This 5-part series consists of Rev. Dr. Jăbō Prajñā’s lecture notes for a series of talks she is giving on Thursdays at Buddhamouse, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. For a more detailed biography of the Buddha, we recommend Buddha (Penguin Lives Biographies) by Karen Armstrong.
The Buddha met a rich businessman’s son who was wandering at night. He became a disciple, and brought 54 friends. They became Arhats. He sent them out to teach, while the Buddha went to teach King Bimbisara.
The Arhats brought so many converts, the Buddha taught them how to ordain more:
- Shave head
- Put on a saffron rove
- Kneel at the monks’ feet
- Take refuge
Three well-known teachers who involved the deities through fire arrived. The Buddha taught the three poisons by using fire. They converted and brought their 1,000 students.
The Buddha showed up with his 1,000+ disciples at King Bimbisara’s house. Bimbisara fed the Buddha by hand, and poured water over his hands from a golden picture. The King gave him land and his pleasure palace to convert into a monastery.
Sometime later, two Brahman were searching for immortality. One of them, Śāriputra, saw Ashvagit (one of the Buddha’s original five followers) as Ashvagit was out begging and walking in meditation. Ashvagit seemed to have a glow about him. Śāriputra asked him who is teacher was and what he taught. Ashvagit said that the Buddha was his teacher and that he taught the causes of things and the dissolution of things.
Śāriputra told his Brahman companion Maudgalyāyana, and the two of them went to find the Buddha. As they approached, the Buddha recognized that these two had already received direct transmission and would be among his chief disciples. Over time, Śāriputra became known as the foremost in insight and wisdom, and Maudgalyāyana was known as the foremost in supernatural powers.
Later, the Buddha was preparing to teach at Vulture Peak. A man named Pippali yelled from the back of the crowd, asking to take refuge. The Buddha welcomed him and Pippali basked in that blessing. Then the Buddha taught three of four sentences and held up a flower. No one understood what was happening, except, Pippali, who smiled.
This was the first mind-to-mind transmission and the foundation of Zen. The Buddha said, “I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.” The newly renamed monk went on to become an Arhat and the Buddha’s dharma heir. He was known as foremost in ascetic practices and held the First Buddhist Council three months after the Buddha’s death.
By now, word had gotten back to King Śuddhodana about his son’s achievements, and the King sent word asking the Buddha to visit. It was now seven years since Siddhârtha had left home. Śuddhodana had kids bearing flowers go out to the Buddha first. The kids bowed. The elders, however, did not. So the Buddha performed some miracles to get their respect: he shot water and fire out of his body, and made it rain from a cloudless sky. Now the elders bowed to him, including his own father.
The next day, the Buddha went on his daily begging rounds in his father’s neighborhood. This embarrassed Śuddhodana, who approached the Buddha about it. The Buddha taught his father about impermanence, and after that, the King went out and begged alongside his son. Śuddhodana had a feast at the palace and served the Buddha by hand.
The Buddha asked for Yasodharā. She came to him and prostrated. For the past seven years, she had followed news of him and had done all of the practices he had done.
The Buddha’s son, Rahula, now seven, asked for his inheritance. So the Buddha ordained him. Yasodharā was displeased that she had not been consulted first, and from that time forward, it has taken the consent of both parents to ordain a young monk. For his part, Rahula noted, “It feels good even to stand in your shadow.”
When the Buddha and his followers went on their way, many members of the Śâkya clan went with him, including two of his cousins. Ananda, whose name means “bliss,” would later become his attendant and be known as the foremost in hearing many teachings. Devadatta was jealous of the Buddha and became his enemy. He tried to found a stricter order than the Buddha’s and even tried to kill him.
The Buddha’s barber-turned-disciple Upali became the expert in the Vinaya, or monastic code. He had been born into the lowest caste and was the Buddha’s barber before the latter’s enlightenment. Upali was known as foremost in keeping the precepts and was the one to recite the Vinaya at the First Buddhist Council
The Buddha allowed monks to live in houses. Some, including Devadatta, criticized this policy. The Buddha did state what size the rooms could be when a house was built for a monk.