Today is the July (Āsāḷha) Full Moon day, and is chiefly remembered in Buddhist circles as the day when the Lord Buddha taught the Dhammacakkapavattanasutta, which set the Dhamma Wheel rolling.
The Buddha awoke, of course, on the May (Vesākha) Full Moon day, and after the Awakening spent the following seven weeks in the vicinity of the Bodhi Tree.
During that time he had a number of encounters with men and gods, the most important of which was with the god Brahma, who, understanding that the Buddha was hesitating, requested him to Teach.
After looking round the world the Buddha agreed to the request, and after understanding that Āḷāra and Uddaka whom he had previously studied with had passed away, he travelled around 250km on foot to Bārānasī to give his first teaching to the group of five ascetics who had helped him during his years of striving.
This was the occasion for the teaching of the Dhammcakka Discourse, which lays out in short form certain fundamental teachings, on the Middle Path, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
During the coming 45 years the Buddha would gradually fill out those teachings in greater and greater detail, but even with these brief teachings Koṇḍañña, one of the group of five monks, understood their significance and attained Stream-Entry (Sotapattiphala), and requested ordination.
Over the next few days the Buddha would go on to teach the Discourse about the Characteristic of Non-Self (Anattalakkhaṇasutta) at the conclusion of which all five reached the state of Liberation (Arahatta).
This day therefore is very important in the life of the Sāsana, as it commemorates the First Teaching, the First Attainment and the foundation of the Sangha, and is celebrated throughout the Theravāda world as one of the most important days of the year.
It is also the day which culminates the Hot (Gimhāna) Season, and tomorrow the Rainy (Vassāna) Season begins and the monastics undertake the Rains Retreat, in which they strive to improve their skills in one or more areas of the Teaching.
To learn more about these events follow the hyperlinks in the above note, or go the story of Prince Bodhi, which relates the period of asceticism, the decision to Teach and a record of the result. For the teachings themselves please read the last sections of the Great Chapter.
There are many other Teachings on the Life of the Buddha on the Ancient Buddhist Texts website, including a Journey from Uruvilvā to Ṛṣipatana, which is from the Mahāvaṁsa, and is unknown to the Pāḷi texts.
The Buddha meets the Group of Five
Besides these events which are remembered on this day, there are some other very significant events in the Buddha’s life. The first of these is his conception. This took place on the Full moon night of July thirty-six years before the above events took place.
The birth of his son Prince Rāhula also took place on this day sic years earlier, which therefore coincided with his Great Renunciation, and the beginning of his earnest striving for Awakening.
Seven years after these events, his Mother having passed away shortly after his birth and been reborn in Heaven, he ascended to the Heavenly Realms to begin the Rains Retreat there and teach his former Mother the Abhidhamma.
In order to maintain the body the Buddha used to come down to Earth during the morning, and walk on piṇḍapāta, meanwhile leaving a mind-made Buddha image in Heaven to preach the Dhamma. He would then inform Ven Sāriputta of the gist of the teaching he had been giving, and Ven Sāriputta would expand on that with his Analytic Knowledges for the rest of the monks.
We should also recall that after the Buddha passed away, Ven Mahākassapa organised a recitation of the Teachings during the following Rains Retreat, and that constituted the beginning of the First Council, and the tremendous effort made by the Sangha over the years to preserve the Teachings for the benefit of mankind.
May you rejoice in these teachings and in our opportunity to still hear and benefit from them, and may you in whatever small way be able to help preserve them and pass them on for the generations to come.