The Good Teacher and The Good Pupil - The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker and the Teacher


Some 2.500 years ago, in the Park of Lumbini, situated in the Himalayan foothills near the Indo-Nepalese border, a baby boy was born to Queen Mahamaya. This child, called Siddhartha, was destined to become the Buddha, one of the greatest teachers in world history.

The young prince grew up in the court of his father. King Suddhodana, in the midst of pleasure and luxury. During his childhood and adolescence, Suddhodana tried assiduously to prevent Siddhartha from seeing the ills and suffering of this world. But Destiny was stronger than the King's will. The Prince came into contact with the "Suffering of the World" three times: first, he saw an old man and understood that everyone, one day, has to become old; then he met a sick man, and finally he saw a man's corpse. These three sights and his meeting with a wandering mendicant troubled his mind so much that he decided to leave his princely life, his young wife, Yasodhara, and his new-born son, Rahula, and to search for an answer to his deep question: "Where is the way out of old age, sickness and death, what is the way to permanence? "

After years of ascetic sadhana, having thus experienced extreme renunciation as well as luxury and pleasure, Siddhartha chose the Middle Path, and attained enlightenment on the full moon night in the month of May, under a peepul tree at Bodh-Gaya, He had become the Buddha, the Awakened One.

For a few days, he hesitated. How could he communicate his experience? How could he make people understand his teachings? Then the decision was taken: he went

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

to the Deer Park, and taught the Four Noble Truths to his earlier companions:

1. The Truth of the universality of suffering.

2. The Truth of the cause of suffering.

3. The Truth of cessation of suffering.

4. The way to Nirvana.

For 45 years, he went walking from one village to another, from one city to the next. He met people of all castes, all ages. In a very structured society, in which the Brahmin caste had codified most of the customs and the relationships of the time, he met everyone, treated everyone with the same respect and taught everyone, not according to rank or caste, but according to the person's understanding and sincerity. He spoke to kings and children, to rich merchants and poor peasants, to dacoits and women. He adapted his teachings, telling stories or parables to the simple folk, or expounding the deepest psychological theories or the most profound practices of meditation to the more advanced disciples. Up to his last day (he was then 81 years old), he taught, and his death was his last and supreme teaching on the impermanence of the human form.

We present here three short stories that illustrate some aspects of the Buddha's method of teaching.

In the first story, the Buddha's teaching is addressed to a woman named Kisagautami whose child has just died and who wants the Buddha to bring him back to life. The fact that the Buddha teaches a woman is quite revolutionary at the time, because although in the old Vedic tradition women had a place of honour, when the Buddha came in the sixth century BC, society had become very rigid, and the flexible thoughts of the Rishis had been translated into fixed rules and rituals; even relationships between people had become strictly codified. It was, therefore, a revolution when women became part of the Buddha's Sangha. The Buddha himself had hesitated before ordaining Mahaprajapati, his foster-mother, as the first Bhikkuni.

To teach Kisagautami, the Buddha chose to give her a concrete experience, so that she could discover and understand the truth by herself. As the great Mahayanist Master Shantideva later said, "It is not by reading a medical book that one can cure a patient. " The Buddha was using a crisis in the life of the pupil. The aspiration of the student is one of the most important factors in the process of education. The problem faced by Kisagautami is concrete and terrible: her child has just died. She is ready to do anything to bring him back to life. She is not asking for philosophical answers. She

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

The departure of the prince Sidharth, 

Painting by Nandalal Bose

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

needs something concrete to console her and heal her pain. But she is not ready to realize fully the sense of the first Noble Truth: the universality of suffering. In order to teach her that the suffering is universal, the Buddha sends her to collect a mustard seed from a house where nobody has died. Going from one house to the next Kisagautami progressively discovers that what she thought to be "her" problem is being faced by all people, that it is a terrestrial problem affecting all sentient beings. And thus her own pain and anguish is lessened.

In this example, life itself is the real teacher; here the Buddha is a guide who leads the student towards the discovery of a truth which will help her to progress. This is probably the ideal way to teach; the teacher suggests certain ways for the student to follow, gives her certain leads by which she can discover and progress by herself. The other quality of a teacher the Buddha shows in this story is psychological insight: to understand the student or the disciple and the problem of the moment and thus give the adequate guidance. The Buddha chose this particular crisis in the life of Kisagautami to have her make the necessary progress. When Kisagautami comes back to the Buddha she has already buried her child, which means that she has understood the lesson, and she is returning because she has recognized the greatness of the teacher and wants to receive further teaching. In other words, she was ripe to receive the Buddha's teachings, and through external events she was in a position to get a true understanding of the teacher's words. A Buddhist would say that her own karma and her son's karma provoked the events which led her to a deep realization.

In the second story, the process of teaching is different, since the young Brahmin students have a different problem: they are searching for a more philosophical answer. The Buddha will teach them how to analyse a philosophical theory and to see that, before entering a dispute, it is better to use one's mind to understand the foundation of the problem. In this case, the dispute is about the best way to reach the state of Brahma. Is it the path expounded by the Brahmin Pokkasarati or that shown by Tarukka? As a good teacher, the Buddha shows the way to the root of the disputed matter, but he does not give a demonstration; he only tries to put the two students on the track of logical reasoning which will ultimately lead them to the solution of their problem. As always in his teachings, the Buddha does not give any ready-made solution, but he tries to put the student or disciple on the path. Through a series of questions, the young Brahmins are forced to think deeper and are led to find the solution to the problem by themselves. "Does the Brahmin discoursing on Brahma, have the experience of Brahma? " — "No ", so the logical conclusion is that

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

they do not know Brahma and therefore are not entitled to speak about it; and the question of a dispute should not arise.

One should note that it is the decision of the students to refer the matter to the teacher. They also decide to accept his decision whatever it may be. This is an important point in education: the student should approach the teacher and, on his part, the teacher should gain the confidence of his pupils and be worthy of that confidence. It should also be noted that the Buddha always insisted that the student himself verify the truth of his words and not take them for granted. The other quality shown by the Buddha in this story is the patience and the gentleness of the teacher for the student. He does not hesitate to give many concrete examples to explain to the students the futility of their dispute. After each of his statements, he checks if the young Brahmins have followed the argument, have understood the implications of reasoning and have agreed with his conclusions. He never tries to impose his views; he only tries to lead the young Brahmins to the right understanding of the problem and thus the right conclusion.

In the third story, we have the declaration of the Buddha which contains the noblest spirit of teacherhood. The Buddha says: "As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it on a piece of touchstone, so are you to accept my words only after examining them and not merely out of regard for me. "

A leaf of the Bo-tree, or Peepul tree, the sacred tree under which Siddhartha became enlightened.

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Mustard Seed

There was a woman named Gotami, whose child had just died. She was so upset by this that she lost her reason completely. She went everywhere trying to bring her child back to life. Her friends felt sorry for her and said, "Gotami, you should go and see the Buddha. Perhaps he can help you."

She went before the Buddha still holding her child in her arms. "Please bring him back to life for me," she cried. Very gently the Buddha answered her, "I can help you, Gotami, but first you must bring me something. I need one small mustard seed. ¦ However, it must come from a house where no one ever died."

Gotami quickly went out in search of a mustard seed. She asked at one home and the woman answered, "Of course you can have a mustard seed, you can have whatever you want — but you should know that last year my husband died."

"Oh," Gotami replied, "then I must search elsewhere," and ran off to the next house.

But wherever she went, the same thing happened. Everyone wanted to help her, but in every family she visited someone had died. One person told her, "Three years ago I lost my daughter." Another said, "My brother died here yesterday." It was always the same.

At the end of the day, she returned to the Buddha. "What have you found, Gotami?" he asked. "Where is your mustard seed? And where is your son? You are not carrying him any longer."

She answered, "0 Buddha, today I have discovered that I am not the only one who has lost a loved one. Everywhere people have died. I see how foolish I was to think I could have my son back, and this afternoon I buried him. Now I have returned to you to hear your teachings. I am ready to listen."

Then the Buddha said, "Gotami, you have learned a great deal today. But if you learn the truth of the Law of Impermanence, you can live in happiness. In all the worlds of men, and of the gods too, there is only one law: everything is impermanent." And he taught her. She joined the Sangha, and subsequently came to be known for her progress in virtue and philosophical learning, which made the Buddha appoint her as the superintendent of the Convent at Jetavana. She is said to have eventually achieved Nirvana.

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

Tevigga Sutta

At one time when the Buddha was journeying through Kosala in the company of about five hundred disciples, he came to the Brahmin village of Manasakata. There he stayed in the mango grove on the bank of the river Akiravati to the south of Manasakata.

At that time, many distinguished and wealthy Brahmins were living at Manasakata; among them were two young men, Vasettha and Bharadvaga. One day, after taking their bath, they were walking up and down in a thoughtful mood; they started arguing about which was the true path to union with Brahma. The young Brahmin Vasettha said: "I think that the path that has been announced by the Brahmin Pokkasarati is the straight path, the direct way which leads those who act according to it into a state of union with Brahma."

Bharadvaga said: "I think the path of the Brahmin Tarukka is the straight path, the direct way which leads into a state of union with Brahma." But neither was able to convince the other. Then Vasettha said to his friend, "There is a sage named Gotama of the Sakya clan who is now living a religious life. He is staying in the mango grove nearby. He is of high reputation, he is even said to be a 'fully Enlightened One', full of wisdom and goodness, happiness and knowledge of the world, unsurpassed as a guide to erring mortals, a teacher of gods and men, a Buddha. Come, Bharadvaga, let us ask him and whatever he says, let us agree on it."

"Very well", assented Bharadvaga. Then the young Brahmins went on to the place where the Buddha was staying. When they reached there, they exchanged greetings with the Buddha and sat down beside him. The young Brahmin Vasettha said to the Buddha: "As we were taking exercise, walking up and down, a con- versation started between us about the true path to union with Brahma. I said it was the path of Pokkasarati; Bharadvaga said that it was the way of the Brahmin Tarukka. Not being able to agree, we decided to refer the dispute to you."

Then the Buddha replied: "Vasettha, you said that the true path was the one taught by Pokkasarati; Bharadvaga, you said that it was the one of Tarukka. What is the cause, Vasettha, of the strife, the dispute, the difference of opinion between you?"

Vasettha replied: "Various Brahmins, Gotama, teach various paths to union with Brahma. Is one true and another false, or are all saving paths? Are they all paths,

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

which will lead one who acts according to them into a state of union with Brahma? Is it like the different roads that come into a village and meet in the centre? Is it in that sense that all the various teachings of the Brahmins are to be accepted? Are they all saving paths?"

The Buddha replied: "Vasettha, do you think that all these various paths lead aright?"

"I think so, Gotama."

"Would you be willing to assert that they all lead aright, Vasettha?" "Yes, Gotama."

"But then, Vasettha, is there a single one of the Brahmins versed in the Vedas who has ever seen Brahma face to face?" "No, indeed, Gotama."

"But is there then, Vasettha, a single one of the pupils of the teachers of the Brahmins versed in the Vedas who has seen Brahma face to face?" "No, indeed, Gotama."

"But, Vasettha, is there a single one of the ancestors of all these Brahmins back to the seventh generation, who has seen Brahma face to face?" "No, indeed, Gotama."

"Then do you mean, Vasettha, that not one of the Brahmins, nor their teachers, nor their teachers' pupils, nor their ancestors back for seven generations, has ever seen Brahma face to face, that those who today so carefully intone and recite precisely the Vedas as they have been handed down to them, that even they did not pretend to know or have seen where or whence or whither Brahma is? And yet, Vasettha, these Brahmins pretend that they can show the path to union with that which they have not seen and which they do not know, saying: 'This is the straight path, this is the direct way which leads he who acts according to it into a state of union with Brahma.' Now what do you think, Vasettha? Does it not mean that the talk of these Brahmins, versed though they be in the Vedas, is foolish talk?" "Yes, Gotama, it is true that the talk of the Brahmins is foolish talk." "Vasettha, it is like a string of blind men clinging to one another, the foremost can not see the way, neither can the middle one, nor the hindmost. The talk of the Brahmins is but blind talk. The first sees not, the middle one sees not, the hindmost sees not. The talk, then, of these Brahmins turns out to be ridiculous, mere words, vain and empty. Vasettha, if a man should say, 'I long for and love the most beautiful woman in this land,' People should ask him, 'Well, friend, this most beautiful woman for whom you are longing, do you know her name, or her family name, whether she

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

is tall or short, dark or of medium complexion, black or fair, or in what village or town or city she dwells?' But he should answer, 'I do not know.' And when people should say to him, ' So then, friend, the girl whom you know not, neither have seen, how do you love and long for her?' And then when asked he should answer, 'Nevertheless, I love her.' Now what think you, Vasettha? Would it not turn out that the talk of that man was foolish talk?"

"Truly, Gotama, it would turn out that the talk of this person was foolish talk."

"Vasettha, you say that the Brahmins and all connected with them, have never seen Brahma. Now what think you, Vasettha? Does it not mean that the talk of the Brahmins versed in the Vedas is foolish talk?"

"Truly, Gotama, it follows that the talk of the Brahmins is foolish talk."

"Very good, Vasettha. To say that it is true that the Brahmins should be able to show the way to a state of union with that which they do not know, neither have seen, this is not a correct assertion. Just as a man should make a stairway in a place where four roads meet, Vasettha, and people should say to him, 'Well, friend, where are you going to build your mansion for which you are building this stairway? Will it face the east, or the south, or the west, or the north? How large will it be? Large or small or of medium size?' And when asked, he should answer, 'I do not know.' And people should say to him, 'But then, friend, are you making a stairway and do not have any idea in your mind as to what the mansion is to be like?' And when asked, he should answer, 'Yes.' Now what do think you, Vasettha? Would it not turn out that the thing which the man was doing was a foolish thing to do?"

"Truly, Gotama, it would be a foolish thing he was doing."

"Vasettha, the way to union with Brahma which the Brahmins are proclaiming without having seen Brahma or knowing anything about him, is just as foolish. Is it not so?"

"Truly, Gotama, it means that the talk of the Brahmins is foolish."

"Very good, Vasettha. For these Brahmins to proclaim a way to union with Brahma which they do not know, neither have seen — such is a wrong assertion. Again, Vasettha, if this river Akiravati were full of water, even to the brim and overflowing, and a man should come up and want to cross over because he had business on the other side, and he, standing on this bank, should say, 'Come hither, 0 further bank! come over to this side!' Now what think you, Vasettha, would the further bank of the river, because of the man's invoking and praying and hoping and praising, come over to this side?" "Certainly not, Gotama."

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

"The same way, Vasettha, do the Brahmins, omitting the practice of those qualities which really make a man a Brahmin and adopting the practice of those qualities which really make men not Brahmins — say thus: Indra, we call upon thee, Soma, we call upon thee, Varuna, we call upon thee, Isana, we call upon thee, Prajapati, we call upon thee, Yama, we call upon thee! Truly, Vasettha, just by their invoking and praying and hoping and praising, that they should after death and when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahma — this is a wrong assertion."

The Monk has Said

One day, while visiting the Kingdom of Kosala, the Buddha passed through a small town called Kesaputtra, where the Kalamas were living. Very often they were visited by mendicants, ascetics and wanderers of all kinds. Each one preached his own truth, his own path. The Kalamas were actually quite confused by all these different teachings; so when they heard of the forthcoming visit of the Buddha, they thought it could be a good occasion to clarify their confusion as the Buddha already had a very high reputation in the area.

"Lord, we are very confused, so many ascetics and Brahmins are visiting us; they teach different truths, each one pretends that his own truth is the only one. They all strongly condemn the other paths. Tell us what to do, whom to believe."

"Kalamas, to find out where the truth lies, you should not depend on certain things: the first is tradition. Also do not depend on hearsay, on the scriptures, on rumours. Do not decide on the good and bad only on the good reputation of a teacher, or on the appearances of things.

"Kalamas, remember also that you do not have the means to know all the facts of truth; therefore, you should not come to the conclusion, 'My conclusion is the only true one, everything else is false.' You would become dogmatic. So, Kalamas, do not be satisfied by hearsay or just because 'the monk is our teacher' or 'the monk has said'. Analyze by yourself even my words, see if they are conducive to good and happiness, study the cause and the origin of actions: if they are born out of ignoranee, hatred or greed, they are certainly not good."

On many other occasions, the Buddha taught the same thing to disciples: "As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it (on touchstone), so are you to accept my words only after examining them and not merely out of regard for me."

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher



Siddhartha was sent at a young age to a writing school under the master Vishvamitra. There he inquired what he was to be taught besides the sixty-four kinds of writing he already knew.

Another of Siddhartha's teachers, the high-born Brahmana Sabbamitta, was a philologist and grammarian, well-read in the six Vedangas,1 whom King Suddhodana, Siddhartha's father, sent for and charged to teach his son.

Once Siddhartha's relations complained to the king that his son was devoted to home pleasures and neglected those manly pursuits necessary for one who might one day lead his kinsmen in war. Siddhartha, when told of this, appointed a day when he would prove his skill against all comers. On that day he surpassed even the cleverest bowmen and, showing his mastery in "the twelve arts", won back the good opinion of the complaining clansmen.

Along with literary education, Siddhartha was given education in music and the military arts and pursued excellence in all his studies. He had a deep, questioning mind; it seems certain that he must have gone through a systematic course of study in all the deepest philosophies of the time. Although we hear nothing of Siddhartha between his youth and his twenty-ninth year and the great renunciation (mahabhinishkramand), an intense search shows that he was constantly meditating and contemplating on the supreme questions of the meaning and end of life.2

Intensity of Quest

At the age of twenty-nine, Siddhartha saw four things that altered him permanently: a man broken by age, a sick man, a decaying corpse, and a dignified hermit. He saw each of these in the company of his attendant Channa, and each time Channa was specially inspired to explain to his deeply-moved master the meaning of the sight. In the midst of luxury and comfort, a deep questioning arose in Siddhartha and he felt he was sitting on a volcano that might explode at any moment. The details of ordinary life became unbearable for him.

At about this time, the birth of a son was announced to Siddhartha in a garden at the riverside, where he had gone after seeing the hermit. The event was unexpected. "This is a new and strong tie I shall have to break," he said, and returned home thoughtful and sad.

But the villagers were delighted at the birth of the child, their king's only grandson. Siddhartha's return became a triumph, and he entered Kapilavastu amidst a crowd of rejoicing clansmen. Among


1. The entire body of The Vedic works composed in the style of the Sutras in accordance with the Indian traditional view, divided into six branches, called Vedangas (members of the Veda). These are; Shiksha, Chhanda, Vyakarana, Nirukta, K.alpa, and Jyotisha.

2. Rhys Davids, American Lectures, p. 102

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

the sounds of ovation which greeted his ear, one in particular is said to have attracted his attention — that of a young girl, his cousin, singing, "Happy the father, happy the mother, happy the wife of such a son and husband."

The word "happy" had a special meaning for Siddhartha — it meant freed, delivered from the chains of parenthood, saved. Grateful to the one who at such a time had reminded him of his highest thoughts, Siddhartha removed his necklace of pearls, and sent it to her, saying, "Let this be her fee as a teacher." She, quite naturally, began to build castles in the air, thinking, "Young Siddhartha is falling in love with me, and has sent me a present." But he took no further notice of her and passed on.

At midnight he sent Channa for his horse, and then went to the threshold of his wife's chamber. There by the light of the flickering lamp, he watched her sleeping, surrounded by flowers, with one hand on the head of their child. He had wished to take the babe in his arms for the last time, but now saw that he could not do so without awaking the mother. As this might frustrate all his plans, the fear of waking Yasodhara prevailed at last and he reluctantly tore himself away. Accompanied only by Channa, he left his father's home, his wealth and power, his young wife and only child. He rode away into the night to become a penniless seeker and pupil and a homeless wanderer.

The intensity of the quest outweighed all other considerations and possible pursuits. The hour had arrived when he had to take the staff in hand and set out on a journey into the unknown. Siddhartha rode a long distance that night, not stopping until he reached the bank of the river Aroma, beyond the Koliyan territory. There, removing his ornaments, he gave them and the horse to Channa to take back to Kapilavastu. Channa begged to be allowed to stay with his master, so that by becoming an ascetic he might continue to serve him. But Siddhartha would not hear of it, saying:"How will my father and my relatives know what has become of me unless you go back and tell them?" Siddhartha then cut off his long hair, exchanged clothes with a poor passer-by, sent home the dejected and sorrowing Channa, and hurried on towards Rajagriha to begin his new life as a homeless ascetic and seeker.1

Years of Quest and Penance

I Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha, was the seat of Bimbisara, one of the most powerful princes  in the eastern valley of the Ganges. Several hermits had found it convenient to settle in the solitude  of the caves of the surrounding hills, free from the dangers of more disturbed districts, yet near enough to the town whence they procured their simple supplies. Siddhartha approached one of s the leading teachers, Alara Kalama, who had a following of 300 disciples. Alara taught him the  successive stages of meditation and the doctrine of Atman. But Siddhartha turned back dissatisfied on the ground that this teaching did not lead to aversion, absence of passion, cessation, quiescence, knowledge, supreme wisdom, and Nirvana, but only as far as the realm of nothingness


1. Adapted  from Buddhism by Rhys Davids, Indological Book House, Delhi, 1973.

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The Seeker And The Teacher

Siddhartha next approached Uddaka, the sage of Rajagriha with 700 pupils. Siddhartha was intellectually and spiritually so advanced and mastered the doctrines taught to him so quickly that the teacher came to treat him as his equal in every way, offering to take him as a co-teacher of his disciples. Siddhartha, however, was also dissatisfied with Uddaka's teachings. He was seeking the highest good, which he could not find there. He left Uddaka and came in the course of his journeying to Uruvela, near Gaya, where, perceiving a delightful spot with an enchanting grove of trees and a silvery river, the Niranjana, all easy of approach and delightful, with a village nearby in which to beg, he settled down.

Siddhartha then engaged in a veritable life-and-death struggle involving meditation and penance. He was his own teacher and his own pupil. The solitude of this struggle was relieved by the fellowship of five mendicants, who desired deliverance and attached themselves to him as his disciples.

One of the most common beliefs of those times was the efficacy of penance as a means to gain superhuman powers and insights. Siddhartha decided to make an experiment, and resolved to go apart and see what progress he could make by this much-vaunted method. For six years, attended by the five faithful disciples, he gave himself up to the severest penances until he wasted away to a shadow by fasting and self-mortification. He practised many difficult forms of abstinence. His self-control evoked wonder and admiration, and his fame is said to have spread round about like the sound of a great bell hung in the canopy of the sky.

But the more he thought, the more he examined himself and denied himself, the more he felt himself prey to a mental torture worse than any bodily suffering. He began to wonder whether all his efforts were in vain and that he would fail. At last, one day, when walking slowly up and down, lost in thought, he staggered and fell to the ground. Some of the disciples thought he was dead. His body had become so thin that the ribs could be counted from his back, and there was no distance left between his belly and his spine.

But he recovered, and concluded that "truth cannot be attained by one who has lost his strength". He then set about curing his body and, on the bank of the river Niranjana, he persuaded himself to take some milk offered by Nandabala, the daughter of the leader of neighbouring herdsmen. The five orthodox mendicants, who had so far accompanied Siddhartha in his pursuits, now felt that he had fallen from the high road to realization; thinking he had returned to the world, they left him and went to Varanasi.

Siddhartha, the indefatigable seeker, continued to strive. Accounts tell us of his conflicts with Mara, the Tempter, when the greatness of the temptation was shadowed forth by horrible convulsions of the powers of Nature.

When a conflict began ... a thousand appalling meteors fell; clouds and darkness prevailed. Even this earth, with the oceans and mountains it contains though it is unconscious, quaked like a conscious being — like a fond bride when forcibly torn from her bridegroom — like the festoons of a vine shaking under the blasts of a whirlwind. The ocean rose under the vibration of this earthquake; rivers flowed back towards their sources; peaks of lofty mountains, where countless trees had grown for ages, rolled crumbling to the earth; a fierce storm howled all

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

Sujata offering khir to Budha -

Painting by Upendre Maharathi, courtesy NGMA

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

around; the roar of the concussion became terrific; and the very sun enveloped itself in awful darkness, and a host of headless spirits filled the air.1

One day, shortly after his followers had left him, Siddhartha wandered out towards the banks of the Niranjana, received his morning meal from the hands of Sujata, the daughter of a neighbouring villager, and sat down to eat under the shade of a large peepul tree (ficus religiosa) which would come to be known from that time onward as the sacred bo-tree, the tree of wisdom. There he remained in meditation through the long hours of the day. Adverse suggestions came to him from Mara. The intimate delights of home and love, the charms of wealth and power, began to glow again with attractive colours.

At last, Siddhartha said to Mara:

Lust is your first army; the second is dislike for higher life; the third is hunger and thirst; the fourth is craving; the fifth is torpor and sloth; the sixth is fear, cowardice; the seventh is doubt;

the eighth is hypocrisy and obduracy; the ninth is gain, praise, honour, false glory; the tenth is exalting self, despising others. Mara, these are your armies. No feeble man can conquer them, yet only by conquering them one wins bliss. I challenge you! Shame on my life if defeated! Better for me to die in battle than live defeated ...

Mara replied:

For seven years have I followed Thee step by step. I can find no entrance to the All-enlightened, the watchful one. As a crow went after a stone that looked like a lump of fat, thinking, surely, here I shall find a tender morsel, and finding no sweetness there, departed thence; so like a crow attacking a rock, in disgust I leave Thee, Gautama. ,

Siddhartha became the Enlightened One, Gautama, the Buddha. He had gained the haven of peace, and through the power of inward culture and of love over the human heart, had come to rest at last on a certitude that could never be shaken.


1. Mathuratha Vilasini, Journal of Bengal Asiatic Society, vii, 812, 813.

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The Seeker And The Teacher

Transition to Teacherhood

The Buddha had arrived at Nirvana, utter transcendence, which no negative or positive idea can truly or adequately describe. In that experience, the root of desire is destroyed and, even while in the body and while doing the works of Righteousness and Love in the world, one remains in a state of utter transcendence, sometimes described as the state of nothingness or of utter emptiness or of non-being, sometimes as the state that is neither being nor non-being, neither diversity nor oneness, neither immobility nor dynamism. True action, it is said, proceeds from silence, and there are deeper and deeper profundities of silence, each corresponding to a greater effectivity of action. At the deepest, or highest, state of silence is found the state of Buddhahood, where, like the Buddha, one can remain in Nirvana yet act in the world. In any case, the Buddha's life as a teacher showed that, although impersonal in his consciousness, in his action he was one of the most powerful personalities to have lived and produced results upon earth.

The Buddha accepted teacherhood after an important and meaningful struggle. For a time he felt that the truth he had attained was too high for others to understand. It is said that while he tarried in solitude this thought came to him;

I have penetrated this deep truth, which is difficult to understand, peace-giving, sublime, which transcends all thought, deeply significant, which only the wise can grasp. Man moves in an earthly sphere, in an earthly sphere he has his place and finds his enjoyment. For him, it will be ' difficult to grasp this matter, the law of causality, the chain of causes and effects, the extinction  of all conformations; the withdrawal from all that is earthly, the extinction of desire, the i cessation of longing, the end, the Nirvana. And so — why reveal to the world what I have won ¦ by a serene struggle? The truth remains hidden from him who desire and hate absorbs. It is . difficult, mysterious, deep, hidden from the coarse mind. He cannot apprehend it, whose mind  earthly vocations surround with night.

Thinking this, the Buddha's heart was inclined to abide in quietude and not to proclaim the truth. However, a higher prayer arose, full of compassion, leading him to declare: "I shall not enter Nirvana until the life of holiness which I point out has been successful, grown in favour, and extended among all mankind, and is in vogue and thoroughly made known to all men."

He said:

Let opened be to all the door of eternity.

He who hath ears, let him hear the word and believe.1


 1.Mahavagga, i,5,2.

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

Teacherhood Begins

At first, he intended to address himself to his old teachers, Alara and Uddaka, but finding that they had died, he walked straight to Varanasi, where his former disciples were living. Along the way, he met Upaka and from him received his first rebuff. Upaka, surprised at the Buddha's expression and carriage, asked him: "Whence comes it that thy form is so perfect, thy countenance so lovely, thy appearance so peaceful? What system is it that imparts to thee such joy and such peace?"

To this, the Buddha replied that he had overcome all worldly influences and ignorance, all error and passionate craving. Then Upaka asked him where he was going and on hearing that the Buddha's destination was Varanasi, he inquired for what purpose. To this, the Buddha answered:

I now will turn the wheel of the excellent Law, For this purpose I am going to that city of Varanasi, To give light to those enshrouded in darkness, And to open the gate of Immortality to men.

Upon further questioning, he informed Upaka that having conquered all evil passion, and forever having got rid of the remnants of personal being, he had willed by the light of his spiritual knowledge to dispense light to all, even as a lamp enlightens all in the house.

Unable to bear any more, Upaka said curtly:

"Venerable Gautama, your way lies yonder." And turning away, Upaka strode off in the opposite direction.1

The Buddha continued his journey and reached the Deer Park in Varanasi, where he met his five former disciples. There were reservations in their minds, but one among them, Kondanya, led the way in accepting the Buddha's teachings, and finally all five gave their adhesion to the Light revealed to them.


1. This story is to be found in Seal's Romantic Legends from the Chinese, p. 245, and it is related in Buddhism by Rhys Davids.

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Great Teachers as Examples

It is said that education is a preparation for life; and this is true, although it would be truer to say that all life is perpetual education. In any case, the quality and direction of education is dependent upon the aim of life that is conceived and attempted to be realized. It is in this context that we need to turn to the great teachers, the Rishis, Krishna, the Buddha, Christ, Socrates, and others who have attempted to chum the ocean of life and indicated what they have discovered at the peak of their achievements. However, they might differ among themselves, their very differences become for us objects of exploration and provide us the material on the basis of which a more synthetic and more flexible process of education can be conceived for our growing generations.

There is a facile view that the greatest teachers need not be presented as examples for emulation;

for, it is argued, hardly anyone can reach the heights that they scaled, and by presenting too sublime examples, we are likely to create among the ordinary common teachers a sense of despair or frustration. But the history of human culture will show that the real forerunners of humanity have always presented the highest examples and endeavoured to lift others to their highest possible heights. And it is the climb to greater and greater heights and constant attempts at higher and higher approximations that constitute the epic theme of human endeavour. This theme is of central importance for education and teachers and pupils.

Ideals of Education

The Vedic ideal of education, as we saw earlier, was to achieve, through the practice of brahmacharya, a mastery over physical life and a conquest over the supraphysical planes of luminous knowledge and power so as to effect a kind of synthesis between material prosperity and spiritual liberation and immortality.

This ideal continued to inspire the Rishis of the Upanishads, but there was later an increasing tendency towards asceticism that put forward the idea of the meaninglessness of the world and its activities and favoured an exclusive pursuit of spiritual solitude, calm and peace. This ideal became so stamped on the general attitude in spiritual life that the Buddha was obliged to go through extreme practices of self-mortification and asceticism in the belief that these practices were necessary for the highest attainment. Fortunately he came to the conclusion that the real path was the Middle Path, which rejects physical torture on the one hand, and indulgence on the other. It may, indeed, be said that the Buddha did not teach a petty ideal of escape from action, but a subtle and difficult and lofty ideal of synthesizing the state of Silence with all the activities of righteousness, love and compassion.

Nevertheless, in the development of Buddhism, the rejection of worldly activities became more and more prominent.

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Buddha's Daily Life

The daily routine of the Bhikkhus came to be determined very much by the Buddha's daily life, which has been described in Buddhaghosha's commentary on the first of the Dialogues of Gotama. "He rose early in the morning (about 5 a.m.) and, out of consideration for his personal attendant, was in the habit of washing and dressing himself, without calling for any assistance. Then, till it was time to go on his round for alms, he would retire to a solitary place and meditate. When that time arrived, he would dress himself completely in the three robes, take his bowl in his hand and, sometimes alone and sometimes attended by his followers, would enter the neighbouring village or town for alms. Then the people understanding that 'today the Blessed One has come for alms', would vie with one another, saying: 'Today, Sir, take your meal with us; we will make provision for ten, and we for twenty, and we for a hundred of your followers.' So saying, they would take his bowl, and, spreading mats for him, and his attendant followers, they would await the moment when the meal was over. Then would the Blessed One, when the meal was done, discourse to them with due regard to their capacity for spiritual things, in such a way that some would take the layman's vow and some would enter on the path, and some would reach the highest fruit thereof.

"This done, he would arise from his seat and depart to the place where he had lodged. And when he had come there, he would sit in the open veranda, awaiting the time when the rest of the followers should also have finished their meal. And when his attendant announced that they had done so, he would enter his private apartment. Thus was he occupied up to the midday meal. Then, afterwards, standing at the door of his chamber, he would exhort the congregation of brethren into strenuous efforts after the higher life. Then would some of them ask him to suggest a subject for meditation suitable to the spiritual capacity of each, and when he had done so, they would retire each to the solitary place he was wont to frequent, and meditate on the subject set. Then would the Blessed One retire within the private chamber for short rest during the heat of the day. Then, when his body was rested, he would arise from the couch, and for a space consider the circumstances of the people near, that he might do them good. And, at the fall of the day, the folk from the neighbouring villages or towns would gather together at the place he was lodging, and to them, seated in the lecture hall, would he, in a manner suitable to the occasion, and to their beliefs, discourse on the Truth. Then, seeing that the proper time had come, he would dismiss the folk. Thus was he occupied in the afternoon. Then, at the close of the day, should he feel to need the refreshment of a bath, he would bathe, while some brother of the Order, attendant on him, would prepare the divan in the chamber perfumed with flowers. And in the evening, he would sit awhile alone, still in all his robes, till the brethren, returned from their meditations, began to assemble. Then some would ask him questions on things that puzzled them, some would speak of their meditations, some would ask for an exposition of the Truth. Thus would the first watch of the night pass, as the Blessed One satisfied the desire of each and they would take their leave. And part of the rest of the night would he spend in meditation, walking up and down outside his chamber; and part he would rest, lying down calm, and self-possessed, within."

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

An Expert Physician: Jivaka Komarabhachcha

In the Vinaya text, there are some accounts of medicines, drugs, and surgical operations. We have in the Vinaya text the life and career of the most distinguished medical expert of the time of the Buddha, Jivaka Komarabhachcha. Some of the main points are as follows:

Jivaka was the son of the courtesan, Salavati of Rajagriha. The boy was thrown away on a dust heap from which Prince Abhaya rescued him alive. He also brought him up till he (Jivaka) thought: "In these royal families it is not easy to find one's livelihood without knowing an art. What if I were to learn an art!" Thinking thus, he went to Takkasila to study medicine under a world-renowned physician who lived there. He learnt much and easily, understood well, and did not forget what he had learnt. After studying thus for seven years, he asked his teacher when his studies might be regarded as completed, whereupon his teacher prescribed to him the following test: "Take this spade and seek round about Takkasila ayojana on every side, and whatever plant you see which is not medicinal, bring it to me." Jivaka examined all plants of the area specified and reported that he had not come across any plant that had no medicinal properties. The teacher, satisfied with the answer, said: "You have done your learning, my good Jivaka," and gave him a little money for his passage home.

The money was sufficient for his journey only up to Saketa where he was forced to earn by his art. At that time, a Setthi's wife had been suffering for seven years from a disease in the head whom many great and world-renowned physicians had failed to cure, though much gold was spent on them as their fees. But young Jivaka would not even be given a call until he proposed that his fees might be paid only if the patient were cured. Jivaka had one paseta (handful) of ghee boiled up with various drugs and administered the medicine to the patient through her nose. By one dose she was cured, and she gave to the doctor in all 16,000 Kahapanas together with a coach, horses, and two servants. These fees and presents Jivaka tendered on his return to Rajagriha to the prince who brought him up for the expenses incurred on his behalf.

Next, Jivaka cured the Emperor Bimbisara of his fistula by anointing and was then appointed the royal physician and the physician of the Buddha and his Sangha. The next important case he treated was that of a Setthi at Rajagriha who had been suffering for seven years from a head disease. Jivaka performed a surgical operation to cure him; he tied him fast to his bed, cut through the skin of the head, drew apart the flesh on each side of the incision, pulled two worms out of the wound, then closed up the sides of the wound, stitched up the skin on the head, and anointed it with salve. The next important call came from Varanasi to cure a Setthi's son who, by a gymnastic feat, got an entanglement of his intestines, by which he could not digest anything, nor could he ease himself in the regular way, and looked discoloured with the veins standing out upon his skin. Jivaka performed another of his successful and difficult surgical operations. He cut through the skin of the belly, drew the twisted intestines out, and showed them to his wife. He then disentangled the twisted intestines, put them back into their right position, stitched the skin together, and anointed it with salve. Before long the patient was cured and his father gave to the surgeon 16,000 Kahapanas.

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

The next call came from Ujjaini, whose King Pajjota, suffering from jaundice, asked the Emperor Bimbisara for the services of his physician. Jivaka wanted to boil up ghee for medicine, but as he understood that the patient had a great aversion to ghee, he resorted to an artifice of so boiling up the ghee with various other drugs that it took the colour, smell, and taste of an astringent decoction. Then anticipating that the king would vomit the medicine and detect it to be ghee, he craftily arranged for his escape by getting from the king the orders that he should be free to move about and ride on any animal he chose, "on pretext of drawing out roots and gathering medical drugs". He thus effected his escape on the fastest she-elephant. Eventually, the King of Ujjaini recovered from his illness and sent on to Jivaka a present of Siveyyaka cloth.

There are also instances recorded of Jivaka's treatment of the Buddha and his brethren. Once, when the humours of the Buddha's body were disturbed, Jivaka asked Ananda to rub his body with fat for a few days but found that a purgative was necessary for him. Not considering it becoming to give him a strong purgative, he had three handfuls of three lotuses imbued with various drugs to be smelt by the patient. Each handful then produced ten motions. After that, the Buddha bathed in warm water and was asked to abstain from liquid food for some time till he was completely restored to health.

Buddhist Education

In the field of education, the development of Buddhism marked certain remarkable changes in the Indian educational system prevalent in pre-Buddhist days. Buddhist education was monastic in character, in contrast to the earlier system of Gurukula, where the pupil approached the teacher and, when accepted, stayed with him as a member of his family. In the course of time, the subjects of study had become quite enlarged, but during the development of Buddhism, the number of subjects grew still larger. In the Buddhist schools, the emphasis came to be laid on Buddhist literature. In the Gurukulas, the programme of studies included, apart from the Vedas, the study of Vedangas, and various systems of science and philosophy.1 In the time of Kautilya (fourth century, B C), studies also included Varta, i.e., subjects relating to agriculture, cattle rearing, and trade, and Dandaniti or the science and art of government. In the Buddhist schools, Viharas, each pupil, young or old was a monk. The teachers were also monks, and their tasks comprised the "giving of recitation, holding examination, making exhortations and explaining Dhamma". The pupils were of four classes, those who mastered recitations and propounding of Suttantas, those who studied Vinaya, those who were training themselves as teachers of the Dhamma, and those of the highest


1. The entire body of the Vedic works composed in the style of the Sutras is divided into six branches called Vedangas (members of the Veda), (Sutra means a brief aphorism containing much content and meaning.) The first Vedanga is Shiksha, the science of the pronounciation of letters, accents and the like. The second Vedanga is Chhandas or metre, which arranged the archaic metres systematically. The third Vedanga is Vyakarana or grammar. (The most important information regarding pre-Paninian grammar is to be derived from Yaska's work.) The fourth Vedanga is Nirukta or etymology, as represented in the work ot'Yaska, which is a sort of etymological lexicography of Vedic terms. The fifth Vedanga is Kalpa, science of ceremonies. The last Vedanga is called Jyotisha or astronomy. The age of Sutras which came after the age of the Upanishads was an age of scientific study and specialization, and there developed mathematics, grammar, philology, astrology, logic, law, and philosophies such as those of Nyaya, Mimansa, etc.

The Seeker And The Teacher

The Seeker And The Teacher

class who were given to meditation. Sanskrit was supplanted and superseded as a medium of instruction in the Buddhist schools by the vernacular dialects.

Some of the great teachers of the Buddhist schools were known as Thera (senior) Bhikkhus. The name's of some of the early Thera Bhikkhus include Sariputta, Maha-Moggallana, Maha- Kachchana, Maha-Kotthita, Maha-Kappina, Maha-Chunda, Anuruddha, Revata, Upali, Ananda, and Rahula. These are described as travelling together through the country of Kashi. Another passage in Vinaya mentions the Theras, the brothers Isidasa, and Isibhatta, Nilavasi, Gopaka, Bhagu, and Phalika-Sandana. The pupils of these Theras are also mentioned.

The Buddhist system of education laid stress on the method of debate and discussion, in the same way as was done in the Brahmanical system. (Contemporaneous with the Buddhist schools, there were also schools of Jainism.) The places where great discussion took place were public halls or sauthagaras. Rules came to be framed for the conduct of discussions and proceedings. A special treatise on this subject, Sapta-dasha-bhumi-Shastm-Yogacharya, is attributed to Maitreya of about A D 400.

In the Sigalavada Sutta we have a list of the duties of parents and children, of pupils and teachers, of laymen and monks. It is pointed out that it is the duty of the parents to have their children taught the arts and sciences. "The pupil should honour his teachers by (i) rising in their presence; (ii) ministering to them; (iii) obeying them; (iv) supplying their wants; (v) attention to instruction. The teacher should show his affection for the pupils by (i) training them in all that is good; (ii) teaching them to hold knowledge fast; (iii) instruction in science and lore; (iv) speaking weli of themto their friends and companions; and (v) guarding them from danger."


SriAurobindo. The Life Divine. Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, vol. 18. Pondicherry, 1972. Coomaraswamy, Ananda K. Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism. New York: Verry, 1964. David-Neel, Alexandra. Buddhism: Its Doctrines and Its Methods. London: B.I. Publications, 1977. Mukherjee, Radha Kumud. Ancient Indian Education.London: Macmillan, 1951. Niirada, Thera. trans. The Dhammapada. London: John Murray, 1972. Davids, Rhys.Buddhism. Delhi: Indological Book House, 1973.

The Seeker And The Teacher

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