Spreading the Word

The Buddha’s journey as a teacher begins at Sarnath and then for the next four decades he would walk across the kingdoms of Magadha and Kosala, in today’s Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, preaching, listening and guiding his followers. There are descriptions of his majestic procession leading saffron clad monks and lay disciples including not just common people but kings, nobility and rich merchants. He had started a religious movement that still influences lives.

The Buddha’s entourage visited places that are now in the circuit of Buddhist pilgrimages – Rajgriha, Vaishali, Sravasti, Pataliputra, Benaras, Mathura, Nalanda, Kapilavastu, Lumbini… and it is said that he often returned to the monastery at Sarnath which was one of his favourite places. The group of monks who gathered around the Buddha became a monastic order – the Buddhist Sangha. The monks travelled across the land to spread the word all the year round except for the four monsoon months called chaturmasa. At this time the monks all gathered in one place where monasteries were built called viharas and one of the earliest viharas was at Sarnath. Here they listened to the Buddha’s sermons called suttas.

The Buddha often spent the chaturmasa at Sarnath. He lived in a thatched hut, meditated and preached under the trees and would walk to a pond to bathe and wash his monk’s robes. Then like all the other monks he would go out into the city and villages to beg for his food and would meet his devotees who came to him for guidance. The serene, peaceful ambience of Sarnath still carries the echo of the wise, compassionate presence of this true teacher.