The Life & Teaching of the Buddha (Part 1)
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The ages roll by and the Buddha seems not so far away after all; his voice whispers in our ears and tells us not to run away from the struggle but, calm-eyed, to face it, and to see in life ever greater opportunities for growth and advancement. Personality counts today as ever, and a person who has impressed himself on the thought of mankind as the Buddha has, so that even today there is something living and vibrant about the thought of him, he must have been a wonderful man, a man who was, as Barth says, ‘the finished model of calm and sweet majesty, of infinite tenderness for all that breathes and compassion for all that suffers, of perfect moral freedom and exemption from every prejudice. "His message old and yet very new and original for those immersed in metaphysical subtleties, captured the imagination of the intellectuals; it went deep down into the hearts of the people.

Buddhism had its birth at Sarnath near the city of Vârânasi (Benares), India. With only five followers at the beginning, it penetrated into many lands, and is today the religion of more than 600 million. Buddhism made such rapid strides chiefly due to its intrinsic worth and its appeal to the reasoning mind. But there were other factors that aided its progress: never did the dhammadûtas, the messengers of the Dhamma, the teaching, use any iniquitous methods in spreading the Dhamma. The only weapon they wielded was that of universal love and compassion.

Furthermore, Buddhism penetrated to these countries peaceably, without disturbing the creeds that were already there. Buddhist missions, to which the annals of religious history scarcely afford a parallel, were carried on neither by force of arms nor by the use of any coercive or reprehensible methods. Conversion by compulsion was unknown among the Buddhists, and repugnant to the Buddha and his disciples. No decrying of other creeds has ever existed in Buddhism. Buddhism was thus able to diffuse itself through a great variety of cultures throughout the civilized world.

"There is no record known to me," wrote T.W. Rhys Davids, "in the whole of the long history of Buddhism throughout the many centuries where its followers have been for such lengthened periods supreme, of any persecution by the Buddhists of the followers of any other faith."

The Birth

The Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, lived over 2500 years ago and is known as Siddhartha Gotama. His father, Suddhodana, the kshatriya king, ruled over the land of the Sâkyans at Kapilavatthu on the Nepalese frontier. As he came from the Gotama family, he was known as Suddhodana Gotama. Mahâmâyâ, princess of the Koliyas, was Suddhodana’s queen.

In 623 B.C. on a full-moon day of May,Vasanta-tide, when in India the trees were laden with leaf, flower, and fruit, and man, bird, and beast were in joyous mood, Queen Mahâmâyâ was travelling in state from Kapilavatthu to Devadaha, her parental home, according to the custom of the times, to give birth to her child. But that was not to be, for halfway between the two cities, in the beautiful Lumbini Grove, under the shade of a flowering Sal tree, she brought forth a son.

Lumbini, or Rummindei, the name by which it is now known, is one hundred miles north of Vârânasi and within sight of the snowcapped Himalayas. At this memorable spot where Prince Siddhartha, the future Buddha, was born, Emperor Asoka, 316 years after the event, erected a mighty stone pillar to mark the holy spot. The inscription engraved on the pillar in five lines consists of ninety-three Asokan characters, among which occurs the following: "hida budhe jâte sâkyamuni. Here was born the Buddha, the sage of the Sâkyans."

The mighty column is still to be seen. The pillar, as crisp as the day it was cut, had been struck by lightning even when Hiuen Tsiang, the Chinese pilgrim, saw it towards the middle of the seventh century A.C. The discovery and identification of Lumbini Park in 1896 is attributed to the renowned archaeologist, General Cunningham.

On the fifth day after the birth of the prince, the king summoned eight wise men to choose a name for the child and to speak of the royal babe’s future. He was named Siddhârtha, which means one whose purpose has been achieved. The brahmins deliberated and seven of them held up two fingers each and declared: "O King, this prince will become a cakravarti, a universal monarch, should he deign to rule, but should he renounce the world, he will become a sammâ-sambuddha, a Supremely Enlightened One, and deliver humanity from ignorance." But Kondañña, the wisest and the youngest, after watching the prince, held up only one finger and said: "O King, this prince will one day go in search of truth and become a Supremely Enlightened Buddha."

Queen Mahâmâyâ, the mother, passed away on the seventh day after the birth of her child, and the babe was nursed by his mother’s sister, Pajâpati Gotami. Though the child was nurtured till manhood in refinement amid an abundance of material luxury, the father did not fail to give his son the education that a prince ought to receive. He became skilled in many branches of knowledge, and in the arts of war easily excelled all others. Nevertheless, from his childhood the prince was given to serious contemplation.

The Four Significant Visions

When the prince grew up, the father’s fervent wish was that his son should marry, bring up a family, and be his worthy successor; for he often recalled to mind with dread the prediction of the sage Kondañña, and feared that the prince would one day give up home for the homeless life of an ascetic. According to the custom of the time, at the early age of sixteen the prince was married to his cousin, the beautiful Princess Yasodharâ, the only daughter of King Suppabuddha and Queen Pamitâ of the Koliyas. The princess was of the same age as the prince.

His father provided him with the greatest comforts. He had, so the story tells, three palaces, one for each of the Indian year’s three seasons. Lacking nothing of the earthly joys of life, he lived amid song and dance, in luxury and pleasure, knowing nothing of sorrow. Yet all the efforts of the father to hold his son a prisoner to the senses and make him worldly-minded were of no avail. King Suddhodana’s endeavours to keep away life’s miseries from his son’s inquiring eyes only heightened Prince Siddhârtha’s curiosity and his resolute search for truth and Enlightenment. With the advance of age and maturity, the prince began to glimpse the woes of the world.

On one occasion, when the prince went driving with his charioteer Channa to the royal gardens, he saw to his amazement what his eyes had never beheld before: a man weakened with age, and in the last stage of ageing, crying out in a mournful voice:

"Help master! lift me to my feet; oh, help!
Or I shall die before I reach my house!"

This was the first shock the prince received. The second was the sight of a man, mere skin and bones, supremely unhappy and forlorn, "smitten with some pest. The strength is gone from ham, and loin, and neck, and all the grace and joy of manhood fled." On a third occasion he saw a band of lamenting kinsmen bearing on their shoulders the corpse of one beloved for cremation. These woeful signs, seen for the first time in his life, deeply moved him. From the charioteer he learned that even he, his beloved Princess Yasodharâ, and his kith and kin,all, without exception, are subject to ageing, disease, and death.

Soon after this the prince saw a recluse moving with measured steps and down-cast eyes, calm and serene, aloof and independent. He was struck by the serene countenance of the man. He learned from Channa that this recluse was one who had abandoned his home to live a life of purity, to seek truth and answer the riddle of life. Thoughts of renunciation flashed through the prince’s mind and in deep contemplation he turned homeward. The heart throb of an agonized and ailing humanity found a responsive echo in his own heart. The more he came in contact with the world outside his palace walls, the more convinced he became that the world was lacking in true happiness. But before reaching the palace he was met by a messenger with the news that a son had been born to Yasodharâ. "A fetter is set upon me," uttered the prince and returned to the palace.

The Great Renunciation

In the silence of that moonlit night (it was the full-moon day of July, Âsâlha) such thoughts as these arose in him: "Youth, the prime of life, ends in old age and man’s senses fail him at a time when they are most needed. The hale and hearty lose their vigour and health when disease suddenly creeps in. Finally death comes, sudden perhaps and unexpected, and puts an end to this brief span of life. Surely there must be an escape from this unsatisfactoriness, from ageing and death."

Thus the great intoxication of youth (yobbana-mada), of health (ârogya-mada), and of life (jivita-mada) left him. Having seen the vanity and the danger of the three intoxications, he was overcome by a powerful urge to seek and win the Deathless, to strive for deliverance from old age, illness, misery, and death not only for himself but for all beings (including his wife and child) that suffer. It was his deep compassion that led him to the quest ending in enlightenment, in Buddhahood. It was compassion that now moved his heart towards the great renunciation and opened for him the doors of the golden cage of his home life. It was compassion that made his determination unshakeable even by the last parting glance at his beloved wife asleep with the baby in her arms.

Thus at the age of twenty-nine, in the flower of youthful manhood, on the day his beautiful Yasodharâ had given birth to his only son, Râhula, Prince Siddhârtha Gotama, discarding and disdaining the enchantment of the royal life, scorning and spurning joys that most young men yearn for, tore himself away, renouncing wife and child and a crown that held the promise of power and glory.

He cut off his long locks with his sword, doffed his royal robes, and putting on a hermit’s robe retreated into forest solitude to seek a solution to those problems of life that had so deeply stirred his mind. He sought an answer to the riddle of life, seeking not a palliative, but a true way out of suffering,to perfect enlightenment and Nibbâna. His quest for the supreme security from bondage, Nibbâna (Nirvâna), had begun. This was the great renunciation, the greatest adventure known to humanity.

First he sought guidance from two famous sages, from Alâra Kâlâma and Uddaka Râmaputta, hoping that they, being masters of meditation, would teach him all they knew, leading him to the heights of concentrative thought. He practised concentration and reached the highest meditative attainments possible thereby, but was not satisfied with anything short of Supreme Enlightenment. These teachers’ range of knowledge, their ambit of mystical experience, however, was insufficient to grant him what he so earnestly sought, and he saw himself still far from his goal. Though both sages, in turn, asked him to stay and succeed them as the teacher of their following, the ascetic Gotama declined. Paying obeisance to them, he left them in search of the still unknown.

In his wanderings he finally reached Uruvelâ, by the river Nerañjarâ at Gayâ. He was attracted by its quiet and dense groves, and the clear waters of the river were soothing to his senses and stimulating to his mind. Nearby was a village of simple folk where he could get his alms. Finding that this was a suitable place to continue his quest for enlightenment, he decided to stay. Soon five other ascetics who admired his determined effort joined him. They were Kondañña, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahânâma, and Assaji.


There was, and still is, a belief in India among many of her ascetics that purification and final deliverance can be achieved by rigorous self-mortification, and the ascetic Gotama decided to test the truth of it. And so there at Uruvelâ he began a determined struggle to subdue his body in the hope that his mind, set free from the shackles of the body, might be able to soar to the heights of liberation. Most zealous was he in these practices. He lived on leaves and roots, on a steadily reduced pittance of food; he wore rags from dust heaps; he slept among corpses or on beds of thorns. The utter paucity of nourishment left him a physical wreck. Says the Master: "Rigorous have I been in my ascetic discipline. Rigorous have I been beyond all others. Like wasted, withered reeds became all my limbs...." In such words as these, in later years, having attained to full enlightenment, did the Buddha give his disciples an awe-inspiring description of his early penances.

Struggling thus for six long years, he came to death’s very door, but he found himself no nearer to his goal. The utter futility of self-mortification became abundantly clear to him by his own experience. He realized that the path to the fruition of his ardent longing lay in the direction of a search inward into his own mind. Undiscouraged, his still active mind searched for new paths to the aspired for goal. He felt, however, that with a body so utterly weakened as his, he could not follow that path with any chance of success. Thus he abandoned self-torture and extreme fasting and took normal food.

His emaciated body recovered its former health and his exhausted vigour soon returned. Now his five companions left him in their disappointment, for they thought that he had given up the effort and had resumed a life of abundance. Nevertheless, with firm determination and complete faith in his own purity and strength, unaided by any teacher, accompanied by none, the Bodhisatta resolved to make his final effort in complete solitude.

On the forenoon of the day before his enlightenment while the Bodhisatta was seated in meditation under a banyan tree, Sujâtâ, the daughter of a rich householder, not knowing whether the ascetic was divine or human, offered milk-rice to him saying: "Lord, may your aspirations be crowned with success!" This was his last meal prior to his enlightenment.

The Final Triumph

Crosslegged he sat under a tree, which later became known as the Bodhi Tree, the "Tree of Enlightenment" or "Tree of Wisdom," on the bank of the river Nerañjarâ, at Gayâ (now known as Buddhagayâ), making the final effort with the inflexible resolution: "Though only my skin, sinews, and bones remain, and my blood and flesh dry up and wither away, yet will I never stir from this seat until I have attained full enlightenment (sammâ-sambodhi)." So indefatigable in effort, so unflagging in his devotion was he, and so resolute to realize truth and attain full enlightenment.

Applying himself to the "mindfulness of in-and-out breathing" (ânâpâna sati), the Bodhisatta entered upon and dwelt in the first meditative absorption (jhâna; Skt. dhyâna). By gradual stages he entered upon and dwelt in the second, third, and fourth jhânas. Thus cleansing his mind of impurities, with the mind thus composed, he directed it to the knowledge of recollecting past births (pubbenivâsânussati-ñâˆa). This was the first knowledge attained by him in the first watch of the night. Then the Bodhisatta directed his mind to the knowledge of the disappearing and reappearing of beings of varied forms, in good states of experience, and in states of woe, each faring according to his deeds (cutûpapâtañâna). This was the second knowledge attained by him in the middle watch of the night. Next he directed his mind to the knowledge of the eradication of the taints (âsavakkhayañâna).

He understood as it really is: "This is suffering (dukkha), this is the arising of suffering, this is the cessation of suffering, this is the path leading to the cessation of suffering." He understood as it really is: "These are defilements (âsavas), this is the arising of defilements, this is the cessation of defilements, this is the path leading to the cessation of defilements."

Knowing thus, seeing thus, his mind was liberated from the defilements of sense pleasures (kâmâsava), of becoming (bhavâsava), and of ignorance (avijjâsava). When his mind was thus liberated, there came the knowledge, "liberated" and he understood: "Destroyed is birth, the noble life (brahmacariya) has been lived, done is what was to be done, there is no more of this to come" (meaning, there is no more continuity of the mind and body, no more becoming, rebirth). This was the third knowledge attained by him in the last watch of the night. This is known as tevijjâ (Skt. trividyâ), threefold knowledge.

Thereupon he spoke these words of victory:
"Seeking but not finding the house builder,
I hurried through the round of many births:
Painful is birth ever and again.
O house builder, you have been seen;
You shall not build the house again.
Your rafters have been broken up,
Your ridgepole is demolished too.
My mind has now attained the unformed Nibbâna
And reached the end of every sort of craving."

Thus the Bodhisatta Gotama at the age of thirty-five, on another full moon of May (vesâkha, vesak), attained Supreme Enlightenment by comprehending in all their fullness the Four Noble Truths, the Eternal Verities, and he became the Buddha, the Great Healer and Consummate Master-Physician who can cure the ills of beings. This is the greatest unshakeable victory.

The Four Noble Truths are the priceless message that the Buddha gave to suffering humanity for their guidance, to help them to be rid of the bondage of dukkha, and to attain the absolute happiness, that absolute reality, Nibbâna.

These truths are not his creation. He only re-discovered their existence. We thus have in the Buddha one who deserves our respect and reverence not only as a teacher but also as model of the noble, self-sacrificing, and meditative life we would do well to follow if we wish to improve ourselves.

One of the noteworthy characteristics that distinguishes the Buddha from all other religious teachers is that he was a human being having no connection whatsoever with a God or any other "supernatural" being. He was neither God nor an incarnation of God, nor a prophet, nor any mythological figure. He was a man, but an extraordinary man (acchariya manussa), a unique being, a man par excellence (purisuttama). All his achievements are attributed to his human effort and his human understanding. Through personal experience he understood the supremacy of man.

Depending on his own unremitting energy, unaided by any teacher, human or divine, he achieved the highest mental and intellectual attainments, reached the acme of purity, and was perfect in the best qualities of human nature. He was an embodiment of compassion and wisdom, which became the two guiding principles in his Dispensation (sâsana).

The Buddha never claimed to be a saviour who tried to save "souls" by means of a revealed religion. Through his own perseverance and understanding he proved that infinite potentialities are latent in man and that it must be man’s endeavour to develop and unfold these possibilities. He proved by his own experience that deliverance and enlightenment lie fully within man’s range of effort.

"Religion of the highest and fullest character can coexist with a complete absence of belief in revelation in any straightforward sense of the word, and in that kernel of revealed religion, a personal God. Under the term personal God I include all ideas of a so-called superpersonal god, of the same spiritual and mental nature as a personality but on a higher level, or indeed any supernatural spiritual existence or force." (Julian Huxley, Religion Without Revelation, pp. 2 and 7.)

Each individual should make the appropriate effort and break the shackles that have kept him in bondage, winning freedom from the bonds of existence by perseverance, self-exertion, and insight. It was the Buddha who for the first time in the world’s history taught that deliverance could be attained independently of an external agency, that deliverance from suffering must be wrought and fashioned by each one for himself upon the anvil of his own actions.

None can grant deliverance to another who merely begs for it. Others may lend us a helping hand by guidance and instruction and in other ways, but the highest freedom is attained only through self-realization and self-awakening to truth and not through prayers and petitions to a Supreme Being, human or divine. The Buddha warns his disciples against shifting the burden to an external agency, directs them to the ways of discrimination and research, and urges them to get busy with the real task of developing their inner forces and qualities.


There are some who take delight in making the Buddha a non-human. They quote a passage from the Anguttara Nikâya (II, 37), mistranslate it, and misunderstand it. The story goes thus:

Once the Buddha was seated under a tree in the meditation posture, his senses calmed, his mind quiet, and attained to supreme control and serenity. Then a Brahmin, Dona by name, approached the Buddha and asked:

"Sir, will you be a god, a deva?"
"No, brahmin."
"Sir, will you be a heavenly angel, a gandhabba?"
"No, brahmin."
"Sir, will you be a demon, a yakkha?"
"No, brahmin."
"Sir, will you be a human being, a manussa?"
"No, brahmin."
"Then, sir, what indeed will you be?"

Now understand the Buddha’s reply carefully:

"Brahmin, whatever defilements (âsavas) there be owing to the presence of which a person may be identified as a god or a heavenly angel or a demon or a human being, all these defilements in me are abandoned, cut off at the root, made like a palm-tree stump, done away with, and are no more subject to future arising.

"Just as, brahmin, a blue or red or white lotus born in water, grows in water and stands up above the water untouched by it, so too I, who was born in the world and grew up in the world, have transcended the world, and I live untouched by the world. Remember me as one who is enlightened (Buddhoti mam dhârehi brâhmana)."

What the Buddha said was that he was not a god or a heavenly angel or a demon or a human being full of defilements. From the above it is clear that the Buddha wanted the brahmin to know that he was not a human being with defilements. He did not want the brahmin to put him into any of those categories. The Buddha was in the world but not of the world. This is clear from the simile of the lotus. Hasty critics, however, rush to a wrong conclusion and want others to believe that the Buddha was not a human being.

In the Anguttara Nikâya (I, 22), there is a clear instance in which the Buddha categorically declared that he was a human being:

"Monks, there is one person (puggala) whose birth into this world is for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the gain and welfare and happiness of gods (devas) and humanity. Who is this one person (eka puggala)? It is the Tathâgata, who is a Consummate One (arahat), a Supremely Enlightened One (sammâ-sambuddho)....Monks, one person born into the world is an extraordinary man, a marvellous man (acchariya manussa)."

Note the Påli word manussa, a human being. Yes, the Buddha was a human being but not just another man. He was a marvellous man.

The Buddhist texts say that the Bodhisatta (as he is known before he became the Buddha) was in the Tusita heaven (devaloka) but came down to the human world to be born as a human being (manussatta). His parents, King Suddhodana and Queen Mahâmâyâ, were human beings.

The Bodhisatta was born as a man, attained enlightenment (Buddhahood) as a man, and finally passed away into parinibbâna as a man. Even after his Supreme Enlightenment he did not call himself a God or Brahmâ or any "supernatural being," but an extraordinary man.

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, a Hindu steeped in the tenets of the Vedas and Vedanta, says that Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism, and even goes to the extent of calling the Buddha a Hindu. He writes:

"The Buddha did not feel that he was announcing a new religion. He was born, grew up, and died a Hindu. He was restating with a new emphasis the ancient ideals of the Indo-Aryan civilization."

But the Buddha himself declares that his teaching was a revelation of truths discovered by himself, not known to his contemporaries, not inherited from past tradition. Thus, in his very first sermon, referring to the Four Noble Truths, he says: "Monks, with the thought ‘This is the noble truth of suffering, this is its cause, this is its cessation, this is the way leading to its cessation,’ there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, insight, and light concerning things unheard of before (pubbesu ananussutesu dhammesu)."

Again, while making clear to his disciples the difference between a Fully Enlightened One and the arahats, the consummate ones, the Buddha says: "The Tathâgata, O disciples, while being an arahat is fully enlightened. It is he who proclaims a way not proclaimed before, he is the knower of a way, who understands a way, who is skilled in a way (maggaññu, maggavidu, maggakovido). And now his disciples are wayfarers who follow in his footsteps."

The ancient way the Buddha refers to is the Noble Eightfold Path and not any ideals of the Indo-Aryan civilization as Dr. Radhakrishnan imagines.

However, referring to the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, the architect of Indian independence, says: "By his immense sacrifice, by his great renunciation and by the immaculate purity of his life, he left an indelible impress upon Hinduism, and Hinduism owes an eternal debt of gratitude to that great teacher." (Mahâdev Desai, With Gandhiji in Ceylon, Madras, 1928, p.26.)

Dependent Arising

For a week, immediately after the enlightenment, the Buddha sat at the foot of the Bodhi Tree, experiencing the supreme bliss of emancipation. At the end of the seven days he emerged from that concentration (samâdhi) and in the first watch of the night thought over the dependent arising (paticca-samuppâda) as to how things arise (anuloma) thus:

"When this is, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises; namely: dependent on ignorance, volitional or kamma formations; dependent on volitional formations, (rebirth or rebecoming) consciousness; dependent on consciousness, mentality-materiality (mental and physical combination); dependent on mentality-materiality, the sixfold base (the five physical sense organs with consciousness as the sixth); dependent on the sixfold base, contact; dependent on contact, feeling; dependent on feeling, craving; dependent on craving, clinging; dependent on clinging, the process of becoming; dependent on the process of becoming, there comes to be birth; dependent on birth arise ageing and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. Thus does this whole mass of suffering arise."

In the second watch of the night, the Buddha thought over the dependent arising as to how things cease (patiloma) thus: "When this is not, that does not come to be; with the cessation of this, that ceases; namely: with the utter cessation of ignorance, the cessation of volitional formations; with the cessation of formations, the cessation of consciousness....(and so on). Thus does this whole mass of suffering cease."

In the third watch of the night, the Buddha thought over the dependent arising both as to how things arise and cease thus:

"When this is, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises; when this is not, that does not come to be; with the cessation of this, that ceases; namely: dependent on ignorance, volitional formations....(and so on). Thus does this whole mass of suffering arise. With the utter cessation of ignorance, the cessation of volitional formations....(and so on). Thus does this whole mass of suffering cease."

The Buddha now spent six more weeks in lonely retreat at six different spots in the vicinity of the Bodhi Tree. At the end of this period two merchants, Tapassu and Bhallika, who were passing that way, offered rice cake and honey to the Master, and said: "We go for refuge to the Buddha and to the Dhamma. Let the Blessed One receive us as his followers." They became his first lay followers (upâsakas).

The First Sermon

Now while the Blessed One dwelt in solitude this thought occurred to him: "The Dhamma I have realized is deep, hard to see, hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, beyond mere reasoning, subtle, and intelligible to the wise. But this generation delights, revels, and rejoices in sensual pleasures. It is hard for such a generation to see this conditionality, this dependent arising. Hard too is it to see this calming of all conditioned things, the giving up of all substance of becoming, the extinction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbâna. And if I were to teach the Dhamma and others were not to understand me, that would be a weariness, a vexation for me."

Pondering thus he was first reluctant to teach the Dhamma, but on surveying the world with his mental eye, he saw beings with little dust in their eyes and with much dust in their eyes, with keen faculties and dull faculties, with good qualities and bad qualities, easy to teach and hard to teach, some who are alive to the perils hereafter of present wrongdoings, and some who are not. The Master then declared his readiness to proclaim the Dhamma in this solemn utterance:

"Apârutâ tesam amatassa dvârâ
Ye sotavanto pamuñcantu saddham."

"Open are the doors of the Deathless.
Let those that have ears repose trust."

When considering to whom he should teach the Dhamma first, he thought of Âlâra Kâlâma and Uddaka Râmaputta, his teachers of old; for he knew that they were wise and discerning. But that was not to be; they had passed away. Then the Blessed One made up his mind to make known the truth to those five ascetics, his former friends, still steeped in the fruitless rigours of extreme asceticism. Knowing that they were living at Benares in the Deer Park at Isipatana, the Resort of Seers (modern Sarnath), the Blessed One left Gayâ for distant Benares, walking by stages some 150 miles. On the way not far from Gayâ the Buddha was met by Upaka, an ascetic who, struck by the serene appearance of the Master, inquired: "Who is your teacher? Whose teaching do you profess?"

The Buddha replied: "I have no teacher, one like me does not exist in all the world, for I am the Peerless Teacher, the Arahat. I alone am Supremely Enlightened. Quenching all defilements, Nibbâna’s calm have I attained. I go to the city of Kâsi (Benares) to set in motion the Wheel of Dhamma. In a world where blindness reigns, I shall beat the Deathless Drum."

"Friend, you then claim you are a universal victor," said Upaka. The Buddha replied: "Those who have attained the cessation of defilements, they are, indeed, victors like me. All evil have I vanquished. Hence I am a victor."

Upaka shook his head, remarking sarcastically, "It may be so, friend," and took a bypath. The Buddha continued his journey, and in gradual stages reached the Deer Park at Isipatana. The five ascetics, seeing the Buddha from afar, discussed among themselves: "Friends, here comes the ascetic Gotama who gave up the struggle and turned to a life of abundance and luxury. Let us make no kind of salutation to him." But when the Buddha approached them, they were struck by his dignified presence and they failed in their resolve. One went to meet him and took his almsbowl and robe, another prepared a seat, still another brought him water. The Buddha sat on the seat prepared for him, and the five ascetics then addressed him by name and greeted him as an equal, saying, "âvuso" (friend).

The Buddha said, "Address not the Tathâgata (Perfect One) by the word ‘âvuso.’ The Tathâgata, monks, is a Consummate One (Arahat), a Supremely Enlightened One. Give ear, monks, the Deathless has been attained. I shall instruct you, I shall teach you the Dhamma; following my teaching you will know and realize for yourselves even in this lifetime that supreme goal of purity for the sake of which clansmen retire from home to follow the homeless life." Thereupon the five monks said: "Friend Gotama, even with the stern austerities, penances, and self-torture you practised, you failed to attain the superhuman vision and insight. Now that you are living a life of luxury and self-indulgence, and have given up the struggle, how could you have reached superhuman vision and insight?"

Then replied the Buddha: "The Tathâgata has not ceased from effort and reverted to a life of luxury and abundance. The Tathâgata is a Supremely Enlightened One. Give ear, monks, the Deathless has been attained. I shall instruct you. I shall teach you the Dhamma."

A second time the monks said the same thing to the Buddha who gave the same answer a second time. A third time they repeated the same question. In spite of the assurance given by the Master, they did not change their attitude. Then the Buddha spoke to them thus: "Confess, O monks, did I ever speak to you in this way before?" Touched by this appeal of the Blessed One, the five ascetics submitted and said: "No, indeed, Lord." Thus did the Supreme Sage, the Tamed One, tame the hearts of the five ascetics with patience and kindness, with wisdom and skill. Overcome and convinced by his utterances, the monks indicated their readiness to listen to him.

The Middle Path

Now on a full moon day of July, 589 years before Christ, in the evening, at the moment the sun was setting and the full moon simultaneously rising, in the shady Deer Park at Isipatana, the Buddha addressed them:

"Monks, these two extremes ought not to be cultivated by the recluse. What two? Sensual indulgence which is low, vulgar, worldly, ignoble, and conducive to harm; and self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and conducive to harm. The middle path, monks, understood by the Tathâgata, avoiding the extremes, gives vision and knowledge and leads to calm, realization, enlightenment, and Nibbâna. And what, monks, is that middle path? It is this Noble Eightfold Path, namely: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."

Then the Buddha explained to them the Four Noble Truths: the noble truth of suffering, the noble truth of the arising of suffering, the noble truth of the cessation of suffering, and the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering.

Thus did the Supreme Buddha proclaim the truth and set in motion the Wheel of the Dhamma (dhamma-cakka-pavattana). This first discourse, this message of the Deer Park, is the core of the Buddha’s Teaching. As the footprint of every creature that walks the earth could be included in the elephant’s footprint, which is pre-eminent for size, so does the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths embrace the entire teaching of the Buddha.

Explaining each of the Four Noble Truths, the Master said: "Such, monks, was the vision, the knowledge, the wisdom, the insight, the light that arose in me, that I gained about things not heard before. As long as, monks, my intuitive knowledge, my vision in regard to these Four Noble Truths was not absolutely clear to me, I did not claim that I had gained the incomparable Supreme Enlightenment. But when, monks, my intuitive knowledge, my vision, in regard to these Four Noble Truths was absolutely clear to me, then only did I claim that I had gained the incomparable Supreme Enlightenment. And there arose in me insight and vision: unshakeable is the deliverance of my mind (akuppâ me cetovimutti), this is my last birth, there is no more becoming (rebirth)."Thus spoke the Buddha, and the five monks, glad at heart, applauded the words of the Blessed One.

The Sinsapa Grove

The supremacy of the Four Noble Truths in the teaching of the Buddha is abundantly clear from the message of the Sinsapa Grove as from the message of the Deer Park.

Once the Blessed One was living at Kosambi (near Allahabad) in the Sinsapa Grove. Then, gathering a few sinsapa leaves in his hand, the Blessed One addressed the monks:

"What do you think, monks, which is greater in quantity, the handful of sinsapa leaves gathered by me or what is in the forest overhead?"

"Not many, trifling, venerable sir, are the leaves in the handful gathered by the Blessed One; many are the leaves in the forest overhead."

"Even so, monks, many are those things I have fully realized but not declared to you; few are the things I have declared to you. And why, monks, have I not declared them? They, monks, are not useful, are not essential to the life of purity, they do not lead to disgust, to dispassion, to cessation, to tranquillity, to full understanding, to full enlightenment, to Nibbâna. That is why, monks, they are not declared by me.

"And what is it, monks, that I have declared? This is suffering,this have I declared. This is the arising of suffering,this have I declared.This is the cessation of suffering,this have I declared. This is the path leading to the cessation of suffering,this have I declared.

"And why, monks, have I declared these truths?

"They are, indeed, useful, are essential to the life of purity, they lead to disgust, to dispassion, to cessation, to tranquillity, to full understanding, to enlightenment, to Nibbâna. That is why, monks, they are declared by me. Therefore, monks, an effort should be made to realize: ‘This is suffering, this is the arising of suffering, this is the cessation of suffering, this is the way leading to the cessation of suffering."

The Buddha has emphatically said: "One thing do I make known: suffering, and the cessation of suffering" (dukkham ceva paññapemi, dukkhassa ca nirodham). To understand this unequivocal saying is to understand Buddhism; for the entire teaching of the Buddha is nothing else than the application of this one principle. What can be called the discovery of a Buddha is just these Four Noble Truths. This is the typical teaching of the Buddhas of all ages.

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 March 2012 20:50
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