The Man who Missed Being the First Disciple of the Buddha
Translated by Yasuo Saito from Kangi-Sekai Magazine

Once upon a time when the Buddha was alive...

As usual, it was a hot afternoon. The new nuns were gathering around a nun, Capa, who was sitting under the shade of a tree.
They came here to listen to her experience since she had attained enlightenment and become an Arahat.

"Capa, what kind of life did you have before you became a nun? Could you tell us?"

"Well. First of all, I need to tell you about a very important person, who guided me to this profound teaching. It was way back to the time when the World Honored One had attained enlightenment and became to be known as the Buddha."
Capa started telling the story while gazing at the far sky.

"Shakyamuni Buddha, our teacher, due to his compassion, decided to expound the supreme enlightenment that he had attained. At first he had thoroughly considered about to whom he would preach the teaching since the teaching is so deep and so wide, and so subtle and so reverent. Finally he decided to preach to the five monks who had been his companions during his earlier austerities. The Buddha started walking from Buddhagaya, near River Neranjara, toward Kasi, where these five were living. On his way, he encountered a man. My story starts from here."

The nuns were listening attentively.

It was also a day full of the glaring sunlight. Upaka, who was a follower of Ajivika Religion, was in the middle of his journey of his ascetical training.
When he passed near Gaya, he sensed something at the far way of the path and took a look over there.
For a moment, he saw something illuminating the way over there like the sun.
Upaka wonderingly approached it and he realized that it was a monk walking toward him.
The monk's whole body was brightly illuminating more than anything else around it even in the bright sunlight.

His face was bright and his eyes were clear as if they could absorb Upaka.
Seeing that the monk was not an ordinary man, Upaka addressed him.

"Venerable One, your countenance is clear and serene and your complexion is pure and bright. You seem to have followed a good path. Who is your teacher? Or what teaching do you follow?"

The monk's answer was far beyond Upaka's expectation:

"I am one who has overcome all and knows all.
I am detached from all things and I have abandoned worldly desires.
I have no teacher.
I am the only one in the world who has fully and completely enlightened.
I am the teacher supreme.
My heart is pure and filled with peace.
I now go to the Kasi to turn the Wheel of Dharma (teachings), and I shall beat the drum of immortality for the world of blind beings."

Upaka was so impressed by the monk's overwhelming assurance and decisive attitude that he said, "Venerable One, you seem to be the Victorious One."
Then the monk told him, "He who has thrown away delusions of all kinds could be a victorious one like me in life, Upaka."

What Upaka was told was unbelievable for him.
Upaka thought:

Does it happen that such a revered one appears and approaches me?
Just because a stranger says, "I am the fully enlightened one," who is such an idiot to say, "Yes, I will be your disciple"?
But in fact, it seems a halo is visible around his body.
Well, he must be an honorable man more or less anyway.
But I cannot believe he is a Buddha supreme.
After all, he is still young and he has no disciple and no followers.
He may have a tendency to exaggerate things...

After Upaka considered for a moment, he replied, "Venerable One, it may be so..."

He reluctantly left this mysterious monk and went another way.
This monk, however, was surely indeed the Buddha, who was heading to the place where the Dhama Wheel would be first turned.
What if, even having doubts, Upaka had followed the Buddha?
He could have listened to the Buddha's very first sermon with the five disciples at Deer Park in Sarnath.
Or even though he might not have been able to understand the teaching soon, at least he could have been the honorable first disciple of the Buddha.
Unfortunately, Upaka missed such a wonderful opportunity in front of his eyes.

But it was reasonable for him. The time might have not been ripe yet.
After that, Upaka had continued his training based on the teachings of Makkhali Gosala while wandering several places.
Even as time passed, however, he could not get any distinguished achievement.
Thus, he was not sure if it was better to keep continuing his training.

"Is it not possible to obtain true bliss and eternal happiness in the carnal world?"

Feeling deadlocked, he kept wandering and he drifted to a village of hunters in Vankahara.
The hunters were religious and welcomed the ascetic very well with their respects, Upaka decided to stay and practice there.
Could he get his answer?

It was Capa, the village leader's beautiful daughter, who cheered him up when he was in distress.
By her carefree smile, her innocent looks when chanting, and her active young appearance, he was encouraged and he felt relieved.
When the leader sensed Upaka's feelings, he asked.

"Upaka, how do you think about my daughter?"

"She is a good girl -- honest and joyous. And more, she is the most beautiful in the village."

The leader was satisfied with Upaka's response, and then his face suddenly looked serious and said.

"Upaka, I will give my daughter to you if you become a hunter in the village. What do you think?"

Upaka's heart was shaking because he was in love with Capa.
He thought:

"Even it is called the sacred path, but I have not obtained any true happiness and satisfaction in my current training.
I will be relieved a lot if I will be with Capa."

Upaka made up his mind and he became a hunter.
Soon his pretty child was born and he had spent many joyous days.
He felt like he had gained a comfort and joy that he had never had before.

Despite his expectation, however, his happiness was undependable and unstable.
Capa used to look honest and pretty, but as she increased her impudence, her blunt speaking and formidable attitude became noticeable.
He thought she was cheerful and frank, but now she looked indecent and uneducated. He felt like something was missing.
Since his hastily-learned hunting skills had not improved much, he was not comfortable being the son-in-law of the village leader.
And the more he killed the living beings, the farther he felt he was departing from the sacred world and the more he became uneasy.
Gradually his mind was filled with frustration, anxiety, and irritation.

"As I thought, happiness in the carnal world is never lasting? Eternal bliss is just an ideal after all?"
Upaka's heart became discontented as it used to be.

Then, a village man who met the Buddha during his trip just came back.
He looked so excited and he said he had become a lay follower of the Buddha on the spot.
Of course, the people in the village had already heard of the great saint, the Buddha. But nobody knew what kind of teachings the Buddha was preaching.

Upaka asked him immediately.
"Friend, what kind of teachings did the Buddha preach?"
"I've listened to a lot of graceful teachings from him. But the disciples said these are the most important:
We all suffer in life because we all have desires.
We can obtain Nirvana if we discard our desires.
This is the path to reach Nirvana."

"Thank you. What is Nirvana, then?" Upaka asked.

"Well. It is eternal happiness that is never broken. When I looked at the face of the Buddha, it was so blight that my body trembled. He was like a god. I've been feeling joyous ever since."

While Upaka was listening to the story, his encounter with the Buddha flashed across his mind. And so did theBuddha's words back then:

"He who has thrown away delusions of all kinds could be a victorious one like me in life, Upaka."
Upaka came to himself. The word "Upaka," he heard clearly.

"Right. I've been thinking that I had missed a great opportunity, but the voice of the Buddha is still alive in me.
Now at this time, I will follow the Victorious One, the Buddha."

Upaka could not contain himself anymore. As soon as he got home, he told Capa.
"I will become a monk to pursue the way."

Capa, having thought that Upaka was in love with her, told him angrily.
"Upaka, you are angry at me, aren't you?
It is said that one cannot pursue the way with anger.
Oh, please calm down and come back to me.
Shall we live with joy like we used to?
I, as well as my relatives, will do whatever you say."

"Capa, it would be very fortunate even if one quater of what you've said were true."
Capa's attempt did not work at all.

"Look, Upaka.
I look beautiful with perfume of sandalwood on my hands and feet, in fine clothes from Kasi, like an acacia tree with the beautiful flowers.
So, are you still going to walk out on me?"

"Women by using their appearance try to bind those who try to pursue the way.
But one with wisdom will become a monk by discarding wealth and social rank.
Like an elephant that cuts the rope that binds"

Since Capa understood the Upaka's firm determination, she gave up convincing him and said.
"Then, take care of yourself. Where are you going now?"

"I used to be an ascetic monk traveling around.
I thought I had been walking on the true path back then.
But there was no truth there.
Now, however, the teacher supreme, the Buddha has appeared and he is expounding the teachings of truth.
I will search for him and I will practice under him."

"Then, when you meet the Buddha, please pray for me. Please give my offering to him, the teacher supreme."
Upaka received the offering from Capa and he departed for the Buddha.

After visited many places, he finally reached the place of the Buddha.
He bowed deeply to the Buddha's feet, prayed for Capa and submitted the offering.
And he was permitted to be a disciple of the Buddha.

He became a part of the Sanga.
This time, his expectation of searching for truth would not be deceived.
There was what Upaka had been searching for - truth, bliss, eternal happiness, and the world of the immortal.

"Everyone," Capa said, "this is the story of my ex-husband Upaka.

After that, my child grew up enough to go hunting; I left my home for the Buddha.
Thus, it was Upaka who was my benefactor.
I'll wrap up my story here, today. Please go back to your practice."

She noticed that the sun was already going down.
The nuns were watching her sunset-flashed clear face that was filled with confidence.
It was Capa, who quickly obtained "the true bliss and the eternal happiness."
"The world of the immortal is here." Her strong statement contained her deep gratitude toward Upaka.