It is nearly certain that Buddha had a commanding presence, and one of those deep, rich, thrilling voices which so many of the successful leaders of men have possessed. We know his deep earnestness, and his thorough conviction of the truth of his new gospel. When we further remember the relation which the five students mentioned above had long borne to him, and that they had passed through a similar culture, it is not difficult to understand that his persuasions were successful, and that his old disciples were the first to acknowledge him in his new character. The later books say that they were all converted at once; but, according to the most ancient Pāli record - though their old love and reverence had been so rekindled when the Buddha came near that their cold resolutions quite broke down, and they vied with each other in such acts of personal attention as an Indian disciple loves to pay to his teacher, - yet it was only after the Buddha had for five days talked to them, sometimes separately, sometimes together, that they accepted in its entirety his plan of salvation.
The Buddha then remained at the Deer-forest near Benares until the number of his personal followers was about threescore, and that of the outside believers somewhat greater. The principal among the former was a rich young man named Yasa, who had first come to him at night out of fear of his relations, and afterwards shaved his head, put on the yellow robe, and succeeded in bringing many of his former friends and companions to the teacher, his mother and his wife being the first female disciples, and his father the first lay devotee. It should be noticed in passing that the idea of a priesthood with mystical powers is altogether repugnant to Buddhism; every one's salvation is entirely dependent on the modification or growth of his own inner nature, resulting from his own exertions. The life of a recluse is held to be the most conducive to that state of sweet serenity at which the most ardent disciples aim; but that of a layman, of a believing householder, is held in high honour; and a believer who does not as yet feel himself able or willing to cast off the ties of home or of business, may yet "enter the paths," and by a life of rectitude and kindness ensure for himself a rebirth under more favourable conditions for his growth in holiness.
After the rainy season Gotama called together those of his disciples who had devoted themselves to the higher life, and said to them: "I am free from the five hindrances which, like an immense net, hold men and angels in their power; you too (owing to my teaching) are set free. Go ye now, brethren, and wander for the gain and welfare of the many, out of compassion for the world, to the benefit of gods and men. Preach the doctrine, beauteous in inception, beauteous in continuation, beauteous in its end. Proclaim the pure and perfect life. Let no two go together. I also go, brethren, to the General's village in the wilds of Uruvelā." Throughout his career, Gotama yearly adopted the same plan, collecting his disciples round him in the rainy season, and after it was over travelling about as an itinerant preacher; but in subsequent years he was always accompanied by some of his most attached disciples.
In the solitudes of Uruvelā there were at this time three brothers, fire-worshippers and hermit philosophers, who had gathered round them a number of scholars, and enjoyed a considerable reputation as teachers. Gotama settled among them, and after a time they became believers in his system, - the elder brother, Kassapa, taking henceforth a principal place among his followers. His first set sermon to his new disciples is called by Bishop Bigandet the Sermon on the Mount. Its subject was a jungle-fire which broke out on the opposite hillside. He warned his hearers against the fires of concupiscence, anger, ignorance, birth, death, decay and anxiety; and taking each of the senses in order he compared all human sensations to a burning flame which seems to be something it is not, which produces pleasure and pain, but passes rapidly away, and ends only in destruction.
Accompanied by his new disciples, the Buddha walked on to Rājagaha, the capital of King Bimbisāra, who, not unmindful of their former interview, came out to welcome him. Seeing Kassapa, who as the chronicle puts it, was as well known to them as the banner of the city, the people at first doubted who was the teacher and who the disciple, but Kassapa put an end to their hesitation by stating that he had now given up his belief in the efficacy of sacrifices either great or small; that Nirvāna was a state of rest to be attained only by a change of heart; and that he had become a disciple of the Buddha. Gotama then spoke to the king on the miseries of the world which arise from passion, and on the possibility of release by following the way of salvation. The rāja invited him and his disciples to eat their simple mid-day meal at his house on the following morning; and then presented the Buddha with a garden called Veluvana or Bamboo-grove, afterwards celebrated as the place where the Buddha spent many rainy seasons, and preached many of his most complete discourses.
There he taught for some time, attracting large numbers of hearers, among whom two, Sāriputta and Moggallāna, who afterwards became conspicuous leaders in the new crusade, then joined the Sangha or Society, as the Buddha's order of mendicants was called.
Meanwhile the prophet's father, Suddhōdana, who had anxiously watched his son's career, heard that he had given up his asceticism, and had appeared as a Wanderer, an itinerant preacher and teacher. He sent therefore to him, urging him to come home, that he might see him once more before he died. The Buddha accordingly started for Kapilavastu, and stopped according to his custom in a grove outside the town. His father and uncles and others came to see him there, but the latter were angry, and would pay him no reverence. It was the custom to invite such teachers and their disciples for the next day's meal, but they all left without doing so. The next day, therefore, Gotama set out at the usual hour, carrying his bowl to beg for a meal. As he entered the city, he hesitated whether he should not go straight to his father's house, but determined to adhere to his custom. It soon reached his father's ears that his son was walking through the streets begging. Startled at such news he rose up, seizing the end of his outer robe, and hastened to the place where Gotama was, exclaiming, "Illustrious Buddha, why do you expose us all to such shame? Is it necessary to go from door to door begging your food? Do you imagine that I am not able to supply the wants of so many mendicants?" "My noble father," was the reply, "this is the custom of all our race." "How so?" said his father. "Are you not descended from an illustrious line? no single person of our race has ever acted so indecorously." "My noble father," said Gotama, "you and your family may claim the privileges of Kshatriya descent; my descent is from the prophets (Buddhas) of old, and they have always acted so; the customs of the law (Dharma) are good both for this world and the world that is to come.