The Sermon at Benares Summary in English by Betty Renshaw

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Buddha’s Early Life:

Gautama Buddha (563 B.C. – 483 B.C.) was born as a prince. He was named Siddhartha Gautama. At the age of ten, he was sent away for schooling. He studied Hindu sacred scriptures. He was married to a princess at the age of sixteen. He had a son. Ten years of his married life were spent in royal luxuries. At the age of 25, he chanced upon a sick man, then an aged man, and then a funeral procession. Finally, he saw a monk begging for alms. These sights moved him. He gave up the luxuries of the royal life. He set out in search of enlightenment. After wandering for seven years, finally he meditated under a fig tree. Enlightened after seven days, he renamed the tree as the Bodhi Tree. It was the Tree of Wisdom. He became known as the Buddha — the Awakened or the Enlightened one. The Buddha preached his first sermon at Benares, the holy city on the Ganges.

Kisa Gotami’s Only Son Died:

Kisa Gotami’s only son had died. She was deeply grieved. She carried her dead son to all her neighbours. She asked them for medicine. The people thought that she had lost her senses. At last, a man advised her to go to Sakyamuni, the Buddha. She went to him and requested him to give some medicine that could cure her son.

A Handful of Mustard:

The Buddha asked Kisa Gotami to bring a handful of mustard seeds from a house where no one had lost a child, husband, parent or friend. She went from one house to the other. There was no problem in getting a handful of mustard seeds. But she could not find a house where no one had died. Then, she realised the fate of men. She realised that she was being selfish in her grief. Death is common to all.

Buddha’s Sermon:

The Buddha said that the life of mortals in this world is troubled and brief. It is full of grief. As ripe fruits fall, so do mortals. Those who are born, are always in danger of death. All pots are to be broken. So is the life of mortals. All are subject to death.

World Afflicted With Death & Decay:

This world is afflicted with death and decay. The wise don’t grieve. Weeping and grieving will not help. The dead are not saved by lamentation. He who seeks peace must be free from lamentation, and complaint, and grief. He who has overcome all sorrows will be free from sorrow. He will be blessed.

Theme


‘The Sermon at Benares’ is the story of an unfortunate woman Kisa Gotami. She had lost her only son.
In her grief, she carried the dead body of her son from one place to another. In the end, she came to Lord
Buddha. She needed the medicine that could cure her son. The Buddha asked her to bring him a handful
of mustard seed from a house where no one had lost a child, husband, parent or friend. Kisa Gotami
didn’t find a house where some beloved one had not died in it. She thought to herself that it was the fate
of mankind. Death was inevitable. Nobody can avoid dying. The world is afflicted with death and decay.
The wise don’t grieve. ‘He who has overcome all soon will become free from sorrow, and be blessed.’

Message


The message of this famous sermon delivered by Buddha is that to attain peace, man must understand
and accept that death is a part of life and man must not grieve over it. Life and death are inseparable and
man must be rational and accept this universal truth rather than grieve over it. The terms of life given to
man should be clearly accepted otherwise he will have to pass through a phase of undue grieving.

Plot


The lesson ‘The Sermon at Benares’ throws light upon the early life of Lord Buddha who was originally
born as a prince in a royal family. On being exposed to the sufferings of the world which he was earlier
shielded from, he left his prince hood and went in search of salvation, thus leaving all the worldly pleasures behind. Upon attaining spiritual awakening, he gave his first sermon in the city of Benares hereby making a woman named Kisa Gotami realise that men are mortal and a wise person should not grieve at what is bound to happen, for it only enhances pain and suffering.

Justification of the Title


The title is suitable as the narrative presents the first sermon that the Buddha delivered at Benares. Kisa
Gotami, a mother was crushed by the death of her son. She moved from door to door and at last came to
Buddha. She requested the Buddha to revive her son by giving him some medicine. He said that he would
do that if she could bring a handful of mustard seeds. He further instructed her that it must be taken from
a house where no one had lost a child, husband, parent or friend.
Kisa went from house to house but was unable to find one where nobody had died. She was tired and
hopeless and sat down at the wayside watching the light of the city as they flickered up. Thus, she realised
that these lives flicker up for some time and are extinguished again. This way the Buddha taught he that the lives of mortals in this world are troubled and brief and there is no means by which one can avoid
death. Death is certain and irreversible.

Key Points (Train of Thoughts)


• Gautama Buddha was born as a prince. He was named Siddhartha Gautama.
• He was married at the age of sixteen and enjoyed the royal luxuries for ten years.
• Upto the age of twenty-five, he was shielded from the sufferings of the world.
• The sight of a sick man, then an aged man, and a funeral procession shocked him.
• Finally, he saw a monk begging for alms.
• He gave up royal pleasures and set out to seek enlightenment.
• He wandered for seven years and finally sat down under a big tree in meditation.
• Enlightenment came to him after seven days.
• He named the big tree the Bodhi Tree or Tree of Wisdom.
• He was known as the Buddha or the Awakened or the Enlightened one.
• The Buddha preached his first sermon at the holy city of Benares on the River Ganges.
• Kisa Gotami’s only son had died.
• She had lost her senses and carried the dead boy to all her neighbours.
• She asked them for medicines to cure him.
• She prayed the Buddha to give such a medicine that night to cure her son.
• The Buddha asked Kisa Gotami to bring a handful of mustard seeds from the house where no one had lost a loved one.
• She went from house to house and had no problem in getting a handful of mustard seeds.
• However, she did have a problem in finding a house where no one had died.
• She considered the fate of men and realised that she was being selfish in grief.
• Death is common to all.
• He who has overcome all sorrows, will become blessed and enlightened one.

Character Sketch


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. Buddha preached that human life is very
short and it is full of sorrows and pains. He cleared that our brief life is full of troubles and pains. Everyone
on this earth has to one day meet with death.


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.

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