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For weeks, the Buddha remained near the Bodhi tree, peaceful and serene. He was tempted to retire into a profound solitude instead of trying to teach others what it had taken him six long years to discover for himself.

Mark Epstein, psychiatrist: "He wants to stay there. He’s very happy. He doesn’t want to go out. He says to himself 'no one is going to understand this, people are going to think I’m crazy. They’re going to think I’m nuts.'"

Venerable Bhaddamanika, nun: "Buddha saw the nature of the people, and the envy and jealousy and the strong negative mental states. All the people in the world they are like the fishes wriggling in the very shallow water. So Buddha, he himself afraid to teach the people."

Epstein: "The myth is that a god come to the Buddha, Brahma comes on his knees, and says, 'please we need you. Why don’t you try talking about what you just understood, because the world…the gods need it and the men need it, people need it.'"

Bhaddamanika: "And then Buddha decided to give his teachings because of a great compassion—it’s not an ordinary compassion."

Robert Tenzin Thurman, scholar: "When you feel the feelings of others you automatically don’t want them to feel bad. You feel the feeling of your hand; you don’t put it in the oven. You’re not being compassionate to your hand; you just feel the pain so you’re not going to put it there. So you feel other’s pain, you’re going to do your best to alleviate it."

Venerable Metteyya Sakyaputta, monk: "When somebody becomes enlightened something blooms in his heart. It’s like a flower blooms and it cannot hold the fragrance. It has to naturally release. So it’s like he naturally had to release his radiance. He has to share this joy that was in his heart."

Thirty-five years old, the Buddha would devote the rest of his life to bringing his teachings—the Dharma, the fundamental laws of all things—into the world. But as he had feared, it would not be easy.

Standing Buddha
Standing Buddha
Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute
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As he set off to share what he had learned, he met a wandering ascetic. “Who is your guru,” the ascetic asked him. The Buddha said he had no guru, that he had attained enlightenment on his own. "It may be so," the ascetic said, and walked away. On his first attempt to teach, the Buddha had failed.

Jane Hirshfield, poet: "Buddha meets someone who doesn’t see anything special about him because the awakened Buddha doesn’t look any different from anybody else. He is ordinary. Buddhism is not about being special. Buddhism is about being ordinary. And it is not about the continual exudation of bliss. It is about walking a normal human life with normal human beings, doing normal human things."

And this reminds you that you yourself might be a Buddha. At this moment, the person you’re looking at might be one. It’s an interesting practice. Just each person you see as you walk down the street; “Buddha? Buddha? Buddha? Buddha? Buddha?”


Major funding provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by: the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Shinnyo-en Foundation, the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Bumper Foundation, and viewers like you.