After attaining awakening, the Buddha traveled throughout India to teach. Along the way, he used different methods to help people of different backgrounds. In this episode, we will focus on just three of these stories. The first is of the Buddha inviting Nidhi into the Sangha, who was seen as impure and lowly by others. The second is of the Buddha teaching Angulimala, a serial killer, to stop his violence. Lastly, we discuss the story of the Buddha teaching Rahula, a young novice monk at the time.
These stories express the spirit of the Buddha’s compassion—when he attained awakening, he said the following lines:
“Marvelous, marvelous! Why is it that they (sentient beings) possess the complete wisdom of the Tathagata but do not know and see it? I should teach those beings to awaken to the holy way, so that they forever leave the snares of deluded, inverted thoughts and all see that the Tathagata’s wisdom is within their bodies—that they are no different from the Buddha.”
—Avatamsaka Sutra, Chapter 32 (T9.278.624a15)
In other words, all sentient beings are the same as the Buddha, but fail to realize it due to their deluded thoughts. Through welcoming the lowest members of society into the community, teaching a serial killer who everybody feared, and correcting the youngest monk in the Sangha, the Buddha showed through his words and actions that his teachings were for everybody, and to each of them, he presented the Dharma in a different way so that they would be relevant to each student.
References and Further Reading
The Story of Angulimala (From the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha)
Teaching Rahula (From Chapter 31 of The Scriptural Text: Verses of the Doctrine with Parables)
The Story of Nidhi is originally from Chapter 30 of the Sutra on the Wise and Foolish, which has yet to be translated into English, but here is a summary of the tale by the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum.
For more stories about the Buddha teaching various disciples, Footprints in the Ganges by Ven. Master Hsing Yun is a good collection to start with. If you prefer to get the stories straight from the sutras, there are plenty in the Pali Canon, which can be found online via Access to Insight or in print with Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Teachings of the Buddha series.