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Part VI: Chapters 27-29

Dramatis Personae for Part VI


Chapter 27: Scripture Walking

From the time of his great awakening until his death, the Buddha lived 45 years, and he traveled widely among the small states of India., staying at hermitages. But his favorites were the Bamboo Forest Retreat that King Bimbisara had created for him at the town of Rajagaha and Jeta’s Grove (Jetavana) at the town of Shravasti (Śrāvastī) created by a wealthy supporter named Suddata, who bought the beautiful site from a local prince (Jeta), who drove a very hard bargain. But Prince Jeta also became a lay follower of the Buddha and augmented the site himself. Their fates were very different. Suddata was so generous that he was given the nickname “Feeder of the Defenseless (Anāthapiṇḍada). Some people say that Prince Jeta was eventually murdered by his half-brother for refusing to help wipe out the Shakya clan, the one of which the Buddha was a member.

Throughout these years the Buddha’s time was spent spreading the doctrines of the buddhas. He would rise in the morning, wash, don his simple robe, and then go and beg, either alone or in a small group with some of the bhikshus. Sometimes people would ask him to come to their homes to receive their gifts, and if the time was appropriate, he would do so, and they would provide him comfortable cushions to sit on and give him excellent food. And after he had eaten and washed his hands, he would explain to them about good and evil and how to avoid suffering, and afterward they would courageously follow his instructions, and he would return to the hermitage.

There he would sit on a dais and wait until all of the bhikshus had returned from begging, and then he would preach, or they would have discussions. The Buddha was determined that they should all be diligent in studying the doctrine, and he hoped that all would attain nirvana (nirvāṇa), which is a state in which one is no longer subject to reincarnation, and therefore no longer must experience the suffering of birth, sickness, old age, and death.

As today, there were always lazy students, who wanted a quick summary and who did not want to think about anything very much, and the Buddha would have to consider how best to suit the message to each individual bhikshu’s inquiry. Often he would ask them to recite exactly the words that he taught them, hoping that by repetition the meaning might perhaps gradually become a part of their thinking.

When the bhikshus divided up, each to his own tree or little thatch shelter, to recite whatever the Buddha had told them to recite, the Buddha would return to his quarters. On warm evenings people would come from the surrounding area to bring food offerings and to hear the Buddha preach. Every kind of person came: the rich and the poor, those with learning and those without, those of high caste and those of low caste. And each person felt as though the teaching were directed right to him. Perhaps it was.

When they left, the Buddha would bathe, and then sometimes receive bhikshus coming from afar. It could be exhausting, and to gain exercise and avoid weariness, he developed the technique of walking while he spoke, which today is called “scripture walking” (caṅkrama).

Finally he would go to sleep, lying on his side, resting on his right elbow, his left arm along his side, and his feet slightly bent.


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