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Life of the Buddha

1. Queen Maha Maya’s Dream

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More than 2,500 years ago, there was a king called Suddhodana. He married a beautiful Koliyan princess named Maha Maya. The couple ruled over the Sakyas, a warrior tribe living next to the Koliya tribe, in the north of India, in what is now known as Nepal. The capital of the Sakya country was laid out across the foothills of the Himalayas and called Kapilavatthu.

Queen Maha Maya was the daughter of King Anjana of the Koliyas. Such was her beauty that the name Maya, meaning “vision” was given to her. But it was Maya’s virtues and talents that were her most wonderful qualities, for she was endowed with the highest gifts of intelligence and piety. King Suddhodana was indeed worthy of his lovely wife. He himself was called “King of the Law” because he ruled according to the law. There was no other man among the Sakyas more honored and respected. The king was admired by his nobles and courtiers, as well as by the householders and merchants. Such was the noble family from which the Buddha was to arise.

One full moon night, sleeping in the palace, the queen had a vivid dream. She felt herself being carried away by four devas (spirits) to Lake Anotatta in the Himalayas. After bathing her in the lake, the devas clothed her in heavenly cloths, anointed her with perfumes, and bedecked her with divine flowers. Soon after a white elephant, holding a white lotus flower in its trunk, appeared and went round her three times, entering her womb through her right side. Finally the elephant disappeared and the queen awoke, knowing she had been delivered an important message, as the elephant is a symbol of greatness in Nepal. The next day, early in the morning, the queen told the king about the dream. The king was puzzled and sent for some wise men to discover the meaning of the dream.

The wise men said, “Your Majesty, you are very lucky. The devas have chosen our queen as the mother of the Purest-One and the child will become a very great being.” The king and queen were very happy when they heard this.

They were so pleased that they invited many of the noblemen in the country to the palace to a feast to tell them the good news. Even the needy were not forgotten. Food and clothes were given to the poor people in celebration. The whole kingdom waited eagerly for the birth of the new prince, and Queen Maya enjoyed a happy and healthy pregnancy, living a pure life for herself and her unborn child.

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2. The Birth of the Prince

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About ten months after her dream of a white elephant and the sign that she would give birth to a great leader, Queen Maya was expecting her child. One day she went to the king and said, “My dear, I have to go back to my parents. My baby is almost due.” Since it was the custom in India for a wife to have her baby in her father’s house, the king agreed, saying, “Very well, I will make the necessary arrangements for you to go.”

The king then sent soldiers ahead to clear the road and prepared others to guard the queen as she was carried in a decorated palanquin. The queen left Kapilavatthu in a long procession of soldiers and retainers, headed for the capital of her father’s kingdom.

On the way to the Koliya country, the great procession passed a garden called Lumbini Park. This garden was near the kingdom called Nepal, at the foot of the Himalayan mountains. The beautiful park with its sala trees and scented flowers and busy birds and bees attracted the queen. Since the park was a good resting place, the queen ordered the bearers to stop for a while. As she rested underneath one of the sala trees, her birth began and a baby boy was born. It was an auspicious day. The birth took place on a full moon (which is now celebrated as Vesak, the festival of the triple event of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death), in the year 623 B.C.

According to the legends about this birth, the baby began to walk seven steps forward and at each step a lotus flower appeared on the ground. Then, at the seventh stride, he stopped and with a noble voice shouted:

“I am chief of the world,
Eldest am I in the world,
Foremost am I in the world.
This is the last birth.
There is now no more coming to be.”

After the birth of her baby son, Queen Maha Maya immediately returned to Kapilavatthu. When the king learnt of this he was very happy, and as news of the birth of the long-awaited heir spread around the kingdom there was rejoicing all over the country.

3. The Naming Ceremony

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King Suddhodana had an old teacher who was known to be very wise. He was called Asita the Sage. Asita lived in the jungle. While sitting one day he heard the devas singing and saw them dancing. “Why are you so happy?” he asked. “Because the most excellent of all beings has been born at Lumbini Park to Queen Maha Maya,” replied the devas. When he heard this,Asita went quickly to see the king and queen and their newborn son.

The king was very happy to see his wise old teacher again. In the palace, after the sage was seated, the king brought the prince before him and said, “Teacher, my son was born only yesterday. Here he is. Please see if his future will be good.”

As the king said this, he lowered the infant prince before the sage so that he might examine him properly. However, the baby turned his feet on to the sage’s head. Thus surprised, Asita took hold of the baby’s feet and examined them very carefully, finding some marks on them. He got up and said, “This prince will become a very great teacher in this world.” The sage was very pleased and, putting his palms together, paid due respect to the baby prince. The king, seeing this, did the same. This was the first salutation of the king.

On the fifth day of his son’s life, the king invited five wise men to witness the naming ceremony and to suggest a good name for the prince. The wise men examined the birthmarks of the prince and concluded, “The prince will be King of Kings if he wants to rule. If he chooses a religious life then he will become the Wisest — the Buddha.”

The youngest of the five wise men, Kondanna, then said, “This prince will be the Buddha and nothing else.”

Then the wise men gave him the name Siddhattha meaning “wish-fulfilled” or “one who has accomplished his goal”.

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4. The Prince’s Education

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On the seventh day after his birth, Prince Siddhattha’s mother died. The king had another queen, who was called PajapatiGotami. She was the younger sister of Queen Maha Maya, and she had given birth to a son on the same day that QueenMaha Maya died. Pajapati Gotami gave her own son to a nurse and brought up Prince Siddhartha, whom she loved very much, as her own son. Prince Siddhattha could not remember his own mother.

When Prince Siddhattha was only a few years old, King Suddhodana sent him to school. There were many children in his class, all of them from noble families. His teacher was called Sarva Mitra.

He studied languages, reading, writing, mathematics, history, geography, science, and games like boxing, archery, wrestling and many others. He learnt all these subjects faster than any other pupil in his class. He was the cleverest in the class and the best at games. He gained distinction in every subject and became cleverer than his teachers. He was the wisest and the only one who asked many questions from his teachers and elders. He was the strongest, the tallest and the most handsome boy in the class. He was never lazy, he never misbehaved and was never disobedient to the teachers. He loved everybody and everybody loved him. He was a friend to all.


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5. Prince Siddhattha’s Kindness

Prince Siddhattha was very kind to people, animals and other living things. He was also a very brave horseman and won many prizes in the country. Although he did not have to suffer any hardships and difficulties, as he had everything, he always thought of the poor people and living things who were working hard to make him happy. He felt sorry for them and wanted to make them happy too.

One day he was walking in the woods with his cousin Devadatta, who had brought his bow and arrows with him. Suddenly,Devadatta saw a swan flying and shot at it. His arrow brought the swan down. Both the boys ran to get the bird. AsSiddhattha could run faster than Devadatta, he reached the swan’s injured body first and found, to his surprise, that it was still alive. He gently pulled out the arrow from the wing. He then got a little juice from cool leaves, put it on the wound to stop the bleeding and with his soft hand stroked the swan, which was very frightened. When Devadatta came to claim the swan, Prince Siddhattha refused to give it to him. Devadatta was very angry to see his cousin keeping the swan away from him. “Give me my bird! I shot it down,” said Devadatta.

“No, I am not going to give it to you,” said the Prince. “If you had killed it, it would have been yours. But now, since it is only wounded but still alive, it belongs to me.”

Devadatta still did not agree. Then Siddhattha suggested, “Let us go to the court of the Sage and ask him who really owns the swan.                ” Devadatta agreed, so off they went to the court of the Sage to tell him about their quarrel.

The Sage, hearing both boys’ version of the story, said, “A life certainly must belong to he who tries to save it, a life cannot belong to one who is only trying to destroy it. The wounded swan by right belongs to Siddhattha.”

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6. Prince Siddhattha’s Wife

The five wise men who were at Prince Siddhattha’s naming ceremony not only predicted the great future of the new prince, but had given the king a warning. “When your son sees a sick man, an old man, a dead body and a monk, he will want to leave the palace and become a monk himself,” they had said.

These words worried the king. He became afraid that this son would see these four sights and leave the palace. To shieldSiddhattha from any such experiences he employed many young servants to distract and protect him, and did not allow any sick or old people or monks to go into the palace. He built Siddhattha three palaces: one for winter, one for summer and one for the rainy season, as well as enclosed parks and hunting grounds.

Siddhattha played in a sunny world of gardens and groves, attended by dancing girls and musicians. He lived in a world of plenty and beauty. He could have whatever he wanted, yet he was not happy.

One day the king asked some wise people, “What shall I do to make my son happy? He seems depressed and sad always.” They answered, “Now your son is sixteen years old, why not find him a beautiful girl to marry?”

The king agreed and sent for all the beautiful girls in the country to come to the palace. When they had all arrived, a grand parade was arranged and the king asked the prince to choose one to be his wife.

Among them there was a most charming and kind girl by the name of Yasodhara. When Prince Siddhattha gave her a present more valuable than any he had given to the other maidens, the king saw that the prince had chosen his love. The king happily accepted Yasodhara and allowed his son to marry her.


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7. The Four Sights: Old Age

The king did everything he could think of to ensure his son Prince Siddhattha would grow up prepared for a life following in his own footsteps and become a king. He ordered a high wall to be built around the palace, including its parks and gardens, but the prince was not happy living like a prisoner. One day he told his father, “I must go out of the palace gate and see how other people live.”

“Very well, my son,” said the king, “you shall go outside the palace wall to see how people live in my city. But first I must prepare things, so that all would be good and proper for my noble son’s visit.”

The king ordered the people of the city to prepare for his son’s visit by making the streets and homes beautiful and welcoming him as he passed them by. When the people had decorated the city the king said, “Now you can go, my dear son, and see the city as you please.”

As the young prince was going through the streets all of a sudden, from a small old hut beside the road, out came an old man with long silver-grey hair, wearing very old, torn and dirty rags. The skin of his face was dried and wrinkled. His sunken eyes were dim and he was almost blind. There were no teeth in his mouth. He stood up, trembling all over, almost bent over double and clutching at a shaking stick with two bent and skinny hands to save himself from falling.

The old beggar dragged himself along the street, paying no attention to all the happy people around him. He was speaking very feebly, begging people around him to give him food, as he would die that very day if he could find nothing to eat. When the prince saw the old man, he didn’t know what he was looking at. It was the first time in his life that he had seen an old man of this type.

“What is that, Channa?” he asked his driver. “That really cannot be a man! Why is he all bent? What is he trembling for? Why is his hair silver-grey, not black like mine? What is wrong with his eyes? Where are his teeth? Is this how some people are born? Tell me, oh good Channa, what does this mean?”

Channa told the prince that it was an old man and he was not born like that. “When young he was like us and now, due to his old age he has become this way.” Channa told the prince to forget this man. But the prince was not satisfied. “Everyone in the world, if he lives long enough, becomes like this man. It cannot be stopped,” said Channa.

The prince ordered Channa to drive back home at once, as he was very sad and wanted to think carefully about that terrible thing called old age.

That night there was a grand royal feast for the prince, but he was not interested or happy at all during the dinner and dance. He was thinking all the time, “Some day you will all grow old and frail and bent — every one of you, even the prettiest.”

He could not sleep when night came. He was in bed thinking that one day, everyone would grow old, grey, wrinkled,toothless and ugly like the old beggar. He wanted to know if anyone had found a way to stop this horrible thing — old age.

The king, when he heard this story, was very sad and worried that his son would leave the palace. He told his attendants to put on more dances and dinners. But the prince begged his father to allow him to see Kapilavatthu on an ordinary day without the people being told of his visit.

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8. The Four Sights: Sickness

The king very unwillingly allowed the prince to visit the city a second time. He thought it would do no good to try to stop him, and would only add to his confusion and unhappiness. On his second visit to the city the king did not warn the people to be ready or to prepare the streets. The prince and Channa dressed up as young men from noble families so the people would not know them.

When they arrived, the city was quite different to their last visit. No more joyous crowds of people hailed the prince. There were no flags, bunting, flowers or well-dressed people, but simple folk going about their daily work to earn a living. A blacksmith was sweating and pounding to make knives. The jewellers and goldsmiths were making necklaces, bangles, earrings and rings out of diamonds, gold and silver. The clothes-dyers were dyeing cloths of lovely colour and hanging them up to dry. The bakers were busily baking bread, cakes and sweets and selling them to the customers, who ate them still hot. The prince looked at these simple common people. Everyone was very busy, happy and pleased in their work.

As the two walked along they came across a man on the ground, twisting his body, holding his stomach with both hands and crying out in pain at the top of his voice. All over his face and body were purple patches, his eyes were rolling, and he was gasping for breath.

For the second time in his life something made the prince very sad. At once the prince, being a very kind person and not liking to see people distressed, ran forward and rested the man’s head on his knee, saying, ” What is wrong with you? What is wrong?” The sick man could not speak, but only cry.

“Channa, tell me why this man is like this,” said the prince. “What is the matter with his breath? Why does he not talk?”

“Oh, my prince,” said Channa, “do not hold this man like that. This man is sick. His blood is poisoned. He has plague fever and it is burning all over his body. That is why he is crying loudly without being able to speak.”

“But are there any other men like this?” asked the prince.

“Yes, and you may be the next if you hold the man as close as that. Please put him down and do not touch him or the plague will come out of him and go to you. You will become the same as he is.”

“Are there any other bad things, besides this plague, Channa?”

“Yes, my prince, there are hundreds of other sicknesses as painful as this,” replied Channa.

“Can no one help it? Will everyone be sick? Can it happen at any time by surprise?” asked Siddhattha.

“Yes, my dear prince,” said Channa, “everyone in this world. No one can stop it and it can happen any time. Anyone may fall ill and suffer.”

The prince was even sadder as he returned to the palace the second time, dwelling on the man and his sickness.

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9. The Four Sights: Death

On returning to the palace after seeing the sick man, Siddhattha was very dissatisfied and depressed and was often seen in deep thought. The king, seeing him so changed, became very sad. Soon enough, the prince asked again for the king’s permission to leave the palace to learn more of life in the city. The king agreed, as he knew there was nothing to gain by trying to stop his son.

This time, again wearing the clothes of noblemen, Siddhattha and Channa went out from the palace and walked in many parts of Kapilavatthu. After they had journeyed a good part of the day, the prince saw a crowd of people coming along the street crying, while four men at the back were carrying a plank on which a very thin man lay flat and still. The carried man was like a stone, never saying a word. The crowd soon stopped and the plank bearers rested the person down on a pile of wood and set the wood on fire. The man did not move as the flames were burning the plank, and then his body, from all sides.

“What is this, Channa?” asked Siddhattha. “Why does that man lie there so still, allowing these people to burn him up? It’s as if he does not know anything.”

“He is dead,” replied Channa.

“Dead! Channa, does everyone die?”

“Yes, my dear prince, all living things must die some day. No one can stop death from coming,” replied Channa.

The prince was so shocked he did not say anything more. He thought that it was terrible that such a thing called death should come to everybody, even kings and queens. Was there no way to stop it? He went home in silence. He went straight to his own room in the palace and sat deep in thought for the rest of the day. Very sadly he pondered, “Everyone in the world must die some day; no one has found out how to stop it. There must be a way to stop it. I must find it out and help the whole world.”

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10. The Four Sights: a Monk

After many days of contemplation and distress, Siddhattha visited the city for the fourth time. As he was driving to the park he saw a happy man wearing an orange coloured robe. He asked Channa, “Who is this man wearing an orange robe? His hair is shaved off. Why does he look so happy? How does he live and what does he do for a living?”

“That is a monk.” replied Channa, “He lives in a temple, goes from house to house for his food and goes from place to place telling people how to be peaceful and good.” The prince felt very happy now. He thought, “I must become one like that,” as he walked through the park.

He walked until he was tired, then sat under a tree to think some more. As he was sitting under the cool shady tree, news came that his wife had given birth to a fine baby boy. When he heard the news he said, ” An impediment (“rahula”) has been born to me, an obstacle to my leaving has been born,” and thus his son’s name became Rahula.

As he was returning to the palace he met the Princess called Kisagotami. She had been looking out of the palace window and, seeing the prince coming, was so taken by his handsome looks that she said loudly, “Oh! How happy must be the mother, and father, and the wife of such a handsome young prince!”

As he passed this woman, Siddhattha heard this and thought to himself, “In a handsome figure the mother, father and wife find happiness. But how does one escape obstacles and suffering to reach nirvana (escape from suffering, a lasting liberation which is happiness and genuine peace)?” With this question he realised what he must do. “I must quit this household life and retire from the world in quest of enlightenment. This lady has taught me a valuable lesson. I will send her a teacher’s fee.” Loosening a valuable pearl necklace from about his neck, Siddhattha honoured his word and sent it as payment toKisagotami, with thanks.

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11. The Prince Leaves Home

The king, Siddhattha’s father, arranged a grand dinner and dance for the prince to celebrate the birth of Rahula. Invited were the best dancers, singers and musicians in the country. It was not just out of joy that the king arranged the celebration. He could see that the prince was depressed and that his new baby son was not giving him happiness. The king was afraidSiddhattha was planning to leave the palace for good and, for the last time, did his best to distract him away from his sombrereflections and back to the abundance of palace life.

The prince attended the party just to please his father. During the dinner the most delicious food was served, the most enchanting and beautiful dancing girls in the country performed, the most sensitive musicians played and the finest puppets and magicians performed incredible feats. But Siddhattha was so tired from thinking that he soon fell asleep.

When the singers and the dancers saw this they too stopped and fell asleep. Some time later that night the prince awoke and was shocked to see these sleeping people. What a sight! All the prettiest, most charming dancing girls, the finest singers, best musicians and cleverest performers in the country, who, hours ago, were trying to make the prince so happy, were now all over the floor of the room in the most ugly, shameful and loathsome positions. Some people were snoring like pigs, with their mouths wide open, some grinding and chewing their teeth like hungry devils. This alteration in their appearance made the prince even more disgusted and unhappy. “How oppressive and stifling this all is,” he thought, and his mind turned again towards leaving the palace. He got up quietly from the room and, waking Channa, asked for his horse, Kanthaka, to be saddled.

As Channa was preparing his horse, Siddhattha went quietly to see his newborn son for the first time. His wife was sleeping with the baby beside her, her hand resting on the baby’s head. The prince said to himself, “If I try to move her hand so I can take the child for one last cuddle I fear I will wake her and she will prevent me from going. No! I must go, but when I have found what I am looking for, I shall come back and see him and his mother again.”

Quietly then, Siddhattha left the palace. It was midnight, and the prince was on his white horse Kanthaka with Channa, his faithful servant, holding on to its tail. Nobody stopped him as he rode away from all who knew, respected and loved him. He took a last look at the city of Kapilavatthu — sleeping so quietly in the moonlight. He was going away to learn to understand old age, sickness and death. He rode to the bank of the river Anoma (“illustrious”) and dismounted from his horse. He removed his jewellery and princely clothes and gave them to Channa to return to the king. Then the prince took his sword and cut his long hair, donned simple clothes, took a begging bowl and asked Channa to go back with Kanthaka.

“It is no use living in the palace without you, my master,” said Channa very sadly, “I want to follow you.” But Siddhatthawould not allow him to stay, although Channa asked three times.

At last Channa started to go, but Kanthaka refused. The prince talked to the horse very kindly. “Please, Kanthaka, go with my friend. Don’t wait for me.” But Kanthaka thought, “I shall never see my master again.” Tears rolled down from the horse’s eyes as it kept them fixed on the prince, until he turned to go away and walked out of sight. As Siddhatthadisappeared over the horizon, so Kanthaka’s heart burst, and he died of sorrow.

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12. King Bimbisara’s Offer

From the Anoma River, dressed as a beggar, the young prince wandered from place to place. Eventually he came to RajagahaCity, where King Bimbisara lived. With his begging bowl in his hands Siddhattha walked round the streets begging for food from door to door like any other religious monk. People began to call him “Sakyamuni” or sage of the Sakyas, others called him “Ascetic” or “Ascetic Gotama”, but nobody called him Prince Siddhattha any more.

He was most handsome, young, healthy, clean and neat. He spoke very kindly and gently. He did not ask people to give him anything but people were happy and pleased to put some food into his bowl.

Some people went and told the king. “Your majesty, there is a young man. Some people call him ‘Ascetic Gotama’. He is very clean, neat, kind, polite and not like a beggar at all.”

When King Bimbisara heard the name “Gotama” he knew at once that this prince was the son of King Suddhodana, his friend. He went up to him and asked him, ” Why do you do this? Have you quarrelled with your father? Why do you go about like this? Stay here and I shall give you half of my kingdom.”

“Thank you very much, Sir. I love my parents, my wife, my son, you and everybody. I want to find a way to stop old age, sickness, worries and death. Therefore I am going thus,” said the Ascetic Gotama and off he went.

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13. The Buddha’s First Teachers

At this time in India there were many religious teachers. One of the best and most well known was Alara Kalama. AsceticGotama went to study under him. He stayed and was taught many things, including meditation. He worked hard and eventually equalled his teacher in learning. Finally Alara Kalama could not teach Gotama any more and he said, “You are the same as I am now. There is no difference between us. Stay here and take my place and teach my students with me.”

But Gotama was not interested in staying. Despite what he had learnt he could see that he was still subject to old age, sickness, and death and that his quest was not over.

Thus, Gotama left Alara Kalama and went in search of a new teacher. At last he found another great teacher, Uddaka, who was famous for his cleverness. Again, Gotama learnt very quickly and soon knew as much as his teacher. He found thatUddaka could not teach him how to stop suffering, old age and death either, and he had never heard of anyone who could solve these problems. Once again the Ascetic Gotama was disappointed and left Uddaka, making up his mind to struggle by himself until he found the cause of all the suffering of life.

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14. Six Years of Searching

After leaving his second teacher, Uddaka, Prince Siddhartha was known as Ascetic Gautama. He met five friends —Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji — who had also left the palace and a life of luxury to become ascetics, or students of life, living poorly. They went to Uruvela and for six years Gautama struggled and tortured his body while his five friends supported and looked after him.

“I will carry austerity to the uttermost,” thought Gautama. “This is the way to acquire wisdom.” He practised fasting, which was thought to be one of the best ways to acquire wisdom. He lived on a grain of rice a day, and later, nothing at all. His body became so thin that his legs were like bamboo sticks, his backbone was like a rope, his chest was like an incomplete roof of a house, his eyes sank right inside, like stones in a deep well. His skin lost its golden colour and became black. In fact, he looked like a living skeleton — all bones without any flesh! He suffered terrible pain and hunger, yet continued to meditate.

Another way of torturing his body was to hold his breath for a long time until he felt violent pains in his ears, head and whole body. He would then fall senseless to the ground. During the full moon and new moon he went out into the forest or to a cemetery to meditate, wearing rags from graveyards and rubbish heaps. He became frightened at first, especially when wild animals came, but he never ran away. He stayed behind bravely in these dreadful places, meditating all the time.

For six long years he did these practices and in spite of the great pain and suffering he did not find wisdom or the answers to his questions. He finally decided, “These austerities are not the way to enlightenment.” He went begging through the village for food to build up his body. When his five friends saw this they felt disappointed. They took their bowls and robes and left, wanting nothing more to do with Gautama.

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15. The Golden Bowl

Now at the time, in a nearby village called Senani, there lived a young, very beautiful and rich girl called Sujata, who wanted a husband of equal rank and a son. She had waited for many years and she was not successful. The people told her that she must go to certain banyan tree near the Neranjara river and pray to the tree-god to give her a husband and son. She did as the people told her and later on she got married to a young man and they had a lovely son. She was extremely happy and decided to fulfil her vow to the tree-god for giving her all that she had asked for.

Sujata had a thousand cows, and she fed them with sweet creepers called valmee so that the cow’s milk was sweet. She milked these thousand cows and fed that milk to five hundred cows, and then fed their milk to two hundred and fifty cows and so on until she fed only eight cows. She did this to get the sweetest and most nourishing milk, to make delicious milk-rice as an offering to the tree-god.

As she was doing this she was surprised to see her servant running back from cleaning and preparing the area at the foot of the banyan tree. Very happy and excited, the servant said, “My lady Sujata! The banyan god is meditating at the foot of the tree. How lucky you must be to have the god in person to accept your food.”

Sujata too was happy and excited and danced with joy with the servant. They then took even more pains to prepare the milk-rice, pouring it into a golden bowl.

Taking the delicious milk-rice both of them went to the banyan tree and Sujata saw what she perceived to be a holy man. He was handsome and golden looking and sat serenely in meditation. She did not know that he was in fact Ascetic Gotama. She bowed with respect and said, “Lord, accept my donation of milk-rice. May you be successful in obtaining your wishes as I have been.”

Ascetic Gotama ate the sweet thick milk-rice and then bathed in the river Neranjara. This was the last food and bath he would have for seven weeks. When he finished he took the golden bowl and threw it in the river, saying, “If I am to succeed in becoming a Buddha today, let this bowl go upstream, but if not, let it go downstream.” The golden bowl went upstream, all the while keeping in the middle of the river.

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16. Striving for Enlightenment

In the evening after Sujata’s lovely meal, Gotama went to Gaya and looked for a suitable place to sit down and meditate. He found a banyan tree and sat on its east side, the side that was believed to be stable and free from trembles and quakes. After sitting cross-legged with his back towards the tree, he made this resolution: “Though my skin, my nerves and my bones shall waste away and my life blood go dry, I will not leave this seat until I have attained the highest wisdom, called supremeenlightenment, that leads to everlasting happiness.”

He meditated on his breathing in and breathing out. It was the eve of the full moon. During the first part of the night many evil thoughts, described as being like the evil god Mara and his army, crept into his mind. Thoughts of desire, craving, fear and attachment arose, yet Gotama did not allow these thoughts to disturb his concentration. He sat more firm than ever. He began to feel calm and brave as he let these thoughts go and so, in the first part of the night, he found the power of seeing his own past lives.

In the second part of the night Gotama realised the impermanence of life and how living beings die only to be reborn again. In the third part of the night he realised the cause of all evil and suffering and how to be released from it. He understood how to end sorrow, unhappiness, suffering, old age and death.

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17. The Sun of Enlightenment Shines

The Buddha had withstood the worst attacks of Mara. Finally, the Evil One retreated and the terrible storm he had raised died away. Now the mind of the Blessed One relaxed into peace. The great darkness faded away and the full moon and stars reappeared again.

The Lord passed into a deep meditation, passing beyond the limits of ordinary human understanding, seeing the world as it is, and not as it appears to be. Like an eagle soaring effortlessly toward the sun, his mind moved swiftly onward and upward.

He saw his past lives and all his former births, with their good and evil deeds, with their gains and losses. As his mind soared upwards he saw the round of birth and death of all mankind. He saw beings born repeatedly and dying according to their karma.

Those who do good actions have heavenly births. Though these lives last longer than those on earth they also end in death, as they are also subject to the law of impermanence. Those who were suffering in the hell realms would also continue in the round of rebirths. So all beings (except Buddhas) are caught in the same round of existence, due to ignorance.

As his vision became even clearer, he saw the so-called soul of man, which man claims as his own, broken up into parts and laid before him like the unwoven threads of a garment. He saw the cause of the chain of existence — ignorance. The ignorant person, who clings to things that are worthless and transient, creates in him or herself more and more dangerous illusions. But when desire dies, illusions end, and ignorance vanishes like the night. Then the sun of enlightenment shines.

And having understood the world as it is, the Buddha was perfected in wisdom, never to be born again. Craving and destructive desire had been completely eradicated — as a fire goes out for lack of fuel.

Bathed in the brilliant light of all wisdom and truth sat the Buddha, the Perfect One. And all about him the world lay calm and bright and a soft breeze lifted the leaves of the bodhi tree.

Filled with compassion, the Lord sat beneath the tree in deep contemplation of the Dharma, residing in the perfect peace of nirvana.

At the dawn after his enlightenment the Buddha uttered this verse:

Thro’ many a birth in samsara wandered
Seeking, but not finding, the builder of this house.
Sorrowful is repeated birth.
House builder, thou art seen.
Thou shalt build no house again.
All thy rafters are broken; thy ridgepole is shattered.
The mind attains the unconditioned.
Achieved is the end of craving.”

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18. Seven Weeks After Enlightenment

Under the Bodhi Tree

During the first week after enlightenment, the Buddha sat under the bodhi tree experiencing the happiness of freedom and peace. He was free from disturbing thoughts, calm and blissful.

Gazing at the Tree

During the second week, in thanks and gratitude to the tree that had sheltered him during his struggle for Buddhahood, the Buddha stood without moving his eyes as he meditated on the bodhi tree.

Following this example, it is the custom of Buddhists to pay respect to not only the original bodhi tree, but also to the descendants of the bodhi tree that still thrive today.

The Golden Bridge

In the third week, the Buddha saw through his mind’s eye that the devas in the heavens were not sure whether he had attained enlightenment or not. To prove his enlightenment the Buddha created a golden bridge in the air and walked up and down it for a whole week.

The Jewelled Chamber

In the fourth week, he created a beautiful jewelled chamber and sitting inside it meditated on what was later known as the “Detailed Teaching” (Abhidhamma). His mind and body were so purified that six coloured rays came out of his body — blue, yellow, red, white, orange and a mixture of these five. Today these six colours make up the Buddhist flag. Each colourrepresented one noble quality of the Buddha: yellow for holiness, white for purity, blue for confidence, red for wisdom and orange for desirelessness. The mixed colour represented all these noble qualities.

Three Girls

During the fifth week, while meditating under a banyan tree, three most charming girls called Tanha, Rati and Raga came to disturb his meditation. They danced in a most seductive and charming manner and did everything to tempt the Buddha to watch their dance. Yet he continued to meditate unperturbed, and soon they tired and left him alone.

 The Mucalinda Tree

The Buddha then went and meditated at the foot of a mucalinda tree. It began to rain heavily and a huge king cobra came out and coiled his body seven times around the Buddha to keep him warm and placed his hood over the Buddha’s head to protect him from the rain. After seven days the rain stopped and the snake changed into a young man who paid his respects to the Buddha. The Buddha then said:

“Happy are they who are contented. Happiness is for those who hear and know the truth. Happy are they who have good will in this world towards all sentient beings. Happy are they who have no attachments and have passed beyond sense-desires. The disappearance of the word “I AM ” is indeed the highest happiness.”

The Rajayatana Tree

During the seventh week, the Buddha meditated under the rajayatana tree. On the fiftieth morning, after seven weeks of fasting, two merchants came into his presence. They were called Tapussa and Bhallika. They offered the Buddha rice cakes and honey to break his fast and the Buddha told them some of what he had found in his enlightenment.

These two merchants, by taking refuge in the Buddha and his Dharma (translated as “teachings of the Buddha”), became the first lay followers. There was no Sangha (order of monks and nuns) then. They asked the Buddha for something sacred to keep with them. The Buddha wiped his head with his right hand and pulled out some hair to give to them. These hair relics, called Kesa Datu, were later reputed to be enshrined by the merchants on their return home to what is now known as Burma, in the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon.

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19. The First Five Monks

Now the Buddha wanted to tell other people how to become wise, good and do service for others. He thought, “Now Asita,Alara and Uddaka are dead but my friends Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji are in Benares. I must go there and talk to them.”

Then he set out for Benares, till at last he came to a grove where his five friends were. This grove at Sarnath was called the Deer Park. They saw him coming towards them and one said to another, “Look yonder! There is Gotama, the luxury-loving fellow who gave up fasting and fell back into a life of ease and comfort. Don’t speak to him or show him any respect. Let nobody go and offer to take his bowl or his robe. We’ll just leave a mat there for him to sit on if he wants to and if he does not, he can stand. Who is going to attend on a good-for-nothing ascetic like him.”

However, as the Buddha came nearer and nearer, they began to notice that he had changed. There was something about him, something noble and majestic such as they had never seen before. And in spite of themselves, before they knew what they were doing, they forgot all they had agreed on. One hastened forward to meet him, and respectfully took his bowl and robe, another busily prepared a seat for him, while a third hurried off and brought him water to wash his feet.

After he had taken a seat the Buddha spoke to them and said, “Listen, ascetics, I have the way to deathlessness. Let me tell you, let me teach you. And if you listen and learn and practise as I tell you, very soon you will know for yourselves, not in some future life but here and now in this present lifetime, that what I say is true. You will realise for yourself the state that is beyond all life and death.”

Naturally the five ascetics were very astonished to hear their old companion talking like this. They had seen him give up the hard life of fasting and consequently believed that he had given up all efforts to find the truth. So initially they simply did not believe him, and they told him so.

But the Buddha replied, “You are mistaken, Ascetics. I have not given up all effort. I am not living a life of self-indulgence, idle comfort and ease. Listen to me. I really have attained supreme knowledge and insight. And I can teach it to you so you may attain it for yourselves.”

Finally the five were willing to listen to him and he delivered his first teachings. He advised his followers to follow the Middle Way, avoiding the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-torture. For the first time he taught the Four Noble Truths and how to practise the Eightfold Path, the Noble Way that would lead to freedom from suffering and to the way of enlightenment. With the conversion of the five ascetics at the Deer Park at Sarnath, the order of monks was established.

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20. The Buddha’s First Teaching

The Buddha’s first teaching was called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which means the Turning of the Wheel of Truth. It was given on the full-moon day of July, called Asalha.

This discourse was given to the five ascetics who were his former companions, at the Deer Park in Isipatana (now calledSarnath), near Benares, India. Many devas and brahmas (angels and gods) were present to listen to the discourse.

The Buddha started the discourse by advising the five ascetics to give up two extremes. These were indulgence in sensual pleasures and the tormenting of the body (self-indulgence and self-mortification).

He advised against too much sensual pleasure because these pleasures were base, worldly, not noble and unhelpful in spiritual development. On the other hand, tormenting the body was painful, not noble and also unhelpful in spiritual development. He advised them to follow the Middle Way, which is helpful in seeing things clearly, as they are, and in attaining knowledge, higher wisdom, peace, and enlightenment or nirvana.

The Buddha then taught the five ascetics the Four Noble Truths. They are: the truth of suffering; its cause; its end; and the way to its end. Everything in this world is full of suffering, and the cause of suffering is craving. The end of suffering is nirvana. The way to the end of suffering is via the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Buddha said that he was enlightened only after he understood these Four Noble Truths.

The Noble Eightfold Path has eight parts or factors:

            1. Right understanding means to know and understand the                Four Noble Truths.

            2. Right attitude means to have three kinds of thoughts or atti             tudes:

            (i) Thoughts of renunciation or an attitude of “letting go”.
(ii) Thoughts of goodwill to others, which are opposed to ill                  will.
(iii) Thoughts of harmlessness, as opposed to cruelty.

            3. Right speech deals with refraining from falsehood, such as              telling lies or not telling the truth; tale-bearing or saying                    bad things about other people; harsh words and frivolous                     talk such as gossiping.

            4. Right action deals with refraining from killing, stealing and            sexual misconduct.

            5. Right livelihood deals with the five kinds of trade which                should be avoided in order to lead a noble life. They are:         trading in arms (weapons), living beings (breeding animals         for slaughter), intoxicating drinks and poison.

            6. Right effort has four parts using meditation:

            (i) To try to stop unwholesome thoughts that have arisen
(ii) To prevent unwholesome thoughts from arising.
(iii) To try to develop good thoughts
(iv) To try to maintain good thoughts that have arisen

            7. Right mindfulness is also fourfold. It is mindfulness of the             body, mindfulness of feelings/sensations, mindfulness of        thoughts passing through the mind and mindfulness of                                Dhamma.

            8. Right concentration is one-pointedness of mind as devel                  oped in meditation.

These eight factors can be grouped into three smaller groups, as follows:

Sila (morality)

right speech, right action, right livelihood.

Samadhi (concentrated mind in meditation)

right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

Panna (wisdom)

right attitude, right understanding.

These three — morality, concentration and wisdom — are the three stages on the path to mental purity whose object isNibbana. These stages are described in a beautiful verse:

                        To cease from evil,
To do what is good.
To cleanse one’s mind:
This is the advice of all the Buddhas.

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21. The Serpent King

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As soon as he had 60 disciples the Buddha sent them away to teach people everywhere. He left the Deer Park and turned southwards towards the Magadha country.

Along the way, on the banks of a river, there lived three brothers whose names were Uruvela Kassapa, Nadi Kassapa and Gaya Kassapa. Each lived with 500, 300 and 200 followers respectively.

One evening the Buddha visited Uruvela Kassapa’s hut and asked, “If it is not an inconvenience, may I spend a night in your kitchen?”

“I don’t mind, Great Gotama, but there is a fierce serpent king in the kitchen. I am afraid it will harm you,” said UruvelaKassapa.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” answered the Buddha. “If you have no objection I will spent the night there.”

The Buddha went into the kitchen, spread some grass on the floor for bedding, and sat down. The fierce serpent king, hearing the noise, came slithering out of a hole in the wall, opening his mouth to bite the Buddha.”I will not harm this serpent king. I will subdue him by my love and kindness,” thought the Buddha. The angrier the serpent king became, the more kindly and loving was Buddha. The serpent king could do him no harm.

Early next morning Uruvela Kassapa went to the Buddha and found him sitting in deep meditation. The ascetic was surprised and asked the Buddha whether the serpent king had harmed him. “Here, see for yourself,” said the Buddha and uncovered his begging bowl. Out came the fierce serpent king and the ascetic started to run away in fright. But the Buddha stopped him, saying that he had a way to tame any fierce serpent.

“Can I learn?” asked the ascetic. The Buddha then gave his teachings and Uruvela Kassapa, his brothers and all their followers became devotees of the Buddha’s Dharma.

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22. Returning Home .

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When King Suddhodana came to know that the Buddha was teaching in Rajagaha he sent nine messengers, one after the other, inviting him to come to Kapilavatthu. All the messengers became monks. They listened to the Buddha’s teachings and found them so appealing that they forgot to convey the king’s message.

The king had made arrangements for the Buddha to stay in a park called Nigrodha. But when the Buddha did not arrive, the king sent Kaludayi, a childhood playmate of Buddha’s, to invite him back to Kapilavatthu.

When the people of Kapilavatthu discovered that the Buddha had come to their city they flocked to see him. Prince Siddhartha’s own relatives came as well and said, “He is our younger brother, our nephew, our grandson.”

Then the Buddha realised that some people, even then, did not understand that he was already enlightened but felt they were his elders. He showed them a miracle called the “Twin miracle”. Even the king, seeing this miracle, worshipped him.

The next day the Buddha took his begging bowl and went from door to door begging for food. The king, seeing this, was very annoyed. “Why do you disgrace me, my son? Why do you ruin me like this? Why don’t you take food in the palace? Is it proper for you to beg for food in this very city where you used to travel in golden sedan chairs? Why do you put me to shame, my dear son?”

“I am not putting you to shame, O Great King. This is our custom,” replied the Buddha calmly.

“How can this be? Nobody in our family has ever begged like this. How can you say ‘it is our custom’?” the confused king asked.

“Oh Great King, this is not the custom of the Royal family, but of the Buddhas. All the former Buddhas have lived by receiving food this way.”

However, when the king begged the Buddha to take food in the palace the Buddha kindly did so.

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23. The Story of Princess Yasodhara

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When the Buddha had taken his evening meal that day, all who knew him as Prince Siddhartha, except Princess Yasodhara, came to talk to him. All of them were surprised but happy to see their prince dressed like a monk.

Yasodhara stayed in her room thinking, “Prince Siddhartha is now the Enlightened One — the Buddha. He now belongs to the line of Buddhas. Is it right for me to go to him? He does not and cannot need me. I think it is better to wait and see.”

After a while the Buddha asked, ” Where is Yasodhara?”

“She is in her room,” said his father.”I shall go there,” said the Buddha and, giving his bowl to the king, he went to her room. As he entered he said to the king, “Let her pay me respect as she likes. Say nothing.”

As soon as the Buddha entered the room, even before he took his seat, Yasodhara rushed to him. She fell to the floor, held his ankles, placed her head at his feet and cried and cried until his toes were wet with her tears. The Buddha kept quiet and nobody stopped her until she was tired of crying. King Suddhodana then said, “Lord, when my daughter-in-law heard that you were wearing yellow robes she also robed herself in yellow. When she heard you were taking one meal a day she did the same. When she heard that you had given up lofty couches, she lay on a low couch and when she heard that you had given up garland and scents she too gave them up. So virtuous is my daughter-in-law.”

The Buddha nodded and said, “Not only in this last birth, O king, but in a previous birth too, Yasodhara was devoted and faithful to me.”

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24. The Story of Prince Rahula

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On the seventh day after the Buddha’s homecoming Princess Yasodhara dressed up young Rahula. The Buddha’s son had been brought up by his mother and grandfather and was now seven years old. She pointed to the Buddha and said, “That is your father, Rahula. Go and ask him for your inheritance.”

Innocent Rahula went to the Buddha and, looking up into his face, told him what his mother had asked him to say, adding, “Father, even your shadow is pleasing to me.”

As the Buddha left the palace Rahula followed him saying, “Give me my inheritance.” Coming to the park the Buddha thought, “He desires his father’s wealth, but this goes with the worldly life and is full of trouble and suffering. I shall instead give him what I know and thus give him an excellent inheritance.” The Buddha then asked Sariputta, one of his disciples, to ordain Rahula.

When King Suddhodana heard that his beloved grandson had become a monk he was deeply grieved. The king said, “When you left home it made me sad. When Nanda left home my heart ached. I concentrated my love on my grandson and again the one I love has left me. Please do not ordain anyone without their parent’s permission.” To this the Buddha agreed and never ordained anybody after that without their parents’ permission.

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25. The Two Chief Disciples

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Near Rajagaha there were two villages called Upatissa and Kolita. The headmen of these two villages were also known asUpatissa and Kolita. Both families were very close friends.

One day Upatissa’s wife, Sari, gave birth to a son called Sariputta. On the same day Kolita’s wife, Moggali, also gave birth to a son called Moggallana. The sons became best friends.

When they grew up both of them liked to watch dramas. One day, while watching a drama called Giragga Samapujja (The Mountain Festival), the young boys decided to leave home in order to seek greater happiness and understanding of life than could be had by watching plays.

Now at this time there was a famous religious teacher called Sanjaya staying near Rajagaha. The two friends went to learn from him, but after a while they found his teachings unsatisfactory and left. They promised each other they would both continue searching, studying and meditating in an effort to find the truth about life, and that whoever found it first would let the other know.

One morning, in the main street of Rajagaha, Sariputta saw the ascetic Assaji begging for alms. He radiated modesty and calmness as he went from house to house. As Sariputta came closer he saw on Assaji’s face a look of perfect peace, like a smooth undisturbed lake under a calm clear sky. Sariputta went up to him and humbly said, “Your face, friend, is serene. Your eyes so clear and bright. Who is your teacher and what does he teach, Sir?”

“I can soon tell you that, brother,” replied Assaji. “There is a great ascetic of the Sakya race who has left his home and country behind in order to follow the homeless life. He is my teacher and it is his teaching that I follow and practise.”

“Please tell me more.”

“I am only a newcomer to the way of the Buddha,” replied the ascetic modestly. “I do not know very much yet. But I will give you a brief description.”

“That is all I want, brother,” said Sariputta quickly. “Tell me the meaning of the teachings. Why make a lot of words about it?”

“Very well then,” said the ascetic. “Listen! The Buddha teaches that there is a cause for everything, and also how things cease to be.”

After the Venerable Assaji spoke these lines, Sariputta was so clever that he understood their meaning. He realised the truth that everything that ever has come into existence, or will come into existence, must pass away. He said, “If this is what the Buddha teaches you have found the state that is free from sorrow and suffering and full of peace and happiness.” After thanking Assaji, Sariputta went to find his friend Moggallana to bring him the great news.

Before he spoke a word Moggallana cried, “Why brother, how clear and shining your face is. Can it be that at last you have found what we have been seeking?”

“It is so, brother, it is so,” was Sariputta’s glad reply, and he explained the Buddha’s teachings to him.

Thus, Sariputta and Moggallana joined the Buddha and in a short time became two of his chief disciples. Sariputta became known for his wisdom and Moggallana for his miraculous power.

26. The Buddha and the Sick Monk

One day the Buddha visited a monastery. While he was there he came across a chamber where a monk lay in great pain caused by a loathsome disease. Although there were many other monks at the monastery, not one of them was concerned about their sick brother. The Buddha, beholding this woeful situation, began to look after the suffering man. He calledAnanda and together they bathed the monk, changed his dirty bed and eased his pain.

Then the Buddha admonished the monks of the monastery for their neglect and encouraged them to nurse the sick and care for the suffering. He concluded by saying, “Whosoever serves the sick and suffering, serves me.”

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27. The Buddha’s Daily Routine

The Buddha’s daily routine was divided into five parts:

the morning session

1.      the afternoon session

the first watch

the middle watch

the last watch

The Morning Session (4.00 a.m. to 12.00 noon)

The Buddha would get up at 4.00 a.m. and as soon as he had had a wash would sit down to meditate for an hour. From 5.00 to 6.00 a.m. he would look around the world with his mental eye to see if anybody needed help. At 6.00 a.m. he would put on his robe and either go out and help the needy or beg for food.

When on alms round the Buddha would go from house to house, eyes fixed to the ground, receiving in silence any food that was put into his bowl. Sometimes he would go begging with his disciples, who would walk behind him in single file. Often people would invite him to their houses for lunch and he would give a discourse to them and his followers.

The Afternoon Session (12.00 noon to 6.00 p.m.)

In the afternoon the monks would usually go to the Buddha to ask questions and be taught and advised. The Buddha would then retire to his room and look around the world with his mental eye to see if anyone was looking for his help. He would then go and meet people who were waiting for him. He would teach to them in such a way that everybody felt that the Buddha was teaching to each one of them separately, “giving joy to the wise, promoting the intelligence of the average people and dispelling the darkness of the dull-witted”.

The First Watch (6.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m.)

During this time the followers would come again to the Buddha to either listen or ask questions to clarify their doubts.

The Middle Watch (10.00 p.m. to 2.00 a.m.)

During this period the devas would seize the opportunity to go to see the Buddha and learn the truth of life. The Buddha, on answering their questions, would complete the middle watch of the night.

The Last Watch ( 2.00 a.m. to 4.00 a.m.)

For the first hour the Buddha would walk up and down meditating and freeing himself from the discomfort of sitting all day. He then would sleep for an hour. Thus we can see the Buddha was busy the whole day. In fact he only slept one hour each day during this 45 years of teaching. During the early hours of the day he saw the whole universe, blessed it with his boundless love and brought happiness to millions.

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28. The Order of Nuns

In the fifth year of his ministry, the Buddha was staying at Vesali when he heard that his father, King Suddhodana, was ill. He decided to visit him again at Kapilavatthu to teach him the Dharma, and made the long journey. After hearing the Dharma, the king immediately attained arahantship and passed away peacefully seven days later. It was in this year that the order of nuns was founded at the request of Maha Pajapati Gotami, the aunt and foster mother of the Buddha.

Three times she approached the Buddha and asked him to ordain her into the Sangha, but each time the Buddha refused, giving no reason at all. After the Buddha had stayed at Kapilavatthu a while, he journeyed back to Vesali.

Pajapati Gotami was a determined lady, and would not be so easily discouraged. She had a plan to get her way. She cut her hair, put on yellow garments and, surrounded by a large number of Sakyan ladies, walked 150 miles from Kapilavatthu toVesali. When she arrived at Vesali, her feet were swollen and her body was covered with dust. She stood outside the hall where the Buddha was staying with tears on her face, still hoping that the Buddha would ordain her as a nun.

Ananda was surprised to see her in this condition. “Gotami, why are you standing here like this?” he asked.

“Venerable Ananda, it is because the Blessed One does not give permission for women to become nuns,” she replied.

“Wait here, Gotami, I’ll ask the Blessed One about this,” Ananda told her. When Ananda asked the Buddha to admit MahaPajapati Gotami as a nun, the Buddha refused. Ananda asked three times and three times the Buddha refused.

So Ananda put the request in a different way. Respectfully he questioned the Buddha, “Lord, are women capable of realising the various stages of sainthood as nuns?”

“They are, Ananda,” said the Buddha.

“If that is so, Lord, then it would be good if women could be ordained as nuns,” said Ananda, encouraged by the Buddha’s reply.

“If, Ananda, Maha Pajapati Gotami would accept the Eight Conditions* it would be regarded that she has been ordained already as a nun.”

When Ananda mentioned the conditions to Maha Pajapati Gotami, she gladly agreed to abide by those conditions and automatically became a nun. Before long she attained arahantship. The other Sakyan ladies who were ordained with her also attained Arahantship.

The establishment of an order of nuns with rules and regulations was an opportunity for women that Buddha offered for the first time in the history of the world. No other religious leader had given such a high religious position for women.

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29. The Buddha on the Caste System

At the time of the Buddha the caste system was firmly established in India. According to this system, a person’s position in society was determined from the time he was born and there was no way to change his lot in life. There were four castes, or classes, of people in society:

1.      The Brahmins or priests, who claimed to be the highest caste and the purest of peoples

2.      The warriors

3.      The merchants and traders

4.      The untouchables, who were considered the lowest class. They became workers and servants who did all the menial jobs, and were treated as slaves.


The Buddha condemned the caste system, which he considered unjust. He pointed out that there existed wicked and cruel people as well as virtuous and kind people in every caste. Any person who had committed a crime would be punished accordingly by his karma no matter what caste he belonged to. He said a person may be considered to have come from a high or low caste according to his good and bad deeds. Therefore, according to the Buddha it is the good and bad actions of a person and not his birth that should determine his caste.

The Buddha introduced the idea of placing a higher value on morality and the equality of people instead of on which family or caste a person is born into. This was also the first attempt to abolish discrimination and slavery in the history of mankind.

The Buddha said:

By birth one is not an outcaste,
By birth one is not a Brahmin;
By deeds alone one is an outcaste,
By deeds alone one is a Brahmin.

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30. The Last Days of the Buddha

After his 55th year, many incidents in the life of the Buddha were recorded without an exact indication of the year in which they happened. However, the incidents occurring in his eightieth year were dated and recorded in the Maha ParinibbanaSutta.

When the Buddha reached his eightieth year, he felt that his days in this world were coming to an end. Although he had suffered the sicknesses and effects of old age like any other man, he was different from ordinary men. With his mental powers, developed through advanced mental training, he was able to overcome certain painful feelings of the body. His mind was always sparkling like a radiant diamond, even though his body was beginning to weaken.

In this last year of his life, he decided to spend his last days in the peaceful and simple surroundings of Kusinaga, a small village in northern India. He preferred to leave behind him the large and prosperous cities such as Rajagaha and Savatthi with their crowds, their merchants and kings.

The starting point of his journey to the country was Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha. He journeyed on foot, accompanied by Venerable Ananda and many disciples. It was a long journey and the party travelled through many cities and villages on their way. By this time, Venerable Rahula and Yasodhara had already passed away, and so had the Buddha’s two chief disciples, Venerable Moggallana and Venerable Sariputta.

During the journey, the Buddha’s thoughts turned to the welfare of the order of monks. Many of his teachings were concerned with advising on how the monks should behave to ensure that the order would carry on after his death. He reminded his disciples to practice all the truths that he had taught them.

One teaching he gave reminded the disciples to practise the seven factors of enlightenment. Another teaching was on the four ways to check whether a teaching was a true teaching of the Buddha or not, by comparing it with the
Vinaya (the disciplinary rules for the order) and the suttas (discourses of the Buddha).

There was one teaching which the Buddha gave again and again during the many stops on his last journey. It was a sermon on the fruits of following the three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path — morality, concentration and wisdom — which would help his disciples put an end to all sufferings.

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31. The Buddha’s Last Words

After the conversion of Subhadda, the Buddha spoke again to Venerable Ananda. “It may be, Ananda, that some of you will say, ‘without the Buddha, the Sublime Teacher, there is no teacher for us’. No, Ananda, you should not think in this way. Whatever doctrine and discipline taught and made known by me will be your teacher when I am gone.”

Then the Buddha, addressing the other monks said, “If any amongst you has any doubts as to the Buddha, the teaching, or the order of monks, ask me now so that afterwards you may have no cause to regret that you did not ask me while I was still with you.”

But at these words, none of the monks said anything. None had any questions, and all of them were silent. For the second and third time the Buddha addressed the monks in this way. And for the second and third time, all the monks were silent.

The Buddha said, “Perhaps it may be out of respect for the teacher, that you do not question me. Let a friend, O disciples, tell it to another friend.” Still the disciples remained silent.

Then Venerable Ananda spoke to the Buddha, “It is wonderful. It is marvellous, Lord! I do believe that in all this great company of monks there is not a single one who has doubts or questions about the Buddha, the teaching or the order of monks, or the path and the method of training and conduct.”

“With you, Ananda,” said the Buddha, “this may be a matter of faith and belief. But, Ananda, I know that not one single monk gathered here has any doubt or question about these things. Of all the 500 monks here, Ananda, he who is the most backward is a sotapanna, not subject to fall back to a lower state of existence, but is certain and destined for enlightenment.”

Then the Buddha addressed all the monks once more, and these were the very last words he spoke:

“Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.”

Then the Buddha lapsed into the jhana stages, or meditative absorptions. Going from level to level, one after the other, ever deeper and deeper. Then he came out of the meditative absorption for the last time and passed into nirvana, leaving nothing whatever behind that can cause rebirth again in this or any other world.

The passing away, or the final Nibbana of the Buddha, occurred in 543 BC on a full-moon day in the month of May, known in the Indian calendar as Vesak.