfully saluted the Buddha and passing round him to the right, disappeared immediately.
As the Sangha is also endowed with greatness there is also his reverence towards the Sangha. 63
From the foot of the Rājāyatana tree the Buddha proceeded to the Ajapāla banyan tree and as he was absorbed in solitary meditation the following thought occurred to him.
“This Dhamma which I have realised is indeed profound, difficult to perceive, difficult to comprehend, tranquil, exalted, not within the sphere of logic, subtle, and is to be understood by the wise. These beings are attached to material pleasures. This causally connected ‘Dependent Arising’ is a subject which is difficult to comprehend. And this Nibbāna—the cessation of the conditioned, the abandoning of all passions, the destruction of craving, the non-attachment, and the cessation—is also a matter not easily comprehensible. If I too were to teach this Dhamma, the others would not understand me. That will be wearisome to me; that will be tiresome to me.”
Then these wonderful verses unheard of before occurred to the Buddha:
“With difficulty have I comprehended the Dhamma. There is no need to proclaim it now. This Dhamma is not easily understood by those who are dominated by lust and hatred. The lust-ridden, shrouded in darkness, do not see this Dhamma, which goes against the stream, which is abstruse, profound, difficult to perceive and subtle.”
As the Buddha reflected thus, he was not disposed to expound the Dhamma.
Thereupon Brahmā Sahampati read the thoughts of the Buddha, and, fearing that the world might perish through not hearing the Dhamma, approached him and invited him to teach the Dhamma thus:
“O Lord, may the Exalted One expound the Dhamma! May the Accomplished One expound the Dhamma! There are beings with little dust in their eyes, who, not hearing the Dhamma, will fall away. There will be those who understand the Dhamma.”
Furthermore he remarked:
“In ancient times there arose in Magadha a Dhamma, impure, thought out by the corrupted. Open this door to the Deathless State. May they hear the Dhamma understood by the stainless one! Just as one standing on the summit of a rocky mountain would behold the people around, even so may the All-Seeing, Wise One ascend this palace of Dhamma! May the Sorrowless One look upon the people who are plunged in grief and are overcome by birth and decay!
“Rise, O Hero, victor in battle, caravan leader, debt-free One, and wander in the World! May the Exalted One teach the Dhamma! There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.”
When he said so the Exalted One spoke to him thus:
“The following thought, O Brahmā, occurred to me: ‘This Dhamma which I have comprehended is not easily understood by those who are dominated by lust and hatred. The lust-ridden, shrouded in darkness, do not see this Dhamma, which goes against the stream, which is abstruse, profound, difficult to perceive, and subtle.’ As I reflected thus, my mind turned into inaction and not to the teaching of the Dhamma.”
Brahmā Sahampati appealed to the Buddha for the second time and he made the same reply.
When he appealed to the Buddha for the third time, the Exalted One, out of pity for beings, surveyed the world with his Buddha-Vision.
As he surveyed thus he saw beings with little and much dust in their eyes, with keen and dull intellect, with good and bad characteristics, beings who are easy and beings who are difficult to be taught, and few others who, with fear, view evil and a life beyond.
As in the case of a blue, red or white lotus pond, some lotuses are born in the water, grow in the water, remain immersed in the water, and thrive plunged in the water; some are born in the water, grow in the water and remain on the surface of the water; some others are born in the water, grow in the water and remain emerging out of the water, unstained by the water. Even so, as the Exalted One surveyed the world with his Buddha-Vision, he saw beings with little and much dust in their eyes, with keen and dull intellect, with good and bad characteristics, beings who are easy and difficult to be taught, and few others who, with fear, view evil and a life beyond. And he addressed the Brahmā Sahampati in a verse thus:
Opened to them are the Doors to the Deathless State.
Let those who have ears repose confidence.64
Being aware of the weariness, O Brahmā,
I did not teach amongst men this glorious and excellent Dhamma.
The delighted Brahmā, thinking that he made himself the occasion for the Exalted One to expound the Dhamma respectfully saluted him and, passing round him to the right, disappeared immediately.65
After his memorable fast for forty-nine days, as the Buddha sat under the Rājāyatana tree, two merchants, Tapassu and Bhallika, from Ukkala (Orissa) happened to pass that way. Then a certain deity, 66 who was a blood relative of theirs in a past birth, spoke to them as follows:
The Exalted One, good sirs, is dwelling at the foot of the Rājāyatana tree, soon after his enlightenment. Go and serve the Exalted One with flour and honeycomb. 67 It will conduce to your well-being and happiness for a long time.
Availing themselves of this golden opportunity, the two delighted merchants went to the Exalted One, and, respectfully saluting him, implored him to accept their humble alms so that it may resound to their happiness and well-being.
Then it occurred to the Exalted One: “The tathāgatas do not accept food with their hands. How shall I accept this flour and honeycomb?”
Then the four Great Kings 68 understood the thoughts of the Exalted One with their minds and from the four directions offered him four granite bowls, 69 saying, “O Lord, may the Exalted One accept herewith this flour and honeycomb!”
The Buddha graciously accepted the timely gift with which he received the humble offering of the merchants, and ate his food after his long fast.
After the meal was over the merchants prostrated themselves before the feet of the Buddha and said, “We, O Lord, seek refuge in the Exalted One and the Dhamma. May the Exalted One treat us as lay disciples who have sought refuge from today till death.” 70
These were the first lay disciples 71 of the Buddha who embraced Buddhism by seeking refuge in the Buddha and the Dhamma, reciting the twofold formula.
On accepting the invitation to teach the Dhamma, the first thought that occurred to the Buddha before he embarked on his great mission was: “To whom shall I teach the Dhamma first? Who will understand the Dhamma quickly? Well, there is Álāra Kālāma 72 who is learned, clever, wise and has for long been with little dust in his eyes. How if I were to teach the Dhamma to him first? He will understand the Dhamma quickly.”
Then a deity appeared before the Buddha and said: “Lord! Álāra Kālāma died a week ago.”
With his supernormal vision he perceived that it was so.
Then he thought of Uddaka Rāmaputta. 73 Instantly a deity informed him that he died the evening before.
With his supernormal vision he perceived this to be so.
Ultimately, the Buddha thought of the five energetic ascetics who attended on him during his struggle for enlightenment. With his supernormal vision he perceived that they were residing in the Deer Park at Isipatana near Benares. So the Buddha stayed at Uruvelā till such time as he was pleased to set out for Benares.
The Buddha was travelling on the highway, when between Gayā and the bodhi tree, beneath whose shade he attained enlightenment, a wandering ascetic named Upaka saw him and addressed him thus: “Extremely clear are your senses, friend! Pure and clean is your complexion. On account of whom has your renunciation been made, friend? Who is your teacher? Whose doctrine do you profess?”
The Buddha replied:
“All have I overcome, all do I know.
From all am I detached, all have I renounced.
Wholly absorbed am I in the destruction of craving (arahantship).
Having comprehended all by myself whom shall I call my teacher?
No teacher have I. 74 An equal to me there is not.
In the world including gods there is no rival to me.
Indeed an arahant am I in this world.
An unsurpassed teacher am I.
Alone am I the All-Enlightened.
Cool and appeased am I.
To establish the wheel of Dhamma to the city of Kāsi I go.
In this blind world I shall beat the drum of Deathlessness. 75
“Like me are conquerors who have attained to the destruction of defilements. All the evil conditions have I conquered. Hence, Upaka, I am called a conqueror,” replied the Buddha.
“It may be so, friend!” Upaka curtly remarked, and, nodding his head, turned into a by-road and departed.
The five ascetics who saw him coming from afar decided not to pay him due respect as they misconstrued his discontinuance of rigid ascetic practices which proved absolutely futile during his struggle for enlightenment.
They remarked, “Friends, this ascetic Gotama is coming. He is luxurious. He has given up striving and has turned into a life of abundance. He should not be greeted and waited upon. His bowl and robe should not be taken. Nevertheless, a seat should be prepared. If he wishes, let him sit down.”
However, as the Buddha continued to draw near, his august personality was such that they were compelled to receive him with due honour. One came forward and took his bowl and robe, another prepared a seat, and yet another kept water for his feet. Nevertheless, they addressed him by name and called him friend (āvuso), a form of address applied generally to juniors and equals.
At this the Buddha addressed them thus:
Do not, O bhikkhus, address the Tathāgata by name or by the title ‘āvuso.’ An exalted one, O bhikkhus, is the Tathāgata. A fully enlightened one is he. Give ear, O bhikkhus! Deathlessness (amata) has been attained. I shall instruct and teach the Dhamma. If you act according to my instructions, you will before long realise, by your own intuitive wisdom, and live, attaining in this life itself, that supreme consummation of the holy life, for the sake of which sons of noble families rightly leave the household for homelessness.
Thereupon the five ascetics replied:
By that demeanour of yours, friend Gotama, by that discipline, by those painful austerities, you did not attain to any superhuman specific knowledge and insight worthy of an ariya (noble one). How will you, when you have become luxurious, have given up striving, and have turned into a life of abundance, gain any such superhuman specific knowledge and insight worthy of an ariya?
In explanation the Buddha said:
The Tathāgata, O bhikkhus, is not luxurious, has not given up striving, and has not turned into a life of abundance. An exalted one is the Tathāgata. A fully enlightened one is he. Give ear, O bhikkhus! Deathlessness has been attained. I shall instruct and teach the Dhamma. If you act according to my instructions, you will before long realise, by your own intuitive wisdom, and live, attaining in this life itself, that supreme consummation of the holy life, for the sake of which sons of noble families rightly leave the household for homelessness.
For the second time, the prejudiced ascetics expressed their disappointment in the same manner.
For the second time, the Buddha reassured them of his attainment to enlightenment.
When the adamant ascetics refusing to believe him, expressed their view for the third time, the Buddha questioned them thus: “Do you know, O bhikkhus, of an occasion when I ever spoke to you thus before?”
“Certainly not, Lord!”
It was indeed a frank utterance, issuing from the sacred lips of the Buddha. The cultured ascetics, though adamant in their views, were then fully convinced of the great achievement of the Buddha and of his competence to act as their moral guide and teacher.
They believed his word and sat in silence to listen to his Noble teaching.
Two of the ascetics the Buddha instructed, while three went out for alms. With what the three ascetics brought from their alms-round the six maintained themselves. Three of the ascetics he instructed, while two ascetics went out for alms. With what the two brought six sustained themselves.
And those five ascetics thus admonished and instructed by the Buddha, being themselves subject to birth, decay, death, sorrow, and passions, realised the real nature of life and, seeking out the birthless, decayless, diseaseless, deathless, sorrowless, passionless, incomparable supreme peace, Nibbāna, attained the incomparable security, Nibbāna, which is free from birth, decay, disease, death, sorrow, and passions. The knowledge arose in them that their deliverance was unshakable, that it was their last birth and that there would be no more of this state again.
The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, 76 which deals with the four noble truths, was the first discourse delivered by the Buddha to them. Hearing it, Kondañña, the eldest, attained the first stage of sainthood. After receiving further instructions, the other four attained sotāpatti (“stream-winner”) later. On hearing the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta, 77 which deals with soullessness, all the five attained arahantship, the final stage of sainthood.
The five learned monks who thus attained arahantship and became the Buddha’s first disciples were Kondañña, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahānāma, and Assaji of the brahmin clan.
Kondañña was the youngest and the cleverest of the eight brahmins who were summoned by King Suddhodana to name the infant prince. The other four were the sons of those older brahmins. All these five retired to the forest as ascetics in anticipation of the Bodhisatta while he was endeavouring to attain Buddhahood. When he gave up his useless penances and severe austerities and began to nourish the body sparingly to regain his lost strength, these favourite followers, disappointed at his change of method, deserted him and went to Isipatana. Soon after their departure, the Bodhisatta attained Buddhahood.
“The best of paths is the Eightfold Path.
The best of truths are the four Sayings.
Non-attachment is the best of states.
The best of bipeds is the Seeing One.”
Ancient India was noted for distinguished philosophers and religious teachers who held diverse views with regard to life and its goal. Brahmajāla Sutta (DN 1) mentions sixty-two varieties of philosophical theories that prevailed in the time of the Buddha.
According to ancient materialism which, in Pali and Sanskrit, was known as lokāyata, man is annihilated after death, leaving behind him whatever force generated by him. In their opinion death is the end of all. This present world alone is real. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for death comes to all,” appears to be the ideal of their system. “Virtue,” they say, “is a delusion and enjoyment is the only reality. Religion is a foolish aberration, a mental disease. There was a distrust of everything good, high, pure and compassionate. Their theory stands for sensualism and selfishness and the gross affirmation of the loud will. There is no need to control passion and instinct since they are the nature’s legacy to men. 78
Another extreme view was that emancipation was possible only by leading a life of strict asceticism. This was purely a religious doctrine firmly held by the ascetics of the highest order. The five monks who attended on the Bodhisatta during his struggle for enlightenment tenaciously adhered to this belief.
In accordance with this view the Buddha, too, before his enlightenment subjected himself to all forms of austerity. After an extraordinary struggle for six years he realised the utter futility of self-mortification. Consequently, he changed his unsuccessful hard course and adopted a middle way. His favourite disciples thus lost confidence in him and deserted him, saying, “The ascetic Gotama has become luxurious, had ceased from striving, and has returned to a life of comfort.”
Their unexpected desertion was definitely a material loss to him as they ministered to all his needs. Nevertheless, he was not discouraged. The iron-willed Bodhisatta must have probably felt happy for being left alone. With unabated enthusiasm and with restored energy he persistently strove until he attained enlightenment, the object of his life.
Precisely two months after his enlightenment on the Ásāḷha (July) full moon day the Buddha delivered his first discourse to the five monks that attended on him.
Dhammacakka is the name given to this first discourse of the Buddha. It is frequently represented as meaning “the kingdom of truth,” “the kingdom of righteousness,” or “the wheel of truth.” According to the commentators dhamma here means wisdom or knowledge, and cakka means founding or establishment. Dhammacakka therefore means the founding or establishment of wisdom. Dhammacakkappavattana means The Exposition of the Establishment of Wisdom. Dhamma may also be interpreted as truth, and cakka as wheel. Dhammacakkappavattana would therefore mean The Turning or The Establishment of the Wheel of Truth.
In this most important discourse the Buddha expounds the Middle Path which he himself discovered and which forms the essence of his new teaching. He opened the discourse by exhorting the five monks who believed in strict asceticism to avoid the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification as both do not lead to perfect peace and enlightenment. The former retards one’s spiritual progress, the latter weakens one’s intellect. He criticised both views as he realised by personal experience their futility and enunciated the most practicable, rational and beneficial path, which alone leads to perfect purity and absolute deliverance.
The intellectual five monks who were closely associated with the Buddha for six years were the only human beings that were present to hear the sermon. Books state that many invisible beings such as devas and Brahmās also took advantage of the golden opportunity of listening to the sermon. As Buddhists believe in the existence of realms other than this world, inhabited by beings with subtle bodies imperceptible to the physical eye, possibly many devas and Brahmās were also present on this great occasion. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Buddha was directly addressing the five monks and the discourse was intended mainly for them.
At the outset, the Buddha cautioned them to avoid the two extremes. His actual words were: “There are two extremes (antā) which should not be resorted to by a recluse (pabbajitena).” Special emphasis was laid on the two terms “antā” which means end or extreme and “pabbajita” which means one who has renounced the world.
One extreme, in the Buddha’s own words, was the constant attachment to sensual pleasures (kāmasukhallikānuyoga). The Buddha described this extreme as a base, vulgar, worldly, ignoble, and profitless. This should not be misunderstood to mean that the Buddha expects all his followers to give up material pleasures and retire to a forest without enjoying this life. The Buddha was not so narrow-minded.
Whatever the deluded sensualist may feel about it, to the dispassionate thinker the enjoyment of sensual pleasures is distinctly short-lived, never completely satisfying, and results in unpleasant reactions. Speaking of worldly happiness, the Buddha says that the acquisition of wealth and the enjoyment of possessions are two sources of pleasure for a layman. An understanding recluse would not, however, seek delight in the pursuit of these fleeting pleasures. To the surprise of the average man, he might shun them. What constitutes pleasure to the former is a source of alarm to the latter to whom renunciation alone is pleasure.
The other extreme is the constant addiction to the practice of self-mortification (attakilamathanuyoga). Commenting on this extreme, which is not practised by the ordinary man, the Buddha remarks that it is painful, ignoble, and profitless. Unlike the first extreme this is not described as base, worldly, and vulgar. The selection of these three terms is very striking. As a rule it is the sincere recluse who has renounced his attachment to sensual pleasures that resorts to this painful method, mainly with the object of gaining his deliverance from the ills of life. The Buddha, who has had painful experience of this profitless course, describes it as useless. It only multiplies suffering instead of diminishing it.
The Buddhas and arahants are described as ariyas meaning nobles. Anariya (ignoble) may therefore be construed as not characteristic of the Buddha and arahants who are free from passions. Attha means the ultimate good, which for a Buddhist is Nibbāna, the complete emancipation from suffering. Therefore anatthasaṃhitā may be construed as not conducive to ultimate good.
The Buddha at first cleared the issues and removed the false notions of his hearers.
When their troubled minds became pliable and receptive the Buddha related his personal experience with regard to these two extremes.
The Buddha says that he (the Tathāgata), realising the error of both these two extremes, followed a middle path. This new path or way was discovered by himself. The Buddha termed his new system majjhimā paipadā—the middle way. To persuade his disciples to give heed to his new path he spoke of its various blessings. Unlike the two diametrically opposite extremes this middle path produces spiritual insight and intellectual wisdom to see things as they truly are. When the insight is clarified and the intellect is sharpened everything is seen in its true perspective.
Furthermore, unlike the first extreme, which stimulates passions, this middle way leads to the subjugation of passions, which results in peace. Above all it leads to the attainment of the four supramundane paths of sainthood, to the understanding of the four noble truths, and finally to the realisation of the ultimate goal, Nibbāna.
The first factor is the right understanding, the keynote of Buddhism. The Buddha started with right understanding in order to clear the doubts of the monks and guide them in the right way.
Right understanding deals with the knowledge of oneself as one really is; it leads to right thoughts of non-attachment or renunciation (nekkhamma saṇkappa), loving-kindness (avyāpāda saṇkappa), and harmlessness (avihiṃsā saṇkappa), which are opposed to selfishness, ill will, and cruelty respectively. Right thoughts result in right speech, right action, and right livelihood, which three factors perfect one’s morality. The sixth factor is the right effort which deals with the elimination of evil states and the development of good states in oneself. This self-purification is best done by a careful introspection, for which right mindfulness, the seventh factor, is essential. The effort, combined with mindfulness, produces the right concentration or one-pointedness of the mind, the eighth factor. A one-pointed mind resembles a polished mirror where everything is clearly reflected with no distortion.
Prefacing the discourse with the two extremes and his newly discovered middle way, the Buddha expounded the four noble truths in detail. Sacca is the Pali term for truth which means that which is. Its Sanskrit equivalent is satya which denotes an incontrovertible fact. The Buddha enunciates four such truths, the foundations of his teaching, which are associated with the so-called being. Hence his doctrine is homocentric, opposed to theocentric religions. It is introvert and not extrovert. Whether the Buddha arises or not these truths exist, and it is a Buddha that reveals them to the deluded world. They do not and cannot change with time, because they are eternal truths. The Buddha was not indebted to anyone for his realisation of them, as he himself remarked in this discourse thus: “With regard to things unheard before, there arose in me the eye, the knowledge, the wisdom, the insight and the light.” These words are very significant because they testify to the originality of his new teaching. Hence there is no justification in the statement that Buddhism is a natural outgrowth of Hinduism, although it is true that there are some fundamental doctrines common to both systems.
The first noble truth deals with dukkha which, for want of a better English equivalent, is inappropriately rendered by suffering or sorrow. As a feeling, dukkha means that which is difficult to be endured. As an abstract truth, dukkha is used in the sense of contemptible (du) emptiness (kha). The world rests on suffering—hence it is contemptible. It is devoid of any reality—hence it is empty or void. Dukkha, therefore, means contemptible void.
Average men are only surface-seers. An ariya sees things as they truly are.
To an ariya all life is suffering and he finds no real happiness in this world which deceives mankind with illusory pleasures. Material happiness is merely the gratification of some desire.
Wish unfulfilled is also suffering. As a rule one does not wish to be associated with things or persons one detests nor does one wish to be separated from things or persons one likes. One’s cherished desires are not however always gratified. At times what one least expects or what one least desires is thrust on oneself. Such unexpected unpleasant circumstances become so intolerable and painful that weak ignorant people are compelled to commit suicide as if such an act would solve the problem.
Real happiness is found within, and is not to be defined in terms of wealth, power, honours or conquests. If such worldly possessions are forcibly or unjustly obtained, or are misdirected or even viewed with attachment, they become a source of pain and sorrow for the possessors.
Normally the enjoyment of sensual pleasures is the highest and only happiness of the average person. There is no doubt some momentary happiness in the anticipation, gratification, and retrospection of such fleeting material pleasures, but they are illusory and temporary. According to the Buddha non-attachment (virāgattā) or the transcending of material pleasures is a greater bliss.
There are three kinds of craving. The first is the grossest form of craving, which is simple attachment to all sensual pleasures (kāmataṇhā). The second is attachment to existence (bhavataṇhā). The third is attachment to non-existence (vibhavataṇhā). According to the commentaries the last two kinds of craving are attachment to sensual pleasures connected with the belief of eternalism (sassatadiṭṭhi) and that which is connected with the belief of nihilism (ucchedadiṭṭhi). Bhavataṇhā may also be interpreted as attachment to realms of form and vibhavataṇhā, as attachment to formless realms since desire for form realms and desire for formless realms (rūparāga & arūparāga) are treated as two fetters (saṃyojana).
This craving is a powerful mental force latent in all, and is the chief cause of most of the ills of life. It is this craving, gross or subtle, that leads to repeated births in saṃsāra 79 and that which makes one cling to all forms of life.
The grossest forms of craving are attenuated on attaining sakadāgāmi, the second stage of sainthood, and are eradicated on attaining anāgāmi, the third stage of sainthood. The subtle forms of craving are eradicated on attaining arahantship.
Right understanding of the first noble truth leads to the eradication (pahātabba) of craving. The second noble truth thus deals with the mental attitude of the ordinary man towards the external objects of sense.
The third noble truth is that there is a complete cessation of suffering which is Nibbāna, the ultimate goal of Buddhists. It can be achieved in this life itself by the total eradication of all forms of craving.
This Nibbāna is to be comprehended (sacchikātabba) by the mental eye by renouncing all attachment to the external world.
This first truth of suffering which depends on this so-called being and various aspects of life, is to be carefully perceived, analysed and examined (pariññeyya). This examination leads to a proper understanding of oneself as one really is.
The Dhammapada states:
From craving springs grief,
from craving springs fear;
For him who is wholly free from craving,
there is no grief, much less fear. (v. 216)
Craving, the Buddha says, leads to repeated births (ponobhavikā). This Pali term is very noteworthy as there are some scholars who state that the Buddha did not teach the doctrine of rebirth. This second truth indirectly deals with the past, present and future births.
This Third noble truth has to be realised by developing (bhāvetabba) the Noble Eightfold Path (ariya ahaṇgika magga). This unique path is the only straight way to Nibbāna. This is the fourth noble truth.
Expounding the four truths in various ways, the Buddha concluded the discourse with the forceful words:
As long, O bhikkhus, as the absolute true intuitive knowledge regarding these four noble truths under their three aspects and twelve modes was not perfectly clear to me, so long I did not acknowledge that I had gained the incomparable supreme enlightenment.
When the absolute true intuitive knowledge regarding these truths became perfectly clear to me, then only did I acknowledge that I had gained the incomparable supreme enlightenment (anuttara sammāsambodhi).
And there arose in me the knowledge and insight: Unshakable is the deliverance of my mind, this is my last birth, and now there is no existence again.
At the end of the discourse Kondañña, the senior of the five disciples, understood the Dhamma and, attaining the first stage of sainthood, realised that whatever is subject to origination all that is subject to cessation—Yaṃ kiñci samudayadhammaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ nirodhadhammaṃ.
When the Buddha expounded the discourse of the Dhammacakka, the earth-bound deities exclaimed: “This excellent Dhammacakka, which could not be expounded by any ascetic, priest, god, Māra, or Brahmā in this world, has been expounded by the Exalted One at the Deer Park, in Isipatana, near Benares.”
Hearing this, devas and Brahmās of all the other planes also raised the same joyous cry.
A radiant light, surpassing the effulgence of the gods, appeared in the world.
The light of the Dhamma illumined the whole world and brought peace and happiness to all beings.
Thus have I heard:
(i) “Indulgence in sensual pleasures 82 —this is base, vulgar, worldly, ignoble and profitless; and,
(ii) “Addiction to self-mortification 83—this is painful, ignoble and profitless.
“Abandoning both these extremes the Tathāgata 84 has comprehended the Middle Path (majjhima patipadā) which promotes sight (cakkhu) and knowledge (ñāṇa), and which tends to peace (vupasamāya), 85 higher wisdom (abhiññāya), 86 enlightenment (sambodhāya), 87 and Nibbāna.
“The very Noble Eightfold Path—namely, right understanding (sammā diṭṭhi), right thoughts (sammā saṇkappa), right speech (sammā vācā), right action (sammā kammanta), right livelihood (sammā ājīva), right effort (sammā vāyāma), right mindfulness (sammā sati), and right concentration (sammā samādhi),—this, O bhikkhus is the middle path which the Tathāgata has comprehended.
“Birth is suffering, decay is suffering, disease is suffering, death is suffering, to be united with the unpleasant is suffering, to be separated from the pleasant is suffering, not to get what one desires is suffering. In brief the five aggregates 88 of attachment are suffering.
“It is this craving which produces rebirth (ponobhavikā), accompanied by passionate clinging, welcoming this and that (life). It is the craving for sensual pleasures (kāmataṇhā), craving for existence (bhavataṇhā) and craving for non-existence (vibhavataṇhā).
(ii) “This noble truth of suffering should be perceived (pariññeyya). Thus, O bhikkhus, with respect to things unheard before, there arose in me the eye, the knowledge, the wisdom, the insight, and the light.
(iii) “This noble truth of suffering has been perceived (pariññāta). Thus, O bhikkhus, with respect to things unheard before, there arose in me the eye, the knowledge, the wisdom, the insight, and the light.
(ii) “This noble truth of the cause of suffering should be eradicated (pahātabba). Thus, O bhikkhus, with respect to things unheard before, there arose in me the eye, the knowledge, the wisdom, the insight, and the light.
(iii) “This noble truth of the cause of suffering has been eradicated (pahīna). Thus, O bhikkhus, with respect to things unheard before, there arose in me the eye, the knowledge, the wisdom, the insight, and the light.
(ii) This noble truth of cessation of suffering should be realised (sacchikātabba). Thus, O bhikkhus, with respect to things unheard before, there arose in me the eye, the knowledge, the wisdom, the insight, and the light.
(iii) “This noble truth of cessation of suffering has been realised (sacchikata). Thus, O bhikkhus, with respect to things unheard before, there arose in me the eye, the knowledge, the wisdom, the insight, and the light.
4. (i) “This is the noble truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering. “Thus, O bhikkhus, with respect to things unheard before, there arose in me the eye, the knowledge, the wisdom, the insight, and the light.
(ii) “This noble truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering should be developed (bhavitabba). Thus, O bhikkhus, with respect to things unheard before, there arose in me the eye, the knowledge, the wisdom, the insight, and the light.
(iii) “This noble truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering has been developed (bhāvetabba). “Thus, O bhikkhus, with respect to things unheard before, there arose in me the eye, the knowledge, the wisdom, the insight, and the light.”
(Concluding his discourse, the Buddha said):
“As long, O bhikkhus, as the absolute true intuitive knowledge regarding these four noble truths under their three aspects 89 and twelve modes 90 was not perfectly clear to me, so long I did not acknowledge in this world inclusive of gods, Māras and Brahmās and amongst the hosts of ascetics and priests, gods and men, that I had gained the incomparable supreme enlightenment (anuttaraṃ-sammā-sambodhiṃ).
“When, O bhikkhus, the absolute true intuitive knowledge regarding these four noble truths under their three aspects and twelve modes, became perfectly clear to me, then only did I acknowledge in this world inclusive of gods, Māras, Brahmās, amongst the hosts of ascetics and priests, gods and men, that I had gained the incomparable supreme enlightenment.
“And there arose in me the knowledge and insight (ñāṇadassana). Unshakable is the deliverance of my mind. 91 This is my last birth, and now there is no existence again’.”
Thus the Exalted One discoursed, and the delighted bhikkhus applauded the words of the Exalted One.
When this doctrine was being expounded there arose in the Venerable Kondañña the dustless, stainless, truth-seeing eye (dhammacakkhu) 92 and he saw that “whatever is subject to origination all that is subject to cessation.” 93
When the Buddha expounded the discourse of the Dhammacakka, the earth-bound deities exclaimed: “This excellent Dhammacakka which could not be expounded by any ascetic, priest, god, Māra, or Brahmā in this world has been expounded by the Exalted One at the Deer Park, in Isipatana, near Benares.”
Hearing this, the devas 94 of Cātummahārājika, Tāvatimsa, Yāma, Tusita, Nimmānaratī, Paranimmitavasavattī, and the Brahmās of Brahmā Pārisajja, Brahmā Purohita, Mahā Brahmā, Parittābhā, Appamāṇābha, Ábhassara, Parittasubha, Appamāṇasubha, Subhakiṇṇa, Vehapphala, Aviha, Atappā, Sudassa, Sudassī, and Akaniha, also raised the same joyous cry.
Thus at that very moment, at that very instant, this cry extended as far as the Brahmā realm. These ten thousand world systems quaked, tottered, and trembled violently.
A radiant light, surpassing the effulgence of the gods, appeared in the world. Then the Exalted One said, “Friends, Kondañña has indeed understood. Friends, Kondañña has indeed understood.”
Therefore the Venerable Kondañña was named Aññāta Kondañña.
The first truth of suffering, which deals with the constituents of self or so-called individuality and the different phases of life, is to be analysed, scrutinised and examined. This examination leads to a proper understanding of oneself.
Rational understanding of the first truth leads to the eradication of the cause of suffering—the second truth which deals with the psychological attitude of the ordinary man towards the external objects of sense.
The doctrine of kamma,95 its corollary, is thereby implied.
With the complete eradication of this attachment is the third truth realised. It should be noted that mere complete destruction of this force is not the third truth—Nibbāna. Then it would be tantamount to annihilation. Nibbāna has to be realised by eradicating this force which binds oneself to the mundane.
It should also be understood that Nibbāna is not produced (uppādetabbā) but is attained (pattabba). It could be attained in this life itself. It therefore follows that though rebirth is one of the chief doctrines of Buddhism the goal of Buddhism does not depend on a future birth.
There is no being or permanent entity in Buddhism, but there is a stream of consciousness.
The Second Discourse: Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta 96
“Lord,” they replied.
Thereupon the Exalted One spoke as follows:
“The body (rūpa), O bhikkhus, is soulless (anattā). If, bhikkhus, there were in this a soul 97 then this body would not be subject to suffering. “Let this body be thus, let this body be not thus,” such possibilities would also exist. But inasmuch as this body is soulless, it is subject to suffering, and no possibility exists for (ordering): ‘Let this be so, let this be not so.’
“What think ye, O bhikkhus, is this body permanent or impermanent?”
“Is that which is impermanent happy or painful?”
“It is painful (dukkha), Lord.”
“Certainly not, Lord.”
“Similarly, O bhikkhus, feelings, perceptions, mental states and consciousness are impermanent and painful.
“Is it justifiable to think of these which are impermanent, painful and transitory: ‘This is mine; this am I; this is my soul?'” 100
“Certainly not, Lord.”
“Then, O bhikkhus, all body, whether past, present or future, personal or external, coarse or subtle, low or high, far or near, should be understood by right knowledge in its real nature: ‘This is not mine (n’etaṃ mama); this am I not (n’eso ‘ham-asmi); this is not my soul (na me so atta).’
“All feelings, perceptions, mental states and consciousness whether past, present or future, personal or external, coarse or subtle, low or high, far or near, should be understood by right knowledge in their real nature as: ‘These are not mine; these am I not; these are not my soul.’
“The learned ariyan disciple who sees thus gets disgust for the body, for feelings, for perceptions, for mental states, for consciousness; is detached from the abhorrent thing and is emancipated through detachment. Then dawns on him the knowledge: ‘Emancipated am I.’ He understands that rebirth is ended, lived is the holy life, done what should be done, there is no more of this state again.”
This the Exalted One said, and the delighted bhikkhus applauded the words of the Exalted One.
When the Buddha expounded this teaching the minds of the group of five bhikkhus were freed of defilements without any attachment. 101
Happy is the birth of Buddhas.
Happy is the teaching of the sublime Dhamma.
Happy is the unity of the Sangha.
Happy is the discipline of the united ones.
—Dhp v. 194
In Benares, there was a millionaire’s son, named Yasa, who led a luxurious life. One morning he rose early and, to his utter disgust, saw his female attendants and musicians asleep in repulsive attitudes. The whole spectacle was so disgusting that the palace presented the gloomy appearance of a charnel house. Realising the vanities of worldly life, he stole away from home, saying, “Distressed am I, oppressed am I,” and went in the direction of Isipatana where the Buddha was temporarily residing after having made the five bhikkhus attain arahantship. 102
At that particular time the Buddha, as usual, was pacing up and down in an open space. Seeing him coming from afar, the Buddha came out of his ambulatory and sat on a prepared seat. Not far from him stood Yasa, crying, “Oh, distressed am I! Oppressed am I!”
Thereupon the Buddha said, “Here there is no distress, O Yasa! Here there is no oppression, O Yasa! Come hither, Yasa! Take a seat. I shall expound the Dhamma to you.”
The distressed Yasa was pleased to hear the encouraging words of the Buddha. Removing his golden sandals, he approached the Buddha, respectfully saluted him and sat on one side.
The Buddha expounded the doctrine to him, and he attained the first stage of sainthood (sotāpatti).
At first the Buddha spoke to him on generosity (dāna), morality (sīla), celestial states (sagga), the evils of sensual pleasures (kāmadīnāva), and the blessings of renunciation (nekkhammānisaṃsa). When he found that his mind was pliable and was ready to appreciate the deeper teaching he taught the four noble truths.
Yasa’s mother was the first to notice the absence of her son and she reported the matter to her husband. The millionaire immediately dispatched horsemen in four directions and he himself went towards Isipatana, following the imprint of the golden slippers. The Buddha saw him coming from afar and, by his psychic powers, willed that he should not be able to see his son.
The millionaire approached the Buddha and respectfully inquired whether he had seen his son Yasa.
“Well, then, sit down here please. You will be able to see your son,” said the Buddha. Pleased with the happy news, he sat down. The Buddha delivered a discourse to him, and he was so delighted that he exclaimed:
“Excellent, O Lord, excellent! It is as if, Lord, a man were to set upright that which was overturned, or were to reveal that which was hidden, or were to point out the way to one who had gone astray, or were to hold a lamp amidst the darkness, so that those who have eyes may see! Even so has the doctrine been expounded in various ways by the Exalted One.
“I, Lord, take refuge in the Buddha, the doctrine and the order. May the Lord receive me as a follower, who has taken refuge from this very day to life’s end!”
He was the first lay follower to seek refuge with the threefold formula.
On hearing the discourse delivered to his father, Yasa attained arahantship. Thereupon the Buddha withdrew his will-power so that Yasa’s father could see his son. The millionaire beheld his son and invited the Buddha and his disciples for alms on the following day. The Buddha expressed his acceptance of the invitation by his silence.
After the departure of the millionaire Yasa begged the Buddha to grant him the lesser 103 and the higher ordination.
“Come, O bhikkhu! Well taught is the doctrine. Lead the holy life to make a complete end of suffering.” With these words the Buddha conferred on him the higher ordination. 104
With the Venerable Yasa the number of arahants increased to six.
As invited, the Buddha visited the millionaire’s house with his six disciples.
Venerable Yasa’s mother and his former wife heard the doctrine expounded by the Buddha and, having attained the first stage of sainthood, became his first two lay female followers. 105
Venerable Yasa had four distinguished friends named Vimala, Subāhu, Puṇṇaji and Gavampati. When they heard that their noble friend had shaved his hair and beard, and, donning the yellow robe, entered the homeless life, they approached Venerable Yasa and expressed their desire to follow his example. Venerable Yasa introduced them to the Buddha, and, on hearing the Dhamma, they also attained arahantship.
Fifty more worthy friends of Venerable Yasa, who belonged to leading families of various districts, also received instructions from the Buddha, attained arahantship and entered the holy order.
Hardly two months had elapsed since his enlightenment when the number of arahants gradually rose to sixty. All of them came from distinguished families and were worthy sons of worthy fathers.
The Buddha who, before long, succeeded in enlightening sixty disciples, decided to send them as messengers of truth to teach his new Dhamma to all without any distinction. Before dispatching them in various directions he exhorted them as follows: 106
Freed am I, O bhikkhus, from all bonds, whether divine or human.
You, too, O bhikkhus, are freed from all bonds, whether divine or human.
Go forth, O bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods 107 and men. Let not two go by one way. Preach, O bhikkhus, the Dhamma, excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, excellent in the end, both in the spirit and in the letter. Proclaim the holy life,108 altogether perfect and pure.
There are beings with little dust in their eyes, who, not hearing the Dhamma, will fall away. There will be those who understand the Dhamma.”
I too, O bhikkhus, will go to Uruvelā in Senānigama, in order to preach the Dhamma.”
Hoist the Flag of the Sage. Preach the Sublime Dhamma. Work for the good of others, you who have done your duties.109
The Buddha was thus the first religious teacher to send his enlightened ordained disciples to propagate the doctrine out of compassion for others. With no permanent abode, alone and penniless, these first missionaries were expected to wander from place to place to teach the sublime Dhamma. They had no other material possessions but their robes to cover themselves and an alms-bowl to collect food. As the field was extensive and the workers were comparatively few they were advised to undertake their missionary journeys alone. As they were arahants who were freed from all sensual bonds their chief and only object was to teach the Dhamma and proclaim the holy life (brahmacariya). The original role of arahants, who achieved their life’s goal, was to work for the moral upliftment of the people both by example and by precept. Material development, though essential, was not their concern.
At that time there were sixty arahant disciples in the world. With these Pure Ones as the nucleus the Buddha founded a celibate order which “was democratic in the constitution and communistic in distribution.” The original members were drawn from the highest status of society and were all educated and rich men, but the order was open to all worthy ones, irrespective of caste, class or rank. Both young and old belonging to all the castes were freely admitted into the order and lived like brothers of the same family without any distinction. This noble order of bhikkhus, which stands to this day, is the oldest historic body of celibates in the world.
All were not expected to leave the household and enter the homeless life. As lay followers, too, they were able to lead a good life in accordance with the Dhamma and attain sainthood. Venerable Yasa’s parents and his former wife, for instance, were the foremost lay followers of the Buddha.
All the three were sufficiently spiritually advanced to attain the first stage of sainthood.
With the sixty arahants, as ideal messengers of truth, the Buddha decided to propagate his sublime Dhamma, purely by expounding the doctrine to those who wish to hear.
The Buddha resided at Isipatana in Benares as long as he liked and went towards Uruvelā. On the way, he sat at the foot of a tree in a grove.
At that time thirty happy young men went with their wives to this particular grove to amuse themselves. As one of them had no wife he took with him a courtesan. While they were enjoying themselves, this woman absconded with their valuables. The young men searched for her in the forest, and, seeing the Buddha, inquired of him whether he saw a woman passing that way.
“Which do you think, young men, is better; seeking a woman or seeking oneself?” 110 questioned the Buddha.
“Seeking oneself is better, O Lord!” replied the young men.
“Well, then, sit down. I shall preach the doctrine to you,” said the Buddha.
“Very well, Lord,” they replied, and respectfully saluting the Exalted One, sat expectantly by.
They attentively listened to him and obtained “The Eye of Truth.” 111
After this they entered the order and received the higher ordination.
Wandering from place to place, in due course, the Buddha arrived at Uruvelā. Here lived three ascetics with matted hair (jaila) known as Uruvela Kassapa, Nadī Kassapa, and Gayā Kassapa. They were all brothers living separately with 500, 300, and 200 disciples respectively. The eldest was infatuated by his own spiritual attainments and was labouring under a misconception that he was an arahant. The Buddha approached him first and sought his permission to spend the night in his fire-chamber where dwelt a fierce serpent-king. By his psychic powers the Buddha subdued the serpent. This pleased Uruvela Kassapa and he invited the Buddha to stay there as his guest. The Buddha was compelled to exhibit his psychic powers on several other occasions to impress the ascetic, but still he adhered to the belief, that the Buddha was not an arahant as he was. Finally the Buddha was able to convince him that he was an arahant. Thereupon he and his followers entered the order and obtained the higher ordination.
His brothers and their followers also followed his example. Accompanied by the three Kassapa brothers and their thousand followers, the Buddha repaired to Gayā Sīsa, not far from Uruvelā. Here he preached the Áditta-Pariyāya Sutta, hearing which all attained arahantship.
“All in flames, O bhikkhus! What, O bhikkhus, is all in flames?
“Eye is in flames. Forms are in flames. Eye-consciousness is in flames. Eye-contact is in flames. Feeling which is pleasurable or painful, or neither pleasurable nor painful, arising from eye-contact is in flames. By what is it kindled? By the flames of lust, hatred, ignorance, birth, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair is it kindled, I declare.
“Reflecting thus, O bhikkhus, the learned noble disciple gets disgusted with the eye, the forms, the eye-consciousness, the eye-contact, whatever feeling—pleasurable, painful, or neither pleasurable nor painful—that arises from contact with the eye. He gets disgusted with the ear, sounds, nose, odours, tongue, tastes, body, contact, mind, mental objects, mind-consciousness, mind contacts, whatever feeling—pleasurable, painful or neither pleasurable nor painful—that arises from contact with the mind. With disgust he gets detached; with detachment he is delivered. He understands that birth is ended, lived the holy life, done what should be done, and that there is no more of this state again.”
When the Buddha concluded this discourse all the bhikkhus attained arahantship, eradicating all defilements.
Not far from Rājagaha in the village Upatissa, also known as Nālaka, there lived a very intelligent youth named Sāriputta (“son of Sāri”). Since he belonged to the leading family of the village, he was also called Upatissa.
Though nurtured in Brahmanism, his broad outlook on life and matured wisdom compelled him to renounce his ancestral religion for the more tolerant and scientific teachings of the Buddha Gotama. His brothers and sisters followed his noble example. His father, Vanganta, apparently adhered to the Brahmin faith. His mother, who was displeased with the son for having become a Buddhist, was converted to Buddhism by himself at the moment of his death.
Upatissa was brought up in the lap of luxury. He found a very intimate friend in Kolita, also known as Moggallāna, with whom he was closely associated from a remote past. One day as both of them were enjoying a hill-top festival they realised how vain, how transient, were all sensual pleasures. Instantly they decided to leave the world and seek the path of release. They wandered from place to place in quest of peace.
The two young seekers went at first to Sañjaya, who had a large following, and sought ordination under him. Before long they acquired the meagre knowledge which their master imparted to them, but dissatisfied with his teachings—as they could not find a remedy for that universal ailment with which humanity is assailed—they left him and wandered hither and thither in search of peace. They approached many a famous brahmin and ascetic, but disappointment met them everywhere. Ultimately they returned to their own village and agreed amongst themselves that whoever would first discover the path should inform the other.
It was at that time that the Buddha dispatched his first sixty disciples to proclaim the sublime Dhamma to the world. The Buddha himself proceeded towards Uruvelā, and the Venerable Assaji, one of the first five disciples, went in the direction of Rājagaha.
The good Kamma of the seekers now intervened, as if watching with sympathetic eyes their spiritual progress. For Upatissa, while wandering in the city of Rājagaha, casually met an ascetic whose venerable appearance and saintly deportment at once arrested his attention. This ascetic’s eyes were lowlily fixed a yoke’s distance from him, and his calm face betokened deep peace within him. With body well composed, robes neatly arranged, this venerable figure passed with measured steps from door to door, accepting the morsels of food which the charitable placed in his bowl. Never before have I seen, he thought to himself, an ascetic like this. Surely he must be one of those who have attained arahantship or one who is practising the path leading to arahantship. How if I were to approach him and question, “For whose sake, Sire, have you retired from the world? Who is your teacher? Whose doctrine do you profess?”
Upatissa, however, refrained from questioning him as he thought he would thereby interfere with his silent begging tour.
The arahant Assaji, having obtained what little he needed, was seeking a suitable place to eat his meal. Seeing this, Upatissa gladly availed himself of the opportunity to offer him his own stool and water from his own pot. Fulfilling thus the preliminary duties of a pupil, he exchanged pleasant greetings with him and reverently inquired:
“Venerable Sir, calm and serene are your organs of sense, clean and clear is the hue of your skin. For whose sake have you retired from the world? Who is your teacher? Whose doctrine do you profess?”
The unassuming arahant Assaji modestly replied, as is the characteristic of all great men, “I am still young in the order, brother, and I am not able to expound the Dhamma to you at length.”
“I am Upatissa, Venerable Sir. Say much or little according to your ability, and it is left to me to understand it in a hundred or thousand ways.”
“Say little or much,” Upatissa continued, “tell me just the substance. The substance only do I require. A mere jumble of words is of no avail.”
The Venerable Assaji uttered a four-line stanza, thus skilfully summing up the profound philosophy of the Master, on the truth of the law of cause and effect.
Ye dhammā, hetuppabhavā —
tesaṃ hetuṃ tathāgato āha
tesañ ca yo nirodho—
Of things that proceed from a cause,
Their cause the Tathāgata has told,
And also their cessation:
Thus teaches the Great Ascetic.
Upatissa was sufficiently enlightened to comprehend such lofty teaching though succinctly expressed. He was only in need of a slight indication to discover the truth. So well did the Venerable Assaji guide him on his upward path that immediately on hearing the first two lines, he attained the first stage of sainthood, sotāpatti.
The new convert Upatissa must have been, no doubt, destitute of words to thank to his heart’s content his venerable teacher for introducing him to the sublime teachings of the Buddha. He expressed his deep indebtedness for his brilliant exposition of the truth, and obtaining from him the necessary particulars with regard to the Master, took his leave.
Later, the devotion he showed towards his teacher was such that since he heard the Dhamma from the Venerable Assaji, in whatever quarter he heard that his teacher was residing, in that direction he would extend his clasped hands in an attitude of reverent obeisance and in that direction he would turn his head when he lay down to sleep.
Now, in accordance with the agreement, he returned to his companion Kolita to convey the joyful tidings. Kolita, who was as enlightened as his friend, also attained the first stage of sainthood on hearing the whole stanza. Overwhelmed with joy at their successful search after peace, as in duty bound, they went to meet their teacher Sañjaya with the object of converting him to the new doctrine. Frustrated in their attempt Upatissa and Kolita, accompanied by many followers of Sañjaya, who readily joined them, repaired to the Veluvana monastery to visit their illustrious teacher, the Buddha.
A fortnight later the Venerable Sāriputta attained arahantship on hearing the Buddha expound the Vedanā Pariggaha Sutta to the wandering ascetic Dīghanakha. On the very same day in the evening, the Buddha gathered round him his disciples and the exalted positions of the first and second disciples in the Sangha were respectively conferred upon the theras Upatissa (Sāriputta) and Kolita (Moggallāna), who also had attained arahantship a week earlier.
“Service to relatives is a blessing.”
News that the Buddha was residing at Rājagaha and was preaching his Dhamma reached the ears of the aged King Suddhodana and his anxiety to see his enlightened son grew stronger and stronger. On nine successive occasions he sent nine courtiers, each with a large following, to invite the Buddha to Kapilavatthu. Contrary to his expectations, they all heard the Dhamma and, attaining arahantship, entered the order. Since arahants were indifferent to worldly things they did not convey the message to the Buddha.
The disappointed king finally dispatched another faithful courtier, Kāludāyī, who was a playmate of the Buddha. He agreed to go as he was granted permission to enter the order.
Like the rest he also had the fortune to attain arahantship and join the order. But, unlike the others, he conveyed the message to the Buddha, and persuaded him to visit his aged royal father. As the season was most suitable for travelling, the Buddha, attended by a large retinue of his disciples, journeyed the whole distance by slow stages preaching the Dhamma on the way, and in due course arrived at Kapilavatthu in two months.
Arrangements were made for him to reside at the park of Nigrodha, a Sākya. The conceited elderly Sākyas, thinking within themselves, “he is our younger brother, our nephew, our grandson,” said to the young princes, “You do him obeisance; we will sit behind you.” As they sat without paying him due reverence he subdued their pride by rising into the air and exhibiting the “twin wonder.” 112 The King, seeing this wonderful phenomenon, saluted him immediately, saying that it was his third salutation. 113 All Sākyas were then compelled to pay him due reverence. Thereupon the Buddha came down from the sky and sat on the seat prepared for him. The humbled relatives took their seats eager to listen to his teaching.
At this moment an unexpected shower of rain fell upon the Sākya kinsfolk. The occurrence of this strange phenomenon resulted in a discussion amongst themselves. Then the Buddha preached the Vessantara Jātaka 114 to show that a similar incident took place in the presence of his relatives in a previous birth.
The Sākyas were delighted with the discourse, and they departed, not knowing that it was their duty to invite the Buddha and his disciples for the noon meal. It did not occur to the king too to invite the Buddha, although he thought to himself, “If my son does not come to my house, where will he go?” Reaching home, he, however, made ready several kinds of food expecting their arrival in the palace.
As there was no special invitation for the noon meal on the following day, the Buddha and his disciples got ready to seek alms from the houses of the citizens of Kapilavatthu. Before proceeding he considered within himself—”Did the Buddhas of the past, upon entering the city of their kinsfolk, straightaway enter the houses of the relatives, or did they go from house to house in regular order receiving alms?” Perceiving that they did so from house to house, the Buddha went in the streets of Kapilavatthu seeking alms.
On hearing of this seemingly disgraceful conduct of the Buddha from his daughter-in-law, Yasodharā, the king, greatly perturbed in mind, hurried to the scene, and saluting him, said, “Son, why do you ruin me? I am overwhelmed with shame to see you begging alms. Is it proper for you, who used to travel in a golden palanquin, to seek alms in this very city? Why do you put me to shame?” 115
“I am not putting you to shame, O great King! I am following the custom of my lineage,” replied the Buddha, to the king’s astonishment.
“But, dear son, is it the custom of my lineage to gain a livelihood by seeking alms? Surely, Lord, ours is the warrior lineage of Mahāsammata, and not a single warrior has gone seeking alms.”
“O great King, that is not the custom of your royal lineage. But it is the custom of my Buddha lineage. Several thousands of Buddhas have lived by seeking alms.”
Standing on the street, the Buddha then advised the king thus:
“Be not heedless in standing (at doors for alms).
Lead a righteous life.
The righteous live happily both in this world
and in the next.” Dhp v. 168
Hearing it, the king realised the truth and attained the first stage of sainthood. Immediately after, he took the Buddha’s bowl and, conducting him and his disciples to the palace, served them with choice food. At the close of the meal the Buddha again exhorted him thus:
“Lead a righteous life, and not one that is corrupt.
The righteous live happily both in this world
and in the next.” Dhp, v. 169
Thereupon the king attained the second stage of sainthood (sakadāgāmi) and Pajāpati Gotamī attained the first stage of sainthood (sotāpatti).
On a later occasion when it was related to the Buddha that the king had refused to believe that his son had died owing to his severe austerities without achieving his goal, the Buddha preached the Dhammapāla Jātaka (No. 447) to show that in a previous birth too he refused to believe that his son had died although he was shown a heap of bones. At this time the king attained the third stage of sainthood (anāgāmi).
On his death-bed, the king heard the Dhamma from the Buddha for the last time and attained arahantship. After experiencing the bliss of emancipation for seven days, he passed away as a lay arahant when the Buddha was about forty years old.
Princess Yasodharā, also known as Rāhulamātā, Bimbā and Bhaddakaccānā, was the daughter of King Suppabuddha, who reigned over the Koliya race, and Pamitā, sister of King Suddhodana. She was of the same age as Prince Siddhattha, whom she married at the age of sixteen. It was by exhibiting his military prowess that he won her hand. She led an extremely happy and luxurious life. In her 29th year, on the very day she gave birth to her only son, Rāhula, her wise and contemplative husband, whom she loved with all her heart, resolved to renounce the world to seek deliverance from the ills of life. Without even bidding farewell to his faithful and charming wife, he left the palace at night, leaving young Yasodharā to look after the child by herself. She awoke as usual to greet her beloved husband, but, to her surprise, she found him missing.
When she realised that her ideal prince had left her and the new-born babe, she was overcome with indescribable grief. Her dearest possession was lost for ever. The palace with all its allurements was now a dungeon to her. The whole world appeared to be blank. Her only consolation was her infant son.
Though several Kshatriya princes sought her hand, she rejected all those proposals, and lived ever faithful to her beloved husband. Hearing that her husband was leading a hermit’s life, she removed all her jewellery and wore a plain yellow garb. Throughout the six years during which the Ascetic Gotama struggled for enlightenment Princess Yasodharā watched his actions closely and did likewise.
When the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu after his enlightenment and was being entertained by the king in the palace on the following day all but the Princess Yasodharā came to pay their reverence to him. She thought, “Certainly if there is any virtue in me, the noble Lord himself will come to my presence. Then will I reverence him.”
After the meal was over the Buddha handed over the bowl to the king, and accompanied by his two chief disciples, entered the chamber of Yasodharā and sat on a seat prepared for him, saying, “Let the king’s daughter reverence me as she likes. Say nothing.”
Hearing of the Buddha’s visit, she bade the ladies in the court wear yellow garments. When the Buddha took his seat, Yasodharā came swiftly to him and clasping his ankles, placed her head on his feet and reverenced him as she liked.
Demonstrating her affection and respect thus, she sat down with due reverence.
Then the king praised her virtues and, commenting on her love and loyalty, said:
“Lord, when my daughter heard that you were wearing yellow robes, she also robed herself in yellow; when she heard that you were taking one meal a day, she also did the same; when she heard that you had given up lofty couches, she lay on a low couch; when she heard that you had given up garlands and scents, she also gave them up; when her relatives sent messages to say that they would maintain her, she did not even look at a single one. So virtuous was my daughter.”
“Not only in this last birth, O King, but in a previous birth, too, she protected me and was devoted and faithful to me,” remarked the Buddha and cited the Candakinnarī Jātaka (No. 485).
Recalling this past association with her, he consoled her and left the palace.
After the death of King Suddhodana, when Pajāpati Gotamī became a nun (bhikkhuṇī), Yasodharā also entered the order and attained arahantship.
Amongst women disciples she was the chief of those who attained great supernormal powers (mahā abhiñnā). 116 At the age of seventy-eight she passed away.
Her name does not appear in the Therigātha but her interesting verses are found in the Apadāna. 117
Rāhula was the only son of Prince Siddhattha and Princess Yasodharā. He was born on the day when Prince Siddhattha decided to renounce the world. The happy news of the birth of his infant son was conveyed to him when he was in the park in a contemplative mood. Contrary to ordinary expectations, instead of rejoicing over the news, he exclaimed “Rāhu jāto, bandhanaṃ jātaṃ—” A rāhu is born, a fetter has arisen!’ Accordingly the child was named Rāhula 118 by King Suddhodana, his grandfather.
Rāhula was brought up as a fatherless child by his mother and grandfather. When he was seven years old, the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu for the first time after his enlightenment. On the seventh day after his arrival Princess Yasodharā gaily dressed up young Rāhula and pointing to the Buddha, said, “Behold, son, that golden coloured ascetic, looking like Brahmā, surrounded by twenty thousand ascetics! He is your father, and he had great treasures. Since his renunciation we do not see them. Go up to him and ask for your inheritance, and say —”Father, I am the prince. After my consecration I will be a universal monarch. I am in need of wealth. Please give me wealth, for the son is the owner of what belongs to the father.”
Innocent Rāhula came to the Buddha’s presence, and asking for his inheritance, as advised by his mother, very affectionately said: “O ascetic, even your shadow is pleasing to me.”
After the meal the Buddha left the palace and Rāhula followed him, saying, “Give me my inheritance” and uttering much else that was becoming. Nobody attempted to stop him. Nor did the Buddha prevent him from following him. Reaching the park the Buddha thought: “He desires his father’s wealth, but it goes with the world and is full of trouble. I shall give him the sevenfold noble wealth which I received at the foot of the bodhi tree, and make him an owner of a transcendental inheritance. He called Venerable Sāriputta and asked him to ordain little Rāhula.
Rāhula, who was then only seven years of age, was admitted into the noble order.
King Suddhodana was deeply grieved to hear of the unexpected ordination of his beloved grandson. He approached the Buddha and, in humbly requesting him not to ordain any one without the prior consent of the parents, said “When the Lord renounced the world it was a cause of great pain to me. It was so when Nanda renounced and especially so in the case of Rāhula. The love of a father towards a son cuts through the skin, (the hide), the flesh, the sinew, the bone and the marrow. Grant, Lord, the request that the noble ones may not confer ordination on a son without the permission of his parents.” 119
The Buddha readily granted the request, and made it a Vinaya rule.
How a young boy of seven years could lead the holy life is almost inconceivable. But sāmaṇera (novice) Rāhula, cultured, exceptionally obedient and well-disciplined as he was, was very eager to accept instruction from his superiors. It is stated that he would rise early in the morning and taking a handful of sand throw it up, saying, “Today may I receive from my instructors as much counsel as these grains of sand.”
One of the earliest discourses preached to him, immediately after his ordination, was the Ambalahika-rāhulovāda Sutta in which the importance of truthfulness was emphasised. 120
One day the Buddha visited the Venerable Rāhula who, seeing him coming from afar, arranged a seat and supplied water for washing the feet.
The Buddha washed his feet and leaving a small quantity of water in the vessel, said:
“Do you see, Rāhula, this small quantity of water left in the vessel?”
“Similarly, Rāhula, insignificant, indeed, is the samaṇaship (monkhood) of those who are not ashamed of uttering deliberate lies.”
Then the Buddha threw away that small quantity of water, and said:
“Discarded, indeed, is the samaṇaship of those who are not ashamed of deliberate lying.”
The Buddha turned the vessel upside down, and said, “Overturned, indeed, is the samaṇaship of those who are not ashamed of uttering deliberate lies.”
Finally the Buddha set the vessel upright and said —”Empty and void, indeed, is the samaṇaship of those who are not ashamed of deliberate lying.”
“I say of anyone who is not ashamed of uttering deliberate lies, that there is no evil that could not be done by him. Accordingly, Rāhula, thus should you train yourself—”Not even in play will I tell a lie.”
Emphasizing the importance of truthfulness with such homely illustrations, the Buddha explained to him the value of reflection and the criterion of morality in such a way as a child could understand.
“Rāhula, for what purpose is a mirror?” questioned the Buddha.
“For the purpose of reflecting, Lord.”
“Similarly, Rāhula, after reflecting and reflecting should bodily action be done; after reflecting should verbal action be done; after reflecting should mental action be done.
“Whatever action you desire to do with the body, of that particular bodily action you should reflect: ‘Now, this action that I desire to perform with the body—would this, my bodily action be conducive to my own harm, or to the harm of others, or to that of both myself and others?’ Then, unskilful is this bodily action, entailing suffering and producing pain.
“If, when reflecting, you should realise: ‘Now, this bodily action of mine that I am desirous of performing, would be conducive to my own harm or to the harm of others, or to that of both myself and others.’ Then unskilful is this bodily action, entailing suffering and producing pain. Such an action with the body, you must on no account perform.
“If, on the other hand, when reflecting you realise: ‘Now, this bodily action that I am desirous of performing, would conduce neither to the harm of myself, nor to that of others, nor to that of both myself and others.’ Then skilful is this bodily action, entailing pleasure and producing happiness. Such bodily action you should perform.”
Exhorting the Sāmaṇera Rāhula to use reflection during and after one’s actions, the Buddha said:
“While you are doing an action with the body, of that particular action should you reflect: ‘Now, is this action that I am doing with my body conducive to my own harm, or to the harm of others or to that of both myself and others?’ Then unskilful is this bodily action, entailing suffering and producing pain.
“If, when reflecting, you realise: ‘Now, this action that I am doing with my body is conducive to my own harm, to the harm of others, and to that of both myself and others.’ Then unskilful is this bodily action, entailing suffering and producing pain. From such a bodily action you must desist.
“If when reflecting, you should realise: ‘Now, this action of mine that I am doing with the body is conducive neither to my own harm, nor to the harm of others, nor to that of both myself and others.’ Then skilful is this bodily action, entailing pleasure and happiness. Such a bodily action you should do again and again.”
The Buddha adds, “If, when reflecting, you should realise: ‘Now, this action that I have done is unskilful.’ Such an action should be confessed, revealed, and made manifest to the Teacher, or to the learned, or to your brethren of the holy life. Having confessed you should acquire restraint in the future.”
The admonition with regard to skilful and unskilful verbal and mental actions was treated in the same way.
Stating that constant reflection was essential for purification, the Buddha ended the discourse as follows:
“Thus must you train yourself—
By constantly reflecting shall we purify our bodily actions,
by constantly reflecting shall we purify our verbal actions,
by constantly reflecting, shall we purify our mental actions.”
In the Saṃyutta Nikāya there is a special chapter where the Buddha explains to Sāmaṇera Rāhula, the transitoriness of nature. 121
As Venerable Rāhula entered the order in his boyhood the Buddha availed himself of every opportunity to advise and guide him on the right path. The Sutta Nipāta 122 states that the Buddha repeatedly admonished him with the following stanzas:
“Give up five-fold sensual pleasures
—So sweet, so charming.
Going forth from home, with faith,
Be one who has put an end to suffering.
Seek a remote lodging, secluded and noiseless.
Be moderate in food.
Have no attachment to robes, alms, requisites and lodging.
Come not to this world again.
Practise restraint with regard to the Fundamental Code
And the five senses.
Cultivate mindfulness as regards the body
And be full of dispassionateness.
Avoid alluring, lust-provoking objects (of sense).
Develop your one-pointed, composed mind towards
Think not of the outward appearance of sense.
Give up latent pride. Thus eradicating pride,
you shall fare on in perfect peace.”
In Rāhula’s eighteenth year the Buddha preached a profound discourse on mind-culture, the occasion for it being a sense-desire that arose in Venerable Rāhula’s mind on account of his beautiful appearance.
One day the Venerable Rāhula was following the Buddha in quest of alms. As the Buddha went along, followed by Rāhula, it seems that the pair was like an auspicious royal elephant and his noble offspring, a royal swan with its beauteous cygnet, a regal lion with its stately cub. Both were golden in complexion, almost equal in beauty; both were of the warrior caste; both had renounced a throne. Rāhula, admiring the Teacher, thought: “I too am handsome like my parent the Exalted One. Beautiful is the Buddha’s form, and mine is similar.” 123
The Buddha instantly read his evil thought, and looking back addressed him thus:
“Whatsoever form there be should be regarded thus:
“This is not mine (n’etam mama); this am I not (n’eso’haṃ asmi); this is not my soul (na me so atta).’ 124
Rāhula submissively inquired of him whether he should regard only form as such.
The Buddha replied that he should regard all the five aggregates (khandhas) 125 as such.
The Venerable Rāhula, having been thus edified by the Buddha himself, preferred not to enter the village for alms. He turned back and sat at the foot of a tree, with legs crossed, the body held erect, intent on mindfulness.
Venerable Sāriputta noting the suggestive posture of Rāhula Sāmaṇera, advised him to concentrate on inhaling and exhaling, not knowing that he was practising another object of meditation on the instruction of the Buddha.
Venerable Rāhula was perplexed because he was given two different objects of meditation—one by the Buddha and the other by his own teacher. In obedience to his teacher he concentrated on “breathing” and went to the Buddha to get his own instruction on the subject. As a wise physician would give the needed medicine, ignoring the desires, the Buddha first expanded his brief instruction on meditation on form and other aggregates and then briefly enumerated certain subjects of meditation with the specific evil conditions temporarily eliminated by each and then explained the meditation on “respiration” (ānāpānasati).
Acting according to the Buddha’s instructions, he succeeded in his meditations, and, before long, hearing the Cūla Rāhulovāda Sutta, 126 he attained arahantship.
In the fourteenth year after the enlightenment of the Buddha, Sāmaṇera Rāhula received his higher ordination. He predeceased the Buddha and Venerable Sāriputta.
Venerable Rāhula was distinguished for his high standard of discipline. The following four verses are attributed to him in the Theragāthā:
“Being fortunate from both sides,
they call me ‘Lucky Rāhula.’
I was the son of the Buddha
and that of the seer of truths.
Destroyed are all my corruptions.
There is no more rebirth to me.
An arahant am I, worthy of offering.
Possessed of threefold knowledge
and a seer of Deathless am I.127
‘Blinded by sense-desires, spread over by a net,
covered by a cloak of craving,
bound by the ‘kinsman of heedlessness’
was I like a fish caught in the mouth of a funnel-net.
That sense-desire have I burnt.
The bond of Māra have I cut.
Eradicating craving, from its root,
cool am I, peaceful am I now.”
“Trustful are the best of relatives.”
— Dhp 204
On the third day after the arrival of the Buddha at Kapilavatthu, Prince Nanda, the son of Queen Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī, was celebrating his consecration ceremony, marriage ceremony, and the house-warming ceremony. It was on the occasion of these three festivals when congratulations were being offered to the prince that the Buddha visited the palace. After the meal the Buddha handed the bowl to the prince, and uttering a blessing, rose to go without taking the bowl.
The prince followed him thinking that the Buddha would take the bowl from him at any moment. But the Buddha would not take it, and the prince out of reverence for him continued to follow the Teacher.
Janapada Kalyāṇi, to whom he was betrothed, hearing that the prince was following the Buddha with bowl in hand, with tears streaming down her cheeks and hair half-combed, ran after Prince Nanda as fast as she could and said to him: “Return quickly, O noble Lord.” These affectionate words penetrated his heart and he was deeply moved, but with deference to the Buddha he could not possibly return the bowl to him. So he accompanied the Buddha to the park, his temporary residence. On arrival there the Buddha questioned Nanda whether he would become a monk. So great was his reverence for him as the Buddha and as an elder brother of his that, with reluctance, he agreed to be admitted into the order.
But Nanda Bhikkhu enjoyed no spiritual happiness resulting from renunciation. He was greatly depressed, and was constantly thinking of his bride. He related his mental troubles to the bhikkhus, saying: “Brethren, I am dissatisfied. I am now living the religious life, but I cannot endure to lead the holy life any longer. I intend to abandon the higher precepts and return to the lower life, the life of a layman.”
Hearing this, the Buddha questioned Venerable Nanda whether such report was true. He admitted his weakness, and stated that he was worried about his bride.
The Buddha devised a means to set him on the right path. With the object of showing him celestial nymphs the Buddha, using his psychic powers, took him to the Tāvatiṃsa heaven. On the way the Venerable Nanda was shown a singed she-monkey who had lost her ears, nose, and tail in a fire, clinging to a burnt-up stump in a scorched field. Reaching heaven, the Buddha pointed to him celestial nymphs and asked him: “Nanda, which do you regard as being the more beautiful and fair to look upon and handsome, your noble wife Janapada Kalyāṇī or the celestial nymphs?”
“Venerable Sir, Janapada Kalyāṇī is like the singed-monkey when compared to those celestial nymphs, who are infinitely more beautiful and fair.”
“Cheer up, Nanda. I guarantee that you will possess them if you persevere as I bid you.”
“In that case I shall take the greatest pleasure in living the holy life,” said Venerable Nanda, childishly.
Hearing that Venerable Nanda was living the holy life with the object of winning celestial nymphs, the bhikkhus ridiculed him calling him “hireling.” Eventually he became ashamed of his base motive, and striving diligently, attained arahantship.
He thereupon approached the Buddha and said: “Venerable Sir, I release the Exalted One from the promise that he made when he guaranteed that I should win celestial nymphs.”
The Buddha replied: “When, Nanda, you ceased to cling to the things of the world, and your heart was released from the corruptions, at that moment I was released from that promise.”
He then uttered the following paean of joy:
He that has crossed over the mud and crushed
the thorn of lust;
He that has destroyed delusion, such a man is unmoved
whether in pleasure or in pain.
When some monks doubted his attainment of arahantship the Buddha in explanation uttered the following stanzas:
Even as rain penetrates an ill-thatched house,
so does lust penetrate an undeveloped mind.
Even as rain does not penetrate a well-thatched house,
so does lust not penetrate a well-developed mind.
—Dhp vv. 13-14.
Enjoying the bliss of emancipation, he praised the Teacher, saying: “O excellent is the method of the Master, whereby I was drawn out of the mire of rebirth and set on Nibbāna’s strand!”
The following verses are attributed to him in the Theragāthā:
Through not reflecting rightly I was attached to outward show. Overcome by passionate love, I was restless and fickle.
Because of the skilful means devised by the Buddha, the ‘kinsman of the sun,’ rightly I acted and drew out my mind from existence. 128
In the second year of the Buddha’s ministry Ánanda entered the order together with the Sākya Nobles—Anuruddha, Bhaddiya, Bhagu, Kimbila, and Devadatta. Not long after, hearing a sermon from Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta, he attained the first stage of sainthood (sotāpatti).
During the first twenty years after his enlightenment the Buddha had no permanent attendant. The few temporary attendants were not very dutiful and their behaviour was not highly commendable. One day while residing at Jetavana the Buddha addressed the bhikkhus and said: “Now I am old, O bhikkhus. When I say: ‘Let us go this way,’ some go by another way; some drop my bowl and robe on the ground. Choose one disciple to attend always upon me.” 129 Forthwith all the bhikkhus, except the Venerable Ánanda, from Venerable Sāriputta downwards, volunteered their services. But the Buddha declined their kind offer. As the Venerable Ánanda wassilent, he was advised by the bhikkhus to offer his services. He consented on condition the Buddha would grant the following oons:
The Buddha granted these four negative and four positive boons. Thenceforth the Venerable Ánanda acted as his favourite attendant for twenty-five years till the Buddha’s last moment. Like a shadow he followed him everywhere, attending to all his needs with great love and care. Both during day and night his services were always at the disposal of his master. At night it is stated that he used to go round the fragrant chamber nine times with staff and torch in hand to keep himself awake and to prevent the Buddha’s sleep from being disturbed.
It was Venerable Ánanda who was responsible for the planting of the Ánanda bodhi tree. In the absence of the Buddha, devout followers who used to bring flowers and garlands, laid them at the entrance to the fragrant chamber and departed with much rejoicing. Anāthapiṇḍika came to hear of it and requested Venerable Ánanda to inquire of the Buddha whether there was a possibility of finding a place where his devotees might pay obeisance to the Buddha when he was away on his preaching tours. Venerable Ánanda approached the Buddha and asked:
“There are three, Ánanda. They are objects of reverence appertaining to the body (sārīrika), 130 objects of reverence appertaining to personal use (pāribhogika) and objects of reverence reminiscent of the Buddha (uddesika).”
“Is it proper, Lord, to construct a cetiya while you are alive?”
“No, not an object of reverence appertaining to the body which it is proper to erect after the passing away of the Buddha. An object of reverence reminiscent of the Buddha has no physical basis; it is purely mental. But the great bodhi tree, used by the Buddha, whether he is alive or dead, is an object of reverence(cetiya).”
“Lord when you go on your preaching tours, the great monastery of Jetavana is without refuge, and people find no place of reverence. Lord, may I bring seed from the great bodhi tree and plant it at the entrance to Jetavana?”
“Very well, Ánanda, plant it. It will then be as if I constantly abide in Jetavana.”
Venerable Ánanda mentioned this matter to Buddha’s principle lay attendants—Anāthapiṇḍika, Visākhā, and King Kosala—and requested the Venerable Moggallāna to secure fruit from the great bodhi tree. Readily he consented and obtained a fruit that was falling from the tree and delivered it to Venerable Ánanda.
This he presented to the king who in turn handed it to Anāthapiṇḍika. Then he stirred up the fragrant soil and dropped it in the hole that was dug. The tree that sprang up in that place was known as the Ánanda-bodhi. 131
It was also Venerable Ánanda who persuaded the Buddha to admit women into the order. Had it not been for his intervention Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī would not have succeeded in becoming a bhikkhuṇī (nun). Bhikkhuṇīs held him in high esteem, and his sermons were greatly appreciated by them.
On one occasion he approached the Buddha and asked him:
“How are we to conduct ourselves, Lord, with regard to womankind?”
“As not seeing them, Ánanda.”
“But if we should see them, Lord, what are we to do?”
“Do not talk to them, Ánanda.”
“But if they should speak to us, Lord, what are we to do?”
“Be watchful, Ánanda.”
This general exhortation was given to bhikkhus so that they may constantly be watchful in their dealings with women.
As he possessed a powerfully retentive memory, and as he had the rare privilege of listening to all the discourses of the Buddha owing to his close association with him, he was later appointed the Custodian of the Dhamma (dhamma-bhandāgārika).
“Eighty-two thousand from the Buddha
and two thousand from the bhikkhus I received.
There exist eighty-four thousand texts in all.” 132
The Buddha ranked him foremost amongst his disciples in five respects: erudition (bahussutānaṃ), retentive memory (satimantānaṃ), good behaviour (gatimantānaṃ), steadfastness (dhitimantānaṃ), and ministering care (upahākānaṃ). 133
Though a distinguished disciple, well-versed in the Dhamma, he lived as a “learner” (sekha), till the death of the Buddha. The Buddha’s final exhortation to him was “You have done merit in the past, Ánanda. Quickly be free from corruptions.” 134
It was only after the passing away of the Buddha that he attained arahantship. As he was expected to take a leading part in the first council, which was composed only of arahants, he made a strenuous effort and attained arahantship on the night preceding the convocation while he was about to lie down on his couch. It is stated that he was the only disciple who attained arahantship free from the postures of sitting, standing, walking, or sleeping. 135
Venerable Ánanda passed away at the age of one hundred and twenty. The Dhammapada commentary states that as people on both the sides of the river Rohiṇī were equally serviceable to him and as both sides vied with each other to possess his relics, he sat cross-legged in the air over the middle of the river, preached the Dhamma to the multitude and wished that his body would split in two and that one portion would fall on the near side and the other on the farther side. He then entered into the ecstatic meditation on the element of fire (tejokasiṇa-samāpatti). Instantly flames of fire issued from his body, and, as willed, one portion of the body fell on the near side and the other on the farther side.
The Theragāthā gives several stanzas uttered by him on various occasions. The following verse which deals with the frailty of this so-called beautiful body is particularly interesting:
“Behold this adorned body, a mass of sores, a lump infirm, much thought of, whereof nothing lasts, nothing persists. 136
Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī was the youngest sister of King Suppabuddha. Her elder sister was Queen Mahā Maya. Both were married to King Suddhodana. She had a daughter named Nandā and a son named Nanda. Later, both of them entered the order. When Mahā Maya died she adopted her sister’s son, Prince Siddhattha, entrusting her own son Nanda to the charge of nurses.
Her family name was Gotamī, and she was named Mahā Pajāpati because soothsayers predicted that she would be the head of a large following.
When the Buddha visited the palace and preached the Dhammapāla Jātaka to his father she attained the first stage of sainthood.
After the death of King Suddhodana, as both princes Siddhattha and Nanda had renounced the world, she also decided to enter the noble order and lead the holy life. When the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu to settle a dispute between the Sākyas and Koliyas with regard to the irrigation channels from the river Rohiṇī and was residing at the Nigrodha park, Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī approached the Buddha and, begging him to grant permission for women to enter the order, pleaded thus: 137
“It would be well, Lord, if women should be allowed to renounce their homes and enter the homeless state under the doctrine and discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata.”
Without stating his reasons, the Buddha straightaway refused, saying:
“Enough, O Gotamī, let it not please you that women should be allowed to do so.”
For the second and third time Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī repeated her request, and the Buddha gave the same reply.
Later, the Buddha having stayed at Kapilavatthu as long as he liked journeyed to Vesāli, and arriving there in due course, resided at the Mahāvana in the Kūāgāra Hall.
Resolute Pajāpati Gotamī, without being discouraged by her disappointment, got her hair cut off, donned yellow garments, and surrounded by a great number of Sākya ladies, walked from Kapilavatthu to Vesāli, a distance of about 150 miles, experiencing many a hardship. With swollen feet, her body covered with dust, she arrived at Vesāli and stood outside the porch of the Pinnacled Hall. Venerable Ánanda found her, weeping, and learning the cause of her grief, approached the Buddha and said:
“Behold, Lord, Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī is standing outside the porch, with swollen feet, body covered with dust, and sad. Please permit women to renounce home and enter the homeless state under the doctrine and discipline proclaimed by the Exalted One. It were well, Lord, if women should be allowed to renounce their homes and enter the homeless state.”
“Enough, Ánanda, let it not please you that women should be allowed to do so!” was the Buddha’s reply.
For the second and third time he interceded on their behalf, but the Buddha would not yield.
So Venerable Ánanda made a different approach and respectfully questioned the Buddha: “Are women, Lord, capable of realising the state of a stream-winner (sotāpanna), once-returner (sakadāgāmi) non-returner (anāgāmi) and an arahant, when they have gone forth from home to the homeless state under the doctrine and discipline proclaimed by the Exalted one?”
The Buddha replied that they were capable of realising saintship.
Encouraged by this favourable reply, Venerable Ánanda appealed again, saying: “If then Lord, they are capable of attaining saintship, since Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī had been of great service to the Exalted One, when as aunt and nurse she nourished him and gave him milk, and on the death of his mother suckled the Exalted One at her own breast, it were well, Lord, that women should be given permission to renounce the world and enter the homeless state under the doctrine and discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata.”
“If, Ánanda, Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī accepts the eight chief rules, let that be reckoned by her as the form of her ordination,” said the Buddha, finally yielding to the entreaties of Venerable Ánanda. The Eight chief rules 138 are as follows:
A bhikkhuṇī, even of a hundred years’ standing by upasampadā,139 should salute a bhikkhu, rise up before him, reverence him, and perform all proper duties towards him though he had received the higher ordination that very day.
Every fortnight a bhikkhuṇī should ask from the order of bhikkhus the time of uposatha 140 meeting and when a bhikkhu would come to admonish them.
The pavāraṇa 141 ceremony after the retreat should be held by a bhikkhuṇī in the presence of both bhikkhus and bhikkhuṇīs (to inquire whether through any of the three ways of seeing, hearing, or suspicion a wrong has been done.)
A bhikkhuṇī who has committed a major offence should undergo mānatta 142 discipline in the presence of the order of both bhikkhus and bhikkhuṇīs.
These rules are to be revered, reverenced, honoured and respected as long as life lasts and should not be transgressed.
When Venerable Ánanda mentioned them to Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī she gladly agreed to abide by those eight chief rules. By their acceptance, she automatically received the higher ordination.
In founding this order of bhikkhuṇīs the Buddha, foreseeing the future repercussions, remarked: “If, Ánanda, women had not received permission to renounce the world and enter the homeless state under the doctrine and discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata, the holy life would have lasted long and the Sublime Dhamma would have survived for thousand years. But since women have entered this homeless state, the holy life would not last long and the Sublime Dhamma would now remain only for five hundred years.” 143
The Buddha added, “Just as, Ánanda, houses in which there are women and but few men are easily violated by burglars, even so, under whatsoever doctrine and discipline women are permitted to renounce the world and enter the homeless state, that Holy Life will not last long.
“And just as a man would in anticipation build an embankment to a great reservoir beyond which the water should not overpass, even so have I in anticipation laid down these eight chief rules for the bhikkhuṇīs, not to be transgressed throughout their lives.” 144 In making these comments, which may not generally be very palatable to womankind, the Buddha was not in any way making a wholesale condemnation of women but was only reckoning with the weaknesses of their sex.
Although for several valid reasons the Buddha reluctantly permitted women to enter the order, it should be stated that it was the Buddha who, for the first time in the history of the world, founded an order for women with rules and regulations. Just as he appointed two chief disciples, Venerable Sāriputta and Moggallāna for the order of monks, two chief female disciples—Venerable Khemā and Uppalavaṇṇā—were appointed for the order of nuns as well.
One day Bhikkhuṇī Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī approached the Buddha and invited him to deliver a discourse so that she might strive alone and achieve her goal.
The Buddha declared—”Of whatsoever doctrine you will know, Gotamī, that these things conduce to passion and not to peace, to pride and not to veneration, to wishing for much and not to wishing for little, to love of society and not to seclusion, to sloth and not to the exercise of zeal, to being hard to satisfy and not to contentment, verily you may then, Gotamī, bear in mind: that is not Dhamma, that is not Vinaya, that is not the teaching of the Master.
“But of whatsoever doctrine you will know, Gotamī, that these things conduce to peace and not to passion, to veneration and not to pride, to wishing for little and not to wishing for much, to seclusion and not to love of society, to the exercise of zeal and not to sloth, to contentment and not to querulousness, verily you may then bear in mind: that is Dhamma, and that is Vinaya, and that is the teaching of the Master.” 145
Before long she attained arahantship, accompanied by intuitive and analytical knowledge (paṭisambhidā). 146
The other Sākya ladies, who received their ordination with her, also attained arahantship.
Amongst the female disciples, Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī was assigned the foremost place in seniority and experience (rattaññū).
In the Therīgāthā appear several verses uttered by her after attaining arahantship.
“As a solid rock is not shaken by the wind
Even so the wise are not ruffled by praise or blame.”
— Dhp v. 81
The Buddha worked disinterestedly for the weal of mankind, making no distinction between the rich and the poor, the high and the low. His followers and supporters were drawn both from the highest and lowest rungs of the social ladder. So spontaneous was the love and so profound was the veneration of the people, that kings and nobles, millionaires and paupers, pious folk and courtesans, men and women of all ranks, vied with one another to be of service to him and make his noble mission a success. The wealthy spent lavishly to erect suitable monasteries for him, while the poor, full of faith, demonstrated their piety in their humble way. With perfect equanimity he accepted the gifts of the rich and the poor, but showed no partiality to any. Nevertheless, he showed more compassion to the poor and the lowly. Like a bee that extracts honey from a flower without hurting it, he lived amongst his followers and supporters without causing the slightest inconvenience to any. Offerings of diverse kinds were showered on him, and he accepted them all with perfect non-attachment.
Though absolutely pure in motive and perfectly selfless in his service to humanity, yet in preaching and spreading his teaching, the Buddha had to contend against strong opposition. He was severely criticised, roundly abused, insulted and ruthlessly attacked, as no other religious teacher had been. His chief opponents were ordinary teachers of rival sects and followers of heretical schools whose traditional teachings and superstitious rites and ceremonies he justly criticised. His greatest personal enemy, who made a vain attempt to kill him, was his own brother-in-law and an erstwhile disciple—Devadatta.
Devadatta was the son of King Suppabuddha and Pamitā, an aunt of the Buddha. Yasodharā was his sister. He was thus a cousin and brother-in-law of the Buddha. He entered the order in the early part of the Buddha’s ministry together with Ánanda and other Sākya princes. He could not attain any of the stages of sainthood, but was distinguished for worldly psychic powers (pothujjanika-iddhi). One of his chief supporters was King Ajātasattu who built a monastery for him.
During the early part of his career he led such an exemplary life that even Venerable Sāriputta went about Rājagaha extolling him. Later, overcome by worldly gain and honour, and growing jealous of the Buddha, Devadatta became so radically changed in his character that he proved to be the greatest personal enemy of the Buddha. Simultaneous with the arising of ill will in his heart towards the Buddha his psychic powers automatically ceased.
Despite his evil ways and corrupt life, he had a large following and many admirers, and some even preferred him to Venerable Sāriputta.
On one occasion he approached the Buddha and requested him to hand over the leadership of the Sangha to him as the Buddha was advanced in age. The Buddha straightaway refused, saying: “Not even to Sāriputta or Moggallāna would I hand over the Sangha. Would I then hand it over to thee?” He was enraged at this refusal and vowed vengeance. To safeguard and maintain the dignity of the Sangha the Buddha caused a proclamation to be made that Devadatta alone was responsible for anything done by him in the name of the Buddha, the Dhamma, or the Sangha.
Devadatta, therefore, conspired with King Ajātasattu to kill the Buddha. He advised Ajātasattu to kill his father and usurp the throne, while he himself decided to kill the Buddha and lead the Sangha.
Ungrateful Ajātasattu succeeded in killing his devout father, and Devadatta hired bowmen to murder the Buddha but, contrary to his expectations, all the hirelings became the Buddha’s followers. Foiled in his attempt, he himself resolved to kill the Buddha. When the Buddha was walking on the slopes of Gijjhakūa, he climbed the Peak and mercilessly hurled a rock at the Buddha. Fortunately it struck another piece of rock and a splinter slightly wounded the Buddha’s foot, causing the blood to flow. Jīvaka the physician attended him and cured him.
Devadatta made another unsuccessful attempt to kill the Buddha by dispatching the elephant Nālāgiri, after infuriating him with liquor, against the Teacher. When the ferocious elephant approached the Buddha the Venerable Ánanda stepped forward to sacrifice his life for the sake of his master, but the Buddha subdued the beast by his loving kindness (mettā).
By this last wicked act Devadatta became extremely unpopular, and public opinion was so much against him that the king was compelled to withdraw his patronage. Devadatta fell into disrepute and all his favours decreased.
He now decided to live by deceit. His fertile brain devised another seemingly peaceful plan.
This he did, knowing fully well that the Buddha would not assent thereto. He desired to make Buddha’s refusal a pretext for disparaging the Buddha, and thereby winning the support of the ignorant masses.
When this request was made the compassionate and tolerant Buddha declared that his disciples were free to adopt these rules or not, but he would not make them compulsory for all.
Devadatta made this refusal a cause for a schism in the order. He appealed to the bhikkhus, saying: “Brethren, whose words are the nobler, the words of the Tathāgata or the words which I myself have uttered? Whoever desires release from suffering, let him come with me.”
Newly ordained monks, who were not conversant with the Dhamma, apparently approved of his demands and went over to him. Accompanied by them, he went to Gayāsīsa. But Venerable Sāriputta and Moggallāna, on the advice of the Buddha, went there and succeeded in winning them back after explaining the Dhamma to them.
Thereafter evil days fell upon Devadatta. He fell grievously ill, and before his death he sincerely repented and desired to see the Buddha. But his bad kamma interfered and he had to die a miserable death without seeing the Buddha. However, he sought refuge in the Buddha at the last moment.
Although he suffers in a woeful state for his heinous crimes, yet as a result of the holy life he led during the early part of his career, it is stated that he would become a paccekabuddha named Atthissara in the distant future.
The original name of Anāthapiṇḍika, which means the “Feeder of the Helpless,” was Sudatta. Owing to his unparalleled generosity he was latterly known by his new name. His birthplace was Sāvatthī.
One day he visited his brother-in-law in Rājagaha to transact some business. His brother-in-law did not come forward as usual to welcome him but Sudatta found him in the back yard making preparations for a feast. On inquiry, to his indescribable joy, he understood that those arrangements were being made to entertain the Buddha on the following day. The utterance of the mere word “Buddha” roused his interest and he longed to see him. As he was told that the Buddha was living in the Sītavana forest in the neighbourhood and that he could see him on the following morning, he went to bed. However his desire to visit the Buddha was so intense that he had a sleepless night and he arose at an unusual hour in the morning to start out for the Sītavana. It appears that, owing to his great faith in the Buddha, a light emanated from his body. As he proceeded to the spot he passed through a cemetery. It was pitch-dark and a fear arose in him. He thought of turning back. Then Sīvaka, a Yakkha, himself invisible, encouraged him, saying:
“A hundred elephants and horses too,
Ay, and a hundred chariots drawn by mules,
A hundred thousand maidens, in their ears
Bejewelled rings: all are not worth
The sixteenth fraction of a single stride.
Advance, O citizen, go forward thou!
Advance for thee is better than retreat.” 147
Ultimately he reached Sītavana where the Buddha was pacing up and down in the open air anticipating his visit. The Buddha addressed him by his family name, Sudatta, and called him to his presence.
Anāthapiṇḍika was pleased to hear the Buddha address him thus and respectfully inquired whether the Buddha rested happily.
The Buddha replied:
“Surely at all times happily doth rest
The arahant in whom all fire’s extinct.
Who cleaves not to sensuous desires,
Cool all his being, rid of all the germs
That bring new life, all cumbrances cut out,
Subdued the pain and pining of the heart,
Calm and serene he rests happily
For in his mind he hath attained to peace.” 148
Hearing the Dhamma, he became a sotāpanna (stream-winner), and invited the Buddha to spend the rainy season at Sāvatthī. The Buddha accepted the invitation suggesting that Buddhas take pleasure in solitude. Anāthapiṇḍika, returning to Sāvatthī, bought the park belonging to Prince Jeta at a price determined by covering, so the story goes, the whole site with gold coins, and erected the famous Jetavana Monastery at a great cost. Here the Buddha spent nineteen rainy seasons. This monastery where the Buddha spent the major part of his life was the place where he delivered many of his sermons.
Several discourses which were of particular interest to laymen were delivered to Anāthapiṇḍika, although he refrained from asking any question of the Buddha, lest he should weary him.
Once the Buddha discoursing on generosity reminded Anāthapiṇḍika that alms given to the order of monks together with the Buddha is very meritorious; but more meritorious than such alms is the building of a monastery for the use of the order; more meritorious than such monasteries is seeking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha; more meritorious than seeking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha is the observance of the five precepts; more meritorious than such observance is meditation on loving kindness (mettā) for a moment; and most meritorious of all is the development of insight as to the fleeting nature of things (vipassanā). 149
It is evident from this discourse that generosity is the first stage on the way of Buddhist life. More important than generosity is the observance of at least the five rules of regulated behaviour which tend to the disciplining of words and deeds. Still more important and more beneficial is the cultivation of such ennobling virtues like loving kindness which lead to self-development. Most important and most beneficial of all self-discipline is the sincere effort to understand things as they truly are.
Commenting on the four kinds of bliss a layman may enjoy, the Buddha declared:
There are these four kinds of bliss to be won by the householder who enjoys the pleasures of sense from time to time and when occasion offers—the bliss of ownership (atthi-sukha), the bliss of wealth (bhoga-sukha), the bliss of debtlessness (anaṇa-sukha), and the bliss of blamelessness (anavajja-sukha).150
What is the bliss of ownership?
Herein a clansman has wealth acquired by energetic striving, amassed by strength of arm, won by sweat, lawful, and lawfully gotten. At the thought, wealth is mine, acquired by energetic striving, lawfully gotten, bliss comes to him, satisfaction comes to him. This is called the bliss of ownership.
What is the bliss of wealth?
Herein a clansman by means of wealth acquired by energetic striving, both enjoys his wealth and does meritorious deeds therewith. At the thought, by means of wealth acquired, I both enjoy my wealth and do meritorious deeds, bliss comes to him, satisfaction comes to him. This is called the bliss of wealth.
What is the bliss of debtlessness?
Herein a clansman owes no debt, great or small, to anyone. At the thought, I owe no debt, great or small, to anyone, bliss comes to him, satisfaction comes to him. This is called the bliss of debtlessness.
What is the bliss of blamelessness?
Herein the ariyan disciple is blessed with blameless action of body, blameless action of speech, blameless action of mind. At the thought, I am blessed with blameless action of body, speech and mind, bliss comes to him, satisfaction comes to him. This is called the bliss of blamelessness.
(The Buddha continued:)
“Winning the bliss of debtlessness a man
May then recall the bliss of really having.
When he enjoys the bliss of wealth, he sees
‘Tis such by wisdom. When he sees he knows.
Thus is he wise indeed in both respects.
But these have not one-sixteenth of the bliss
(That cometh to a man) of blamelessness.”
On another occasion when the Buddha visited the house of Anāthapiṇḍika, he heard an unusual uproar inside the house and inquired what it was.
“Lord, it is Sujātā, my daughter-in-law, who lives with us. She is rich and has been brought here from a wealthy family. She pays no heed to her mother-in-law, nor to her father-in-law, nor to her husband; neither does she venerate, honour, reverence nor respect the Exalted One,” replied Anāthapiṇḍika.
The Buddha called her to his presence and preached an illuminative discourse on seven kinds of wives that exist even in modern society as it was in the days of old.
“Whoso is wicked in mind, ill-disposed, pitiless, fond of other (men) neglecting husband, a prostitute, bent on harassing—such a one is called “a troublesome wife.”
Whoso wishes to squander whatever profits, though little, that the husband gains whether by crafts, trade, or plough—such a one is called “a thievish wife.”
Whoso is not inclined to do anything, lazy, gluttonous, harsh, cruel, fond of bad speech, lives domineering the industrious—such a one is called “a lordly wife.”
Whoso is ever kind and compassionate, protects her husband like a mother her son, guards the accumulated wealth of her husband—such a one is called “a motherly wife.”
Whoso is respectful towards her husband just as a younger sister towards her elder brother, modest, lives in accordance with her husband’s wishes—such a one is called “a sisterly wife.”
Whoso rejoices at the sight of her husband even as a friend on seeing a companion who has come after a long time, is of noble birth, virtuous and chaste—such a one is called “a friendly wife.”
Whoso, when threatened with harm and punishment, is not angry but calm, endures all things of her husband with no wicked heart, free from hatred, lives in accordance with her husband’s wishes—such a one is called “a handmaid wife.” 151
The Buddha describing the characteristics of the seven kinds of wives remarked that of them the troublesome wife (vadhaka-bhariyā), the thievish wife (cora-bhariyā), and the lordly wife (ayya-bhariyā), are bad and undesirable ones, while the motherly wife (mātu-bhariyā), sisterly wife (bhagini-bhariyā), friendly wife (sakhī-bhariyā), and handmaid wife (dāsi-bhariyā), are good and praiseworthy ones.
“These, Sujātā, are the seven kinds of wives a man may have: and which of them are you?”
“Lord, let the Exalted One think of me as a handmaid wife (dāsi-bhariyā) from this day forth.”
Anāthapiṇḍika used to visit the Buddha daily and, finding that people were disappointed in the absence of the Buddha, wished to know from the Venerable Ánanda whether there was a possibility for the devout followers to pay their respects when the Buddha was on his preaching tours. This matter was reported to the Buddha with the result that the Ánanda-bodhi tree,152 which stands to this day, was planted at the entrance to the monastery.
Puññalakkhaṇā, a very virtuous lady, was his wife. Mahā Subhaddā, Cūa Subhaddā, and Sumanā were his three devout daughters. The elder two had attained stream-entry (sotāpatti), while the youngest was a once-returner (sakadāgāī). His only son Kāla, who was at first irreligious, later became a stream-enterer (sotāpanna) by the skilfullness of the father.
Anāthapiṇḍika breathed his last after hearing a profound discourse from Venerable Sāriputta. 153 As he was about to die he sent a messenger to inform the Buddha that he was seriously ill, that he paid his homage to him and to request the Venerable Sāriputta to have compassion on him and visit him in his house. As invited, the Venerable Sāriputta, accompanied by Venerable Ánanda, proceeded to his house and inquired about his health. He replied that he was suffering from an acute pain and that he saw no signs of progress.
The Venerable Sāriputta then preached a profound discourse. Tears came to his eyes at the close of the sermon. Venerable Ánanda seeing him in tears asked him whether he was sinking. Anāthapiṇḍika answered: “Not at all, Venerable Sir. Though I have long attended on the Master and his disciples, never did I hear such a discourse.”
“Such profound discourses are not taught to the white-robed laymen as they cannot comprehend their meaning but are reserved for advanced disciples,” replied Venerable Sāriputta.
But Anāthapiṇḍika begged Venerable Sāriputta to expound such intricate Dhamma to the laity as well for there would be some who could understand.
At night Deva Anāthapiṇḍika, illuminating the whole Jeta Grove, came up to the Buddha, saluted him, and extolling the virtues of Venerable Sāriputta, expressed his pleasure on seeing the Buddha and his disciples residing in his monastery, and said:
“Goodwill and wisdom, mind by method trained,
The highest conduct on good morals based,
This maketh mortals pure, not rank nor wealth.” 154
Visākhā was the devout and generous daughter of millionaire Dhanañjaya. Her mother was Sumanā Devi, and her beloved grandfather was millionaire Meṇḍaka.
When she was only seven years old, the Buddha happened to visit her birth place, Bhaddiya, in the kingdom of Aṇga. Her grandfather, hearing of Buddha’s visit, said to her: “Dear girl, this is a happy day for you and a happy day for me. Summon the five hundred maidens who are your attendants, mount five hundred chariots, and accompanied by your five hundred slave-maidens, go forth to welcome the Buddha.”
Readily she agreed and, as advised, went up to the Buddha, saluted him and sat respectfully at one side. The Buddha was pleased with her refined manners and he preached the Dhamma to her and others. Though young in age, she was comparatively far advanced from a moral standpoint. As such, immediately after hearing the Dhamma, she attained the first stage of sainthood (sotāpatti) despite her early age.
Books state that even in the prime of her youth she possessed masculine strength and was gifted with all womanly charms. 155 Her hair was like a peacock’s tail and when loosened it reached the hem of her skirt and then the ends of the hair curled and turned upwards. Her lips were of a bright red colour and were smooth and soft to the touch. Her teeth were white and were evenly set without interstices and shone like a row of diamonds. Her skin, without the use of any cosmetic, was as smooth as a blue lotus-wreath and was of a golden colour. She retained her youthful appearance although she bore several children.
Endowed with these five kinds of feminine beauty—hair, flesh, bone, skin and youth—young Visākhā excelled both in worldly wisdom and spiritual insight.
When she was about fifteen or sixteen years old, on a certain festival day, she went on foot with her retinue in a holiday spirit to the river to bathe. Suddenly there arose an unexpected shower, and all but young Visākhā ungraciously ran as fast as they could and entered a hall where there were some brahmins who had come in search of a suitable maiden possessed of the five kinds of beauty for their young master. Cultured Visākhā, without any particular haste, gracefully proceeded at her usual gait and entered the hall with garments and ornaments all wet. The inquisitive brahmins criticised her for not quickening up her pace as others had done and thus escaping being drenched in the rain.
Talented Visākhā rose to the occasion and gave an extempore discourse on deportment according to her view. She said that she could have run even faster but she refrained from doing so purposely. Then she explained that it was not becoming for a King, adorned with all jewels, to gird up his loins and run in the palace-court. Likewise it is not becoming for a fully caparisoned state elephant to run; it should move about with the natural grace of an elephant. Monks also incur criticism when they run about like ordinary laymen. Likewise it is not a dignified spectacle to see a woman running about like a man.
Brahmins were pleased with her instructive talk and thought that she was an ideal wife for their master. Accordingly, arrangements were made to give her in marriage to their master, Puññavaddhana, himself the son of a millionaire named Migāra, who was not a follower of the Buddha.
Do not carry outside the indoor fire. 156
Their implied meaning is as follows:
Before sleep a wife should see that all doors are closed, furniture is safe, servants have performed their duties, and that parents-in-law have retired. As a rule a wife should rise early in the morning and, unless unwell, she should not sleep during the day.
On the day she arrived in Sāvatthī, the city of her husband, she was showered with various presents sent from people of all ranks according to their status and ability. But so kind and generous was she that she distributed them amongst the donors themselves with a kind message, and treated all the residents of the city as her own kinsfolk. By this noble gesture on the very first day she came to her husband’s home, she became endeared to all the people of the city.
There is an incident in her life which reveals her dutiful kindness even towards animals. Hearing that her well-bred mare gave birth to a foal in the middle of the night, immediately she repaired to the stable with her female attendants bearing torches in their hands, and attended to all the mare’s needs with the greatest care and attention.
As her father-in-law was a staunch follower of Nigaṇha Ñātaputta, he invited a large number of naked ascetics to his house for alms. On their arrival Visākhā was requested to come and render homage to these so-called arahants. She was delighted to hear the word arahant and hurried to the hall only to see naked ascetics devoid of all modesty. The sight was too unbearable for a refined lady like Visākhā. She reproached her father-in-law and retired to her quarters without entertaining them. The naked ascetics took offence and found fault with the millionaire for having brought a female follower of the Ascetic Gotama to his house. They asked him to expel her from the house immediately. The millionaire pacified them.
One day he sat on a costly seat and began to eat some sweet rice porridge from a golden bowl. At that moment a bhikkhu entered the house for alms. Visākhā was fanning her father-in-law and without informing him of his presence she moved aside so that he might see him. Although he saw him he continued eating as if he had not seen him.
Visākhā politely told the bhikkhu: “Pass on, Venerable Sir, my father-in-law is eating stale fare.”
The ignorant millionaire, misconstruing her words, was so provoked that he ordered the bowl to be removed and Visākhā to be expelled from the house.
Visākhā was the favourite of all the inmates of the house, and so nobody dared to touch her.
But Visākhā, disciplined as she was, would not accept without protest such treatment even from her father-in-law. She politely said: “Father, this is no sufficient reason why I should leave your house. I was not brought here by you like a slave girl from some ford. Daughters, whose parents are alive, do not leave like this. It is for this very reason that my father, when I set out to come here, summoned eight clansmen and entrusted me to them, saying: ‘If there be any fault in my daughter, investigate it.’ Send word to them and let them investigate my guilt or innocence.”
The millionaire agreed to her reasonable proposal and summoning them said: “At a time of festivity, while I was sitting and eating sweet milk rice-porridge from a golden bowl, this girl said that I was eating what was unclean. Convict her of this fault and expel her from the house.”
Visākhā proved her innocence stating—”That is not precisely what I said. When a certain bhikkhu was standing at the door for alms, my father-in-law was eating sweet milk rice-porridge, ignoring him. Thinking to myself that my father without performing any good deed in this life, is only consuming the merits of past deeds, I told the bhikkhu: ‘Pass on, Venerable Sir, my father-in-law is eating stale fare.’ What fault of mine is there in this?”
She was acquitted of the charge, and the father-in-law himself agreed she was not guilty.
But the spiteful millionaire charged her again for having gone behind the house with male and female attendants in the middle watch of the night.
When she explained that she actually did so in order to attend on a mare in travail, the clansmen remarked that their noble daughter had done an exemplary act, which even a slave-girl would not do. She was thus acquitted of the second charge too.
But the revengeful millionaire would not rest until she was found guilty. Next time he found fault with her for no wrong of hers. He said that before her departure from home her father gave her ten admonitions. For instance, he said to her: “The indoor fire is not to be taken out of doors. Is it really possible to live without giving fire even to our neighbours on both sides of us?” questioned the millionaire.
She availed herself of the opportunity to explain all the ten admonitions in detail to his entire satisfaction.
The millionaire was silenced and he had no other charges to make.
Having proved her innocence, self-respecting Visākhā now desired to leave the house as she was ordered to do so at first.
The millionaire’s attitude towards Visākhā was completely changed, and he was compelled to seek pardon from his daughter-in-law for what he had uttered through ignorance.
Forbearing Visākhā, in accordance with her true Buddhist spirit, granted him pardon on condition that he would give complete freedom to her to carry on her religious activities as she desired. Her father-in-law readily agreed to this and granted her full freedom to perform her religious activities.
Now Visākhā lost no time in inviting the Buddha to the house for alms. The Buddha came and had his meal. After the meal was over the Buddha expounded a sermon. The millionaire sat behind a curtain and listened to the sermon. At the end of the discourse he became sotāpanna and acknowledged his boundless gratitude to his daughter-in-law for having initiated him into the true path of deliverance and emotionally remarked that he would hereafter regard Visākhā as his mother.
Later on when she bore a son she called him Migāra.
On the following day the Buddha visited her house, and on that occasion her mother-in-law heard the Dhamma and became a sotāpanna (Stream-winner).
By her tact, wisdom, and patience she gradually succeeded in converting her husband’s household to a happy Buddhist home.
Daily Visākhā used to give alms to the Sangha at her own house. Both in the forenoon and afternoon she used to visit the monastery to minister to the needs of the Sangha and hear sermons from the Buddha. Suppiyā, another devout Buddhist lady, usually accompanied her during her visits.
To give robes to the Sangha during the rainy season as long as she lived.
To provide alms for the bhikkhus coming to Sāvatthī.
To provide alms for those going out of Sāvatthī.
To give food for sick bhikkhus.
To give food for those who attend on the sick.
To give medicine for the sick bhikkhus.
To give rice-gruel for bhikkhus.
To give bathing garments for nuns.
The Buddha granted these boons to her.
One day Visākhā happened to visit the monastery, decked in her best garment, presented to her by her father as a dowry. But as she thought it was unseemly to see the Buddha so gaily decked, she made a bundle of it, gave it to the slave-girl and went to the Buddha, dressed in another garment given to her by her father-in-law. After the sermon she left the monastery accompanied by the slave-girl who forgot to take the bundle which was placed in her custody. Venerable Ánanda saw it and, as instructed by the Buddha, kept it in a safe place to be returned to the owner. Visākhā, on hearing that the bundle was inadvertently left by the maid, asked her to bring it back unless Venerable Ánanda had touched it. When what had happened was reported to Visākhā, she went to the Buddha and expressed her desire to do something beneficial with the money that would be realised by selling the garment. The Buddha advised her to erect a monastery at the east gate for the use of the Sangha. As no one had the means to buy the costly garment, she herself bought it back and erected a monastery at a great cost and named it Pubbārāma. As invited by Visākhā, the Buddha and his disciples spent the Vassāna period in this new spacious monastery. Great was Visākhā’s joy when the Buddha spent six rainy seasons there.
Books state that the kind Visākhā, instead of chastising the slave-girl for her apparent negligence, transferred to her a share of the merit acquired by erecting the monastery, because the slave-girl had given the occasion for this good deed.
On various occasions several discourses were delivered to Visākhā by the Buddha. In one discourse the Buddha spoke on the observance of the eight precepts by laymen on uposatha days, 157 which observance prevails in almost all Buddhist countries in Asia up to this day.
Dealing with the eight qualities that make a woman seek birth in happy states, the Buddha said:
“Active, alert to cherish him always,
Not to that man who brings her every joy
She offers slight, nor will a good wife move
To wrath her husband by some spiteful word;
And she reveres all whom her lord doth honour
For she is wise. Deft, nimble, up betimes,
She minds his wealth amid his folk at work
And sweetly orders all. A wife like this,
Who with her husband’s wish and will complies
Is born again where lovely devas dwell. 158
In another discourse the Buddha referring to the eight qualities in a woman that tend to weal and happiness in this world and in the next spoke as follows:
“Herein, Visākhā, a woman is capable at her work, she manages the servants, in her ways she is lovely to her lord, she guards his wealth.
“Herein, Visākhā, a woman is accomplished in trustful confidence (saddhā), virtue (sīla), charity (cāga) and wisdom (paññā).” 159
Being a lady of many parts, she played an important role in various activities connected with the sāsana. 160 At times she was deputed by the Buddha to settle disputes that arose amongst bhikkhuṇīs. Some Vinaya rules were also laid down for bhikkhus owing to her intervention.
Owing to her magnanimity she was regarded as the chief benefactress of the sāsana and the greatest female supporter of the Buddha.
By her dignified conduct, graceful deportment, refined manners, courteous speech, obedience and reverence to elders, compassion to those who were less fortunate, kind hospitality, and religious zeal, she won the hearts of all who knew her.
Books state that she had the good fortune to be the happy mother of ten fortunate sons and ten fortunate daughters. She died at the ripe age of one hundred and twenty.
Jīvaka the Fosterling 161
Jīvaka was the celebrated physician of the Buddha.
Immediately after his birth he was placed in a casket and was cast away by his mother, a courtesan, on a dust heap by the road side.
Prince Abhaya, a son of King Bimbisāra, who happened to pass that way, saw the helpless infant surrounded by crows, and discovering that he was alive, caused him to be given to the care of the nurses.
As he was found alive he was named Jīvaka. Being adopted by a prince, he was called Komārabhacca.
Growing up, he became a skilful physician and surgeon. Books state that he made two successful operations on a millionaire who was suffering from a severe headache.
He used to attend on the Buddha three times a day.
When the Buddha’s foot was wounded by a splinter caused by the hurling of a rock by Devadatta, it was Jīvaka who attended on him and healed him. 162
Realising the manifold advantages of having a monastery close to his residence, he erected one in his mango park. After the consecration ceremony of this monastery, he became a stream-winner (sotāpanna).
Jīvaka Sutta, 163 which deals with the question of eating flesh, was delivered by the Buddha to Jīvaka.
It was Jīvaka who induced King Ajātasattu to visit the Buddha after his parricide.
At his request the Buddha enjoined upon his disciples to take physical exercise such as sweeping etc.