The lesson "Sermon at Benares" focuses on the early life of Gautama Buddha, his progress in gaining spiritual rank, and some of his teachings.
Gautama Buddha was a Prince by birth. The famous gardens of Lumbini, Northern India, where Gautama Buddha (563-583 B.C.) was born, remain a popular destination for pilgrims.
Historically, India had a system of "Vedic education." This system focused on achieving salvation and was taught in Gurukulas and Ashrams, and it focused more on moral purity, self-control, meditation, etc.
Siddhartha Gauthama was sent away for four years after age twelve to receive his education in the Hindu sacred scriptures.
He later wed a princess named Yasodhara after returning to his nation. The happy marriage of Prince Siddhartha and Princess Yasodhara resulted in the birth of a son. However, the aristocratic lifestyle lasted only a short time. Siddhartha Buddha's life experienced a complete transformation at the age of 25, perhaps after ten years of a happy marriage. One day when he went hunting, Siddhartha encountered the source of his life's transformation. Siddhartha lived a privileged existence for the entirety of his \(25\) years, and he was unaware of worldly afflictions like ageing, poverty, and death.
Siddhartha encountered a sick man, an older man, a funeral procession, and a monk who was appealing for alms on that day of hunting as he was travelling to the forest. Siddhartha was completely clueless about every scene he had passed while travelling. He was so moved by the scenes that he left his house right away to learn more about the misery he had witnessed.
Siddhartha abandoned his family and throne and spent seven years wandering the world in pursuit of the truth and a reason for why people suffer in this world. In general, the number seven has a high value in many religions. Seven is the number of ascents in Buddhism, and Buddha is supposed to have ascended seven steps at birth. Finally, he decided to stay under a Peepal tree until he had received all the answers to the queries he had been seeking all those years.
After seven days of continuous penance, Siddhartha attained enlightenment. Hence, he renamed the tree "Bodhi tree," which means "tree of awakening." As soon as Siddhartha began imparting the knowledge he had achieved to others, people began referring to him as the "Buddha," which means "an enlightened one" or "a knower." Buddha's first sermon was given in the city of Benares, where the sacred river Ganges resides.
His first sermon is still preserved and given in Benares even today. This sermon is supposed to reflect Buddha's understanding of the unexplained sufferings in the world.
Buddha's first sermon dealt with "death" and how everyone must face it in life. During the time of Buddha, a woman named Kisa Gotami lived. She had just one son, who passed away one day. She fixed an illusory thought in her mind that her son was not dead and that he had some issues to fix to return to normal life. Moreover, she believed that with some form of drug, her son could be cured. She thought so because her mind could not believe that her son was dead as she was so deeply distressed and frustrated. So, with this belief entrenched in her mind, Gotami carried her dead child to her neighbours' homes and asked for medicine to bring her son back to life. Her neighbours believed she had gone insane because they could see that her son was already dead.
She spent a lot of time searching all day before finding a physician who gave her the name she could meet. He told her that perhaps he wasn't the right person to give her medicine, but when she pleaded with him to tell her who the doctor was, he responded, "Gautama Buddha." This gave Gotami some hope. It's because the stranger realised that only Gautama Buddha could aid Gotami with her condition after fully comprehending her predicament.
The word 'Shakyamuni' refers to one of the titles of Buddha.
Kisa Gotami believed the physician's words and arrived at Buddha's residence full of hope to assist in her son's revival. She begged the Buddha to heal her son.
Buddha was aware of Gotami's predicament. He did not want to inform her that her kid had already passed away and that doing so would be useless. Gotami was in such a difficult circumstance that she could not accept her beloved son's death.
Buddha decided to let Gotami come to terms with reality on her own. So, he instructed her to collect a handful of mustard seeds to fix her dilemma. Gotami was delighted to hear such a simple request from Buddha because getting a handful of mustard seeds wasn't a big thing. However, Buddha did not end his demand there. He only asked for mustard seeds from a house where no one had ever lost a friend, spouse, child, or parent. Buddha made this request to Gotami to help her comprehend the truths about nature and the world, which would be further revealed in subsequent sessions.
Now, it's been understood why the stranger had sent Gotami to meet Buddha to sort out her problem.
Gowthami was optimistic that she could gather a handful of seeds elsewhere and bring her son back to life. She then begged for mustard seeds by visiting several homes. People sensed her suffering and came forward to give her some mustard seeds. However, everyone said "yes" when she asked if someone in their family had passed away, such as a son or daughter, a father or mother. Additionally, they requested that Gotami not remind them about the loss of their families, formerly the source of their greatest pain.
Soon Gotami began to realise that completing Buddha's task—obtaining mustard seeds from a family where no deaths had occurred—was neither simple nor possible after learning the same thing from every family she had encountered. It's because there were some fatal incidences in each of the homes where Gotami went to beg for mustard seeds.
As a result of her exhausting efforts, Kisa Gotami lost all faith in her ability to complete the task assigned by Buddha. She might have realised by this point that the Buddha's request of her was neither easy nor possible. She eventually sat by the side of the road, seeing the city lights flickering up and disappearing again. After the lights were turned off, the area eventually fell into complete darkness.
Gotami then compared the light to the life and felt about the fates of men as how their lives go by so quickly, and then they're gone. She finally understood that everyone in the world eventually dies. "Death is common to all, yet there is a route that leads to immortality for someone who has surrendered all selfishness," she reflected herself.
Here, the Buddha delivers his great message to the entire world, not only to Gotami. According to Buddha, everyone's mortal life is troubled and painful. Once you reach old age, there is no way to avoid dying. Death is a part of life.
Living beings are of this nature as ripe fruit is often at risk of falling, so mortals are always in danger of death after birth. All pottery made by the potter eventually breaks, and so does the life of mortals. Both young and old, both those who are foolish and those who are intelligent, all fall under the power of death. All are subject to death.
Gauthama Buddha's words are true. It is the unwritten law of the universe that every living thing born on this earth must die one day.
There is just one result of death: it removes the person from the living world, i.e., the person stops existing. Death is beyond anyone's control; neither a father nor a relative's kin can assist in saving their loved ones. Death takes all mortals with it, leaving no one behind, much like an ox being carried to the slaughterhouse to be slain. Since no one could escape this, Lord Buddha described as wise the person who is aware of the truth but does not lament their loss.
So, Buddha's teaching emphasises that "death happens to everyone in life and that no one can save anyone from death; in fact, everyone should have to go through the same one day." It also implies that our body is a temporary shelter for the soul, which carries on its life after death in another realm known as the "heavens".
According to the Buddha, crying or grieving cannot bring about inner serenity; rather, they worsen the person's pain and harm their health. Even if he becomes weak and pale, his lamenting will not bring the dead back to life. Lamentation, complaint, and grief are the three arrows that the individual seeking peace should draw out. A person will succeed in obtaining peace of mind if they eliminate these arrows from their minds and relax. He will also count himself blessed when he has overcome his sufferings.
Moreover, a man who had won over his grief in life would then be relieved from distress, stress, and anxiety, as well as help this state of peace of mind would definitely lead us to live a more fulfilling life in the present moment by clearing away the clutter of past thoughts and actions to experience what is right here, right now.
And if people have been living with these arrows their entire lives, they will never be able to achieve the state of supreme happiness unless they can banish these three arrows from their memory!