Part 12 The Buddha at the Bamboo Grove

The Blessed One was still in the Deer Park when a young man named Yasas arrived. Yasas was the son of a wealthy merchant of Benares. He had been leading a worldly existence, but he had learned the vanity of such things, and he was now seeking the sacred peace of the woods. The Blessed One saw Yasas; he spoke to him, and Yasas announced that he was ready to walk in the path of holiness. Each day the number of disciples increased, and soon the master had sixty monks ready to propagate the knowledge. He said to them: “O disciples, I am free of all bonds, human and divine. And you, too, are now free. So start on your way, O disciples, go, out of pity for the world, for the world’s happiness, go. It is to you that Gods and men will owe their welfare and their joy. Set out on the road, singly and alone. There are some who are not blinded by the dust of the earth, but they will not find salvation if they do not hear the law proclaimed. So go, O disciples, go and teach them the law.” The disciples scattered, and the Blessed One took the road to Uruvilva.

In Uruvilva, the Blessed One found the three Kasyapa brothers. These brahmans had a thousand disciples. For some time they had been bothered by a dangerous serpent that kept disturbing their sacrifices, and they brought their troubles to the Buddha. The Buddha smiled; he watched for the serpent and ordered it, in the future, to leave them in peace. The serpent obeyed, and the sacrifices were no longer interrupted. The Kasyapas asked the Buddha to stay with them a few days. He consented. He astounded his hosts by performing innumerable prodigies, and presently they all decided to accept the law. The eldest of the Kasyapas alone refused to follow the Buddha. He thought: “True, this monk is very powerful; he performs great prodigies, but he is not my equal in holiness.” The Blessed One read Kasyapa’s thoughts. He said to him: “You think you are a very holy man, Kasyapa, and you are not even in the path that leads to holiness.”

Kasyapa was astonished that the Buddha should have guessed his secret thoughts. The Blessed One added: “You do not even know how to find the path that leads to holiness. Hearken to my words, Kasyapa, if you would dispel the darkness in which you live.” Kasyapa fell at the feet of the Blessed One, and he said: “Instruct me, O Master! Let me walk no longer in the night!” Then the Blessed One ascended a mountain, and he addressed the Kasyapa brothers and their disciples. “O monks,” said he, “everything in the world is aflame. The eye is aflame; all that it sees is aflame; all that we behold in the world is aflame. Why? Because the fire of love and of hatred is not extinguished. You are blinded by the flames of this fire, and you suffer the torment of birth and of old age, of death and of misery. Understand me, and for you the fire will be extinguished; your eyes will no longer be blinded by the flames, and you will no longer enjoy the blazing spectacle in which you delight to-day. Understand me, and you will know that there is an end to birth, you will know that to this earth we need never return.”

The Blessed One remembered that King Bimbisara had once expressed a desire to know the law, and he resolved to go to Rajagriha. He set out with a few of his disciples, and he went to live in a wood, near the city. Bimbisara soon learned of the arrival of the monks. Accompanied by a host of retainers, he went to the wood. He recognized the Master, and he exclaimed: “You did not forget my wish, O Blessed One; great is my gratitude and my reverence. I believe in the Buddha, I believe in the law, I believe in the community of the saints.” The Blessed One gave the king leave to sit beside him, and the king spoke again: “In my lifetime I have had five great hopes: I hoped that some day I would be king; I hoped that some day the Buddha would come into my kingdom; I hoped that some day my gaze would rest upon his countenance; I hoped that some day he would teach me the law; I hoped that some day I would profess my faith in him. To-day, all these hopes are realized.” He rose. “O Master, deign to take your meal at my palace, to-morrow.” The Master consented. The king left; he knew great happiness.

The time came for him to go to the king’s palace. Bimbisara received the Blessed One with great reverence. At the end of the meal, he said to him: “I rejoice at your presence, my Lord. I must see you often, and often hear the sacred word from your lips. You must now accept a gift from me. Nearer the city than that forest where you dwell, there is a pleasant wood, known as the Bamboo Grove. It is vast; you and your disciples can live there in comfort. I give you the Bamboo Grove, my Lord, and if you will accept it, I shall feel that you have done me a great service.” The Buddha smiled with pleasure. A golden basin was brought, filled with sweet-scented water. The king took the basin and poured the water over the Master’s hands. And he said: “As this water pours from my hands into your hands, my Lord, so may the Bamboo Grove pass from my hands into your hands, my Lord.” The law now had soil in which to take root. And that same day, the Master and his disciples went to live in the Bamboo Grove.

Two young brahmans, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana, were living at that time in the city of Rajagriha. They were pupils of the hermit Sanjaya. One day, Sariputra saw Ashvajit collecting alms in the streets of Rajagriha. He was struck by his pleasant countenance, his noble and modest demeanor, his quiet and dignified bearing. He said to himself: “Verily, there is a monk who, already in this world, has found the sure path to saintliness. I must ask him who his master is and what law he obeys.” Ashvajit presently stopped asking for alms. Then Sariputra went up to him and greeted him in a friendly manner. “Friend,” said Sariputra, “serene is your countenance, clear and radiant your glance. Who persuaded you to renounce the world? Who is your master? What law do you obey?” “Friend,” replied Asvajit, “that great monk, the son of the Sakyas, is my master.” Sariputra rejoiced at these words. He went to Maudgalyayana and told of his encounter, and the two friends decided to go to the Blessed One. “Here,” said the Master as he saw them approach, “here are the two men who will be the foremost among my disciples.” And he joyfully welcomed them to the community.

There were many in Rajagriha who were disturbed to see the great number of converts the Buddha was making, and they went about the city, voicing their anger.”Why has he settled in our midst, this son of the Sakyas?” they would ask. “Were there not enough monks already, preaching to us about virtue? And they did not lure our young men away like this master. Why, even our children are leaving us. Because of this son of the Sakyas, how many women are widows! Because of this son of the Sakyas, how many families are childless! Evil will befall the kingdom, now that this monk has settled in our midst!” Whenever they met his disciples, they would taunt them. The disciples felt the anger of the populace growing, and they told the Master of the evil words they had heard. “Do not let it disturb you, O disciples,” replied the Buddha. “They will soon stop. To those who follow you with jeers and insults, speak quiet, gentle words. Say to them, ‘It is because they know the truth, the real truth, that the heroes convince, that the perfect ones convert. Who dares offend the Buddha, the Saint who converts by the power of truth?’ Then they will be silent.” It happened as the Buddha had said. The evil voices were silenced.

Notes

Yasas or Yasa: He was the son of a very wealthy treasurer of Benares, and was brought up in great luxury. The Buddha preached to him a graduated discourse, and when he had finished teaching the Truths, Yasas attained realization of the Dhamma. He preached to other members of Yasas’ household, who all became his followers. When Yasas’ intimate friends, Vimala, Subahu, Punnaji and Gavampati, heard of Yasa’s ordination they followed his example and joined the Order, attaining arahantship in due course, as did fifty others of Yasa’s former friends and acquaintances.

Veluvana or Bamboo Grove: A park near Rajagriha, the pleasure garden of Bimbisara. When the Buddha first visited Rajagriha, after his Enlightenment, he stayed at the Latthivanuyyana. The day after his arrival, he accepted the king’s invitation to a meal at the palace, at the end of which the king, seeking a place for the Buddha to live “not too far from the town, not too near, suitable for coming and going, easily accessible to all people, by day not too crowded, by night not exposed to noise and clamour, clean of the smell of people, hidden from men and well fitted to seclusion” decided on Veluvana, and bestowed it on the Buddha and the fraternity. This was the first arama accepted by the Buddha, and a rule was passed allowing monks to accept such an arama.

Kasyapa or Kassapa Brothers: Kassapa was evidently a well-known gotta name and people born in a family bearing that name were often addressed as Kassapa. They were also known as the Tebhatika-Jatilas. The eldest, Uruvela-Kassapa, lived in Uruvela on the banks of the Neranjara with five hundred disciples. Further down the river lived his brothers Nadi-Kassapa with three hundred disciples and Gaya-Kassapa with two hundred. The Buddha visited Uruvela-Kassapa and took lodging where the sacred fire was kept, in spite of Kassapa’s warning that the spot was inhabited by a fierce Naga. The Buddha is said to have overcome, first this Naga and then another. When Kassapa asked for ordination the Buddha asked him to consult with his pupils, and they cut off their hair and threw it with their sacrificial utensils into the river and were all ordained. Nadi-Kassapa and Gaya-Kassapa came to inquire what had happened, and they, too, were ordained with their pupils. At Gayasisa the Buddha preached to them the Fire Sermon. From Gayasisa the Buddha went to Rajagriha, where Uruvela-Kassapa declared his allegiance to the Buddha. Six verses attributed to him are found in the Theragatha, wherein he relates how he was won over by the Buddha.

Sariputra or Sariputta: The chief disciple (aggasavaka) of Buddha. He is also called Upatissa, which was evidently his personal name. The commentators say that Upatissa was the name of his village and that he was the eldest son of the chief family in the village, but other accounts give his village as Nalaka. His father was the brahmin, Vanganta, and his mother, Rupasari. It was because of his mother’s name that he came to be called Sariputta. In Sanskrit texts his name occurs as Sariputra, Saliputra, Sarisuta, Saradvatiputra. In the Apadana he is also called Sarisambhava. He had three younger brothers and three sisters; all of whom joined the Order. Sariputta had a very quick intuition. In the assembly of monks and nuns, Sariputta was declared by the Buddha foremost among those who possessed wisdom. He was considered by the Buddha as inferior only to himself in wisdom.

Maudgalyayana or Moggallana: The second of the Chief Disciples of the Buddha. He was born in Kolitagama near Rajagriha, and was called Kolita after his village. His mother was called Moggali, and his father was the chief householder of the village. Moggallana’s and Sariputta’s families had maintained an unbroken friendship for generations, and so the children were friends from their childhood. Sariputta, wandering about in Rajagriha, met Ashvajit, was converted by him to the faith of the Buddha. He found Moggallana and resolved to visit the Buddha at Veluvana. On the day that Sariputta and Moggallana were ordained, the Buddha announced in the assembly of monks that he had assigned to them the place of Chief Disciples and then recited the Patimokkha. They were declared to be the ideal disciples, whose example others should try to follow.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows a 19th century Chinese scroll painting depicting a famous Chinese Buddhist tale. Known as ‘Mulian Rescues His Mother’, it is based on the legends surrounding one of Gautama Buddha’s chief disciples, Moggallana or Maudgalyayana. The tale is said to date back to the 3rd century CE and narrates the attempts of the virtuous monk Mulian to save his mother who has been condemned to hell. Mulian approaches the Buddha for help who tells him that individual effort won’t redeem her. Instead, he should offer food to monks. This tale became the basis for the the Chinese Ghost Festival and spread to Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Extremely popular among the Chinese Buddhist community, it was circulated in the form of the Bianwen (Transformation Tales), representing a tradition of storytelling dating back to the days of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). Illustrated Bianwen manuscripts were discovered in Dunhuang (in Gansu Province, western China), a major settlement on the Chinese section of the Silk Road that hosted one of China’s oldest Buddhist communities.

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