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.
A merchant named Sudatta was the Buddha’s chief lay disciple. He was given the name Anāthapiṇḍada. Looking for a place for the Buddha and his disciples to spend the rainy seasons, he found a grove belonging to Prince Jeta. He offered to buy it, but the Prince required that Anāthapiṇḍada cover the entire area with gold. So he did: 1.8 million gold pieces. Then he built Jetavana Monastery, which became one of the Buddha’s favorite places, and he spent 19 out of 45 rainy seasons there. Anāthapiṇḍada became known as the foremost of the Buddha’s disciples in generosity and character.
Queen Mallika convinced her husband of the value of the Buddha’s teachings, so he built another monastery. The rainy season retreat began, and many of the monks left their wandering lifestyle. The monastery residents because the local village priests. The wandering forest monks had no relationship with the lay community. They lacked stability but had freedom. Both the monastic and wandering (or forest) traditions continue to this day.
King Śuddhodana continued to practice his son’s teachings and became an Arhat before he died. When the Buddha heard that Śuddhodana was dying, he returned home again to preach to his father on his deathbed.
Meanwhile, the Buddha’s aunt and step-mother, Prajâpatî, had begun to follow the Buddha along with 500 other women. They asked him for ordination three times, and three times he refused them. When the Buddha moved on, Prajâpatî shaved her head, put on a robe, and followed him barefoot with her people. Their feet became swollen and their head sunburned. Ananda found them and went to the Buddha on their behalf. Again, the Buddha refused three times. The Ananda asked whether women could achieve the four levels of realization. The Buddha said yes. Then, realizing he had trapped himself in his own logic, the Buddha relented.
The Buddha created additional precepts for nuns for two reasons. First, to protect them. Such precepts included forbidding them from cooking or sewing for the monks. The other reasons was to place nuns under the monks’ authority. This may have also been to protect them, as women had no power or rights at that time. This remains a custom in most parts of the world today, but it is cultural, not religious.
There were 227 rules for monks and 338 for nuns. Many, perhaps most, Buddhist orders use the original rules. Other schools have modernized them. For example, the Five Mountain Zen Order has 58 precepts, or rules. They have eliminated all the ones which were redundant, culturally bound, or no longer made sense in modern life. FMZO ordains both men and women as monks, with identical precepts.
Prajâpatî, now called Mahaprajâpatî, became an Arhat. So did Yasodharā, who also had supernatural gifts.
One of the sutra experts among the disciples was accused of breaking a minor rule by one of the vinaya experts. Bickering ensued. “Even thieves get along better than bhikkhus.” ~Lama Tsultrim. The Buddha refused to intervene.
Eventually he took his bowl and staff and went into the forest. There the Buddha met an elephant who said he’d left his herd because he was tired of getting pushed around. “Tusker agrees with Tusker,” said the elephant. The Buddha hung out in the forest with the elephant for a while.
In the meantime, the accused sutra expert confessed his wrong and was readmitted back into the sangha. This event became the model for settling disputes.
Rahula, the Buddha’s son, became fully ordained at age 20. During his ordination ceremony, he reached Arhatship. Rahula was known as the foremost in quietly doing good.
When the Buddha reached 55, in the 20th year of his teaching, he decided to spend every rainy season in Jetavana, on the southern outskirts of Śrāvastī. He would give more teachings here than at any other monastery.
Also that year, he appointed his cousin Ananda as his permanent attendant. Ananda was not permitted to go on begging rounds with the Buddha, so there would be no temptation to take advantage of his position.
That same year the Buddha also began laying down the moral code: the Prātimokṣa. It was recited regularly with a pause after each precept for any confessions from the assembly. Many Buddhist traditions continue to do this twice each month, including Tibetan Buddhsts and the Five Mountain Zen Order. FMZO monks recite the Prātimokṣa on each full moon and new moon. The idea behind confession in Buddhist practice is that something damp that’s left wrapped for too long, will certainly rot.
Visakha, a married woman and eventual mother of 20 children, was the first matron of the lay sisters. She was even called in to settle disputes among the nuns from time to time. She had first heard the Buddha teach when she was only seven years old, at which time she became a Bodhisattva. As an adult, she donated the Migaramata Hall, on the eastern outskirts of Śrāvastī. It was named after her father-in-law, Migara, who had become a follower of the Buddha through her and had allowed her to donate to the Buddha and his disciples.