by Dr. Khin Maung U
In the year 588 B.C., on the full moon day of Kason (May), Siddhattha Gotama attained Sabbaññuta ñãna (omniscience) and became the Buddha. For seven weeks after his enlightenment the Buddha fasted and spent a quiet time in contemplation and enjoying emancipation (vimutti sukha) under the Bodhi tree and its neighborhood.
After his forty-nine days fast, as the Buddha sat under the Rajãyatana tree, two merchants, Tapossa and Bhãlika, from Ukkalãpa (a province in Myanmar) happened to pass that way. A feminine Devatã (deity), who had been the merchants’ mother in a previous life, spoke to them: “Good sirs, the Buddha is dwelling at the foot of the Rajãyatana tree, soon after his enlightenment. Go and serve the Buddha with Madhu Peiñdika (fried-flour and honey, a typical diet of travelers in India in the ancient days). It will conduce to your well-being and happiness for a long time.”
The two merchants availed themselves of this golden opportunity. After paying their respect to the Buddha, they implored him to accept their humble offering so that it may resound to their happiness and well-being.
Then, it occurred to the Buddha: “The Tathãgatas do not accept food with their hands. How shall I accept this Madhu Peiñdika?” The Catumahãrãjikas, the four guardian deities of the four quarters, perceived the Buddha’s thoughts. From the four directions, they offered him four granite bowls, saying, “O Lord, may the Buddha accept herewith this Madhu Peiñdika”. The Buddha graciously accepted these timely gifts and wished the four bowls be amalgamated into one. With this composite bowl, the Buddha received the offering of the two merchants, and ate his first meal after his long fast. Thus, the two Burmese merchants provided the first lunch the Buddha ate after his enlightenment.
After the meal was over, the merchants prostrated themselves before the feet of the Buddha and said: “We, O Lord, seek refuge in the Buddha (Buddham saranam gacchãmi) and seek refuge in the Dhamma (Dhammam saranam gacchãmi). May the Exalted One treat us as lay disciples who have sought refuge in the Buddha and the Dhamma from today till death.”
Thus, Tapossa and Bhãlika, two merchants from Ukkalãpa in Burma, were the first lay disciples of the Buddha and they became the first Buddhists by seeking refuge in the Buddha and the Dhamma, reciting the two refuges.
It is noteworthy that, the two merchants did not recite the third refuge – Sangham saranam gacchãmi (I seek refuge in the Sanghã) which completes the three refuges, because, at that time, the Sanghã or order of monks was not in existence. Normally, one becomes a Buddhist by intelligently reciting the three refuges.
These first two converts to Buddhism then begged of the Buddha to give them an object of worship. The Buddha touched his head and presented them with eight hair relics. The two merchants brought back the eight hair relics of the Buddha to Ukkalãpa where they were welcomed with ceremony by the King of Ukkalãpa. These eight hair relics of the Buddha were then enshrined in the Shwe Dagon Pagoda constructed atop Sainguttara Hill.
Today, the Shwe Dagon Pagoda is one of the wonders of the world, and is the pride and glory of Myanmar Buddhists.
Thus, Tapossa and Bhãlika, two merchants from Myanmar, were the first to:
(i) pay their respects to the Buddha knowing that he had obtained enlightenment,
(ii) offer the first lunch the Buddha ate after his enlightenment,
(iii) seek refuge in the Buddha and the Dhamma,
(iv) become Buddhists,
(v) enter the Buddha Sãsanã,
(vi) listen, without doubting, to a dhamma discourse given by the Buddha,
(vii) obtain from the Buddha his relics as the objects of worship,
(viii) bring the Buddha’s relics as objects of worship out of India to Myanmar and enable the construction of the first Cetiya, the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, and
(ix) be awarded by the Buddha the distinguished title of being the First Buddhists.1