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Home History General The Buddha's Life - Group of Five Monks

The Buddha's Life - Group of Five Monks

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Article Index
The Buddha's Life
Noble and Ignoble Quests
Renunciation of Worldly Life
Meeting Alara, the Great Ascetic
Meeting the Sage Udaka
Practising Extreme Austerities
Mara's Persuasion
Right Reasoning
The Enlightenment
Giving First Sermon
Meeting with Upaka
Group of Five Monks
All Pages

Group of Five Monks

When the group of five ascetics saw the Blessed One at a distance coming towards them, they made an agreement amongst themselves saying,

"Friends, here comes the monk Gotama who had become self-indulgent, given up the struggle and gone back to a life of luxury; let us not pay homage to him nor go to greet him and relieve him of his bowl and robes. However, as he is of noble birth, we will prepare a seat ready for him. He will sit down if he is so inclined."

As the Blessed One drew near to them, they found themselves unable to keep to their agreement because of his illustrious glory. One went to greet him and receive the bowl, the second one took the robe and the third one prepared the seat for him. Another brought water to wash his feet while the other arranged a foot stool. But they all regarded the Blessed One as their equal and addressed him as before by his name Gotama and irreverently with the appellation "my friend." The Blessed One sat on the prepared seat and spoke to them:

"Bhikkhus, do not address my by the name Gotama nor as friend. I have become a Perfect One, worthy of the greatest reverence. Supremely accomplished like the Buddhas of yore, fully Enlightened. Give ear, Bhikkhus, the Deathless has been gained, the Immortal has been won by me. I shall instruct you and teach you the Doctrine. If you practise as instructed by me, you will in a short time, and in the present life, through your own direct knowledge, realize, enter upon and abide in Arahatship, the nibbāna , the ultimate and the noblest goal of the Holy life for the sake of which clansmen of good families go forth from the household life into homeless one."

Even with this bold assurance, the group of five Bhikkhus remained incredulous and retorted thus:

"Friend Gotama, even with the abstemious habits and stern austerities which you practised before, you did not achieve anything beyond meritorious attainments of ordinary men (you were not able to transcend human limitations . . . uttarimanussadhamma ) nor attain the sublime knowledge and Insight of the Noble Ones which alone can destroy the defilements. Now that you have abandoned the austerity practices and are working for gains and benefits, how will you have attained such distinction, such higher knowledge?"

This is something to think over. These five Bhikkhus were formerly court astrologers who were fully convinced and had foretold, soon after his birth, that the young Bodhisatta would definitely attain supreme Enlightenment. But when the Bodhisatta gave up privation and stern exertions, they had wrongly thought that Buddhahood was no longer possible. It could be said that they no longer believed in their own prophecy. They remained incredulous now that the Blessed One declared unequivocally that he had won the Deathless, had become a fully Enlightened One, because they held to the wrong notion that extreme austerity was the right way to Enlightenment. Likewise, nowadays, too, once a wrong notion has been entertained, people hold fast to it and no amount of showing the truth will sway them and make them believe. They even turn against those who attempt to bring them to the right path and speak irreverently and disparagingly of their well-wishers. One should avoid such errors and self-deception.

With great compassion and pity for the group of five Bhikkhus, the Blessed One spoke to them thus:

"Bhikkhus, the Perfect One like those of yore is not working for worldly gains, has not given up the struggle, has not abandoned the true path which eradicates the defilements; he has not reverted to luxury"

and declared again that he had become a Perfect One, worthy of great reverence, supremely accomplished and fully Enlightened. He urged them again to listen to him.

A second time, the group of five Bhikkhus made the same retort to him. The Blessed One, realizing that they were still suffering from illusion and ignorance, and out of pity for them gave them the same answer for the third time.

When the group of five Bhikkhus persisted in making the same remonstrance, the Blessed One spoke thus:

"Bhikkhus, ponder upon this. You and I are not strangers. We had lived together for six years and you had waited upon me while I was practising extreme austerities. Have you ever known me speak like this?"

The five Bhikkhus reflected on this. They came to realize that he had not spoken thus before because he had not attained Higher Knowledge then. They began to believe that he must have acquired the Supreme Knowledge now to speak to them thus. They replied respectfully,

"No, Reverend Sir. We have not known you speak like this before."

Then the Buddha said,

"Bhikkhus, I have become a perfect one worthy of the greatest respect ( Arahan ), supremely accomplished like the Buddhas of yore ( Tathagata ), by my own effort I have become fully Enlightened ( Sammasambuddho ), have gained the Immortal, the Deathless ( anatamadhigatam ). Give ears, Bhikkhus, I shall instruct you and teach you the Doctrine. If you practise as instructed by me, you will in no time and in the present life, through your own direct knowledge, realize, enter upon, and abide in Arahatship, the nibbāna , the ultimate and the noblest goal of the Holy life for the sake of which clansmen of good families go forth from the household life into homeless one."

Thus the Blessed One gave them the assurance again.

The five Bhikkhus got into a receptive mood then and prepared themselves to listen respectfully to what Buddha would say. They awaited with eagerness to receive the knowledge to be imparted to them by the Blessed One.

What we have stated so far constitutes relevant events selected from the Intermediate Epoch of Introductions.

We now come to the Recent Past, introduced by the words "Thus have I heard," which gives an account of how the Blessed One began to set in motion the Wheel of Dhamma by giving the first Sermon.

The time was the evening of the full moon of Waso 2551 years ago as counted back from this Burmese era 1324. The sun was about to set but still visible as a bright, red sphere; the moon, bright yellow, was just coming up in the eastern skies. The Commentary on the Mahavagga Samyutta mentions that the first sermon was given while both the sun and the moon were simultaneously discernible in the sky.

The audience consisted of only the five Bhikkhus from the human world, but the Brahmas numbered 18 crores, and the devas , according to the Milinda Panha , innumerable. Thus when the five Bhikkhus together with Brahmas and devas , who were fortunate enough to hear the first Sermon, were respectfully awaiting with rapt attention, the Blessed One began teaching the Dhammacakka Sutta with the words: " Dve me, Bhikkhave, anta pabbajitena na sevitabba ."

"Bhikkhus, one who has gone forth from the worldly life should not indulge in these two extreme parts (portions, shares) which will be presently explained ( Ime dve anta ) ."

Here, Anta according to the Commentary interpretations, connotes grammatically kotthasa or bhaga which means share or portion or parts of things. However, in view of the doctrine of the Middle Path taught later in the Sermon, it is appropriate also to render Anta as extreme or end. Again, "part or portion of things" should not be taken as any part or portion of things, but only those parts that lie on the two opposite ends or extremes of things. Hence, our translation as two extreme parts or portions. The Singhalese or Siamese commentaries render it as lanmaka kotthasa meaning 'bad portion' or part, somewhat similar to the old Burmese translation of "bad thing or practice."

Thus it should be noted briefly first that "One who has gone forth from the worldly life should not indulge in two extreme parts or practices."

Katame dwe. Yo cayam kamesu kamasukhalikanuyogo-hino, gammo, pothujjaniko, anariyo, anatthasamhito. Yo cayam attakilamathanuyogo-dukkho, anariyo, anattha-samhito.

What are the two extreme parts or practices? Delighting in desirable sense-objects, one pursues sensuous pleasure, makes efforts to produce such pleasures and enjoys them. This extreme part (practice) is low (bad), vulgar being the habit of village and town folks; common and earthly, being indulged in by ordinary common worldlings; not clean, ignoble, hence not pursued by the Noble Ones; profitless and not pertaining to the true interests one is seeking after. Such pursuit after sensuous pleasures is one extreme part (practice) which should be avoided.

Pleasurable sight, sound, smell, taste and touch constitute desirable sense-objects. Taking delight in such objects of pleasure and enjoying them physically and mentally, one pursues after these sensuous pleasures. This practice, which forms one extreme part is low, vulgar, common, ignoble and unprofitable and should not, therefore, be followed by one who has gone forth from the worldly life.

The other extreme part or practice which is concerned with attempts to inflict torture on oneself can result only in suffering. Abstaining from food and clothing which one is normally used to is a form of self-torture and is unprofitable. Not being clean nor noble, this practice is not pursued by the Noble Ones. Neither does it pertain to the true interests one is seeking after. Thus practice of self-mortification, the other extreme part of practice, should also be avoided. Avoiding these two extremes, one arrives at the true path known as the Middle Path.


"Ete kho, Bhikkhave, ubho ante anupagamma majjhima patipada Tathagatena abhisambuddha cakkhukarani, nana karani, upasamaya, abhinnava, sambodhaya, nibbānaya samvattati."

Bhikkhus, avoiding these two extreme parts, the Blessed One had gained the Supreme Knowledge of the Middle Path, which produces vision, produces knowledge and leads to tranquillity (stilling of defilements), higher knowledge and nibbāna , the end of all suffering.

Avoiding the two extremes,
Rejecting wrong paths,
The Middle Path is reached.
Walking this true Path,
Enlightenment is gained,
nibbāna realized.

How the Middle Path , which is also known as the Eightfold Path, produces vision, knowledge and how it leads to tranquillity and Enlightenment will be dealt with in the Dhamma Sections.

-The End-

(This is the very first portion of The Great Discourse on the Wheel of Dhamma by Mahasi Sayadaw)


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" The bhikkhu who is calm in body, calm in speech, calm in mind, who is well-composed and has given up (lit., vomited) worldly pleasures, is called a "Tranquil One". "

The Dhammapada

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