On attaining Nirvana, the Buddha started giving sermons at Sarnath,near Varanasi,India.
A merchant used to attend these sermons.One day he approached Buddha and told him " Sir,with all due respect to you,I feel that the sermons are of no use.You take so much pain to explain the path etc. and it is as if falling on deaf ears.I have not improved at all and my friends whom I persuaded to come, have started behaving worse than before.So,stop. Do not waste time and labour."
On hearing this the Bhikkus(the priests) got angry and started to beat him.Buddha stopped them,telling them that the man had raised a valid point.
Buddha told that merchant" Sir,I will explain why I keep on sermonizing.But firstly tell me which part of India you are coming from because from your facial features,you seem not to belong here."
The man replied that he came from Pataliputra,a town some 350km.away and which required 3 day's journey for him.He stated that he procures his goods from his home town and comes to Varanasi and sells them. As soon as the goods are sold,he starts on the return journey.
Buddha asked him how many times he had made that journey.The merchant replied that he started selling here as far as 30 years back and might have made that journey about 150 times.
Buddha stated that the merchant must be knowing the road thoroughly by now.The merchant replied " Sir,I can walk to my town blindfolded -so to say.". Buddha said" Sir,you must be knowing all the features of the road". The Merchant replied " Oh yes,thoroughly.I know where good halting places are and I know where thieves or wild beasts may be encountered." Buddha then asked " Sir,suppose a man wants to go to Pataliputra,you will be able to guide him,then?" The man replied " Of course!".
Buddha the asked his final question" Sir,when you will explain the road to Pataliputra,the man will be reaching it I suppose." The man exclaimed" Sir,I do not understand what you mean.Please restate." Buddha repeated that the merchant will explain the road to the man wanting to go there and on hearing that, the man will reach there. The merchant laughed and told Buddha that Buddha was making fun of him.How can anybody reach a destination on just hearing how to go there! Buddha laughingly asked " Sir,what else is required?".The man replied that the man desirous of journeying to Pataliputra must start walking towards Pataliputra on the explained path. Buddha then said" Exactly ! I have travelled on" that path" and have come back. That is why people call me "Tathagata" i.e.the one who has returned from "there".I want you people to take that path so I explain the path to you. But how can you reach there without starting on the journey?You must start on the journey first !