25. “Then, bhikkhus, when I had stayed at Uruvelā as long as I chose, I set out to wander by stages to Benares. Between Gayā and the Place of Enlightenment the Ājīvaka Upaka saw me on the road and said: ‘Friend, your faculties are clear, the colour of your skin is pure and bright. Under whom have you gone forth, friend? Who is your teacher? Whose Dhamma do you profess?’ I replied to the Ājīvaka Upaka in stanzas:
‘I am one who has transcended all, a knower of all,
Unsullied among all things, renouncing all,
By craving’s ceasing freed. Having known this all
For myself, to whom should I point as teacher?
I have no teacher, and one like me
Exists nowhere in all the world
With all its gods, because I have
No person for my counterpart.
I am the Accomplished One in the world,
I am the Teacher Supreme.
I alone am a Fully Enlightened One
Whose fires are quenched and extinguished.
I go now to the city of Kāsi
To set in motion the Wheel of Dhamma.
In a world that has become blind
I go to beat the drum of the Deathless.’
‘By your claims, friend, you ought to be the Universal Victor.’
‘The victors are those like me
Who have won to destruction of taints.
I have vanquished all evil states,
Therefore, Upaka, I am a victor.’
“When this was said, the Ājīvaka Upaka said: ‘May it be so, friend.’ Shaking his head, he took a bypath and departed.
Having made the decision to teach, the Buddha proceeds towards Benares where his original five-companions stayed. Along the way he encounters the naked ascetic, Ājīvaka Upaka, who stands in awe of the Buddha’s luminous countenance. “Your aura is truly resplendent; to whom did you go for spiritual instruction? Whose teachings do you now proclaim?” The ascetic automatically assumes that some spectacular personage is the factor behind the Buddha’s transformation. The Tathāgata wastes no time in assuring him that it wasn’t any mere human agency, but rather a total rejuvenation in spirit. He is now the All-Accomplishing One, the one who has transcended all the snares of samsara and who now beats the drum of deathlessness on the further shore of Suchness. Thus, no-one is his counterpart—he is the Noble Arahant—the Sole Buddha Supreme. “That may be so,” exclaims the naked ascetic, but then shrugs it all off and continues on his own austere ascetical path. Ājīvaka Upaka holds firm to his belief in the Naked Sect. Yet, this encounter with the Blessed One was truly auspicious, for this ascetic later married, had a son, but soon grew weary of the household life and sought-out the Buddha and became a recluse; practicing the Buddhadharma in such vein he gained the stage of a Once-Returner and later attained Arhatship in a Brahmic-Realm.
26. “Then, bhikkhus, wandering by stages, I eventually came to Benares, to the Deer Park at Isipatana, and I approached the bhikkhus of the group of five. The bhikkhus saw me coming in the distance, and they agreed among themselves thus: ‘Friends, here comes the recluse Gotama who lives luxuriously, who gave up his striving, and reverted to luxury. We should not pay homage to him or rise up for him or receive his bowl and outer robe. But a seat may be prepared for him. If he likes, he may sit down.’ However, as I approached, those bhikkhus found themselves unable to keep their pact. One came to meet me and took my bowl and outer robe, another prepared a seat, and another set out water for my feet; however, they addressed me by name and as ‘friend.’
Gotama who lives luxuriously: this is a far cry from luxury in the modern sense. The luxury here refers to his taking some boiled rice and gruel, or a simple fair of rice gruel.
Still feeling estranged from Gotama as he once left their company, they tried to apply some indifference to his approach; yet the very sight of their former friend, so wonderfully alive and luminous, moved them immensely as they were truly overjoyed to see him again. However, the Buddha makes it clear that their former relationship has changed. In particular in their attempt to address him simply as “friend” once again.
27. “Thereupon I told them: ‘Bhikkhus, do not address the Tathāgata by name and as “friend.” The Tathāgata is an Accomplished One, a Fully Enlightened One. Listen, bhikkhus, the Deathless has been attained. I shall instruct you, I shall teach you the Dhamma. Practicing as you are instructed, by realizing for yourselves here and now through direct knowledge you will soon enter upon and abide in that supreme goal of the holy life for the sake of which clansmen rightly go forth from the home life into homelessness.’
“When this was said, the bhikkhus of the group of five answered me thus: ‘Friend Gotama, by the conduct, the practice, and the performance of austerities that you undertook, you did not achieve any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. Since you now live luxuriously, having given up your striving and reverted to luxury, how will you have achieved any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones?’ When this was said, I told them: ‘The Tathāgata does not live luxuriously, nor has he given up his striving and reverted to luxury. The Tathāgata is an Accomplished One, a Fully Enlightened One. Listen, bhikkhus, the Deathless has been attained … from the home life into homelessness.’
“A second time the bhikkhus of the group of five said to me: ‘Friend Gotama … how will you have achieved any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones?’ A second time I told them: ‘The Tathāgata does not live luxuriously … from the home life into homelessness.’ A third time the bhikkhus of the group of five said to me: ‘Friend Gotama … how will you have achieved any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones?
The Buddha wastes no words in proclaiming that his status has permanently changed: he is now and forever “the Tathāgata”. The Tathāgata is perfectly aligned with Suchness and, as such, bespeaks Noble Wisdom’s perfection. He is thus no longer perceivable or conceivable through any conventional lens of understanding. It’s no wonder, then, that his former companions find it so hard to accept this, for his Supreme-Stature (energy-signature) cannot be recognized through conventional-eyes. Only through imageless eyes can one see THAT which is Unborn and Deathless.
28. “When this was said I asked them: ‘Bhikkhus, have you ever known me to speak like this before?’—‘No, venerable sir.’—‘Bhikkhus, the Tathāgata is an Accomplished One, a Fully Enlightened One. Listen, bhikkhus, the Deathless has been attained. I shall instruct you, I shall teach you the Dhamma. Practising as you are instructed, by realising for yourselves here and now through direct knowledge you will soon enter upon and abide in that supreme goal of the holy life for the sake of which clansmen rightly go forth from the home life into homelessness.’
When the Buddha inquired, “Have you ever known me to speak like this before?”—that did the trick, and the Bikkhus appeared satisfied. The Buddha has assured them that, by his own efforts, he has thus-become fully enlightened (Sammãsambuddho) and, as such, has entered into the Deathless. He also assures them that if they practice his instructions, one day, they too, shall abide in Arthatship.
29. “I was able to convince the bhikkhus of the group of five. Then I sometimes instructed two bhikkhus while the other three went for alms, and the six of us lived on what those three bhikkhus brought back from their almsround. Sometimes I instructed three bhikkhus while the other two went for alms, and the six of us lived on what those two bhikkhus brought back from their almsround.
30. “Then the bhikkhus of the group of five, thus taught and instructed by me, being themselves subject to birth, having understood the danger in what is subject to birth, seeking the unborn supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna, attained the unborn supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna; being themselves subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, having understood the danger in what is subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, seeking the unageing, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, and undefiled supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna, they attained the unageing, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, and undefiled supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna. The knowledge and vision arose in them: ‘Our deliverance is unshakeable; this is our last birth; there is no renewal of being.’
Although it is not explicitly stated here, the early group of bhikkhus were taught and embraced the Noble Truths and the Eight-fold path of liberation from all Dukkha. In this sense, it needs to be firmly stressed that the Buddha wanted his disciples to be the progenitors of the sacred teaching—they were the Noble Ariyans—the one’s capable of receiving the Buddha-gnosis, and in turn, through their own use of expedient means would serve many and diverse sentient beings in awakening to the Dhamma.