The Sermon at Benaras By Betty Renstaw
GAUTAMA Buddha (563 B.C. – 483 B.C.) began life as a prince named Siddhartha Gautama, in northern India. At twelve, he was sent away for schooling in the Hindu sacred scriptures and four years later he returned home to marry a princess. They had a son and lived for ten years as befitted royalty. At about the age of twenty-five, the Prince, heretofore shielded from the sufferings of the world, while out hunting chanced upon a sick man, then an aged man, then a funeral procession, and finaly a monk begging for alms. These sights so moved him that he at aonce became a beggar and went out in the world to seek enlightenment concerning the sorrows he had witnessed. He wandered for seven years and finally sat down under a fig tree, where he vowed to stay until enlightenment came. Englightenment after seven days, he renamed the tree the Bo Tree (Tree of wisdom) and began to teach and share his new understandings. At that poin he became known as the Buddha (the Awakened or the Enlightened). The Buddha preached his first sermon at the city of Benares, most holy of the dipping places on the river Ganges; that sermon has been preserved and is given here. It reflects the Buddha’s wisdom about one inscrutable kind of suffering.
Kisa Gotami had an only son, and he died. In her grief she carried the dead child to all her neighbours, asking them for medicine, and the people said, “She has lost her senses. They boy is dead.”
At length, Kisa Gotami met a man who replied to her request, “I cannot give thee medicine for thy child, but I know a physician who can.”
And the girl said, “Pray tell me, sir; who is it?” And the man replied, “Go to Salyamuni, the Buddha.”
Kisa Gotami repaired to the BUddha and cried, “Lord and Master, give me the medicine that will cure my boy.”
The Buddha answered, “I want a handful of mustard seed.” And when the girl in her joy promised to procure it, the Buddha added, “The mustard-seed must be taken from a house where no one has lost a child, husband, parent or friend.”
Poor Kisa Gotami now went from house to house, and the people pitied her and said, “here is mustard-seed; take it!” But when she asked, “Did a son or daughter, a father or mother, die in your family?” they answered er, “Alas! the living are few, but the dead are many. Do not remind us of our deepest grief.” And there was no house but some beloved one had died in it.
Kisa Gotami became weary and hopeless, and sat down at the wayside watching the lights of the city, as they flickered up and were extinguised again. And she thought to herself, “How selfish am I in my grief! Death is common to all; yet in this valley of desolation there is a path that leads him to immortality who has surrendered all selfishness.”
The Buddha said, “That life of mortal in this world is troubled and brief and combined with pain. For there is not any means by which those that have been born can avoid dying; after reaching old age there is death; of such a nature are living beings. As ripe frutis are early in danger of falling, so mortals when born are always in danger of death. As all earthen vessels made by the potter end in being broken, so is the life of mortals. Both young and adult, both those who are fools and those who are wise, all fall into the power of death; all are subject to death.
“Of those who , overcome by death, depart from life, a father cannot save his son, nor kinsmen their relations. Mark! While relatives are looking on and lamenting deeply, one by one mortals are carried off, like an ox that is led to the slaughter. So the world is afflicted with death and decay, therefore the wise do not grieve, knowing the terms of the world.
“Not from weeping nor from grieving will anyone obtain peace of mind; on the contrary , his pain will be the greater and his body will suffer. He will make himself sick and pale, yet the dead are not saved by his lamentation. He who seeks peace should draw out the arrow of lamentation, and complaint, and grief. He who has drawn out the arrow and has become composed will obtain peace of mind; he who has overcome all sorrow will become free from sorrow, and be blessed.”
The Sermon at Benaras Summary
Buddha as a Prince
Gautama Budhdha was born as a prince named Siddhartha Gautama in Northern India. At twelve, he was sent for schooling in Hindu sacred scriptures. Four years later, he returned home and got married to a princess. They had a son. They lived a royal life for ten years.
Gautama Feels Sufferings of the World
He was protected from the sufferings of the world. One day, he saw a sick man, an old man, a funeral procession and a monk begging for money and food. This moved Buddha and he went out to seek enlightenment.
Gautama Seeks Enlightenment
He travelled aimlessly for seven years and then he stayed under a peepal tree until he attained enlightenment. After seven days, he got enlightened and renamed the tree as Bodhi Tree (Tree of Wisdom). There, he began to teach and share his knowledge and became known as Buddha.
Buddha Gives his First Sermon
Buddha preached his first sermon at the city of Benares. It is the holiest of the dipping places on the river Ganges. This sermon reflects Buddha’s wisdom about the kind of suffering that is impossible to interpret.
Kisa Gotami’s Story
Kisa Gotami had only one son who had died. She carried her dead son in her arms and went door to door asking for medicines for her dead child. They were as helpless as Kisa and couldn’t go against the will of God. Finally , somebody suggested that she should go to Sakyamuni, the Buddha. Kisa Gotami went to meet Gautama Buddha. Gautama told her to bring a handful of mustard seeds from a house where death had never knocked at the door. Kisa thought that it was a very easy task. She went to all the houses in the village but couldn’t find a single house where death had not taken a beloved away.
Budhdha’s Reply to Kisa Gotami
The life of mortals is troubled, brief and combined with pain. It is not possible to avoid death. As the ripe fruits are in danger of falling, as the earthen vessels made by the potter break, similarly the mortals have the danger of death. Wise men and fools, all fall in the power of death. Only the wise do not grieve and they accept the reality. All weeping and grieving will bring more pain and sufferings to the body. Once, who is composed, will obtain peace of mind and will be free from sorrow and be blessed.
‘The Sermon at Benares’ is a chapter written by Betty Renshaw. The chapter covers the journey of Goutama Buddha from princehood to his saintly life. After seeing the suffering of the world, he decided to give up all wordly pleasures and seeked enlightenment. He finally attained salvation under a tree of Bodhgaya. His first sermon was delivered at Benares near the bank of the Ganges. Kisa Gottami was the first one to receive his sermon.
About the Characters
Buddha : Gautama Buddha is the founder of the religion Buddhism. He was a spiritual teacher who had gained enlightenment after seeing the world’s pains and greed.
Kisa Gotami : She was a young mother whose only son had died. She was a loving and caring mother, but at the same time, she became selfish and wanted to get her son back after death.
- This lesson is about the life of Gautama Buddha, who was born in a royal family as Siddhartha.
- He was sent to study Hindu scriptures, and later married a princess.
- Once he saw a sick man, an old man, a funeral procession and a monk begging for money.
- These signals moved him and he went to search for englightenment.
- He started meditating under a peepal tree and got enlightened after seve days and became known as the Buddha.
- He preached his first sermon at Benares.
- Once a woman came to him requesting to bring her dead son to life.
- Gautama Buddha asked the lady to bring a handful of mustard seeds from a house where there had been no death.
- The lady moved from one house to another but could not find a single house where no one had lost a child, husband, parent or friend.
- Then, she came to know that death is common to all and is the ultimate truth of life.
sacred : pious
scriptures : the sacred writings of a religion
befitted : be appropriate
royalty : people of royal blood or status
heretofore : before now
shielded : protected from a danger
suffering : the state of undergoing pain
hunting : the activity of sport of killing wild animals
alms : money or food given to poor people
enlightenment : a state of high spiritual knowledge
wandered : moved in a leisurely or aimless way
vowed : a serious promise to do something
chanced upon : came across by chance
understandings : (here) learnings
awakened : (here) enlightened
preached : deliver a sermon or religious address to a group of people
sermon : a talk on a religious or moral subject
holy : connected to God or religion
wisdom : good sense or judgement
inscrutable : impossible to understand or interpret
grief : intense sorrow
repaired : (here) went to
handful : a quantity that fills the hand
procure : obtain (something)
beloved : dearly loved
weary : feeling or showing extreme tiredness
hopeless : having or feeling no hope
flickered : shine unsteadily
extinguished : cause (a fire or light) to cease to burn
selfish : lacking consideration for other people
valley of desolation : an area which is filled with deep sorrow
immortality : the ability to live forever
brief : of short duration
ripe : fully grown and ready to be eaten
mortals : those bound to die
earthen : made of baked or fired clay
kinsmen : near relatives
lamenting : expressing sorrow, regret or unhappiness about something
slaughter : the killing of animals for their meat
afflicted : affected
contrary : opposite in nature, direction or meaning
composed : having one’s feelings and expression under control
sorrow : a feeling of deep distress caused by a loss
blessed : bringing pleasure, contentment or good fortune
Questions and Answers
Thinking about the Text (Page 135)
Question 1 : When her son dies, Kisa Gotami goes from house to house? What does she ask for? Does she get it? Why not?
Answer : After the death of her only son, Kisa Gotami was overcome with grief. She carried the dead body of her son in her arms and went from door to door asking for medicine to cure her child, but nobody could provide any medicine. For there is no such medicine available which can bring a dead person back to life.
Question 2 : Kisa Gotami again goes from house to house after she speaks with the Buddha. What does she ask for? Does she get it? Why not?
Answer : Gautama Buddha asks Kisa to bring a handful of mustard seeds from a house where death had never knocked at the the door. Kisa Gotami went from door to door, but couldn’t find a single house where death had not taken a beloved away. She could not get it as death is inevitable and anyone who is born is bound to die one day.
Question 3 : What does Kisa Gotami understand the second time that she failed to understand the first time? Was this what Buddha wanted her to understand?
Answer : After failing to procure a handful of mustard seeds from a house where death had never knocked at the door, she sat down by th eroadside feeling helpless. She saw the lights of the city that flickered and were extinguished. At last, it was darkness everywhere.
She realised that death was common to all and she was being selfish in her grief. Yes, this is what Buddha wanted her to understand, that everyone who is born has to die one day.
Question 4 : Why do you think Kisa Gotami understood this only the second time? In what way did Buddha change her understanding?
Answer : Earlier, she could see only her grief. When she went from door to door the second time, she understood that everyone was dealing with the loss of a beloved one. There was not a single house in the town, where death had not taken a father, a mother, a sister, a brother, son or a daughter. Everyone, at some point or the other, had experienced the death of his loved ones. Gautama Buddha helped her to understand all this, as he told her to bring a handful of mustard seeds from a house where death had never knocked at the door. This way she got aware that death is common to all human beings.
Question 5 : How do you usually understand the idea of selfishness? Do you agree with Kisa Gotami that she was being selfish in her grief?
Answer : A selfish person is one who only thinks about himself or herself, and to some extent Kisa Gotami was being selfish because we are humans and it is natural for us to die. We do not easily accept the death of our loved ones. Same had happened with Kisa Gotami. As it was her only child, she did not want him to die and finally went to Buddha to ask for help.
Extract Based Questions
Question 1 : Gautama Buddha (563 BC – 483 BC) began life as a prince named Siddhartha Gautama, in Northern India. At twelve, he was sent away for schooling in the Hindu sacred scriptures and four years later he returned home to marry a princess. They had a son and lived for ten years as befitted royalty.
i) Who was Gautama Buddha?
a) A prince
b) A Peasant
c) A trader
d) A robber
ii) What did Gautama Buddha study?
a) The Bible
b) The Quaran
c) The Hindu sacred scriptures
iii) When did Gautama Buddha marry?
a) At the age of twelve years
b) At the age of sixteen years
c) At the age of eighteen years
d) At the age of twenty years
iv) ………………in the extract means ‘people of the royal family’
Answer : i) a) A prince
ii) c) The Hindu scared scriptures
iii) b) At the age of sixteen years
iv) d) Royalty
Question 2 : At about the age of twenty-five, the Prince, heretofore shielded from the sufferings of the world, while out hunting chanced upon a sick man, then an aged man, then a funeral procession , and finally a monk begging for alms. These sights so moved him that he at once went out into the world to seek enlightenment concerning the sorrows he had witnessed.
i) What did Gautama Buddha witness while hunting?
a) Sufferings of the people in various forms
b) Joy of the life outside palace
c) Beauty of nature
d) The pleasure of hunting
ii) What did Buddha finally see?
a) A sick man
b) An aged man
c) A funeral procession
d) A monk begging for alms
iii) What impact did all these sights had on Buddha?
a) He went to seek enlightenment?
b) He renounced the life
c) He became very indifferent
d) He conquered the world
iv) …………… in the extract means ‘a state of high spiritual knowledge’.
Answer : i) a) Sufferings of the people in various forms
ii) d) A monk begging for alms
iii) a) He went to seek enlightenment
iv) c) Enlightenment
Short Questions and Answers
Question 1 : Why did Prince Siddhartha leave the palace and become a beggar?
Answer : Once Prince Siddhartha, while hunting, saw a sick man, then an aged man, then a funeral procession and finally a monk begging for alms. Looking at his, he left the palace and became a beggar to search for enlightenment.
Question 2 : What do you know about the early life of Buddha?
Answer : Gautama Buddha was born in a royal family. His childhood name was Siddhartha. At the age of twelve, he was sent away for schooling in Hindu sacred scriptures and four years later he got married to a princess.
Question 3 : What was the effect of the sufferings of the world on Buddha?
Answer : At the age of 25, while hunting, one day Buddha saw a sick man, then an aged man, then a funeral procession and finally a monk begging for alms. These moved him so much that he went out into the world to seek enlightenment.
Question 4 : What die the Buddha do after he had attained enlightenment?
Answer : When Buddha attained enlightenment, he started preaching and telling people about life and its meaning. He spread his preaching for and wide so that people could come to terms with the truth. He shared his knowledge with people through his teachings.
Question 5 : Where did Buddha preach his first sermon?
Answer : Gautama Buddha preached his first sermon at the city of Benares, which is regarded as the holiest of the dipping places on the river Ganges. The sermon reflects his wisdom about the kind of suffering.
Question 6 : Why was Kisa Gotama sad? What did she do in her hour of grief?
Answer : Kisa Gotama was sad over he death of her only son. In the hour of grief, she went door to door in order to find medicine for her son that could bring him to life. But nobody could provide any medicine.
Question 7 : According to Kisa Gotami what is the greatest grief in life?
Answer : According to Kisa Gotami, the greatest grief in life is the death of one’s loved ones and one’s inability to stop them from dying. Therefore, instead of lamenting on it, the wise should accept the truth of death. Weeping will only increase the pain and disturb the peace of mind of a person.
Question 8 : How did Kisa Gotami realise that life and death is a process?
Answer : Kisa Gotami went from house to house but was unable to find one house where nobody had died. She was tired and hopeless and sat down at the wayside watching the lights of the city as they flickered up (keep going on and off) and were extinguished again.
She realised that similar to the city lights human lives also flicker (a ting movement) up for some time and are extinguished again.
Question 9 : What did Buddha say about death ad suffering?
Answer : After enlightenment, Buddha started to spread his teachings about life, truth and the likes of it. He told that death and suffering are the part and parcel of life. None can avoid this truth. One has to meet one’s destined and one day. Whoever has come to the world, will die one day. In the hour of grief, one must remain clams and composed so that grief doesn’t overcome one. People who are wise, never complain or lament over their loss. They accept the truth and be blessed with it. So, the wisdom lies in the fact that people should not get distressed with pain, suffering and death.
Long Questions and Answers
Question 1 : Life is full of trails and tribulations. Kisa Gotami also passes through a period grief in her life. How does she behave in those circumstances?
Answer : After the death of Kisa Gotami’s only child, she became very sad. She carried her dead child to her neighbours in order to get medicine to bring him to life. Her neighbours thought that she had gone insane as she was unable to accept the fact that her child is dead. It was then that someone suggested her to meet Gautama Buddha. When she met Gautama Buddha, he gave her an exercise to do. She was asked to collect mustard seeds from a house where no one had ever died. She went from one house to another but was unable to find a single house in the town where no one had died. This way she realised that death is a part of life and anyone who is bound to die one day. Thus, Buddha changed her understanding of death by this exercise. Buddha told her that only the wise do not grieve and they accept the reality. mourning brings only pain and sufferings to the body. One, who is composed, obtains peace of mind and will be free from sorrow and be blessed. This gave her strength to overcome grief.
Question 2 : Personal losses are a part and parcel of life. Instead of wailing on them, we should move on in life. This message of Gautama Buddha has become more relevant in modern times. Do you agree? Why/ why not?
Answer : Yes, I agree with the message that Gautama Buddha have given about life. In the modern times, people have a lot to explore and move with the world at the same place. If people don’t understand the practicality (practical aspect of reality) of life, they will be under stress which would in turn affect their personal and professional lives. People need to understand that everyone who is born will have to die one day. There is no use being sad or crying over the loss. People should remain calms and composed in such situations. They should face the truth and move on in life.
In today’s world, people have to explore their growth prospects at a broader aspect. The pace of life is so fast that to catch it, we all have to move on in life as it never waits for anyone. We have to accept the truth of life and death and should think about the younger generation and the persons who are alive.
Question 3 : What lesson on death and suffering did the Buddha teach Gotami in the chapter, ‘The Sermon at Benaras’.
Answer : The lesson on death and suffering that Buddha taught Gotami was that these are part and parcel of life. No one can avoid this truth. One has to meet one’s destined end one day. Whoever has come into this world will die one day. Thus, in the house of grief for a loved one who had died, one must remain calm and composed so that one doesn’t become overcome with grief. Otherwise, they will fell the pain more. However, those persons who are wise never complain or lament over their loss, or even try to bring back to life their loved ones who are dead, as Gotami wanted to do. They accept the truth and overcome their sorrow. Persons who overcome their sorrows will be blessed. So, wisdom is in the fact that people should not get distressed with pain, suffering and death.