The Sermon at Benares
Compiled by Betty Renshaw
Analysis of the Chapter
· The story ‘The Sermon at Benares’ is one of the sermons of Gautam Buddha, compiled by Betty Renshaw in his book ‘Values and Voices: A College Reader’
· The story is about the early life and first sermon of Gautama Buddha who teaches Kisa Gautami, a bereaved mother, the lesson of life and death.
· The story conveys a very important teaching of Gautam Buddha that man is mortal and the one who is born in this world has to die one day, sooner or later.
After the sermon of Buddha, Kisa Gautami came to realise and accept that men are mortal and a wise person should not grieve at what is bound to happen because it only enhances his pain and sufferings.
Summary / Synopsis
· Gautama Buddha was born in an Indian royal family as a prince and was named Siddhartha Gautama. When he was twelve years old, he was sent to study Hindu sacred scriptures and upon returning four years later, he got married to a princess. Soon, they both had a son and they continued to live the royal life for about ten years. He was kept away from all the unpleasant experiences of the world. But, one day, on his way to hunt, he met a sick man, an aged man, a funeral procession and a monk begging for alms. These experiences acted as eye-opener for him and thus, he left all the royalty behind to seek enlightenment and spiritual knowledge. Upon attaining salvation, he began preaching the people. He gave his first sermon in the city of Benaras to Kisa Gautami.
· Kisa Gautami whose son had died was suffering with unending pain. She went from house to house asking for the medicine to bring her son back to life. People started thinking that the lady had lost her senses.
· Then, she met a man who advised her to go to Lord Buddha who could possibly have a solution for her problem.
· She approached Buddha who asked her to bring a handful of mustard seeds putting a condition that the seeds must be procured from the house in which not a single family member had died. Kisa Gautami once again went on a search of mustard seeds from house to house but to her dismay, she could not find mustard seeds from a house that would fulfill Buddha’s condition.
· Disheartened, she sat at the edge of the road and saw the lights that flickered and extinguished. She realised that she had been selfish. She became aware of the fact that men are mortal and no one can escape death which is the reality of life. This was exactly what Buddha wanted her to understand.
· According to Lord Buddha, feelings of grief and sorrow only increase man’s pain and sufferings thus, deteriorating his health. Therefore, a wise person understands and accepts the laws of nature. We must not grieve at something that is bound to happen and only then he can be happy and blessed.
The chapter ‘The Sermon at Benares’ very beautifully brings out the spiritual message that death is the reality of life and the one who has taken birth in this mortal world has to die one day, sooner or later. It also teaches that we must not grieve at something that is bound to happen.
Important Question Answers
Q. How did Kisa Gautami come to realise the truth second time which she failed to do first time?
Ans. Buddha didn’t preach in beginning to a grieving mother but raised a hope in Gautami's heart that her son could be revived. But, the condition imposed by him was impossible for her to fulfil and she could not bring mustard seeds from the house no person lost his loved ones. The futile search of Kisa Gautami made her realise that birth and death are a part of life and the one who has taken birth has to die sooner or later. She also realised that she had been selfish in her love and failed to accept the truth of life. She learnt that one can attain peace only by acceptance.