The Buddha's Wanderings
When the Buddha returned to Rajagaha he took up his abode in the bamboo grove, the gift of King Bimbisara. There were several other pleasant groves and gardens which had been presented by kings and rich merchants. You must not, however, suppose that these places were Gotama's property. No Buddhist monk is allowed to possess property of his own, and the Buddha always insisted that gifts should be made to the Order and not to himself. Once, when Pajapati, Gotama's aunt and foster-mother, brought him a garment of fleecy wool which she had woven herself, he begged her to give it to the Order, for by doing so, he said, she would be honouring both himself and the Brotherhood.
Of all the garden monasteries to which we have alluded none became more famous than the Jetavana, a beautiful spot near Savatthi, the capital of Kosala. There was a rich merchant, named Anathapindika, who was once travelling with five hundred bullock carts laden with merchandise; coming to Rajagaha he happened to hear the Buddha preach, and was converted. It was the great wish of this merchant to make a gift of a pleasant garden to the Buddha and the Order of Monks, and no place seemed to him so well suited for this purpose as the beautiful garden of Prince Jeta, near Savatthi. But the Prince refused to sell his garden. The merchant then bid a higher price, but again his offer was refused. At length Anathapindika persuaded Prince Jeta to sell him as much of the garden as he could cover with pieces of money (the square copper coins in use at that time). The money was brought in bullock carts, and the coins were laid, side by side, over the whole garden. The merchant then built dwelling-places for the Buddha and eighty elders in this pleasant retreat. There were huts or cells for sleeping in and an open pillared hall which could hold a large assembly of people. These buildings were gaily decorated, and the large hall was ornamented with figures of ducks and quails.
Anathapindika had a rest-house built at every league of the road between Rajagaha and Savatthi, and, as soon as all was ready, he invited the Buddha to come and receive his gift. When news came that the Buddha and his disciples were approaching the city a great procession went out to meet them. It was headed by the merchant's son and five hundred youths holding gaily coloured flags and banners; then came the two daughters of Anathapindika with five hundred maidens carrying pitchers of water, and after these followed the merchant's wife and five hundred women bearing dishes of food for the monks. Lastly came Anathapindika himself, accompanied by five hundred merchants all dressed in their finest clothes. This gay company walked in front of Gotama and his disciples to the Jetavana, or Jeta Garden, where the merchant solemnly presented his gift. A golden bowl was brought, and Anathapindika poured water over the Buddha's hands, saying, "I give the Jetavana Monastery to the Blessed Buddha and the Brotherhood of Monks, both to these now present and any who may come hereafter." It was indeed a noble gift, and the Buddha showed how much he valued it by spending many rainy seasons in the beautiful Jeta Garden
During the fine weather the members of the Brotherhood separated, travelling in different directions to preach to the people in all the villages; but when the rains began the disciples met together and gathered round the Master in some quiet retreat.
A rainy season in India is very different from the wet weather we are accustomed to in the West. In India the seasons are more regular than they are in our variable climate, and, after a long period of uninterrupted fine weather, the rainy season, or Monsoon, sets in, and continues for about three months. When the sky has been, for many weeks, clear as polished brass and the heat dry and scorching, like the heat of a furnace, there comes at last a welcome change. There is a scent of moisture in the air, dark purple clouds gather on the horizon, gradually overspreading the sky. Frequent lightning and the distant roll of thunder announce the coming deluge until the clouds burst over the land, and the rain, descending in torrents, continues with short intervals for weeks together. Sometimes the rains do a great deal of damage—rivers overflow their banks, whole villages being swept away by the floods, and hundreds of men and cattle drowned. But, notwithstanding the destruction that is, at times, caused by the Monsoon, it is as necessary the well-being of the Indian people as is the rise of the Nile to the inhabitants of Egypt. Without a sufficient rainfall the crops would fail and the people die of famine. So the Monsoon is eagerly looked for as the bringer of fertility and plenty.
For the monks the rainy season was a time for quiet meditation and religious training, answering, in many respects, to our season of Lent. Some of the Buddha's most famous sermons were preached during the rains, in one or other of the garden monasteries to which it was his habit to retire.
Many people imagine that the Buddha's life was mostly spent in quiet meditation, and usually think of him as seated passively under a tree. But, as a matter of fact, few men led a more active and busy life than did Gotama from the time of his enlightenment to the day of his death. He was in his twenty-ninth year when he left his home at Kapilavatthu; after this event he passed six years searching for the Truth, so he was about thirty-five when he began his public preaching. From this time forward Gotama's life was spent in active work; during forty-five years, for he lived to be eighty, he never ceased in his endeavours to spread the faith which he believed would bring blessings to mankind. For the Buddha looked with love and compassion on all living beings, and longed that all might share in the knowledge of the great truths he had gained under the Bo-tree.
The land lying between Rajagaha and Savatthi, on either side of the Ganges, is known as the Buddhist Holy Land. For it was here that the Buddha journeyed to and fro during many years preaching the doctrine of peace and deliverance; indeed there were few places in this tract of country that were not hallowed by the footsteps of the great, Teacher. Wherever he went he was welcomed by the people, and all who were sad and sorrowful came to him seeking advice and comfort. For though the Buddha had attained the Great Peace and passed beyond the reach of human sorrow, he had a tender compassion for the sorrows of others.
GOTAMA PREACHING TO HIS DISCIPLES.
It was in the fifth year of his preaching, while Gotama was spending the rainy season in Magadha, that a messenger arrived in haste from Kapilavatthu with the news that King Suddhodana lay sick, and was likely soon to die. Gotama on hearing this news, travelled in all haste to his old home, where he found his father still alive. The King, now ninety-seven years of age, longed for his son's presence as he felt his end approaching. In days gone by Suddhodana had grieved because his son refused to rule over an earthly kingdom and chose, instead, to establish the 'Kingdom of Righteousness.' He would have given all he possessed to see Gotama a mighty monarch, lord of the whole earth, instead of a shaven beggar, living a life of poverty and hardship. But as time passed Suddhodana realized the noble truths contained in his son's teaching, and he too entered the pathway of Peace.
It was but a few days after Gotama's arrival in Kapilavatthu that the old King died. It is the custom of the Hindus to burn their dead, and a great pile was raised for the cremation of the King's body. When all the ceremonies had been duly performed the Buddha departed, and returned to the land of Magadha.
One day, not long after these events, the King's widow arrived in Magadha and begged to speak with the Buddha. You will remember that Pajapati was Gotama's aunt, who, when his mother died, had nursed him as if he had been her own child. When the Buddha had first visited Kapilavatthu, Pajapati, and others of the Sakya women, had begged that they might become nuns. They were ready to give up all their luxuries, to wear the yellow robes and lead the same life as the monks. But the Buddha had refused them admission to the Order. "Strive for perfection in your homes," he had said, "clothed in the white robes which women wear, and aspire not to the yellow robes and hard life of the monks. Lead pure and virtuous lives, so shall you find peace and happiness."
After the King's death, Pajapati and many other Sakya women, among whom was Yasodhara, resolved that they would again plead earnestly for admission to the Order. So they cut off their long hair, put on coarse yellow robes, and set out to walk to Magadha, where the Buddha was staying. They arrived weary and travel-stained, with their clothes in rags, for the way was rough and part of it lay through the jungle. But when the Queen was admitted to the Buddha's presence and repeated her request, she received the same answer as before. So she went out sorrowfully and sat herself, weeping, at the entrance of the house. There Ananda, Gotama's cousin, found her, and asked the reason of her grief. Ananda, being very tender-hearted, went to his cousin, by whom he was much beloved, and pleaded fervently that the Queen's prayer might be granted. The Buddha at length yielded, consenting, though unwillingly, to receive women into the Order. So, rejoicing greatly, these brave women renounced all the comforts and luxuries to which they had been accustomed, and like the monks, led simple and self-denying lives. Thus was founded the Buddhist Sisterhood. Many women, taught by the sorrows of the world that happiness is but a fleeting thing, found refuge in this community of noble women. Among those who learnt this hard lesson was Kisagotami, a native of the town of Savatthi. Her story is usually called the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
In India women are married very young, and Kisagotami was little more than a child when she had to endure the bitterest sorrow that can come to any woman. Her baby, the one joy of her life, fell sick and died. So distracted was the poor mother that she could not believe her son was really dead, and, carrying him on her hip, as Indian women always carry their babies, she went to all her friends to ask them to give her some medicine for her boy. But the people looked at her in wonder and said that medicine was of no use. So Kisagotami wandered on from house to house, repeating her request. At last a monk who saw her pitied the poor girl, and persuaded her to seek the Buddha's advice. Kisagotami, still carrying her dead baby, went to the Jeta Garden where the Buddha was staying, and bowing herself at his feet asked him if he could give her any medicine that would cure her child. "You must bring me some mustard seed," he answered, "but it is necessary that it should come from a house where neither parent, child, nor any relation or slave has died."
Kisagotami, still clasping her child, started hopefully on her search for the precious mustard seed. But in one house they told her that the master was dead, in another that they had lost a child, in others that a slave or some member of the family had died, and the poor girl could find no house which had not at some time been visited by Death. Then at last she began to understand the truth which the Buddha intended her to learn—that the shadow of death is over all, that there are none in this world who can escape sorrow and loss. So Kisagotami left her dead child in a forest and returned to the Buddha. "My Master," she said, "I have not brought the mustard seed, for the dead are many, and I can find no house where Death is not known." Then the Buddha comforted the poor mother and taught her the truth of sorrow. It is always so, he explained, men count for their happiness on their loved ones, their wealth, their flocks and herds—till suddenly, like a flood in the night, Death comes, overwhelming all. It was not the first time that Kisagotami had lost a dearly-loved child—many times before, in her past lives, had she endured the bitter grief of separation from those who were dear to her; many times yet might she undergo the same sorrow. And Kisagotami understood that in the Peace of Nirvana alone can Death be conquered. She begged the Buddha to let her be received into the Sisterhood, and so she entered the pathway of Peace.
"This way is straight: it leads one to the other world; it is the one road to the ocean of purity."