DON’T FORGET HE’S A KING’S SON, and always lived in luxury before. Maybe we expected more from him than he was capable of. But come, let’s go to him!"

"We’re leaving, Rajaputra", said the stern-faced spokes-man of the Five, Kondanya. "We can stay with you no longer, since you abandoned your search and started to eat again!"

"But I haven’t abandoned my search. That was the wrong way, don’t you see? It brought me nothing but exhaustion, and I almost died! There has to be a better way, an intelligent way that avoids extremes like that!"

"No! If you had persisted, you would have found that which you sought. We never saw or heard of anyone else who went as far as you. We followed you for years, thinking that if anyone could make the breakthrough, it would be you. All our hopes were pinned on you. And now you’ve let us down. We’ve lost our respect for you!"

"And where will you go?"

"What is that to you? We can go wherever we like; it doesn’t matter. But we’ve heard of a Deer Park near Varanasi, where many yogis and seekers stay. Perhaps we’ll go there."

With that, they left Siddhartha in the forest, to carry on his quest alone. But he soon recovered from his disappointment, because, having seen the futility of the way he had been on, he felt confident now of finding the right way.

Some weeks later:

"What peace, what clarity has come to me! Everything seems different and vibrant, though it’s still the same! It was here— all along— what I sought, only I did not see it before. I feel light, as if a great burden has been put down! Done is what needed to be done. My search is at an end. I am liberated from ignorance and the bonds of desire. I see the past, the way by which I have come. Whoever would have thought it would be like this, and that even the bad things, the suffering, the pain, had parts to play?

"But who will believe me? How to explain to others what I have found? How can words convey it? To try explaining it will only be needlessly troublesome for me. Better stay here in the forest, enjoying the peace and bliss of realization until I die."

So He thought at first, but as the days passed and His joy continued unabated, He felt that His great discovery should not— could not— be kept to Himself; He would have to share it with others. "But who will understand? It is so profound, and beyond the comprehension of people lost in the world of sense-pleasures, seeking happiness and trying to escape pain. And yet, like lotus flowers in a pond— some below the surface, some just at the surface, some above the surface but not yet open, and others in full bloom— so there are people at different levels. There are those completely lost in ignorance, others with little intelligence, and some with greater intelligence, people who are not completely ignorant and blind, with not much dust clouding their vision. The two teachers who I spent time with before— noble-minded, selfless men— who taught me all they could, are no longer alive; the news of their deaths reached me just the other day. And the five who were with me before were deluded and convinced that the only way to Enlightenment was through self-mortification, but they were not stupid. They might understand if I were to explain to them. But would they listen? They abandoned me before; maybe they would only harden their hearts and turn away again. Then again, they might not; it is possible that they might listen and understand. It is worth the risk. I will go".

Having made up His mind, He set out towards the west, but had not gone far when He met Upaka, a wandering ascetic, who said to Him: "Your appearance, friend, is pleasing, your countenance radiant and clear. You must have found something extraordinary. Would you tell me who is your teacher and what he teaches?"

"There is no-one I call teacher. By my own efforts have I attained Enlightenment and become a Buddha."

Upaka was unimpressed, and thought He was boasting— a thing not rare in those days. "It may be so," he said, "It may be so," and went off on his own way. The Buddha realized it was a mistake to be so forthright, and decided that different approaches should be used with different people.

Traveling by day until the searing heat persuaded Him to seek the shade of a tree, He would resume His journey in the late afternoon, when it was cooler. He slept wherever He happened to be at nightfall— usually outside, but sometimes in a village meeting-hall or hut— and ate whatever food He was able to obtain along the way. He met many people in the villages and countryside through which He passed, many of whom greeted Him respectfully and offered Him what food they could spare; but some were rude and either ignored Him completely or rebuked Him for living off others instead of earning his living by His own labor. Some came to Him with problems and tales of sorrow, and He listened sympathetically, saying little; people would leave Him feeling calmer and clearer in mind. Always, when He spoke, He used words and examples suitable to His listeners. Mostly, because He was traveling in the countryside, He used the language of the peasants and farmers, speaking of the changing seasons, ploughing, sowing, reaping, seeds and fruit. He spoke of the simple joys of life, and the need to do what is right. Most people who listened to Him were impressed and inspired by the sincerity and warmth of His speech.

"We have seen many wandering ascetics like this, with matted hair and beards, almost naked and carrying only a bowl and staff," said one man to those around him; "But this one is different; he’s so calm and dignified! Can this be the one we’ve heard of— the one they call the Sakyamuni— he who was a prince but gave up everything to go forth in search of Truth? It is said that our good king, Bimbisara, offered him half the kingdom of Magadha, but he declined, saying that he had already given up one kingdom and was not in search of another. Our king was amazed at his determination, but respected it, and requested the rishi to return when he had found what he was seeking, and share it with him. It must be him. It can be no other. Let us also pay our respects to him, and ask him to speak to us."

The Buddha consented, happy to share something of what He had found with people eager to learn. Where He saw that people were not interested, however, He kept quiet. "I cannot make people understand," He thought; "When they are ready, only then will they learn."

One day, He came upon a party of hunters who, knowing that such yogis were vegetarian, greeted Him with derision. The Buddha remained silent and did not respond. "Come, sadhu, and eat with us what we have caught," one hunter jeered. Another restrained his companion, saying: "Each to his choice, brother; each to his choice. This sadhu said nothing to us. Why do you taunt him like this?" Chastened, the first admitted his mistake and apologized to the Buddha. He, seeing an opening, said: "While I lived the family life, I also ate the flesh of animals. But, having gone forth, I abandoned this, and now nothing lives in fear of me. All beings love their lives and none desires pain. I restrain myself from causing pain to even the lowest being. I may still have enemies, but no-one’s enemy am I."

Often, He saw people at their religious devotions in their homes or at their temples, making offerings and beseeching the gods for help and favors, but He heard no answers. Twice along the way, He chanced upon bodies being cremated, and felt the sorrow of the mourners.

Eventually, He reached the Ganges, which He would have to cross. There were men who earned a living by ferrying people over, but He had no money and could not pay. This did not worry him, however, and He did not ask to be taken across. Instead, He sat on the bank, quietly contemplating the river flowing silently past, thinking of how it began as a tiny stream high up in the snow-clad mountains far away, and merged eventually with the sea, losing its separate identity but not its substance therein. "Life is a process, like this river," He thought, "never still for a moment, but always changing. Nothing stands still, nothing stays the same; nothing can be grasped, possessed, and called ours. If we understand this, we can help others to understand that while living here, we should avoid doing evil as far as possible and do as much good as we can. In this way, we may give life a meaning, so that it doesn’t just flow on purposelessly, like this river, which knows not where it came from, where it is, nor where it is going."

His musings were interrupted by one of the boatmen. "I know you have no money to pay me with," he said, "but if you will wait until I have other passengers, I will take you across." The Buddha smiled and said: "You are very kind."

Soon, other people came, and took places in the boat. The boatman beckoned to the Buddha, and asked Him to sit near him. Then, with strong arm, and quick, sure strokes of his oars, the launched the craft from the bank, out onto the broad river. The current wasn’t strong, as the rains had yet to come, so he didn’t need to exert himself much. The passengers chatted among themselves, most returning home from various errands; the boatman knew them all, and spoke to them by name. But the Buddha was clearly someone special, and in mid-stream, he turned to Him and said: "I know you are a homeless one, but may I know where you have just come from, and where you are going?"

Courteously, the Buddha replied: "I came recently from Gaya in Magadha, and am bound for the Deer Park known as Isipatana. Perhaps you have heard of this place?"

"Indeed I have. Indeed I have," said the ferryman. "It is a pleasant place frequented by sadhus and rishis like yourself, and is about two hours’ walk from here, going west.

"I always carry sadhus across free, knowing they have no money. Some are grateful, and others not, considering it their right to be taken across for nothing. Some of them say they are holy men, and that I can make merit by taking them across. But I never see this merit they talk about, and sometimes I feel I’m being cheated. These other people have to pay for my service, which is my way of earning a living and supporting my family. I cannot live on nothing."

"Well said," replied the Buddha. "You perform a useful service by which you earn an honest living. How else would people cross the river if there were no-one like your good self to take them? There is no bridge or ford. Now, just as you provide a useful service to others, do you benefit from others in any way?"

"Of course I do," said the ferryman, "We all depend on others for many things. While I am ferrying people across the river, I can’t be working in the fields, and consequently, I get my food from others. And my clothes. And medicine when I or anyone of my family need it. And whatever else I need."

"Quite true," said the Buddha. "You are perceptive. We all depend upon others, and it is fortunate for us that different people do different things. If all men were boatmen like yourself, for example, how would they get their food? If all were farmers and produced food, how would they get their clothes and other necessities? How would they cross the river?

"But life is not merely a matter of exchanging goods and services; there are other things that people need, things that can’t be bought and sold. We need friends. We need love. We need kindness. Now and then, we need someone to listen to us. We are not complete in ourselves; we need others; everyone does. And just as we like others to be kind to us and help us in various ways, so others like it if we are kind to them. We should not always count the cost, and think of what we can get in return."

"I understand," the ferryman said, with tears of joy in his eyes. "What you are saying is that we should feel happy at the time of helping others, without thinking of gaining anything from it; that doing good or right is all the result we need. Thank you. You have given me something that will help me for many a long day; I am well-paid for taking you across. Whenever you need to cross again, please look for me. My name is Nyanapala, and my home is over there, among those trees. I will be honored to see you and serve you again."

"May you and yours be well and happy," said the Buddha as the boat reached the bank and He stepped out. "If I pass this way again, I will look for you." He then made His way up the slope, and the boatman watched Him with admiration until He disappeared from sight. Later that evening, when the boatman reached home, his wife could see his eyes shining, and asked him what had happened. He told her: "I met a very special person today and took him across the river— one of these wandering ascetics that we see now and then, with long hair and beard, and clad only in rags. But he was different; there was something about him that made me feel good; meeting him has given me hope and a great feeling of self-worth. I have been blessed, and will never forget him." His wife felt his happiness as if it were her own.

The sun had almost set as the Buddha got down from the boat, and He didn’t want to reach the Deer Park in the dark, so while it was still light enough, He bathed in a pond covered with lotuses, and selected a tree beneath which to spend the night. There were houses not far away where He might get some food in the morning.

He did not sleep immediately, of course; it was still early evening, and so, according to His custom, He sat cross-legged and reviewed the day just gone, and the people He had met and spoken with. "Each has his or her own story," He thought; "each sees the world in his own way; each has his hopes, fears and aspirations; each wishes to be happy and avoid suffering. There is so much to be understood about life; we do not need to suffer as much as we do. If only people would open their minds and hearts and live considering others, the world would be a much better place to live in. I can help people to see this, but only if they are ready to see; if they are not ready, or refuse to see, no-one can help them."

The next morning, after He had been to the houses nearby for alms and had eaten the rice and vegetables the people there had kindly put into His bowl, He set off for the Deer Park of Isipatana. Arriving there, He inquired of two yogis He met if they knew of a group of five others who might be staying there. They told Him that there was such a group of five in the park, and directed Him to the place they had chosen as their abode. Thanking them, He followed the way indicated, and saw the five in the distance. They also saw him coming.

"Look who’s coming!" said two of them together; "It’s Siddhartha! What can he want? Maybe he’s on his way back to Kapilavastu, to inherit his kingdom, and is just stopping by to show off!" Another said: "Why should we care? He abandoned his search and reverted to a life of sense-pleasure. We don’t respect him anymore, remember? That’s why we left him. Look how sleek and well-fed he is! He’s obviously been stuffing himself since we left!" Yet another said: "Ignore him, and if he comes here, well, we can’t stop him, but don’t get up to welcome him!"

As He came closer, however, they were so impressed with His bearing and dignity, that they forgot their resolutions to ignore Him and rose from their seats as one to receive Him. "We respected him before," said one, quietly, "but there’s something different about him now; something has happened! He shines!"

"Welcome, Friend Gotama," they said, "It is good to see you again. How have you been? How did you know where to find us?" One took His bowl, one took his upper robe, one gave Him water to drink, and another water to wash his face and feet, while the fifth prepared a seat for Him.

"Do you not recall saying, when you left me, that you might come here? I took a chance on finding you here. But it is not appropriate for you to address me by name or as friend," said the Buddha. "I am not now as I was then. I have found that which I sought. I am now a Buddha". Remembering His encounter with Upaka, He knew He was taking a risk in saying this, but felt there was no other way.

"But how can that be?" said one of the Five. "You tried everything in your search, and went further in the practice of austerities than anyone had ever gone, and became known as Sakyamuni as a result. But still you didn’t find it, and now you expect us to believe you when you’ve gone back to a life of sense-pleasure?"

"The ways I tried before were useless," said the Buddha, "and led nowhere. When I saw they were wrong, I turned from them. But I did not give up my search, and though I eat, it is only to sustain my life; I have not gone back to a life of sense-pleasures as you think. I have found a Middle Way that avoids useless extremes."

"It is hard to believe, and yet there is something about you that was not there before."

"When we were together earlier," said the Buddha, "did you ever hear me make such a claim?"

"No, never. We always knew you as one who spoke only the truth."

"Come, then, and pay attention. Open are the gates to the Deathless. I will explain to you what I have found."

Convinced, the Five sat, listening attentively as the Buddha spoke about Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, the End of Suffering, and the Way to the End of Suffering. His voice carried authority, wisdom and compassion. And, as He spoke, the light of understanding appeared on the face of Kondanya, and the Buddha saw it and said: "Kondanya has understood! Kondanya has understood!"

Thus was the Buddha’s message proclaimed. He uttered His ‘Lion’s Roar,’ which has not yet ceased to reverberate.

During the next few days, while speaking to them again, they all became enlightened and free from ignorance. And with these Five as the nucleus, the Buddha started His Order of Monks that until today, we call the Sangha, or more specifically, the Bhikkhu Sangha. It is the oldest continuous organization in the world.

What Siddhartha achieved was not for Himself alone, but for countless others. The impact the Buddha made on the world cannot be measured.

N.B. This story is not from the Buddhist scriptures, but from my own imagination. I wrote it because the scriptures say nothing about this journey of 250 kilometers. It is said that He gave His First Sermon to the Five Ascetics in the Deer Park, but what about all the people He must have met along the way— did He have nothing to say to them? I imagine He must have been bursting with joy to share what He had found with others; His words must have been full of Dharma. A sermon need not be a long and wordy affair, but can be something short and to the point.

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