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The Honorable U Nu

(Series of Lectures given in 1957 at the the University of Calcutta by the Former Prime Minister of the Union of Burma)

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Vol. III, 1958


          My lecture today will be on the Buddha. In speaking about the Buddha, I think I should first describe briefly the background, so as to enable my audience to grasp the subject easily.

          Besides human beings and other living beings which are visible to us, there are many other kinds of beings in the world. The following are the various categories of the beings in the whole world:

  1. The Brahmas, or Higher Spiritual Beings.
  2. The Devas or Lower Spiritual Beings.
  3. Human Beings.
  4. Animals.
  5. Peta or Departed Spirits or Beings in a state of continual misery.
  6. Asuraka or Fallen Woeful Spiritual Beings.
  7. Nerayika or Beings in the Nethermost Plane of existence.

          These beings come into existence and after their span of life they die. When they die, it does not mean they are annihilated. The Brahmas or Higher Spiritual Beings on their death may be reborn as Devas (Lower Spiritual Beings), or human beings. And when they die as Devas or human beings they may be reborn as beasts, or Petas, or Asurakas, or Nerayikas. The Devas, or human beings, or animals, or Petas, or Asurakas, or the beings in the Nethermost Plane of Existence, also on their death may be reborn as one of the above beings according to the good or bad deeds they have performed. They are not annihilated but are certain to be reborn.

          For all these beings, whether they are Brahmas, or Devas, or Human Beings, or animals, or Petas, or Asurakas, or Beings in the Nethermost Plane, to be reborn again and again, and to have to undergo old age, disease and death again and again are indeed dreadful ills.

          Only on the rare occasion of the Enlightenment of a Buddha do many of these beings get the opportunity to listen to the dhamma which could liberate them from these ills. Only then can they practise in accordance with this dhamma, and escape from rebirth, old age, disease and death. This dhamma too disappears some time after the death, (Parinibbana), of the Buddha and it reappears only on the Enlightenment of another Buddha.

          Therefore, persons with great compassion in their nature resolve to attain Buddhahood with the intention of liberating the beings from those ills. However, by mere resolution they cannot become Buddhas. After they have made their resolutions they have to dedicate themselves to the task and to persevere in it for innumerable existences. For instance, a person who through compassion wishes to cure people suffering from disease, will first have to resolve to become a doctor, but mere resolution will not make him a doctor. For several years he must go through a strenuous course of training and study before he can become a doctor.

          There are ten major undertakings, called Parami in Pali, for those who aspire to Buddhahood, and these are:

  1. Giving away one's own possessions, such as one's own property, sons, daughters, wife and even one's life. This is Dana Parami.
  2. Guarding oneself from evil action and evil speech. This is Sila Parami.
  3. Renunciation of the worldly life. This is Nikkhama Parami.
  4. Acquisition of knowledge which can be beneficial to beings, and through this knowledge bringing about their welfare. This is Panna Parami.
  5. Exerting oneself to the ulmost for the welfare and happiness of beings. This is Viriya Parami.
  6. Being patient and forbearing under all circumstances. This is Khanti Parami.
  7. 7. Speaking the truth even at the cost of one's life. This is Sacca Parami.
  8. 8. After making a resolution , carrying out the resolution even at the cost of one's life. This is Adhitthana Parami.
  9. 9. Having an attitude of benevolent goodwill towards all beings without distinction of any kind. This is Metta Parami.
  10. 10. Guarding oneself from elation or depression in times when one's wishes are fulfilled or not fulfilled, thus cultivating equanimity of mind. This is Upekkha Parami.

         These are the ten major undertakings for one who aspires to Buddhahood.

          Each of these ten undertakings is graded in three degrees of minor excellence, average excellence, and noblest excellence. It is not at all an easy matter to carry out to perfection all these ten undertakings, in all the three degrees. It is not possible to do so within a single lifetime, nor is it possible to accomplish them to perfection within a hundred or a thousand existences. It requires exertion and perseverance in an innumerable number of existences to fulfil these obligations to perfection.

          To explain these Paramis in an easy way, we may take the Jataka or Birth-Story of the Future Buddha, usually called the Bodhisattva, when he was born a forest ape. A Brahmin, who later was to become a Devadatta, while searching for stray cattle, lost his way in a forest and fell into a deep pit. He was found there by the Bodhisattva Forest Ape.

  1. As soon as the Ape saw the Brahmin's plight, his heart went out to him, and he felt full of love and pity, as if it had been his own offspring that had fallen into the pit.
  2. Then the Bodhisattva Ape gave a promise to save the brahmin at the risk of his life. He kept his promise by helping the Brahmin to safety. The manner of it was as follows:
  3. The Bodhisattva had to consider ways and means of saving the brahmin, and came to the conclusion that only by leaping up from the bottom of the pit to its top-edge with the brahmin on his back, would he be able to save the brahmin.
  4. But there was a risk that the leap would not be high enough, and that the brahmin would be killed in the case of failure. Therefore, the Bodhisattva made several experiments of leaping up to the edge of the pit carrying a stone the weight of which about that the brahmin. Only when these experimental leaps showed that he could do it, did the Bodhisattva Ape made a leap with the brahmin on his back and thus saved the brahmin from dying of starvation and thirst in the pit.
  5. In thus saving the brahmin's life the Bodhisattva knew that he might die in the attempt; nevertheless, he was ready to give his life to save the brahmin.
  6. When they got to safety out of the pit, the Bodhisattva felt very tired and rested with his head on the lap of the brahmin. The ungrateful brahmin had the idea that he would kill the forest ape so as to take home meat, and therefore struck the bodhisattva on the head with a stone. The latter was not killed, though his head was broken, and he ran up a tree. Though the Bodhisattva was in great pain, he felt no anger or enmity towards the brahmin.
  7. Neither did he show by deed or word any hostility or unpleasantness to the brahmin.
  8. The Bodhisattva completely ignored the fact that an attempt on his been made, and kept his equanimity of mind.
  9. Moreover, the Bodhisattva knew that the Brahmin would be lost in the forest if left by himself, and so he guided the Brahmin out of the forest by leaping from tree to tree and leaving a trail of blood which dripped from his wound in the head, and which the Brahmin followed on the ground. Thus the Bodhisattva saved the Brahmin to the end in keeping with his determination to save him.
  10. In thus saving the life of the Brahmin, the Bodhisattva had no of gain of any kind, and he did it completely renouncing any worldly or meritorious gain.

          In this story,

  1. the fact that the Bodhisattva saved the life of the Brahmin, while being ready to give his life in the attempt, is Dana Parami.
  2. the fact that, inspite of being struck on the head with a stone, the Bodhisattva showed no hostility or enmity by deed or word is Sila Parami.
  3. the fact that he did not wish for any gain or benefit for himself for saving the Brahmin is Nikkhama Parami;
  4. the fact that the Bodhisattva considered ways and means of saving the Brahmin is Panna Parami;
  5. the fact that the Bodhisattva made repeated experiments of leaping up to the top of the pit, thus endeavouring to ensure the Brahmin's safety, Viriya Parami;
  6. the fact that although the Bodhisattva was in great pain after being struck on the head with a stone, he did not feel anger or enmity towards the Brahmin is Khanti Parami;
  7. the fact that the Bodhisattva kept his promise to save the Brahmin, even at the risk of his life, is Sacca Parami;
  8. the fact that the Bodhisattva continued to the end to fulfil his determination to save the Brahmin, inspite of the latter's attempt to kill him, is Adhitthana Parami;
  9. the fact that the Bodhisattva felt a surge of pity and love on seeing the Brahmin's plight in the pit is Metta Parami; and
  10. the fact that the Bodhisattva entirely ignored the attempt on his life and kept his equanimity of mind is Upekkha Parami.

          A person who had made a resolution for the attainment of Buddhahood has to exert himself to accomplish either all the ten undertakings or one of them. However small the extent of his exertion may be, it is never in vain. This small exertion in this life will serve as a foundation for further exertion in the next existence, with a cumulative effect. Thus continuing to exert from existence to existence, the perseverance of that person in these undertakings reaches perfection after many existences. When the time for the consummation of that exertion is reached that person attains the Buddhahood.

         Then, what is a Buddha?

         A Buddha is one

  1. who, has discovered by himself, in completeness and without having to acquire it from any one else, the dhamma which is capable of liberating the beings from the ills of old age, disease and death;
  2. who, after having practised according to this dhamma, has personally arrived at the last existence, after which there is no further birth;
  3. who can teach and explain the dhamma which he has discovered, to the Brahmas, Devas and men, so that they can understand it;
  4. who, after thus teaching and explaining the dhamma, urges the beings to practise it so as to reach the endmost birth after which there is no more existence.

         These are the qualities of Buddha.

          Personages with such qualities have appeared in innumerable numbers in the incalculable world-cycles of the past. And in this world-cycle of ours also, the Buddha Kakusanda, Gonagamana, Kassapa and Gotama have appeared.


         Today I will give a brief account of the life of the Buddha Gotama.

         Just over two thousand five hundred years ago, the Kingdom of Kapilavatthu in the region of Sakya in India was ruled by King Suddhodana. His Chief Queen was Maha Maya. One day Queen Maya had an extraordinary dream. In this dream, she was placed on a couch by the four king-gods of the Catu Maharajika spiritual plane of existence, and was taken to a golden edifice inside a silver mountain near the Anotatta Lake in the Himavanta Mountain Ranges. While she lay asleep in this golden edifice, a white elephant came out from the North and circled the Queen with his right side towards her. After circling the Queen thus, the White Elephant struck her on the right side, and seemed to enter her womb. Not long after this dream, the Queen conceived. When the time of confinement approached, the Queen had a very strong desire to go and visit her birthplace, the Kingdom of Devadaha. While the Queen and her retinue were between the Kapilavatthu and the Devadaha Kingdoms, and had arrived at a Sal Grove in Lumbini, she gave birth to a son on Friday the Full Moon Day of Kason (May) in the year 68, which has been calculated to be equivalent to 623 B.C. This son was named Siddhattha. "Siddha" in Pali means accomplishment or fulfilment. "Attha" has the meaning of benefit or advantage. The name Siddhattha thus meant "Prince who would fulfil all things."

          Soon after the birth of the young Prince Siddhattha, the Rishi or Great Hermit Kaladevila, also known as Asita, who was the preceptor of King Suddhodana, paid a visit to the palace. This Great Rishi was very much venerated by the King and the people of the whole Kingdom, and had a great deal of spiritual influence and power. As soon as the Great Rishi saw the little Prince Siddhattha, the prince's personality, full of grace and dignity, aroused in him an overwhelming desire to pay homage to the little Prince and thus he bowed down and paid homage to him. This action on the part of the Rishi who had been the object of veneration and homage by the King, the Queen and all the palace people, caused a great deal of surprise and amazement, and King Suddhodana himself made obeisance to his son, the little Prince Siddhaltha.

         One day, King Suddhodana invited one hundred and eight Brahmin astrologers of his kingdom to the palace and asked them to examine and interpret the characteristic body marks of the young Prince. The eight leading Brahmins of these astrologers did so. On their examination of the prince they found that he was the unique possessor of certain characteristics which had never been come across by any one of them before. These were 32 major physical characteristics, 80 minor physical characteristics, and 108 significant signs on the feet of the Prince. On finding such characteristics, all but one of the eight astrologers raised two fingers by way of a double prediction that this Prince would become either a Buddha or a Universal Monarch having sway over all the four island-continents. The one exception amongst the astrologers, by name Sudatta Brahmin of the Kodanna Clan, definitely predicted, by raising just one finger, that the Prince would certainly become a Buddha.

          When King Suddhodana heard these predictions, he felt great anxiety lest his son should become a Buddha. He did not desire that his son should become a Buddha, but desired rather that his son should become a Universal Monarch. Therefore, he endeavoured by all kinds of methods and devices to forestall the possibility of his son becoming a Buddha.

          King Suddhodana took strict measures to ensure that there would not be, within three miles of the Kapilavatthu city, any aged person, any sick person, any dead person, and any religious recluse, who, on being seen by the Prince might conceivably turn his thoughts to an ascetic renunciation of the world.

          Besides these strict measures, the daily life of the young Prince was made one of unending pleasure, and there were, for the Prince to revel in, very pleasant lakes and pools adorned with five kinds of lotuses, and lovely pleasure groves full of different varieties of flowers, and luscious Fruit.

          When the young Prince Siddhattha reached the age of sixteen, he was given by his royal father three towered-palaces of such magnificence as had never been owned even by his royal ancestors. These three towered palaces consisted of the Ramma Palace with five storeys, the Suramma Palace with seven storeys, and the Subha Palace with nine storeys. The King saw to it that there was no earthly delight lacking to make the life of the young Prince one continuous round of delectable enjoyment. Furthermore, King Suddhodana married Prince Siddhattha to Princess Yasodhara, a daughter of the King of Devadaha, and a paragon of beauty. Then King Suddhodana gave over the throne and the Kingship to his son, and Prince Siddhattha became King.

          These steps were taken because Suddhodana believed that by such measures he would be able to prevent his son from coming across anything that might cause him to have a desire to renounce the world. Thus, his son would become a Universal Monarch.

         King Siddhattha was therefore surrounded up to the age of twenty-nine by worldly delights and pleasures.

         One day, soon after he attained the age of twenty-nine, King Siddhattha was on his way to the Royal Gardens when he unexpectedly met an aged man, toothless, grey haired and wrinkled, moving along at a creeping pace. Since King Siddhattha in all the twenty-nine years of his life had never seen an aged man, he asked his charioteer what kind of a person it could be that was moving along slowly in front of them, with an appearance that was unlike that of other men.

         The Charioteer answered: "Your Majesty, this is an aged man."

          Then King Siddhattha again asked: "Must I also become old and aged like him?"

         The charioteer answered further: "Yes, Your Majesty, not only Your Majesty, but also all beings in the whole world will have to become old and aged like him.

          Then King Siddhattha had a sudden and penetrating glimpse of the emptiness of a worldly life, and being greatly perturbed by the prospect of an inevitable old age, returned to his palace without going on to the royal gardens.

          On his way to enjoy himself in the Royal Gardens the next time, he met a person who was suffering severely from an illness and was uttering piteous cries. Such a sight had never before been seen by King Siddhattha in all his life. As on the first occasion, he made enquiry of his charioteer and was given the answer that this strange sight was a man stricken by illness, and that King Siddhattha himself in common with all beings in the whole world must inevitably suffer from illness in the course of his life. This time also, King Siddhattha became mentally agitated over the certain prospect of illness and the futility and delusion of a life of worldly pleasure. He returned again to the palace without proceeding to the Royal Gardens

         On his next visit to the royal gardens, King Siddhattha saw a dead body on the way. On his asking the charioteer, he was given the reply that this strange sight was a dead person, and that not only King Siddhattha himself, but all beings in the whole world, must inevitably meet with death like that person before them. This answer again made King Siddhattha realise the ultimate vanity and worthlessness of a worldly life, and made him turn back to the palace.

          Again on his way the next time to the Royal Gardens, King Siddhattha met a religious recluse who was to him an utterly strange sight as he had never seen one previously. On questioning the charioteer as before, he obtained the reply that this strange person was a religious recluse who had renounced the world in search of deliverance from old age, illness and death. On hearing this, King Siddhattha had a great wish to renounce the world in search of deliverance from old age, disease and death. With this wish in his mind, he proceeded to the royal gardens, and while he was seated on the stone seat there, messengers brought to him the news that his queen Yasodhara had given birth to a son. At this news he remarked that an impediment to his renunciation, a fetter, had been born. He went back to the palace in the evening. On that very night, King Siddhattha left behind him his throne, his kingdom, his worldly possessions, his cherished queen and his new born son, thus renouncing everything he had, and went forth on his Great Search.

          Siddhattha the Future Buddha, immediately after his renunciation, approached the well known recluses in the woods and forests so as to learn the way that would lead to emancipation from the ills of old age, disease and death. The first teacher he approached was the Ascetic Alara. On finding that the philosophy taught by this ascetic philosopher was not the way that would lead to emancipation from old age, disease and death, the Bodhisat, the Future Buddha, left him and went in search of another teacher. The second teacher he found was the Ascetic Udaka. This Ascetic's professed way was also found to be not the way that would lead to emancipation from the ills of old age, disease and death, and the Bodhisat left him too and so went to the Uruvela Forest. In that forest he met five recluses. They were no other than the Brahmin Sudatta who had raised just one finger in definite prediction of Prince Siddhattha becoming a Buddha, and Sudatta's four friends. These five persons had renounced the world and had become ascetic recluses with the intention of hearing the very first sermon preached by Siddhattha when he had attained Buddhahood.

          When the Bodhisat reached the Uruvela Forest, he decided not to seek any more teachers but to search by himself for that way to emancipation which he earnestly desired.

         After making this decision, three illustrations by way of comparison appeared to his mind. When a piece of wood is green and is also immersed in water, there can be no possibility of using the piece of wood to produce fire. In the same way, if the seekers after truth are actually enjoying sensual pleasure, and at the same time have their minds fixed on sensual pleasure, there can be no possibility of attaining the truth, however strenuously they may try.

          When a piece of wood is green, even though it may be completely out of the water, it will still be not possible to produce fire with that piece of wood. In the same way, if the seekers after truth, though they may not be actually enjoying sensual pleasure, still have not cut off their minds from thoughts of sensual pleasure, there can be no possibility of attaining the truth, however strenuously they may try.

         When a piece of wood is not green, but dry, and entirely out of water and free from dampness, it is possible to produce fire with that piece of wood. In the same way, if the seekers after truth abstain from actual enjoyment of sensual pleasure, and also cut their minds off from thoughts of sensual pleasure, then it is possible for them to attain the truth. These three illustrations thus appeared in the mind of the Buddha. Accordingly, the Bodhisat undertook ascetic practices in more and more severe stages, so as to find the way to emancipation which was his goal.


          In the first stage, the Bodhisat practised suppression of the breath, In this practice, he suffered very great agony. During this first stage, he sustained himself by begging for alms-food in nearby villages and hamlets. After a long period of this kind of life, he still could not find the way which he sought.

          Then, while continuing his spiritual exercises, the Bodhisat stage by stage cut himself off from food and nourishment, till he reached a stage when he sustained himself merely with the liquid of boiled beans, taking only as much as can be contained in a cupped hand. But in spite of this extreme asceticism, he could not find the way to emancipation which he sought.

          As the Bodhisat was thus strenuously concentrating on spiritual exercises, while severely reducing the intake of food and nourishment, his body became so wasted away that it became mere skin and bones. But even this condition did not cause him to lose heart, or to waver in his search for the way to emancipation. One day, owing to lack of nourishment, he became so weak while trying to move his bowels that he fainted away.

          Severe as these ascetic practices were, the Bodhisat still could not find the way to emancipation which he sought.

         At that point, the Bodhisat realised that these ascetic practices involving self-mortification were not the right way to emancipation, and that so long as he practised these wrong methods he would not be able to find the right way. The realisation came to him that the only fundamental requirement for finding the right way was a continuing process of mental awareness. From that point onwards, the Bodhisat went back to the practice of sustaining himself by going round the villages for alms-food, and continued his endeavours to acquire a continuing state of awareness in him.

          When this happened, the five recluses who had stayed close to the Bodhisat and had attended on him in the hope of hearing the first teachings from him, became very disappointed. They thought that as the Bodhisat could not attain Buddhahood even when practising the utmost asceticism, he would not attain Buddhahood at all, now that he sustained himself with alms-food. Therefore, they left him and departed for the Forest of Isipatana Migadaya.

          It was indeed time for the Bodhisat to attain omniscient, enlightenment, as a result of the highest perfection of endeavour, through existence after existence, in the ten great undertakings that I have mentioned at the beginning of my lecture. But, because he had taken the wrong path of extreme asceticism and self-mortification, he could not yet attain enlightenment. Now that he had chosen the Middle Path which lay between the two mistaken extremes of self-torture and sensual enjoyment, it was a certainty that he would easily attain that noble enlightenment which was ready and waiting for him as a result of the meritorious endeavour that he had put forth in many previous existences.

         Thus, on Wednesday the Full Moon Day of Kason (May), in the year 103, (that is, 588 B.C) during the first watch of the night, while meditating on inhalation and exhalation of the breath, called Anapana, in accordance with the right Middle Path, and while seated under the great Bo Tree which was then growing on the site of the present Mahabodhi Shrine, he attained that knowledge which is termed Pubbenivasa or knowledge of former existences. During the middle watch of the night, he attained that knowledge which is termed Dibbacakkhu Nana or All- Seeing Knowledge. At dawn on the next day, being Thursday, he attained the knowledge called Asavakkhaya Nana or Knowledge which can uproot and sweep away the mental impurities consisting of greed, anger and delusion. Immediately after the attainment of this knowledge, he attained omniscient Enlightenment.

          The Buddha for 45 years from the time of his Enlightenment to the time of his parinibbana continuously taught the Dhamma to men and spiritual beings.

          The following is a classification into nine categories of the dhamma taught by the Buddha.

  • 1. Discourses on alms giving (dana)
  • 2. Discourses on moral virtue (sila)
  • 3. Discourses on the world of spiritual beings;
  • 4. Discourses on the disadvantages of sensual pleasure;
  • 5. Discourses on the advantage of renunciation;
  • 6. Discourses on the Truth of suffering;
  • 7. Discourses on the Truth of the Origin of suffering;
  • 8. Discourses on the Truth of the Cessation of suffering;
  • 9. Discourses on the Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering.

         Through these discourses the Buddha himself taught the dhamma, and also his disciples to do so. In sending out his disciples to propagate his teachings he gave them the following instructions with the object of spreading his teachings as far as possible.

         1. O monks, go forth from place to place for the benefit of many people and let not two go the same way.

         2. O monks, preach the dhamma and manifest clearly the noble life.

          In accordance with the instructions of the Buddha the disciples travelled from place to place, spreading the teachings of the Buddha, and propagated the dhamma. As the result of such propagation many people were converted to the dhamma, and were put on the path to emancipation from suffering.

          Incalculable are numbers of men, and spiritual beings such as Brahmas and Devas, who were shown the way to emancipation by the Buddha himself within the period of 45 years. In the time at my disposal, I should like to give a brief account of a few of those who were shown the way to emancipation by the Buddha.

          The first persons who met with the Buddha and were converted were no other than the five Brahmin recluses, called Panca Vaggi, or the Group of Five, who having become disappointed with the Bodhisat, had left him and had gone to the forest of Isipatana Migadaya. As soon as the five recluses saw the Buddha coming from afar, they resolved among themselves not to pay him respect, saying "Gotama has failed in his practice of asceticism. Therefore, let us neither welcome him nor give him a seat, nor provide him with water for drinking and use."

         However, when the Buddha drew near them, they saw his august personality, and they forgot their resolve. One of them took the bowl from the Buddha, another welcomed him, and the others provided him with a seat and offered him water. The first discourse the Buddha delivered to them was the Dhammacakka-Pavattana Sutta in which he expounded the Four Noble Truths. At the end of the discourse all the five pancavaggiya recluses became Sotapannas attaining the First Stage of Spiritual insight. After hearing the second Discourse the Anattalakkhana-sutta which deals with the doctrine of Anatta, they became Arahats, attaining the Final Stage of Spiritual Insight.

          During that same rainy season, a rich man's son called Yasa, and his 54 companions were converted by the Buddha, and practising the spiritual exercises under the instruction of the Buddha, they became Arahats. The Buddha sent out these sixty Arahats in all directions to propagate his teachings, and then he left Isipatana to go towards the Uruvela Forest. On the way, while the Buddha was resting under a tree, in a forest grove, thirty Bhaddavaggi princes saw him. These were the sons of the King of Kosala who were sporting with their wives in that forest. One of them had no wife and had brought a courtesan with him, and while the prince was sleeping, she took his clothes and valuables and fled. When the prince woke up he discovered the theft and told his brothers about it. While the thirty princes were searching the whole forest for the courtesan, they met the Buddha. When they asked him whether he had seen a courtesan passing that way, the Buddha asked them in return, "O princes, why do you search for this woman?" The princes told him the reason, and the Buddha asked them, "O princes, which is better, to go in search of a woman or to go in search of oneself'?" They replied that they thought it was better to go in search of oneself. Then the Buddha preached to them the sermon on the Four Noble Truths, expounding the dangers and disadvantages of hankering after the sensual pleasures. On hearing the discourse, some of the thirty princes were established in the Sotapatti, some in Sakadagami and others in the Anagami stages of Spiritual Insight. And all of them became monks.

         Leaving these thirty monks in the same forest grove, the Buddha continued to travel from place to place and eventually reached the Uruvela forest, In that forest lived three hermit brothers, Uruvelakassapa, Nadikassapa and Gayakassapa, one on each bend of a river. These hermits in the forest had disciples, forming a sect of their own. The eldest brother Uruvelakassapa had 500 followers, the second brother Nadikassapa had 300 and the youngest Gayakassapa had 200 followers. These hermits also had the belief that only through destruction and disappearance of mental impurities such as greed, hatred and delusion could one attain Final Spiritual Insight and become an Arahat. But the methods they adopted to destroy the mental defilements were exceedingly wrong. Every morning before sunrise they would immerse themselves in the river. They stayed in the water till breakfast time and came out of the river only then. After breakfast they worshipped fire and roasted themselves before a fire, and when they felt hot enough they went into the river again and immersed themselves in the water so that their mental impurities would be washed away. Only at night would they come up from the river to sleep. In the belief that by diving in the river, and roasting themselves before a fire, they could prevent, through physical exhaustion, mental defilement from arising in them, those hermits carried on these practices daily.

         The Buddha first went to the elder brother, the hermit Uruvelakassapa and asked for permission to stay for a short time in a fire-shed near the hermitage. The hermit told him not to stay there as there was a very big and venomous serpent in the shed. But the Buddha said that he was not afraid of the serpent and if the hermit would give permission he would like to stay there. With the consent of the hermit the Buddha stayed there. The next morning, the hermit believing that the Buddha had been killed by the serpent, went to the fire-shed with his disciples. Reaching the fire-shed, the hermit was very surprised to find that the Buddha had put the serpent inside his begging bowl. But, though they accepted the fact that the Great Monk Gotama was possessed of great supernormal psychic power, they did not consider that he had become an Arahat like them.


         The hermit Uruvelakassapa, after seeing the supernormal power of the Buddha, had a great feeling of attachment and admiration for him and requested him not to go elsewhere but to live near them. The Buddha agreed to reside in the forest grove near the hermitage. During the first watch of the night the four great king-gods of the Catumaharajika spiritual plane of existence came to visit and do homage to the Buddha. The hermit was greatly surprised at the sight of these four radiant king-gods, but still thought that though the great Monk Gotama possessed great supernormal psychic powers, he was not yet an Arahat. During the next night, Sakka, the king of the Lower Spiritual Plane of Existence, came to pay homage to the Buddha. Seeing this Sakka also, the hermit was greatly surprised, but he was still of the opinion that though the great Monk Gotama had great psychic power, yet he was not an Arahat. Even on the fourth night when he saw the Great Brahma from the Higher Spiritual Plane of Existence paying homage to the Buddha, Uruvelakassapa did not change his opinion he had, regarding the Buddha.

          One day the people of Anga and Magadha were making preparations for a big ceremony at which it was their custom to pay homage: to Uruvelakassapa and his hermits. In the meanwhile, the hermit Kassapa had this thought: "Tomorrow my lay disciples will hold a great ceremony to pay homage to us and they will bring us many and various kinds of offerings. The great Monk Gotama is both handsome and powerful. and if he chooses to make a display of his psychic powers, my lay disciples will have faith in and respect for him. Then they will have less faith and respect for us, and will not give us anything as offerings. Therefore it would be good if the great Monk Gotama should not come here tomorrow."

          The Buddha knowing this thought that passed through the mind of the hermit, did not on that day go to where the hermit lived and instead went elsewhere. The next day when Uruvelakassapa saw the Buddha, he remarked to him, "Great Monk Gotama, there was a big ceremony of homage here yesterday. Why did you not come? We were expecting that you would come." Then the Buddha said, "I did not come, because you had in your mind that it would be good if I did not come." Even then the hermit thought that though it was true that the Great Monk Gotama had I sufficiently high psychic powers to read his mind, yet he was not an Arahat like the hermit himself.

          One day there was a storm and the river overflowed its banks and the hermits had to go about in boats. The Buddha was walking about in the middle of the flood with dust rising about him. On this occasion also the hermit had the thought that though the monk Gotama was without doubt possessed of great psychic powers, he was not an Arahat as yet.

          Though the Buddha thus made a display of his psychic powers repeatedly on numerous occasions, as the time was not yet ripe for the hermit Uruvelakassapa to be converted, the latter was still taking pride in himself in the belief that only he was an Arahat and that though the Great Monk Gotama had great psychic power, he was not yet an Arahat. The Buddha, however, foreseeing that the Kassapa brothers with their thousand disciples would one day be converted and put on the right path to emancipation, stayed near the hermits, waiting for the proper time.

         Thus, one day, when the Buddha knew that the psychological moment for the conversion of the hermit and his disciples had come, the Buddha said, "Dear Kassapa, you consider yourself to be an Arahat. Your belief as regards yourself is wrong. Your practices are also wrong. You can never destroy your mental impurities by such practices as immersing in water and roasting yourselves before a fire." Then only the hermit realised the error of his ways and requested the Buddha to accept him as his disciple. The Buddha did not consent immediately, and said, "Dear Kassapa, you are the leader of 500 hermits. If you wish to be a disciple of mine you should first consult with your disciples." So the hermit consulted with his followers and with the consent of all of them the hermit Kassapa and all his disciples discarded their false practices and became monks under the Buddha. After they had entered the Order, they threw into the river all their utensils and articles. The hermit Nadikassapa who resided near a lower bend of the river, saw these things floating down the river and thought that his brother the hermit Uruvelakassapa and his five hundred disciples must have come to harm. He sent his men to find out the situation, and came to know the true facts. Then Nadikassapa took his disciples to the Buddha and all of them became monks. The same thing happened to the youngest brother and his disciples. Assembling these one thousand monks, the Buddha preached the Adittapariyaya-sutta, and all the thousand monks became arahats.

          The meeting between the Buddha and the wandering ascetic Saccaka is of great interest. This Saccaka Paribbajaka was the respected preceptor of the Licchavi Princes of Vesali Kingdom. He was a past master of secular arts and sciences. At one time the Buddha visited the city of Vesali, and Saccaka Paribbajaka, learning about the arrival of the Buddha, wanted to prove in a contest the superiority of his doctrine over that of the Buddha. But before he did that, Saccaka wanted to find out what the doctrine of the Buddha was.

          One day, he met the monk Assaji who was a disciple of the Buddha, and said: "Venerable Monk, what is the doctrine of your Teacher, Gotama ?" Assaji replied that the doctrine of the Buddha was the Anatta Doctrine. Then Saccaka Paribbajaka thought to himself that if the doctrine of the Monk Gotama was the doctrine of Anatta, he would be able to prove the superiority of his doctrine over that of the Buddha. With this thought he went to the Five hundred Licchavi Princes who were his disciples and told them: "Oh Princes, come with me, I am going to prove the superiority of my doctrine over that of the Monk Gotama in a contest. During this contest of doctrine I shall ask the Monk Gotama many questions. Let alone a living person, even an inanimate wooden post will be utterly shaken by my questions. The questions I ask will put any one, let him whoever be, into a perspiraton. With my questions, I will cause the Monk Gotama to shake from side to side, as a goat, being caught hold of by its beard, is shaken from side to side. I will with my questions pull the Monk Gotama to and fro, as a mat, being washed in a pond, is pulled to and fro by a strong man holding its two end-edges. With my questions I will whirl the Monk Gotama about, as a liquor strainer is whirled about when washed in water by a drunkard. With my numerous questions I will treat the Monk Gotama in trifling playfulness, as water is taken into the trunk of a strong royal elephant sporting in the river, and is playfully sent up, down and sideways. Oh Licchavi Princes, come with me to see this interesting spectacle." And he took them to the Buddha.

          The Buddha, knowing that Saccaka Paribbajaka was coming to him with the Licchavi Princes for a doctrine contest, told his disciple monks to send Saccaka Paribbajaka into the park when he arrived, and the Buddha seated himself under a tree in the park. When Saccaka Paribbajaka and the Licchavi Princes arrived, the monks directed them to where the Buddha was. When Saccaka met the Buddha he asked the latter what the Buddha's doctrine was. Then the Buddha gave the very answer Saccaka wanted, that it was the doctrine of Anatta. Saccaka Paribbajaka then said to the Buddha: "O Monk Gautama, an illustration has come to my mind. It is that trees cannot live and grow without the earth. Similarly, a person cannot perform good or bad deeds without the entities called the body and mind. Without a sustaining support nothing can come into existence."

          Then the Buddha asked: 'According to what you say, oh Saccaka, is yours the doctrine of Atta?" Saccaka answered that it was so, and that it was also the doctrine held by the entire assembly of his followers. The Buddha said, "Saccaka, do not speak of the doctrine held by others. The discussion being between you and me, please speak about your own doctrine only." Saccaka admitted that his doctrine was the belief in Atta, which was the opposite of Anatta.

          The Buddha then said to him: "I shall put to you a question and you may answer as it pleases you. Can King Pasenadikosala and King Ajatasattu who are absolute monarchs put to death anyone of their subjects within their realms who deserves death? Can they banish anyone who deserves banishment, and in judging cases can they decide against the suitor who deserves to lose?" Saccaka answered: "Oh Monk Gotama, leave alone the countries ruled over by absolute monarchs, even in countries like Vesali or Kusinara where the princes rule in turn such things can be done."

          The Buddha further asked Saccaka many questions and the purport of those questions was as follows:

          If the belief in Atta was the true doctrine, no being would either grow o1d or suffer from disease or die, because no being wished to be old or to be sick or to die. However, in spite of this unwillingness to become old or to be sick or to die, all beings did have to suffer old age, sickness and death. If the belief in Atta was a true doctrine, beings should be able to have complete control over their bodies, just as absolute monarchs had control over their subjects, and should be able to fashion the state of their physical bodies as they wished, keeping their bodies youthful and vigorous, free from old age, disease and death. Could they do so? They could not. Since they could not, could the doctrine of Atta be a true doctrine? Such was the purport of the questions asked by the Buddha.

          While the Buddha was asking these questions, Saccaka, not being able to give any adequate answer, was perspiring from head to foot, and in the end he had to admit the correctness of the doctrine of Anatta. Thereupon the Buddha by way of reproducing the boastful words Saccaka had used to the Licchavi Princes, said, "O Saccaka, do make me perspire. Do shake me from side to side as you would shake a goat from side to side by its beard. Do pull me to and fro as you would pull a mat to and fro when washing it in a pond and holding it by the two end-edges. Do whirl me about as a drunkard whirls the liquor strainer when washing it in water. Treat me with trifling playfulness to your heart's content as the elephant sporting in the river plays with the water by taking it into his trunk and sending it up, down or sideways" Saccaka could not say a word and kept silent.

          Then the Licchavi Princes who were the disciples of Saccaka, mocked at him, saying that their great teacher Saccaka after meeting with the Buddha had become helpless like a crab whose limbs had been broken off.


         After this account of Saccaka the wandering Ascetic, let me next relate to you the conversion of Angulimala by the Buddha. Angulimala was the son of the King Kosala's Chaplain, Brahmin Bhaggava, and his wife Mantani. Angulimala, at the proper age, studied under a University teacher. On the completion of his studies, he was told by his teacher that he should make him an offering of a thousand human forefingers. To do this, Angulimala went out from the town and stayed in a forest grove, armed with all sorts of weapons. He pursued and killed all the people who passed near by, cutting of their forefingers. At first he kept the cut-off fingers at various places, and these were often carried away by crows and other birds, and thus he was unable to reach the required number of a thousand forefingers. He then kept the fingers with him, stringing them together and hanging the garland of fingers round his neck. So notorious did his killings become that the king had to take steps to go out with his army to capture Angulimala. Angulimala's mother, being afraid that her son would be captured and killed by the king's army, went to Angulimala, to warn him to fly from the forest. By then, only one more finger was needed to complete the required thousand forefingers, and Angulimala was determined to kill anyone he found that day. So if he had met his mother, he would have killed her. If he had killed his mother, there would have been no possibility of his being converted and of attaining spiritual insight in that life-time. Therefore, to forestall his meeting with his mother, the Buddha went to where Angulimala was. On the way, the cow-herds, the goat-herds, the farmers and the passers-by who saw the Buddha, warned him saving: "O Monk, do not go this way. On this route there is a very desperate and cruel murderer called Angulimala. He would kill anyone on sight. Even when people travel in groups of forty or fifty, they are defenseless against him. Therefore, do not go this way." But as the Buddha foresaw that Angulimala would be converted on that day, he kept on going towards where Angulimala would be. When Angulimala saw the Buddha from afar, he thought to himself that it was an amazing thing for a monk to come alone and in a fearless manner along the way on which even groups of forty or fifty had been victimised by him. He determined to kill this monk, and thus chased him. Though the Buddha was moving at a steady pace, Angulimala could not catch up with him because of the supernormal power of the Buddha. Though the ground was level by nature, it appeared to Angulimala that he was running over hills and valleys. He became very tired, and called out to the Buddha: "Stop! O Monk!" The Buddha replied, "O Angulimala, I am at a standstill. It is only you who are running." Angulimala said, "O Monk, you are a monk and yet you tell a lie. You are not standing but running." Then the Buddha replied, "Dear Angulimala, there is no occasion anymore for me to be reborn again in the round of births. I have reached my last existence. Therefore I said to you that I was at a standstill. In your case, however, you have not reached your last existence and therefore I said that you were still running in the round of existences." At that moment Angulimala dropped the sword from his hand, and bowing down before the Buddha begged of him to accept him as a disciple. Buddha took him to the Jetavana monastery and had him ordained. Angulimala practised the Dhamma according to the instruction of the Buddha and became an Arahat.

         Let me now narrate to you the taming of the Nalagiri elephant by the Buddha. Nalagiri was King Ajatasattu's royal elephant. One day. on the advice of Devadatta who was the preceptor of Ajatasattu, the elephant Nalagiri was made drunk and sent to trample upon the Buddha find kill him, when the Buddha entered the city of Rajagaha on his daily round for alms-food. The disciple monks of the Buddha, knowing about this, urged the Buddha not to walk on the road along which the Nalagiri. elephant was coming, but to take another road. The Buddha, however, said to them, "Be not afraid, oh monks. I will tame the great elephant Nalagiri." When the drunken elephant Nalagiri came rushing towards the Buddha to trample upon him, a woman who was nearby put down her young son in front of the Buddha and ran away in fright. Whereupon Nalagiri turned towards her and chased her. The Buddha pervaded the elephant with good will and loving kindness, and addressing it in a very pleasant voice said: "My son Nalagiri, you have not been made drunk and sent out to destroy houses and markets and to kill other people, but only to kill me. Therefore, my son, come to me." Hearing the clear, pleasant voice of the Buddha, the elephant looked back at him, and saw the six coloured halo and the gracious personality of the Buddha. Immediately on this, Nalagiri recovered from his drunken stupor and came and crouched at the feet of the Buddha.

         While on the subject of the Nalagiri elephant, I am reminded of Devadatta. It is not possible to depict the life of the Buddha without mentioning Devadatta. Devadatta was the brother of Yasodhara, and was also a cousin of the Buddha. Therefore, he believed that he should play a more distinguished part than the disciples Sariputta and Moggallana. Being disappointed in this belief, Devadatta tried successfully to win over prince Ajatasattu, so as to gain fame and honour. With the support of Ajatasattu, he became well known, and his pride was increased. He then entertained the idea of taking the Buddha's place as leader. Therefore, Devadatta went to the Buddha and asked that the Buddha should hand over the Order of Monks to him, as the Buddha was getting old. This request to allow him to lead the Order was made in the midst of a public assembly. Then the Buddha said that not even to Sariputta and Moggallana would he hand over the Order, and he could not possibly do so to such a person as Devadatta who was seeking for gain and gifts through evil means. This refusal of the Buddha caused Devadatta to nurse a mortal grudge against the Buddha. He went to his supporter Ajatasattu and proposed that the latter should kill his father King Bimbisara, and make himself king, while Devadatta would kill the Buddha, taking the leadership of the Order in his place. Ajatasattu agreed to the proposal, and accordingly killed his father. Devadatta sent archers to kill the Buddha, but these archers were converted by the Buddha, and after hearing the Buddha's teachings they became Sotapannas. After that, Devadatta himself tried to kill the Buddha by hurling a great rock from a cliff down on the Buddha. This attempt also failed. Then, the elephant Nalagiri was made drunk and sent out to trample on the Buddha. We have seen that this attempt also was not successful. Failing in all his attempts to deprive the Buddha of his life, Devadatta went to the Buddha and asked that five additional rules for the Order should be prescribed. The rules he proposed were:

  • that monks should dwell all their lives in forests, and not in villages and towns;
  • that they should live only on alms begged, and not accept invitations to meals;
  • that they should wear only discarded rags, and not accept robes from laymen;
  • that they should all their lives live under trees and not under a roof
  • that throughout their lives they should not eat fish or flesh. Those were the additional rules Devadatta proposed.

          These five rules that were proposed were indeed excellent rules.Because of their excellence, the Buddha had often spoken in praise of them. But, because of their extreme austerity, only some of the Buddha's disciples would be able to observe them. and it would not have been possible for all the members of the Order to observe these rules. Knowing full well that the Buddha would not accept the proposed rules, as they could not be followed by each and every monk, Devadatta made the proposal not in good faith, nor because he himself really approved of them, but merely because he wanted to belittle the Buddha in the eyes of the monks.

          When the Buddha refused to accept these five proposed rules for the Order, Devadatta created a schism, and left the Buddha, taking with him some monks as his followers.

          Sariputta and Moggallana went after Devadatta and his followers, to try and bring back to the fold those monks who had been led astray by Devadatta. Kokalika and Samuddadatta, disciples of Devadatta, tried to prevent Sariputta and Moggallana from approaching the place where Devadatta and his group of monks were. However, Devadatta thought that these two chief disciples of the Buddha had come over to him, deserting the Buddha. So he allowed them to address his followers. After hearing their address the monks who had been led astray followed Sariputta and Moggallana back to the Buddha.

          At this, Devadatta's disciple Kokalika got so angry with his master that he struck Devadatta's chest violently with his knee, and made Devadatta vomit blood as a consequence. About nine months after this incident, Devadatta was overcome by remorse for his misdeeds, and urged his followers to take him to the Buddha, as he wished to see and reverence the Buddha. His disciples refused to take him to the Buddha on the ground that they belonged to different sects. Then Devadatta told his followers that it was only he who had harboured enmity against the Buddha. The Buddha on his part had never harboured any enmity in return, even to the extent of a strand of hair. So he urged his followers again to take him into the Buddha's presence.

         Then Devadatta's followers put him on a stretcher to take him to the Buddha. When the Buddha was told by the monks of the approach of Devadatta, the Buddha said that he who had demanded the enforcement of the five rules from the Buddha had no good kamma left in him to enable him to see and reverence the Buddha. Even when informed that Devadatta was already at the gateway to the enclosure of the monastery, the Buddha repeated the same remark. Before Devadatta could manage to get into the presence of the Buddha, he passed away.

          After preaching the Dhamma an entire period of forty five years, the Buddha declared to his disciple monks on the Full Moon Day of Tabodwai (February) while he was residing at the Chapala Shrine in the country of Vesali, that he would pass away in three months' time. On the Full Moon Day of Kason (May), at about sunset, the Buddha accompanied by his disciple monks came to the town of Kusinara where the Buddha had decided to pass away. Then Ananda said to him: "Sire, this city of Kusinara is like the mere branches and twigs of a big tree. Therefore, it is not fitting for the Buddha to pass away in such a small town. It is more fitting that the Buddha should pass away in such big cities as Rajagaha, Savatthi, or Campa". But the Buddha replied: "O Ananda, do not think little of Kusinara. Once this city had been very famous and prosperous under the name of Kusavati, ruled by a king named Mahasudassana. And the Buddha delivered to his disciple monks the Mahasudassana Sutta.

          During the first watch of the night he preached the Dhamma to the Malla Princes, who were the rulers of Kusinara.

          During the middle watch of the night, one Subhadda paribbajaka came to the Buddha to ask certain questions. But Ananda tried to prevent him from going to the Buddha as the Buddha was very much exhausted. The Buddha knew of this, and he said to Ananda, "O Ananda, do not stop Subhadda from seeing me. If he gets an opportunity to see me, Subhadda will be benefitted. Let him see me." Thus Subhadda was given the opportunity of seeing the Buddha and listening to the Dhamma, and he became an Arahat.

          By that time, it was the third watch of the night, and the Buddha preached his last sermon which ended in the following words:

                  "Handa dani bhikkhave amantayami vo,

                  vayadhamma sankhara, appamadena sampadetha".

         "O Monks, now I shall leave this message for you. All constituted things have the nature of decay. May you be endowed fully with continual awareness of mind." Then the Buddha passed away.

(The End of the Talks)


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