Monday, March 8, 2010


1. The Birth
2. The Prediction
3. The Ploughing Festival
4. Prince Siddhatta's Youth
5. The Four Signs and the Great Renunciation
6. The Search and Struggle for Enlightenment
7. The Enlightenment and the Seven Weeks After
8. The Buddha Propounds the Dhamma (Teaching)
9. Conversion of Sariputta and Moggallana
10. The Buddha Visits His Birthplace
11. The Buddha's Ministry
12. The Parinibbana and Final Admonition to the Monks
13. References
14. Explanatory Notes
Life of the Buddha • 15
1. The Birth
In the seventh century BC, the northern part of India was divided
into sixteen principal states or mahajanapadas, eight of which were
kingdoms and the remaining republics. The names of these states are
listed in Anguttara I, 213 and Vinaya Texts 2, 146. Among the
kingdoms, the most powerful were Magadha and Kosala. According
to Rhys Davids, Magadha occupied the district now called Bihar
and had its capital at Rajagaha. In the Buddha’s time, it had eighty
thousand villages under the rule of King Bimbisara and afterwards,
his son Ajatasattu. It covered an area of 300 yojanas or about 2400
miles in circumference. The Kosalas were the ruling clan in the
kingdom whose capital was Savatthi that is now part of the ruins
called Sahet-Mahet near Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh. Their ruler
was King Pasenadi. To the north across the present Indo-Nepalese
border, was the little Sakyan republic, a vassal state of Kosala. Its
chief was Suddhodana and he had his capital at Kapilavatthu.
According to the Theravada tradition, the Buddha was born on the
full-moon day of Wesakha (late April-May) in 623 BC, although
this date is disputed by other traditions ( ote 1). His mother was
Mahamaya Devi, chief consort of King Suddhodana. Already
fifty-six years old ( ote 2) and in the final stage of pregnancy
carrying the Bodhisatta or future Buddha for ten full months, she
was traveling in state to her parents’ home in Devadaha to deliver
her first child in keeping with the ancient tradition of her Koliyan
clan. Along the way, the entourage passed Lumbini Garden, a
pleasure grove of Sala trees, which were then in full bloom. Seeing
the immense splendour, she decided to stop there and admire the
flowering trees and plants. Soon she began to experience the
unmistakable signs of impending birth. Quickly she summoned her
female attendants to cordon off the area with curtains. Then holding
on to the branch of a Sala tree with her right hand for support, she
gave birth to the Bodhisatta while standing up.
In 249 BC, the great Mauryan Emperor Asoka (c. 273-236 BC)
visited Lumbini as part of his pilgrimage to the sacred Buddhist
places. To commemorate his visit, he built a stone pillar that bore an
16 • Buddhism Course
inscription in Brahmi script to record the event for posterity. The
inscription engraved in five lines reads (Translation):
“Twenty years after his coronation, King Piyadassi, Beloved of the
Gods, visited this spot in person and worshipped at this place
because here Buddha Sakyamuni was born. He caused to make a
stone (capital) representing a horse and he caused this stone pillar
to be erected. Because the Buddha was born here, he made the
village of Lumbini free from taxes and subject to pay only one-eighth
of the produce as land revenue instead of the usual rate.”
After the Muslim conquest of northern India during the 12th century
AD that led to the indiscriminate pillaging and desecration of
Buddhist shrines and monasteries, Lumbini was abandoned and
eventually engulfed by the tarai (forests). In 1886, the German
archeologist, Dr. Alois A. Fuhrer, while wandering in the Nepalese
tarai in search of the legendary site, came across a stone pillar and
ascertained beyond doubt that it was indeed the birthplace of the
Buddha. The Lumbini Pillar (or Rummindei pillar) stands today
majestically proclaiming that here the Buddha was born.
2. The Prediction
When the good news reached the capital of Kapilavatthu, there was
great rejoicing among the people over the birth of their new-born
prince. An ascetic named Asita, also known as Kaladevila the
Hermit, being the royal tutor visited the palace to see the royal baby.
The overjoyed King brought the child to him to pay reverence, but to
the King’s surprise, the child’s feet turned and planted themselves
on the matted locks of the ascetic’s head. The ascetic, realizing this
astonishing and extraordinary power and glory of the Bodhisatta,
instantly rose from his seat and saluted him. Witnessing the
marvelous scene, the King also bowed down before his own son.
Life of the Buddha • 17
Asita was an expert in distinguishing the marks of greatness and as
soon as he examined the child, he confidently proclaimed the child’s
future supremacy among mankind. Then seeing his own impending
death, tears came to his eyes. The Sakyans, seeing him cry, thought
that misfortune would befall on the prince. But Asita reassured them
that the prince’s future was secure, as he would surely become a
Buddha. He was sad because he would die soon and be reborn in a
Formless Realm thereby missing the opportunity to meet the
Buddha and listen to His Dhamma.
In order to ensure that someone in his family would not miss this
rare opportunity, he related his prediction to his nephew alaka. On
Asita’s advice, Nalaka renounced the world and when the Bodhisatta
attained Supreme Enlightenment thirty-five years later, Nalaka
came to see the Buddha to ask some questions. After listening to the
Buddha’s answers, Nalaka became an Arahant. A full account of
Asita’s prediction and Nalaka’s meeting with the Buddha is given in
the alaka Sutta of the Sutta ipata (Group of Discourses).
Five days after the Bodhisatta’s birth, the king held a ceremony to
choose a suitable name for the newborn prince. According to the
Jataka Commentaries, many learned Brahmins were invited to theNaming Ceremony. Among them were eight experts who could
foretell the child’s future just by examining the marks and
characteristics of his body. Seven of them raised two fingers to
indicate that the child would grow up to become either a Universal
Monarch or a Buddha. But the eighth, Sudatta of the Kondanna clan
who was the youngest and who excelled the others in knowledge,
raised one finger and confidently declared that the prince would
renounce the world and become a Buddha. Consequently the
Brahmins gave him the name of Siddhattha meaning “wishfulfilled”.
His family name was Gotama. On the seventh day, Prince
Siddhattha’s mother died. Her younger sister, Maha Pajapati
Gotami who was also married to King Suddhodana became his
foster mother.
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3. The Ploughing Ceremony
During the Buddha’s time, the main economic activity of his country
was farming. As such, a festival was held every year to promote
agriculture whereby the King and his noblemen would lead the
common folk in ploughing the fields to prepare them for planting.
On the appointed day, the King took his young son along,
accompanied by the nurses to take care of the child. Placing the child
on a couch with a canopy overhead under the cool shade of a solitary
rose-apple tree to be cared for by the nurses, the King went to
participate in the Ploughing Festival. At the height of the festival,
the nurses became distracted by the gaiety and abandoned their posts
to watch the spectacle.
Left alone, instead of crying or running after the nurses, the
Bodhisatta sat cross-legged on the ground and concentrating on the
inhaling and exhaling of his breath, achieved one-pointedness of
mind by which he developed the First Jhana (mental absorption).
He must have been absorbed in this ecstatic concentration for a long
time because when the nurses realized their mistake, it was past
noon. Rushing back to the rose-apple tree, they were amazed to see
the child sitting cross-legged in deep meditation. On hearing of this
remarkable event, the King hurried to the scene and seeing the
miracle, he saluted his son, saying, “This, dear child, is my second
salutation.” Many years later, after struggling for six years in search
of Enlightenment, the memory of this childhood experience
convinced the Bodhisatta to abandon the path of self-mortification
by recognizing that this indeed was the way to Enlightenment.
4. Prince Siddhatta’s Youth
Although the Pali Scriptures provide little information about the
Bodhisatta’s early years, one can surmise that during his boyhood,
he would have studied under Brahmin tutors just like his father
before him. Under them he would have studied together with the
Life of the Buddha • 19
other Sakyan princes all the Brahmanical literature including the
Vedas (scriptures), -egamas (codes), Puranas (mythology), Itihasas
(history) and others. This is borne out in the suttas that reveal the
Buddha’s familiarity and insight of Brahmin codes and lore. As a
member of the warrior caste (khattiya), he was specially trained in
the art of warfare excelling in archery and dexterity skills.
Prince Siddhatta grew up in great comfort and luxury. In Anguttara
Book of Threes, 38, the Buddha described the luxuries he was
showered upon by his father during his youth. He was delicately
nurtured and wore the best clothes made from Kasi silk. Day and
night, a white umbrella was held over him to shelter him from heat
and cold, dust or chaff or dew. He had three palaces; one for the
winter, one for the summer and one for the rainy season. In the rains
palace, female minstrels were provided for his entertainment. For the
four months of the rains, he never went down to the lower palace.
Though meals of broken rice with lentil soup were given to the
servants and retainers in other people’s houses, in his father’s house
white rice and meat were given to them.
When Prince Siddhattha reached sixteen years of age, his father
decided to install him on the throne and arrange for his marriage. As
soon as word went out that King Suddhodana was looking for a
princess to marry his son, the Sakyan aristocrats made derogatory
remarks saying that although the prince was handsome, he did not
possess any craft that would enable him to support a family.
Thereupon, the Bodhisatta gave a spectacular display of his dexterity
and archery skills, which so impressed his royal relatives that they
all sent their own daughters beautifully dressed and adorned for him
to choose as his bride. Among the Sakyan princesses, the one chosen
to be his consort was his beautiful cousin, Princess Yasodhara
whose maiden name was Bhaddakaccana, also of the same age. She
was the daughter of the Koliyan ruler of Devadaha kingdom,
Suppabuddha (his mother’s brother) and Queen Amita (his father’s
sister). She earned the name of Yasodhara because of her pristine
fame and great retinue (Yaso = great retinue and repute, dhara =
bearer). After his happy marriage, he led a luxurious life, blissfully
unaware of the vicissitudes of life outside the palace gates.
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5. The Four Signs and the Great Renunciation
With the march of time, the Bodhisatta became increasingly
disenchanted with life in the palace and he would seek solace by
going out to visit the royal garden. On four occasions, while riding
to the royal garden, he encountered successively the strange sights of
a decrepit old man, a diseased man, a corpse and a serene-looking
ascetic. The first three sights brought him face to face with the stark
realities of the true nature of existence. They are called “samvega
nimitta”, signs that give rise to a sense of religious urgency. As he
contemplated on them, seeing that he too was not immune from
ageing, sickness and death, the vanity of youth, health and life
entirely left him. The last sight provided a ray of hope for a means
of escape from the suffering of existence. It is called “padhana
nimitta”, sign that gives rise to a sense of meditative exertion in
order to escape from old age, sickness and death.
When King Suddhodana came to know of these encounters, he
became worried that his son would renounce the secular life as
predicted by the royal astrologers. To prevent his son from leaving
the royal life, he built high walls around the palace, fitted massive
doors at the city gate, and increased the strength of guards,
attendants and dancing girls to look after the prince. But the
Bodhisatta’s samvega (religious urgency) had been aroused. Sensual
pleasures no longer appealed to him. Realizing the futility of sensual
pleasures so highly sought after by ordinary people and the value of
renunciation that the wise take delight in, he decided to renounce the
world in search of the Deathless. It was with this deep sense of
religious urgency that the Bodhisatta received the news that a son
had been born to him. Normally an ordinary father would have
rejoiced at it. But the Bodhisatta, having made the decision to
renounce the world after much deliberation, saw it as an impediment
and remarked, “An impediment (rahu) has been born; a fetter has
arisen.” The king, hearing this, named his grandson, Rahula.
According to the Commentaries, the Great Renunciation took place
at midnight on the full moon of Asalha (July/August) when the
Bodhisatta was twenty-nine years old. Earlier in the evening, he
had been entertained by a female troupe of musicians, dancers and
Life of the Buddha • 21
singers but he took no delight in it and fell asleep. Seeing the master
asleep, the entertainers stopped the show and started to rest. Very
soon, they too fell asleep. When the Bodhisatta awoke, he saw these
women sleeping like corpses in a cemetery, their musical
instruments and belongings strewn about, some with saliva flowing
out of their mouths, some grinding their teeth, some talking
confusedly, some snoring, some with their garments in disarray
exposing their bodies, their hair loose and tangled. When the
Bodhisatta saw the change in them, he was filled with
loathsomeness and uttered, “How oppressive it is; how terrible
indeed!” His mind was made up, “This very day I must depart from
here.” Leaving the palace, he went to the stable and ordered his
charioteer Channa to saddle his favourite horse Kanthaka for his
departure immediately.
While Channa was making preparations, the Bodhisatta went to the
bedroom to have a look at his newborn son before leaving. He saw
his wife asleep with her arm resting on the child’s head. He wanted
to remove the mother’s hand and cradle his son in his arms but
decided against it for fear that it would awaken his wife and
jeopardize his plan of renunciation. Knowing that both mother and
child would be well taken care of by his father, the Bodhisatta left,
vowing to return to see his son again only after attaining
Enlightenment. Mounting his horse Kanthaka and letting Channa
hold on to the tail, the Bodhisatta rode out of Kapilavatthu by the
East Gate and journeyed into the night. They traveled the whole
night without stopping and arrived next day on the bank of the
Anoma River in the country of the Mallas. Here the Bodhisatta cut
off his hair and beard with his sword and handing over his garments
and ornaments to Channa, he donned the simple robe of an ascetic.
Although Channa wanted to renounce too in order to serve him, the
Bodhisatta forbade it and asked him to return to the palace with the
horse. But Kanthaka, seeing his master leaving them, died of a
broken heart and Channa returned alone to Kapilavatthu to break the
news to King Suddhodana.
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6. The Search and Struggle for Enlightenment
After becoming an ascetic, the Bodhisatta spent a week at the nearby
mango grove called Anupiya before proceeding to Rajagaha to
look for a suitable teacher to help him realize his goal. Even when he
arrived at Rajagaha where King Bimbisara offered him half the
kingdom, he rejected the offer, stating that he wanted to find a way
to end old age, sickness and death, promising that he would return
after he had found the answer. As a seeker of Truth and Peace, he
approached Alara Kalama of Vesali, an ascetic of repute and
speedily learnt his doctrine and developed the 7th Arupa Jhana, the
Realm of Nothingness, a very advanced stage of concentration.
Dissatisfied with Kalama’s system, he left him and approached
Uddaka Ramaputta of Rajgir where he mastered his doctrine and
attained the highest stage of mundane concentration, namely, the 8th
Arupa Jhana, the Realm of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception.
Again he was not satisfied with the results and he left it to pursue his
search. He was seeking for ibbana, the complete cessation of
suffering. He found that nobody was competent to teach him what he
sought as all were enmeshed in ignorance. Though disappointed, he
was not discouraged in seeking for the incomparable state of
Supreme Peace. He continued to wander and arrived in due course at
Uruvela forest by the banks of the eranjara River, where he
resolved to settle down for his meditation and to achieve his desired
goal on his own.
Hearing of his renunciation, Kondanna, the Brahmin who predicted
that he would become a Buddha and Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama
and Assaji, sons of four other sages, also renounced the world to
join his company. For six long years, Siddhatta led a superhuman
struggle practising all forms of severe austerities. In the Greater
Discourse on the Lion’s Roar in the Majjhima -ikaya, the Buddha
related to the Venerable Sariputta how he practised the extremes of
asceticism, coarse living, scruples and seclusion in dreaded places
like forests, groves and cemeteries when he was a Bodhisatta. The
Venerable Nagasamala who was standing behind the Blessed One
fanning him said that he could feel the hairs on his body standing on
ends as he listened to the discourse and wanted to know its name. To
Life of the Buddha • 23
this the Buddha replied that it should be remembered as “The Hairraising
Discourse”. The extreme austerities took a heavy toll on his
delicate body. It was almost reduced to a skeleton and resulted in the
exhaustion of his energy. He was so emaciated that when he touched
his belly skin, he could feel his backbone. He was on the verge of
death, having gone beyond any ascetic or Brahmin in the practice of
self-mortification. Yet all these proved futile and he began to look
for another path to Enlightenment.
He remembered the time during his childhood when he was enrapt in
Jhana, secluded from sensual desires. Then following up that
memory, there came the recognition that it was the way to
Enlightenment. Realizing that Enlightenment could not be gained
with an exhausted body, he abandoned self-mortification and
adopted the Majjhima Patipada or Middle Path, which is the Path
between the two extremes of sensual pleasure and self-mortification.
His decision to take some food, however, disappointed the five
Ascetics who attended on him. At a crucial time when help would
have been most welcome, his only companions left him, but he was
not discouraged. After a substantial meal of milk rice offered by
Sujata, a generous lady, he sat under the famous Pipal tree at
Bodhgaya to meditate with the earnest wish and firm determination
not to rise from his seat until he attained Buddhahood.
7. The Enlightenment and the Seven Weeks After
On the eve of Vesakha in 588 BC, while meditating with mind
tranquillized and purified, in the first watch of night (6pm-10pm) he
developed that supernormal knowledge which enabled him to
remember his past lives, thereby dispelling the ignorance with
regard to the past. In the second watch (10pm-2am), he developed
the clairvoyant supernormal vision, which enabled him to see the
death and rebirth of beings thereby dispelling the ignorance with
regard to the future. In the last watch (2am-6am), he developed the
supernormal knowledge with regard to destruction of defilements
and comprehending things as they truly are, realized the Four Noble
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Truths, thus attaining Perfect Enlightenment. The famous Pipal
tree is now called the Bodhi tree for it was under this tree that Prince
Siddhatta attained Sambodhi or Perfect Wisdom. Having in his 35th
year attained Buddhahood, that supreme state of Perfection, He
devoted the remainder of his life to serve humanity and to lead men
by the Noble Eightfold Path to the cessation of all suffering.
After the Enlightenment, for seven weeks the Buddha fasted, and
spent His time under the Bodhi tree and in its neighborhood.
1) The whole of the first week, the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree
in one posture experiencing the Bliss of Emancipation.
2) During the second week, as a mark of gratitude to the Bodhi tree
that sheltered Him during His struggle for Enlightenment, the
Buddha stood gazing at it with unblinking eyes (Animisalocana).
3) During the third week, the Buddha paced up and down on a
jewelled promenade (Ratana Cankamana) near the Bodhi tree.
4) The fourth week He spent in a jewelled chamber (Ratanaghara)
meditating on the Abhidhamma and rays of six colours
emanated from his body. ( ote 3)
5) The fifth week was spent under the Ajapala Banyan tree in the
vicinity of the Bodhi tree. Here He declared the qualities of a
true Brahmin in answer to the question by a conceited Brahmin.
6) The Buddha spent the sixth week under the Mucalinda tree. At
that time, there arose a great rainstorm with cold winds and
gloom for seven days. Thereupon Mucalinda, the Serpent King
of the lake, came out and coiled himself around the body of the
Buddha and sheltered the Lord’s head with his large hood.
7) The Buddha spent the seventh week under the Rajayatana tree
where two merchant brothers, Tapussa and Bhallika from
Ukkala (Orissa) offered Him rice cakes and honey. When the
Buddha finished His meal, they prostrated themselves before His
feet and sought refuge in the Buddha and the Dhamma. Thus,
they were the first lay disciples who took the two-fold refuge.
Life of the Buddha • 25
8. The Buddha Propounds the Teaching (Dhamma)
After His meal, the Buddha began to contemplate and was reluctant
to teach the Dhamma to the people. He thought that people would
not be able to understand His noble and deep teaching for they were
shrouded by ignorance. Thereupon, Brahma Sahampati came and
invited Him to teach the Dhamma saying that there will be those
who could understand the Dhamma. On surveying the world, the
Buddha perceived that there were beings that could understand and
realize the Dhamma and He accepted the invitation of Brahma
Sahampati to teach the Dhamma. The first person that came to His
mind was Alara Kalama but a deity informed Him that Alara Kalama
had died seven days ago. Then He thought of Uddaka Ramaputta
and again a deity informed Him that Uddaka had died the previous
evening. Finally He thought of the five ascetics who attended on
Him during His struggle for Enlightenment. With His supernormal
vision, He perceived that they were staying in Deer Park at Isipatana
near Benares (present day Varanasi).
On the 50th day after His Enlightenment, the Buddha proceeded to
Benares to expound the Dhamma to his friends, the 5 Ascetics,
namely Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji. He
arrived at the Deer Park in Isipatana on the full-moon day of
Asalha, 2 months after Vesakha and delivered His First Discourse,
the Dhammacakkkapavattana Sutta or Discourse on Turning the
Wheel of Dhamma which led to the Five Ascetics attaining
Sotapatti, the first stage of sainthood, and all became monks under
the Buddha. Later the Buddha preached the Anattalakkhana Sutta
or Discourse on on-Self, hearing which all attained Arahantship or
final stage of sainthood.
The Buddha also succeeded in expounding His Dhamma to a rich
young man, Yasa and his fifty-four friends who joined the Holy
Order and became Arahants. Yasa’s parents and his wife also
attained Sotapatti and became the first lay disciples who took the
Threefold Refuge of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Thus, within
a short period of time there were sixty monks, all of them Arahants.
Lord Buddha dispatched them in various directions to spread the
Dhamma. Lord Buddha himself also left Benares and journeyed to
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Uruvela. On the way, He met a group of thirty young noblemen
called Bhaddavaggi or the fortunate group because they were
princely brothers having a good life. While they were merry-making
in the forest, a hired woman ran off with the valuables of one of the
brothers. The thirty princes while searching for the woman saw the
Buddha. In the encounter, the Buddha succeeded in preaching the
Dhamma to them. They were established variously, in the first,
second and third stages of sainthood and entered the Order. These
monks were half brothers of King Pasenadi of Kosala and as they
usually resided in Paveyya City in the western part of Kosala, they
were known as the Paveyyaka monks. They realized Arahantship at
a later date after hearing the Anamatagga Sutta or Discourse on the
Endless Rounds of Existence, while the Buddha was dwelling in
Veluvana monastery in Rajagaha. It was on their account that the
Buddha allowed monks to hold the Kathina ceremony ( ote 4)
every year after the rains retreat or vassa.
At that time in Uruvela, there were 3 matted hair ascetic brothers:
Uruvela Kassapa, adi Kassapa and Gaya Kassapa living
separately with 500, 300 and 200 disciples respectively. With much
effort and at times using His psychic powers, the Buddha succeeded
in convincing them to enter the Order. Knowing that they were all
fire-worshippers, the Buddha delivered to them the Adittapariyaya
Sutta or Fire Discourse, hearing which all attained Arahantship.
Accompanied by His retinue of 1000 Arahants, all former matted
hair ascetics, the Buddha proceeded to Rajagaha to meet King
Bimbisara in accordance with the promise He made before His
Enlightenment. When King Bimbisara and the Brahmin citizens saw
the Buddha with Uruvela Kassapa whom they held in high esteem,
they were not sure who the leader was. Reading their minds, the
Buddha questioned Kassapa who acknowledged the Buddha as His
Master by rising in the air and paying homage to the Buddha three
times. Later on the Buddha preached the Maha arada Kassapa
Jataka followed by a graduated discourse, at the end of which one
hundred and ten thousand Brahmins headed by Bimbisara attained
the first stage of sainthood. Later on, King Bimbisara offered his
Bamboo Grove (Veluvana) for the use of the Buddha and His
disciples, the first gift of a place of residence. The Buddha spent
three successive vassas and three other vassas in this famous park.
Life of the Buddha • 27
9. Conversion of Sariputta and Moggallana
Not far from Rajagaha in the village of alaka, there lived a very
intelligent Brahmin youth named Upatissa also known as Sariputta,
scion of the leading family of the village. He had a very intimate
friend in Kolita also known as Moggallana, the son of the leading
family of another village. Together they had left the luxury of the
household life and became ascetics under a teacher named Sanjaya.
Very soon, they became dissatisfied with his teaching and returned
to their own villages, with the understanding that whosoever
discovered the Path of Release should teach the other. It was at this
time that the Venerable Assaji, one of the first 5 disciples, was on
alms round in Rajagaha. Impressed by his calm and serene manner,
Upatissa offered his seat and water to the Venerable Assaji when the
latter was having his meal. On being asked by Upatissa to teach him
the doctrine, Ven. Assaji uttered a four-line stanza, skillfully
summing up the Master’s Teaching of cause and effect:
“Ye dhamma hetuppabhava – tesam hetu tathagato
Aha tesan ca yo nirodho – evam vadi Maha-Samano.”
“Of things that proceed from a cause – their cause the Tathagata
has told. And also their cessation -- Thus teaches the Great Ascetic.”
Immediately on hearing half the stanza consisting of two lines,
Upatissa attained Sotapatti, the first stage of sainthood. In
accordance with the agreement, he returned to his friend Kolita, who
also attained Sotapatti after hearing the whole stanza. Accompanied
by their followers, the two friends went to see the Buddha and
requested for admission into the Order. The Venerable Moggallana
attained Arahantship after one week but the Venerable Sariputta
passed a fortnight in reviewing and analyzing with insight all levels
of consciousness, attaining Arahantship while fanning the Buddha
who was giving a discourse to the wandering ascetic Dighanakha.
That very evening, the Buddha summoned all His disciples to His
presence and conferred the titles of First and Second Chief
Disciples of the Sangha respectively on the Venerables Sariputta
and Maha Moggallana.
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At this, some monks were displeased and complained among
themselves that the Buddha should have given the rank of Chief
Disciples to those who ordained first such as the five Ascetics or to
Yasa and his friends or the thirty Bhaddavaggiya (fortunate) monks
or else to the three Kassapa brothers. Instead He had bypassed all
those Great Elders and given the title to the ‘youngest monks’ i.e.
those who ordained last. When the Buddha came to know of this, He
assembled the monks and explained His choice. When Ven.
Sariputta and Ven. Maha Moggallana many aeons ago, at the time of
Buddha Anomaddassin, were born as the Brahmin youth Sarada
and merchant Sirivaddhaka, they made the aspiration to become
Chief Disciples. So what the Buddha had done was to give them
what they had aspired for, while the other senior monks did not
make the aspiration to become Chief Disciples. ( ote 5)
10. The Buddha Visits His Birthplace
King Suddhodana knowing that the Buddha was preaching the
Dhamma in Rajagaha, dispatched nine courtiers on nine successive
occasions to invite the Buddha to Kapilavatthuu but on every
occasion, the courtier was converted by the Buddha and attained
Arahantship. After the attainment they became indifferent to worldly
affairs and so did not convey the message to the Buddha. Finally
another courtier Kaludayi, a childhood friend of the Buddha, was
chosen to carry the invitation. He agreed to go as he was granted
permission to enter the Order. On meeting the Buddha and hearing
the Dhamma, he too attained Arahantship but he remembered his
promise to the old King and conveyed the message to the Buddha.
When the Buddha returned to Kapilavatthu, He had to exhibit His
psychic powers to subdue the pride of His relatives and elderly
Sakyans who did not pay Him due reverence. His father, on seeing
the miracles saluted Him for the third time. The Buddha then
proceeded to preach to them the Vessantara Jataka. He continued
preaching to his father on several occasions and the aged king
Life of the Buddha • 29
succeeded in reaching the 3rd Stage of Sainthood. The Buddha
succeeded in persuading His stepbrother anda and cousin Ananda
to join the Holy Order.
When the Buddha visited the palace, Princess Yasodhara and her
son Rahula came to pay their respects and the latter was admitted
into the Order though at a tender age of seven years only. When
King Suddhodana heard about the ordination of his beloved
grandson, he felt aggrieved and requested the Buddha not to approve
the ordination of any minor without prior consent of the parents. The
Buddha agreed to this request and made it a Vinaya rule. Before he
died, King Suddhodana heard the Dhamma from the Buddha and
attained Arahantship. He passed away after experiencing the bliss of
Emancipation for seven days as a lay Arahant when the Buddha was
forty years old. After the death of the king, Maha Pajapati Gotami
and Princess Yasodhara joined the Order of Nuns formed by the
Buddha and later attained Arahantship.
11. The Buddha’s Ministry
The Buddha’s ministry was a great success lasting for 45 years and
was generously supported by many lay disciples, ranging from kings
to commoners. His chief male lay-supporter (dayaka) was the
millionaire Sudatta, commonly known as Anathapindika (feeder of
the poor) who donated the famous Jetavana Monastery at Savatthi
where the Buddha spent nineteen rainy seasons and gave many
discourses found in the Scriptures. His chief female lay-supporter
(dayika) was the Lady Visakha who donated the Pubbarama
Monastery in the east of Savatthi where the Buddha spent six rainy
seasons. The Buddha was so skillful in His preaching of the
Dhamma that He even succeeded in converting the notorious killer
Angulimala to join the Order while He was in Savatthi.
In the course of His ministry for forty-five years, the Buddha was
indefatigable. He traveled on foot with a company of monks all over
30 • Buddhism Course
Northern India, from Vesali in the east to Kuru (Delhi) in the west,
preaching the Dhamma for the benefit of mankind. Although His
motive was pure and selfless, yet He faced strong opposition, mainly
from the leaders of other religious sects and the traditional Brahmin
caste. Within the Order too, the Buddha also face some problems
especially from His cousin and brother-in-law Devadatta, who was
always plotting against Him in order to take over the Order but was
never successful. In the end, Devadatta left the Order but just before
his death, he repented and desired to see the Buddha. Before he
could enter Jetavana monastery where the Buddha was residing, he
was swallowed into the swampy ground just outside the gate. At the
last moment, he took refuge in the Buddha.
12. The Parinibbana and Final Admonition to the Monks
Three months before His Parinibbana (passing away wherein the
elements of clinging do not arise again), Lord Buddha relinquished
the will to live at the Capala Shrine in Vesali. Summoning all the
local monks to the assembly hall of the Gabled House, he delivered
his Final Admonition in which he exhorted them to thoroughly
learn, develop, practise and propagate those Teachings, which he
had direct knowledge in order that the Holy Life may last long.
“And what, Bhikkhus, are these Teachings? Verily, they are the Four
Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana), the Four Right Efforts
(Sammappadhana), the Four Bases of Success (Iddhipada), the Five
Faculties (Indriya), the Five Powers (Bala), the Seven Factors of
Enlightenment (Bojjhanga), and the Eight Constituents of the Path
(Magganga).” (Note: These are the 37 Requisites of Enlightenment
that must be developed in order to attain Enlightenment.)
From Vesali, the Buddha took the journey on foot to his final resting
place in Kusinara, instructing the monks in the Dhamma along the
way. He had His last meal from Cunda the smith, while His last
convert was the wandering ascetic named Subhadda to whom the
Buddha preached the Lion’s Roar in which He declared the Noble
Eightfold Path to be the true way to -ibbana, namely:
Life of the Buddha • 31
“In whatsoever Teaching and Discipline, Subhadda, there is not
found the -oble Eightfold Path, neither is there found the true
ascetic of the first nor second, third nor fourth degree of saintliness.
But in whatsoever Teaching and Discipline, there is found the -oble
Eightfold Path, therein is found the true ascetic of the first and
second, third and fourth degree of saintliness. -ow in this Teaching
and Discipline, Subhadda, is found the -oble Eightfold Path; and in
it alone is found also the true ascetic of the first and second, third
and fourth degree of saintliness.* Devoid of true ascetics are the
systems of other teachers; but if, Subhadda, the bhikkhus live
righteously, the world will not be destitute of Arahants.” (* i.e. the
sotapanna, sakadagamin, anagamin and arahant respectively)
The Buddha’s Parinibbana took place on the full-moon day of
Wesakha under the shade of two Sala trees in the Sala Grove of the
Mallas. It was His eightieth year in 543 BC. His famous last
message to His disciples was: “Behold, O disciples, I exhort you.
Subject to decay are all component things. Accomplish all your
duties with heedfulness.”
Thus, ended the life of the noblest being the world has ever known.
As a man He was born. As an extraordinary man He lived. As a
Buddha, He passed away. In the annals of history, no man is
recorded as having so consecrated himself to the welfare of all
beings, irrespective of caste, class or creed as the Supreme Buddha,
endowed with Omniscience and Great Compassion. Although the
Buddha is gone, yet the Dhamma that he taught for forty-five years
still remains, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of his far-sighted and
faithful disciples who codified His Teachings and transmitted them
orally over five centuries before they were finally written on palm
leaves in the island of Sri Lanka, far away, from its birthplace. The
story of how this Dhamma Treasury called the “Tipitaka or Three
Baskets” containing the teachings and practices leading to the end of
suffering has remained intact and unadulterated, spreading beyond
the borders of its narrower home, is a fascinating chronicle that is
told in Chapter XVII. It is a living testament of the religious zeal
and dedication of the ancient monks in preserving, propagating and
perpetuating the Teachings of Lord Buddha, from his
Mahaparinibbana till the present day.
32 • Buddhism Course
13. References
1) A Manual of Buddhism by Ven. Narada Maha Thera.
2) Some Notes on the Political Division of India when Buddhism
arose. By T. W. Rhys Davids, Journal of the Pali Text Society
1897 – 1901.
3) The Life of the Buddha – According to the Pali Canon. By
Bhikkhu Nanamoli, Buddhist Publication Society, Sri Lanka.
4) The Great Chronicle of Buddhas by the Most Venerable Mingun
Sayadaw Bhaddanta Vicittasarabhivamsa. Yangon, Myanmar.
5) Buddhist Legends translated from Dhammapada Commentary
by Eugene Watson Burlingame Part 1, Book I, 8.
6) Last Days of the Buddha (Mahaparinibbana Sutta). By Sister
Vajira, Buddhist Publication Society, Sri Lanka, 1964.
7) Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha -- A New Translation
of the Majjhima -ikaya. Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi and
Bhikkhu Nanamoli. Buddhist Publication Society, Sri Lanka.
14. Explanatory Notes 1: According to the Theravada tradition, the Buddha passed into
Parinibbana (Final Passing Away) on the full-moon day of Wesakha
(April-May) in 543BC in Kusinara. As he was eighty years old, the year of
his birth was 623BC. These dates have been accepted in all Theravada
countries as well as the World Fellowship of Buddhists. In the Sangha,
monks count the passage of years by the number of vassas or rainy seasons,
so the first rainy season (July-October) after Parinibbana is reckoned as
Year 1 of the Buddha Era (BE), which means that 543BC is 1 BE. To
convert the Gregorian calendar to the Buddhist calendar, just add 544 to the
current year e.g. 1956AD was celebrated as the 2500th anniversary of the
Buddha Era.
However European scholars in the early 20th century had rejected this
chronology after they noted a discrepancy between the Theravadin dating
of Asoka’s coronation and the date of that event, which may be calculated
from ancient Greek sources, e.g., the Indika written around 300BC by
Megasthenes, the Seleucid ambassador to the Mauryan court of
Chandragupta, grandfather of Asoka. The Greek sources place Asoka’s
Life of the Buddha • 33
coronation approximately sixty years later than the Pali sources. The year
of Parinibbana was recalculated as 483BC and most scholars have
accepted this as the correct version. Both versions belong to the so-called
‘long chronology’ because they accept the Theravadin claim that Asoka
was consecrated 218 years after Parinibbana.
At a conference held near Gottingen, Germany in 1988, a new breed of
scholars proposed another chronology based on the re-interpretation of
Acariyaparampara or the lineage of five teachers preceding Ven. Mahinda
listed in the Mahavamsa by Geiger. The idea is nothing new. In 1881, T.
W. Rhys Davids noted that the period of 236 years for the five teachers
prior to the Third Council was too long and proposed a shorter period of
150 years between the Third Council and the Parinibbana. This idea would
place the Buddha’s Parinibbana around 400BC instead of 483BC. This redating
is based on the reasoning that a modern clergyman who ordains a
pupil would have been ordained thirty or forty years before; and four
such intervals would fill out, not 238 years, but about 150 years; and a
similar argument applies with reasonable certainty to the case in point.
However this assumption appears to have ignored the fact that the Acariyas
(teachers) lived to a ripe old age due to a simple lifestyle and mental
purity unlike the modern clergymen. So this new theory appears flawed.Note: The Acariyaparampara or lineage of teachers provides the number
of years or vassas as a monk of each teacher beginning with Ven. Upali
(74), Ven. Dasaka (64), Ven. Sonaka (64), Ven. Siggava (76), Ven.
Moggaliputta (80) and Ven. Mahinda (60 years).
1) The Dating of the Historical Buddha: A Review Article by L. S. Cousins.
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 6.1 (1996): 57-63.
2) The Book of the Great Decease by T. W. Rhys Davids in Vol. XI of the
Sacred Books of the East. Clarendon Press 1881.
ote 2: According to the Commentaries, Queen Mahamaya had reached the
third portion of the second stage of life when she conceived the
Bodhisatta. As the human lifespan then was one hundred years and divided
into 3 stages, the length of each stage was 33 years 4 months. Each stage
was further sub-divided into 3 portions with each portion representing 11
years. Thus Queen Mahamaya was 55 years 4 months when she conceived.
Adding 10 months of pregnancy, she would be 56 years 2 months when she
gave birth to the Bodhisatta.
34 • Buddhism Course
ote 3: The Commentaries explain that when the Buddha contemplated on
the Great Patthana or Conditional Relations, his Omniscience found the
opportunity to display its extensive brilliance in this all-embracing treatise
with its unlimited number of permutations (just as a whale can frolic in the
deep ocean but not in a pond). As the Buddha applied his mind to the most
subtle and profound points of the Patthana, there arose great rapture in the
mind. Because of the rapture, his blood became clearer; because of the
clearer blood, his skin became clearer. Because of the clearer skin, rays of
different colours emanated from his body and traveled outwards in all
directions. Blue light radiated from the blue parts (of the Buddha’s physical
frame) such as the hair and pupils of the eye; yellow and golden rays from
the skin; white rays from bones, teeth and white portions of the eye; red
rays from eyes, flesh and blood. From the various unascertainable parts of
the Buddha’s body, rays of light and dark colours and resulting from the
mixture of the colours, sparkling and glittering colours shone forth. Thus
the six rays of blue, gold, white, red, darkish and glittering colours
radiated outwards in the direction of all ten quarters up till today, a time
when the Buddha’s Teachings still shines forth.
ote 4: The Paveyyaka monks returned to their city and retired to the forest
where they took up ascetic practices or dhutanga, namely: living in the
forest (arannakanga), going for alms (pindapatikanga), wearing robes
made from rags taken from a dust heap or cemetery (pansukulikanga),
wearing only three robes (tecivarikanga). In this way, they passed thirteen
whole years. In the end, desiring to see their Master and pay homage, they
started on their journey to Savatthi where the Buddha was residing. Since
the distance was too far, they had to stop at Saketa, a distance of 6 yojanas
or 72 miles from Savatthi, due to the start of the vassa or rains retreat. In
spite of their eagerness to see the Buddha, they had to take up residence at
Saketa because it was an offence for monks to be away from their residence
for more than 3 days during the vassa. As soon as the vassa was over, they
immediately resumed journey although the rains had not stopped.
Travelling through the countryside in the rain and mud, their robes became
soaked and soiled when they arrived at Savatthi to pay homage to the
Buddha. Seeing their exhaustion and uncomfortable position, Buddha was
filled with compassion and gave permission to hold the Kathina ceremony.
The Kathina, literally ‘hard’ refers to the stock of cloth presented by the
faithful to be made up into robes for the use of the Sangha during the
ensuing year. The whole of this cotton cloth must be dyed, sewn together
and made into robes and then formally declared to be not only common
property of the Sangha but also available for immediate distribution, all on
one and the same day.
Life of the Buddha • 35
ote 5: According to the Dhammapada Commentary (Buddhist Legends
Book I, Story 8), the Chief disciples made their aspiration one asankheyya
and 100,000 world cycles ago (Chapter VIII, 10), during the Dispensation
of the Buddha Anomadassin. Thereafter they had to fulfill the Ten Paramis
(Perfections) over that immense period of time before becoming Chief
Disciples in the Dispensation of the Buddha Gotama. To become a Great
Disciple (Maha Arahant), the aspirant has to fulfill the Perfections for
100,000 world cycles.
One hundred thousand world cycles ago, Ven. Kondanna had made the
aspiration to be the first to realize the Dhamma when he performed dana
for seven days to the Buddha Padumuttara. Ninety-one world cycles ago, he
was born as a farmer named Culakala and enjoyed offering his first crop to
the Buddha Vipassi, which he did nine times. However his elder brother
Mahakala had no such desire but in the end he also gave alms. In the
present Dispensation, Culakala was born as Kondanna and was the first to
realize the Dhamma when our Lord Gotama Buddha preached the First
Sermon in the Deer Park at Isipatana near Sarnath while his brother
Mahakala was born as the wandering ascetic Subhadda and was the last to
be ordained by the Buddha. He attained Arahantship after the Buddha had
passed into Parinibbana in Kusinara.
Ven. Yasa and his fifty-four friends aspired to Arahantship many world
cycles ago in the presence of a certain Buddha and they also performed
many meritorious deeds.
The thirty Bhaddavaggiya monks too aspired to Arahantship in the
presence of former Buddhas. Later on before the appearance of the Buddha,
they were born as thirty drunkards. Hearing the admonition by the
Bodhisatta in the Tundila Jataka, they turn over a new leaf and observed the
five precepts for 60,000 years.
Aspiring to Arahantship, the Kassapa brothers performed meritorious
deeds. Ninety-two world cycles ago, there appeared during that world
cycle, two successive Buddhas, Tissa and Phussa. The Kassapa brothers
were brothers of the Buddha Phussa and taking their thousand followers
performed dana and observed the Ten Precepts for three months. After
death, they were reborn as devas and spent ninety-two world cycles in
successive rebirths in the deva realms. Thus the three brothers, aspiring to
Arahantship performed meritorious deeds during that period and achieved
what they aspired for.

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