Now a few words of encouragement.
When the Buddha preached, his listeners meditated as they listened to him and gained
insight. And their number was great indeed. "Eighty-four thousand after each sermon," according to the commentary. Reading of this some remarked, "It appears quite easy to gain insight. But here we are working very hard and yet unable to gain anything. Why such a difference?"
Here you must remember that the commentary is just giving an account of the occasion and as such does not go into details as to the qualifications of the listeners. The preacher himself was the Buddha and none other. His listeners were people of perfections. As an example let us consider a story.
Once the Buddha was teaching at Alavi, the present day Allahabad. His theme was death-mindfulness. He told his listeners to remember, "My life is not lasting. My death is lasting. My life will end in death. Inevitable is my death. My life is uncertain. Death is certain." Then he went back to Sāvatthi.
Among the listeners at Alavi was a sixteen year old girl, a weaver. She developed death-mindfulness since then. Three years later, the Buddha came to Alavi again. As the Buddha sat among his listeners, he saw the girl coming towards him. He asked, "Young lady, where have you come from?" The girl replied, "I don't know, my lord." "Where are you going?" he continued. "I don't know, my lord" was the answer. "Don't you know?" "I do, my lord." "Do you know?" "I don't, my lord."
The people were full of contempt for the girl. She was showing disrespect to the Buddha, they thought. The Buddha, therefore, asked the girl to explain her answers. Said she "Sir, you the Buddha will not engage in small talk. So when you asked me where I had come from, I knew at once you were asking me something significant. You were asking me what past existence I had come from. This I do not know and I answered so. When you asked me where I was going to, you meant the next existence I am going to. This again I don't know and so I answered. Then you asked if I don't know I am to die. I know I have to die, so I answered I do. You then asked if I know when I will die. This I don't know and I answered no. "The Buddha said "Well done" (Sadhu) to her answers.
So, by the third question it is certain that we will die. It is not certain when we will die. Let us ask ourselves the second question, where are you going? It is rather difficult to answer, isn't it? But there are ways to make the answer not difficult. Think about your bodily, verbal and mental deeds. Which are greater in number, good deeds or bad deeds? If good deeds, you will go to Good Sphere. If bad deeds, you will be bound for the Bad Sphere. So we must make an effort to do good deeds. The best way is to be engaged in insight meditation, so that you will be freed from the lower states for ever. You should try to reach at least the stage of Stream-winning. Is this enough? If you can reach that stage, I will be happy. But according to the Buddha you must work till you attain to the fruition of Arahatship.
Now to go back to the young weaver. She became a Stream-winner at the end of the Buddha's sermon. Clearly, she gained insight as a result of her having developed death mindfulness for three years. From this we can infer that many people had been like her.
While the Buddha was staying at Jeta Grove at Sāvatthi there were lecture meetings every day. There the citizens of Sāvatthi came of an evening dressed in clean clothes and bringing offerings of flowers and incense to listen to the dhamma. The same thing may have happened while the Buddha was staying at Bamboo Grove, Rajagaha. So, listening to the dhamma, they must have taken up meditation just as they had taken to keeping the precepts. Even today people listened to a teacher of meditation and began practising it. It was then the Buddha himself who was preaching. How could they help not practising it? It was these people who had listened to his previous sermons that listened to a sermon and gained insight.
Then there were monks, nuns, lay men and women disciples, all types of people. These people who had the opportunity to listen to the Buddha must have been men and women of great perfections. And when the Buddha preached, he did so to suit the disposition of the listener. Now this is important.