The first sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya. It was preached in the Subhagavana in Ukkatthā, and is claimed as striking the keynote of the entire doctrine of the Buddha (sabbadhamma-mūlapariyāya). In the sutta the Buddha explains various contemporary systems of philosophy and points out the differences between these and his own system. It also deals with the theory of the soul and of Nibbāna (M.i.1-6).
The Commentary* states that the five hundred monks to whom the sutta was addressed found no pleasure in listening to it. The Buddha, realizing this, preached to them the Mūlapariyāya Jātaka** (q.v.). Their pride was thereby vanquished, and they begged the Buddha for a subject of meditation. Later, when the Buddha was away journeying, staying at the Gotamaka cetiya in Vesāli, he preached to them the Gotamaka Sutta and they became arahants.
* MA.ii.46ff.; see also AA.i.457 and J.ii.269, where it is stated that at the end of the Gotamaka Sutta the earth trembled.
** But in the introduction to the Jātaka itself, it is stated that the Jātaka was related, not to them, but in reference to them, after they had become Arahants.