Get summary, questions, answers, notes, PDF of the chapter “The Sermon at Benaras” which is part of TBSE (Tripura Board) class 10 English (First Flight) syllabus. However, the materials provided here should only be used for references and the students are encouraged to make modifications to them wherever they can and need.
Gautama Buddha, born as Siddhartha Gautama in northern India in 563 B.C., was a prince who lived a life of luxury until the age of 25, when he was exposed to the harsh realities of the world outside the palace walls. He saw a sick man, an old man, a funeral procession, and a monk begging for alms, which led him to seek enlightenment regarding the sufferings he had witnessed.
After wandering for seven years, he sat under a peepal tree, now called the Bodhi Tree, and vowed to stay there until he achieved enlightenment. After seven days of meditation, he attained enlightenment and began to share his new understandings with others. From that point on, he was known as the Buddha, meaning the Awakened or the Enlightened One.
The Buddha preached his first sermon in the city of Benares, where he shared his wisdom about one kind of suffering. This story is about a woman named Kisa Gotami who had lost her only son. In her grief, she carried her dead child to her neighbors, asking them for medicine, but they told her that the boy was dead and she had lost her senses. One man told her to go to Sakyamuni, the Buddha, who might be able to help her.
Kisa Gotami went to the Buddha and cried, “Lord and Master, give me the medicine that will cure my boy.” The Buddha asked for a handful of mustard seed, but it had to be taken from a house where no one had lost a child, husband, parent, or friend. Kisa Gotami went from house to house, but she couldn’t find a single household where no one had experienced loss.
Exhausted and hopeless, Kisa Gotami sat down by the wayside, watching the lights of the city flicker on and off. She realized that death is common to all and that everyone’s life flickers like the lights of the city before going out. She thought to herself, “How selfish am I in my grief! Death is common to all; yet in this valley of desolation, there is a path that leads him to immortality who has surrendered all selfishness.”
The Buddha then explained that the life of mortals in this world is troubled, brief, and combined with pain, and there is not any means by which those that have been born can avoid dying. All living beings are subject to death, and even the wise and the foolish fall into the power of death. Therefore, the wise do not grieve, knowing the terms of the world.
He further explained that we cannot obtain peace of mind by weeping or grieving. On the contrary, our pain will be greater, and our body will suffer. We will make ourselves sick and pale, but our lamentation will not save the dead. Instead, we should draw out the arrow of lamentation, complaint, and grief. Once we have overcome all sorrow, we will be free from sorrow and be blessed.
Thinking about the text
1. When her son dies, Kisa Gotami goes from house to house. What does she ask for? Does she get it? Why not?
Answer: When Kisa Gotami’s son dies, she goes from house to house asking for medicine to cure her son. However, she does not get the medicine she is looking for because her son is already dead. The people she asks for help tell her that she has lost her senses and that her son is dead.
2. Kisa Gotami again goes from house to house after she speaks with the Buddha. What does she ask for, the second time around? Does she get it? Why not?
Answer: The second time around, Kisa Gotami goes from house to house asking for mustard seeds as per the Buddha’s instructions. However, she does not get the mustard seeds she is looking for because she cannot find a single household where no one has lost a child, husband, parent, or friend. Every household she visits has experienced some form of loss, and therefore, she cannot fulfill the Buddha’s instructions.
3. What does Kisa Gotami understand the second time that she failed to understand the first time? Was this what the Buddha wanted her to understand?
Answer: The second time around, Kisa Gotami understands that death is a natural part of life and that she is not alone in her grief. She realises that everyone experiences loss and that her suffering is not unique. This understanding was what the Buddha wanted her to realise. He wanted her to understand that death is inevitable and that everyone experiences it, and that her suffering was caused by her attachment to her son and her inability to accept his death.
4. Why do you think Kisa Gotami understood this only the second time? In what way did the Buddha change her understanding?
Answer: Kisa Gotami understood the true nature of suffering and the impermanence of life only the second time because the Buddha’s instructions helped her to see beyond her own grief and understand that death is a natural part of life. The Buddha’s request for mustard seeds from a household that had not experienced loss made Kisa Gotami realise that her suffering was not unique and that everyone experiences loss and grief. This realisation helped her to let go of her attachment to her son and accept his death. The Buddha’s teachings changed her understanding by helping her to see the bigger picture and understand the universal nature of suffering.
5. How do you usually understand the idea of ‘selfishness’? Do you agree with Kisa Gotami that she was being ‘selfish in her grief’?
Answer: Selfishness is generally understood as a focus on one’s own interests and needs, often at the expense of others. In the case of Kisa Gotami, she was initially focused solely on her own grief and was unable to see beyond it. This could be seen as a form of selfishness. However, after speaking with the Buddha and realising the universal nature of suffering, she was able to let go of her attachment to her son and see the suffering of others. In this sense, she was able to overcome her selfishness and develop compassion for others. Therefore, I agree with Kisa Gotami that she was being selfish in her grief initially, but she was able to overcome it and develop a more compassionate perspective.
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