Roots of Dhamma

THE BUDDHA’S FIRST SERMON AND FIRST DISCIPLE

Esala has been a season of festivals for centuries in India and in lands where the Indian culture spread to, with most festivals having their finale on the full-moon day of Esala. This day has a very special significance to Buddhists the world over, for it was on an Esala full moon day, that the Buddha preached His first sermon. By then, two months had passed since His Enlightenment on the full-moon day of Vesak.

Legend says that the Buddha spent the first seven weeks after His Enlightenment, by and in the vicinity of the tree-thereafter called the Bodhi tree- that gave Him shelter in the last weeks of his quest for the way to end the grief and suffering that all beings were subjected to.

The Buddha Himself has said in the Maha Saccaka Sutta how in the first week after His Enlightenment doubts began to assail His mind and he asked himself, “If I were to teach others what I now know, will they understand. If they did not understand it would weary me, be a vexation. As I reflected thus my mind turned to in action.”

As he was deliberating, “Shall I or shall I not teach, Brahma Sahampathi appeared before Him pleaded with Him to teach the people the realities of sorrow and suffering and the way to end them. “Let those who have ears listen. There are many with little dust in their eyes (of little impurity) they will see the path you open out to them.

If not for Brahma Sahampathi’s intervention, and his pleading, Gotama Buddha could very well have become a Pacceka Buddha a silent Buddha, one who has attained Supreme insight by his own striving but does not proclaim it to the world.

Heeding Brahma Sahampathi’s plea, the Buddha decided to go forth and teach and He thought to whom should I first teach, who will learn quickly? Alaara Kaalaama under whom He had first practiced meditation came to mind. He is learned, he is wise. “I shall teach him first.” Just then he heard a deva say that Alaara Kaalaama had passed away seven days ago. Then he thought of his other teacher Uddaka Ramaputta, where was he? With his divine eye he saw that this teacher too had passed away the day before.

Then he remembered the five ascetics who had done much for him when he was striving hard to find out the true cause of suffering and the way to end it. He saw with His divine vision that they were in the deer-park at Isipathana in Benaris. He stayed at Uruvela for as long as he wished and then made his journey to Benaris.

When the ascetic Gotama realized that the self-mortification he was practicing with them, led him nowhere near His goal, He started taking solid food – rice and gruel. The five ascetics left him in disgust. When these same five saw their old friend coming they decided not to greet him, rise in respect, take his bowl and robe, but agreed to keep a seat for him if he wished to sit down. But they were not able to abide by their decision. Some unseen force made them come forward, take his bowl and robe prepare a seat and keep water for his foot, and they addressed him as Aavuso – friend.

The Buddha told them that he had finally discovered the supreme truth. “I will teach you and if you will walk according to the teaching you will realize and attain the culmination of the religious life and abide in it.’ They were skeptical. How could he, after giving up his striving and returning to a life of indulgence gain that supreme knowledge and insight. It took the Buddha some time to convince them that he had not returned to a life of indulgence and had indeed gained insight, and then started to instruct them. The legend says the Buddha preached His first sermon to the five ascetics explaining the fundamental principles of His doctrine when the deer park was washed with the moonlight, and later scholars and commentators have called this sermon the Dhamma Chakka Pavattana Sutta – that set the wheel of the Dhamma rolling.

It made the people think anew and start a new way of living.

The early texts of the Tripitaka tell a different story. They say that the Buddha first instructed two ascetics while three went out for alms. When they returned all six took of that food. Later he instructed the three who had gone out for alms and the two who had been instructed earlier when out for alms. Did this happen on two consecutive days or on the same day?

It is possible that ascetics then had two meals a day. Whether this happened on the same day or two consecutive days is irrelevant. What is important is that as each one grasped the Buddha’s instructions and understood His admonitions they gained insight and realized the supreme truth that everything has a cause and origin and that all that originates has the cessation. The first to gain the insight was Kondanna and he came to be known as Anna Kondanna – Kondanna who knows.

The five friends wanted to become bhikkhus like the Buddha, and the Buddha said Ehi bhikkhu-come here bhikkhu and there were bhikkhus. That first ordination was simple as that, as simple as the monarch placing the sword on the neck of recipient of the honour and saying, Rise Sir Richard with that the man became a Knight. Later on, two other laymen were ordained by the Buddha in this manner – Ehi Bhikkhu. The brigand Angulimala was one of them.

The writer completed 50 years in journalism on Friday July 15. She recalls nostalgically of a chance meeting with the Late Esmond Wickremasinghe in Sydney where she was reading for a post graduate degree that year which paved the way for her sojourn in journalism.

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