The First Five Monks
Now the Buddha wanted
to tell other people how to become wise, good and
do service for others. He thought, "Now Asita,
Alara and Uddaka are dead but my friends Kondanna,
Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji are in Benares.
I must go there and talk to them."
Then he set out for Benares,
till at last he came to a grove where his five friends
were. This grove at Sarnath was called the Deer
Park. They saw him coming towards them and one
said to another, "Look yonder! There is Gotama,
the luxury-loving fellow who gave up fasting and fell
back into a life of ease and comfort. Dont speak
to him or show him any respect. Let nobody go and
offer to take his bowl or his robe. Well just
leave a mat there for him to sit on if he wants to
and if he does not, he can stand. Who is going to
attend on a good-for-nothing ascetic like him."
However, as the Buddha
came nearer and nearer, they began to notice that
he had changed. There was something about him, something
noble and majestic such as they had never seen before.
And in spite of themselves, before they knew what
they were doing, they forgot all they had agreed on.
One hastened forward to meet him, and respectfully
took his bowl and robe, another busily prepared a
seat for him, while a third hurried off and brought
him water to wash his feet.
After he had taken a
seat the Buddha spoke to them and said, "Listen,
ascetics, I have the way to deathlessness. Let me
tell you, let me teach you. And if you listen and
learn and practise as I tell you, very soon you will
know for yourselves, not in some future life but here
and now in this present lifetime, that what I say is
true. You will realise for yourself the state that
is beyond all life and death."
Naturally the five ascetics
were very astonished to hear their old companion talking
like this. They had seen him give up the hard life
of fasting and consequently believed that he had given
up all efforts to find the truth. So initially they
simply did not believe him, and they told him so.
But the Buddha replied,
"You are mistaken, Ascetics. I have not given
up all effort. I am not living a life of self-indulgence,
idle comfort and ease. Listen to me. I really have
attained supreme knowledge and insight. And I can
teach it to you so you may attain it for yourselves."
Finally the five were
willing to listen to him and he delivered his first
teachings. He advised his followers to follow the Middle Way,
avoiding the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-torture.
For the first time he taught the
Four Noble Truths and how to practise the Eightfold
Path, the Noble Way that would lead to freedom from
suffering and to the way of enlightenment. With the conversion
of the five ascetics at the Deer Park at Sarnath,
the order of monks was established.