The Buddha His Life & Teachings

By Venerable Piyadassi Thera

The First Sermon

Now while the Blessed One dwelt in solitude this thought occurred to him: “The Dhamma I have realized is deep, hard to see, hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, beyond mere reasoning, subtle, and intelligible to the wise. But this generation delights, revels, and rejoices in sensual pleasures. It is hard for such a generation to see this conditionality, this dependent arising. Hard too is it to see this calming of all conditioned things, the giving up of all substance of becoming, the extinction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbâna. And if I were to teach the Dhamma and others were not to understand me, that would be a weariness, a vexation for me.”n20

Pondering thus he was first reluctant to teach the Dhamma, but on surveying the world with his mental eye, he saw beings with little dust in their eyes and with much dust in their eyes, with keen faculties and dull faculties, with good qualities and bad qualities, easy to teach and hard to teach, some who are alive to the perils hereafter of present wrongdoings, and some who are not. The Master then declared his readiness to proclaim the Dhamma in this solemn utterance:

“Apârutâ tesam amatassa dvârâ
Ye sotavanto pamuñcantu saddham.”

“Open are the doors of the Deathless.
Let those that have ears repose trust.”

When considering to whom he should teach the Dhamma first, he thought of Âlâra Kâlâma and Uddaka Râmaputta, his teachers of old; for he knew that they were wise and discerning. But that was not to be; they had passed away. Then the Blessed One made up his mind to make known the truth to those five ascetics, his former friends, still steeped in the fruitless rigours of extreme asceticism. Knowing that they were living at Benares in the Deer Park at Isipatana, the Resort of Seers (modern Sarnath), the Blessed One left Gayâ for distant Benares, walking by stages some 150 miles. On the way not far from Gayâ the Buddha was met by Upaka, an ascetic who, struck by the serene appearance of the Master, inquired: “Who is your teacher? Whose teaching do you profess?”

The Buddha replied: “I have no teacher, one like me does not exist in all the world, for I am the Peerless Teacher, the Arahat. I alone am Supremely Enlightened. Quenching all defilements, Nibbâna’s calm have I attained. I go to the city of Kâsi (Benares) to set in motion the Wheel of Dhamma. In a world where blindness reigns, I shall beat the Deathless Drum.”

“Friend, you then claim you are a universal victor,” said Upaka. The Buddha replied: “Those who have attained the cessation of defilements, they are, indeed, victors like me. All evil have I vanquished. Hence I am a victor.”

Upaka shook his head, remarking sarcastically, “It may be so, friend,” and took a bypath. The Buddha continued his journey, and in gradual stages reached the Deer Park at Isipatana. The five ascetics, seeing the Buddha from afar, discussed among themselves: “Friends, here comes the ascetic Gotama who gave up the struggle and turned to a life of abundance and luxury. Let us make no kind of salutation to him.” But when the Buddha approached them, they were struck by his dignified presence and they failed in their resolve. One went to meet him and took his almsbowl and robe, another prepared a seat, still another brought him water. The Buddha sat on the seat prepared for him, and the five ascetics then addressed him by name and greeted him as an equal, saying, “âvuso” (friend).

The Buddha said, “Address not the Tathâgata (Perfect One) by the word ‘âvuso.’ The Tathâgata, monks, is a Consummate One (Arahat), a Supremely Enlightened One. Give ear, monks, the Deathless has been attained. I shall instruct you, I shall teach you the Dhamma; following my teaching you will know and realize for yourselves even in this lifetime that supreme goal of purity for the sake of which clansmen retire from home to follow the homeless life.” Thereupon the five monks said: “Friend Gotama, even with the stern austerities, penances, and self-torture you practised, you failed to attain the superhuman vision and insight. Now that you are living a life of luxury and self-indulgence, and have given up the struggle, how could you have reached superhuman vision and insight?”

Then replied the Buddha: “The Tathâgata has not ceased from effort and reverted to a life of luxury and abundance. The Tathâgata is a Supremely Enlightened One. Give ear, monks, the Deathless has been attained. I shall instruct you. I shall teach you the Dhamma.”

A second time the monks said the same thing to the Buddha who gave the same answer a second time. A third time they repeated the same question. In spite of the assurance given by the Master, they did not change their attitude. Then the Buddha spoke to them thus: “Confess, O monks, did I ever speak to you in this way before?” Touched by this appeal of the Blessed One, the five ascetics submitted and said: “No, indeed, Lord.” Thus did the Supreme Sage, the Tamed One, tame the hearts of the five ascetics with patience and kindness, with wisdom and skill. Overcome and convinced by his utterances, the monks indicated their readiness to listen to him.