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Sunday, 15 May 2011





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Dual significance of Sambuddhatva Jayanthi

The Buddha's First Discourse to the five ascetics at Isipathana Migadaya

"Oh Supreme! Let thy great law be uttered!"

Whereupon the Master cast his vision forth on flesh,

Saw who should hear and who must wait to hear,

As the keen sun gliding the lotus lakes

Seeth which buds will open to his beams,

And which are not yet risen from the roots.

Then spake divinely smiling, "Yea, I preach!

Who so listen let him learn the Law!"

-Light of Asia,

Sir Edwin Arnold

This is the sacred moment at which we celebrate the Attainment of Supreme Enlightenment by Ascetic Siddhartha, 2,600 years ago.

While we are totally focused on the 2,600th anniversary of the Attainment of Enlightenment, we are quite likely to overlook that 2011 marks the 2,600th anniversary of the birth of Buddhism as well.

When Ascetic Siddhartha achieved Supreme Enlightenment, it was, in the first instance, a personal transcendental triumph. The birth of Buddhism had to await some more time.

Inner joy

Experiencing the inner joy of Enlightenment, the Buddha was hesitant about declaring to the world his profound spiritual discovery. It was at this stage that Maha Brahma entreated the Buddha to enlighten the world about the Great Law He has realised.

The Supremely Enlightened Buddha decided that the first beneficiaries of the Law He realised should be His co-seekers, the five ascetics - Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji.

The Buddha travelled about 200 miles to meet the five. They were pursuing their religious practices at Isipathana Migadaya, in the vicinity of the city of Benares.

The pillar of Asoka

This sacred venue, currently known as Saranath, had been a haven for men of religion, even before the Buddha's day. 'Isipathana' implies 'the assembly place of seers and sages'.

'Migadaya' is the term given to an animal sanctuary. But, in recent times there has been an interesting development relating to the name 'Migadaya'. Today the place is known by the expression 'Deer Park'. This is clearly and starkly a misnomer.

The word 'Miga' in the original name does not refer only to the deer. In Pali, 'Miga' is applicable to all beasts and animals. In Sanskrit the word is 'Mrga'. It is interesting to note in this context that a monkey is described in Sanskrit as 'Shaka Mrga' (the animal of the tree-branch).

Animal sanctuary

In the early days this was an animal sanctuary - a place set aside for the animals to live and roam about freely. It stands to reason to assume that no ruler would have a sanctuary only for the deer. No hunter would seek out other animals, avoiding the hunting of the deer. Someone would have translated the word Miga into English as 'deer' and the place was promptly named 'Deer Park'.

To mark the 2,600th anniversary of the Buddha's Attainment of Enlightenment, we could request the authorities to take steps to change the name to read as 'Animal Sanctuary,' setting aside the current misnomer 'Deer Park'.

The specific location had been referred to as the 'Kalandaka Nivape' - the place where the squirrels were fed.

All these cumulatively established, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the significance of the original term 'Miga Daya', was 'Animal Sanctuary'.

When the Buddha was seen approaching, the five ascetics felt convinced that he was coming back to them as his quest has failed. They decided that they will not accord to him the customary honours endowed upon a visiting monk. But, as the Buddha approached closer, the resolve of the five ascetics flagged. The five fellow-seekers could not help but note that an extraordinary appeal had enriched the Buddha's total personality. The Buddha's mien gleamed with an ethereal glow. The five ascetics realised that a vast spiritual transformation had occurred within their revered guest.


This initial meeting between the Buddha and the five ascetics took place at Chankandi, where a monument had been constructed in quite an early era. Today segments of the original building can be seen at this site.

A monument in Vietnam depicting the Buddha’s First Discourse

Although the five ascetics accorded Him a deference, they continued to assume that the Buddha's spiritual attainment may not be as lofty as theirs. They insisted on addressing Him as 'avuso' (Friend) an expression fit for a junior or an equal.

The Buddha put matters right by mildly reminding them that they should now address Him as Samma Sambuddha, The Supremely Enlightened Being - indicating that He has fully completed His spiritual effort and that His quest for truth has now been successfully culminated.

All the qualms and doubts that troubled the five ascetics were now totally swept away. They were fully prepared to listen to the Supremely Enlightened Buddha.

To these eager spiritual truth-seekers, the Buddha expounded the profound Law He had so strenuously realised.

In other words, the Buddha presented to the five ascetics the immortal report of His spiritual odyssey.

The first sermon of the Buddha, setting down the essence of His spiritual realisation, is well-known as the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta - The Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel.

With this Supreme Manifesto, Buddhism was born 2,600 years ago.

It is only with this declaration in the Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel that the spiritual system known as Buddhism appeared before mankind, to lead men and women to liberation (Moksha) from the cycle of recurrent births.

Birth of Buddhism

The salutary outcome of all this is that in 2011 we celebrate not only the Attainment of Supreme Enlightenment, but also the historical Birth of Buddhism.

Before we take a look at this First Discourse, we must focus on the eternally hallowed spot where this sermon was first proclaimed.

Dhammasoka, the Emperor of Righteousness, visited Isipathana as an ardent pilgrim. The imperial pilgrim had several edifices set up at this spot.

A prominent structure the Emperor built at this spot is a solid block known as "Damek". It is quite clear that this is not a conventional stupa. We have to surmise that this intriguing architectural enigma is nothing but a monument.

Saranath, the venue of the Buddha's First Discourse

It stands to reason to conclude that the only event that deserves a monument at this location is the exact spot where the Buddha proclaimed His Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta.

The monument is described as "Damek", an expression for Dhammacakka. It is quite surprising to note that Damek has a very close affinity to the Sinhala word Damsak, which means Dhammacakka.

Asoka pillar

Emperor Asoka set up a pillar at this site. This was originally 50 feet high. At present it has about seven or eight feet left in the ground. The pillar was surmounted by a capital, with four lions standing back to back.

These lion figures are preserved at the Saranath Museum. It is indeed remarkable that they still retain their original polish, lustre and expression.

Originally, the four lions held a 32-spoked Dhammacakka (Wheel of Dhamma). A fragment of this wheel is now at the Saranath Museum.

The Asokan Lion is the National Emblem of India and the Dhammacakka adorns the Indian National Flag as its central motif. The original Dhammarajika Vihara was also built at this site by Emperor Asoka.

Since that day the site has weathered many vicissitudes. But this sacred venue still continues to engender a deeply transforming sense of tranquillity. When devoted pilgrims intone Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta in sonorous rhythms, one cannot help but feel that the environment itself is listening in hushed silence.

In the calm and serene atmosphere of Isipathana - The Haven of Sages, one tends to assume that in the forests surrounding this holy site, there could very well be birds and animals descending from those who had the good fortune to listen to the Supremely Enlightened Buddha's cadenced voice delivering the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta, about 40 generations ago (2,600 years ago to be precise).

The Buddha's Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta brought about the formal Birth of Buddhism. It is a remarkable spiritual statement in the whole of human history.

The structure of this discourse possesses some unusual characteristics. Its introductory phrases are conventional.

Ven. Ananda Maha Thera presents the discourse with the conventional introduction "Thus have I heard," (Evam me sutam). And, as usual Ven. Ananda Maha Thera gives a brief background about the venue, and the circumstances of the presentation of the discourse.

"On one occasion, the Blessed One was living in Migadaya at Isipathana. Then He addressed the group of five bhikkhus".

As quoted by Ven. Ananda Maha Thera, the Buddha expounds His realisation to the group of five bhikkhus and concludes His discourse with these words: "And, a vision of insight arose in me thus: Unshakable is the deliverance of my heart. This is the last birth. Now, there is no more re-becoming (rebirth)."

After this concluding statement of the Buddha, the structure of this discourse takes on a new aspect.

The discourse goes on to record what happened after the Buddha concluded His statement.

Who provides this report? Is it Ven. Ananda Maha Thera or is it a later commentator?

In the concluding section of this discourse, there is a highly impressive report of the manner in which the word of the Buddha spread, from stage to stage, until it reached the Akanittha abode of the Brahmas.

The process through which the Buddha's timeless word travelled to infinity is a miraculous communications phenomenon.

This is how the process is recorded in the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta.

The Buddha's words were heard by terrestrial deities. They echoed the Buddha's words, so that deities in the closest heavenly abode could hear them.

Those in the closest heavenly abode echoed the Buddha's word for the gods in higher realms. This way, the Buddha's word travelled in a long series of relays from earth to the highest heavens.

This is an advanced system of communication.

This system is described in the latter section of this discourse, in an interesting phrase - Saddam anussa vesum (The sound was re-echoed).

In the formal chanting, this discourse, when the phrase Saddam anussa vesum occurs, a loud drum is sounded.

This sublime process of communication through a whole series of sound-relays should be studied in-depth. This communication process can be even diagrammatically portrayed.

For us, what is of high significance is the fact, that the person or persons who added this note to this discourse would have been aware that the news of the Birth of Buddhism reached far worlds.

Ascetic Siddhartha attained Supreme Enlightenment 2,600 years ago.And, with the presentation of the Discourse of the Turning of the Wheel, Buddhism was born.

That too, 2,600 years ago.



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