The Formation of the Sangha

by Ryuei Michael McCormick

The following is a chapter of a book on the Life and Teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha according to the Pali Canon and/or the Agamas that I have been writing since college. I am restricting myself to the Pali Canon and the Agamas in an effort to present only what is likely to have been taught by the historical Shakyamuni Buddha. While this essay and the others which constitute this work in progress are informed by Mahayana and Theravada teachings, my main purpose was just to present what I perceive to be the most straightforward meaning of the canon. In the future, I hope to cover the Mahayana canon in the same way. Ultimately, I hope to take all this material and show how it does or does not relate to the faith, teaching, and practice of Nichiren Buddhism as a source of common sense and spiritual guidance. 

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, Ryuei > Pali Canon > Mahayana > Lotus Sutra > Blog

The First Monks and Lay Followers

After attaining enlightenment the Buddha sat beneath the Bodhi Tree and other nearby trees for seven weeks. He abided in the bliss of his awakening and contemplated the interdependent nature of reality and also the ways and means whereby others could also attain enlightenment. During this time, a haughty brahmin approached him and was instructed in the true virtues of humility and self-control that make one holy. Another time a storm came and he was protected by the naga (a serpent) named Mucalinda who coiled around him and spread out his hood to protect the Buddha from the rain. Two merchants, named Tapussa and Bhalluka, also came across the Buddha and were so impressed by him that they offered him food that the Buddha accepted in a stone bowl given to him by the Four Heavenly Kings. The two merchants then took the two-fold refuge in the Buddha (the teacher) and the Dharma (the teaching), as the Sangha (community of the Buddha’s disciples) had not yet come into being.

During that time, the Buddha also resisted Mara’s discouragement and received Brahma’s encouragement to teach, whereupon he decided to seek out the five ascetics at the Deer Park near Varanasi. On the way, he encountered the ascetic Upaka who asked the Buddha what teaching he followed and who his teacher was. The Buddha told him that he had no teacher and that he was in fact fully enlightened and able to teach the way to the deathless. Unfortunately, Upaka found this doubtful and merely replied, “May it be so, friend.” He then went on his way and missed the opportunity to become the first disciple of the Buddha. This story shows that it is not enough to just see or hear the Buddha. There must also be an inner receptivity to his teaching and example and a willingness to put his teachings into actual practice in order to benefit from them.

                      When the Buddha finally arrived in the Deer Park, his former companions in asceticism saw him coming in the distance but they still felt that they could not respect him because he had stopped practicing asceticism. However, as he came nearer, they found that they could not help but be courteous to him. They could tell that something was different about him and eventually the Buddha was able to convince them that he was indeed fully enlightened and worthy of their reverence. He then turned the Wheel of the Dharma for the very first time by teaching them the four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering, and the truth of the eightfold path or Middle Way leading to the cessation of suffering. Ajnata Kaundinya was the first to get a glimpse of the truth and he became a “stream-enterer,” the first of four stages leading to complete liberation from birth and death. He immediately asked to become the Buddha’s disciple. Ajnata Kaundinya’s request and the Buddha’s acceptance became the formula whereby others would receive full admission into the Sangha directly from the Buddha.


                      “Lord, I wish to go forth under the Blessed One and to receive the full admission.”

                      “Come, monk,” the Blessed One said: “The Dharma is well proclaimed. Live the holy life for the complete ending of suffering.” (The Life of the Buddha, p.45)


                      Over the course of the next several days Vashpa, Bhadrika, Mahanama, and then Ashvajit also realized the truth and became the Buddha’s disciples and thus the Sangha was born. The Buddha then followed up the teaching of the four noble truths by teaching them about the five aggregates of form, sensation, perception, volition and consciousness which make up our lives and are characterized by the three marks of impermanence, suffering and selflessness. Before long, all five of the former ascetics had become “arhats” (worthy ones) and were no longer subject to rebirth.  

                      During the Buddha’s stay at the Deer Park, he met Yasha, the son of a wealthy merchant. Yasha had grown up in luxury with three palaces, one for each season. He had a wife and was surrounded by beautiful women musicians, singers, and dancers. One night he awoke to find them all sleeping after a party and he found himself repulsed as if viewing a charnel ground. This is also what tradition says happened to the young Siddhartha, but the original story was about Yasha and was attributed to the life of the Buddha in later times. In any case, Yasha fled to the Deer Park where he encountered the Buddha who discerned his readiness to hear the Dharma. The Buddha taught him what Buddhism refers to as the “progressive teachings” which consists of a review of those spiritual teachings and values common to most people such as generosity, self-discipline, and aspiration for the heavenly realms, as well as the dangers of sensual pleasures and the benefits of renunciation. Following this the Buddha taught Yasha the unique insight of the four noble truths and Yasa thereupon became a stream-enterer.

                      The Blessed One gave him progressive instruction, that is to say, talk on giving, on virtue, on the heavens; he explained the dangers, the vanity and the defilement in sensual pleasures and the blessings in renunciation. When he saw that Yasha’s mind was ready, receptive, free from hindrance, eager and trustful, he expounded to him the teaching peculiar to the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path to its cessation. Just as a clean cloth with all marks removed would take dye evenly, so too while Yasha sat there the spotless, immaculate vision of the Dharma arose in him: All that is subject to arising is subject to cessation. (Ibid, p. 49)

                      When Yasha’s father came looking for him, the Buddha hid Yasha and instructed the father as well. The father also became a stream-enterer who was fully confident of the Buddha’s teaching and had a direct insight, though only a glimpse as yet, of the truth and did not need to rely on descriptions of it from others. He then became the first layman to take the threefold refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha of monks. It is worth noting that Yasha’s father and many other lay people would specifically take refuge in the “Sangha of monks” because it was the order of monks who first upheld the way of life taught by the Buddha in all its particulars as arhats or fully liberated beings. The nuns order would come later and would be subordinated to the monk’s order as we shall see. While the lay followers could also attain degrees of realization, as Yasha’s father did, the fully liberated arhats were always monks, or were lay people who became monks within a day of attaining arhatship. So it was to the Sangha of monks that the lay people would take refuge in as the exemplars of the ideal way of life taught by the Buddha. Others would often repeat the father’s experience and statement at that time after hearing the Buddha’s teaching:

                      Then the merchant saw and reached and found and penetrated the Dharma; he left uncertainty behind him, his doubts vanished, he gained perfect confidence and became independent of others in the Teacher’s Dispensation. He said: “Magnificent, Lord, magnificent, Lord! The Dharma has been made clear in many ways by the Blessed One, as though he were righting the overthrown, revealing the hidden, showing the way to one who is lost, holding up a lamp in the dark for those with eyes to see visible forms. I go to the Blessed One for refuge and to the Dharma and to the Sangha of monks. Beginning from today, Lord, let the Blessed One receive me as his follower who has gone to him for refuge as long as breath lasts.”

                      While overhearing the Buddha’s teachings to his father, Yasha himself became an arhat. The Buddha then revealed Yasha to his father. Yasha, however, did not wish to return home. Instead, he requested and received full admission into the Sangha. The Buddha convinced his father that this was for the best, so the father invited them both to his home for dinner. The Buddha, with Yasha as his attendant, went to Yasha’s former home, and there he instructed Yasha’s mother and former wife. They too became stream-enterers and became the first laywomen to take the threefold refuge.

                      After this, fifty-four of Yasha’s friends discovered what had happened and they too sought out the Buddha’s teachings, became arhats, and joined the Sangha. They all stayed at the Deer Park until the end of the rainy season at that point the Buddha sent his sixty arhat-disciples out into the world in order to teach the Dharma.

                      Then the Blessed One addressed the monks: “Monks, I am free from all shackles whether human or divine. You too are free from all shackles whether human or divine. Go now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare and happiness of gods and men. Teach the Dharma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end, with the meaning and the letter. Explain a holy life that is utterly perfect and pure. There are beings with little dust in their eyes who will be lost through not hearing the Dharma. Some will understand the Dharma. I shall go to Uruvilva, to Senanigama, to teach the Dharma.” (Ibid, p. 52)

                      After a time, these monks began to bring others back to the Buddha in order to receive full admission into the Sangha. The Buddha then gave permission to the monks to accept others into the Sangha themselves.

                      Why should I not now authorize monks to give the going forth and the admission there in whatever quarter, in whatever country they happen to be? This in fact, I allow you to do. And it should be done in this way: first the hair and beard should be shaved off. Then after putting on the yellow robe the upper robe should be arranged on one shoulder and homage should be paid at the monks’ feet. Then kneeling with the hands held out palms together, this should be said: “I go for refuge to the Buddha, I go for refuge to the Dharma, I go for refuge to the Sangha. For the second time ... For the third time ...” I allow the going forth and the admission to be given by the Threefold Refuge. (Ibid, p. 53)

                      This simple ceremony would later become the “going forth” or “home leaving” which is the lower ordination for novices. Though the novice initially only needs to do this in the presence of a single monk, he or she will eventually have to confirm their acceptance of the ten novice precepts in the presence of the Sangha. These precepts are:

1.    Not to kill

2.    Not to steal

3.    Not to engage in sexual relations

4.    Not to lie

5.    Not to indulge in intoxicants

6.    Not to wear ornaments or perfume

7.    Not to attend singing recitals, dances or other forms of entertainment

8.    Not to sleep on soft or luxurious beds

9.    Not to eat after noon or before dawn

10.  Not to own valuables such as gold or silver.


                      These ten precepts are a general description of the ideal way of life that is to be upheld by the monastic Sangha. It outlines a way of life free of harming or exploiting others, a life of simplicity, and a life of learning, contemplating, realizing, and teaching the Buddha Dharma.

                      Those who are old enough (20 being the minimum age) or who have passed a four month probationary period if they are converting from another teaching, are eligible for the higher ordination as full monks or nuns. This more elaborate ceremony requires at least ten monks presided over by an elder in good standing with at least ten years of seniority, and the aspiring monk or nun must have a preceptor to sponsor them. The candidate is asked a series of questions pertaining to his or her fitness to join the monastic Sangha and to ensure that they have the requisite three robes and a bowl. Then their full admission as a monk or nun is proposed four times. If all the qualifications are met and there are no serious objections, the candidate receives full admission, also called the higher ordination.   

                      Upon leaving the Deer Park and sending his disciples forth to spread the Dharma, the Buddha traveled back to Uruvilva near the town of Gaya. On the way he converted a party of thirty friends who had been having a party in the forest with their wives. One of them had brought a prostitute, as he had no wife. The prostitute stole his belongings and so the friends were all searching for her when they encountered the Buddha. The Buddha asked them whether it was better to search for a woman or to search for themselves. They agreed that the latter course was wiser and so received the Buddha’s teachings. They too became stream-enterers and received full admission into the Sangha.

                        The Buddha then arrived at the banks of the Neranjara River in Uruvilva. There he used his supernatural powers to win over the eldest of the three Kashyapa brothers who were the leaders of a thousand matted-hair ascetics whose main practice was the performance of the Vedic fire sacrifice. The elder, Uruvilva Kashyapa, was especially hard to win over since he arrogantly assumed that he was already an arhat. Seeing that the eldest Kashyapa was impressed but not humbled by his ability to tame the snakes in the fire hall or read Kashyapa’s mind, the Buddha bluntly pointed out to him that he had not yet freed himself from defilement nor was he doing anything whereby he might do so. Uruvilva Kashyapa was finally convinced and became the Buddha’s disciple. His followers did likewise, and soon his two younger brothers, Gaya Kashyapa and Nadi Kashyapa, and their followers also joined the Sangha. The Buddha then taught them the Fire Sermon which examines the six roots of the five physical senses and the mind; the twelve fields consisting of the six roots and their respective objects; the eighteen elements consisting of the six roots, their respective objects, and the six consciousnesses associated with the interactions between each of the roots and their respective objects; the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance; and the many forms of suffering which all these bring about. Hearing this discourse, the Kashyapa brothers and their one thousand former followers all became arhats.

The First Visit to Rajagriha

                      Accompanied by the Kashyapa brothers and the thousand new arhats, the Buddha then traveled to Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha, in order to keep the promise he had made earlier to King Bimbisara that he would return and teach the Dharma if he should succeed in attaining enlightenment. The Buddha’s reputation preceded him and as he approached Rajagriha, the king and his entourage of brahmin householders came out to meet him.

                      Now the good name of Master Gautama has been spread thus: “That Blessed One is such since he is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in knowledge and conduct, sublime, the knower of worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened, blessed. He makes known this world with its deities, its Maras and its divinities, this generation with its monks and brahmins, with its princes and men, which he has himself realized through direct knowledge. He teaches the Dharma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end, with the meaning and the letter, and he explains a holy life that is utterly perfect and pure.” It is good to go and see such accomplished ones. (Ibid, p. 65)

                      However, when King Bimbisara saw him accompanied by Uruvilva Kashyapa and his brothers and the thousand former matted-hair ascetics, he was at first confused and wondered if the renowned Uruvilva was the teacher and the Buddha the disciple. Uruvilva Kashyapa made it clear that he and his brothers and their former followers were all in fact disciples of the Buddha. The Buddha then taught the progressive teachings and then the Buddha Dharma itself to King Bimbisara and the brahmin householders of Rajagriha. The king and many others attained to stream-entry as a result and thereupon took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha of monks and became lay followers of the Buddha. The king invited the Buddha and his followers to dinner and then donated the Bamboo Grove just outside the city of Rajagriha to the Sangha where they could dwell under the trees and in caves.

                      Some time later, at King Bimbisara’s urging, the Buddha declared that on the eighth, fourteenth and fifteenth day of the lunar half month the monks of a given residence should all gather together to expound the Dharma. These were the days of the half moons, full moon and new moon in a complete lunar month and had long been considered sacred days when other groups of ascetics would gather together to teach their doctrines. It was the king’s hope that if the Buddhist monks also assembled and taught on these days then more people would have a chance to hear and take refuge in the three jewels of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Many years later, the Buddha instructed the monks to recite the monastic precepts that he had set forth on either the fourteenth or fifteenth day of each half lunar month. The monks are to recite these altogether after each monk had been given a chance to confess to any wrongdoing and perform any necessary expiation or receive any necessary penalty. In this way, the assembly of monks remind themselves of the proper way of conduct and begin afresh every two weeks. During these days, Buddhist lay followers can come to hear the Dharma. Many even take upon themselves eight precepts for the duration of the day. The first five consist of the five major precepts which Buddhist lay followers already take, but the next three are taken temporarily so they can briefly partake of the self-discipline and simplicity of the monastic life. These eight are:


1.    Not to kill

2.    Not to steal

3.    Not to engage in sexual relations

4.    Not to lie

5.    Not to indulge in intoxicants

6.    Not to wear ornaments or perfume

7.    Not to sleep on soft or luxurious beds

8.    Not to eat after noon or before dawn


                      It was during the Buddha’s stay in Rajagriha that his two greatest disciples joined him. Shariputra and his lifelong friend Maudgalyayana were born to brahmin families in neighboring villages near Rajagriha. As young men they were both disillusioned with worldly life. Together they left home to find enlightenment and eventually became the leading disciples of the skeptical philosopher Sanjaya. This teaching did not satisfy them for long however, and so they both set out again to find the truth. The two friends even made an agreement that whoever discovered it first would find and tell the other. Shariputra traveled to Rajagriha and there he met Ashvajit. Ashvajit was one of the five ascetics who became the first disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. Ashvajit’s calm demeanor so impressed Shariputra that he asked him who his teacher was and what teaching he had received. Ashvajit told Shariputra about Shakyamuni Buddha and then gave him a summary of the Dharma as he understood it in the following verse:


Of those things that arise from a cause,

The Tathagata has told the cause,

And also what their cessation is:

This is the doctrine of the Great Recluse.

(Great Disciples of the Buddha, p.7)


                      Upon hearing these words, Shariputra’s quick mind realized the profound implications of this seemingly simple verse and became a stream-enterer. At that moment, he knew that Shakyamuni Buddha was the teacher he and his friend had been looking for. Shariputra immediately went to Maudgalyayana and shared with him Ashvajit’s verse. Maudgalyayana also became a stream-enterer. The two seekers agreed to see Shakyamuni Buddha, but first Shariputra insisted they go to their former teacher Sanjaya and try to convince him to join them. Sanjaya, however, was not willing to relinquish his position as a teacher in order to become the disciple of another. He even tried to convince Shariputra and Maudgalyayana to stay - offering them positions as co-leaders of his own movement. Shariputra and Maudgalyayana were not interested in mere leadership, they were determined to attain liberation under a true teacher, and so they both left and took 250 of Sanjaya’s disciples with them. When Shakyamuni Buddha saw the two friends coming to meet him, he announced to the assembly that these two would become his chief disciples. The Buddha ordained the two as monks at that time.

                      After a week of intensive practice, Maudgalyayana attained the fourth stage of enlightenment and became an arhat. Maudgalyayana soon proved very good at training monks to refine their meditative stability and insight to the point where they could become arhats. Because he was so adept in the miraculous powers that resulted from meditative practice such as the power of mind-over-matter, clairaudience, clairvoyance, mind reading, and the ability to recall past lives, he would become known as the foremost in developing supernatural powers.                              

                      After another week had passed, Shariputra also became an arhat while listening to the Buddha preach a sermon to Dighanakha, Shariputra’s nephew. It is said that Shariputra took two weeks to attain enlightenment because he needed to think through and examine all the implications and permutations of the Buddha’s teachings. Because he did this, he was second only to the Buddha in preaching the Dharma, and several sutras are actually taught by Shariputra with the full approval of the Buddha. Because of this he was known as foremost in wisdom.

                      Shortly after the appearance of the two chief disciples, Mahakashyapa joined the Sangha. Mahakashyapa grew up in a brahmin family near Rajagriha, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha. His father was very wealthy and owned a large estate encompassing sixteen villages. Despite growing up in luxury (or perhaps because of it) Mahakashyapa wished to renounce the world and live a simple life in search of enlightenment. His parents insisted that he marry and he reluctantly agreed. However, he commissioned an artist to caste a golden statue based on his idea of what a perfectly beautiful woman should look like. He demanded that the woman his parents chose to be his wife should look exactly like the statue. Of course, he never imagined they would find a woman to match the statue but much to his dismay they succeeded. The woman, Bhadra Kapilani, also wished to leave the home life. In fact, they had deep karmic affinities for each other due to having spent many past lives together perfecting virtue and seeking enlightenment. They ended up being a good match for each other due to their shared aspirations. Not long after Mahakashyapa’s parent’s passed away and he inherited their estate, the couple agreed that the time had finally come when they could both leave the home life and take to the road as homeless wanderers seeking enlightenment. So that it would not cause a scandal, they both agreed to part company and take different roads.

                      Bhadra Kapilani ended up going to Shravasti, the capital of the kingdom of Koshala. There she stayed for a number of years with an order of non-Buddhists nuns near the Jeta Grove monastery until the establishment of the Buddhist order of nuns - a story that will be related below. At that time, Bhadra Kapilani joined the Buddhist nuns and attained the stage of arhat and freed herself from the bonds of birth and death. She became known as the foremost among the nuns for recalling her past lives, many of which were spent as the wife of Mahakashyapa in his previous lives. Bhadra Kapilani was also know for her patience and compassion, and was a popular teacher of the Dharma.

                      Mahakashyapa ended up meeting the Buddha on the road outside Rajagriha. The Buddha was sitting beneath a banyan tree emitting rays of light, and Mahakashyapa saw this and recognized all the signs and marks of a great man on him. He immediately went up to the Buddha and declared that he would be his disciple. The Buddha responded by saying that anyone who tried to explain enlightenment without any real knowledge of it in the presence of someone as perceptive and sincere as Mahakashyapa would have their head split into seven pieces. In other words, the assertion of a falsehood in the face of the honesty and sincerity of someone like Mahakashyapa will cause the liar to “fall apart.” The Buddha then gave him a brief teaching and accepted him as a disciple. At that time, Mahakashyapa folded his outer robe and gave it to the Buddha to use as a seat. The Buddha remarked upon the softness of the robe and Mahakashyapa immediately asked the Buddha to keep it. In return, Shakyamuni Buddha offered his own ragged robe that had come from a cremation ground. Mahakashyapa joyfully accepted. This was the only time that Shakyamuni Buddha ever exchanged robes with a disciple.

                      From that time on Mahakashyapa took up the dhuta, the various ascetic disciplines sanctioned by the Buddha for those who wished to strengthen their self-discipline and live as simply as possible. These disciplines included using only cast-off rags instead of accepting donated robes, eating only by begging door-to-door instead of accepting invitations to dinner, eating only once a day, only sleeping outdoors, and other such practices which were austere but not harmful in sub-tropical India. Mahakashyapa even became known as the foremost in ascetic discipline.

                      At this point, the Sangha had grown to more than 1,250 disciples and the people of the kingdom of Magadha were beginning to worry that the would lose all their sons, husbands and fathers to the Buddha’s Sangha. They even began to taunt and harass the monks when they went on their begging rounds, asking them who the Buddha planned to lead away next. The Sangha appeared to be some kind of virulent cult and needed time to prove itself. The Buddha instructed the monks to be courteous and to tell those who asked that they only sought to follow the Dharma. He told them that people would be impressed by their patience and composure. They would also come to understand that it was not the Buddha’s intention to recruit all the men (at this time there was no order of nuns) into the monastic Sangha. He predicted that by the end of the week the sensationalized fears about the Sangha would become old news. Just as he predicted, after a week the people of Magadha came to understand and even appreciate the true nature of the Sangha.


The Return to Kapilavastu

                      While all of this was going on, rumors of the Buddha’s activities reached his father, King Shuddhodana. Nine times the king sent emissaries to his son in hopes that he would come back home, but each time the emissaries listened to the Buddha’s teaching, became monks, attained arhatship, and then lost interest in worldly things and neglected to pass on the king’s wish that his son return home. Finally, King Shuddhodana sent Kalodayin, the son of one of his ministers and a playmate of Siddhartha when they were growing up. Like the other emissaries, Kalodayin also became a monk and attained arhatship. Unlike the others, he did remember to relay King Shuddhodana’s request that his son return home. This occurred at the end of the first winter after the Buddha’s enlightenment.

                      Upon arriving at Kapilavastu the Buddha and the Sangha spent the night at the Nyagrodha Park where King Shuddhodana and his court came out to meet them. The Shakyas were a proud warrior clan and the Buddha and his ragged band did not impress them. They still thought of the Buddha as merely a wayward kinsman. King Shuddhodana himself was not pleased to see that his son had become a wandering mendicant, even though he was esteemed as a great spiritual teacher. In order to put things in perspective, the Buddha performed a series of miracles including the “twin miracle” of levitating into the air and shooting forth jets of fire and water from his body. Seeing this, the king and his court realized that Shakyamuni Buddha was no mere ascetic and they all paid homage to him. However, the king still had trouble realizing that the Buddha was no longer his son and heir Siddhartha. The very next day, the Buddha went on his begging rounds in Kapilavastu. Upset that his son was begging door to door, the king rushed to stop what he saw as a disgrace to the family. The Buddha, however, explained that he was in fact following the highest customs of his family, but his family was now the lineage of buddhas. Finally the king realized that his son was indeed the Buddha and he took the Buddha’s bowl and invited him and his monks to eat at the palace. At that time, King Shuddhodana became a stream-enterer. He soon become a once-returner, the second of the four stages leading to the complete liberation of the arhat, after hearing more of the Buddha’s teachings following the first meal at the palace. At that time, his stepmother and aunt, Mahaprajapati, was present and she attained the stage of stream-entry while listening to the Buddha’s teaching.

                      Princess Yashodhara, however, was not present at the meal. She stayed in her own quarters and insisted that her former husband, now the Buddha, should come to her. The Buddha did not blame her and agreed to go see her so that she could pay her respects to him. He went to her escorted by King Shuddhodhana, Shariputra, and Maudgalyayana. On seeing the Buddha, Yashodhara performed a full prostration at his feet while the king explained that she had done everything she could to emulate Siddhartha’s strivings for buddhahood while remaining within the palace. She too wore yellow robes as he did, ate one meal a day, and refused to wear adornments or use luxurious beds or couches. The Buddha, in turn, commended her devotion and explained that in past lives she had also shown such devotion.

                      The next day, the Buddha returned to the palace just before the consecration as heir apparent and wedding ceremony of his half-brother Nanda, who was the 16-year-old son of Mahaprajapati and King Shuddhodhana. The Buddha gave Nanda his begging bowl and then proceeded to return to the Nyagrodha Park with Nanda in tow. Nanda was following him with the bowl in order to return it to the Buddha, but when they arrived at the park the Buddha asked him if he wished to be received into the Sangha as a monk. Overawed by the Buddha, Nanda could not but say yes. Several years later, Nanda began to regret leaving his bride-to-be, a beautiful girl named Janapadakalyani. Her last words to him the day he had trailed after the Buddha were, “Come back soon, prince.” Realizing that Nanda was discontent as a monk, the Buddha used his supernatural powers to take him to a jungle to see an ugly little monkey. The Buddha asked Nanda, “Who is more beautiful, the monkey or Janapadakalyani?“ Nanda naturally replied that there was no comparison between the two and that Janapadakalyani, reputed to be the most beautiful girl in the land, was by far the more desirable. The Buddha then used his supernatural powers to take Nanda to the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods to see the apsaras, celestial nymphs, at play. The Buddha asked Nanda what he thought of their beauty. Nanda was amazed and realized that the apsaras made Janapadakalyani look like the ugly monkey in comparison. The Buddha then told Nanda that if he maintained a steady practice and remained a monk his reward would be rebirth among these heavenly maidens. The maidens were in fact preparing a heavenly mansion for his future arrival. After that, Nanda dedicated himself to his practice and no longer concerned himself with returning to Janapadakalyani. The other monks, however, made fun of him because of the selfish, shallow, and lustful nature of his aspirations. Nanda was mortified and at that time the Buddha came to take Nanda on another spiritual journey. This time they traveled into the depths of hell where Nanda was shown the most hideous and terrifying demons preparing an iron cauldron in which to boil a future hell-dweller. When asked whom they were preparing for, the demons replied that they were preparing for Nanda, since that would be his destination after his time in heaven had exhausted all his merits. Frightened and ashamed, Nanda finally realized the shallow and deluded nature of his previous aspirations and finally attained enlightenment thereby becoming an arhat. Some may find this story amusing, others may find it disturbing, and some may even find that it is both. I will reserve comment on it until the rest of the Buddha’s visit to Kapilavastu has been told.

                      The next incident occurred on the seventh day of the Buddha’s stay in Kapilavastu. Yashodhara pointed out the Buddha to the now seven-year-old Rahula and told him that this was his father and that he should go and ask for his inheritance.  Rahula went up to his father, the Buddha, and said, “Your shadow is pleasant, monk.” He then followed the Buddha repeating, “Give me my inheritance, monk.” Hearing this, the Buddha had Shariputra ordain Rahula as a novice. 13 year later when Rahula reached the age of 20 he received full admission as a monk and soon after became an arhat. Despite being the son of the Buddha, he would come to be known as foremost in inconspicuous practice.

                      When King Shuddhodhana heard that even his grandson Rahula had joined the Sangha he was quite upset. Now both of his heirs had become monks, and the other Shakya clan members were getting worried that the Buddha would begin taking away their children as well. King Shuddhodana then made the following request of the Buddha:

                      “Lord, I suffered no little pain when the Blessed One went forth. Then there was Nanda. Rahula is too much. Love for our children, Lord, cuts into the outer skin; having cut into the outer skin, it cuts into the inner skin; having cut into the inner skin, it cuts into the flesh; having cut into the flesh, it cuts into the sinews; having cut into the sinews, it cuts into the bones; having cut into the bones, it reaches the marrow and stays there. Lord, it would be good if the venerable ones did not give the going forth without the parents’ consent.” (The Life of the Buddha, p. 78)

                      The Buddha respected King Shuddhodana’s wish and from that time on children required their parents’ permission before being ordained as novices. In addition, one had to be at least seven years old as Rahula was. The minimum age was later changed to 15. On reaching the age of twenty the novices became eligible to receive ordination as full-fledged monks. 

                      The stories of the recruitment of Nanda and Rahula into the Sangha probably strike the modern reader as problematic. To begin with the Buddha seems to have tricked Nanda against his will into joining the Sangha. There also seems to be a heavy streak of misogyny involved in the story as well (though the part about the comparing Janapadakalyani with a monkey and the visit to hell were later embellishments to the original story). Finally, even though the point of the story is that Nanda needed to raise his aspirations, the carrot and stick approach of keeping Nanda from quitting the Sangha with visions of heavenly rewards and hellish torments do not seem as high minded and edifying as the Buddha’s other discourses. Finally, aside from Nanda’s wishes, the Buddha also deprived his former kingdom of its heir and a bride of her groom. In the case of Rahula, the Buddha brought him into the Sangha at an age when Rahula could hardly have been aware of what he would be giving up or what he should be striving for, and furthermore the Buddha had once again deprived the kingdom of another heir. This hardly seems fair on the part of the Buddha. One could argue that the Buddha knew better than Nanda and Rahula what would be good for them, but this seems more condescending than compassionate. Furthermore, it shows no respect for the ability of others to make their own decisions in life, especially regarding something as important as leaving the household life to become a monk (or novice in the case of Rahula). One could argue that both Nanda and Rahula were free to leave, but were they really? In the context of the times and in the midst of the Buddha’s scrutiny and peer pressure from the Sangha itself, leaving it would have become nearly unthinkable. In many ways, these stories are even more difficult than the story of Siddhartha leaving his wife and child in the first place to become a Buddha, because now he is taking others away from their families without really giving them a chance to decide for themselves. Perhaps all that can be said is that the culture in which these events happened (or which created these stories) was one in which the path to liberation was looked upon as the supreme priority and even as a rare gift. The Buddha was not seen as a recruiter so much as one who was giving Nanda, Rahula, and others the opportunity of countless lifetimes - the chance to be free of birth and death. A final consideration is that the Buddha was able to see the course of cause and effect for individuals and groups of people. It could be argued that the Buddha was aware that King Virudhaka of Koshala would decimate the Shakya clan within his lifetime (according to some sources). By bringing Nanda, Rahula, and so many other Shakya clansman into the Sangha he was in effect saving their lives and also giving them the chance to liberate themselves from all suffering.

                      Some undetermined time after the conversion of Rahula, the Buddha left Kapilavastu but was still traveling in the region of northern Koshala (which encompassed the territory of the Shakya clan). It is said that at least one child from each family of the Shakya clan had joined the monastic Sangha by this time except in the family of the Buddha’s cousin Aniruddha. Aniruddha’s older brother Mahanama suggested that one of them should join the Sangha so that their family would be represented. Aniruddha was reluctant to leave his pampered life, but Mahanama convinced him that nothing but hard work lay ahead of him once he came of age and that it would be better to leave the household life under the Buddha. Curiously, it does not appear as though Mahanama was convinced by his own arguments because he did not join the Sangha. One wonders if talking his younger brother into leaving home and becoming a monk were some kind of stratagem in an ongoing sibling rivalry. In any case, Aniruddha asked his mother if he could join the Sangha. At first she refused to let him go, but then seemingly relented and told him that he could join the Sangha if his cousin Bhaddiya accompanied him. His mother had not really relented however. Prince Bhaddiya had just recently taken over from King Shuddhodhana as the leader of the Shakyas. She was counting on Bhaddiya’s refusal to leave the throne. However, Bhaddiya wore the crown reluctantly and only because Devadatta would take it if he didn’t. No one wanted the cruel and arrogant Devadatta as king. Aniruddha pleaded with Bhaddiya to come with him. He did refuse at first, but then he consented to go after seven years. Aniruddha pleaded that this was too long and in that time anything could happen to them.  In the end, Bhaddiya agreed to go after only a week on condition that the kingship pass on to his children and brothers and that Devadatta also come with them.

                      Ultimately, six Shakya nobles left together to join the Sangha: Aniruddha, Bhaddiya, Ananda, Bhagu, Kimbila, and Devadatta. Their barber Upali accompanied them. Originally, Upali was supposed to take the adornments of the six Shakyas back to the clan after their renunciation, but Upali realized that the Shakyas might be so angry over the defection of six more Shakya nobles to the Sangha that they might even put him to death for his part in it. Unable to return home and in fear of his life, Upali also became a monk. Graciously, the six nobles allowed Upali to receive admission first so that their former servant would now be senior to them in the Sangha, and thus they would learn humility. Each of these converts would eventually become arhats, with the exception of Devadatta. Four out of the seven would become especially well known: Upali, Aniruddha, Ananda, and Devadatta.

                      Many years later, when the Buddha began to set forth the precepts for the monastic Sangha as circumstances demanded, Upali would come to be known as the foremost in observing the precepts. After the Buddha’s parinirvana, it would be Upali who would recite all the precepts and the background of each at the first council. This recital would become that part of the Buddhist canon known as the Vinaya.

                      Aniruddha would come to be known as the foremost in using the divine eye, a form of clairvoyance that could be used to see into spiritual realms and faraway lands and even to determine the circumstances of those who had died and been reborn.

                      Ananda would become the Buddha’s attendant in the 20th year of the Buddha’s teaching, but he would not become an arhat until after the parinirvana of the Buddha and just before the beginning of the first council. At that council he would be called upon to recite all the teachings of the Buddha that he had heard personally and which had been reported to him from before the time he became the Buddha’s attendant. Because he memorized all the discourses, he was known as the foremost in hearing the sutras.

                      Devadatta developed the five types of supernatural powers that can be developed through meditation soon after joining the Sangha. These five were: supernatural mastery of the body, the divine ear (clairaudience), mind reading, past life recall, and the divine eye (clairvoyance). Unfortunately, Devadatta never gained any insight, and his supernatural powers only increased his arrogance. Eventually his jealousy of the Buddha and ruthless ambition would lead him to instigate or perpetrate the most heinous of acts. This story will be told later.


The First Monasteries

                      After visiting Kapilavastu and wandering in Koshala for a time, the Buddha returned to Rajagriha where he spent the second and third rainy seasons subsequent to his awakening at the Bamboo Grove. It was most likely at this time that he made it a rule that the monks must spend three consecutive months out of the four months of the rainy season in one place. This was because the people of Rajagriha and the surrounding countryside began complaining that the wandering monks were trampling the vegetation just as it was starting to flourish after the dry summer and causing harm to the small animals and insects which the rains had flushed out. They pointed out that even the disciples of the other spiritual teachers knew enough not to wander around during the rainy season. It may have also been at this time that the Buddha ruled that he and his monks would only go on alms rounds in the morning and eat only before noon, as this would be less disruptive to the laity and healthier for the monks according to the Buddha.

                      The monks were now staying in one place during the rains, but they still had no shelter. At this point, a wealthy merchant in Rajagriha offered to have dwellings built for the monks. The Buddha agreed and within a day sixty small huts were built for the monks. The merchant than invited the Buddha and his monks to eat at his home the next day. When the meal was over he formally presented the dwellings to the Sangha.

                      It was on this occasion that Sudatta, also known as Anathapindada (Pali Anthapindika), encountered the Buddha for the first time. Sudatta was a wealthy merchant from Shravasti, the capital of Koshala. His wife happened to be the sister of the wealthy merchant who had donated the dwellings and invited the Buddha and the Sangha to a meal. Usually when he came to visit, his brother-in-law would fuss over him, but this time he was fussing over preparations for the Buddha and his monks. When Sudatta learned that there was someone believed to be an Awakened One in town he had to meet him as soon as possible. He was unable to sleep that night in anticipation. As soon as it was dawn he went to the park to meet the Buddha. That very morning he received the Buddha’s teachings, became a stream-enterer, and took the threefold refuge. He then invited the Buddha to a meal that he would host the very next day at his brother-in-laws where he always stayed while in Rajagriha. His brother-in-law, another wealthy citizen of Rajagriha, and even King Bimbisara all offered to help him pay for the meal, but Sudatta insisted on paying for it himself. When the day came and Sudatta had served the Buddha and the Sangha, he invited them to come to Shravasti where he would prepare a rainy season retreat for them. The Buddha consented. Sudatta returned home and told all those he met on the way back that they should prepare lodgings for the Buddha who would be following with his monks. One of the most famous of these lodgings would be the Great Forest Monastery in the city of Vaishali, the capital of the Licchavi tribe of the Vriji Confederacy.

                      Upon arriving back in Shravasti, Sudatta went to Prince Jeta, one of the sons of King Prasenajit, and asked to buy the prince’s park so that he could build a monastery on it for the Buddha and Sangha. Prince Jeta was at first not inclined to sell his park so set what he believed to be a prohibitively high price. He stated that he would only sell it if Sudatta could cover the entire park with gold coins. Immediately, the wealthy merchant had cartloads of gold coins brought in and spread over the ground. Prince Jeta was so impressed by Sudatta’s dedication that he changed his mind, and so when one patch near the entrance of the park remained uncovered he made that part his own contribution and had a gatehouse built there. The park was known thereafter as the Jeta Grove Monastery.

                      In time, King Prasenajit and Queen Mallika of Koshala heard the Buddha’s teaching in Shravasti and were deeply impressed. Both eventually became the Buddha’s lay followers. In fact, King Prasenajit’s sister was Vaidehi, the queen of Magadha and the wife of King Bimbisara. King Bimbisara and Queen Vaidehi had, as previously told, already become lay followers and royal patrons of the Buddha.

                      Some time after the Buddha began teaching in Shravasti he also attracted many new disciples from among the population and from among those who came to Shravasti on business. Shravasti, after all, was the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms in India at that time. One of these new disciples was Subhuti, a nephew of Sudatta who became known as the foremost in understanding emptiness.

                      Another was Katyayana, a brahmin from the kingdom of Avanti who had once been a disciple of the very same Asita who had visited the infant Siddhartha and predicted his buddhahood. Katyayana was sent by his king to Shravasti to hear the Buddha teach. Upon hearing the Buddha teach he became a monk and then returned to his native land to share what he had learned. He became known as foremost in explaining the Dharma.

                      After returning to his native land, Katyayana found it difficult to ordain new disciples because it was difficult to find even ten monks, the minimum needed to confer full admission into the Sangha. He also found that some of the precepts set forth by the Buddha were inappropriate for those living in Avanti where the environment and customs were different from those found in the kingdoms where the Buddha was teaching. To remedy this, Katyayana sent one of his students, whom he had ordained after finally managing to find enough monks for the ordination, to see the Buddha and ask if the rules could be changed to fit the local customs and environment. The Buddha agreed to this, and stated that in the outlying kingdoms it would henceforth be permissible for only five monks to confer the full admission. He also allowed monks to wear shoes, bathe more frequently, use hides for coverings, and wear an extra robe for a longer period of time in order to suit the local customs and the harsher environment of the outlying kingdoms like Avanti. This incident is important because it shows that the Buddha did allow for a certain amount of flexibility in the rules and regulation that he set forth, and that as long as the integrity of the Buddha Dharma was not harmed, he allowed for the adaptation of Buddhism to new situations. It was this principle of allowing the precepts to suit the local customs and circumstances that would allow Buddhism to grow into a world religion.

                      Finally, there was Purna, a wealthy brahmin who had become an ascetic and then joined the Sangha as a monk after hearing the Buddha teach in Rajagriha. He became known as the foremost in expounding the Dharma.

                      Though it was Sudatta’s hope that the Buddha would spend the rainy season in Shravasti, the time was not yet ripe during the early years of the Buddha’s teaching. Many other spiritual teachers and movements were strongly established there including the six unorthodox (from a brahmin point of view) teachers who all rejected the authority of the Vedas. These six included: Purana Kashyapa, who denied the law of cause and effect; Maskarin Goshali, who taught that everything is predestined; Samjayin Vairatiputra the skeptic; Ajita Keshakambala the materialist; Kakuda Katyayana the pluralist, who taught that the elements that make up life disperse at death with no continuity; and Nigrantha Jnatiputra, the founder of Jainism, who taught that our actions bind us to suffering regardless of our intentions and that only complete inaction can lead to liberation. The Buddha viewed each of these positions as a denial or misinterpretation of the law of cause and effect. Each had many partisans in Shravasti, so it took some time before the Buddha’s teachings could get a fair hearing and garner popular support there. Eventually, however, the Buddha gained a third of the people of Shravasti as lay followers and earned the respect of another third, so from the 20th year of his teaching on the Buddha spent his rainy season retreats there.

                      It was also during these early years staying at the Bamboo Grove in Rajagriha that the Buddha met two people who would become very important lay supporters and donors of monasteries. One was Jivaka, the court physician of King Bimbisara. Jivaka had been borne to the most prestigious courtesan in Rajagriha, however she abandoned the infant on a rubbish heap where it was found and rescued by Prince Abhaya, one of King Bimbisara’s sons. Prince Abhaya raised Jivaka as his own, and when he was old enough Jivaka went to the city of Takshashila to study medicine for seven years. When he returned, he was appointed King Bimbisara’s court physician. King Bimbisara later asked him to care for the Buddha and the Sangha as well. Jivaka was greatly impressed by the Buddha, and even donated his mango grove in Rajagriha to be used as a monastery.

                      Another important patron was Visakha. Visakha was the daughter of a wealthy merchant who originally lived in the city of Bhaddiya in the kingdom of Magadha. When she was only seven years old the Buddha came to Bhaddiya and her grandfather urged the whole family to go and hear his teachings. The whole family became stream-enterers and lay followers of the Buddha from that time on. Later, the family moved to the kingdom of Koshala. When she was fifteen or sixteen years old, she married into a wealthy family in Shravasti. Migara, her father-in-law, was a supporter of the Jains. This created a lot of conflict between them because she refused to acknowledge the Jains as holy men, and Migara refused to acknowledge the Buddhists. In the end, however, Visakha’s wisdom, caring, and integrity won over Migara and she convinced him to come to the Jeta Grove and hear the Buddha speak. Migara was so impressed that he too became a stream-enterer and took refuge in the three jewels of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. He was so grateful to Visakha that he declared her his “mother in the Dharma.” Visakha then became affectionately known as “Migara’s mother.” She became well known for her devotion to the Buddha, her earnest inquiries regarding the Dharma, and her generosity and support of the Sangha. On one occasion she accidentally left behind a bejeweled robe at the Jeta Grove Monastery. Instead of reclaiming it she donated it to the Sangha and then bought it back so that the money could be used to establish a new monastery in the Eastern Park of Shravasti. This monastery was called the Hall of Migara’s Mother. From that time on, when the Buddha was staying in Shravasti, he could be found either at the Jeta Grove Monastery or the Hall of Migara’s Mother.


The Nun’s Order

                      The first rainy season after the Buddha’s enlightenment had been spent in the Deer Park, and the next three rainy seasons were spent at the Bamboo Grove in Rajagriha. During the fifth rainy season the Buddha spent the first eight days at the Great Forest Monastery in Vaishali and then returned to Rajagriha for the rest of the season. A couple of months after the end of the fifth rainy season retreat the Buddha heard that his father, King Shuddhodana, was on his deathbed. The Buddha flew back (literally according to tradition) to Kapilavastu to be at his side. There he gave a final discourse to his father who became an arhat as a result just before passing away. The Buddha then stayed for a while at the Nyagrodha Park and helped to resolve a dispute over water rites between the Shakyas and the neighboring Koliya clan.

                      According to tradition, it was during this stay at the Nyagrodha Park that the Buddha’s aunt and foster mother, Mahaprajapati, approached him and requested that he allow women to leave the home life and become nuns in the Sangha. She herself was now a widow upon the death of Shuddhodana. The Buddha refused even though Mahaprajapati persisted and made three requests. Usually, if someone made three requests to the Buddha that was sign of great sincerity and need. If it were something wholesome and good, like a request for a teaching, the Buddha would grant it. So his adamant refusal to consent to Mahaprajapati’s request showed how serious were the Buddha’s misgivings about the formation of an order of nuns. Though very disappointed, Mahaprajapati paid her respects to the Buddha and left, but she had not given up. She shaved off her hair, donned yellow robes like the monks, and when the Buddha returned to the Great Forest Monastery she and a number of other Shakya women followed him there. Ananda discovered her on the veranda of the monastery weeping and travel worn. When he asked her what she was doing there in such a condition, she told him about the Buddha’s refusal to allow women to leave home and become nuns. Ananda told her that he would intercede on her behalf and then went in and requested that the Buddha allow Mahaprajapati and the others to become nuns. Again the Buddha refused up to three times. Ananda did not give up however. He took a different tact, and asked the Buddha if theoretically a woman, by leaving home and practicing the Buddha’s teachings, could attain any of the stages leading to liberation up to and including arhatship. The Buddha admitted that such was the case. Then Ananda reminded the Buddha of all that Mahaprajapati had done for him in raising him after his mother died, and how it would be good if she and other women be given the chance to practice as nuns and attain enlightenment. The Buddha finally consented, and told Ananda that if Mahaprajapati agreed to eight conditions which would ensure the subordination of the nuns to the monks she could consider that agreement her full admission as a nun. Mahaprajapati readily agreed. These eight conditions were as follows:

1. A nun must always pay their respects to a monk as a junior to a senior, regardless of the actual seniority of the nun to the monk.  

2. A nun must not spend the rainy season retreat in a place where there are no monks.

3. Every two weeks the nuns should expect the monks to appoint for them the day of the Uposatha observance and for a monk to come and instruct them.

4. At the end of the rainy season retreat a nun should invite criticism regarding her observation of the precepts from both the other nuns and from the monks.

5. A nun who has committed a grave offense should do penance before both the monks and the nuns.

6. A probationer who wishes to be a nun must seek admission from both the monks and the nuns after two years of training.

7. A nun must not find fault with or abuse a monk.

8. From that day on the nuns are not allowed to teach the monks but the monks are allowed to teach the nuns.  

                      Soon after the other women were ordained by the monks in accordance with the usual ordination ceremony. Among the Shakyan women who were ordained was Yashodhara, who had been living as a renunciant while at home ever since her husband Siddhartha had left to seek buddhahood. After Mahaprajapati’s admission, the Buddha commented to Ananda that now the holy life set forth by the Buddha would last only five hundred years instead of a thousand now that women had been admitted as nuns. As an addendum to this story, at the first counsel after the Buddha’s passing, Ananda was severely criticized by the other monks (who were all enlightened arhats as well) for talking the Buddha into allowing women to become nuns.

                      This whole story is remarkable for it’s seeming portrayal of the Buddha as a blatant misogynist who resented the idea of women joining his men’s only club. It also depicts the Buddha stubbornly refusing to give women the opportunity to become enlightened when he later reveals that he knew they had the potential to do so, and then shows him being convinced to change his mind by an unenlightened disciple (Ananda did not attain arhatship until after the Buddha’s passing on the eve of the aforementioned first counsel). Even after admitting the women, the Buddha does not consent to equality between the monks and nuns but ensures that the nuns will forever be subordinate to and subject to the authority of the monks with a list of conditions that will be explained below. Even then, the Buddha seems to regret his decision and predicts that the presence of women will hasten the end of Buddhism. As if that was not enough, Ananda’s role in this story is not praised but condemned by his enlightened peers at the first counsel. What can be made of all this?             

                      There are other problems with this story besides the way in which it might strike the modern reader. Though it is claimed by tradition that this was how women came to be admitted as nuns, there are many things about the story which indicate that the formation of the nun’s order could not possibly have occurred when and how it did here because the details of the story do not fit with the rest of the traditional history of the early Sangha. To begin with, Ananda seems to be acting as the Buddha’s attendant. Though it is possible that Ananda may have taken a turn as an attendant at this early date, the tradition insists that he did not become the Buddha’s permanent attendant until the 20th year after the Buddha’s enlightenment. Another problem with the story is that when the nun’s order was formed, they took on all the precepts that had been laid down for the monks up to that point. From then on, rules were laid down for either the monks or the nuns but not for both. So only the precepts set forth by the Buddha prior to the formation of the nun’s order are shared by both. Even the eight conditions given to Mahaprajapati presuppose that there are precepts already established. However, the tradition claims that the Buddha did not need to set forth any precepts until the twelfth year after the Buddha’s enlightenment. So in all likelihood it would appear that the nuns order could not have been initiated until after the twelfth or even twentieth year of the Buddha’s teaching. In that case, however, Shuddhodana would have had to have died at a very old age and Mahaprajapati would also have been in her late seventies or eighties when she made the journey on foot as a homeless beggar to Vaishali from Kapilavastu. The eight conditions also assume a probationary period for women who wish to become nuns, which is rather odd since these eight conditions are supposedly prior to any other rulings concerning the training and ordination of nuns. The wording of the last condition is also curious since it seems to be saying that before that day the nuns did admonish the monks. But how could there have been nuns prior to the acceptance of the eight conditions for the establishment of an order of nuns? The Buddhist canon itself does not provide any kind of reliable chronology for any of these events, and many of the stories (even the canonical ones) cannot be verified as eyewitness reports and may very well be legendary. Still, there are many things about this story which make it suspect. It may in fact be a story fabricated in later times to explain the institution of the nun’s order and perhaps to justify the attitudes of the monks and the subordination of the nuns by putting words in the Buddha’s mouth. On the other hand, whenever and however the formation of the nun’s order actually occurred, it may well have been that the Buddha was concerned about what this would mean for the future of the Sangha as a whole. The Buddha is reported to have said to Ananda:

                      “Ananda, if women had not obtained the going forth from the house life into homelessness in the Dharma and Discipline declared by the Perfect One, the holy life would have lasted long, the holy life would have lasted a thousand years. But now, since women have obtained it, the holy life will not last long, the holy life will last only five hundred years.” (The Life of the Buddha, p. 106)              

                       It is not hard to imagine that this “prophecy” of the Buddha’s regarding the effect the nun’s order would have on the holy life may have actually been the judgment of the monks who compiled the Vinaya and first recorded it in writing hundreds of years after the passing of the Buddha. Perhaps the presence of women did create opportunities for scandals that hurt the reputation of the Sangha and caused disharmony within the monastic order. Doubtless such disturbances were as much the fault of the monks as of the nuns. Even without actual misbehavior, the formation of an order of nuns by itself would be enough to scandalize the extremely patriarchal Indian society at that time. The nun’s order was, after all, a liberating alternative from the strictures of household life wherein women were no more than chattel. To have such an alternative available for women would have struck many as an incredible threat. It would have been seen by many as an institution that could potentially destabilize their entire society. If any woman could go off and attain the freedom and dignity of life as a nun, then would any woman remain at home?

                      Later monks most likely found it easier to blame the nuns for these problems rather than themselves or society. As for who was to blame for allowing women to join the Sangha as nuns in the first place, these later monks probably could not deny that the Buddha himself had established it, but since they did not want the Buddha to be at fault for setting in motion the scandalous institution of the order of nuns they blamed the unenlightened and soft hearted Ananda for talking him into it. There is, naturally, no proof for this speculation regarding the origin of this story, but there is likewise no way to prove that the story we have been given was a faithful rendering of what actually happened. All we have to go by is the word of the anonymous elder monks who passed on this story in this form and eventually wrote it down roughly 2,000 years ago. Just because the story is blatantly chauvinistic, misogynistic, self-serving, and seemingly at variance with the Buddha’s teaching that all people, both men and women, regardless of caste, could attain liberation by practicing his teachings (which even this story admits) does not disprove its authenticity. On the other hand, is it such a stretch to claim that this story was the creation of monks who lived generations after the Buddha?

                      The eight conditions and the many additional precepts that the nuns order followed may have been given by the Buddha himself in order to prevent such a scandal. Or they may have been promulgated in the name of the Buddha after his passing. In any case, these rules and conditions created a situation wherein women who joined the Sangha would not become free of subordination to men. Rather, they would become subordinate to the monks. So the basic condition of patriarchal life was maintained even in the Sangha. Thus, women would have less incentive to leave their homes to become nuns, since even as nuns they would not be autonomous nor would they gain any authority over the monks. Other precepts ensured that nuns would be held to the strictest standards of propriety so as not create scandal that would endanger the Sangha as a whole. Still other precepts were given for the protection and welfare of the nuns, since women at that time (as now in many places in the world) were not safe from bandits, serial killers, rapists, and others who would abuse and exploit them. With the eight conditions and precepts in place, the nun’s order was able to gain the begrudging acceptance of Indian society at least for a time. The nun’s order eventually died out in India in 456 CE, though the nun’s order has continued to this very day in Mahayana countries outside of India such as China and Korea.

                      With the formation of the order of nuns, it would seem as though the Buddha had brought into the Sangha all of the family that he had left behind so many years before who were still living: his foster-mother Mahaprajapati, his wife Yashodhara, his son Rahula, his half-brother Nanda, many of his cousins, and even the family barber Upali. Though his father never became a monk, he did become a lay follower and died an arhat. Only the Buddha’s mother, who had died a week after giving birth to Siddhartha had not been given a chance to hear the Buddha’s teaching and attain liberation. According to tradition, this was remedied in the seventh year of the Buddha’s preaching.

                      The sixth rainy season was spent at a place called Mankula Hill. After that the Buddha again performed the “twin miracle” that he had performed for the Shakyas, but this time in Shravasti. Though the Buddha had discouraged his disciples from using making public displays of their supernatural powers, the Buddha had determined that in circumstances it was necessary in order to break through the incredulity of the people. 

                      Now that the groundwork for the establishment of the Dharma had been laid in this world, and especially in the increasingly important city of Shravasti, the Buddha decided that the time was ripe to attend to those who could benefit from the Dharma in the heavenly realms. During the seventh rainy season, the Buddha ascended to the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods, where his mother had been reborn as a minor goddess. There he taught her and the other deities a highly detailed, systematic and refined version of the Buddha Dharma. Each day of the rainy season, the Buddha returned to this world and gave a summary of these teachings to Shariputra who, as tradition has it, passed them on as the  Abhidharma (which means “Higher Dharma”) portion of the Buddhist canon. In doing this, the Buddha lived up to his title as “the teacher of gods and men,” succeeded in bringing the Buddha Dharma to his birth mother in heaven, and established the final portion of the Buddhist canon alongside the Sutras and the Vinaya.   




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Thomas, Edward J., The Life of Buddha: As Legend and History. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000.

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