‘The Sermon at Benares’ is a chapter written by Betty Renshaw. The chapter covers the journey of Gautam Buddha from princehood to his saintly life. After seeing the suffering of the world, he decided to give up all worldly pleasures and sought enlightenment. He finally attained salvation under a tree at Bodhgaya.
The Sermon at Banaras – Short Summary
Gautam Buddha (563 B.C to 483 B.C) was a prince. His parents had named him Siddhartha Gautama. He had been shielded from the sufferings of the world. At the age of twenty five he saw sick man, an aged man and a dead man. He also saw an ascetic begging for alms. Unable to understand that, he went in search of spiritual knowledge.
After wandering for seven years, he sat under a Peepal tree and vowed that he would stay there until he got enlightenment. He got that after a week and named the tree as ‘Tree of Wisdom’. He himself came to be known as Buddha.
He gave his first sermon at Benares. This sermon contained ten important points. These points were conveyed through the story about Kisa Gautami whose only son had died. She went to people asking medicine for him. At last a man told her to go to Buddha, the Shakyamuni.
Buddha told her that he would cure her son if she brought some mustard seeds from a house where no death had taken place. Kisa went from house to house but was unable to find one where no death had been seen.
She finally realised that death was common to all and no one could avoid dying. No one can save their relatives. People weep over their dead ones. It is only the wise who do not grieve as they have accepted the truth.
If a person weeps, his sufferings only become greater. Those who do not grieve have peace of mind and will overcome sorrow.
The Sermon at Banaras – Long Summary
Buddha’s Early Life
Siddhartha Gautama was born a prince in a royal Hindu family of Northern India. He was sent away for schooling at the age of twelve. Four years later when he returned home, he got married to a princess, had a son and led a royal life full of luxuries for the next ten years.
Buddha Leaves His Possessions for Enlightenment
One day, at the age of twenty-five, Siddhartha Gautama was on his way to hunt. In the way, he came across a sick man, an aged man, a funeral procession and a monk begging for alms. So, he decided to renounce his palace, family and all his possessions to go in search of enlightenment after witnessing the suffering of human life.
Buddha’s First Sermon at Benares
Siddhartha wandered for seven years in search of enlightenment. Then one day, he sat under a peepal tree and after meditating for seven days, he attained enlightenment. That peepal tree was known as the ‘Bodhi Tree’, the tree of wisdom after that. After achieving enlightenment, Siddhartha came to be known as ‘Gautama Buddha’. He started giving sermons and spiritual wisdom to people. He gave his first sermon in the city of Benares, to a lady named Kisa Gotami. His sermon reflected his wisdom about life and death.
Kisa Gotami’s Dilemma
Kisa Gotami was a poor woman whose only son has died. She was so grieved by the loss of his son that she ran from house to house, in order to get medicine to bring his son back to life. All the neighbours could offer her nothing, but pity. However, looking at her grief, a man directed her to meet Sakyamuni, Buddha, as only he could help Kisa. Kisa Goatami approached Buddha and told him about her dead son. Buddha asked her to bring a handful of mustard seeds from a house where no near and dear one had ever died. Kisa ran to every house but she couldn’t find any house where nobody had ever died. At last, Kisa realized that there is no place on earth where nobody had ever died. She also realized that she was being selfish for his dead son. She understood that death is common to all and that one can attain immortality only by giving up all his selfishness.
Buddha’s Wisdom about Death
Buddha gave a sermon that death is an inevitable reality for all mortals, wise or foolish, young or old. It is common to all. Every living thing is subjected to death. Peace and consolation only lie in the acceptance of the sad fact and getting over the sorrow.