THE BEGINNING OF
31.1 The Teaching Mission
After his Enlightenment,
Shakyamuni stayed in deep meditation under the Bodhi tree. He was
considering whether he should reveal the profound truth of ultimate
liberation to the beings. As ordinary people pursued the desirous
pleasures, they might not believe and understand the truth of reality
of nature, such as the Law of Dependent Origination which comprised
of the cyclic chains of causes and effects. By that time, Shakyamuni
could enter Nirvana without transforming and saving the sentient beings.
However, with his great vow and compassion, he decided to teach the
truth to which he had been enlightened. He would reveal supermandane
knowledge realized by his own intuitive wisdom, and share his experience
of Buddhahood with all the sentient beings, so as to liberate people
from sufferings and to lead people to eternal happiness. With that
single thought, Shakyamuni resolved to open and reveal the Buddha's
knowledge and view so that people could understand and practise them
in their lives. He then became the founder of one of the greatest
religions in the world - Buddhism.
31.2 The First Sermon
Having decided to go forth the
mission of disseminating the Buddhist Dharma, Shakyamuni prepared
to talk to his two meditation teachers, Alara-Kalama and Uddaka-Ramaputta.
As Shakyamuni knew that the Dharma he discovered could not be easily
understood and had little appeal to ordinary people, his two teachers
were probably the most suitable learners. However, when he inquired
about them, he learned that both had died.
The first group of people that Shakyamuni taught was the five ascetics
who had accompanied him during his six years as an ascetic in the
forest. The five people were Ajnata-Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama
and Assaji. Shakyamuni travelled to Mrgadava (Deer Park) near Varanasi
where they lived.
Shakyamuni taught the five ascetics that both sensuality and asceticism
failed to lead to enlightenment. He told them of the doctrine of the
Middle Way, comprising of the Eightfold Noble Paths and Four Noble
Truths. Upon hearing the wonderful Dharma, the five people certified
the fruition of Arhatship, and they became the first five Bhiksus
in Buddhism. This sermon is regarded as the First Rolling of Dharma
The First Sermon has a significant meaning in Buddhism, because
it established the main substance of Buddhism. There are three main
elements in the substance of Buddhism, known as The Three Jewels (Tripitaka):
- The Buddha - Shakyamuni Buddha
- The Dharma - the teaching of Buddhahood
- The Sangha - the Five Bhiksus
31.3 The First Missionary
After the First Sermon and the ordination of the Five Bhiksus in the Deer
Park, Shakyamuni Buddha continued to preach around the region of Varanasi.
The number of converts rapidly increased to sixty within five months,
including Mahakatyayanna. In the monastic order, their positions were in the
order of their dates of ordination regardless of clan, class, age and gender.
Mindful of his resolution to propagate the Dharma to all mankind, Shakyamuni
Buddha sent his disciples to other countries to preach for the benefits and
the bliss of all beings. He gave them the power to ordain their converts in
simple formality by vowing,
I take my refuge in the Buddha,
I take my refuge in the Dharma,
I take my refuge in the Sangha.
The Buddha himself returned to Uruvela, where he converted a group
of a thousand Fire-worshippers, led by the three Kassapa brothers
from a Brahman family. The preaching was well-known as the Fire Sermon.
31.4 The First Bodhimandala
The Buddha then proceeded to
Rajagaha, and converted King Bimbisara of Magadha. King Bimbisara
made a meal offering to the Buddha and over a thousand of his disciples
in the palace. The elder Kalanda donated his bamboo grove, where King
Bimblisara built houses for the Buddha and his followers. It was the
first famous Bodhimandala in the Buddhist history, known as the Bamboo
One of the Five Bhiksus, Assaji met Sariputta the disciple of another
famous ascetic called Sanjaya. Sariputta was deeply impressed by Assaji's
dignity and joyfulness, and asked Assaji who his teacher was. Assaji
told him that his teacher was Shakyamuni. Upon Sariputta's request,
Assaji summarized his understanding on the Law of Causal Conditions.
When Sariputta heard of the Dharma of where there is a rising
thing, there is a ceasing thing, he was immediately enlightened.
Sariputta and Moggallana, another great disciple of Sanjaya, each brought
250 followers to Bamboo Grove Park to take refuge in the Buddha. They
attained the Arhatship after a month. Both Sariputta and Moggallana
later became the chief disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. Sariputta was
the first in wisdom, while Moggallana was the first in psychic power.
Another chief disciple, Mahakassapa, who was well respected by the people
in Rajagaha came to take refuge in the Buddha. He attained the Arhatship
after eight days. He was the first in ascetics amongst the disciples.
By that time, the monastic order of one thousand two hundred and fifty
disciples was basically formed. These disciples were usually mentioned
as to be present and as great Arhats in Buddhist sutras.
31.5 The Return to the Palace
Longing to see his son again, King
Suddhodana made repeated requests to Shakyamuni Buddha. Finally, when
spring had come, the Buddha and his followers returned to Kapilavastu,
his home country. It was seven years since he had left home, and the
first time since his Enlightenment to see his father, his wife and
King Suddhodana specially built the Nigrodharma Park for the accommodation of
the Buddha and his followers.
One day, Rahula, the Buddha's son, was well-dressed and came to
the Buddha under the instruction of his mother. The boy asked for
inheritance of the king, but the Buddha, turning to Sariputta, said,
What you want to inherent is impermanent and will make you suffer.
Sariputta, receive him into the Order. Then, Rahula was the
first and youngest Sramanera in the monastic order of Buddhism.
During the seven-day return to his mother country, Shakyamuni succeeded
in converting many people in Shakya tribe, including his father, and
his brother, Nanda Aniruddha, Ananda, Kumbhira, Devadatta who later
struggled for leadership with the Buddha, and Upali who used to cut
hair for the Buddha.
By the time, the famous Ten Great Disciples (all except Subhuti) had come
to follow Shakyamuni Buddha.
31.6 The Ten Great Disciples
Amongst the thousands of disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha, the Ten Great
Disciples were the most famous in Buddhism:
- Mahakasyapa - first in acestisic
- Ananda - first in having heard the words of Buddha
- Sariputra - first in wisdom
- Subhuti - first in expressing emptiness
- Purna - first in explaining good law
- Maudgalyayana - first in supernatural power
- Katyayana - first in preaching
- Aniruddha - first in the divine eye
- Upali - first in taking precepts
- Rahula - first in esoteric practices