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 Wheel.

    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):

    1. The Buddha   -   Shakyamuni Buddha
    2. The Dharma   -   the teaching of Buddhahood
    3. 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 Grove Park.

    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 child.

    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:

    1. Mahakasyapa   -   first in acestisic
    2. Ananda   -   first in having heard the words of Buddha
    3. Sariputra   -   first in wisdom
    4. Subhuti   -   first in expressing emptiness
    5. Purna   -   first in explaining good law
    6. Maudgalyayana   -   first in supernatural power
    7. Katyayana   -   first in preaching
    8. Aniruddha   -   first in the divine eye
    9. Upali   -   first in taking precepts
    10. Rahula   -   first in esoteric practices