While continuing in the Thursday night class on the historical setting of the Hebrew Bible, we mentioned the first Buddhist council that was held upon the death of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha in 483 BC (depending on which tradition one reads).
Life of the Buddha
Siddhartha Gautama was born into the Shakya clan c. 583 BC. His family were of the nobility in India but Siddhartha realized that he had led a sheltered life and renounced his life of privilege and began to wander, searching for the meaning of life.
Siddhartha began to live off of alms, then turned to mediation, then asceticism, giving up everything. He was several times offered the chance to lead religious communities because each of those groups still focused on acquiring, even acquiring religious notoriety. One day, Siddhartha sat down beneath the bodhi tree and vowed not to move until he had found his awakening.
According to the Buddhist legends, Gautama was tempted by the demon Mara who could not keep Siddhartha from his quest. This was the subject of my first published work in G.W. Houston’s Cross and the Lotus. Mara’s three daughters then came to Siddhartha and tempted him. Their names were Taṇhā (Thirst), Arati (Aversion, Discontentment), and Rāga (Desire, Greed, Passion). The story strikingly resembles the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
Siddhartha indeed awakened to the Four Noble Truths: there is suffering, Suffering comes from craving, there is an end to suffering, and there is a path leading to the end of suffering. Siddhartha called the path to liberation the Middle Way. The Middle Way was avoiding any kind of extremism, between self-mortification and self-indulgence.
The Middle Way was also described as the Noble Eightfold Path consisting of eight practices: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation. It is a path of care for others and for our place among people.
Teaching the Dharma
Siddhartha doubted whether or not he should teach this Dharma or Universal Truth to humans because of the ignorance of humanity. It was said that God spoke to Siddhartha and said that at least some "with little dust in their eyes" will understand it.
Siddhartha began to travel the Ganges River plain and began receiving his own disciples. He was critical of Hinduism and the accumulated wealth of the priests. He became known as the Teacher. It was not for 200 years that he would be called the Buddha (the Enlightened One). He was sometimes called Shakyamuni or Sage of the Shakyas.
Establishing the Sangha
His first sermon was taught in a deer park and is now known as the Benares Sermon. Former ascetics saw the wisdom of the Middle Way and these new followers became the first Sangha or Buddhist community. For the remaining 45 years of his life, Siddhartha traveled the Ganges Plain teaching a diverse range of people from nobles to servants, ascetics and householders, murderers such as Angulimala, and cannibals such as Alavaka.
The Sangha traveled throughout India, Nepal, and Tibet teaching the Dharma. Siddhartha’s son, Rahula, became a disciple when he came of age. Eventually, others of the Shakya clan joined Siddhartha, even his own father Suddhodana eventually joined the Sangha. Those who converted were said to have entered the stream.
One of the most important converts was Siddhartha’s cousin Ananda.
Ananda was blessed with a phenomenal memory and became known as the Treasurer of the Dharma. Ananda focused on acting as scribe, assistant, secretary to Siddhartha and did not seek how own enlightenment for years.
It was Ananda who suggested to Siddhartha to establish and order of nuns. A group of women from the Shakyas came asking to be ordained. At first, Siddhartha set the idea aside. At Ananda’s urging, Siddhartha allowed the Shakya women to be ordained, being the start of the bhikkhunī order of nuns.
Māra, the demon who had tempted Siddhartha, had visited the Buddha and had renounced evil and entered the stream. Siddhartha had decided to die in three months. When Ananda heard this, he wept. The Buddha consoled Ananda, however, pointing out that Ananda had been a great assistant, being sensitive to the needs of so many different people. If Ananda was earnest in his efforts, he would indeed attain enlightenment soon. Siddhartha then pointed out to Ananda that all conditioned things are impermanent: all people must die.
The Three Jewels
Siddhartha told Ananda to take refuge in the Three Jewels—the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma. Ananda would follow this but history would show that the Three Jewels also took refuge in Ananda.
Ananda is well remembered and loved for his memory, compassion, and eloquence. He became one of the most loved figures in the history of Buddhism. But while the bhikkhunīs adored him, the males looked on him with resentment.
The First Buddhist Council
When the First Buddhist Council convened c. 480 BC, the city of Rajagaha was selected for the meeting of the council. It was held near the Saptaparni Cave where the Buddha had spent so mcu time meditating. All other Bhikkhus not involved in the council were asked not to come to Rajagaha for the rainy retreat. The Council was sponsored by King Ajatasattu who was a firm believer in the Buddhist faith and it was he who provided the necessary accommodation, food, and security for the gathering. It was chaired by Mahakassapa together with 499 arhats or disciples who had reached Enlightenment.
Ananda was not invited.
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