Part 11 The Buddha Leaves for Benares
The Buddha began to wonder how he would propagate the knowledge. He said to himself: “I have discovered a profound truth. It was difficult to perceive; it will be difficult to understand; only the wise will grasp it. In a world full of confusion, men lead restless lives, yet men enjoy living in a world full of confusion. How then can they understand the chain of causes and effects? How can they understand the law? They will never be able to stifle their desires; they will never break away from earthly pleasures; they will never enter nirvana. If I preach the doctrine, I shall not be understood. Perhaps no one will even listen to me. What is the use of revealing to mankind the truth I had to fight to win? Truth stays hidden from those controlled by desire and hatred. Truth is hard to find; it remains ever a mystery. The vulgar mind will never grasp it. He will never know truth whose mind is lost in darkness, who is a prey to earthly desires.”
Brahma, by virtue of his supreme intelligence, knew of the doubts that beset the Blessed One. He became frightened. “The world is lost,” he said to himself, “the world is undone, if the Perfect One, the Holy One, the Buddha, now stands aloof, if he does not go among men to preach the doctrine and propagate the knowledge.” He raised his folded hands to the Blessed One and said: “Deign to teach the knowledge, O Master. There are men of great purity in the world, men whom no filth has ever defiled, but, if they are not instructed in the knowledge, how will they find salvation? They will listen to you; they will be your disciples.” And the Blessed One answered: “Profound is the law that I have established; it is subtle and hard to understand; it lies beyond ordinary reasoning. The world will scoff at it; only a few wise men perhaps will grasp the meaning and decide to accept it. If I set out, if I speak and am not understood, I risk an ignominious defeat. I shall stay here, Brahma; men are the sport of ignorance.”
But Brahma spoke again: “No, such conduct is unworthy of you. Rise up! Let the law blaze like a burning torch, or like refreshing rain, let it fall upon the parched earth. Deliver those who are tormented by evil; bring peace to those consumed by a vicious fire!” Then the Blessed One thought: “Among the blue and white lotuses that flower in a pool, there are some that stay under water, others that rise to the surface, and still others that grow so tall that their petals are not even wet. And in the world I see good men and evil men; some have sharp minds and others are dull; some are noble, others ignoble; some will understand me, others will not; but I shall take pity on them all. I shall consider the lotus that opens under water as well as the lotus that flaunts its great beauty.” And he said to Brahma: “May all who have ears hear the word and believe! I rise, O Brahma, and I shall preach the law to all creatures.”
“Where is there a man of virtue, intelligence and energy, to whom I can teach the law?” he asked himself. “His heart must be innocent of hatred, his mind must be tranquil, and he must not keep the knowledge to himself as if it were some dark secret.” He remembered Udraka’s five disciples. They were living in the Deer Park at Benares. So he went to the Deer Park. The five disciples saw him in the distance. They thought they recognized him, and they said to each other: “Do we not know this man, walking toward us? Is he not the one whose austerities, formerly, used to astonish us, and who, one day, revolted against the severe self-discipline he had been observing? If his mortifications did not show him the way to supreme knowledge then, how can his thoughts profit us today when he is swayed by greed and cowardice? Let us not go and meet him, or rise when he approaches; let us not relieve him of his cloak or of his alms-bowl; let us not even offer him a seat. We will say to him, ‘All the seats here are taken.’ And we will give him nothing to eat or drink.”
Thus did they decide. But the Blessed One kept drawing nearer, and the closer he came the more uncomfortable they felt. They were seized with a great desire to rise from their seats. They were restless. Finally, they broke their resolution. They rose as one man; they ran to the Blessed One, and they greeted him. One took his alms-bowl, another his cloak; a third offered him a seat. They brought him water to bathe his feet, and with one voice they cried: “Welcome, friend, welcome. Take a seat in our midst.” The Blessed One sat down and bathed his feet. Then he said to the five hermits: “Do not address me as friend, O monks. I am the Saint, the Perfect One, the supreme Buddha. Open your ears, O monks; the path is discovered that leads to deliverance. I will show you the path; I will teach you the law. Listen well, and you will learn the sacred truth.”
And the five monks listened as he spoke. “There are two extremes that he must avoid who would lead a life governed by his intelligence. Some devote themselves to pleasure; their lives are a constant round of dissipations; they seek only to gratify their senses. Such beings are contemptible; their conduct is ignoble and futile; it is unworthy of him who would acquire intelligence. Others devote themselves to self-mortification; they deprive themselves of everything; their conduct is gloomy and futile; it is unworthy of him who would acquire intelligence. From these two extremes, O monks, the Perfect One stands aloof. He has discovered the middle path, the path that opens the eyes and opens the mind, the path that leads to rest, to knowledge, to nirvana. This sacred path, O monks, has eight branches: right faith, right resolve, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right thought, right meditation. This, O monks, is the middle path, the path that I, the Perfect One, discovered, the path that leads to rest, to knowledge, to nirvana.”
All five held their breath, the better to hear him. He paused a moment, then continued: “O monks, I will tell you the truth about suffering. Suffering is birth, suffering is old age, suffering is sickness, suffering is death. O monks, I will tell you the truth about the origin of suffering. The thirst for existence leads from rebirth to rebirth; there is the origin of suffering. O monks, I will tell you the truth about the suppression of suffering. Quench your thirst by annihilating desire. O monks, I will tell you the truth about the path that leads to the extinction of suffering. It is the sacred path, the noble eight-fold path: right faith, right resolve, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right thought, right meditation. ” The five disciples listened with rapture to the words of the Blessed One. He spoke again: “O monks, as long as I did not have a complete understanding of these four truths, I had not attained the supreme rank of Buddha. But, O monks, now that I have a complete understanding of these four truths, I know that am for ever set free: for me there will be no new birth.”
Benares or Varanasi: The capital of Kasi. It evidently derives its name from the fact that it lies between the two rivers Barna and Asi. It was one of the four places of pilgrimage for the Buddhists – the others being Kapilavatthu, Buddhagaya and Kusinara – because it was at, the Migadaya (Deer Park) in Isipatana near Varanasi that the Buddha preached his first sermon to the Pancavaggiya (Five Disciples). This was the spot where Buddha set in motion the Wheel of the Law (Dhamma-cakka). He is spoken of as staying in Benares, where he preached several sermons and converted many people. Isipatana became a monastic centre in the Buddha’s time and continued so for long after. At the time of the Buddha Benares had lost its political importance. Kosala was already the paramount power, and several successful invasions of Kasi by the Kosalans under their kings Vanka, Dabbasena and Kamsa, are referred to. There seems to have been friendly intercourse between the chieftains of Benares and the kings of Magadha, as shown by the fact that Bimbisara sent his own physician, Jivaka, to attend to the son of the Treasurer of Benares. Later, when Ajatasattu succeeded in establishing his sway over Kosala, with the help of the Licchavis, Kasi, too, was included in his kingdom. The city of Benares was wealthy and prosperous and was included in the list of great cities suggested by Ananda as suitable places for the Parinibbana of the Buddha.
Isipatana: An open space near Benares, the site of the famous Migadaya or Deer Park. It was eighteen leagues from Uruvela, and when Gotama gave up his austere penances his friends, the Pancavaggiya monks, left him and went to Isipatana. After his Enlightenment the Buddha, leaving Uruvela, joined them in Isipatana, and it was there that he preached his first sermon, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, on the full-moon day of Asalha. The Buddha also spent his first rainy season here.
Kasi: One of the sixteen Mahajanapadas, its capital being Varanasi. At the time of the Buddha, it had been absorbed into the kingdom of Kosala, and Pasenadi was king of both countries. Pasenadi’s father, Mahakosala, on giving his daughter in marriage to Bimbisara of Magadha, allotted her a village of Kasi as bath money.
Five Disciples or Pancavaggiya: The name given to the five monks – Kaundinya, Ashvajit, Vashpa, Mahanaman and Bhadrika to whom the Buddha preached his first sermon at Isipatana.
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is a painting of the Buddha and his five disciples. It is based on a painting from the Yempi Mahavihara of Lalitpur (ancient Patan), Nepal and was uploaded by Suraj Belbase. Lalitpur happens to be one of the largest and most ancient cities of the country, located in the Kathmandu Valley.