In this unit: Soon after the Buddha started teaching, people from all over joined his community to dedicate their life to practicing the Dharma. But not everyone who joined became a monk or nun. What mattered was a person’s desire to live a spiritual life. The Buddha was the first religious teacher to encourage his disciples to spread the Dharma so everyone could benefit.

Yasa and his friends become disciples

The Buddha continued teaching at the Deer Park in Sarnath. After hearing the teachings Yasa, a young man from a wealthy family, and his best friends left home and became monks.

Later, fifty young men from high-caste families also left their homes and joined the community of monks to dedicate their lives to practise the Buddha’s teachings.

Read & Discuss: Story of Buddha

The First Messengers of Truth

The Buddha together with sixty monks set up the first Order of Sangha. These monks were the messengers of the Buddha who helped to spread the Dharma.

Before sending the monks in all directions to teach the Dharma, the Buddha instructed them to go forward for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare of gods and men. No two of them travelled together along the same road. He said that he himself was going to Uruvela.

The Buddha was the first religious teacher to send out his disciples to spread the Dharma. All his disciples only had a robe to cover themselves and an alms-bowl to collect food. Their main duty was to spread the Dharma and to teach the people to do good, avoid evil and purify the mind.

Who are the Sangha?

All kinds of people who are willing to follow the Buddha’s teachings. They included the young, the old, the rich and the poor. They lived in peace and harmony. However, not everyone had to become a monk or nun. Buddhist lay followers could also learn the Dharma just like Venerable Yasa’s parents and former wife. The monks taught the Dharma to the people. In return, the lay followers provided the necessary material needs like food, shelter, robes and medicine for the monks and nuns.

Pajapati becomes the First Nun

In the fifth year after his Enlightenment, the Buddha returned to Kapilavatthu with his disciples when he heard that his father was seriously ill. After his father passed away, Queen Pajapati told the Buddha, “Yasodhara, my ladies-in-waiting and I wish to become nuns.”

At first the Buddha refused and explained, “The life we lead is far too harsh for women. The Buddha’s teachings can be followed anywhere. It is not necessary to leave the comfort of your home family.” After that, the Buddha went to Vesali.

However, Pajapati was not discouraged by the Buddha’s comment. She cut her hair, put on a yellow robe and accompanied by Yasodhara and other Sakyan women, walked to Vesali. The long journey caused their feet to swell. Looking very weary and with their clothes covered in dust, they finally arrived at the monastery where the Buddha was teaching. In tears, In tears, Pajapati spoke to Ananda, the personal attendant of the Buddha.”Please ask the Buddha to let us become nuns.”

It was Ananda who saw their determination to join the Order. He asked the Buddha, “Can women lead a holy life and become Arahants (fully enlightened ones) if they become nuns?”

The Buddha answered, “Yes Ananda, they can even in this very life. Tell Pajapati and the others that I accept them into the Order”. This was how Pajapati, Yasodhara and their companions became the first nuns. Thus, the Order of Nuns was formed.

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Quiz: Unit 5

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