The Buddha’s Ministry
During his long ministry of forty-five years the Buddha walked widely throughout the northern districts of India. But during the rains retreat (vassa), he generally stayed in one place. Here follows a brief sketch of his retreats gathered from the texts:
The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years: Râjagaha (in the Bamboo Grove, Veluvana). It was during the third year that Sudatta, a householder of Sâvatthi known for his bounty as Anâthapindika, "the feeder of the forlorn," having heard that a Buddha had come into being, went in search of him, listened to him, and having gained confidence (saddhâ) in the Teacher, the Teaching, and the Taught (the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha), attained the first stage of sainthood (sotâpatti). He was renowned as the chief supporter (dâyaka) of the Master. Anâthapindika had built the famous Jetavana monastery at Sâvatthi, known today as Sahet-mahet, and offered it to the Buddha and his disciples. The ruins of this monastery are still to be seen.
5th year: Vesâli. The Buddha kept retreat in the Pinnacled Hall (kûtâgârasâlâ). It was at this time that King Suddhodana fell ill. The Master visited him and preached the Dhamma, hearing which the king attained perfect sanctity (arahatta), and after enjoying the bliss of emancipation for seven days, passed away. The Order of Nuns was also founded during this time.
7th year: Tâvatimsa (the Heaven of the Thirty-three). Here the Buddha preached the Abhidhamma or the Higher Doctrine to the deities (devâs) headed by his mother Mahâmâyâ, who had passed away seven days after the birth of Prince Siddhartha, and was reborn as a deva in the Tâvatimsa.
8th year: Bhesakalâ Forest (near Sumsumâragiri). It was here that Nakulapitâ and his wife, a genial couple, came to see the Buddha, told him about their very happy married life, and expressed the wish that they might continue to live together both here and hereafter. These two were placed by the Buddha as chiefs of those that win confidence.
9th year: Kosambi,at the Ghosita Monastery.
10th year: Pârileyyakka Forest. It was in the tenth year that, at Kosambi, a dispute arose between two parties of monks owing to a trivial offence committed by a monk. As they could not be reconciled, and as they did not pay heed to his exhortation, the Buddha retired to the forest. At the end of the vassa, their dispute settled, the monks came to Sâvatthi and begged pardon of the Buddha.
11th year: Village of Ekanâla (in the Magadha country). It was here that the Buddha met the brahmin farmer Kasibhâradvâja who spoke to the Buddha somewhat discourteously. The Buddha, however, answered his questions with his characteristic sobriety. Bhâradvâja became an ardent follower of the Buddha. It was on this occasion that the very interesting discourse, Kasibhâradvâja Sutta (Sutta-nipâta), was delivered. (Read The Book of Protection by this author)
12th year: Verañja. The introduction of the Vinaya is attributed to the twelfth year. It was also during this retreat that the brahmin Verañja came to see the Buddha, asked a series of questions on Buddhist practices, and being satisfied with the answers, became a follower of the Blessed One. He invited the Master and the Sangha to spend the rainy season (vassa) at his village Verañja. At that time there was a famine. The Buddha and his disciples had to be satisfied with very coarse food supplied by horse merchants. As it was the custom of the Buddha to take leave of the inviter before setting out on his journeying, he saw the brahmin at the end of the vassa. The latter admitted that though he had invited the Buddha and his disciples to spend the retreat at Verañja, he had failed in his duties towards them during the entire season owing to his being taxed with household duties. However, the next day he offered food and gifts of robes to the Buddha and the Sangha.
13th year: Câliya Rock (near the city of Câlika). During this time the elder Meghiya was his personal attendant. The elder being attracted by a beautiful mango grove near a river asked the Buddha for permission to go there for meditation. Though the Buddha asked him to wait till another monk came, he repeated the request. The Buddha granted him permission. The elder went, but to his great surprise he was oppressed by thoughts of sense pleasures, ill will, and harm, and returned disappointed. Thereupon the Buddha said: "Meghiya, for the deliverance of the mind of the immature, five things are conducive to their maturing: (1) a good friend; (2) virtuous behaviour guided by the essential precepts for training; (3) good counsel tending to dispassion, calm, cessation, enlightenment and Nibbâna; (4) the effort to abandon evil thoughts, and (5) acquiring of wisdom that discerns the rise and fall of things."n31
14th year: Jetavana monastery, Sâvatthi. During this time the Venerable Râhula, who was still a novice (sâmanera), received higher ordination (upasampadâ). According to the Vinaya, higher ordination is not conferred before the age of twenty; Ven. Râhula had then reached that age.
15th year: Kapilavatthu (the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha). It was in this year that the death occurred of King Suppabuddha, the father of Yasodharâ.
16th year: City of Âlavi: During this year Âlavaka, the demon who devoured human flesh, was tamed by the Buddha. He became a follower of the Buddha. For Âlavaka’s questions and the Master’s answers read the Âlavaka Sutta, in the Sutta-nipâta. (See The Book of Protection, by this author.)
17th year: Râjagaha, at Veluvana Monastery. During this time a well-known courtesan, Sirimâ, sister of Jivaka the physician, died. The Buddha attended the funeral, and asked the king to inform the people to buy the dead body,the body that attracted so many when she was alive. No one cared to have it even without paying a price. On that occasion, addressing the crowd, the Buddha said in verse:
"Behold this painted image, a body full of wounds,
heaped up (with bones), diseased,
the object of thought of many, in which
there is neither permanence nor stability."
18th year: Câliya Rock. During this time a young weaver’s daughter met the Buddha and listened to his discourse on mindfulness of death (maranânussati). On another occasion she answered correctly all the four questions put to her by the Master, because she often pondered over the words of the Buddha. Her answers were philosophical, and the congregations who had not given a thought to the Buddha word, could not grasp the meaning of her answers. The Buddha, however, praised her and addressed them in verse thus:
"Blind is this world;
few here clearly see.
Like a bird that escapes from the net,
only a few go to a good state of existence."
She heard the Dhamma and attained the first stage of sanctity (sotâpatti). But unfortunately she died an untimely death. (For a detailed account of this interesting story, and the questions and answers, see the Commentary on the Dhammapada, Vol. III, p.170, or Burlingame, Buddhist Legends, Part 3, p.14.)
19th year: Câliya Rock.
20th year: Râjagaha, at Veluvana Monastery.
From the 21st year till the 43rd year: Sâvatthi.
Of these twenty-four vassas, eighteen were spent at Jetavana Monastery, the rest at Pubbârâma. Anâthapindika and Visâkhâ were the chief supporters.
44th year: Beluva (a small village, probably situated near Vesâli), where the Buddha suppressed, by force of will, a grave illness.
In the 45th year of his Enlightenment, the Buddha passed away at Kusinârâ in the month of May (vesâkha) before the commencement of the rains.
During the first twenty years of the Buddha’s life, the bhikkhus Nâgasamâla, Nâgita, Upavâna, Sunakkhatta, Sâgata, Râdha, and Meghiya, and the novice (sâmanera) Cunda attended upon him, though not regularly. However, after the twentieth year, the Buddha wished to have a regular attendant. Thereon all the great eighty arahats, like Sâriputta and Moggallâna, expressed their willingness to attend upon their Master. But this did not meet with his approval. Perhaps the Buddha thought that these arahats could be of greater service to humanity.
Then the elders requested Ânanda Thera, who had kept silent all this while, to beg of the Master to be his attendant. Ânanda Thera’s answer is interesting. He said, "If the Master is willing to have me as his attendant, he will speak." Then the Buddha said: "Ânanda, let not others persuade you. You on your own may attend upon me."