Buddha’s First Community
Buddha Śākyamuni, after attaining His great Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree spent the next 7 weeks fasting as well as experiencing the various aspects of Realisation.
But on the 50th day two merchants - named Tapussa and Bhallika - came by and offered honey and food made from flour to the Buddha. The Buddha accepted the food in an alms bowl donated by the Four Great Guardian Gods.
After the dāna (alms-food) they took the Two Fold Refuge in the Buddha and Dhamma (Dwe Vācika Saraṇa), as there was no sangha in existence yet. They became the first Upāsakas (male disciples) of the Buddha.
They also requested the Buddha for something to worship. So the compassionate Buddha touched His head with His right hand and gave them some hair as relic to worship:
They took them home to Pokkharavati in the state of Okkala and put them in the golden casket for enshrinement in a Pagoda.
Preaching of the Dhamma
At this juncture the Buddha thought how deep His Dhamma was and how difficult it would be for the people to understand and practise.
Coincidentally Brahma Sahampati appeared before Him and invited Him to preach the Dhamma, as there were some people who could understand the Dhamma.
With His Divine Eye, He surveyed and saw that indeed there were people who could understand the Dhamma:
- He first thought of His first ascetic teacher Āḷāra Kālāma but he had died a week ago.
- He then thought of His second ascetic teacher Uddaka Rāmaputta but he just died the day before.
Finally He thought of the group of 5 monks who had attended on Him. He found that they were staying in the Deer Park at Isipatana, Varanasi.
Out of compassion the Buddha went to see them in the Park. On the way, He met the wandering ascetic Upaka who asked the Buddha who His teacher was:
The Buddha replied that He had no teacher (for his attainment of Buddhahood). Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta were the ascetic teachers before He became a Buddha.
The five monks, on seeing the distant approaching Buddha, agreed at first not to pay Him due respect. However as He drew near, they could not resist from giving Him the due respect.
In any case they did not address the Buddha correctly and properly because they did not know that the Ascetic Siddhattha whom they had been serving before, had attained Buddhahood.
The Buddha then told them not to address Him thus for three times. Finally He successfully convinced them of His attainment and they sat patiently to hear the Dhamma.
The Buddha then preached the Dhamma Cakka Pavattana Sutta - the Discourse on Turning In Motion the Wheel of Truth, on the Fullmoon Day of Āsāḷhī (July) Saturday in the year Maha Era 103.
Among the five monks listening were also numerous devas (celestial beings) and Brahmas (higher celestial beings) as well as other beings.
As expounded in the said Sutta, the Buddha advised the monks to give up two extremes - the enjoyment of sensual pleasures and the tormenting of the body (self-indulgence and self-mortification), respectively. Though not everyone would have to give up pleasure, those who had renounced the world should do so.
The Buddha asked the five monks to give up the two extremes because as a Prince then He had enjoyed self-indulgence (sensual pleasures) and as an ascetic, he had tormented his body (self-mortification):
In the former He found it to be base and vulgar while in the latter He found it to be pathetic. Though people were found to be easily moved by and readily believed in self-mortification, yet it produced no purity.
The Buddha found the Middle Path (Majjhima Paṭipadā) of avoiding the two extremes. Majjhima Paṭipadā means the Noble Eight-Fold Path which is for one to practise accordingly, leading to Nibbāna.
At the end of the Discourse, Kondañña understood the Dhamma and attained Enlightenment as Sotāpanna, the first stage of Sainthood. It is also called a Stream-Winner, as he had seen Nibbāna for the first time.
When Kondañña attained Sotāpanna, the Devas and Brahmas rejoiced and a very bright light appeared in the world. The other four monks also became Stream-Winners (Sotāpannas) later.
The group of five monks later attained Arahantship after listening to the Anattalakkhaṇa-Sutta, the Discourse on No-Soul. An Arahat means a Worthy One, free from all bondage.
The Original Missionary Monks
The sixth disciple was Yasa, son of a rich man. Disgusted with the world he ran away from home at night and met the Buddha, listened to His Dhamma and became an Arahat.
Searching for his son Yasa, the father too met the Buddha and listening to His Dhamma became the first male follower (Upāsaka) who took the Three-fold Refuges.
Likewise Yasa’s mother and wife also became the first two female followers (upāsikās) who sought the three-fold refuges. The three lay disciples attained Sotāpanna (first stage of ariya hood) after listening to the Buddha’s dhamma.
Meanwhile Yasa’s 54 staunch friends, after hearing the Buddha’s Dhamma also became Arahats:
Vimalā, Subāhu, Punnaji and Gavampati were the four closest and dearest of Yasa’s friends who attained Arahats first. They made up the total of 60 Arahats existing in the World then.
With these Sixty Arahants, the Buddha told them to:
“Go forth, O Bhikkhus, one in each direction, Preach ye the Dhamma, for the good of many, for the welfare and happiness of many, proclaim ye the holy blameless life for the good of the world”.
After that the Buddha set out on foot alone to preach His new-found Dhamma.
On the way He met the Thirty Bhadda Vaggi royal brothers who were having a picnic:
As one of them was unmarried he engaged a courtesan who stole their gold and jewellery, creating uproar. This made them hunt for the lady thief and consequently meet the Buddha.
After hearing the Dhamma from the Buddha, they became Ariyans in the first three stages of Sainthood (Sotāpanna to Anāgāmi).
The Buddha then proceeded to Rājagaha and met the famous three Kassapa Ascetic brothers, who lived by the bank of a river. They were very avid and successful Fire-worshippers:
After the Buddha passed a night in the eldest Kassapa brother’s temple and defeating the residential Nāga (dragon), he was convinced of the Buddha’s powers and became His disciple. This led to the conversion of his two younger Kassapas, also fire-worshippers down-stream.
As they had 500, 300 and 200 disciples respectively who also became Buddhist monks, they made up a total of 1000 bhikkhus headed by the Kassapa brothers and all became Arahants after hearing the Buddha preached the Maha Nārada Kassapa Jātaka.
With these new found disciples the Buddha proceeded towards the kingdom of King Bimbisāra, whom He had promised to visit first after His Enlightenment when He was Bodhisattva Ascetic earlier on.
King Bimbisāra together with one hundred and twenty thousand in his retinue, met the Buddha.
King Bimbisāra after hearing the story of Maha Nārada Kassapa Jātaka from the Buddha, attained the first stage of sainthood (Sotāpanna).
Among his retinue, one hundred and ten thousand attained Sotāpanna Sainthood whilst the remaining ten thousand became Buddhists.
He was very happy and expressing joy he told the Buddha that his 5 life-long wishes had been fulfilled. They were as follows
He then invited the Buddha and His disciples to the royal dāna (alms giving). After that he offered his royal park Veluvana (Bamboo) grove to the Buddha and His monks. It was also a very suitable occasion for the Buddha to preach the Tirokuṭṭa Sutta.
After the donation of Veluvana Bamboo Grove Temple to Buddha, that night King Bimbisāra heard frightful, fearsome and horrible demons screaming and shouting outside the palace.
After consulting the Buddha, he was told that the Throne and Kingdom were not in danger but those were his previous relatives in deprived state and who wanted the sharing of his merits.
So as advised, the King duly performed alms giving and shared merits to his relatives whom the Buddha revealed them in their pitiful states.
That became the starting of sharing of merits by reciting:
“Idam No Ñatinaṁ Hotu Sukhitā Hontu Ñatayo!”
“May our relatives share in the merits we have accrued and may they be well and happy!”
The Buddha’s First Two Chief Disciples
The Buddha’s first two Chief Disciples were Venerable Sāriputta (also known as Upatissa) and Venerable Moggallāna (also known as Kolita):
Both of them were from rich and prominent Brahman families: Fed up with worldly pleasure, both of them who were staunch friends, went out in search of Peace.
(1) Sāriputta was the son of Lady Rūpasāri (mostly called Sāri), who was the very fortunate mother of 7 Arahants, namely: -
At first both of them went to study under a well-known ascetic named Sanjaya:
Soon both were dissatisfied with his instructions, left him and went their separate ways back to their own homes. Before doing so however, they promised they would keep each other informed of any opportunity to attain peace.
Venerable Sāriputta inevitably met and admired the Venerable Asaji who preached to him the Dhamma:
On hearing the first two lines of the Dhamma verse, Sāriputta became a Sotāpanna. He repeated the Dhamma to Moggallāna who also became a Sotāpanna.
When both of them went to see the Buddha, they became Arahants after hearing the Buddha preached the Dhamma. Then they requested the Buddha to ordain them as monks.
Later the Buddha declared and made Venerable Sāriputta His First Chief Disciple and Venerable Moggallāna his Second Chief Disciple in the presence of the first assembly of one thousand two hundred and fifty (1,250) Bhikkhu monks.
Then the Buddha instructed the monks to observe the Pāṭimokkha (Discipline).
The Royal Invitation
His royal father King Suddhodana sent nine invitations to invite the Buddha to return home and visit His birth place but they were all unsuccessful:
When the royal messengers met the Buddha, they heard His dhamma and attained Arahantship. They were so happy and elated that they forgot their royal mission and became monks.
Only Kāḷudāyī succeeded in inviting the Buddha. After his successful invitation, Kāḷudāyī, a former playmate of the Buddha who was born on the same day as Buddha, also became a Bhikkhu.
Upon the invitation of His father King Suddhodana, the Buddha proceeded to Kapilavatthu. As He also preached Dhamma on the way, it took the Buddha two months to reach Kapilavatthu.
On arriving at Kapilavatthu, the elderly royal Sakyan relatives, according with their traditions, sent their younger ones to picnic away in the country side, expecting the Buddha to pay them the due respect.
However the Buddha knew the real situation and performed the twin miracle:
The twin miracle was the issuing of fire and water from His body simultaneously. This wonderful and spectacular feat captured and subdued their pride.
His royal father, seeing this wonder, saluted Him, saying that it was his third respect. Finally the elderly Sakyan relatives paid their respect to the Buddha.
The next day with bowl in hand, He went from house to house seeking alms in the streets of Kapilavatthu.
The King rushed up to Him and asked why He was disgracing him thus. The Buddha replied that it was the tradition of Buddhas.
On hearing this the King became a Sotāpanna. Later he became a Sakadāgāmi, He attained Anāgāmi when he heard the Dhammapāla Jātaka. On his death bed he became an Arahant.
When the Buddha entered the palace for the King’s dāna, many Sakyan ladies came to pay respects except Princess Yaśodharā.
She thought that if she had any virtues the Buddha would go to see her. Then she would pay Him utmost respect.
So the Compassionate Buddha accompanied by a host of retinue led by the King and Pajāpati Gotamī, went to see her.
Yaśodharā then clasped the Buddha’s ankles and worshipped Him as she liked. Meanwhile the King announced her sterling virtues to all present.
At this juncture the Buddha expounded Canda Kinnari Jātaka to illustrate her fidelity and virtues then, as well as in other previous lives.
Later she entered the Order and became an Arahant when she was a Bhikkhunī.
Nanda, the step-brother of the Buddha, was under royal consecration and its due ceremonies were ordered by the King. It was also attended by the Buddha. The ceremonies were:-
which took place on the third day of the Buddha’s visit.
However later after the dāna, when he followed the Buddha back to Nijodhārāma Monastery carrying the alms-bowl of the Buddha, whereupon he was ordained as a Bhikkhu.
On the seventh day of the Buddha’s visit, Prince Rāhula who was prompted by his mother to ask for his inheritance was instead ordained as a novice monk at the young age of seven:
This ordination which had the seven supra-mundane treasures was the more appropriate and beneficial inheritance the Buddha gave instead. In due course he became an Arahant.
King Suddhodana became upset at the ordination of his only grandson and requested the Buddha to establish a radical rule that anyone who had obtained the consent of his parent or guardian should only be ordained as a monk.
The Buddha then left Kapilavatthu for Rājagaha but on the way He stopped at the Anupiya Mango Grove.
In the meanwhile, the King called on the Sakyan royal households to present a Prince each for ordination to become monks. He managed to rally in groups of a thousand Sakyan Princes and sent them to the Buddha for ordination.
Pajāpati Gotamī was also rejoicing the homecoming of the Buddha and offered Him a set of hand-woven monk’s robes:
After the death of King Suddhodana, she and some other Sakyan ladies took a leading part in requesting the Buddha to establish the Order of Nuns, several times but failed:
Upon the intervention and initiative of Ānanda’s appeal, the Buddha later gave His consent. Thereupon Pajāpati Gotamī and some other royal Sakyan ladies joined the Nuns Order and became Arahants.
On the seventh year of His enlightenment, the Buddha went to Tāvatiṁsa Heaven to preach the Abhidhamma (Higher Philosophical Truth) to His deva mother and also to observe the Vassana (Rains Retreat) for three months there.
Many celestials, including a very large retinue headed by His deva mother, greatly benefited by attaining the various stages of Sainthood.
After His Abhidhamma lectures, the Buddha visited the human world at lake Anotatta in the Himalaya Mountain, where the Venerable Sāriputta waited to receive the daily account of His lectures.
Later the Venerable Sāriputta would expound the same doctrine to his disciples, thereby spreading the Abhidhamma teaching of the Buddha.