attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya the Buddha went to Sarnath;
and it was here that he preached his first discourse in the deer
park to set in motion the 'Wheel of the Dharma'. It is one of
the most holy sites as in this place the stream of the Buddha's
teaching first flowed.
At this place,
the Buddha encountered the five men who had been his companions
of earlier austerities. On meeting the enlightened Buddha, all
they saw was an ordinary man; they mocked his well-nourished appearance.
"Here comes the mendicant Gautama," they said, "who
has turned away from asceticism. He is certainly not worth our
respect." When they reminded him of his former vows, the
Buddha replied, "Austerities only confuse the mind. In the
exhaustion and mental stupor to which they lead, one can no longer
understand the ordinary things of life, still less the truth that
lies beyond the senses. I have given up extremes of either luxury
or asceticism. I have discovered the Middle Way". Hearing
this the five ascetics became the Buddha's first disciples.
started teaching not to debate but for the advantage of and out
of compassion for human beings. He explained the middle way which
avoids extremes, the Four Noble Truths, and prescribed the Eight-fold
path. The Four Noble Truths are: 1. There is suffering; 2. Suffering
has a cause; 3. The cause is removable, and 4. There are ways
to remove the causes. So as to remove the causes the Buddha prescribed
an Eight-fold Path: Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood,
Right effort, Right mindfulness, Right concentration, Right attitude
and Right view.
tradition flourished for over 1,500 years on the site of the deer
park at Sarnath. In the third century BC Ashoka erected a column
15.24 m in height which had four lions as its capital which is
now treasured in the archaeology museum. The lion symbolises both
Ashoka's imperial rule and the kingship of the Buddha. The four-lion
capital was adopted as the emblem of the modern Indian republic.
The last and largest monastery constructed before the Muslim invasion
was Dharma-Chakar-Jina Vihar, erected by Kumardevi, wife of King
Govinda Chandra, who ruled over Benares during 1114 to 1154. In
1194 AD, Kutubuddin Aibak, the Muslim conqueror, leveled the city
to the ground. Sarnath became a forest of debris below which the
historical ruins remained buried. Of the two great stupas which
adorned the city only the Dhamekha remained which is of the 6th
is the most conspicuous structure at Sarnath. Colonel Cunningham
bore a shaft from the top centre of the stupa and discovered a
stone tablet on which an inscription is written with the word
Dhamekha, and mentions that this is the spot where the Buddha
delivered his first sermon. Dhamekha seems to be a distorted form
of Dharma Chakra which means turning the wheel of the Dharma.
It is also said that at this spot the five ascetics who left Gautama
Buddha in Bodh Gaya used to live in huts. The original stupa was
constructed by Ashoka. The present size of the stupa is 31.3 m
high and 28.3 m in diameter. The lower portion of the stupa is
covered completely with beautifully carved stones. The design
consists of a broad band of Swastika (fylfot) carved in different
geometrical patterns with a finely chiselled lotus wreath, running
over and below the swastikas.
stupa is considered to be the sacred place where the voice of
Buddhism was first heard. Many dignitaries of Buddhist countries
visit this place for circumambulation of this sacred stupa and
to worship the Buddha. Tibetans Buddhist circumambulate it chanting
the mantra 'Om mani padme hum'. The first discourse of the Buddha
was on the 'Wheel of Law'. The wheel symbolises samsara (world),
the eternal round of existence which goes on and on, life after
life because of ceaseless cravings and desire.