Notes on the Life of the Buddha, II

Notes on the Life of the Buddha, II September 2, 2008

From “The Awakened One: A life of the Buddha” by Sherab Chodzin Kohm.

Image of the Buddha from

We ended the last bit on the life of the Buddha with Siddhartha’s transformation into the Buddha, which took place under the great Pipal tree, aka the Bodhi (awakening) tree.

After his awakening, the Buddha contemplated his next steps, doubting that others would be capable of gaining his understanding. Itwas not until a great deva (god), Sahamapati, implored him to teach that he chose to do so. Finally, in doing so he set forth to teach the Dharma. On his way he encountered two merchants, who, seeing his radiance and princely gate, asked him to teach them. He did and both become his students, his first lay followers.

The Buddha then made his way to Deer Park, where he knew that his former students would be practicing. As they saw him approaching they made a pact to ignore him for abandoning the ascetic life. But as he drew near, his radiance and princely gate overwhelmed even them and they welcomed him as a friend and equal. But he would have none of this. He told them that he had gone beyond all previous states to complete unbinding, to nirvana. The five were skeptical but he persisted, urging them to let him teach them. Finally they submitted and he began the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the “Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma” Teaching.

To remember this teaching, you should first memorize a series of numbers: 1, 2, 4, and 8.
1) It is the 1st teaching.
2) The first lesson is the 2 extreme ways to be avoided – of overindulgence and of asceticism – and the middle way between them.
4) This middle way is understood in the knowledge of the four noble truths (1) dis-ease or dissatisfactoriness, (2) craving/thirsting: the cause of dis-ease, (3) nirodha, the possibility of the cessation of craving, and finally (4) the eight-fold path to the cessation of suffering
8) The Eightfold Path of the Nobles.

At once, the student Kaundinya awakens fully and asks to become a disciple of the Buddha. Soon after the other four awaken, becoming arahats, literally “worthy ones” but also called “foe destroyers” because they have defeated the greatest enemy of all: the ego. Soon after the Buddha and his newly reformed retinue encounter first one merchant’s son, Yasha, who gains awakening himself, then four of Yasha’s friends and then fifty more young people – all of whom gain awakening through hearing the Buddha’s teachings. Now, with sixty fully awakened disciples the Buddha sends his students out in all directions to teach.

As the disciples bring back group after group of newly awakened ones, the Buddha formalizes an ordination ceremony and authorizes his senior disciples to ordain new monks (or bhikshus, literally “ones who beg for food”).

The final episode in our first chapters of “The Awakened One” has the Buddha setting off to the kingdom of Magadha. Early in his practices, well before his enlightenment, he had met with the king of Magadha and promised to return once he had attained full awakening. At the time the kingdom’s main religious teachers were three matted-haired ascetics who taught the necessity of keeping sacrificial fires burning. There the Buddha performed various miraculous deeds: defeating a violent naga, parting waters, and levitating for instance. Finally, having failed to convince the eldest ascetic in these deeds, the Buddha simply calls him as he is: a failure in the quest to eliminate suffering and one on a path that will never culminate in the elimination of all suffering.

The ascetic, though in shock, realized the truth of the Buddha’s words and so too becomes a follower of the Buddha. And so follow the other two matted-haired ascetics and their hundreds of followers each, leading to a big mess in the Ganges river as piles of freshly shaved hair float toward the sea. The kingdom of Magadha is well on its way to becoming the first Buddhist kingdom on earth.

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