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A Young People's
Life of the Buddha
The Buddha now began that career of continual teaching and preaching which lasted for forty-four years, during which time He wandered about principally in that part of Northern India where are now Oudh, Bihar, and the North Bengal. Except during the rainy season He very seldom stayed more than a day or two at any one place. And during the rainy season of each year, He generally lived at the Bamboo Grove or Veluvana Vihara at Rajagaha that had been given Him by King Bimbisara, or else at the Jetavana Vihara near Savatthi in the Kosala country, which had been presented to Him by a very generous supporter of the Buddha and His Sangha whose name was Anathapindika.
During these years the daily habits of the Buddha were somewhat as follows:
He rose early in the morning before dawn, and after making His toilet, sat down and engaged in meditation for some time. Then, when daylight was fully come, He used to put His robe on decently over both shoulders, and taking His almsbowl in hand, go out to the village or town near which He happened to be staying at the time, and with His eyes fixed on the ground, pass from door to door, waiting for, and accepting in silence, whatever the charitable might put into His bowl. Sometimes He went out on this round for alms alone by Himself; sometimes he went accompanied by a body of His disciples who passed along in single file behind Him, their bowls in their hands also, and with the same modest and subdued demeanor. Occasionally, when begging alone, some supporter to whose door He came, would invite Him to come in and eat His meal in their house. Such invitations He usually accepted, taking the seat that had been prepared for Him, and partaking of what was put in His bowl by the people of the house who meantime had taken it from Him and filled it with the best of everything they had. Then, after finishing His meal and washing His hands, He would speak to those present about His doctrine, telling them about the benefit and advantage of doing good and the disadvantage and harm of doing evil both now and in the future, and then He would rise and go back to the place where He happened to be staying at the time. There He would sit quiet waiting in a rest-house or under a tree near by, until all the Bhikkhus living with Him at the time, had finished their meal also; and then He would retire to His own chamber where He would wash His feet, coming out again afterwards to give an address to the Bhikkhus who meanwhile had assembled together in order to listen to Him, and to exhort them to be diligent in learning the Doctrine and practicing the Discipline, so as to attain to a realization of Nibbana here and now in this present life.
After He had finished speaking, some of the Bhikkhus would ask Him to give them a subject to meditate upon suitable to their individual character and the state of progress at which they had arrived, and then the Buddha would tell them what would be best for them to meditate on that day, giving them an easy or a difficult subject according as they were beginners or far advanced in their study and practice. Then the Bhikkhus would break up their gathering, and each would go away by himself under a tree or to some retired spot in the fields, and spend the afternoon there meditating upon the subject the Master had given each for meditation.
The Buddha would now go back to His private room, and if it was the hot season, and by reason of the great heat He felt inclined to lie down for a little and rest, He would do so with His mind composed and collected. Then, being refreshed, He would rise from His couch which simply consisted of His robe folded in four and laid on the floor of His room, and He would begin to consider the people in the world and how best He could help them to gain final deliverance from everything evil. By this time the people from the village or town near which he was living, perhaps would come to Him with offerings of one kind or another, wishing at the same time to hear Him preach. So He would sit down and after accepting their gifts, speak to them in such a nice easy way, in a way so suited to the understanding of each person present, whether rich or poor, learned or unlearned, that each of them would think that the Great Teacher was speaking specially to them, to nobody else, and when He had ended speaking, they would all go away pleased and delighted with everything they had heard.
When these visitors had thus gone, the Buddha would then go and bathe in the Vihara somewhere or, if there was a good bathing-tank or pond near by, go and bathe there, and afterwards retire again to His private room, and sitting down alone, engage in meditation.
By this time it would be coming on towards evening; and now any Bhikkhus who did not belong to the company who were living with Him but were living somewhere else, were free to come and see Him and get advice from him about their practice of meditation or ask Him to explain to them some points about the Doctrine which they did not fully understand. Such Bhikkhus were now received by Him and He gave them the counsel and advice they required, and cleared up for them their difficulties in understanding with kind and helpful answers which sent them away cheered and encouraged and strengthened. And this the Buddha always did in the kindest and most patient and courteous manner. During all the forty-four years of His life when He thus received Bhikkhus from other places nearly every day, and answered their questions and solved their difficulties for them, never once was He known to lose patience with any questioner or become annoyed or angry at anything any one said, whether they were friendly or hostile; still less did He ever become confused and confounded, or unable to answer any question asked Him. He was always prepared to speak with all who came to Him, whether honestly ask His help, or only to try to trap Him in what He said. To those who really wanted help in their difficulties, He gave helpful, satisfying answers. And those who came to try to confuse and puzzle Him, and trip Him up in His words very often came away full of admiration for His ready knowledge and wisdom, some of them even becoming there and then His devoted followers for the rest of their life.
The evening and the earlier part of the night is this was given to visitors. But now, being a little weary of so much sitting all day, the Buddha used to get to His feet and spend some time just pacing up and down to relieve and refresh His limbs. Then, after walking back and forward like this for a while, He would retire to His room and go to rest for the night.
Thus during the forty-four years of His career of teaching and preaching His doctrine, did the Buddha spend each day when not actually engaged in traveling from one place to another, always ready to help and instruct any one who desired His help and instructions in religious matters. But it was not only in religious but also in every day worldly affairs that He was sometimes able to do good with His practical wisdom to the people among whom He freely moved during these forty-four years of active, beneficent life.
Thus, once when He was staying at the Jetavana Vihara at Savatthi, the people of Kapila and Koliya fell into a great and bitter dispute about the watering of their paddy fields. It was a time of drought. No rain had fallen for a long time, and as a result, the stream that ran between the fields of the Kapila folk on one side, and the fields of the Koliya people on the other, was almost dried up. There was only a very little water left in it. And each of these two peoples, the Kapilas and the Koliyas, wanted to get all the water there was for their own fields, and to leave the others none. And they began to get ready to fight about it, each party prepared to kill the people on the other side of the stream so as to get all the water in it for themselves.
Now the Kapila people were the Buddha's own people, and when He heard about this quarrel of theirs with the Koliyas, He felt very sorry to think that they were going to kill other people and perhaps get killed themselves all for the sake of a little water. So He set out for the place where the angry people were gathered together all ready to fight, with their weapons in their hands. And when He got there He spoke to them like this:
"Princes and warriors, listen to what I am going to say, and answer what I ask you, truthfully. What is it you are getting ready to kill one another about?"
"About the water in the stream, here, which we both want for our dry fields," said the people of both banks of the stream.
"Yes," said the Buddha, "but tell me truly. Which do you think is the more valuable -- the little water in this stream, or the blood in the veins of the many men, especially that in the veins of princes and kings?"
"The blood of men, and especially the blood of princes and kings," the people at once replied, "of course is much more valuable than the water of the stream."
"That being so," the Buddha now said, "is it fit and proper to risk what is more precious and valuable for the sake of what is less precious and valuable?"
"Nay, indeed, Lord," the people replied, "it would not be fit and proper to risk what is more valuable for the sake of what is less valuable."
"If that is so," concluded the Buddha, "go and conquer your anger, put away your murderous weapons, and come to a peaceable agreement among yourselves."
And both the Kapila and the Koliya people, now heartily ashamed of their foolishness and lack of good sense thus pointed out to them by the Lord Buddha, did as He told them, and agreed to share equally between them what water was in the stream, and ever afterwards lived at peace with one another.
* * *
Meanwhile the Buddha's father King Suddhodana fell very ill, so like a good son, the Buddha, taking with Him His half-brother Nanda who now was one of His Bhikkhus, and Ananda and Sariputta and Moggallana, went to visit and console His father in his illness. At first, in his pleasure at seeing his beloved son again, King Suddhodana grew a little better, and everyone thought that he was going to get well altogether; but the improvement lasted only a little while. He was getting too old now to have much strength for resisting sickness, and a few days later, the king became very ill again, and to the grief of the whole kingdom, passed away in death.
Her husband now being dead, Queen Mahapajapati the Buddha's own mother's sister, who had brought Him up the same as if He had been her own child, did not want to stay living in household life any longer. Mourning for her husband who had just died, she wished henceforth to live a religious life just like a Bhikkhu, under the guidance and instruction of her foster-son, the Buddha. So, along with a number of her ladies who did not want to part from their mistress but wished to go with her wherever she might go, she went to the Buddha and asked Him if out of pity and compassion He would not allow women also to leave the household life the same as men, and live under His guidance and instruction the same as the Bhikkhus. But although she entreated the Buddha three separate times to accept her and her ladies as female Bhikkhus under Him, He begged her not to ask such a thing from him. And Queen Mahapajapati was very much grieved that her great wish should thus have been refused, and bursting into tears, she and her ladies left the Buddha's presence weeping.
And now, having waited at Kapilavatthu until the funeral ceremonies for his father were over, the Buddha left the city, and wandering on from place to place, at length came to Vesali, and took up His residence in the Vihara in the Great Wood there.
Then Mahapajapati cut off her hair and putting on yellow robes, along with a lot of her ladies, she took the road to Vesali, proceeding on foot from village to village until in due time she arrived at the Vihara in the Great Wood where the Buddha was staying.
Then, with her feet all swollen with her long walk, and with the dust of the road still upon her, sad and dejected, she stood weeping outside the Vihara. And Ananda saw her standing there in such a pitiful condition, and asked her what was the matter, why she was crying. And she answered: "It is because, O Ananda, the Blessed One will not allow women to retire from the household life and live the homeless life under His Doctrine and Discipline."
"If that is so, O daughter of the Gotama family," said Ananda, "wait a moment and I will plead with the Blessed One that He may be pleased to allow women to live under His Doctrine and Discipline the same as the Bhikkhus do."
And Ananda did as he promised Mahapajapati, and going into the room where the Buddha was, he humbly and respectfully asked the Buddha to have compassion on women and allow them to follow the homeless life under His guidance the same as men.
"Enough, Ananda, enough! Do not ask me any such thing!" was the Buddha's reply to him.
But Ananda was not in the least daunted or discouraged. A second time and a third time he asked the Buddha the very same thing, and each time he received the very same answer.
Then Ananda thought to himself: "The Blessed One will not give permission for women to withdraw from household life under Him when He is asked direct; but perhaps He may give permission if He is approached in another way."
So he said to his Master:
"If women were to be allowed, Reverend Lord, to retire from the household life and follow the life of homelessness under the Doctrine and Discipline of the Tathagata, would they be able to reach the four stages, one after another, of the Path of Holiness that leads to the Deathless, to Nibbana?"
"Yes, Ananda," was the Buddha's reply, "if women were to withdraw from household life and follow my Doctrine and Discipline, they could reach Nibbana in this life, they could become Arahans."
"If that is so," said Ananda, "consider, Reverend Lord, what a great benefactress Mahapajapati of the Gotama family, has been. She is the sister of the mother of the Blessed One; and as foster-mother as nurse, as giver of mother's milk, she reared and nurtured the Blessed One when His own mother died. Pray, Reverend Lord, allow women to withdraw from household life and live the homeless life under the Doctrine and Discipline made known to the world by the Tathagata."
"Well, Ananda," said the Buddha, "if Mahapajapati of the Gotama family is willing to accept and keep strictly these eight rules, let this be considered as her ordination."
And then the Buddha went on to tell Ananda that every women who wished to follow His Discipline must show respect to any Bhikkhu no matter how lately he may have been in the Order or how long she may have been in the Order, and she must not live in any district where there are no Bhikkhus, must listen to an admonition from an appointed Bhikkhu every Sabbath day, must invite criticism of her behavior both from Bhikkhus and Bhikkunis at the end of each Vassa, if guilty of a serious offense must do penance towards both Bhikkhus and Bhikkunis, must spend a period of testing as a novice for two years before being fully ordained by a chapter composed of both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis, must not speak evil in any way about any Bhikkhu, and must not officially administer admonition to a Bhikkhu but must accept such admonition from a Bhikkhu.
"If Ananda," said the Buddha in conclusion, "Mahapajapati is willing to obey these eight rules and to keep them as long as she lives, then she may consider herself ordained as a female Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni."
Then Ananda took leave of the Buddha and went and told Mahapajapati all that the Buddha had said. And Mahapajapati, glad and happy, answered Ananda:
"O Ananda, Reverend Sir, just as a young woman or young man, fond of personal adornment, having bathed their head and got a wreath of beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers, would lift it up with both hands and place it on their head, on that, the noblest part of the body, even so do I, O Ananda, Reverend Sir, take up these eight rules, never to break them as long as my life shall last."
Then Ananda went back to where the Buddha was, and greeting his Master respectfully, he spoke to Him and said: "Mahapajapati of the Gotama family, Reverend Lord, accepts the eight strict rules laid upon her by the Blessed One. The sister of the mother of the Blessed One is now ordained a Bhikkhuni."
But the Buddha said:
"Ananda, not for long will this Doctrine and Discipline of mine endure among women who withdraw from the household life. Only for five hundred years will it so endure, Ananda, just as families in which there are many women and few men, do not long hold out against thieves and robbers, so where women take to the homeless life under a Doctrine and Discipline like mine, it does not long endure. It will be with it as with a field of rice or sugar-cane when mildew falls on it: it will not flourish very long."
And things happened exactly as the Buddha had foreseen. The proper ordination of women Bhikkhus or, as they are correctly called, Bhikkhunis, died out about five hundred years after Mahapajapati thus became the first Bhikkhuni in the world, there being no longer any Bhikkhunis then living who had been ten years in the Order and so able to confer ordination properly.
* * *
As the Buddha went wandering here and there about the country along with His Bhikkhus, everywhere He went the people came in crowds to see Him and to hear Him teach and preach, and many were converted to belief in Him and in His Doctrine. But there were also going about the country in the same way that He did, other religious teachers; and some of these, by doing very wonderful and extraordinary things, sometimes attracted many people to go and see them do such things. And then these people stayed and listened to their preaching, and sometimes believed in what they preached and became their followers. Now when the Buddha's Bhikkhus saw what was happening in this way, they went to their Master and asked Him if He, too, would not do some wonderful and extraordinary thing just to show the simple jungle people that He was not inferior to these other religious teachers they were admiring because of the wonderful things they could do, and so induce them to follow Him instead of the other religious teachers.
But the Buddha answered the Bhikkhus who asked Him this, that He would be ashamed to attract people to listen to Him and believe in Him just because, He could do something extraordinary that would make them gape with astonishment, something of the nature of what they would call a miracle. "The only miracle," said the Buddha, "which the Tathagatas perform is this -- that when they find a man full of passion and craving, they leave him free from passion and craving. When they find a man a slave to anger and hatred, they leave him delivered from anger and hatred. When they find a man blinded with delusion and ignorance, they open his eyes and leave him rid of delusion and ignorance. This is the only miracle They perform. Any other miracle They loathe and despise and shun."
But now some one came and told the Buddha that Moggallana, by the use of extraordinary power which he possessed more than any other of the Arahans, had gone up to a high place difficult to get at, and from it had brought down a very fine, specially good bowl which a certain man had put on that high place in order to test Moggallana's power and see if he would be able to go there and get it. But the Buddha was very much displeased to hear about this that Moggallana had been doing; and He sent for Moggallana and told him to bring with him the bowl he had got in this way by the exercise of his abnormal powers. And when Moggallana came with the bowl, the Buddha took it from his hand and broke it into pieces before Moggallana and all the assembled Bhikkhus, and strictly charged him that he must never on any account do such a thing again as show off his powers, and that none of His Bhikkhus must ever do any kind of wonderful thing just to make simple ignorant people admire at them: or if they did, then they must at once leave His Brotherhood of Bhikkhus; they could not be allowed to remain with Him as His followers. And this particular command of the Buddha about wonderworking remains to this day as one of the Vinaya rules for the breaking of which a Bhikkhu is at once put out of the Order and cannot be taken back into it. For a Bhikkhu to perform, or even claim to be able to perform, any supernormal feat, is a Parajika or Great Offense, as seriously looked upon as murder or theft or unchastity; and if he does such a thing he must leave the Order at once.
Thus, the Buddha never tried to astonish the people by doing any wonderful deeds and after this affair with Moggallana, neither he nor any other of the Bhikkhus ever tried to do any. Yet in spite of this, the people clearly saw and felt that the Buddha was a great teacher, and they showed their respect and veneration for Him wherever He went, by providing plentifully for the wants of Himself and His company of Bhikkhus who went about everywhere with Him. And many of the followers of the other religious teachers did not like to see this at all. They were very much annoyed to see how the people went to these new yellow-robed ascetics of the Sakya ascetic Gotama to hear them preach and to give them the best of fool and medicines, while they neglected them and their teachers.
Thus, once when the Buddha and His Bhikkhus came to the town of Kosambi where there lives a well-known religious teacher along with a large company of disciples, these latter began to abuse and revile the Bhikkhus and followers of the Buddha in the most outrageous manner, calling them all sorts of abusive and wicked names.
Then Ananda came to the Buddha and told his Master what these other ascetics were saying about the Buddha's Bhikkhus, and how they used the most shameful language about them, and heaped the coarsest abuse upon them whenever they met them anywhere, but especially when they met them going out with their begging-bowls to collect alms of food. And on behalf of all the Bhikkhus who had asked him to speak to the Buddha about the matter, he asked the Buddha if He did not think it would be better for Him and them to leave Kosambi and go some-where else where they would not have to listen to such abuse every day when they went out begging.
The Buddha quietly listened to all Ananda had to say. Then He spoke and said:
"But suppose, Ananda, that we are ill-treated and abused in the next place we go, what shall we do then?"
"Then we shall go to some other place," said Ananda.
"And if we are reviled and miscalled in that new place too, what shall we do then?"
"Then we shall go to some other place," replied Ananda.
The Buddha sat silent for a little while; then, with a gently glance at Ananda, He said:
"O Ananda, a little patience properly exercised now, will save us all the trouble of so much moving about. We cannot say for certain that we shall find the peace we want in any new place we may go to; but we are sure to find it just where we are, if only we practice patience. By patience and forbearance those that are wise overcome all their enemies. Look at the elephant, that men use in war, Ananda. He plunges into the thick of the fighting and pays no attention to the darts and arrows and javelins that are hurled at him from all sides, but rushes on, sweeping away everything from before him. And I, Ananda, am going to imitate that elephant. I shall stay here in this town and preach my excellent doctrine with all my force and power, and labor without ceasing to deliver wretched men from the net of passion in which they are entangled and caught fast. I shall not pay the least attention to the abuse these other ascetics hurl at me and my disciples. Like men, who spit up at the sky thinking they are going to dirty it only to find that their spit does not touch the sky at all or dirty it, but only falls back on and dirties themselves, so these poor men who spit abuse at us will only find their abuse come back on themselves, if we pay no attention to it."
So, notwithstanding the request and wishes of Ananda and all the other Bhikkhus, the Buddha still stayed on at Kosambi; and the good result of His practice of patience and forbearance was soon seen. For when the people of Kosambi saw how meekly He and His Bhikkhus endured the bad language of the other ascetics without ever answering them back in the same way they became displeased with the other ascetics for abusing men who never abused them. And many of the young men of Kosambi admired the behavior of the Buddha and His Bhikkhus in this respect so much, that they became His followers and joined the Order of Bhikkhus.
Unfortunately, however, these Kosambi youths did not, in becoming Bhikkhus, at once get rid of their quarrelsome dispositions, and very soon they were involved in a bitter dispute among themselves about some small point in what they considered correct Bhikkhu behavior. Some maintained one thing and some maintained another, and although the Buddha repeatedly admonished them to live at peace with one another and not quarrel, they still kept on wrangling. They paid no attention to the Buddha when He told them that quarreling and ill-will were greater evils than the little fault in behavior about which all their disputing arose. So when the Buddha saw that they were not going to listen to Him or take His advice, He went away from Kosambi by Himself, leaving all the Bhikkhus there behind Him. Then the people of Kosambi, when they saw that the Great Teacher had gone away by Himself, and that the Bhikkhus He had left behind were behaving just like common worldly people who had not left the household life t become ascetics, quarreling and wrangling no different from householders they stopped putting any food in the bowls of the quarrelsome Bhikkhus when they came round begging in the mornings. This step very quickly brought the squabbling Bhikkhus to their senses. They made up their quarrel; came to peace again with one another; and the Buddha once more allowed them to join Him, and go with Him wherever He went.
* * *
As the son of a king, and so, accustomed to the manners of a royal court, the Buddha was perfectly at home, entirely at his ease, in the company of the greatest kings and warriors and priests, and could hold His own in conversation with any of them, even the most learned, and send them away pleased and delighted with what they had heard from Him. But He was equally as well able to speak in a manner common people could understand, and as He wandered about the country on foot, was always ready to talk to any one He happened to meet -- farmers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, barbers, anybody who liked to speak to Him.
Thus, one day as he was traveling through a district covered with paddy fields, He fell in with a farmer at work in his field, and stopped and began talking to him about his cattle, and plowing, and seed, and about how he expected his crop to turn out this year. "You know," He said to the farmer, "I am a farmer, too, and I have got all the things needed for working my fields, and the seed as well."
"You a farmer!" said the surprised cultivator. "Where then have you left your bullocks, your plow, and the other things you need?"
"I have got them all with me here," said the Buddha calmly. "Listen to me, and I'll tell you all about it."
"My seed is the warm desire and feeling of compassion which caused me to resolve to become a Buddha, as also the knowledge which I obtained under the Bodhi Tree. The rain that watered my seed and made it grow richly and abundantly, was the constant good deeds I did until I became a Buddha. My knowledge is the yoke, and wisdom the shaft of my plow. My heart is the reins with which I guide my bullocks. My plowshares is the diligence with which I get rid of all evil things in me. The handle of my plow is the Doctrine which enables me to remove all that is bad and promote all that is good. When you go plowing, you cut up and overthrow all bad weeds; so he who has learned the Four Noble Truths cuts up and overthrows all evil inclinations within him. At night, when your day's work is done, you unyoke your bullocks and let them go wherever they like. In the same way the wise men, in cleaving to what is perfect, lets go whatever is not perfect. Your bullocks have to strain and toil in order to do their work of plowing your fields; and in the same way the wise man has to strive with all his strength, and turn over the soil of his own nature, so as to reach Nibbana. The cultivator works hard in order to prepare his field for the seed; and in the same way the wise man has to work hard to get rid of the ills of existence. But the man who works in the paddy fields is often disappointed in the size of the crops he gets as the outcome of his toil and sometimes he has to go hungry. But whoever works in the fields of wisdom, never is disappointed; he is sure to reap the full results of his labors; he is entirely happy, perfectly satisfied when he comes in sight of Nibbana. In this way it is, O farmer, that I am a farmer also. And this, too, is the way in which I do my work."
And the cultivator to whom the Buddha spoke this little sermon was so well pleased with it that he asked the Buddha there and then to accept him as a cultivator in the field of His Good Doctrine, and he became a follower of the Buddha for the rest of his life.
To another person who came to the Buddha and asked to be told the way in which common people might reach the best and happiest state, the state of Nibbana, the Buddha gave these simple instructions.
"Avoid the company of the foolish; cultivate the companionship of the wise. Show respect to those who are worthy of respect. Remain in a position that is in accordance with your abilities. Always perform meritorious deeds. Constantly aim at perfect behavior. Take pleasure in hearing and seeing all you can so as to acquire knowledge. Study everything that is not evil. Acquire a knowledge of what ought to be shunned. Speak only what is true, kindly and profitable. Be kind to, and support father and mother. Care for, and cherish wife and children. Resist temptation to do evil. Give alms. Observe the rules of right conduct. Assist relatives and friends when they are in need of assistance. Do nothing that is not permitted by the law of good. Abstain from intoxicating drinks or drugs. Do not be slow in doing good deeds when an opportunity to do them arises. Be courteous to all men. Be humble. Be easily satisfied. Acknowledge kindness received with gratitude. Listen to the preaching of the Doctrine in proper season. Be patient and forbearing. Take pleasure in profitable conversation. From time to time visit those who lead the holy life. Converse with them on religious subjects. Practice virtuous behavior. Bear in mind the Four Noble Truths. Keep ever before the mind's eye the goal of Nibbana. In the midst of every affliction, be unshaken, unperturbed, fearless, and composed. Who observes these perfect rules shall never be overcome by evil; he will always enjoy perfect peace of mind."
On another day when the Buddha was resting in a little village, the people of the place came to him and said:
"Reverend Sir, we know that you are a great religious teacher, and have taught much that is good to those disciples of your who follow you about and live the homeless life just as you do yourself. But we are not ascetics. We are just common folk who love our wives and children, and earn our living cultivating our fields and breeding cattle, and we take whatever innocent enjoyment comes our way. We use gold and silver. We like to ornament ourselves on holidays and feast days with jewelry and flowers. We use oils and perfumes to make our bodies pleasant to us. We follow the ordinary ways of the world. Now, Reverend Sir, if there is anything in your teaching that would be good for us to know, anything that would help us to be happy here and now as well as in the future, be pleased, Reverend Sir, to let us hear that part of your teaching, so that we may follow it and get the benefit of it."
"Well, villagers," said the Buddha, "there are four things which a teacher like myself has to teach which are good for you and everybody who is not an ascetic to know and observe. Listen, and I will tell you about them.
"First: Whatever may be the employment by which you earn your living, in that business you ought always to do your best to make yourselves efficient. If you are a farmer you should try to be a good farmer, and make your fields grow all they can. If you are a merchant you should try to be a wide-awake and enterprising merchant. If you are a servant you should try to be a reliable and trustworthy servant. Be active and energetic always so as to get the best and fullest results from what you do, whatever it may be. In this way you will acquire wealth and be able to do good with it -- to help any one who may need help. For it you do not acquire wealth by working for it, you will not be able to do good deeds and help others, for you will have nothing with which to help them.
"Second: You ought to take proper care of your wealth after you have got it, and not waste it in foolish ways. It is of no use to put water in a jar out of which it is allowed to run away again through a hold in the jar. It is good to get wealth, but it is every bit as necessary to see to it that when it is got it is not lost again in all sorts of foolish and wasteful ways.
"Third: People in worldly life should choose only good people for their friends and associates. People mostly become like the kind of people they mix with. If a man goes with good men, he has a good chance of becoming a good man himself. And if he goes with bad men, he is very likely to become bad too. You cannot touch black things without getting your fingers made black. So household folk should frequent the company of others who are good and wise and liberal and full of faith in what is good, and then they also will be likely to become good and wise and liberal and full of faith in what is good.
"Fourth: The householder should follow a regular and moderate way of living. He should not be extreme or extravagant in his way of life. He should not spend or give more than what he gets as income. If he does his wealth will be like a pond that has more streams running out of it than it has running into it. Such a pond very soon will run dry, and have no water in it at all. And very soon a man who pays out more then comes in to him, will have no more wealth. But if a man takes care to spend on himself and his family, or give away in charity, always a little less than his income, then the pond of his wealth will never run dry. There will always be some water, that is some wealth in it, for use when any sudden need for it arises. But this does not mean that he is not to make full use of his wealth. It does not mean that he is to heap it up and hide it away and not use it. A man who does that is like one who has a tree full of fruit in his garden, but instead of eating the fruit when it becomes ripe, puts it all away in a box to keep it there. Such a man will find that all his fruit will go rotten and he will get no good of it at all.
"These, then, O householders," said the Buddha in concluding this sermon, "are the four things that will promote your success and well-being in this world if you observe them. And now I will tell you what are the four things which will promote your best good in the future. They are, first: Faith in the teaching that the doing of good will bring good results, and the doing of evil, evil results. Second: The constant practice of good deeds, and the avoiding of evil deeds such as killing, stealing, lying, lewdness, and drinking intoxicating drinks. Third: The practice of liberality in giving so as to learn not to cling too closely to the things of the world. Fourth: The acquiring of wisdom so as to know and follow the path that leads to Nibbana."
Such was the sermon which the Lord Buddha delivered to these country villagers who wanted to know what ordinary household folk, not Bhikkhus or ascetics, could do to make sure of their well-being both here and hereafter. And they were all very much pleased with the plain practical advice which the Buddha gave them.
One of the longest discourses ever delivered was spoken, not to common folk nor yet to His Bhikkhus, but to no less a person than a king, King Ajatasattu of Magadha.
This King Ajatasattu was not a good man; he was, indeed, a murderer. He caused his own father, King Bimbisara who had been one of the first friends of the Buddha when he became Buddha, to be starved to death, and in this cruel and unrighteous manner, came to the throne himself.
It happened that one night of the full moon, King Ajatasattu sitting on the terrace of his palace, did not know what to do for entertainment, and decided that he would go and visit the Buddha who was then staying in a garden not too far away that had been given to Him and His Bhikkhus by the good physician Jivaka. When the king got to where the Buddha was, he found Him sitting quietly with all his Bhikkhus round Him in the preaching hall. The king exchanged the usual greetings of courtesy with the Buddha, and after taking a seat, asked the Great Teacher if he could tell what was the benefit or advantage of living like an ascetic. "What profit is it to a man to live like a Bhikkhu?" said King Ajatasattu. [*] "I have asked several other leaders of ascetics this question, but I have never received a satisfying answer from any one of them. They always answered by telling me about something else I did not ask about. It was as if a person should enquire about bread-fruit, and in reply be told all about mangoes. So I shall be highly pleased, Reverend Sir, to hear what you will say in reply to this question of mine."
* [Read "The Fruits of the Homeless Life," by the author, or the Visible Fruits of a Buddhist Monk," by J. Wettha Singha.]
Then the Buddha, after a few words exchanged back and forth, proceeded to tell King Ajatasattu at great length all the benefits that come to a man both in this life and afterwards through becoming a Bhikkhu; and He did it so well that when He had ended His long discourse, Ajatasattu declared himself entirely satisfied that what the Buddha had answered was true, and that it was the best thing in the world to be a Bhikkhu if a man could be one, honestly and sincerely and follow so great and good a teacher as the Buddha. And he asked the Buddha to look upon him henceforth as a follower of His and not of any other religious teacher.
After the King had gone away again, the Buddha said to the Bhikkhus round Him:
"O Bhikkhus, this king was much moved in his mind just now as I was speaking to him. If, O Bhikkhus, this king had not done that evil deed, had not caused the death of his father the just king, there where he sat just now, he would have seen the Truth with clear eyes, and left his throne and everything behind him, and become a Bhikkhu and an Arahan."
This, the longest sermon the Buddha ever spoke can be read in its complete form in the Digha Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka. It is called the Samannaphala Sutta, or the Discourse concerning the fruit of the life of an ascetic.
And here is the shortest sermon the Lord Buddha ever delivered;
Some one once asked the Buddha: "What is the best thing anybody can give as alms? What thing has the best taste? What thing gives the most pleasure? What thing is best fitted to bring passion to and end?" And the Buddha replied to all these four questions with just this one word: "Dhamma."
Of course His questioner then asked Him to explain a little more what He meant; and the Buddha then said:
"The giving of alms, though it is a good thing to do, cannot by itself bring a man on to the Path that leads to Deliverance: only the Dhamma can do this. Therefore the making known of the Dhamma, the trouble a man takes to give a knowledge of the Dhamma to others -- this is the best kind of giving, this is the best kind of alms.
"Also, through learning the Dhamma, the heart is filled with joy and the mind delighted with its sweet taste, because it destroys all those passions in men which cause them suffering, and brings them at last to the final end of all sufferings -- to supreme Nibbana. Therefore the Dhamma is the most sweet tasting of all things, and the most pleasing of all things, and the best thing in the world for putting passion to an end. And so, my disciples, preach the Dhamma to all mankind, and thus you will be giving the very best of alms to all beings that live on the earth or in the heavens."
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last updated: 13-06-2005