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The Sermon At Benares









On seeing their old teacher approach, the five bhikkhus agreed
among themselves not to salute him, nor to address him as a
master, but by his name only. "For," so they said, "he has broken
his vow and has abandoned holiness. He is no bhikkhu but Gotama,
and Gotama has become a man who lives in abundance and indulges
in the pleasures of worldliness."

But when the Blessed One approached in a dignified manner, they
involuntarily rose from their seats and greeted him in spite of
their resolution. Still they called him by his name and addressed
him as "friend Gotama."

When they had thus received the Blessed One, he said: "Do not
call the Tathagata by his name nor address him as 'friend,' for
he is the Buddha, the Holy One. The Buddha looks with a kind
heart equally on all living beings, and they therefore call him
'Father.' To disrespect a father is wrong; to despise him, is
wicked.

"The Tathagata," the Buddha continued, "does not seek salvation
in austerities, but neither does he for that reason indulge in
worldly pleasures, nor live in abundance. The Tathagata has found
the middle path.

"There are two extremes, O bhikkhus, which the man who has given
up the world ought not to follow--the habitual practice, on the
one hand, of self-indulgence which is unworthy, vain and fit only
for the worldly-minded--and the habitual practice, on the other
hand, of self-mortification, which is painful, useless and
unprofitable.

"Neither abstinence from fish or flesh, nor going naked, nor
shaving the head, nor wearing matted hair, nor dressing in a
rough garment, nor covering oneself with dirt, nor sacrificing to
Agni, will cleanse a man who is not free from delusions.

"Reading the Vedas, making offerings to priests, or sacrifices to
the gods, self-mortification by heat or cold, and many such
penances performed for the sake of immortality, these do not
cleanse the man who is not free from delusions. 7

"Anger, drunkenness, obstinacy, bigotry, deception, envy,
self-praise, disparaging others, superciliousness and evil
intentions constitute uncleanness; not verily the eating of
flesh.

"A middle path, O bhikkhus, avoiding the two extremes, has been
discovered by the Tathagata--a path which opens the eyes, and
bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the
higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana!

"What is that middle path, O bhikkhus, avoiding these two
extremes, discovered by the Tathagata--that path which opens the
eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to
the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana?

"Let me teach you, O bhikkhus, the middle path, which keeps aloof
from both extremes. By suffering, the emaciated devotee produces
confusion and sickly thoughts in his mind. Mortification is not
conducive even to worldly knowledge; how much less to a triumph
over the senses!

"He who fills his lamp with water will not dispel the darkness,
and he who tries to light a fire with rotten wood will fail. And
how can any one be free from self by leading a wretched life, if
he does not succeed in quenching the fires of lust, if he still
hankers after either worldly or heavenly pleasures. But he in
whom self has become extinct is free from lust; he will desire
neither worldly nor heavenly pleasures, and the satisfaction of
his natural wants will not defile him. However, let him be
moderate, let him eat and drink according to the needs of the
body.

"Sensuality is enervating; the self-indulgent man is a slave to
his passions, and pleasure-seeking is degrading and vulgar.

"But to satisfy the necessities of life is not evil. To keep the
body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able
to trim the lamp of wisdom, and keep our mind strong and clear.
Water surrounds the lotus-flower, but does not wet its petals.

"This is the middle path, O bhikkhus, that keeps aloof from both
extremes."

And the Blessed One spoke kindly to his disciples, pitying them
for their errors, and pointing out the uselessness of their
endeavors, and the ice of ill-will that chilled their hearts
melted away under the gentle warmth of the Master's persuasion.

Now the Blessed One set the wheel of the most excellent law
rolling, and he began to preach to the five bhikkhus, opening to
them the gate of immortality, and showing them the bliss of
Nirvana.

The Buddha said:

"The spokes of the wheel are the rules of pure conduct: justice
is the uniformity of their length; wisdom is the tire; modesty
and thoughtfulness are the hub in which the immovable axle of
truth is fixed.

"He who recognizes the existence of suffering, its cause, its
remedy, and its cessation has fathomed the four noble truths. He
will walk in the right path.

"Right views will be the torch to light his way. Right
aspirations will be his guide. Right speech will be his
dwelling-place on the road. His gait will be straight, for it is
right behavior. His refreshments will be the right way of earning
his livelihood. Right efforts will be his steps: right thoughts
his breath; and right contemplation will give him the peace that
follows in his footprints.

"Now, this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning suffering:

"Birth is attended with pain, decay is painful, disease is
painful, death is painful. Union with the unpleasant is painful,
painful is separation from the pleasant; and any craving that is
unsatisfied, that too is painful. In brief, bodily conditions
which spring from attachment are painful.

"This, then, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning suffering.

"Now this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the origin
of suffering:

"Verily, it is that craving which causes the renewal of
existence, accompanied by sensual delight, seeking satisfaction
now here, now there, the craving for the gratification of the
passions, the craving for a future life, and the craving for
happiness in this life.

"This, then, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the origin
of suffering.

"Now this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the
destruction of suffering:

"Verily, it is the destruction, in which no passion remains, of
this very thirst; it is the laying aside of, the being free from,
the dwelling no longer upon this thirst.

"This, then, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the
destruction of suffering.

"Now this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the way
which leads to the destruction of sorrow. Verily! it is this
noble eightfold path; that is to say:

"Right views; right aspirations; right speech; right behavior;
right livelihood; right effort; right thoughts; and right
contemplation.

"This, then, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the
destruction of sorrow.

"By the practice of lovingkindness I have attained liberation of
heart, and thus I am assured that I shall never return in renewed
births. I have even now attained Nirvana.

And when the Blessed One had thus set the royal chariot-wheel of
truth rolling onward, a rapture thrilled through all the
universes.

The devas left their heavenly abodes to listen to the sweetness
of the truth; the saints that had parted from life crowded around
the great teacher to receive the glad tidings; even the animals
of the earth felt the bliss that rested upon the words of the
Tathagata: and all the creatures of the host of sentient beings,
gods, men, and beasts, hearing the message of deliverance,
received and understood it in their own language.

And when the doctrine was propounded, the venerable Kondanna, the
oldest one among the five bhikkhus, discerned the truth with his
mental eye, and he said: "Truly, O Buddha, our Lord, thou hast
found the truth!" Then the other bhikkhus too, joined him and
exclaimed: "Truly, thou art the Buddha, thou hast found the
truth."

And the devas and saints and all the good spirits of the departed
generations that had listened to the sermon of the Tathagata,
joyfully received the doctrine and shouted: "Truly, the Blessed
One has founded the kingdom of righteousness. The Blessed One has
moved the earth; he has set the wheel of Truth rolling, which by
no one in the universe, be he god or man, can ever be turned
back. The kingdom of Truth will be preached upon earth; it will
spread; and righteousness, good-will, and peace will reign among
mankind."





Next: The Sangha

Previous: Upaka



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Buddha's Gospels