From Buddha-to-be to Teacher
in the Buddha’s own Words

A translation of sections from four discourses in the Majjhimanikāya in which the Buddha relates his experiences in struggling to attain Awakening, and whether to teach afterwards (with an embedded reading of the text).

compiled and translated from
Majjhimanikāya 12, 26, 36, 85 &100

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
(1st Edition, April 2016)

 

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Cover

Html Table of Contents

Initial Practices

Austere Striving

The Awakening

Beginning to Teach

 

Preface

Although in later times a fairly detailed biography was developed, in the early texts there is a dearth of material about the Buddha’s life, probably because the life as such was not considered as important as the teaching. Occasionally, though, in his encounters with others, the Buddha did refer to his own practice before his Awakening, and his life shortly thereafter.

There are five places where this occurs in the Middle Length Discourses (Majjhimanikāya), but all the information is not gathered in one place, and needs to be assembled for a complete picture. The discourses are the Great Lion’s Roar (MN 12), the Noble Search (MN 26), and the discourses to Saccaka (MN 36), Prince Bodhi (MN 85) and Saṅgārava (MN 100).

The following material has been extracted from these discourses, but with some small changes, to present a continuous narrative. The main change has been the removal of the vocatives, addressed to the person the Buddha was speaking to, and which change from discourse to discourse.

In summary sections 1-3 and 13 &18 come from MN 26, sections 2-6, 10-12 from MN 36, 85 &100, but for the text I follow 85 and 100 rather than 36, which has some extra sentences specific to that context; there is also the insertion of sections 7-9 from MN 12. Sections 14-17 also occur in MN 85. Note also that sections 14-17 are paralleled in the Great Chapter, which is found elsewhere on this website. Below is a synoptic table.

Table indicating Source of Sections Vin Mv 1-4, MN 26 &85 appear separately on this website for those wishing to see the originals.

Initial Practices

1

MN 26

2

MN 26

MN 36

MN 85

MN 100

3

MN 26

MN 36

MN 85

MN 100

Austere Striving

4

MN 36

MN 85

MN 100

5

MN 36

MN 85

MN 100

6

MN 36

MN 85

MN 100

7

MN 12

8

MN 12

9

MN 12

The Awakening

10

MN 36

MN 85

MN 100

11

MN 36

MN 85

MN 100

12

MN 36

MN 85

MN 100

13

MN 26

Beginning to Teach

14

Mv 1

MN 26

MN 85

15

Mv 1

MN 26

MN 85

16

Mv 1

MN 26

MN 85

17

Mv 1

MN 26

MN 85

18

MN 26

We should not forget, of course, that the Buddha’s teaching was not normally given in the abstract, but was usually seeking to answer specific issues that had arisen in dialogue with others. This is especially true on the first two great collections of his teaching, the Long and Middle Length Discourses.

But by extracting the story in this way, we can get a better overview of what the Buddha taught about that early period, and what his experience was both immediately before and after Awakening.

Some of the people and events that are found in the developed traditional biography are missing here: there is no mention of the ploughing festival (though there is mention of the Buddha’s Father), or of Sujāta (though the rice and milk is mentioned), or the struggle with Māra. This doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, they might simply have not been considered relevant to mention in these contexts.

Also omitted from this story is the first teachings of the Discourse that Set the Dhamma Wheel Rolling, and the the Characteristic of Non-Self that led to the group-of-five monks attainment of Arahatship, although the circumstances surrounding these teachings, which are related in the Great Chapter, are included, and it is clearly implied by the conclusion.

I hope that presenting the material in this way will help students familiarise themselves with these episodes from the Buddha’s life and learn how the Buddha himself viewed his practice and his decision to teach. It is not the whole story, and it is not meant to be, but it does present a more or less continuous narrative, and a single voice, and that has certain advantages.

Repetition text that has been filled in by the present author is marked in italic. In the manuscripts it appears as peyyāla passages, marked normally as ...pe... It seems to me that these passages would have been filled in by the recitor.

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
April 2016