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Chapter 17: Disciples

Meanwhile under a nearby banyan tree man of the Brahman (póluómén 婆罗门) caste, knowing that Brahman was not just the name of a caste but also meant that person was pure and good, asked the Buddha by what exercises one might become a really true brahman.

The Buddha answered, "A true brahman forgoes evil and arrogance, disciplines himself, remains calm, studies deeply, practices scripture, and is unlike ordinary people." And the brahman walked away thinking, "This shaman (shāmén 沙门) of the Qūtán family has seen into my heart! This is truly a great shaman!"

Several days later, two merchants came upon the Buddha sitting beneath a bìbōluó 毕波罗 tree and were so struck by his radiant appearance that they gave him all their goods and asked to be his disciples. Their names were Dápú-shā 达菩沙 and Púlì-jiā 菩利迦, and they thus became his first followers (dìzǐ 弟子).

The Buddha knew that most people would not understand the truths he had come to appreciate, but he was compassionate, and knew he had to share his realization with all who could appreciate it and receive its benefit.

Whom should he save first? He decided to seek his old teacher the sage Ēluó-lán, but he learned that Ēluó-lán had died.

So he went to seek the sage Yùtuó-luójiā, another of his old teachers. But he too had died.

Then he thought of the five bǐqiū practicing austerities at Yōulóu-pínluó village. But when he got there, he learned that they were now dwelling in the Deer Park near the town of Bōluó-nài . So he left Yōulóu-pínluó and headed for Bōluó-nài and the Deer Park to find them.

But when he found them they were full of suspicion and not at all glad to see him.

"Look, it is the holy man Qūtán who has come back. He is the one who gave up austerities and gave in to greed. Let us have nothing to do with him."

But when the Buddha drew near, he did not look like the man they had known before. There was a radiance and peace about him that caused them to forget their annoyance and rush to make him comfortable. When he preached to them about what he had discovered in his Great Awakening, however, they found it hard to believe and were full of questions. Above all they could not imagine how this could be the true doctrine if it had not required severe austerities.

But he preached to them about the turning of the wheel of the law of cause and effect and of karma and reincarnation. It was his first formal sermon and is preserved for us today as the "Scripture of the Turning of the Wheel of the Law" (Zhuǎn fǎlún jīng 转法轮经).

Jiāo-chénrú very quickly understood and his suspicions dropped away, and he asked to become a disciple. And he became the Buddha's first bǐqiū 比丘, which is the term we use for a follower who leaves his family to devote himself to the Buddhist way of finding enlightenment and ending suffering. Almost immediately the other four became bǐqiū too.

The Buddha dwelt at the Deer Park with the five bǐqiū. Two bǐqiū would go out with begging bowls while the other three would remain and the Buddha would teach them. And then those three would go out and beg while the first two would stay and hear the teaching.

These five bǐqiū were very close to the Buddha, and they became the first group of luóhàn 罗汉 (sometimes called ē-luóhàn 阿罗汉), and what he taught them became the "Scripture of Non-Self" (Wúwǒxiàng jīng 无我相经).

While the Buddha was staying at the Deer Park, he was visited by a young man named Yéshè 耶舍, who was the son of a very wealthy old man from the town of Bōluó-nài. Yéshè's father's palace was full of luxuries and beautiful girls, but he had suddenly wearied of all this. He had heard of the Buddha and come to see if he could leave the family.

No sooner had Yéshè set out, than his father went in search of him, just as the Buddha's father had done. Yéshè's father found him and the Buddha together and announced that he had come to save him from this terrible fate and to bring him home again. He was very angry.

Once the Buddha explained the principles he had discovered, however, Yéshè's father's views changed completely. What could possibly be more important than the way to avoid suffering? So Yéshè's father allowed him to leave the family and join the Buddha. Indeed, the old man resolved to become a follower himself, although living at home, the kind of person who today is called a home-dwelling follower (jūshì 居士), and invited the Buddha and Yéshè to come to his house the following day to receive his offerings.

Soon four of Yéshè's best friends also decided to leave the family and become bǐqiū, and they brought another fifty high-caste young men, who joined with no urging from the Buddha. These were to be some of the earliest luóhàn, although when we honor them today we often honor the most prominent eighteen of their number. Another section of this web site discusses them. (Link)

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