From the
Maha-vagga

Readings in Buddhist Philosophy 1

OUTLINE

Background
His First Teachers
The Pleading of the God Brahma

Encounter with Ascetic Upaka

The First Five Converts

The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of the Law (Dharma)
The Middle Way
The Noble Truth of Suffering
Origin of Suffering
Cessation of Suffering
The Eightfold Way

The Monks Become Arhats

The Doctrine
The Five Components of Existence
The Doctrine of No-Self (anatta)


The First Sermon of the Buddha

Head of Buddha from Hadda. Gandharan Style. London, Victoria and Albert Museum. bhead2.jpg (21623 bytes)

Background of his Decision to Preach

Now the Blessed One thought: To whom shall I preach the Dharma first? Who will understand this Dharma readily?

And the Blessed One thought: There is Alara Kalama; he is clever, wise, and learned; long since has the eye of his mind been darkened by scarcely any dust. What if I were to preach the Dharma first to Alara Kalama? He will readily understand this Dharma.

Then an invisible god said to the Blessed One: Alara Kalama died, lord, seven days ago. And knowledge sprang up in the Blessed One’s mind that Alara Kalama had died seven days ago. And the Blessed One thought: Highly noble was Alara Kalama. If he had heard my Dharma, he would readily have understood it.

Then the Blessed One thought: To whom shall I preach the Dharma first? Who will understand this Dharma readily? And the Blessed One thought: There is Uddaka Ramaputta; he is clever, wise, and learned; long since has the eye of his mind been darkened by scarcely any dust. What if I were to preach the Dharma first to Uddaka Ramaputta? He will easily understand this Dharma.

Then an invisible god said to the Blessed One: Uddaka Ramaputta died, Lord, yesterday evening. And knowledge arose in the Blessed One’s mind that Uddaka Ramaputta had died the previous evening. And the Blessed One thought: Highly noble was Uddaka Ramaputta. If he had heard my Dharma, he would readily have understood it.

Then the Blessed One thought: To whom shall I preach the Dharma first? Who will understand this Dharma readily? And the Blessed One thought: The five monks have done many services to me; they attended on me during the time of my ascetic discipline. What if I were to preach the Dharma first to the five monks?

Now the Blessed One thought: Where do the five monks dwell now? And the Blessed One saw by the power of his divine, clear vision, surpassing that of men, that the five monks were living at Benares, in the deer park Isipatana. And the Blessed One after having remained at Uruvela as long as he thought fit, went forth to Benares.

Encounter with Upaka, the Naked Ascetic

Now Upaka, a man belonging to the Ajivaka sect, saw the Blessed One traveling on the road between Gaya and the Bodhi-tree; and when he saw him, he said to the Blessed One: "Your countenance, friend, is serene, your complexion is pure and bright. In whose name, friend, have you retired from the world? Who is your teacher? Whose Dharma do you profess?"

When Upaka the Ajivaka had spoken thus, the Blessed One addressed him in the following stanzas: "I have overcome all foes; I am all-wise; I am free from stains in all things; I have left everything and have obtained emancipation of craving. Having myself gained knowledge, whom should I call my master? I have no teacher; no one is equal to me; in the world of men and of gods no being is like me. I am the Holy One in this world, I am the highest teacher, I alone am the perfectly ever Enlightened One; I have gained coolness and have obtained Nirvana. To set in motion the wheel of the Dharma, I go to the city of the Benares; I will beat the drum of the Immortal in the darkness of this world."

"You profess then, friend, you are worthy to be Victor everlasting?"

"Like me are all Victorious Ones who have reached extinction of the defilements; I have overcome sinful states; therefore, Upaka, am I the Victorious One."

When he had spoken thus, Upaka the Ajivaka replied: "It may be so, friend"; shook his head, took another road, and went away.

The First Five Converts,
The Companions of his Austerities

And the Blessed One, wandering from place to place, came to Benares, to the deer park Isipatana, to the place where the five monks were. And the five monks saw the Blessed One coming from afar; when they saw him, they took counsel with each other, saying: Friends, there comes the ascetic Gautama, a man of full habit, who has wavered in his exertions, and who has turned away to luxury. Let us not salute him, nor rise from our seats when he approaches, nor take his bowl and his robe from his hands. But let us put there a seat; if he likes, let him sit down.

But when the Blessed One gradually approached near unto those five monks, the five monks kept not their agreement. They went forth to meet the Blessed One; one took his bowl and his robe, another prepared a seat, a third one brought water for the washing of the feet, a footstool, and a towel. Then the Blessed One sat down on the seat they had prepared; and when he was seated, the Blessed One washed his feet. Now they addressed the Blessed One by his name and with the appellation "Friend."

When they spoke to him thus, the Blessed One said to the five monks: "Do not address, monks, the Tathagata by his name and with the appellation ‘Friend.’ The Tathagata, monks, is the holy, perfectly ever Enlightened One. Give ear, O monks. The immortal has been won by me: I will teach you; to you I preach the Dharma. Do you walk in the way I show you, and you will live ere long, even in this life, having fully known yourselves, having seen face to face that incomparable goal of the holy life, for the sake of which clansmen rightly give up the world and go forth into the houseless state."

When he had spoken thus, the five monks said to the Blessed One: "By those observances, friend Gautama, by those practices, by those austerities, you have not won to power surpassing that of men, nor to higher knowledge and vision. How will you now, living with full habit, having given up your exertions, having turned to luxury, be able to obtain power surpassing that of men, and the higher knowledge and vision?"

When they had spoken thus, the Blessed One said to the five monks: "The Tathagata, O monks, does not live with full habit, he has not given up exertion, he has not turned to luxury. The Tathagata monks, is the holy, most fully Enlightened One. Give ear, O monks, the Immortal has been won; I will teach you; to you I will preach the Dharma. Do you walk in the way I show you; You will live ere long, even in this life, having fully known yourselves, having seen face to face that incomparable goal of the holy life, for the sake of which clansmen rightly give up the world and go forth into the houseless state."

[A second and third time, the five monks make the same remonstrance, and the Buddha makes the same reply.]

When they had spoken thus, the Blessed One said to the five monks: "Do you admit, monks, that I have never spoken to you in this way before this day?"

"You have never spoken so, lord."

"The Tathagata, monks, is the holy, fully Enlightened One. Give ear, O monks, the Immortal has been won; I will teach you; to you I will preach the Dharma. Do you walk in the way I show you; You will live ere long, even in this life, having fully known yourselves, having seen face to face that incomparable goal of the holy life, for the sake of which clansmen rightly give up the world and go forth into the houseless state."

And the Blessed One was able to convince the five monks; and the five monks again listened willingly to the Blessed One; they gave ear and fixed their mind on the knowledge [imparted to them].

The First Sermon
The Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma (Law)

And the Blessed One thus addressed the five monks: There are two extremes, monks, which he who has given up the world ought to avoid.

What are these two extremes? A life given to pleasures, devoted to pleasures and lusts—this is degrading, sensual, vulgar, ignoble, and profitless.

And a life given to mortifications—this is painful, ignoble, and profitless.

By avoiding these two extremes, monks, the Tathagata has gained the knowledge of the Middle Way which leads to insight, which leads to wisdom, which conduces to calm, to knowledge, to Supreme Enlightenment, to Nirvana.

What, monks, is this Middle Way the knowledge of which the Tathagata has gained, which leads to insight, which leads to wisdom, which conduces to calm, to knowledge, to Supreme Enlightenment, to Nirvana?

It is the Noble Eightfold Way, namely: right views, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right means of livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, right meditation.

This, monks, is the Middle Way the knowledge of which the Tathagata has gained, which leads to insight, which leads to wisdom, which conduces to calm, to knowledge, to perfect enlightenment to Nirvana.

This, monks, is the Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha): birth is suffering; aging is suffering; illness is suffering; death is suffering; presence of objects we hate is suffering; separation from objects we love is suffering; not to obtain what we desire is suffering. In short, the Five Components of Existence are suffering.

This, monks, is the Noble Truth concerning the Origin of Suffering: verily, it originates in that craving which causes rebirth, which produced delight and passion, and seeks pleasure now here, now there; that is to say, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for continued life, craving for nonexistence.

This, monks, is the Noble Truth concerning the Cessation of Suffering: truly, it is the complete cessation of craving so that no passion remains; the laying aside of, the giving up, the being free from, the harboring no longer of, this craving.

This, monks, is the Noble Truth concerning the Way which leads to the Cessation of Suffering: verily, it is this Noble Eightfold Way, that is to say, right views, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right means of livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, and right meditation.

This is the Noble Truth concerning Suffering. Thus, monks, in things which formerly had not been heard of have I obtained insight, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, intuition. This Noble Truth concerning Suffering must be understood. Thus, monks, in things which formerly had not been heard of have I obtained insight, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and intuition. This Noble Truth concerning Suffering I have understood. Thus, monks, in things which formerly had not been heard of have I obtained insight, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and intuition.

This is the Noble Truth concerning the Origin of Suffering. Thus, monks, in things which had formerly not been heard of I have obtained insight, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, intuition. This Noble Truth concerning the Cause of Suffering must be abandoned . . . has been abandoned by me. Thus, monks, in things which formerly had not been heard of have I obtained knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and intuition.

This is the Noble Truth concerning the Cessation of Suffering Thus, monks, in things which formerly had not been heard of have I obtained insight, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, intuition. This Noble Truth concerning the Cessation of Suffering must be seen face to face . . . has been seen by me face to face. Thus, monks, in things which formerly had not been heard of have I obtained insight, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, intuition.

This is the Noble Truth concerning the Way which leads to the Cessation of Suffering. Thus, monks, in things which formerly had not been heard of have I obtained insight, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, intuition. This Noble Truth concerning the Way which leads to the Cessation of Suffering must be realized . . . has been realized by me. Thus, monks, in things which formerly had not been heard of have I obtained insight, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, intuition.

The Monks Become Arhats

As long, monks, as I did not possess with perfect purity this true knowledge and insight into these Four Noble Truths, with its three modifications and its twelve constituent parts, so long, monks, I knew that I had not yet obtained the highest absolute enlightenment in the world of men and gods, in Mara’s and in Brahma’s world, among all beings, ascetics, and brahmans, gods and men. …

And this knowledge and insight arose in my mind. The emancipation of my mind cannot be shaken; this is my last birth; now shall I not be born again.

Thus the Blessed One spoke. The five monks were delighted, and they rejoiced at the words of the Blessed One. And when this exposition was propounded, the venerable Kondanna obtained the pure and spotless Dharma-eye [which saw that]: "Whatsoever is an arising thing, all that is a ceasing thing."

And as the Blessed One had set going the wheel of the Dharma, the earth-inhabiting gods shouted: "Truly the Blessed One has set going at Benares, in the deer park Isipatana, the wheel of the Dharma, which may be opposed neither by an ascetic, nor by a brahman, neither by a god, nor by Mara, nor by Brahma, nor by any being in the world."

Hearing the shout of the earth-inhabiting gods, the four firmament-gods shouted "Truly the Blessed One has set going at Benares, in the deer park Isipatana, the wheel of the Dharma, which may be opposed neither by an ascetic, nor by a brahman, neither by a god, nor by Mara, nor by Brahma, nor by any being in the world."

Hearing their shout, the Tavatimsa gods shouted, "Truly the Blessed One has set going at Benares, in the deer park Isipatana, the wheel of the Dharma, which may be opposed neither by an ascetic, nor by a brahman, neither by a god, nor by Mara, nor by Brahma, nor by any being in the world."

Hearing their shout, the Yama gods shouted, "Truly the Blessed One has set going at Benares, in the deer park Isipatana, the wheel of the Dharma, which may be opposed neither by an ascetic, nor by a brahman, neither by a god, nor by Mara, nor by Brahma, nor by any being in the world."

Hearing their shout, the Tusita gods shouted, "Truly the Blessed One has set going at Benares, in the deer park Isipatana, the wheel of the Dharma, which may be opposed neither by an ascetic, nor by a brahman, neither by a god, nor by Mara, nor by Brahma, nor by any being in the world."

Hearing their shout, the Nimmanarati gods shouted, "Truly the Blessed One has set going at Benares, in the deer park Isipatana, the wheel of the Dharma, which may be opposed neither by an ascetic, nor by a brahman, neither by a god, nor by Mara, nor by Brahma, nor by any being in the world."

Hearing their shout, the Paranimmitavasavatti gods, shouted, "Truly the Blessed One has set going at Benares, in the deer park Isipatana, the wheel of the Dharma, which may be opposed neither by an ascetic, nor by a brahman, neither by a god, nor by Mara, nor by Brahma, nor by any being in the world."

Hearing their shout, the Brahma-world gods shouted: "Truly the Blessed One has set going at Benares, in the deer park Isipatana, the wheel of the Dharma, which may be opposed neither by an ascetic, nor by a brahman, neither by a god, nor by Mara, nor by Brahma, nor by any being in the world."

Thus in that moment, in that instant, in that second the shout reached the Brahma world; and this whole system of ten thousand worlds quaked, was shaken, and trembled; and an infinite, mighty light was seen through the world, which surpassed the light that can be produced by the divine power of the gods.

And the Blessed One pronounced this solemn utterance: "Truly Kondanna has perceived it, truly Kondanna has perceived it." Hence the venerable Kondanna received the name Annatakondanna, [meaning Kodanna who has perceived the Doctrine].

And the venerable Annatakondanna, having seen the Dharma, having mastered the Dharma, having understood the Dharma, having penetrated the Dharma, having overcome uncertainty, having dispelled all doubts, having gained full knowledge, dependent on nobody else for knowledge of the Doctrine of the Teacher, thus spoke to the Blessed One: "Lord, let me become an ascetic under the Blessed One, let me receive ordination." "Come, monk," said the Blessed One, "well taught is the Dharma; lead a holy life for the sake of the complete ending of suffering."

Thus this venerable person received ordination.

And the Blessed One administered to the other monks exhortation and instruction by discourses relating to the Dharma. And the venerable Vappa and the venerable Bhaddiya, when they received from the Blessed One such exhortation and instruction by discourses relating to the Dharma, obtained the pure and spotless Dharma-eye [which saw that]: "Whatsoever is a beginning thing, all that is an ending thing."

And having seen the Dharma, having mastered the Dharma, having understood the Dharma, having penetrated the Dharma, having overcome uncertainty, having dispelled all doubts, having won confidence, dependent on nobody else for knowledge of the religion of the Teacher, they thus spoke to the Blessed One: "Lord’ let us become a recluse under the Blessed One and receive ordination."

"Come, monks," said the Blessed One, "well taught is the Dharma; lead a holy life for the sake of the complete ending of ill." Thus these venerable persons received ordination.

And the Blessed One, living on what the monks brought him, administered to the other monks exhortation and instruction by discourses relating to the Dharma; in this way the six persons lived on what the three monks brought home from their alms.

And the venerable Mahanama and the venerable Assaji, when they received from the Blessed One such exhortation and instruction by discourses relating to the Dharma, obtained the pure and spotless Dharma-eye [which saw that] "Whatsoever is a beginning thing, all that is an ending thing."

And having seen the Dharma, having mastered the Dharma, having understood the Dharma, having penetrated the Dharma, having overcome uncertainty, having dispelled all doubts, having gained full knowledge, dependent on nobody else for knowledge of the Doctrine of the Teacher, they thus spoke to the Blessed One: "Lord, let us become a recluse under the Blessed One and receive ordination."

"Come, monks," said the Blessed One, "well taught is the Dharma; lead a holy life for the sake of the complete ending of ill." Thus these venerable persons received ordination.

The Five Components of Existence
and the Doctrine of No-Self (anatta)

And the Blessed One addressed the band of five monks:

"The bodily form (rupa), monks, is not the self. If the body, monks, were the self, the body would not tend toward destruction, and we should be able to say: Let my body be this way, let my body not be that way. But since the body, monks, is not the self, therefore the body tends toward destruction, and we are not able to say, Let my body be such and such a one, let my body not be such and such a one.

Sensation (vedana), monks, is not the self. If sensations, monks, were the self, the sensations would not tend toward destruction, and we should be able to say: Let my sensations be this way, let my sensations not be that way. But since the sensations, monks, are not the self, therefore the sensations do tend toward destruction, and we are not able to say, Let my sensations be this way, let my sensations not be that way.

Perception (sanna) is not the self. If the perceptions, monks, were the self, the perceptions would not tend toward destruction, and we should be able to say: Let my perceptions be this way, let my perceptions not be that way. But since the perceptions, monks, are not the self, therefore the perceptions do tend toward destruction, and we are not able to say, Let my perception be this way, let my perceptions not be that way.

Psychic constructions (samkhara) are not the self. If the psychic constructions, monks, were the self, they would not tend toward destruction, and we should be able to say: Let my psychic constructions be this way, let my psychic constructions not be that way. But since the psychic constructions, monks, are not the self, therefore the psychic constructions do tend toward destruction, and we are not able to say, Let my psychic constructions be this way, let my psychic constructions not be that way.

Consciousness (vinnana) is not the self. If consciousness, monks, was the self, consciousness would not tend toward destruction, and we should be able to say: Let my consciousness be this way, let consciousness not be that way. But since the consciousness, monks, are not the self, therefore consciousness does tend toward destruction, and we are not able to say, Let my consciousness be this way, let my consciousness not be that way.

Now what do you think, monks, is the bodily form permanent or perishable?

It is perishable, Lord.

And that which is perishable, does that cause pain or joy?

It causes pain, Lord.

And that which is perishable, painful, subject to change, is it possible to regard that in this way? This is mine, this am I, this is my self?

That is impossible, Lord.

Now what do you think, monks, are the sensations permanent or perishable?

They are perishable, Lord.

And that which is perishable, does that cause pain or joy?

It causes pain, Lord.

And that which is perishable, painful, subject to change, is it possible to regard that in this way? This is mine, this am I, this is my self?

That is impossible, Lord.

Now what do you think, monks, are the perceptions permanent or perishable?

They are perishable, Lord.

And that which is perishable, does that cause pain or joy?

It causes pain, Lord.

And that which is perishable, painful, subject to change, is it possible to regard that in this way? This is mine, this am I, this is my self?

That is impossible, Lord.

Now what do you think, monks, are the psychic constructions permanent or perishable?

They are perishable, Lord.

And that which is perishable, does that cause pain or joy?

It causes pain, Lord.

And that which is perishable, painful, subject to change, is it possible to regard that in this way? This is mine, this am I, this is my self?

That is impossible, Lord.

Now what do you think, monks, is consciousness permanent or perishable?

It is perishable, Lord.

And that which is perishable, does that cause pain or joy?

It causes pain, Lord.

And that which is perishable, painful, subject to change, is it possible to regard that in this way? This is mine, this am I, this is my self?

That is impossible, Lord.

Therefore, monks, whatever bodily form has been, will be, and is now, belonging or not belonging to sentient beings, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, distant or near, all that bodily form is not mine, is not me, not my self; thus it should be considered by right knowledge according to the truth.

Therefore, monks, whatever sensations have been, will be, and are now, belonging or not belonging to sentient beings, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, distant or near, all those sensations are not mine, are not me, not my self; thus it should be considered by right knowledge according to the truth.

Therefore, monks, whatever perceptions form have been, will be, and are now, belonging or not belonging to sentient beings, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, distant or near, all those perception are not mine, are not me, not my self; thus it should be considered by right knowledge according to the truth.

Therefore, monks, whatever psychic constructions have been, will be, and are now, belonging or not belonging to sentient beings, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, distant or near, all those psychic constructions are not mine, are not me, not my self; thus it should be considered by right knowledge according to the truth.

Therefore, monks, whatever consciousness has been, will be, and is now, belonging or not belonging to sentient beings, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, distant or near, all that consciousness is not mine, is not me, not my self; thus it should be considered by right knowledge according to the truth.

Considering this, monks, the wise and noble disciple turns away from the body, turns away from sensation, turns away from perception, turns away from psychic constructions, turns away from body and mind.

Turning away he loses passion, losing passion he is liberated, in being liberated the knowledge comes to him: "I am liberated," and he knows rebirth is exhausted, the holy life is completed, duty is fulfilled; there is no more living in these conditions.

Thus the Blessed One spoke. The five monks were delighted and rejoiced at the words of the Blessed One. And when this exposition had been propounded, the minds of the five monks became free from attachment to the world, and were released from depravities.

At that time there were six arhats in the world.

 

These passages are adapted from Henry Clarke Warren, Buddhism in Translation, and E. H. Brewster, Life of Gotama the Buddha.

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John Knoblock
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John Knoblock
Last revised 12/02/04