Friday, November 24, 2017

The world's first "Buddhists"

Ven. Silacara edited by Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

Some seven weeks after his great enlightenment, the Buddha had figured out a way to begin trying to teach what he had found so that others could reach enlightenment and gain the same liberation.

“Listen...Did I ever before tell you that I had found the supreme knowledge and insight that leads beyond rebirth and death? Come, answer me!”

The five ascetics had to answer the Buddha that it was true that he had never said anything like this to them before.

“Very well,” urged the Buddha. “Listen to me now when I tell you that I really have found the way to deathlessness [enlightenment and nirvana]. And let me show you what I have found.”

So impressively did the Buddha speak these words, so impressive did he look as he spoke, that the five ascetics found themselves unable any longer to refuse to listen. The gained confidence and invited their old friend to stay with them and teach them. So, day after day, during the next few months, the Buddha taught these five new disciples -- Yasa, Vimala, Subāhu, Punnaji, and Gavampati -- the liberating Truth he had rediscovered.

First he taught two out of the five, while the other three went out with their alms bowls to the ancient holy city of Varanasi (Benares), and collected enough food for all six of them. Then these three stayed at the deer park and were taught by the Buddha while the other two went out collecting food and brought back enough for all of them.

So the little party of five pupils and their teacher lived happily together, he teaching, the other five busily learning and practicing meditation, until in a short time (for they were all diligent pupils, and they had the best teacher in the world) all five of them, one after another, reached and realized for themselves the Truth their teacher had found.

They came to know even while alive in this body in this very life, the absolute truth of nirvana. Out of these five ascetics, the one who was the first to realize the truth directly, was called Kondañña. The other four were, Bhaddaka, Assaji, Vappa, and Mahanama. These five ascetics were the first Buddhist enlightened disciples (arhats) who appeared in the world. An "arhat" is one who in this life, in the body one now is now in, comes to realize the Truth that cannot be touched by rebirth and death, the state that is called nirvana.

First man to become a monk: Yasa
These five arhats were the first members of the Noble Sangha, the "community of enlightened beings" with the Buddha as teacher and guide.

While the Buddha was staying in the Deer Park at Isipatana, a suburb of Varanasi (Benares), a rich young man, an ordinary householder from the neighborhood named Yasa, came to see him.
  • [The ordination of Yasa was one of the scenes of the Buddha's life to be sculptured in the Relic Chamber of the Mahā Stūpa ( And according to the Anguttara Nikaya Commentary (AA.i.218f), Sujātā Senānīdhītā (the woman who gave Siddhartha a meal of rich food that restored him back to health just before his enlightenment) was Yasa's mother. She became a stream winner after listening to the Buddha's sermon.]
After the young man Yasa heard the Buddha explain the Dharma, the teaching, and what it led to, he was so well pleased with what he heard that he asked to become a Buddhist monastic then and there. He stayed on with the Buddha to hear and learn more.

Towards evening that day an elderly man came by and told the Buddha  that his son  had  left home that morning  saying  he was going  to visit the Buddha but had not returned, and now his mother was crying for him worried that he must have been killed by robbers on the way.
Then the Buddha  told the man that his son had become a monk. And he began to explain the Dharma to the new monk’s wealthy father. So well did he speak that when he ended, the father became a lay follower and invited the Buddha to his home for alms.
The next morning, when the Buddha and the new young monk went to his father’s house to eat, his mother was quite pleased to learn that her son had become a disciple of so great a teacher. And she herself became a lay-follower of  the Buddha [the fourth in the world, after two men the Buddha met on the road, who offered him food, and asked for something to remember him by, which the Buddha responded to by giving hair relics that purportedly became the foundation for Burma's great Shwedagon Pagoda].
After this, four close friends of young Yasa, saw what their friend had done and also became monks, direct disciples of the Buddha, members of the first monastic community or sangha.
And in this way, more and more young men became monks, until at last the Buddha had gathered round him there at Isipatana a body of about 60 young  monks, all from the best families, and all of them eager and diligent in study. So strenuous and persevering in practice under his training were they that in no long time, all of them realized directly for themselves the supreme knowledge and  insight and become arhats, members of the real Sangha, the “community of noble (enlightened) disciples.”
World's first missionaries
The Buddha had a mission for them. Now that they had learned the teaching and reached the goal, he sent them out to  teach others so that those who were ready to hear the Dharma might give ear and  practice it and thereby be saved from all trouble and distress.
“Go forth,” he said to them, “and make known the Dharma (teaching) that is excellent in its beginnings, excellent in its progress, and  excellent in its summit. Proclaim the perfect life, wholly pure and blameless. There are in  the world  beings with only a little dust (of craving and  clinging) in their eyes. And if they do not learn this doctrine, they will be lost. They will listen to you; they will understand.”
The Buddha  sent out  these first 60 disciples, not  in pairs or groups but singly and each in a different  direction. This was to make sure the Dharma spread as far and  widely as possible. And  these 60 arhats did as their teacher instructed. They carried knowledge of the Path, the Middle Way, the Dharma  and  Discipline (vinaya), north and south, east and west.
They were the first the world who went abroad  into  foreign  countries for the sole purpose of spreading knowledge  of the spiritual truths they head realized with the guidance of the Buddha. They were, in fact, the first appointed religious missionaries the world had seen.
One of them came to the Buddha  and  told him that he wanted to be sent to a  certain country where everybody  knew the people were very wild and  rough.  “But what will you  do there, monk,” asked the Buddha when he heard this request, “if the people of that country abuse you  and  say all sorts of bad things  about  you?”
“Then,” answered the monk,  “I will say to myself: ‘These people are very  good  people; they only use their tongues to [harm] me; they do  not  beat me with their  fists.’”
“But suppose they beat you  with their fists, monk, what will you  do  then?”  asked the Buddha.
“Then I will say to myself: ‘These people are very good  people; they do  not  thrash me with sticks,’” replied the monk.
“But if they thrash you  with sticks, what then?”
“Then I will  say that they are very good  people; they do  not  cut me with  swords.”
“And  if they cut you  with swords?”
“Then I will say they are very good; they do not  kill me.”
“But if they move to kill you,  O monk,  what will you  do  then?” asked the  Buddha.
“Then, venerable sir,” said the monk calmly, “I will say to myself: ‘These people  are doing  me a great favor, for this body of mine is an heavy thing of which I shall be glad to be rid. And  these good  people are going to rid me of it.’”
Then the Buddha  said:  “Go,  O  monk,  and  make known  this Doctrine  among  those people.

Monks like you  are the proper kind  of monks to spread abroad this Dharma among  all the peoples and  places of the world.”  [It may well be that they were not limiting their mission to this planet or "island" (dipa) but taking it much farther abroad.] More

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