Life of the Buddha Pre-Enlighte

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					Life of the Buddha : Pre-Enlightenment

This essay covers several crucial moments in the Buddha’s biography : his
birth, his renunciation of normal domestic life, and his journey of spiritual
striving up to the eve of his enlightenment. A future piece will cover his
enlightenment, his teaching career and his death; the incidents which were
of great importance in his life.

The Buddha lived in a time of great social change where there was the rise
of the new merchant class which was urban in nature and powerful,
thrusting and determined to take its destiny into it’s own hands. The plain
around the river Ganges in North India was undergoing this great economic
transformation during the Buddha’s lifetime, which basically saw the
essentially rural society, established long ago, being replaced by the new
iron age technologies which enabled farmers to clear dense forests and
therefore open up new lands for cultivation. Settlers soon poured into this
region which soon became densely populated and highly productive

It was this area which became the centre for Indic civilisation where six
great cities, linked by trade routes, became centres of industry, all of which
were visited by the Buddha during the course of his ministry, and they were
; Savatthi, Saketa, Kosambi, Varanasi, Rajagriha and Champa. These were
exciting places where people of all castes mingled together and where there
was lively discussion of new philosophical ideas. Politically the region was
dominated by the two states of Kosala and Magadha which were slowly but
surely bringing the weaker states of the Gangetic plain under their control.
This was often an aggressive process which was involved violence and
which, coupled with the ruthless competitiveness of the new merchant
classes let a number of people to think that the traditional values of society
were disappearing and the order which was taking its place was both
frightening and alien.

The man who was to become the Buddha was born in Lumbini in what is now
Nepal, around 563 BC (though the date is disputed). His father,
Suddhodana, was king of the Shakyas, a proud and independent people from
the kshatriya warrior caste, and his clan lineage, the Gautamas, was ancient
and pure. His mother was Mahamaya, daughter of Suprabuddha, a powerful
Shakyan noble, and since he was born a prince of the Shakyas, after his
enlightenment he was known as the sage of the Shakyas, Shakyamuni.

One night during the midsummer festival in Kapilavastu, Queen Mahamaya
had a wondrous dream. She dreamt she saw a brilliant white light shining
down to her from the sky, and in the rays was a magnificent, pure white
elephant with six large tusks, which then melted into her womb from her
right side. When she awoke she had a feeling of great well-being and knew
she was with child. She could see the child completely and perfectly formed
within her womb. When the king was told of her dream he called his
Brahmin wise men, who were versed in astrology and the interpretation of
dreams. The Brahmins told the king that a son would be born with the
thirty-two major marks and eighty minor marks of a great being. If he
remained in the palace and pursued a worldly life, he would become a
Chakravartin, or universal monarch. However, if he renounced his home,
wealth and position and wandered forth as a holy man, he would become a
completely enlightened Buddha and satisfy all beings with the elixir of

Queen Mahamaya was without pain or sickness during her pregnancy and
she was able to impart her good health to others, many sick people were
healed during this time merely by her touch or by means of her herbal
preparations. For his part the king mostly put aside the business of state and
devoted himself principally to religious rites, austerities and acts of charity.
The queen was pregnant for ten months and in the Spring she asked to be
taken to Lumbini, a pleasure grove belonging to her family that she had
loved as a girl. Colourful tents housing comfortable living quarters were set
up and all preparations were made for the birth. In the middle of the month
on a full moon day Queen Mahamaya was walking in the grove when she
suddenly felt heavy and raised her right arm to take hold of a tree branch
for support. Just then as she was grasping the branch, the bodhisattva was
born into the world, instantly and painlessly. A light shone through the world
and the earth shook. Then the small child took seven firm steps, looked into
the four directions and said, “I am the leader of the world, the guide of the
world. This is my final birth.” Two spouts of water, one warm and one cool,
issued from the air above the bodhisattva’s head and poured their pure and
soothing waters over him.

At the time of the birth a great seer named Asita was living in the mountains
practising meditation. He saw with his clear sight that a momentous and
auspicious birth had taken place somewhere in the world. He was able to
determine it was at the court of King Shuddhodhana, lord of the Shakyas
and set off at once to go there. Being a famous meditator he was received
with deference by the king and after the formalities were completed Asita
explained he had seen visions of an auspicious birth which he believed to be
that of the king’s son. When the child was brought to him he prostrated to
him and place the child’s feet on his head, an act which stunned
Shuddhodana. He then examined the child and found on his body all the
thirty-two major and eighty minor marks of a great being. Asita said that for
such a child there were only two destinies possible; either he would become
a universal monarch by pursuing a worldly life or he would enter a life of
homelessness devoted to spiritual truth.

In a flash Asita beheld the incomparable destiny of the child and
immediately began to weep as he realized that the child would teach a
doctrine that would free beings from the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness
and death but that he, Asita, would not live to benefit from the teaching as
he was already an old man. The old man’s assistant however, Naradatta,
was much younger and he would later become ordained by the Buddha as a
Bhikshu, a monk.

On the fifth day after the birth the king called for a traditional naming
ceremony to be performed. At a large and colourful gathering the boy was
given the name Siddhartha which means “accomplishment of the goal”.
Seven days after the birth Queen Mahamaya died and her sister
Mahaprajapati Guatami, who was also married to the king, was chosen to
nurse and raise the child. For the king all the wondrous events surrounding
the birth of his son had also been a source of awe and uncertainty and after
the death of Queen Mahamaya he decided that of the two possible destinies
for his son it would be that of a universal monarch which he would chose for
him. Put simply, if his son succeeded him and became a great ruler, then all
of Suddhodana’s wishes would be fulfilled. If his son abandoned the royal
palace and position the king would be left without an heir and this was a
possibility which he perceived as menace to be warded off. Therefore the
king set about doing everything in his power to make sure matters
proceeded in the way that he wished. He carefully sheltered the price from
the world and surrounded him with luxury and pleasures.

So as Siddhartha grew up he was surrounded with scores of beautiful
women who were always seeking to provide him with every conceivable
pleasure and much of the time he didn’t even have to leave his palace. By
the time he reached the age of sixteen Shuddhodana decided that to
forestall restlessness and draw him further into the life of the householder it
would be good for his son to marry . Before this could be done the king felt
in necessary to proclaim the prince’s accomplishments, for a future king
would have to be well educated and able to display prowess in physical
activities such as martial arts. However until this time Siddhartha had done
little beyond living a life of diversion and pleasure, locked away in the
palace. He would have to be trained accordingly.

Much attention was now given to the prince’s training and he quickly
mastered all his schooling in both the physical and intellectual domains,
often with astonishing speed. Contests among the sons of the city’s gentry
were arranged in which Siddhartha was to compete; in reading, writing and
mathematics he not only outshone all the sons of the Shakyan nobles, but
even outstripped the teachers and erudite men of the kingdom. It was the
same with the physical disciplines, where in running, contests of strength,
use of weaponry and especially in archery he surpassed all others. A bride,
Yasodhara, was chosen for him not long after the competitions had taken
place. She was from a noble Shakyan family and after the royal wedding she
shared Siddhartha’s life in the royal palace.

For the next dozen years little changed in the conditions of Siddhartha’s life.
The king, who lived in constant fear of the earlier prophecies, spared neither
trouble or expense in sheltering and pampering the prince. The palaces were
embellished and the gardens where the prince whiled away the seasons
were always full of beautiful women who captivated him with their music,
song and sexual prowess. Nevertheless in time the pleasures of the palace
life began to wear a bit thin and when the sorrows and limitations of
ordinary life finally began to beat in on him they struck him almost as an
insult, an insolent intrusion. Thus they made a strong impression on him.

Tradition tells of four encounters that finally shattered Siddhartha’s
contentment with the life of pleasure. The prince had a charioteer named
Chandaka whom he used to have take him on occasional outings through
Kapilavastu which were well planned in advance by the king who took great
pains to decorate and clear the way so that no unpleasant sights would
disturb the prince’s mood.

Then one day, after Siddhartha had commanded Chandaka to take him to a
particular pleasure garden, they encountered along the road an old man
bent over with age, walking feebly and leaning on a stick. When Siddhartha
asked the charioteer who this person was, he was told that he was simply a
person afflicted with age and that it was a fate which awaited all. This upset
and frightened Siddhartha to the point where he made the charioteer return
him to the palace. When the king saw his son return so early from his
afternoon’s diversion, and when he was told the reason a cloud passed over
his heart as he recalled the earlier prophecies; he now put even more
elaborate arrangements in place to protect his son from ugliness and

Days later and out in the chariot again with Chandaka at the reins,
Siddhartha now saw by the side of the road a man suffering from disease.
He was in a bad way and leaned on another man for support and emitted
piteous cries of pain. Again when the charioteer explained what the disease
was Siddhartha cut short his outing and returned to the palace deeply
troubled. The king’s concerned deepened still further when he heard of this
second incident and he felt that if Siddhartha could be persuaded to remain
in the palace the crisis would pass in the fullness of time.

However on a third occasion when once again Siddhartha was out with his
charioteer he encountered a funeral procession with a corpse being borne on
a litter followed by the grieving relatives, tearing at their clothes and
covering themselves with ashes. Upon being asked by Siddhartha to explain
this horrifying spectacle the charioteer rounded off his explanation with the
penetrating observation that “Without exception, everything that is born
must die.” Siddhartha wondered aloud why it was that everyone did not
tremble in fear at such inevitability and once again commanded the
charioteer to return him to the palace.

When the king got word of this latest incident he doubled the number of
guards and had a twenty four hour watch put on Siddhartha in order to
prevent his departure. Nevertheless there was to be a fourth occasion when
the Siddhartha was out with his charioteer and this time they encountered a
mendicant, a spiritual seeker, with upright bearing and serene and radiant
countenance. Impressed, Siddhartha asked the charioteer what kind of man
this was to which came the following reply : “This is a holy man who has
renounced worldly life and entered upon a life of homelessness. Such
homeless mendicants devote themselves to spiritual pursuits such as
meditation or practising austerities. They have no possessions but wander
from place to place, begging their daily food.” This time on his early return
to the palace Siddhartha was in deep thought.

In a further attempt to divert his son from his preoccupations Shuddhodana
arranged for Siddhartha to visit a nearby farming village where he hoped he
would take an interest in the methods of farming employed at that time. The
move backfired badly when Siddhartha saw just how hard the conditions in
the country were for both men and animals. It was made worse when
Siddhartha was told that these people were in fact his father’s slaves. The
only thing Siddhartha could do to overcome his revulsion was free them on
the spot.

Siddhartha had now reached his twenty-ninth year and his wife, Yasodhara,
was pregnant, but in spite of this he was seriously thinking of leaving home.
His unplanned encounters with the outside world had shown him that he
would have to get to grips with the profound vexations of old age, sickness
and death. He knew they were unavoidable but he was also sure they did
not have to rule his life to the point where it would be impossible to attain
happiness. It occurred to him that if he saw the dangers in these things he
could look instead for the unborn, non - aging, non - ailing, deathless,
sorrowless state of nirvana. But in order to do this he knew he would have
to get out of the palace where everything stood in stark contrast to the
simple homeless, holy life of a renunciate.

Then not long after this, following another evening’s rousing entertainment
Siddhartha looked in on the women’s quarters and all those beauties lying
about him in various positions of abandon. Some were snoring loudly with
their mouths open, others were still in their wine stained costumes with
various parts of their bodies exposed. All in all, for Siddhartha, it was like
staring at a bunch of ugly stinking corpses and their seductive vision of
beauty which had captivated him for so long was now shattered. That night
Yashodhara had a dream in which Siddhartha had left, and full of fear upon
waking up she pleaded with him to take her with him wherever he went. He
agreed but only in the sense of taking her to the place beyond suffering and
death when he reached the new found goal of his spiritual striving.

Yasodhara soon gave birth to a son and he was given the name Rahula. Not
too long after this Siddhartha chose the time to make his move and enter
the homeless path. One night he had a long last look at his wife and son but
chose not to wake them as that only bring on the inevitable complications.
He vowed instead only to see his son again after he had succeeded in his
quest which was nothing less than the attainment of complete
enlightenment. He woke Chandaka his faithful charioteer who had proved so
crucial in pointing out the hard facts of life to him, and commanded him to
saddle up Kanthaka, his favourite horse. It was time to leave the palace.

Legend has it that in sympathy with Siddhartha’s decision to leave the
palace, the gods cast a stupor over it, Kanthaka’s neighing was silenced and
the gods supported his hooves in their hands so that they made no noise.
Such divine intervention allowed Siddhartha to depart unheard and unseen.
Astride Kanthaka and with the charioteer walking beside him Siddhartha left
Kapalivastu where he had enjoyed great times before reality had hit home,
and he struck out south into the forest. He was 29.

For nearly the next six years Siddhartha’s life was one of homelessness,
searching for teachers and undergoing severe practices of asceticism. As
soon as he was outside Kapilavastu he was tempted by Mara, the
embodiment of self-deception, to return to his old life. But Siddhartha saw
Mara for what he was and banished him from his thoughts, however from
that moment on Mara was cling to Siddhartha during his quest like a
shadow, waiting for a moment when weakness might appear which would
enable him to deflect Siddhartha from his goal.

When Siddhartha had travelled and put a great distance between himself
and Kapilavastu he turned to Chandaka and told him it was now time for him
to return to the city with Kanthaka and that he, Siddhartha, was now
entering the life of homelessness in order to seek the truth. The charioteer
pleaded with Siddhartha to give up on his plan and return to the palace but
it was to no avail. Instead Siddhartha took Chandaka’s sword and cut off his
long hair, and then, turning his attention to his the fine robes he was still
wearing he realised they were ill suited clothes for a wandering mendicant to
be wearing and that he would need to change them.

As he puzzled over what to do about this a deer hunter appeared from out of
the forest wearing the simple dyed saffron robe which was much favoured by
wandering mendicants at that time. Siddhartha immediately offered to
exchange clothing with him to which the deer hunter was only too willing to
agree. There was now nothing to distinguish Siddhartha from the many
other ordinary mendicants who wandered the plains of the Ganges at that
time. It would only be a seer or rare Brahmin who would be able to
recognize the thirty-two major and eighty minor marks which he bore on
him. It is said that Kanthaka was unable to bear being departed from his
master and that the horse died on the homeward journey, leaving Chandaka
with a double sorrow to bear.

Now Siddhartha was truly on his own, and he had to face the raw and
rugged challenges of survival as a mendicant after a life of luxury during
which he had never had to do anything for himself. Day by day was it was
steep learning curve for him but gradually he began to get used to the
coarse food he was offered as alms and to sleeping on the ground with no
shelter but the trees and the rocks. As he wandered through the plains and
forests he realised that he would need to find a teacher and he soon
discovered that due to the fact that he was living in a time when there were
many wandering mendicants pursuing a homeless life, there were also many
teachers professing the various doctrines and practices those mendicants
followed. They tended to live either as hermits or as heads of mendicant
communities, close to towns and villages where they could beg for food.

In time Siddhartha, the mendicant, made his way south from Kapilavastu,
across the Ganges and into the country of the Magadhans, eventually
settling on the slopes of Mount Pandava, close to the Magadhan capital of
Rajagriha. Due to his princely bearing and elegance of manners, Siddhartha
made a strong impression on the people of the town as he made his morning
begging rounds. So much so that word got to the king of Magadha,
Bimbisara, who set out to Mount Pandava to see the young man for himself.
He ended up offering Siddhartha half of his kingdom as he could clearly see
that he was suited to high estate and rulership, and the king told Siddhartha
that he did not have to wander the plains as a homeless beggar. Siddhartha
was touched by the kindness of the offer but he politely refused, saying that
the reason why he had entered into homelessness was because he could not
accept the tyranny of sickness, old age and death. The king therefore
requested Siddhatha to return and teach him if he succeeded in his quest, to
which Siddhartha agreed.

Not long after this Siddhartha became the student of the renowned sage
Arada of the Kalama clan where he soon applied himself diligently to
attaining the successive levels of meditative absorption which were the
underlying principles of Arada’s doctrine. He progressed through the levels
with unusual swiftness, sometimes without the teacher having to explain
anything to him, and soon had achieved the highest point of Arada’s
teaching which was the absorption based on emptiness. Arada therefore
offered Siddhartha the chance to join him in leading his community but as
Siddhartha still felt himself to be far from total liberation he politely declined
and took his leave.

He left to find another master, Rudraka Ramaputra, whom he had heard
about and whose community was not so far away. Rudraka taught a similar
but more elaborate doctrine than Arada and had mastered one level of
meditative absorption more, that of neither perception nor non-perception.
It was only a short time after joining Rudraka’s community that Siddhartha
had achieved this level and was therefore at the same level as Rudraka
himself. Again Siddhartha was asked to stay and this time he was offered
sole leadership of the community by Rudraka but again he declined as he
knew he had still not yet attained his goal.

Siddhartha now departed on extensive wanderings, sometimes through wild
and uninhabited lands as well as thick and fearsome forests full of dangerous
animals. At last he came to the town of Uruvilva on the Nairanjana river, not
far from the town of Gaya in what today is the modern Indian state of Bihar.
Siddhartha had often seen during the course of his travels holy men
performing ascetic practices such as holding the breath, fasting or sitting in
a circle of fire in the midday sun. Since he had failed to attain enlightenment
through the methods he had employed so far, Siddhartha felt that he now
had try asceticism.

There now followed a long period of self-mortification during which
Siddhartha endured extreme hardship, often with Mara speaking to him,
trying to arouse the fear of death by sweetly speaking about the merits that
an active life in the world would bring. Every time Siddhartha would reply
that he had no fear of death and that he was more than willing to sacrifice
his life in his quest for liberation. News of Siddhartha’s activities spread
throughout the countryside among the mendicant seekers. They told each
other how Siddhartha had quickly equalled Arada and Rudraka but had then
declined leadership of those communities and how he had now given himself
to the most relentless extremes of asceticism imaginable. Soon a group of
five mendicants came to find Siddhartha where they became his followers,
serving him the tiny amounts of food and drink which he took each day, and
helping him to wash when he was too weak to move. They remained with
him, awaiting the day when he would attain enlightenment.

The years passed and Siddhartha was close to death, he began to wonder if
he had gone as far as it was possible to go in the direction of self-
mortification. He knew that whilst others might possibly have equalled the
privations he had endured, none had surpassed him and that he had now
travelled that path as far as it could go. Enlightenment still remained beyond
his grasp. It was then that he remembered an incident from his childhood in
which he had spontaneously entered a state of meditation and how he had
been sitting in the cool shade of a rose apple tree, quite secluded from
sensual desires and unprofitable things. In that state he had entered upon
and abode in the first stage of meditation, accompanied by thinking and
exploring the happiness born of seclusion. As he recalled this event he now
felt sure that this was the way to enlightenment.

He surveyed his current condition and realised that he couldn’t enter that
state simply because his body was too weak, being in an extreme state of
deprivation and weakness. It occurred to him that he should eat something
and therefore he took some rice and bread. His followers were disgusted at
his actions, believing that he had given up the struggle and was indulging
himself. This did not stop him from taking his one meagre meal per day in
order to build up his strength, and soon his followers had left him. His
strength, however, and natural fine radiant colour soon began to return.

On the full moon day of a spring month 35 years to the day after he was
born Siddhartha made his way to the Nairanjana river to bathe, and
afterward rested in a grove of trees. He still felt a little weak but was now
already full of confidence and the night before he had a series of auspicious
dreams which convinced him that his goal would not elude him for much
longer. As Siddhartha was sitting there in the grove a young and beautiful
dark-haired woman approached him, her name was Sujata and she was the
daughter of the local village chief cowherder. She had decided to make a
special food for the noble born ascetic and she had made him boiled rice
with the finest cream taken from the milk of her father’s herds, and
sweetened it with wild honey before putting in a fine dish.

It was the best food Siddhartha had eaten since leaving the palace and it
made him feel strong and good. He continued to rest in the grove until the
heat of the day had passed and then by evening he was pervaded with a
renewed sense of purpose with which to continue his meditative quest. He
left the grove and walked by the river until he found a place where he felt
comfortable, after being given some tufts of soft kusha grass by a grass
cutter. He made a seat for himself with the kusha grass on the east side of a
pipal tree, on a spot where countless buddhas before him had attained
buddhahood. Siddhartha then made a resolute oath not to stir from the seat
until he had attained enlightenment, even if it was at the cost of his life.

To be continued…

Life of the Buddha : First Sermons

This essay is a continuation of Life of the Buddha : Pre-Enlightenment

Life of the Buddha : First Sermons

The moment the world had been waiting for was at hand. Siddhartha now
begun the great meditative trance from which he was to emerge on the full
moon day of the month of Vesak as a Fully Enlightened One, a Buddha.
Mara, who had been shadowing Siddhartha constantly throughout his
spiritual quest, now trembled as he saw that if Siddhartha attained
enlightenment he would forever be beyond his power. He realised he would
have to shatter Siddhartha’s resolve and thus began an onslaught of threats,
intimidation and temptation. It culminated in Mara summoning a terrifying
horde of monsters of every conceivable description but even something as
horrific as this still left Siddhartha unmoved, unperturbed. Instead he
transformed the weapons which these monsters threw at him into lotus
petals which exuded a lovely fragrance as they gently floated down to earth.

In desperation Mara challenged Siddhartha with a reign of fire, a deluge of
burning blinding sheets, but in response to all this Siddhartha simply
remained untouched and profoundly composed. Mara screamed at
Siddhartha what right he had to sit on the sacred seat which had seen
countless Buddhas enlightened in lives many aeons before him. Siddhartha
calmly explained that he was there due to countless previous lives of
practising generosity as well as the rest of the ten transcendental virtues. At
this point Mara shrieked at Siddhartha what witness he had to back up such
statements, to which Siddhartha reached down and touched the earth with
his fingertips. “The earth is my witness,” he told Mara. At this point there
was an immense booming and rumbling which made the earth shake. Mara’s
host of monsters and Mara himself fled in panic, utterly defeated.

With those distractions finally out of the way Siddhartha could now get on
with the work of reaching his goal of enlightenment. There was a full moon
in the sky which shone softly and Siddhartha soon entered the first level of
meditation, and as the moon continued to rise in the sky so Siddhartha
entered deeper and deeper levels of concentration until he reached the
fourth and deepest, at which point his concentration was bright and
unblemished, full and balanced. At this point he turned his mind to untying
the knot of birth, old age, sickness and death and he realised that what
began and perpetuated this never ending cycle was when basic intelligence
slipped into unawareness of its own nature and adopted a sense of self.

Penetrating the nature of these processes further increased the clarity and
openness of his mind. In the first watch of the night Siddhartha’s inner
vision became completely unobstructed, a state called the opening the divine
eye. He then turned his attention to the past and to reviewing the
circumstances of his own and others’ lives stretching back over many aeons
and world ages. From what he saw by doing this he concluded that in
relation to himself and all other beings he had died and been reborn an
incalculable number of times.

In the second watch of the night he saw beings being born, living their lives
and then passing away in accordance with the indestructible law of karma,
the law of cause and effect. Put simply, past deeds create certain inclinations
which shape the conditions and circumstances of each individual life. He saw
the fortunate and unfortunate going on their various ways and how, ignorant
and suffering, they were tossed on the stormy waves of birth, old age,
sickness and death.

By the third watch of the night Siddhartha applied himself to rooting out this
suffering once and for all. He had understood the law of dependent arising
and how the lives of beings were driven by the powerful force of karma and
so he turned his attention to seeking the means of liberation. Through his
meditative insight he saw suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of
suffering and finally the path which led to cessation. By the end of the third
watch, at the first light of dawn, the bodhisattva saw through the last trace
of ignorance in himself and had thus attained complete and perfect
enlightenment. He had now become a Buddha. Later when talking about his
experience he said, “Now the cycle of rebirth is ended for me, this world no
longer matters.”

Some accounts state the Buddha remained for seven days in this state of
trance without moving, resting without thought suffused with well-being,
before emerging just as the sun was rising and the full moon of Vesak was
setting. He then spent further periods of time in the vicinity of the Bodhi tree
and many other events laden with symbolic significance are said to have
taken place during this period.
At first the Buddha thought that he would not teach the Dharma as it was
too profound and difficult to teach, its essence was beyond concept and
therefore very difficult to grasp. He would rest in silent illumination as he
thought it would be futile to convey it to others. The god Sahampati,
however, on learning of the Buddha’s decision left his heavenly realm and
entreated the Buddha on behalf of all beings to “turn the wheel of Dharma”.
He said there were many seekers of the truth with but a little dust in their
eyes and that if the Buddha would teach there would be many beings who
would attain liberation. Having been requested in such a manner the Buddha
was moved by compassion and he consented to Sahampati’s request by
remaining silent.

It is said that in all the Buddha spent 49 days meditating and fasting
beneath the Bodhi tree. At the end of this period two wealthy merchants,
Trapusha and Bhallika, came by. Struck by the majesty and presence of the
Buddha they made him an offering by preparing a meal of rice cakes and
honey from their stores. After only speaking a few words to them the
Buddha gave them refuge and they became his first lay-disciples. Later
followers of the Buddha would take a three-fold refuge which would involve
taking refuge in the Buddha, his Dharma, or teachings, and his Sangha, or
community of followers. At this time however there was no Sangha.

When the merchants had departed the Buddha considered whom he might
teach. The first people who came to his mind were his two former teachers
Arada Kalama and Rudraka Ramaputra, however his divine eye revealed to
him that these two Brahmins had already died. He next thought of his five
former followers from the time he had been engaged in
ascetic practices. He knew that they were staying at the Deer Park in
Sarnath, which was close to the holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the
Ganges, and he therefore decided to go there.

On his way to the Deer Park the Buddha met a naked ascetic by the name of
Upaka who was struck by the Buddha’s serenity and radiance. He enquired
of the Buddha who his teacher was, to which the Buddha replied that he had
become completely enlightened without a teacher. The ascetic merely said to
the Buddha that he hoped that he was right, and then he continued on his
way, clearly not willing to commit himself to following the Buddha.

After many days travelling the Buddha arrived at the Deer Park. From a
distance the five ascetics who had been his attendants made scornful and
sarcastic remarks to each other about him and agreed with themselves that
they would ignore him. As he approached them however they began to see
that he had drastically changed; his majestic, authoritative air soon ensured
that any hostility they might have had soon evaporated. One of the ascetics
took his blanket and bowl, another arranged his seat and a third fetched
water for him to wash his feet.

The Buddha then delivered the first sermon of his teaching career that
evening, known as the First Turning of the Wheel of Truth, he gave it to
those first five disciples and it is a teaching that forms the foundation and
essence of all of the Buddha’s teachings. It contained teachings on the Four
Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path; the former of which stands as the
basis of the Buddha’s philosophy. The first three truths are stages of a
logical argument which parallels the Buddha’s own early progress from the
comfortable life of a prince to the search for enlightenment.

The first truth states that life is full of suffering because of illness, ageing,
discontent and the overpowering presence of death. There is a famous
passage from this sermon that has been recounted many times, and in
which the Buddha says –
Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is
suffering. Involvement with what is unpleasant is suffering. Separation from
what is pleasant is suffering. Also, not getting what one wants and strives
for is suffering.

The second truth states that the cause of suffering is desire, or attachment
to the world in such a way as to become liable to suffering. So the origin of
this suffering is bound up with desire, a thirst that makes us cling to
possessions, to persons, to life itself. It is a thirst which can only be
occasionally satisfied but not ultimately assuaged.

Therefore the way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate desire, the third
truth. There is a thing such as freedom from, or the cessation of this
unsatisfactory state. This will come with the rooting out of its causes, the
elimination of that ongoing thirst, described as being “without passion, a
state of cessation, forsaking, abandoning, renunciation.”

Finally the fourth noble truth then reveals the way to achieve this removal of
desire and that the way is the central part of the Buddhist discipline, or the
Middle Way : the Noble Eightfold Path, a form of conduct which avoids the
extremes of both self-indulgence and self-mortification. The eight limbs are
categorised as follows : right views and right discrimination are related to
wisdom; right speech, right action and right livelihood are related to correct
ethical conduct; and right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration
are related to meditation.
Soon after this first sermon the Buddha related his teaching on suffering to
two other cornerstones of Buddhist doctrine : his teaching on non-self and
his teaching on impermanence. The Buddha’s teaching on non-self is an idea
which on the face of it conflicts with many other religions and raises the
question of whether in fact Buddhism can be called a religion at all. The idea
of an eternal self, an ego, or soul connected with the divine principle in the
universe was of course a central tenet of Hinduism.

The Buddha taught that the concept of self falls away as soon as it is seen;
that it is merely a temporary composite of form, feeling, perception,
conceptual formations and consciousness, called the five aggregates. Closely
connected to this was the understanding that the body as well as the
aggregates was unstable and subject to change. With this the five ascetics
came to realise what the Buddhist tradition was to later call the “three marks
of existence”: namely that all composite things are characterized by
suffering, impermanence and not-self. When the five ascetics realised these
truths through the power of the Buddha’s teaching they attained
enlightenment and they were freed from the intoxicating influences that
bound them to the world.

Following the conversion and enlightenment of the five ascetics the
community or order which lived and organised itself according to the
discipline laid down by the Buddha grew rapidly. So began a forty-five year
ministry during which the Buddha travelled widely throughout northern and
eastern India, consolidating his core teachings and establishing a monastic
community both of which still remain in existence to this day.

Life of the Buddha : First Years of Ministry

This Focus Article is a continuation of two previous Focus Articles –

Life of the Buddha : Pre-Enlightenment
Life of the Buddha : First Sermons

After his enlightenment and the preaching of the first sermons in the Deer
Park, Sarnath, the Buddha was to spend the next forty five years of his
career living and teaching in Northern India. He visited different
communities, preaching the Dharma, converting beings of all sorts and
settling doctrinal and disciplinary disputes that arose both within and outside
his sangha. Over the course of the years of his ministry the Buddha was
constantly travelling, often in the company of a large assembly of bhikkhus,
and teaching the dharma. During the rainy season in North India they would
stay in one place and conduct what became known as the rains retreat.
In the beginning the Buddha’s sangha was a loose, peripatetic organisation.
The monks slept rough and wherever they could – in woods, the roots of
trees and under large boulders. Every day they spent time in meditation and
they also preached to the people who wanted to hear the dharma, especially
those who lived in the new and fast growing north Indian cities. A rule was
soon established whereby the Buddha and his monks would spend the three
months of the rainy season at a particular place, this was in common with
other Indian wanderers of those times, particularly Jains. During this time
monks were forbidden to travel, because the roads were impassable and one
ran a greater risk of treading on young plants and harming small creatures.

The power of the Buddha and his new teaching is illustrated in his first major
conversion after the initial core group of his first five disciples had been
established. Whilst he was still in Sarnath he met a young man named Yasa,
who in an upbringing not too dissimilar to the Buddha’s, was the son of a
wealthy local guild-master. One night, after being entertained by the women
of his harem located in the nearby holy city of Benares, he awoke to find
them stretched out, dishevelled and making noises in their sleep. Thinking
that his apartment was more like a cemetery than a place to live he couldn’t
stand it any longer and he got up and fled the city.

The Buddha first instructs Yasa with a sermon on generosity, good conduct
and the joys of rebirth in heaven. These topics were standardised into what
became known as the “preliminary discourses” appropriate for teaching to
laypersons. Then when he perceives that Yasa is ripe for further instruction
the Buddha proceeds by teaching the dharma itself, with a sermon on the
Four Noble Truths that Yasa comes to understand.

When Yasa’s parents go looking for him the Buddha magically makes Yasa
invisible and in response to the enquiries of Yasa’s father the Buddha
preaches a sermon to him. The father, who was very impressed by the
Buddha’s words, subsequently became the first layperson to take triple
refuge in the Buddha, dharma and sangha. Yasa, who had been listening to
the Buddha teach his father whilst remaining invisible, now attains
enlightenment (arhatship). The Buddha renders him visible again and
ordains him, as now it would be inappropriate for Yasa to return to the
householder’s life as an
enlightened arhat. The next day the Buddha and Yasa went to Yasa’s home
where the Buddha preached a sermon to Yasa’s wife and his mother; they
subsequently became the first laywomen disciples.

Yasa, being from a wealthy and prominent Benares family had many friends
and they too began to visit the Buddha, listened to his sermons and then
requested ordination. Soon the Buddha had no less than sixty-one ordained
monks in his sangha, all of whom had also become enlightened arhats. It
was then that the Buddha realised that it would be difficult for him to preach
and ordain further disciples due to the fact that the community was
expanding at such a rapid rate.

He therefore tells these first sixty-one monks that since they are enlightened
there is no reason why they cannot teach on their own. They could also
ordain new monks by enacting the ritual of shaving the heads and beards of
the supplicants and putting on their yellow robes. This was to contribute to
the further spread of the Buddhist doctrine. The Buddha then spent the first
rainy season after his enlightenment at the Deer Park in Sarnath.

The Buddha was now left to himself once more, and after the rains had
ceased he decided to travel from Sarnath to Uruvela in Magadha, the place
where he had practised austerities and attained enlightenment. On the way
he preached the dharma to thirty rowdy young men who were in a forest on
an outing. They were chasing a courtesan who had accompanied one of the
men but who had then stole some of his belongings. The young men came
across the Buddha sitting beneath a tree and when they asked him if he had
seen the young woman he asked them in turn whether it was more
important for them to look for the woman or to look for themselves. When
they agreed that it was better to look for themselves the Buddha proceeded
to give them a teaching which culminated in them asking to go into
homelessness and to be ordained as monks. The result was that by the time
the men left the forest they had also become venerable bhikshus. The
incident also gives us an insight into the immediacy and power that an
encounter with the Buddha had on people.

The region of Uruvela at that time was dominated spiritually by three well
known holy men of the type who wore long hair, matted from never being
washed and which was piled on top of their heads. They were known as the
three Kashyapas – Kashyapa of Uruvilva, Kashyapa of the River and
Kashyapa of Gaya and they counted among their followers five hundred,
three hundred and two hundred matted hair ascetics respectively. The main
point of their practice was a ritual fire offering. Through chanted liturgy the
practitioners made symbolic offerings to a deity supposedly embodied in the
flames, seeking to invoke it’s powers.

It is clear that the Kashyapas represent a different kind of audience for the
Buddha and his conversion techniques change accordingly; we now see for
the first time the Buddha’s use of magical powers and the figure of Buddha
here contrasts strongly with that usually depicted in the canonical texts,
being closer to legendary tales of astonishing miracles and magic. The first
Kashyapa whom the Buddha encountered was Kashyapa of Uruvilva, and he
was convinced of his own superiority over the

Buddha and was said to be over 100 years old. He was “honored, esteemed,
revered, respected and celebrated as an arhat by the people of Magadha”.

The Buddha first spent the night in the fire-offering chamber of Kashyapa of
Uruvilva which was a dark cave and in which lived a ferocious naga or snake
deity with supernormal powers and who everyone was convinced would
destroy the Buddha. When the Buddha appeared in the morning with the
naga harmlessly coiled up inside his begging bowl Kashyapa was impressed
but not convinced that the Buddha was his equal. In all it is said that the
Buddha performed three and a half thousand miracles in his efforts to win
over Kashyapa including besting him in a contest of flying through the air;
ensuring the ascetic followers of Kashyapa were unable to kindle their
sacrificial fires before kindling them all himself simultaneously; reading
Kashyapa’s mind and having knowledge of Kashyapa’s secret thoughts and
fears. All this was still not enough to win over Kashyapa who said to himself
after each miracle performed by the Buddha; “He is still not an arhat like

When the Buddha reached the point of thinking that no matter what miracle
he performed it would not be enough to convince Kashyapa he opted for the
direct approach and bluntly told Kashyapa that he was not even remotely
close to becoming an arhat and neither were any of his followers. At last this
was to shake the ascetic to his very foundations and he fell on his face and
begged the Buddha to enter homelessness under him and to become a
bhikshu. Not only that he consulted with his followers and they all told him
that if he was going to enter into homelessness under the Buddha then they
would as well. They all cut off their matted hair locks and threw them in the
river along with all their implements used for performing their fire sacrifices.

Later that day when Kashyapa of the river and his three hundred ascetics
saw the hair and all the rest floating in the current they went to see if some
disaster had befallen the older Kashyapa. When they were told of his
conversion they too asked to join the Buddha and so did Kashyapa of Gaya
and his two hundred followers. The Buddha then gave his third great sermon
since his enlightenment. Popularly known as the Fire Sermon the Buddha
used the symbol of fire on the former fire worshippers by using it as
representing everything the Buddha felt to be wrong with life by
emphasising the dangers of the three fires of greed, hatred and delusion.
These of course stood in stark contract to the sacred symbol of fire as
depicted in the Vedas. It was an illustration of the Buddha’s skill in adapting
his teaching to his audience so that he could truly speak of their condition.
At the conclusion of the sermon all the former fire worshippers were

The conversion of the three Kashyapas brought the Buddha into greater
prominence and he was soon invited to the court of Bimbisara, the king of
Magadha. Here Kashyapa of Uruvilva makes it clear that he had abandoned
his ascetic practices and fire worship and that the Buddha is now his master.
The Buddha then marks the occasion by preaching a sermon to the king who
ends up taking refuge and becoming a lay disciple. This conversion is
underlined by his offering to the Buddha of a dwelling place in his own
pleasure park, the Venuvana, or “bamboo grove” situated not too far outside
the city. This becomes the first permanent monastic park of the Buddha.

It is also during this period that the Buddha converts two wandering ascetics
who in the years to come were to be his two chief disciples: Sariputra and
Maudgalyayana. They were introduced to the Buddha’s teaching through the
disciple Asvajit who, because of his radiant demeanour, was asked by
Sariputra what doctrine he followed. When Asvajit told him of the Buddha
and his teaching Sariputra immediately went to Maudgalyayana who likewise
saw the significance of Sariputra’s encounter. They then went to the
Venuvana monastery to find the Buddha and to seek ordination. Upon seeing
them from a distance the Buddha told those bhikshus gathered around him
that the two newcomers would become his chief disciples, and soon enough
both Sariputra and Maudgalyayana attained arhatship. In the years to come
Sariputra became foremost in the Sangha in wisdom and insight and
Maudgalyayana foremost in the practice of supernormal powers.

For now the Buddha used the Venuvana as the base for his activities. During
this time, back in Kapilavastu, his father King Suddhodana, had been doing
his best to keep himself informed of the Buddha’s doings. As he began to
hear more about the fame of the Buddha he sent one of his ministers
accompanied by a thousand men to invite the Buddha back to Kapilavastu.
However upon listening to a sermon being preached by the Buddha they
forgot their mission and all decided to become ordained as monks. This
happens on many further occasions after the king sends a mission to seek
out his son, all of them falling under the power of the Buddha’s teaching.
Finally the king sent Kalodayin who had been one the Buddha’s childhood
companions and he succeeded in persuading the Buddha to return to his
homeland, after the Buddha saw that now the time was ripe to respond to
his father’s request.

The Buddha took a couple of months to reach Kapilavastu as he now had an
enormous host of thousands of monks and they could only cover a few miles
each day. The Sakyans prepared to receive the Buddha by building a
monastic park, named the Nigrodha Park, which was just outside of

Upon arriving the Buddha, out of compassion for the Sakyans, levitated
himself up in the air. This was because out of pride the Sakyans were not
prepared to bow to the Buddha, someone who in their eyes was still just a
junior member of their tribe.They were unaware that failure to bow before a
Buddha would result in their heads splitting into pieces. By this act of
levitation the Buddha thus accomplished their prostration for them. He also
performed various other wonders such as the twin miracle of shooting fire
and water from his body at the same time, and this show of wonders
brought about the desired result : the king bows down to the Buddha along
with all the other Sakyan nobles. The Buddha then recounts to them a
previous life of his when he was Prince Vishvantara and this serves as an
appropriate explanation to them as to why he abandoned his family to seek

The next day King Suddhodana is shocked to see the Buddha going on his
alms round through the streets of Kapilavastu with his begging bowl in hand.
The king asked why the Buddha shames his family in such a way to which
the Buddha replies that he comes from a lineage of Buddhas all of whom
have begged their food in this manner, and he then went to talk to the king
about the Buddhas and the holy life. Gradually in this way the king was won
over and although he never became a monk he would attain arhatship
before dying.

The Buddha also visited his former Princess Yashodhara who refused to
come and see him on his return, stating “If there is any virtue in me, my
lord will come to me himself.” He subsequently does and on being told of her
loyalty to him throughout his years of absence he says that he is not
surprised as in previous lives she has shown him the same kind of loyalty
and he then proceeds to recount his life as Chandrakinnara.

It is said that Yasodhara tells Rahula, the Buddha’s son who was now seven
years old, to ask his father for his inheritance. The Buddha perceives,
however, that the wealth which Rahula asks for is bound up with suffering
and when the Buddha left the palace to return to the Nigrodha Park the little
boy followed on behind him. The Buddha then gave Rahula his inheritance in
the form of “the seven-fold treasure which I received at the foot of the
Bodhi-tree.” The Buddha instructs Sariputra to ordain Rahula as a young
novice and therefore to enter into the life of homelessness, thus making
Rahula an heir in the dharma. The Buddha would then later occasionally
spend time with Rahula who was still only a small child, instructing him in
ordinary things such as not lying and developing judgement over which
actions to cultivate and which actions to avoid.

The ordination of Rahula not only upsets Yasodhara who has now lost both
her husband and son but also Suddhodana and the Sakyas who have now
lost the heir to their throne and with him their whole lineage. As a
consequence of this the Buddha made it a rule of his order that no child
would be received into homelessness without the consent of the parents.
During his stay in Kapilavastu the Buddha ordains various friends and
relatives including Ananda, Devadatta, and Aniruddha and eventually no
fewer that 500 additional Sakyan youths became ordained. This led to the
setting up of a rule by King Suddhodana that in any family with several sons
one should join the order and the others should remain at home. This was
an attempt by the king to both support the Buddhist sangha but also to
prevent losing a whole generation of Sakyans to the Buddha. Yasodahara
herself would later join the sangha, when the order of nuns had been
established and it is said that she too also became enlightened.

Ananda and Devadatta were both cousins of the Buddha who at the time of
the Buddha’s visit lived in Kapilavastu. They both took ordination under the
Buddha. Aanada would become the Buddha’s personal attendant in the years
to come and a leader of the sangha whose memory of the Buddha’s
teachings would be crucial in maintaining their continuation after the
Buddha’s parinirvana, or passing away into bliss. Devadatta’s fate however
was to be a maligned figure in historical accounts of the Buddha’s life, being
portrayed as a rival and an enemy of the Buddha. The roots of his
antagonism going back further than childhood and into countless previous
lives. In time he was to both challenge the Buddha for leadership of his
community and to also attempt to kill him.

The Buddha also converted Nanda, his half brother who had just married the
most beautiful woman in the whole Sakya tribe and with whom he was
infatuated. Nanda is visited by the Buddha on his begging round and when
he fills Buddha’s bowl the Buddha rises up and leaves, thus leaving Nanda
with no choice but to follow after him. Although he had not wished it Nanda
was put in the position of being a junior “monk who follows along” after a
senior teacher, carrying his bowl. By the time the Buddha reaches the
Nigrodha Park with Nanda still in tow he ordains the latter before he has any
chance to object !

Nanda required more work than most by the Buddha to keep to the rules of
the homeless life, as he found it impossible to forget his beautiful wife and
many times he tried to escape and return home. The Buddha then teaches
Nanda a lesson on the relativity and impermanence of physical beauty by
taking him to one of the heavens where he shows Nanda five hundred
stunningly beautiful goddesses, compared with which his wife in Kapilavastu
pales in comparison. Nanda, however, retains desire for the goddesses and
therefore the Buddha takes him to down the hells after which he Nanda
finally relinquished his desires. Then by the use of “expedient means” the
Buddha promises Nanda that he can have them all if he succeeds in
mastering his mind. Naturally Nanda redoubles his efforts in meditation and
quickly becomes enlightened. At this point of course he no longer remains
interested in either his beautiful wife or the celestial goddesses.

When the Buddha finally left Kapilavastu and the Nigrodha Park he spent the
second and third of the rainy seasons after his enlightenment back at the
Venuvana. Just after the third rains retreat had ended and before he had yet
to begin his travels again a wealthy merchant came to visit the Buddha from
the city of Rajagriha. Up until this point it must be remembered that for
most of the time the Buddha and his monks still lived out in the open, under
thick trees and foliage; they had no housing as such. The merchant offered
to build sixty huts for the monks and the Buddha gave his blessing. Then the
merchant invited the Buddha and his monks for the next day’s meal at the
end of which he would formally donate the shelters to the Sangha.

During this time the merchant’s brother, Anathapindika, a businessman from
Savatthi, a large city which was the capital of the state of Kosala, was also
visiting his house. He was curious as to the intense preparations that his
brother was making in order to feed the Buddha and his monks the following
day. When he was told that the Buddha was coming to visit, Anathapindika
became intensely excited, merely by hearing the word Buddha. Early the
next morning he set off to the Bamboo Grove in order to meet the Buddha in
person. There he sat before the Buddha and was given a teaching which he
felt became inscribed on his heart, and he begged the Buddha to accept him
as a lay disciple. Furthermore he invited the Buddha to his own home in
Savatthi, and this was to lead to the founding of the Jetavana monastery.
The story of its founding is a famous one.

Savatthi was probably the most advanced of all the cities in the Ganges
basin at that time, it was a leading centre of commerce and home to many
business men such as Anathapindika. In advance of the arrival of the
Buddha Anathapindika searched all over the city for a suitable site for the
Buddha. He was looking for a place which was beautiful and secluded yet
close enough to the city so that people could come for teachings and that
the Buddha and his monks could go for alms. The place which he judged to
meet all these requirements happened to be Prince Jeta’s pleasure park.
Anathapindinka had to pay the Prince for it by covering the whole acreage
with gold coins laying side by side, as well as spending 540 million pieces of
gold on the monastic buildings. There happened to be a final area left
uncovered which the Prince threw in for free, finally realising that
Anathapindika could only be going to such expense and trouble for someone
quite exceptional. The name of the monastery was Jetavana (Jeta’s Park) in
honour of the Prince.

When the Buddha arrived at Jetavana Anathapindika presented the
monastery to him by pouring water over the Buddha’s hands from a golden
pitcher. The Buddha gave his blessings for the great occasion and he praised
the usefulness of viharas and the act of donating them to the monastic
community. The dedication ceremony for the monastery then lasted a full
nine months. The Jetavana was not to be the only monastic dwelling of the
Buddha in Savatthi , as Visakha, an eminent female lay disciple was to build
the Purvarama for the Buddha, where he was eventually to spend six rains
retreats. There is no doubt however that the Jetavana Park was to be the
main place of residence for the Buddha and during the last twenty years of
his ministry he would spend all his rains retreats there.

By the time the Jetavana Park was completed the Buddha’s community
numbered many thousands of bhikshus. We can see during these first few
years of his ministry the appeal of the Buddha, his doctrine and his
community was enough to cause many to join his movement, either as
laypersons or by making the bigger commitment of taking ordination. During
the course of time many of these followers of the Buddha ceased their lives
of wandering and settled more or less permanently in monastic dwellings.
This led to the development of the “Discipline” (Vinaya) in which the rules
and regulations for the governing of all aspects of monastic life were set by
the Buddha as and when the circumstances arose. Further into the future
there was to be the development of the Buddha’s teachings in a more
elaborate and refined manner which gave rise to vast literature at first oral
but then written which sought to preserve the Dharma.

Life of the Buddha : Middle Years Stories & Teachings

This article is a continuation of -

Life of the Buddha : Pre-Enlightenment
Life of the Buddha : First Sermons
Life of the Buddha : First Years of Ministry

By the time of the founding of the Jetavana monastery at Shravasti the
Buddha’s community numbered many thousands of bhikkhus. Around this
time the Buddha made it obligatory for his monks to spend the rainy season
in a vihara or retreat place and to not wander around the countryside. He
went one step further than the other ascetics at the time, who also stayed in
one place during the rains, in that he invented the monastic communal life.
The Buddha ordered his followers to live together through the rainy season
and not with members of other sects, which up until that point had been the
common thing to do amongst all ascetics and seekers in North India.

This in turn led to the gradual evolving of community life. During the rains
each vihara or retreat place had fixed boundaries and no monk could take
leave for more than a week during this period unless it was for a very good
reason. Simple ceremonies began to be devised which took place in the
assembly hall of the settlement. In the mornings the monks would listen to
instructions given either by the Buddha or by one of the senior monks. They
would then set off on their alms round and then return to eat their main
meal of the day, after a period of rest in the afternoon they would then
continue with their meditation practice in the evening.

On top of all this of course the bhikkhus had to learn to live together in
harmony and the inevitable difficulties which arise when living with people
would have put their equanimity supposedly acquired in meditation to the
test. At times we are given examples of the Buddha taking his monks to task
over their selfishness and lack of sensitivity when it came to the needs of
others. There is the example of a bhikkhu who had dysentery and who the
Buddha found lying in his own filth in a room and looked after by nobody.
The Buddha and Ananda had to wash and look after the monk in order for
him to recover. This led to the Buddha instructing his monks on how they
had to always look after members of their community when they became ill.

On another occasion when travelling, a group of monks took all the best
lodgings for themselves when they went ahead of the rest of party, leaving
Shariputra who had a bad cough at the time to spend the night in the open
under a tree. The Buddha admonished them for their selfishness and pointed
out that their actions undermined the whole mission of the sangha.

The founding of the order of Buddhist nuns arose when Queen Mahaprajapati
conceived the idea to devote herself to the spiritual life. She had looked after
the Buddha during the time of his youth in the palace in Kapilavastu and
both her son, Nanda, and Rahula, the Buddha’s son who was like a grandson
to her, had entered the life of homelessness under the Buddha. However at
that time there was no such thing as a female member, bhikkshuni, a nun,
of the community. Her first request for the Buddha to ordain her, during the
time he was staying at Kapilavastu, ended in disappointment as he refused
to do so on three separate occasions.
Nevertheless when the Buddha set off to wander by stages to Vesali he was
followed by Mahaprajapati and a number of Sakyan women who had cut off
their hair and put on yellow robes. When Ananda saw her in Vesali where
she was waiting on the porch of the Buddha’s retreat place she was in a sad
condition, blistered and covered in dust. Upon asking her the reason for this
Ananda learnt of the Buddha’s refusal to ordain her and thus allow her to go
forth into the life of homelessness. He resolved to do something and told her
that he would ask the Buddha about it.

After Sariptura was also refused on three occasions when he asked the
Buddha if women could become ordained, he then asked whether or not
women would be capable of attaining the same level of realisation as men.
When the Buddha told him that they would be able, Ananda again asked the
Buddha to consider allowing them to become members of the Sangha. Faced
with this reasoning from Ananda the Buddha relented and said that he would
accept Mahaprajapati into the sangha is she was willing to accept eight
special conditions.

Amongst other things these included the somewhat heavy stipulation that
even if a bhikkhuni had been ordained for a hundred years she would still
have to get up and pay homage to a monk who might have been ordained
for only one day. Nevertheless Mahaprajapati accepted all the stipulations
with great joy and she thus became the first bhikkhuni. The Buddha still
declared however that with the admission of women his teaching would not
last as long as it otherwise might have. This did not stop thousands of
female disciples both lay and ordained attaining either enlightenment or high
levels of realisation under the Buddha.

As the Buddha and his teachings became more well known throughout the
Ganges valley region it came into competition for the favour of kings and
householders with the other major orders of wandering mendicants at that
time. There is an incident from this period which illustrates the Buddha’s
attitude to the use of magical powers and which resulted in the Buddha
establishing a monastic precept against the display of any supernormal
powers by his followers. The story starts with Pindola, a disciple of the
Buddha who, whilst in the town of Shravasti, had gratuitously used his
magical powers in order to obtain a sandalwood begging bowl which had
been hung from a high pole. He had done this in competition with ascetics
from other sects in the region and the reasoning had been that such an act
would rebound to the glory of the Buddhist sangha. Pindola however is
reprimanded by the Buddha, hence the setting up of the monastic precept
banning such acts.
The leaders of the other sects saw this event as an opportunity to best the
Buddha and challenged him to a contest of magical powers, sure that he
would refuse and therefore appear less powerful. Much to their surprise and
dismay the Buddha accepts their challenge, explaining that the precept he
propounded was meant to apply to his disciples but not to himself. The
Buddha then declares that he will perform his miracle at the foot of a mango
tree in Shravasti as that is the spot where all previous Buddhas have done it.
The heretics, desperate to avoid the contest because they know they will
lose, uproot all the mango trees in the region. However they are thwarted by
the Buddha who performs a preliminary miracle by eating a ripe mango and
having the seed of it planted by the city gate. He then washes his hands
over this spot and immediately a mango tree springs up as a fully grown
tree. The leaders of the other sects flee when they see this and the chief
among them drowns himself in a river.

In the meantime the gods have built a pavilion of precious stones at the foot
of the mango tree and the time has now come for the Buddha to perfrom his
great miracle. The Buddha starts by creating a jewelled walkway in mid-air
and stands upon it. He then performs the miracle of double appearances;
from the upper part of his body flames shoot up and from the lower part of
his body water pours forth. He then reverses things and waters appears
from his upper body and flames from his lower parts. All the while the
Buddha walks back and forth on the runway preaching the dharma to the
multitude. He realises that he himself is the best qualified to ask the
questions as well as to answer and therefore he creates a double of himself
who asks whilst he responds. In this way it is said that two million people
were brought to a comprehension of the dharma.

At the end of this fantastic spectacle the Buddha rises to the Heaven of the
Thirty-three to teach the dharma to his mother who had been reborn there
as a goddess. That is where he spent the seventh rainy season after his

During the course of this period we see how the Buddha was often subject to
intrigues and plots by rivals of other sects to discredit him. There is the story
of the woman Chincha who was induced to pay regular visits to listen to the
Buddha preach at the Jeta Grove and who then appeared one day apparently
heavily pregnant. She then requested the Buddha in public to provide for her
as he was the father of the child. As she said the fastenings of her garments
fell away and the pillows which she had been carrying were exposed.

Another more serious incident was the story of Sundari a wandering nun
who belonged to another sect and who was instructed by her male
colleagues to visit the Buddha frequently and attend his teachings. After she
had done so for a while they killed her and buried her body in the grounds of
the Jeta Grove. Not long after this they went to King Pasenadi and told him
they could not find their colleague Sundari and that they wanted to organise
a search for her. When permission was given they of course unearthed her
body in the Jeta Grove and promptly accused the Buddha and his bhikkhus
of murdering her.

When faced with these accusations and the hostility of the local people who
believed this story to be true the Buddha told his followers that the trouble
would not last long and he exhorted them with the stanza :

The liar goes to hell, like him who did
And afterwards declares “I did not”.
They both of them on dying fare alike
In life to come, as men whose acts are vile.

Sure enough the uproar soon subsided much to the wonder and relief of the
bhikkhus. The Buddha then uttered the following exclamation :

Unguarded men provoke with words like darts
Let fly against an elephant in battle.
But when hard words are spoken to a bhikkhu,
Let him endure them with unruffled mind.

In this period a petty quarrel arose between two monks staying at Kosambi
which grew out of all proportion and which threatened the unity of the
Buddha’s sangha. It all began when a monk who was a specialist in the
Buddha’s doctrinal discourses left some unused washing water in a bowl in
the toilet. This was found by another monk who was a specialist in
memorising and interpreting the rules, the Vinaya, made by the Buddha for
the behaviour of the sangha. Upon seeing the bowl of unused water he
asked the former monk whether or not he knew that he that he had
infringed upon the rules of the order. When the discourse specialist said that
he had not known about that particular rule, the interpreter of rules said that
it was therefore not an infringement. The discourse specialist then went
away thinking that the matter was settled and that he had not committed an

Not long after however the Vinaya specialist began telling other bhikkhus
that the discourse specialist had indeed committed an infringement. The
discourse specialist was therefore asked to acknowledge his infringement but
now he refused to do so as he felt that the Vinaya specialist had behaved
with deceit by telling the bhikkhus about the incident after it had apparently
been settled. This led to the Vinaya specialist convoking an assembly, the
result of which was the suspension of the discourse specialist from the order.
The discourse specialist refused to accept this. As both bhikkhus were
learned and respected teachers they each had a number of their own
followers and students. Things therefore became heated as both parties
began to squabble and tension and dissension grew.

In time the Buddha was informed of the situation and he said that if this was
not resolved there would be a schism in the sangha. He therefore went to
see both parties in order to try to make them understand the negative
consequences to the sangha of their behaviour. The quarrelling continued
however and in fact became worse. When the Buddha was again requested
to resolve the situation the followers of both sides requested the Buddha not
to interfere. The Buddha requested each side three times to mend their
differences but each time they refused to listen to him. He then got up and
went away.

The following morning the Buddha got up and went into Kosambi for alms
and then after eating his meal he put his place in order and picked up his
bowl and outer robe. He realised that the quarrelling monks were obsessed
with their argument and that it was impossible to make them see sense. He
then uttered the following stanza :

If you can find a trustworthy companion
With whom to walk, both virtuous and steadfast,
Then walk with him content and mindfully,
Overcoming any threat of danger.
If you can find no trustworthy companion
With whom to walk, both virtuous and steadfast,
Then, as a king who leaves a vanquished kingdom,
Walk like a tusker in the woods alone.
Better it is to walk alone:
There is no fellowship with fools.
Walk alone, harm none, and know no conflict;
Be like a tusker in the woods alone.

The Buddha then departed and after wandering for some days and meeting
and instructing various disciples on the way he came to the Parileyyaka
forest and there he entered the thick jungle and stayed for a time in solitary
retreat. The Buddha’s only company in the jungle thicket was a tusker
elephant who had left the herd, seeking peace from the other elephants who
hustled and bustled him.
After staying at in the Parileyyaka forest as long as he chose, the Buddha
wandered by stages to Shravasti where he went to live in the Jeta Grove.
Meanwhile back in Kosambi the quarrelling found themselves rejected and
without the support of the lay people due to the fact that they could no
longer see the Buddha. Finally both the contending factions went to the Jeta
Grove and sought to settle their dispute once and for all in the Buddha’s
presence. Eventually the discourse specialist acknowledged having
committed an infringement which then made it technically possible for the
discipline specialist to reinstate him as a member of the community. The
Buddha approved the act of settlement between the two sides and the
procedure was laid down should it ever happen again in the future.

Other events during this time included the awakening of the Buddha’s son
Rahula when he was twenty years of age, after receiving instruction from his
father. Rahula received teachings on such practices as mindfulness of
breathing, selflessness in relation to the five aggregates and practices to
overcome obstacles due to negative mind states. There was also a period of
famine in the region in which the Buddha and many of his bhikkhus were
staying and for a long time he and his monks had nothing to eat but horse
fodder. The Buddha exclaimed that it was wonderful that they could all make
do with such fare and he lamented that future generations would look down
on much better food.

In the twentieth year of his ministry the Buddha was fifty-five years old and
decided that from that point onwards he would spend each rains retreat
regularly at Savatthi instead of continually travelling from place to place. He
also appointed his cousin Ananda as his personal attendant who only
accepted under eight conditions which he devised and which he felt would
make him less of a burden to the Buddha and enable him to perform his
duties more effectively. Ananda was to be in nearly constant attendance on
the Buddha for the next twenty five years, right up to the Buddha’s

It is also at this time that the Buddha converted the notorious and greatly
feared robber and murderer Angulimala who lived in the Shravasti region.
When Angulimala killed someone he would chop off one of their fingers and
string them on a cord which he wore around his neck. Hence his name
Angulimala which means “finger necklace”. One morning the Buddha went
for alms in Shravasti. When he had returned and finished his meal he put his
resting place in order and then took his robe and bowl and walked off in the
direction of where Angulimala was then known to be staying. Many people
beseeched the Buddha not to go by that route as they knew how deadly
Angulimala was. The Buddha just proceeded on in silence.
When Angulimala saw the Buddha coming he was filled with joy as he
thought he had a fresh victim, and seizing his sword and shield and buckling
on his bow and quiver he went after the Buddha. Unbeknown to Angulimala
the Buddha had performed a feat of supernatural power such that
Angulimala, going as fast he could, was unable to catch up with the Buddha
who continued at his normal walking pace. Eventually Angulimala tired of the
chase and called out to the Buddha to stop to which the Buddha replied :

Angulimala, I have stopped for ever,
Forswearing violence to every living being,
But you have no restraint towards anything.
So that is why I have stopped and you have not.

When the robber heard these words he suddenly saw the situation just as
the Buddha saw it. He vowed to renounce evil and he tore off his weapons
and threw them away. Then he fell down at the Buddha’s feet and begged
the Buddha to accept him into homelessness to which the Buddha agreed.

The taming of Angulimala and his going forth greatly impressed King
Pasenadi and his subjects who had lived in fear and dread of Angulimala for
a long time. When the king visited the Buddha and was shown Angulimala in
robes he could hardly believe his eyes. At the time Angulimala was following
a particularly strict practice under the guidance of the Buddha and he was
only eating almsfood got by begging, wearing refuse rags and restricting
himself to three robes. Therefore he was unable to accept the astonished
king’s offer of robes, almsfood, lodging and medicine. It was not long before
Angulimala retired to the forest to meditate and then in no time the former
bandit and murderer became enlightened.

Thirty one years after the Buddha was enlightened he and his followers were
donated the Eastern Monastery in Shravasti by the devoted lay woman
Visakha. She had been instrumental in converting her wealthy father-in-law,
Migara, to the Buddha’s teaching and hence she was known as “Migara’s
Mother” such was his gratitude to her. Previously he had been a great patron
of the Jain ascetics in the region led by Nigrantha Jnaniputra and had once
refused to offer alms to bhikkhus when they came to his house. It was his
daughter-in-law who apologised to the monks for his rude behaviour by
telling them that it was better to go elsewhere because Migara was eating
stale food.

As a proud wealthy merchant, this comment had enraged Migara who
wanted throw his daughter-in-law out of the family home. Mediators had to
be brought in on Viaskha’s insistence to settle the dispute (as for her to have
been thrown out would have been a social disgrace) and when questioned,
Visakha said that when she said Migara was eating stale she meant that he
was living on the merits of previous lives, a store of positive energy which
would soon be used up. This impressed the mediators who found in her
favour and said that Migara had no right to throw her out. But now Visakha
told them she no longer wished to remain and made ready to depart.

Migara now had a change of heart and pleaded with Visakha to remain so as
not to upset the household. She said should only on certain conditions which
included allowing her to act according to her spiritual convictions. When he
Migara agreed to this she wasted no time in inviting the Buddha and his
sangha to the house for a meal. At first Migara was too proud to attend the
meal but after listening to the Buddha from behind a screen he became so
touched by the Buddha’s discourse that he immediately attained the first
level of realisation. After this his gratitude to his daughter-in-law knew no
bounds and he proclaimed to all that henceforth Visakha was to be regarded
as his mother.

Visakha was a great patron of the Buddha and his sangha. As well as
donating the Eastern Monastery in Shravasti she also provided food, cloths
and medicines for the samgha. She was also frequently called upon to
mediate in disputes between bhikshunis and was nearly always present
when the Buddha taught and on other important sangha occasions where
she was she was known by all as “Migara’s Mother”.

The event which precipitated the Buddha proclaiming the pratimoksha, or
monastic code of behaviour came about through the monk Sudinna, the son
of a wealthy merchant and who entered the homeless life despite the intense
opposition of his parents. One day he hit upon the idea of going to his
parents house for alms and when he arrived they begged him to return to
lay life and when he refused they pleaded with him to at least provide an
heir. This he agreed to do and later his parents brought his former wife to
him in the forest where he had intercourse with her at least three times. As
a result of this she conceived, an event which sent the earth deities into a
clamour, with them warning of the dangers of infection in the sangha by this

Later Sudinna became remorseful over his act and he grew so thin and
wretched that other monks noticed and upon being questioned he confessed
to them what he had done. They rebuked him and the matter was brought
before the Buddha who told Sudinna that his actions were misguided but
since no rule had been broken no action was taken against him. After this
event however, the Buddha immediately convoked an assembly and
announced the time had now come for the laying down of a formal code of
behaviour, the first rule of which was that any monk who indulged in sexual
intercourse was to be expelled from the community. It was also set down
that the code was to be periodically recited rule by rule in a full assembly of
monks and nuns.

Thirty seven years after the Buddha became enlightened a serious menace
to his life arose in the form of his brother-in-law the monk Devadatta who
had entered into homelessness when the Buddha had first returned to his
home town of Kapilavastu after his enlightenment. Unlike many of the others
Devadatta had not managed to attain any of the stages of realisation but he
was nevertheless a friendly and charming bhikkhu who was well-liked and
who enjoyed an extensive following within the community. He was also
adept in the use of supernormal powers.

Once when Devadatta was alone in retreat the thought came to him of who
he could win over and gain much honour and renown. He saw that he could
approach Prince Ajatasatru the son of King Bimbisara a great patron of the
Buddha and ruler of the powerful kingdom of Magadha. Devadatta set out
for the city of Rajagaha, where upon his arrival he took on the terrifying
form of a young boy with a girdle of snakes. When he appeared to the young
prince sitting in his lap in this form the prince was fearful and pleaded with
Devadatta to reveal his true identity. When Devadatta transformed himself
back into his normal appearance the prince conceived a kind of worship for
him and became his disciple. Devadatta’s fame soon grew among the people
of Rajagaha. This led to even greater ambitions to enter Devadatta’s mind
and he soon set about planning to displace the Buddha and take over the
leadership of the sangha.

Not longer after this Devadatta told the Buddha in front of a large assembly
of monks, nuns and lay persons including Bimbisara, the king of Maghada,
that the Buddha was now old and that it was time for him to hand over the
running of the sangha to him. Three times Devadatta requested this of the
Buddha and three times the Buddha refused, pointing out on the final
occasion that he no intention of handing over the running of things even to
Sariputra and Moggallana, his two chief disciples, let alone a “clot of spittle”
like Devadatta. Angry and indignant over being so disgraced in public
Devadatta departed, nursing a serious grudge against the Buddha. Further
to this the Buddha instructed Sariputra to denounce Devadatta in Rajagaha,
making it clear to the people that whatever Devadatta did in relation to the
Buddha’s teaching and sangha it was not with his blessing.

Next Devadatta went to Prince Ajatasatru and suggested that Ajatasatru kill
his father, Bimbisara in order to become king whilst he, Devadatta, would
kill the Buddha and thus take his place. The gullible young prince, still in awe
of Devadatta agreed to this plan but upon trying to act out his part he was
caught. When hearing of his son’s plan, Bimbisara who of course was a great
patron and student of the Buddha, showed great leniency and simply told
Ajatasatru that if he wanted the kingdom of Magadha so badly he could have
it. Thus Ajatasatru became king and in time he imprisoned his father where
the latter eventually starved to death.

Once Ajatasatru was king Devadatta induced him to send soldiers to go and
kill the Buddha, but every one of them who was sent merely ended up
paying homage to the Buddha and becoming one of the Buddha’s followers.
Eventually Devadatta tired of so many soldiers failing in their task and he
took it upon himself to go and kill the Buddha. He laid in wait at Vulture
Peak and tried to kill the Buddha by throwing rocks down on him, he failed
but he did manage to draw blood on the Buddha’s foot at which the Buddha
said to Devadatta that he had now created much demerit by drawing the
blood of a Perfect One. It was a deed of immediate effect on rebirth and the
effect would not be a good one.

When the followers of the Buddha heard of the attempt on the Buddha’s life
they became very worried for his safety and arranged for there to be a
constant guard to ensure that it did not happen again. The Buddha
reassured them however that he did not need their protection because it was
impossible for anyone to take a Perfect One’s life by violence. So it was that
not long after this Devadatta set lose a wild elephant by the name Nalagiri,
however went it approached the Buddha it was encompassed by the
Buddha’s loving kindness and merely lowered it’s trunk and went up and
stood before him. Later it retreated back to the elephant stables fully tamed.

The next tactic Devadatta tried to use was to create a schism in the sangha
and he did this by creating five strict new rules which he wanted all the
sangha to follow and which he knew the Buddha would refuse to sanction
once he presented them to him. When this did indeed happen Devadatta and
the group of monks who were his followers went back to the city of Rajagaha
and proclaimed that there teaching was purer than the Buddha’s. Many
gullible people were taken in by this and believed that Devadatta and his
monks were indeed following the true teaching.

The Buddha tried to point out the huge amounts of misery Devadatta was
now surely going to reap in his attempts to create a schism and a breach of
concord in the sangha. But this did not stop Devadatta from declaring that
he and his monks would now practice apart from the Buddha and the rest of
the sangha. Furthermore Devadatta succeeded in persuading 500 newly
ordained bhikkhus from the city of Vesali to come and join him. With that he
took himself and his followers away from the Buddha and the rest of the
sangha and left for Gayasisa.
Out of compassion for the 500 newly ordained bhikkhus the Buddha sent
Sariputra and Moggallana to Gayasisa in order for them to show the new
bhikkhus the true teaching. At the time many bhikkhus were worried that
Sariputra and Moggallana would also end up going over to Devadatta’s side,
however the Buddha reassured them by saying that this was impossible.
When Sariputra and Moggallana arrived in Gayasisa Devadatta was
overjoyed, thinking he had now won two such important new adherents. He
invited them both to sit down and listen to his instruction on the dharma
which was due to go on for most of the night. They sat down and when after
a few hours Devadatta became tired he invited Sariputra to continue in his
place whilst he took a rest.

Unfortunately for Devadatta he soon lost his mindfulness when resting and
fell fast asleep. Sariputra meanwhile advised and admonished the new
bhikkhus with a talk on the dhamma using the marvel of reading minds.
Then Moggallana advised and admonished the bhikkhus by using the marvel
of supernormal power until an immaculate spotless vision of the Dhamma
arose in them. When this occurred they all left to return to the Buddha.
When Devadatta was told what had happened when he awoke hot blood
gushed from his mouth. It was a blow from which he never recovered. Not
long after this he became mortally ill and tried to reach the Buddha to beg
his forgiveness but before reaching him he died.

It is worth noting that Prince Ajatasatru later experienced great remorse for
his association with Devadatta and for the way he had treated his father. He
begged the Buddha to be accepted as one of his followers and the Buddha
gave him the triple refuge.

These are the main events from this period of the Buddha’s life and

Life of the Buddha : Last Days and Final Teachings

This article is a continuation of -

Life   of   the   Buddha   :   Pre-Enlightenment
Life   of   the   Buddha   :   First Sermons
Life   of   the   Buddha   :   First Years of Ministry
Life   of   the   Buddha   :   Middle Years Stories & Teachings

As the Buddha grew into old age there was little to differentiate his activities
from those of his younger years. Except for in the rainy season he still
continued to travel through the Gangetic plains teaching ordained and lay
persons alike and still going into towns and villages in order to collect alms.
It was only when the Buddha reached his late seventies that his health
began to deteriorate. His back grew bent, his skin grew wrinkled, losing
some of its radiance and his senses lost some of their sharpness. In his last
year when he reached the age of eighty the Buddha still continued to wander
the country and to teach. The teachings he gave at this stage of his life were
mainly concerned with the future and clearly fixing the doctrine for the
benefit of future generations of Buddhists. This meant that basic doctrinal
points were repeated and he continually came back to the relationship of
discipline, meditation and the knowledge that sees things as they really are.
Tirelessly he taught the assembled bhikkhus and bhikkunis that meditation
had to be supported by discipline and that knowledge itself had to be
supported by meditation. The mind illuminated by knowledge soaked in
discipline and meditation will become liberated from the defilements and
obscurations of desire, conceptual views and ignorance of its own nature.

“Such is virtue, such is concentration, such is understanding: concentration
fortified with virtue brings great benefits and great fruits; understanding
fortified with concentration brings great benefits and great fruits; the heart
fortified with understanding becomes completely liberated from taints: from
the taint of sensual desire, the taint of being, the taint of views, and the
taint of ignorance.”

All presentations of the Buddha’s final journey from Rajagrha to Kusinagari
must be based on the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, a canonical text found in the
Digha Nikaya, the long discourses of the Sutta Pitaka, and which exists in
several versions including Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan. This last
journey of the Buddha can in fact be divided into a number of stages and
they basically feature a stop in a given locality where the Buddha then
encounters different persons and preaches a number of sermons, some of
them among the best known in the Buddhist tradition. Throughout these
episodes we see the Buddha being portrayed as old and unwell which is
consistent of course with the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence and that
no one is able to escape physical decay and ultimately the death of the

The Buddha’s journey begins at Vulture’s Peak, Rajagrha, a mountain retreat
famous as the site of some of the Buddha’s most significant sermons. At this
time he is visited by Varsakara, a minister of king Ajatasatru who has
replaced his father Bimbisara as king of Magadha. Varsakara was supervising
the construction of a fortified city which was to serve in Ajatasatru’s war
against the Vrijians and he wanted to enquire of the Buddha what their
prospects were of victory. The Buddha replied to the minister that the
Vrijians might be expected to prosper as long as they continued to do seven
things : hold regular and frequent assemblies, meet in harmony, do not
change the rules of their tradition, honour their deities etc. After the minister
had departed the Buddha goes on to make parallel points about his own
community, the Sangha, and here he lists seven things which the
community must follow if it is to continue to prosper. These include holding
regular and frequent assemblies, meeting in harmony, not changing the
rules of training etc. This illustrates that the Buddha is now turning his
thoughts to the future and to ensure the community which he has founded
will continue to live in harmony in his absence.

From Rajagrha the Buddha proceeds together with Ananda and a large
company of monks to the town of Ambalatthika and here he gives what is
called a “comprehensive discourse” which is a basic presentation of the
Buddhist path. It is a teaching which he of course reiterates at virtually all of
the remaining stops along the way of his final journey. From Ambalatthika,
the Buddha goes on to Nalanda, a village which was to become famous in
later Buddhist history for its great monastic university. It is also said to be
the home of Sariputra one of the two main disciples of the Buddha and it is
Sariputra who here comes to see the Buddha. Sariputra greets him by
declaring that there has never been anyone more enlightened than the
Buddha. It is interesting that the Buddha does not take this as a compliment
but instead questions Sariputra on what grounds he can make such a
statement and how he can be so sure. Sairputra has to admit that he does
not know for certain but that he stands by his statement based on what he
knows about the Buddha.

“All the past Blessed Ones, accomplished and fully enlightened, had their
minds well established upon the four foundations of mindfulness; after
abandoning the five hindrances, the defilements of the heart that weaken
understanding, they have discovered the supreme full enlightenment by
maintaining in being the seven enlightenment factors. All the future Blessed
Ones, accomplished and fully enlightened will do likewise. The Blessed One
now, accomplished and fully enlightened has done likewise.”

This episode is also noteworthy in that it foreshadows the future greatness
of Nalanda as a monastic centre of debate within the Buddhist world and
also it maintains the importance of knowing things with certainty.

The Buddha then moves on to Pataligarma on the banks of the Ganges. As
well as teaching to the villagers on the five dangers of immorality and the
five benefits of morality we have a prediction made by the Buddha about the
future. A fort was busily being constructed at Pataligama by the Magadhan
general Varsakara and, observing with his divine eye, the Buddha sees many
powerful divinities assembling and taking lodging in what will be the basis of
a new city, Pataliputra. The Buddha thus predicts the future greatness of
Pataliputra and he indicated that this can be assured by the inhabitants
making offering to monks such as himself and transferring the merit accrued
from making such offerings to the local divinities. Revered and honoured
they in turn will protect the new fort and city. The clear message given by
the Buddha in this episode is therefore that the future greatness of the
capital will depend on the support its citizens offers to the Buddhist

After teaching in Pataligarma the Buddha crosses the Ganges which was
flooded and difficult to cross with many people either looking for boats or
making rafts in order to cross to the other side. The Buddha however is able
to use his supernatural power to transport himself to the other side in an
instant. This is symbolic of having crossed the stream of samsara, a common
metaphor in the Buddhist tradition. Here we see the Buddha distinguishing
between himself and his monks who have crossed over to the other side
already and the people busy making rafts in order to try to cross the swollen

“While those who would cross the flooded stream
Are bridge-building, avoiding deeps,
While people lash their rafts together,
The wise already are across.”

Once over the river the Buddha next stops in the village of Kutigramaka
where he preaches a sermon on the four noble truths and the path to the
ending of suffering. From there the Buddha and his monks travel to Nadika
and stay in a place known as the “brick house”. It happens that in this
village many of his lay followers have recently died and the Buddha, in a
more pastoral role, tells these people what their individual fates of their
relatives were after death. After clarifying the karma of over a hundred
individuals the Buddha wearies and therefore reveals to Ananda a teaching
known as the “Mirror of Dharma” whereby his followers can find out for
themselves whether they will avoid unfortunate rebirths or whether or not
they will attain enlightenment. This teaching has nothing esoteric about it
and simply consists of people having unwavering faith in the Buddha,
dharma and sangha.

The Buddha and his company next reach the important city of Vaisali and
there they stay in a mango grove known as “Amrapali’s wood” on the
outskirts of the city. In this grove the Buddha addressed his bhikkhus in the
following way :
“Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu should live mindful and fully aware; this is our
instruction to you. And how should a bhikkhu live mindfully ? Here a bhikkhu
abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, fully aware, mindful,
having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides
contemplating feelings as feelings...He abides contemplating consciousness
as consciousness...He abides contemplating mental objects as mental
objects...And how is a bhikkhu fully aware ? Here a bhikkhu is fully aware in
moving to and fro, in looking ahead and away, in flexing and extending the
limbs, in wearing the outer patched cloak, the bowl and other robes, in
eating, drinking, chewing and tasting, in evacuating the bowels and making
water, in walking, standing, sitting, going to sleep, walking, talking and
keeping silent. A bhikkhu should live mindful and fully aware: this is our
instruction to you.”

Amrapali is a famous courtesan of the city of Vaisali and when she hears
that the Buddha is residing in her park she rides out in great haste to see
him and to invite him for a meal at her house the next day. This he accepts
and on her way back to the town from the grove she comes up against some
Licchavi lords magnificently dressed and riding in sumptuous carriages and
who are also on their way to invite the Buddha for a meal the next day.
There is a bit of a confrontation between the two groups when the Licchavis
discover that Amrapali has already invited the Buddha to her house as they
are on the way to invite him to their house. They offer to pay Amrapali a
hundred thousand pieces of gold for the privilege of entertaining the Buddha
but she rejects their offer. The Licchavis therefore go on and try to persuade
the Buddha to dine with them but he has to reject their offer and goes to
Amrapali’s house where he is served a fine meal and offered the grove
where he is currently residing as a monastic community for his followers. In
return the Buddha preaches her the dharma.

This episode shows how supporters of the Buddha can be pitted against one
another but also how fair minded the Buddha was in accepting invitations.
He chose to visit Amrapali the harlot in the face of the more aristocratic
Licchavis since she had offered first. It also serves as a lesson on
mindfulness as not only is Amrapali a woman of ill repute but she is also
very beautiful and therefore an object of temptation for less enlightened

The Buddha spends his final rains retreat in the region of Vaisali in a village
called Venugramaka. There is a famine in the area at the time and the
Buddha stays in the village alone with Ananda and instructs his followers to
spread and find other places to stay in the region so as not burden any
single community. In Venugramaka the Buddha becomes deathly ill and is
about to die, but thinking that he should not do so before taking leave of his
community he uses his powers of concentration to keep his disease in check.
This is not so easy as the Buddha tells Ananda that his body is now eighty
years old and that it is only by withdrawing his attention from outward
things and entering into a trance that he is able to remain comfortable.

Ananda is greatly relieved at the recovery of the Buddha as he tells him that
the Buddha has yet to name a successor. Surprised the Buddha responds by
telling Ananda that he has not been a “closed fist” teacher who has held
anything back from his disciples and that he has preached the dharma
equally to all. Therefore there is no one monk who has any kind of special
authority. He tells Ananda his disciples should live “as islands unto
themselves, being their own refuge, with no one else as their refuge” with
the dharma and none other as their sole resort.

“Here a bhikkhu abides contemplating feelings as feelings...contemplating
consciousness as consciousness...contemplating mental objects as mental
objects, ardent, fully aware, mindful, having put away covetousness and
grief for the world.”

Whilst still in the region of Vaisali the Buddha spends an afternoon at the
Capala shrine. Here he tells Ananda that Buddhas such as himself by dint of
their supernatural powers are able to extend their lifetimes for the sake of
remaining to help others. This can only happen however if they are
requested to do. Ananda unfortunately does not get the hint and
furthermore fails to make any such request on two further occasions after
the Buddha makes this statement at the shrine. The Buddha then goes to sit
alone under a tree. Mara suddenly appears to him here and, as always keen
to get rid of the Buddha, encourages the Buddha there and then to pass into
complete extinction. The Buddha replies to Mara that he is not quite yet
ready to die as he needs to be sure his monk-disciples are accomplished and
trained enough to be able to teach others and refute false doctrines. Mara
responds by telling the Buddha that he already has such followers. There is a
further conversation between them until the Buddha finally concludes that
his doctrine is now “successfully established...widespread, well-
known...everywhere”, and he then tells Mara that in three months he will
enter complete extinction.

This proclamation by the Buddha to Mara creates a tremendous earthquake
and Ananda rushes to the Buddha to enquire of its cause and the Buddha
tells him that one of the possible causes for earthquakes is when a Buddha
renounces the remainder of his possible life-span. He then tells Ananda that
he has now told Mara that he will pass away in three months time. Belatedly
Ananda requests the Buddha to extend his life but he is told that it is now
too late for that. Later, at the First Council held after the death of the
Buddha, Ananda is reprimanded by the other monks for failing to make a
formal request to the Buddha to prolong his life in time. More immediately
the Buddha also lists out to Ananda no fewer than fifteen occasions when
given the same hint Ananda failed to ask the Buddha to remain in the world.

After this they go to an assembly of all monks in the area where the Buddha
exhorts them all to practice further, that he has given them over the course
of many years the instructions necessary to led the holy life for the welfare
and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world.

“And what are these things? They are the four foundations of mindfulness,
the four right endeavours, the four bases of success, the five spiritual
faculties, the five spiritual powers, the seven enlightenment factors and the
Noble Eightfold Path.”

Soon after this the Buddha announces publicly his imminent demise –

Ripe I am in years. My life-span’s determined.
Now I go from you, having made myself my refuge.
Monks, be untiring, mindful, disciplined,
Guarding your minds with well-collected thought.
He who, tireless, keeps to law and discipline,
Leaving birth behind will put an end to woe.

The Buddha then travels further on to several other villages giving sermons
on morality, meditation, wisdom and liberation. When he reaches the town
of Bhoganagaraka he preaches on the four criteria for determining the
authenticity of the doctrine. The Buddha advises his listeners to suspend
judgement on one who claims to preach in the name of the Buddha until
they are able to compare it to established discourses and review what they
say in the light of the accepted disciplinary code. If what is said diverts from
these the conclusion should be that it is not the word of the Buddha, but if it
is found to be in agreement then the conclusion should be that it is.
The criteria was thus set for the ongoing life of the dharma.

Next the Buddha travels to the town of Papa where he is hosted in a mango
grove by a blacksmith named Cunda who invites the Buddha into his house
and prepares for him an elaborate meal, the main feature of which is a
delicacy called “pigs delight”. On the Buddha’s instructions this meal is
served to him alone and after the meal the Buddha is attacked by a severe
sickness. A lot of time has been spent speculating on what exactly the
Buddha’s last meal consisted of, with theories ranging from a pork dish as
mentioned above to mushrooms. Furthermore there has been no direct link
established between the Buddha’s eating of this meal and his death although
there is more of a case for stating that eating it was not sufficient to prevent
the Buddha from getting ill.

There is no doubt however that the Buddha told Cunda that he should not
feel bad over his offering and that Cunda should not think there would be no
merit reaped for it. On the contrary the Buddha praises Cunda’s meal as
being especially meritorious and compares it with Sujata’s offering of rice-
milk prior his enlightenment at Bodhgaya. One led to nirvana, the other to
parinirvana. Therefore Cunda should have no remorse :

“When a man gives, his merit will increase;
No enmity can grow in the restrained.
The skilled shun evil; they attain Nirvana
By ending greed and hatred and delusion.”

From Cunda’s house the Buddha goes to Kusinagara, his final destination. He
gets tired along the way and Ananda prepares a seat for him under a tree.
He requests Ananda to get him some water from a nearby river but Ananda
tells the Buddha that the water is dirty and undrinkable and that they should
wait until they find a stream that is cleaner. However the Buddha tells
Ananda he is very thirsty and insists he should get him some. Ananda is
then astonished to discover the water he pulls from the river is clean and

Whilst the Buddha is sitting underneath the tree a man named Putsaka stops
and greets him. Putsaka happens to be a follower of the school of Arada
Kalama, the Buddha’s first teacher before his enlightenment. There follows a
conversation between the two which ends in Pusaka converting to Buddhism
and presenting the Buddha with a magnificent pair of golden robes before he
departs. Ananda puts these robes on the Buddha and they make the
Buddha’s skin glow even more in golden light, the brilliance of the robes
themselves fading despite them being new. Ananda marvels at this and the
Buddha explains that :

“There are two occasions when the colour of the Perfect One’s skin becomes
exceptionally clear and bright. What are the two ? They are the eve of his
discovery of the supreme final enlightenment and the eve of his attainment
of final Nibbana with the Nibbana element without the result of past clinging

He then confided to Ananda that that very night he will pass into final
extinction between two sala trees in Kusinagara. At the Hiranyavati river the
Buddha takes his final bath and then lays down on his right side in a mango
grove on the far bank to rest. Then the Buddha got up and walked until he
came to the shala grove and there he asked Ananda to prepare him a bed
between the twin trees.

The grove was full of gods who had come to witness the Buddha’s
parinirvana and for a great distance the Buddha could perceive there was
not a single space that was not occupied by deities. Ananda realized the end
was close and began to ask the Buddha many questions, trying to tie up any
loose ends before it was too late. When asked about how his remains should
be handled the Buddha stressed the need to strive for one’s own attainment
and to not make a big point of venerating his remains. The Buddha also
instructed Ananda about the various circumstances in which it was proper to
build stupas, monuments to house the Buddha’s relics and to remind people
of the Buddha.

The talk of the procedures to follow after the Buddha passed away greatly
upset Ananda and he went off to a nearby grove to weep, lamenting the fact
that his kind and compassionate teacher was about to pass away and he,
Ananda, had still not attained realization. The Buddha told one of the other
bhikkshus who was attending him to go and bring Ananda to him. When
Ananda was brought before him the Buddha said:

“Enough Ananda, do not sorrow, do not lament. Have I not already
repeatedly told you that there is separation and parting and division from all
that is dear and beloved ? how could it be that what is born, come to being,
formed, and bound to fall should not fall ? That is not possible.”

The Buddha then assured Ananda that over the years he had made merit as
his attendant, performing many bodily acts of loving-kindness, helpfully,
sincerely and without reserve, and that his realization was not far off.

The Buddha went on to extol the virtues of Ananda to all the other bhikkshus
present and that every Buddha in the past had had an attendant such as
Ananda. This led to Ananda pleading with the Buddha not to pass away in
such a remote place as a grove on the edge of the backwoods town of
Kuisnagara, and that there were plenty of great cities full of illustrious
followers in which the Buddha could pass into final nirvana. The Buddha
however told Ananda that in the past a great city had stood on the spot
where they were now and that it had been ruled over by a great king called
Mahasudarsana who in fact was none other than the Buddha in a previous
Ananda is then instructed to go into Kusinagara and inform the people that
the Buddha is close by and that if they wish to go and pay their respects
they should do so soon because his demise is imminent. Naturally everyone
wished to go and see the Buddha and Ananda realized that there were so
many people that just a representative of each group would have to file pass
the death bed of the Buddha. Even this is exhausting for the Buddha who is
now in a very weak condition. In addition to all the humans in attendance
there were of course myriads of deities there as well, all wishing to pay
homage to the Buddha.

At this time there was a wandering ascetic by the name of Subhadra who
was staying in Kusinagara and who had certain points of the doctrine which
he wanted clarified by the Buddha. Ananda however is adamant that the
Buddha is now too weak and tired to discuss doctrinal points at this stage
and therefore refuses Subhadra access. The Buddha overhears their
conversation and intervenes, thus allowing Subhadra to go ahead with his
questions which are to do with the question of whether some of the other
teachers who were alive at that time were also enlightened. The Buddha tells
him not to worry about such things and teaches him the dhamma instead.
Subhadra converts to Buddhism on the spot and is ordained, thus becoming
the Buddha’s last personal disciple. Soon he attained direct and independent
knowledge of the dhamma and the realization of an arhat in which through
the absence of clinging all his defilements were purified.

After converting Subhadra the Buddha then tells Ananda that after he has
gone bhikkhus might think that they no longer have a teacher. This in fact
would not be true as they have the dhamma, the discipline and the practice
as their teacher. The Buddha then asks his monks if they have any final
questions, whether they have any doubts or uncertainties which they would
like to have elucidated. He tells them that they should not have any worries
about troubling him even at this time, however no one has any questions.

The time for the Buddha’s parinirvana has come and the Buddha’s final
words to the gathered assembly gathered are spoken:

“Indeed, bhikkhus, I declare this to you: It is in the nature of all formations
to dissolve. Attain perfection through diligence.”

Then the Buddha, lying on his right side, passes quickly through the eight
levels of meditational trance and enters the sphere of cessation. At this point
Ananda thinks that the Buddha has attained parinirvana however the
bhikkhu Aniruddha corrects him by stating that the Buddha is still alive and
is on the level of cessation of perception and feeling. The Buddha then
quickly passes back down through the levels until he reaches the first level
of meditation. Then he ascends from the first to the fourth levels of
meditative absorption and attains the utter extinction of final nirvana.

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