Then I, walking on tour, in time arrived in Benares, at Isipatana, the Deer Park, and there met the five monks.
After the Buddha attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, he decided to teach the liberating truths he had discovered. As his two former teachers, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, had both died, he decided to seek out his five former companions and present his Dhamma to them. With his supernormal powers he came to know that they were staying in the Deer Park (Migadaya) at Isipatana, now called Sarnath, near Varanasi, and so he set out to find them. These five companions had abandoned him after he gave up his austerities, accusing him of "reverting to the life of luxury." As the Buddha approached Sarnath and the five ascetics saw him, they decided they would not stand up for him or greet him. But as he came closer, they were entranced by the utterly peaceful expression on his face, and one by one they spontaneously rose from their seats. At first they refused to believe that he was as he claimed - enlightened. "Have I ever spoken to you in this way before?" he asked, and they admitted that he had not, and so they decided that they would listen to him. And thus the good Dhamma came to be proclaimed to the world for the first time in a discourse now called the "Discourse Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma" (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta).
Soon afterwards, he taught his second discourse, the Discourse on Non-self (Anattalakkhana Sutta), after which the five companions, Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji, all became enlightened. Later, as the result of listening to the Buddha's teachings, Yasa, the son of a wealthy merchant, and fifty of his friends became monks. The Buddha then commissioned them to spread the Dhamma far and wide:
"Go forth, monks, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, the good and the happiness of both gods and men. Let no two of you go in the same direction. Teach the Dhamma which is beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle and beautiful in the end. Explain both the letter and the spirit of the holy life, completely fulfilled and perfectly pure."
And so it was that from Sarnath the Dhamma began its long journey to the ends of the earth. The Buddha spent the first rains retreat after his enlightenment at Sarnath and he may have visited it again on several occasions, judging by the number of discourses he delivered here.