One Wednesday evening our Sensei gave a dharma talk on the meaning of the word sangha. She noted that she could always tell when a person had decided to join the Sangha by the fact they would stand up to help serve the silent tea. When I heard her say this I was immediately reminded of the Buddha’s first sermon.

The Buddha turns the Dharma Wheel for his old companionsThe Buddha’s first teaching was called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which means the Turning of the Wheel of Truth. He delivered this discourse to the five ascetics who were his former companions, at the Deer Park in Isipatana (now called Sarnath), near Benares, in India. But it is not the text of the Buddha’s talk that I was thinking of as Sensai was speaking.

Towards the end of the sutta (Sanskrit: sutra) it tells us that, “there arose in the venerable Kondañña the spotless, immaculate vision of the Dhamma. In that “Whatever is subject to origination is also subject to cessation” and that upon hearing this the Buddha exclaimed: ‘Kondañña has indeed understood! Kondañña has realized (the four truths)!'”

And this brings me back to my thought as Sensai spoke. There is a legend of the days that followed that first sermon. As I recall it, on the next day, when it came time for the Buddha’s second sermon, Kondañña was nowhere to be found and that it was during this talk that the second of the five companions is said to have had the realization of the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. At the end of this talk who should arrive but, Kondañña, for he had been gathering alms enough to feed the Buddha and his fellow companions. And so it followed that each day that passed another of the companions skipped the Buddha’s talk and instead gathered alms for the group such that by the the sixth day there was no need for another discourse, instead they gathered alms together for they were no longer companions as all had entered the stream and now they abided as the first Sangha and the symbol of this transition was the simple and selfless act of providing food and drink for one another.

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