'Wandering Almsmen' in the Upaniṣads
POSTULATING 483 BC1 as the year of the Buddha's 'Great Decease', we arrive by a brief and simple chronological computation at some time near the thirties of the sixth century BC when his ministrations commenced in a small eastern corner of northern India.2
Soon there was a group of disciples who had received ordination at his hands and joined the order to which the Master himself belonged--an order that already existed and was even then ancient-- the Order of Wandering Almsmen.
In the legends of the Theravāda Canon, we have the story set forth of the early growth of this body of the Buddha's disciples and followers. They formed at the beginning what is defined as a 'cultgroup' by anthropologists--of men who recognized the Buddha as their Lord and Master ( Bhagavā and Satthā), accepted his given system of spiritual culture (Dhamma) and were devotedly attached to his person. They formed just a union of fait under a spiritual guide and master.
Others joined the union and, when it had grown somewhat in numerical strength, the Master charged it with a mission. It was to 'go forth and wander about for the good of the Many (Bahujana), the happiness of the Many--in compassion for the world--for the good, the welfare and the happiness of gods and men'.3
At the time when they had this message from the Master, the group of disciples was not even a hundred strong and few among them were equal to the given task: the Canon says that there were only sixty-one arhants living in the world then.4 To outsiders this group was known as the 'Ordained Followers of the Sakyaputta' (Sakyaputtiya Samaṇas), but the group called itself by the simple name, the 'Union of Bhikkhus' (Bhikkhu-saṇgha).5____________________