Ten Great Disciples of the Buddha
Sariputta - Foremost in Wisdom
Moggallana - Foremost in Supernatural Powers
Maha-Kassapa - Foremost in Ascetic Practices
Upali - Foremost in Keeping the Precepts
Ananda - Foremost in Hearing Many Teachings
Rahula - Foremost in Quietly Doing Good
Anuruddha - Foremost in Divine Insight
Kaccayana - Foremost in Explaining the Dharma
Subbhuti - Foremost In Understanding the Doctrine of the Void
Punna-Mantaniputta - Foremost in Teaching the Dharma
Foremost in Wisdom
Both, politically and philosophically India was in turmoil at the time that Prince Siddhattba of the Shakyas, later to be known as the Buddha Shakyamuni, abandoned secular life in search of enlightenment. New political states were constantly coming into being; at one time as many as sixteen were engaged in struggle.
Many people were coming to feel that the established Brahman teachings could not lead to spiritual liberation. Consequently, advocates of various new doctrines emerged, and increasing numbers of people awaited the appearance of a teacher who would guide them to true spiritual deliverance. Many strove to become such teachers themselves.
Philosophers and men of religion with these aims tended to gravitate toward Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha, one of the largest Indian kingdoms at that time. Most representatives of them were the free thinkers referred to in Buddhist texts as the six non-Buddhist teachers.
One of the six was the skeptic philosopher Sanjaya, who held that, for the sake of personal liberation, it was necessary to abandon ideas of another world or of cause and effect, since it is impossible to say whether such things do or do not exist. One of the foremost thinkers of the time, he had two hundred and fifty disciples.
But suddenly something totally unexpected happened. His two leading disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana, who were entrusted with supervising all the others, left their master, taking all the other followers with them, and went to another teacher.
That action was the result of the following course of events. Early one morning, while Sariputta was walking through the streets of Rajagaha, he came upon a mendicant monk who was begging for food. The monk held his alms bowl, walked quietly with downcast eyes, and deported himself with such propriety that Sariputta was strongly impressed.
He thought, "This monk must either have attained enlightenment himself or have taken as his teacher a perfectly enlightened person." Curious though he was, Sariputta suppressed his desire to speak to the monk and simply followed him.
When the monk had finished begging and had eaten his meal, Sariputta made a courteous bow and said, "Friend, your appearance is truly impressive. Who are you, and who is your teacher?"
The monk replied, "I have abandoned secular life to follow the great enlightened teacher who came from the land of the Shakyas. I am called Assaji."
Sariputta then asked, "What is the doctrine of this enlightened teacher of the Shakyas?"
"I cannot tell you in detail, since it has not been long since I became a monk and began serving him."
"The main points will be enough. What does your honored teacher proclaim?"
Assaji replied, "All things are produced by causation. The Buddha has explained the causes and the way to eliminate them. This is his teaching."
From that brief statement Sariputta, who was later to be known as foremost in wisdom among all Shakyamuni’s followers, perceived the Way to supreme enlightenment and immortality. He realized clearly that this was the teaching he had long sought and that the teacher he had hoped for had at last appeared.
Born into a Brahmin family in the village of Nalaka, not far from Rajagaha, Sariputta demonstrated exceptional intelligence from earliest childhood. He first studied with his father, who was widely versed in Brahmanic knowledge, and learned to recite the Vedas. At the age of eight he be-an formal study with a teacher, and by the time he was sixteen his fame had spread through the vicinity.
Not far from Nalaka was the village of Kolita, where Moggallana was born. He and Sariputta were to become the "two great jewels" of the Sangha. By coincidence they were born in neighboring villages and were friends from childhood.
Moggallana too was a boy of exceptional abilities. After he and Sariputta became close friends, they respected each other and sought the Way to enlightenment together. When the time came for them to leave the secular world for a life of religious pursuit, they also did so together.
One Year, Sariputta and Mogallana joined the brilliantly arrayed crowd of people gathered to enjoy themselves and watch voluptuous dancing girls at Rajagaha's annual mountaintop Festival. Gazing at the festivities, Sariputta was seized by an indescribable sense of futility and emptiness.
"Sooner or later," he said to his companion, "all these merry makers must end their lives in this world. Not only the pleasure seekers but I too will meet the same fate. When death pursues, can it be right to squander time this way?" At that moment he determined to leave the secular world and devote himself to finding a way to liberation from a fate that makes death the end of everything. His friend Moggallana made the same decision.
Having gained their parents' permission, Sariputta and Moggallana abandoned secular life and visited the various teachers who expounded new doctrines in the city of Rajagaha. Sanjaya was the one they elected to follow.
Because of their outstanding abilities and learning, Sariputta and Moggallana were soon recognized as preeminent among his disciples. But even after mastering everything Sanjaya had to teach, they did not attain true enlightenment and continued to long for a teacher who could lead them to their goal. Probably it was their ardent wish for truth that created the opportunity for Sariputta to meet Assaji.
When Moggallana saw Sariputta trembling with emotion at having finally found the supreme teacher, he realized that Sariputta had discovered the way to true liberation. A long time earlier, the two men had agreed that should one discover the teaching that led to enlightenment, he would share it with the other. Honoring this promise, Sariputta immediately told Moggallana what he had heard. The two then resolved to put their faith in Shakyamuni. They told the rest of Sanjaya’s two hundred and fifty disciples of their decision, and all expressed the desire to follow Shakyamuni.
It is said that when Sariputta, Moggallana and the others went to see Shakyamuni at the Bamboo Grove Monastery, outside Rajagaha, Shakyamuni said "These two friends will become the two great jewels the supreme among my disciples." This occurred the year after Shakyamuni's enlightenment, when Sariputta was twenty-seven or twenty-eight years of age.
Owing to his keen intelligence, after putting his faith in Shakyamuni, Sariputta is said to have mastered the teachings of causal origination, the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path and to have attained perfect enlightenment. In addition, he was able to expound the essence of Shakyamuni's teachings to others.
Once, while Sariputta was visiting Nalaka, a philosopher asked him to define nirvana.
Sariputta replied, "Friend, nirvana is the extinction of desire, anger and ignorance."
The philosopher then asked how to attain nirvana. Sariputta said, "Friend, the Eightfold Path set forth by our great teacher - right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness and right meditation - is the way to attain nirvana."
Observing Sariputta teach the Dharma in this way, Shakyamuni said to his followers, "If you would leave the secular world and study the Way, you must be as Sariputta and Moggallana are. Take great pains to become close to them and entreat them to teach you."
Though Sariputta was recognized as one of the first of all the disciples and as a model of the self-disciplined monk, and though he was called on to teach the other monks in place of Shakyamuni himself, he never became self-important. On the contrary, after the others had gone out begging, he would go around their quarters putting everything in order. He is also said to have striven quietly to ensure that the Sangha did not invite criticism from other religious groups. Though a man of great intellect, he always showed compassionate consideration for others.
While begging in Rajagaha one day, he stopped at the gate of the home of a wealthy man. Just then the wealthy rnan's son came out and, seeing Sariputta, asked who he was and what teaching he followed.
Sariputta replied, "I am a disciple of Shakyamuni, the greatest teacher in the world."
The son asked again, "You have come with a mendicant's bowl. What do you seek?"
Sariputta replied, "I seek neither wealth, nor food, nor ornaments. I have come for your sake. You are fated to meet Shakyamuni. It is difficult to encounter a buddha who has come into the world to teach the Dharma. Come with me and pay reverence to him and hear his teachings." It is said that at Sariputta's urging this young man abandoned secular life to follow Shakyamuni.
No one in Savatthi, the capital of the kingdom of Kosala had put faith in Shakyamunl’s teachings until a wealthy merchant named Sudatta became a believer and donated a garden on the southern outskirts of the city to the Sangha. There Sariputta, entrusted with the important and difficult task of building a monastery in a land of other faiths, constructed the Jetavana Monastery to accommodate the Buddha and his followers when they visited the city.
After hearing Shakyamuni teach the Dharma at the new Jetavana Monastery, Sariputta happened upon a monk he had known before. The man asked Sariputta where he was coming from, and he replied, "I have just heard the teachings of Shakyamuni."
Smiling coldly, the monk retorted, "Are you still depending on teachers? I have long ago broken with them and am seeking the Way on my own."
Sariputta said, “A calf will abandon the frenzied mother cow after drinking only a little of her milk. Similarly, it is because your teacher has not attained correct enlightenment that you have left his side. just as it is impossible to grow weary of the milk of a good, sound cow, so, because my great teacher has attained true enlightenment, his teachings are inexhaustible."
A model to all the other members of the Sangha, Sariputta put absolute faith in Shakyamuni and, ac-cording to tradition, entered the state of nirvana at his own request before his master did so. At the time of Sariputta's request to be permitted to enter nirvana, Shakyamuni was already eighty years of age and so gravely ill that he knew his own death and entrance into nirvana was near.
At first Shakyamuni made no answer; but after Sariputta had made the same request a second and then a third time, Shakvamuni said, "Why are you in such a hurry to enter nirvana ?"
“You have already said that your own nirvana is near," answered Sariputta. "I cannot bear to see it. It is said that all the leading disciples of all the buddhas have entered nirvana before their masters. Please permit me to do as they have done." Shakyamuni nodded slightly.
Sariputta returned to his village, entered his family home, and went to his room, where he said to the one follower he had brought with him, "I have been with all of you for more than forty years. If I have offended anyone, forgive me."
These were his last words. The scriptures say that toward evening that day he lay down on his bed and quietly entered nirvana.
Foremost in Supernatural Powers
Moggallana, together with Sariputta, led Sanjaya's "two hundred and fifty followers to become disciples of Shakyamuni. Moggallana and Sariputta were known as the pillars of the Sangha. Just as Sariputta was foremost in wisdom, so was Moggallana foremost in supernatural powers, manifestations of which are described in various scriptures. The best-known episode relating to his supernatural powers has to do with his mother's deliverance from hell.
Having acquired complete freedom in supernatural powers while studying and training under Shakyamuni at the Jetavana Monastery, Moggallana decided to use his powers to discover where his deceased mother had been reborn and to try to recompense her for her care in bringing him up. After many inquiries he finally learned that she was suffering in the hell of hungry demons. Upon learning this, Moggallana immediately used his supernatural powers to send her a bowl of food. She was overjoyed, but as soon as she tried to put the food into her mouth it burst into flames, causing her even greater pain than before.
Grieved by her plight, Moggallana asked Shakyamuni to save his mother. Shakyamuni replied, “Your power alone cannot atone for her sins. You must make offerings to all the monks and ask them to pray for her. Then their prayers will free your mother from the hell of hungry demons." Moggallana did as he was instructed, and the merit he obtained by making offerings to all the monks delivered his mother from hell.
In those days, people who devoted their lives to religion undertook extremely strict training to attain a state of mental and spiritual unification and concentration. Having attained this state a person became an arahant capable of doing wonderful things. For instance, arahants were endowed with highly sensitive faculties enabling them to see things ordinary people could not see, hear things they could not hear, read their minds, know their pasts, and act with perfect freedom. Though apparently miraculous, these powers were actually attained as a consequence of long training and discipline.
Sariputta was able to go directly to the heart of matters as a result of his great intellect. Moggallana, meanwhile, attained his extraordinary powers of perception through unrelenting will and vigorous effort. In comparison with Sariputta, a man of intellect, Moggallana was a man of practical action. The discipline to which he subjected himself after he and Sariputta became followers of Shakyamuni is said to have been astounding.
The village of Kolita, where Moggallana was born, was near Rajagaha and adjacent to the
village of Nalaka, Sariputta’s birthplace. As described in the story of Sariputta, Moggallana and Sariputta had been close friends since childhood aid respected each other deeply. Moggallana's family for generations Brahman instructors to kings, lived in a mansion that is said to have been comparable in size to the royal palace in Rajagaha. After discussions with Sariputta, Moggallana decided to abandon secular life for the life of religion. At first his distinguished family objected fiercely, since the outstanding abilities that even in early childhood had won Moggallana renown in neighboring villages had given his family great hopes for him. Nonetheless, his parents knew their son well and were aware of his unusual strength of will and depth of thought; they realized that he must have given the matter profound consideration and that his decision was firm.
After finally persuading his parents, Moggallana, together with Sariputta, became a follower of Sanjaya the skeptic. Later the two men chose Shakyamuni as their teacher and joined the Sangha. Moggallana left the Bamboo Grove Monastery outside Raiagaha, where Shakyamuni was staying at the time, and went to nearby Vulture Peak, where he sat in a cave and submitted himself to the strictest discipline in order to attain the state of concentration in which neither perception nor thought occurs.
During this course of training Moggallana refused to allow himself to sleep or even to rest. When he became discouraged, Shakyamuni, who was actually at the Bamboo Grove Monastery, would appear before him to encourage him to persevere. On one occasion Mogallana went to a certain village to meditate but was so weary that he soon fell asleep. Shakyamuni appeared before him and said, "Moggallana, do not covet sleep. Recite the Dharma. Transmit the Dharma to other people. He who would expound the Dharma must abandon, eliminate and destroy using his own strength." No doubt Moggallana's great desire for enlightenment conveyed itself to Shakyamuni, who was some distance away, and caused him to appear before his disciple. When Moggallana's discipline finally brought him enlightenment, he is reported to have said, "I have been enlightened because of my master's teachings and encouragement. I have, therefore, been born of my master."
Because of his devotion to Shakyamuni, Moggallana must have been able to see his gentle face and hear his voice all the time he was meditating to attain spiritual unification. Even after that training for enlightenment had ended, he was still able to make contact with Shakyamuni no matter what distance separated them. Shakyamuni once went to the Jetavana Monastery, leaving Moggallana and Sariputta behind at the Bamboo Grove Monastery. One day while Shakyamuni was away Moggallana turned to Sariputta and said he had just spoken with Shakyamuni. In amazement Sariputta said, "How could you have spoken with him when he is far away, beyond rivers and mountains, at the Jetavana Monastery?" Moggallana replied, "It is not that I have used my supernatural powers to go to his side or that he has used his to come to me. But with my supernatural powers of sight and hearing, I spoke to him and he replied, expounding diligence to me."
Hearing this, Sariputta said in praise, "My friend, all of us who seek the Way must respect you, be close to you, and make all efforts to become like you, as the small stone nearby resembles the great mountains of the Himalayas."
Moggallana was equally generous in praising his friend Sariputta. On one occasion, having heard Sariputta eloquently expound the four ways to liberation, Moggallana exclaimed in admiration, "Friend, your teachings are like food to the hungry and water to the thirsty."
These two men, born in neighboring villages, followed the same teacher and, each regarding the other as a mirror of himself, strove to perfect their own innate characteristics. Realizing their effort, Shakyamuni praised them to the other monks: "Sariputta is like the mother who gives birth in that he awakens in the mind the desire to seek the Way. Moggallana is like the mother who rears the child in that he cultivates the mind to go on seeking the Way. All monks who discipline themselves should take these two men as examples and strive to emulate them in perfecting themselves." The other monks loved Sariputta for his compassionate concern for them and revered Moggallana for protecting them from the criticisms of other religious groups and for keeping a watchful eye on Shakyamuni's lay disciples.
As the years passed, the number of people professing faith in Shakyamuni's teachings increased. They included wealthy people in many lands and even Pasenadi, king of Kosala, and Bimbisara, king of Magadha. But the increasing prosperity of the Sangha also drew envy and ill will from followers of other religions. Moggallana, who had always openly ex-pounded the teachings of Shakyamumi and opposed other beliefs, was often the object of persecution. On one occasion members of a rival religious group plotted to disgrace Moggallana by having a prostitute named Uppalavanna seduce him. Uppalavanna had been through two unhappy marriages through no fault of her own. With his supernatural powers Moggallana perceived her desperation and led her to faith in the Buddha's teachings.
In the end though, Moggal1ana was killed by his persecutors. Religious rivals hired ruffians to attack him as he meditated in the mountains. According to the scriptures, though stoned, until his bones were broken, he nonetheless managed to return to the Bamboo Grove Monastery, where he declared, "I can no longer tolerate this pain and will now enter nirvana." With these words he died.
Shakyamuni who had already announced the imminence of his own entrance into nirvana, must have grieved greatly at the death of Moggallana. Just as great, if not greater, must have been the grief of Sariputta at the loss of the irreplaceable friend with whom he had sought the Way and with whom he had vowed to serve Shakyamuni. For him Moggallana's death must have been like his own. And indeed it was not long afterward that Sariputta, having obtained the permission of his master Shakyamuni, entered nirvana himself.
Foremost in Ascetic Practices
Maha-Kassapa is said to have become a disciple of Shakyamuni shortly after Sariputta and Moggallana. He is called Maha-Kassapa, or Great Kassapa, to distinguish him from other disciples named Kassapa. The story of how Maha-Kassapa gave up secular life to seek religious truth resembles the course of events that inspired Shakyamuni himself to leave his father's palace in Kapilavatthu and devote himself to religion. Maha-Kassapa was born in a village near Rajagaha into a Brahman family so wealthy that it had twenty-five storehouses filled with gold, silver, and other valuables and cultivated more land than the king himself. He was reared in the innermost part of the family mansion, with four nurses to tend to his every need.
Extremely talented from early youth, by the age of eight he had mastered the rules of Brahman religious practice and was diligently applying himself to such pursuits as painting, dancing, and mathematics. Gradually, however, he became so alienated from his life of luxury and from people driven solely by the desire for wealth and glory that he resolved to abandon it all someday for a life of religious pursuit.
Observing how little pleasure he took in anything, his parents began to worry. Fearing that he would leave home to devote himself to religion, they decided he should marry and settle down. Maha-Kassapa shrank from their almost daily urgings to wed, but they continued to plead with him to do-as they wished and fulfill his duties as heir. At his wits' end, Maha-Kassapa finally had a sculptor mold a supremely noble and beautiful female figure in pure gold. Showing it to his parents, he said, "If you can find a woman as lovely as this, I promise to make her my wife." Though they feared that they would never find a woman as lovely as the statue, his parents searched the land and finally found a woman identical in every feature to the gold scripture. Maha-Kassapa had no choice but to keep his promise.
The wedding safely concluded, his relieved parents happily awaited the birth of a grandchild. But no child was born. Nor is this surprising, since the young couple never so much as touched each other, for the woman Maha-Kassapa had married was completely free of ordinary human desires. Finally Maha-Kassapa's parents died without a grandchild. Because the family's immense wealth could not merely be abandoned, Maha-Kassapa was compelled to become head of the household. But before long something happened that showed him that people cannot escape repeated sin until they abandon the world.
One day, observing workers in his family's fields, he saw how the spade turned up earth teeming with white insects, which were crushed to death in the next instant by blows of the hoe. He saw how the farmers whipped groaning oxen that were forced to pull heavy loads. Through these images Maha-Kassapa came to understand the transience of life and the great suffering required to support his life of luxury. The same day, Maha-Kassapa's wife saw with horror how countless tiny insects were killed in the process of pressing sesame oil. That evening, Maha-Kassapa said to his wife, "As long as my mother and father were alive, I suppressed my longing to leave secular life because I could not bear to make them unhappy. But now this way of life has become like a prison to me, and I wish to devote myself exclusively to religion." His wife made no objection since she shared his feelings.
The scriptures say that Maha-Kassapa made the following comment at the time of his decision: "A layman's way life is filled with obstructions and rubbish. A monk's life, in contrast, is as open and pleasant as the sky itself. It is difficult while living in a house to perform purifying deeds that gleam like pearls. I therefore leave my house, shave my head, don a monk's robe, and devote myself to the search for truth." With that, Maha-Kassapa gave up his wealth to search for a teacher and eternal happiness.
One day Shakyamuni was resting in the shade of a tree beside a road in the village of Nalanda, not far from Rajagaha. Maha-Kassapa, who was passing by, stopped to look at this man, whom he did not remember having seen before but whose face was filled with compassion, purity and nobility. Making up his mind at once that this was the person he wanted as his teacher and master, he fell at Shakyamuni's feet and asked if he might become one of his disciples.
Shakyamuni replied, "The head of a man revered as a teacher who claims to know what he does not know and to have seen what he has not seen will split into seven parts like a fig. But put your mind at rest: I am not such a person." Then, as his first teaching to Maha-Kassapa, he said, "You must think correctly all the time and thoroughly grasp the nature of all things in the world as they inevitably come into and go out of existence.”
As soon as Maha-Kassapa had been accepted as a disciple, he folded his own garment, made a cushion of it, and invited the Buddha to sit on it. When he did so, the Buddha commented on the pleasant softness of the cloth. Noticing that the Buddha wore a shabby robe of stitched-together rags, Maha-Kassapa begged him to accept his own robe. The Buddha did so and offered his own ragged garment in return to Maha-Kassapa, who was overcome with gratitude.
From that time on, Maha-Kassapa devoted himself to the life of an ascetic. He said, "The ascetic lives in the forest. Since he knows that accepting offerings from good houses pollutes him, he eats only what he obtains by begging and wears only rags, but must consider this way of life pleasant."
For a man who had formerly lived in comfort, waited on by servants, it must have been unimaginably difficult to beg from door to door. Yet Maha-Kassapa never flinched from it, as the following passage from the Theragatha reveals: "Once, leaving my lodging, I entered a city to beg. I approached and respectfully stood by a leper who was eating. With his rotting hand, the man offered me some rice. As he was placing it into my bowl, one of his fingers dropped off and fell into the bowl. But 1 ate that rice and neither then nor thereafter felt any disgust."
As the number of lay believers wanting to hear the Buddha's teachings increased, more and more offerings were made to the Sangha, and the monks were able to wear finer garments. Never deviating from his ascetic path, however, Maha-Kassapa continued to wear only robes made of rags. Other members of the Sangha began to whisper behind his back and to criticize him for his unsightly appearance when better clothing was available. No doubt to rebuke these monks, one day Shakyamuni prepared a place beside his own and invited Maha-Kassapa to sit there. Then he said to everyone, "Maha-Kassapa's ascetic practices is in no way different from my own self-discipline."
Even in old age, Maha-Kassapa continued to in-crease the rigor of his asceticism, so much so that Shakyamuni began to worry about his health and one day said to him, "Maha-Kassapa, you are no longer young. Walking about in those ragged garments must be difficult for you. Why not change them for the soft, light garments rich people donate? And instead of begging, accept donations from the wealthy. Don't sleep at night under trees anymore. From now on, stay by my side."
Fears rising in his eyes at the thought of the Buddha's concern for his welfare, Maha-Kassapa said, "Master, 1 still have the ragged garment you gave me, when I first became a monk. I have never worn anything softer than the master's robe. My daily food has always been what 1 obtained by begging. I have sought the Way thus to avoid losing the spiritual attitude I had when 1 be-an this kind of life. But 1 have regarded the ascetic way of life not as suffering but as happiness, because it brings the unsurpassed joy of wanting little and knowing sufficiency."
The Buddha responded, "Maha-Kassapa, you have spoken well and will be a light to people who come after you. Through the model of your unflagging discipline, many will find happiness." And until his death, Maha-Kassapa continued to require no more than was actually necessary to sustain life.
After the Buddha's death, Maha-Kassapa presided over the First Council, at which Shakyamuni's teachings were compiled. He continued to expound these teachings until his death, serving as a model for those devoting themselves to ascetic practices.
Foremost in Keeping the Precepts
Six young nobles of the Shakya tribe - Ananda, Anuruddha, Bhaddiya, Bhagu,Devadatta and Kimbila - resolved together to become Shakyamuni's disciples. When they left the kingdom's capital, Kapilavatthu, it was with such a great train of carts, horses, elephants, and retainers that everyone thought they were embarking on an excursion. At the boundary between the land of the Shakyas and the kingdom of Magadha, however, they sent their entire train back to the capital, keeping with them only Upali, a barber.
In a grove on the border, they ordered Upali to shave their heads. Next they removed their rich clothes and jeweled ornaments and put on the coarse garments they had prepared. They then said to the barber, “Upali, you have served us long and well. We have made up our minds to go to Anupiya, in the kingdom of Malla, where Shakyamuni is staying, and ask him to include us among his disciples. Since we are going to renounce the secular world these clothes and ornaments are no longer of any use to us. Take them all and return quickly with them to Kapilavatthu.”
Upali stared after the young nobles as they vanished into the forest. Then, coming to himself, he was overwhelmed by the heap of costly things lying, at his feet. Trembling, he picked them up and hastily, concealed himself in the woods, where he puzzled over the meaning of what had just happened. He thought, “There can be no doubt that I have been given great wealth, enough to feed me for the rest of my life.” But he at once saw that if he took the riches home, people would suspect him of having stolen them. To a man like Upali, who had always been honest, being the object of such suspicions would have been intolerable. Even if he reported what had happened, he would probably be punished for having aided the young nobles in abandoning secular life for the life of religion, Upali was at his wits' end.
Then he began wondering why the six young men had given up their lives of wealth and comfort to devote themselves to religion. He suddenly recalled words he had heard a few days earlier at the Nigrodha Monastery, outside Kapilavatthu: “All the suffering of the world is born of greed. Unless greed is abandoned, true peace of mind is impossible to attain.” The speaker had been Shakyamuni, who had once been the Shakya crown prince but had left home to search for the Way to perfect enlightenment.
Upali immediately saw that the cause of his confusion and fear was the desire that had awakened in him as soon as he had received the nobles' belongings. “Now I understand,” he exclaimed to himself. “Those young men left the secular world in the hope of finding peace of mind.” He realized that Shakyamuni was a great person, able to see the innermost recesses of the
human heart. Upali resolved to ask the young men to take him with them to Shakyamuni. No longer interested in the garments and jewels, he hung them on trees, one to a branch. Praying, that some pure-hearted traveler would find and be made happy by the riches, he hastened after the nobles.
That decision required great determination. The barber Upali, who was later to be revered as preeminent in keeping the precepts, had been born into the lowest of the four major castes, which were rigidly fixed in the time of Shakyamuni. People born into one of these castes - the Brahmans at the top, followed by the Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Sudras--remained in it for life. Those in the lowest caste had no hope of improving their status, regardless of ability. Members of the Sudra caste, like Upali, were not permitted to eat with, much less fraternize with or marry, members of the caste to which the nobles belonged.
Thinking Upali had returned to Kapilavatthu, the young men were surprised to see him in
pursuit and asked him what was the matter. What had happened to the clothes and jewels they had given him? Had he been set upon by robbers? Panting, Upali replied, “No. Please listen to what I have to say. Riches of that kind are not suitable for a poor man like me. First of all, they would disturb my peace of mind. Be good enough to take me with you to Shakyamuni.” They did as he asked, and thus the six young nobles and Upali the barber made obeisance together at the feet of the Buddha.
The Buddha asked the six young nobles who the man behind them was and was told that he was Upali the barber, who though of low birth had served the Shakyas well. Stiff with fear, Upali advanced timidly. Shakyamuni gently asked if he was seeking the Way. Upali replied, “Yes, if a person of mean birth like me can be permitted to become a monk..”
With a deep nod, Shakyamuni said, “Upali, people are not valuable because of birth. Put your mind at rest. Our Sangha makes no distinction on the basis of occupation or social class. The only rank that exists is seniority in the Sangha itself. Receive your ordination now.”
The six young nobles were astounded that Upali should be ordained ahead of them, since
this would mean they would be in a lower position than he and would have to pay reverence to him. One of them voiced their general discontent, “But Upali was our servant. . . .”
Shakyamuni replied crisply, “Why should people who have left secular life to be free of the desires of the world persist in clinging to discrimination by social class? That is not how you should seek the Way.”
Having been a prince himself, Shakyamuni no doubt saw the conceit of these young men, who formerly had commanded the services of hordes of underlings. It was to awaken them to their own pride that he ordained Upali ahead of them. It is said that the young men recognized the meaning of the Buddha's act and paid sincere reverence to Upali after he was ordained, taking places inferior to his.
One scripture offers the following account of why Upali was able to overcome his lowly birth to become one of the Buddha's disciples. When Shakyamuni was a hermit in an earlier existence, he once asked the palace barber to shave his head, but the barber refused contemptuously because of the hermit's wretched appearance. The barber's nephew, who was an inexperienced novice, condemned his uncle's unkindness and did his best to shave the hermit. The young man revered the hermit thereafter and prayed to be reborn as a barber serving, him in a future life, in which he would continue to seek the Way. This man was Upali in an earlier existence.
Neither proud nor service, always accepting frankly what people said and doing all things sincerely, Upali learned and kept all he precepts so well that he surpassed all other members of the Sangha in this endeavor.
Upali once asked for permission to retire to the seclusion of the forests to train himself in meditative concentration, but Shakyamuni replied, "Each person has his own abilities. You are not made for the solitude of the forests. Let us imagine a huge elephant bathing happily in a lake. What would happen if a rabbit or a cat, observing the elephants' enjoyment, tried to emulate it by jumping into the water?" Upali then realized that he should remain in the Sangha, devoting himself to discipline and training, keeping the precepts, and serving as a guide to the other monks. Whenever he entertained the least doubt on some point, he immediately referred the question to the Buddha. He kept all the precepts - beginning of course with the five basic ones of not taking life, stealing, indulging in sexual misconduct, lying or drinking intoxicants - so well that other people began coming to him for advice on them.
It must not be thought, however, that Upali followed the precepts dogmatically. He knew how to make exceptions. Once he met a sick old monk who was returning from a journey. Hearing that the old man's illness could be cured by drinking wine, Upali went to his master and asked what he should do. The Buddha said that sick people were exempted from the precept forbidding the drinking of intoxicants. Upali immediately gave wine to the old man, who recovered.
Upali observed the precepts for the sake of all the monks and for the improvement of the Sangha. He was revered for the way in which he resolved the disputes that frequently disturbed the Sangha, and after the Buddha's death he contributed greatly to the successful transmission of the Buddha's teachings to later generations by authenticating the precepts at the First Council, which met to compile the Buddha's teachings.
Foremost in Hearing Many Teachings
Ananda, whose name appears in many scriptures, served Shakyamuni, for years as a personal attendant, seldom leaving his side. Because he had so many opportunities to hear the Buddha speak and because he understood and recalled perfectly what he heard, he was known as foremost in hearing many teachings.
Ananda and his older brother, Devadatta, who would become infamous for his attempts to disrupt the Sangha and for his many assaults on the Buddha, were among the group of six young Shakya nobles who, with the barber Upali, together requested permission to join the Sangha. Although Upali and the others received their ordinations immediately, Ananda and Devadatta were not permitted to do so.
At the time, many young Shakya aristocrats from the city of Kapilavatthu were abandoning secular life for the life of religion. Ananda had requested his parents' permission to do the same, but owing to his mother's intense love for him and her dread of losing him, permission had been denied. One night, gathering his valuables together, Ananda left home to study with a hermit in Videha. Hearing that Ananda had left home and taken a vow of silence, his mother realized that she was powerless to stop him and finally gave him permission to follow the religious life.
Upon learning this, Ananda immediately went to Devadatta, who had asked Ananda to take him along when he went to join the Sangha. Devadatta had already asked to be allowed to join once but had been refused. Shakyamuni had told him he was unsuited to a life of religious discipline and should remain at home, accumulate wealth and acquire merit through charitable works. Nonetheless, Devadatta decided that if Ananda was going, he too would try again.
Together with four other Shakya nobles, Ananda and Devadatta went to the place where Shakyamuni was staying. But Ananda and Devadatta were discouraged when their request to enter the Sangha was rejected. They then became disciples of an ascetic under whom they trained
in a forest near the Bamboo Grove Monastery, but they could not rid their minds of the noble image of the Buddha. After a while Ananda and Devadatta approached Shakyamuni again, made obeisance to him by touching their foreheads to his feet, and repeated their request: "Please admit us into the Sangha. We will follow any discipline imposed on us and will never depart from your teachings." No doubt taking pity on them because of the desperate expression on Ananda's face and lending an ear to other members of the Sangha who urged their acceptance, the Buddha assented and the two were ordained.
From that day forward, Ananda devoted himself to training and discipline. But by nature a gentle, sympathetic person, he found breaking with the delusions of the world very difficult. It was probably because Shakyamuni had perceived that Ananda was innately ill suited to a life of severe religious discipline and had wished to make Ananda realize this for himself that he had at first refused to grant Ananda's request to enter the Sangha. But Ananda made great efforts to overcome his weaknesses.
After some time had passed, Shakyamuni spoke one day to a gathering of disciples including Sariputta, Moggallana, Maha-Kassapa and other senior monks at the Bamboo Grove Monastery. He said, "I am now in my mid-fifties and am weak and unable to do everything for myself. I need an attendant. Would you choose one for me?"
The senior monks were deeply moved to see how weary Shakyamuni had grown from severe discipline and strenuous teaching. One of them, named Kondanna, stepped forward and expressed willingness to assume the responsibility. With deep compassion, Shakyamuni looked into his upturned, expectant face and said, "Kondanna , I am pleased by your offer, but you are as old as I and need an attendant yourself."
One by one Sariputta, Moggallana, Maha-Kassapa, Kacchayana and the other senior monks offered to serve as attendant, but Shakyamuni declined all their offers. Then Moggallana, foremost in supernatural powers, suddenly realized that Shakyamuni had already selected the person he wanted to serve him. Immediately entering a state of profound meditative concentration, he saw what was in the Buddha's mind: the figure of the young monk Ananda. Emerging from his state of meditation, he went at once to the grove where the young man was meditating and told him that he should serve as Shakyamuni's attendant.
Ananda replied that it was unthinkable that a person with so few qualifications should perform such a service for the Buddha, the supreme teacher. Moggallana replied, "Ananda, listen well. Shakyamuni wants you to serve him. Even knowing that, do you refuse?"
A great joy welled up in Ananda's heart at the news that Shakyamuni, who had found the Way, knew the true nature of all things, and was endowed with all wisdom and virtue, should have chosen him, immature as he was, to be his attendant. In the next instant, however, he reproved himself for his elation and told himself that he could not carry out the great task facing him unless he was sober in his thinking. He saw that he would have to be pure in mind and restrained in body.
Accompanied by Moggallana, Ananda approached Shakyamuni and requested that the Buddha hear the three vows he had made. Shakyamuni assented, and Ananda said, "First, I vow never to accept any garments from the master. Second, I will never sit in any place prepared in homage to the master. Third, I vow never to enter the master's presence except at appointed times. Please hear these three vows that I have made in my heart."
Ananda had realized that the other members of the Sangha and lay believers might accord him special deference because he would be by the Buddha's side. Aware of his own immaturity in training and discipline, he had resolved to be discreet, avoid pride, and never stray from the true path. The Buddha nodded upon hearing the vows that resulted from this determination. From that day until the Buddha's death, twenty-five years later, Ananda served his master faithfully and was always with him. It is said that he was chosen for this task at the age of twenty-five, five years after he had become a member of the Sangha,
Rather than merely follow Shakyamuni's instructions, Ananda heard many teachings, understood and remembered them all, and sometimes requested guidance from the Buddha on his own initiative. Once, in the village of Saccharin in the kingdom of the Shakyas, he asked the Buddha whether association with good trends was of value in pursuing the Way. Shakyamuni replied, "Ananda, association with good friends is the whole Way." Suddenly Ananda realized that the Buddha, having liberated himself from all desires and attained perfect enlightenment, was pursuing. the Way in the company of his friends, including Ananda himself and the other members of the Sangha.
Shakyamuni then known as Siddhartha - had been cared by his aunt Mahapajapati after the early death of his mother, Maya. When his father, King Suddhodana, died, she requested permission to join the Sangha. At first Shakyamuni refused because she was a woman. It is said that Ananda pleaded with the Buddha to allow women to become members of the Sangha. A central figure in the founding of the women's Sangha, Ananda earned the respect of the many women who became nuns. In fact, Ananda's compassionate nature and engaging personality, attracted everyone. And because of his gentle and beautiful face, women often became infatuated with him. Once he even had to be saved from the danger of seduction by Shakyamuni's supernatural powers.
Ananda suffered greatly when Shakyamuni eighty years old and ill, approached the hour of his death. In accordance with custom, at the start of the rainy season Shakyamuni and Ananda had stopped traveling and taken up residence on the outskirts of Vesali, the capital of the Vajji confederation. As Ananda looked after Shakyamuni's needs, he began to fear that his master would die soon. But Ananda believed that Shakyamuni would not leave the Sangha without final instructions. Diligently fulfilling his duties, Ananda watched Shakyamuni slowly recover. When Ananda asked Shakyamuni about the possibility of his dying without saying, something in farewell to the monks and nuns, Shakyamuni told him, "I have already revealed all the teachings; nothing remains for me to explain. Ananda, do not grieve for me after my death. When I have departed, rely on yourself, rely on the Dharma,and be diligent in following the Way."
Resuming his travels after the rainy season, Shakyamuni came to the village of Pava, in the kingdom of Malla. After eating a meal offered him by a local blacksmith named Chunda, he fell seriously ill again. Nevertheless, he continued his journey; but by the time he reached Kusinara his reserves of strength were exhausted. He quietly instructed Ananda to spread his bedding and lay down with his head to the north. Realizing that Shakyamuni's death was near, Ananda wept bitterly, but Shakyamuni said to him, "Ananda, you have served me well. Do not grieve. Though I disappear from this world, I live forever. Follow my instructions, keep the teachings and the precepts diligently, and find perfect enlightenment as soon as possible."
Ananda took this counsel to heart and, as a result of his diligence, finally attained enlightenment after the Buddha's death. At the time of the First Council he performed a key service in the compilation of the scriptures by reciting all the teachings he had heard from Shakyamuni.
Foremost in Quietly Doing Good
Rahula, Shakyamuni's only child was born while his father was still Prince Siddhattha of the Shakyas. Siddhattha was nineteen when, at the instigation of his father Suddhodana, he married Yasodhara. Early in life, Siddhattha became aware of the suffering inherent in birth into this world and more and more of his time wrapped in the contemplation of liberation from suffering. His desire to seek an end to suffering grew ever stronger. King Suddhodana had arranged the marriage with Yasodhara in the hope of preventing his heir from abandoning the secular world for a life of religious pursuit. No doubt the king was overjoyed to hear that after ten years of marriage Yasodhara had given birth to a son. He imagined that this would change Siddhattha's mind about leaving home. Upon hearing of the event, however, Siddhattha cried out, "A hindrance [rahula] has been born; bonds of affection have been created!" This is said to be why he named his son Rahula.
At that time India was torn by violent battles among great kingdoms. The strong constantly threatened the weak, and some people rejected the validity of morality. They claimed that there was no evil in taking life, stealing, or causing others suffering, since no retribution for deeds done in this world waited in the world to come. Many eagerly accepted this doctrine. Prince Siddhattha witnessed this world firsthand and foresaw clearly the downfall of his society. He resolved to find a way to lead people from unhappiness as quickly as possible.
The birth of a son must have been a tremendous cause of concern to the prince. Seven days after Rahula came into the world, Siddhattha broke the bonds of affection tying him to the infant and silently left the palace for a life of religious pursuit. To Yasodhara, who had lost her husband, and to Suddhodana, who had lost his son, Rahula must truly have been a child of sorrow. But this may have made them treat him all the more tenderly. Surrounded with affection, Rahula grew rapidly.
After Prince Siddhattha left home to pursue a life of religion, not a day passed that Yasodhara did not worry about the harsh suffering that her husband must be enduring. He had been accustomed to the softest cushions and many attendants. Now he slept in open fields and submitted himself to all kinds of ascetic hardships. Finally word reached her one day that Siddhattha had attained enlightenment and become a buddha. Soon afterward she learned that he was returning, to visit Kapilavatthu, the capital.
He arrived in the company of a large number of disciples. They stayed in a forest outside the city, but paid a visit to King, Suddhodana at the palace. During this visit, Yasodhara pointed out the Buddha to Rahula and said. "That noble person is your father." Rahula advanced and looked up at his father, who returned his gaze but departed without saying a word.
Yasodhara hurried to her son and urged him to ask his father's blessing. Rahula did as he was told. Shakyamuni, turning back to look at his son, nodded and instructed the boy to follow as he continued walking. The boy did so in silence. When they reached the forest, Shakyamuni ordered Sariputta to shave Rahula's head, exchange his clothes for those of a monk, and make him a novice in the Sangha. Rahula is said to have been nine at the time.
Perhaps Shakyamuni foresaw the imminent fall of the Shakya tribe to one of the larger Indian kingdoms of the day. He must have realized how profoundly Yasodhara would suffer when her only son was taken away to lead a life of religious pursuit. No doubt he found it wrenching to tear his own child away from the comfort and wealth of life in the palace and compel him to wear the coarse robe of a monk and become a mendicant. Nonetheless, he was determined to live his son the precious legacy of enlightenment-eternal life and peace-attained only through strict religious discipline. Rahula's task was to follow the Way to its completion; and as a consequence of his actions, his mother too would eventually be brought to enlightenment.
As a member of the Sangha, Rahula underwent exactly the same discipline as all the other monks. When he was in training near his father at the Jetavana Monastery, a senior member of the Sangha returned from a long journey. Since rooms were assigned by seniority, Rahula had to give up his quarters to this monk. As luck would have it, it rained heavily the night he was forced to sleep outdoors, and he took refuge in a latrine. As might be expected, he grew very tired and dozed off. Suddenly he was awakened by a voice: "Who's there?" Recognizing it as his father's,
Rahula identified himself. "I see !" said Shakyamuni. After a moment's silence, Rahula heard the sound of his departing footsteps.
Though training at his father's side, Rahula was unable to call him father or draw close to him. Nor could he expect to receive from his father any sign of affection. Perhaps it was the sadness of being unable to treat his father as a father that prompted him to small acts of mischief. For instance, he once misdirected a lay believer who had come to the monastery and had asked him how to find Shakyamuni. Word of this reached Shakyamuni; that evening, to his son's great amazement, he took the unprecedented step of going to Rahula's quarters.
Rahula prepared his room and watched joyfully as his father approached. Inside the room, Shakyamuni called for water. Rahula brought it. When Rahula had washed his father's feet, Shakyamuni asked, "Rahula, can you drink this water?"
Rahula replied, "No. It was clean, but now that 1 have washed your feet in it, it's too dirty to drink."
Shakyamuni then instructed Rahula to throw the water away and return with the container. Rahula did as he was told, and Shakyamuni said, "Rahula, would you put food in this containers" Rahula answered, "No, I would not put food in a container that had just held dirty water."
Hearing this, Shakyamuni said, "A person who knows that lying is evil but lies anyway and hurts others is like water that is fouled or a container that has been dirtied. Sin begins with lying, which summons all evil to itself. And the suffering caused by lying inevitably rebounds upon the liar."
Enlightened by Shakyamuni's words, from that time forth Rahula was diligent in quietly obeying all the rules of the Sangha and became revered among the other disciples as foremost in quietly doing good. Many people looked on Rahula with sympathy. Though born and reared as the only son of a prince, he had given up his life of privilege at an early age to subject himself to a course of stern religious discipline. But within the Sangha some monks treated him with reserve, and some were jealous of him. Dealing with such attitudes was among his greatest ordeals.
Once, when Rahula and Sariputta were begging in Rajagaha, a hooligan threw sand in Sariputta's begging bowl and beat Rahula. Sariputta warned Rahula, “You are Shakyamuni’s disciple. No matter what kind of treatment you encounter, you must never allow anger to enter your heart. You must always be compassionate to all beings. The bravest person, the person seeking enlightenment, abandons conceit and has the fortitude to resist anger." Rahula smiled and silently walked on till he came to a stream, where he washed the dirt from his body.
Rahula continued strict discipline of this kind until he attained enlightenment at the age of twenty. Later, after Shakyamuni allowed women into the Sangha. Rahula's mother, Yasodhara, became a nun and trained under Mahapajapati, Shakyamuni’s aunt and foster mother until she too attained enlightenment.
Foremost in Divine Insight
After attaining enlightenment under the bodhi tree at Gaya, in the kingdom of Magadha, Shakyamuni traveled through much of northeastern India teaching, and visited his home City of Kapilavatthu several times. The fame of the Buddha and his teaching of a way to eliminate suffering grew rapidly, and many young men of the Shakya tribe abandoned secular life to join the
Anuruddha, Shakyamuni's cousin, who was later to be praised as foremost in divine insight, was a son of the Shakya royal house. One day, when everyone in Kapilavatthu was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the man whose teachings had won over so many young men in the capital, Anuruddha was visited by his older brother, Mahanama, who proposed that one of them give up secular life in the hope of gaining religious merit and that the other accept the responsibilities of heir to the family. Mahanama made this proposal because he was concerned that if both were to give up secular life no one would remain to carry on the family line. Anuruddha had no objection to his brother's proposal but was uncertain whether he, accustomed as he was to luxury and the freedom to do as he liked, could withstand the rigorous discipline of the religious life. If he took over the family responsibilities, on the other hand, he would spend the rest of his life coping with the constant demands of farming and of conducting Brahman religious ceremonies. He was torn between the two courses.
Anuruddha was aristocratic in appearance, with straight brows and a finely shaped nose, and was also skilled in martial arts and sports. His parents doted on him and gave him a house for each of the seasons--one for summer, one for winter, and one for the rainy season--just as Shakyamuni's parents had done for him when he was still Prince Siddhattha. In the inner apartments of these buildings Anuruddha had been carefully reared, attended by many serving women.
In spite of the comfort and luxury of his life, however, Anuruddha was dissatisfied. His life
began to seem empty, and he was overcome by a profound sadness. During one of Shakyamuni's
visits to Kapilavatthu, Anuruddha caught a glimpse of this man who was pure and free of all the troubles of the world. That glimpse caused him to choose the life of religious pursuit.
He thought, “Shakyamuni felt more deeply than anyone the emptiness and futility of life in this world and sought liberation from suffering, a state of absolute tranquillity. He will be able to teach me how to find what I seek.”
His mind made up, Anuruddha obtained permission from his older brother to join the Sangha and then went to his mother for her permission. She loved him deeply and refused at first; finally, however, seeing that he was resolute, she compromised and agreed to consent if Anuruddha's cousin Bhaddiya would also devote himself to the pursuit of religious truth. She felt safe in making that concession, since Bhaddiya had become king of the Shakyas after the death of King Suddhodana, Shakyamuni's father. It was unlikely that a man in such a position would discard his responsibilities and become a monk.
Anuruddha then went to Bhaddiya and requested his company in leaving the secular world to follow Shakyamuni. Torn between his state duties and his desire to become a monk, Bhaddiya first said he would accompany Anuruddha if he agreed to wait seven years. Anuruddha refused.
The length of time was shortened to six years, then five, four, and so on to one year. Finally Baddiya promised to become a monk if Anuruddha waited a mere seven days.
Having persuaded Bhaddiya, Anuruddha went on to win over four more young nobles
Ananda, Bhagu, Devadatta, and Kimbila--and all of them, with the barber Upali, went to Shakyamuni and joined the Sangha.
Before becoming a monk, Anuruddha had worn beautiful clothes, slept on the softest
bedding, and lived in comfort surrounded by servants. Now he found that wearing ragged robes, begging for food, sleeping outside, and other aspects of his new life of severe discipline were very difficult. But with stubborn perseverance, he finally became accustomed to the life of a monk, only to be assaulted by the fatigue brought on by such strict training.
One day, when he and many other disciples had gathered at the Jetavana Monastery to hear Shakyamuni teach, Annuruddha was overcome by drowsiness and fell asleep. He awoke with a start when he heard Shakyamuni call his name. Shakyamuni said, “It must be a pure and wise person who can take joy in hearing the Dharma and sleep peacefully, with no mental disturbance.”
Those words, no doubt intended as a mild reproof, pierced the heart of the exhausted disciple. When the sermon ended, Anuruddha approached Shakyamuni, who said to him, “Why did you give up a regal life for the life of religious discipline? To escape the irksome duties of the crown? From fear of robbers?”
Overcome by shame, Anuruddha replied, “No, revered teacher. I did so to pursue the Way that transcends the suffering of birth, aging, illness, death, and all the other sorrows of the world.”
”And do you think dozing will help you fulfill your wish?” asked Shakyamuni. Anuruddha
realized that the indolent habits of court life still lingered deep in his mind and body, ready to rise to the surface at the least mental laxness.
Anuruddha said, “Revered teacher, I have been guilty of misconduct. Please forgive me. Never again will I sleep in front of you, not even if my eyes should melt and my body break out in sores.” There was a look of extraordinary resolution on Anuruddha's face as he made this vow.
After making his vow of sleeplessness, Anuruddha began a fierce battle with his body's need for sleep. He is said to have gone for nights on end without closing his eyes. A long period of
this severe discipline enabled him to attain the enlightenment of an arahant, but the strain caused his sight to fail. Shakyamuni instructed Anuruddha to consult a physician, who pronounced that he could be cured by sleep.
Shakyamuni, hearing this, called Anuruddha to his side and said, “By carrying out your vow, you have rid yourself of all delusions. Why not sleep peacefully now? As the body requires, food for nourishment, so the eyes require sleep.”
Deeply moved though he was by this demonstration of affection and compassion, Anuruddha replied, “Revered teacher, by making a vow of sleeplessness I have conquered suffering. How can I discard that vow now?”
Anuruddha knew how difficult it is for people to change their personalities and habits. An instant's inattention had allowed lethargy and pride to take over and had made him doze in the presence of the Buddha. He never forgot that incident or ceased to reproach himself for it. It was his burning desire for self-improvement and religious insight, not stubborn insistence on fulfilling his vow, that made him keep his vow of sleeplessness, even if it meant going blind. Indeed, Anuruddha finally did go blind. But as he lost physical sight he gained spiritual vision into the true nature of all things and came to be respected as foremost in divine insight.
On one occasion when a large number of disciples had gathered at the Jetavana Monastery
to hear Shakyamuni teach, Anuruddha suddenly became aware of the ragged condition of his robe and wanted to mend it; but being blind, he could not thread the needle. He turned to the other monks nearby and said, “Would some monk who wishes to acquire merit and attain enlightenment
thread this needle for me?”
A person approached and asked to be allowed to do the task, but Anuruddha recognized
the voice of Shakyamuni and said in surprise, “Revered teacher, I could not allow you to do it. I was thinking of a person who wanted to acquire merit and seek happiness.”
To this Shakyamuni said, “No one in this world seeks happiness more than I.”
“I do not like to appear to talk back to you, but you are a buddha. What Dharma can you
seek beyond what you have already attained?” asked Anuruddha.
Shakyamuni answered, “Anuruddha, I too am continually seeking the Dharma. There is no end to seeking the Dharma, even for a buddha.” Then he threaded the needle for Anuruddha, whose blind eyes filled with the radiant image of the Buddha.
Foremost in Explaining the Dharma
Kacchayana, foremost among the Buddha's disciples for his explanations of the Buddhist teachings, was born into a Brahman family in Ujjeni, the capital of Avanti, a kingdom far to the west of the places in northeastern India where Shakyamuni taught, such as the Bamboo Grove and Jetavana monasteries. Studious from childhood, he grew up in rivalry with his only brother, who was older than he.
Kacchayana's brother once left home to tour various regions and study literature and martial arts. After his return, he assembled the local people and expounded what he had learned. Soon Kacchayana too began gathering groups of people and instructing them with even greater skill than his brother. Unwilling to allow his brother to get the better of him, Kacchayana had studied assiduously during his absence. But his brother was equally unwilling to be outshone, and the rivalry between the two intensified until their father sent Kacchayana away to live with an uncle, the hermit-seer Asita, who lived on Mount Vindhya. This was the man who, on the birth of Prince Siddhattha, had predicted that if the child remained in the secular world he would become a “wheel-rolling king “ or ideal ruler, and that if he abandoned the secular world for a life of religion he would become a buddha.
Asita willingly undertook the training of Kacchayana, whom he recognized as an intelligent
boy. His efforts soon bore fruit, for Kacchayana is said to have immediately mastered the four stages of meditation and to have attained the five supernatural powers.
Asita firmly believed the day would come when an enlightened Prince Siddhattha would begin to expound the supreme teaching. But Asita was an old man and did not live to see it. Before his death, he told Kacchayana, “When the prince has attained enlightenment and has become a buddha, go to him and request that he teach you.” Not long after Asita's death, word of Siddhattha's enlightenment reached Kacchayana. Imperceptibly, however, Kacchayana had grown proud of his own high level of meditation and supernatural powers. He forgot his uncle's bidding and lost the will to seek the Way. Instead, he became adept at inspiring people to make offerings to him.
Kacchayana's father was a councilor to Pajjota, the king of Avanti. When the king heard that Shakyamuni was expounding the supreme teaching in northeastern India, he became greatly
interested. He instructed Kacchayana's father to send Kacchayana to the Buddha to see what kind of person he was and what philosophy he taught. In compliance with the king's orders, Kacchayana and seven ministers made the long journey to the Jetavana Monastery in Savatthi.
Though Kacchayana had considered his own state of training and discipline superior to all others', as soon as he met Shakyamuni he realized that here was a person who had attained a stage of development far beyond his own. It is said that he immediately asked to join the Sangha. Because Kacchayana had already advanced fairly far under Asita, he was able to understand everything Shakyamuni taught him and to explain it convincingly to others. This ability eventually earned him the epithet “foremost in explaining the Dharma.” He was declared by the Buddha to be the chief among those who taught in full, what the Buddha said in brief. When he had mastered Shakyamuni's teachings, Kacchayana returned to Ujjeni to carry the Buddhist message to as many people as possible.
One day, as Kacchayana was approaching a river, he heard the sound of weeping. He stopped and, parting the tall grasses, saw an old woman crouching on the riverbank. He asked her in the gentlest possible voice, “What unhappiness makes you weep this way ?” At first she stiffened in fear. But the kind eyes of the man gazing down on her eased her alarm, and haltingly she told her story.
She was a servant in the house of one of the wealthiest men in town. Though the man had several storehouses filled with riches, he was stingy and cruel. The woman said that every day was a living hell. Though old and weak, she was forced to work from dawn until late at night and was often whipped like a beast of burden. She was poorly fed. If she became too weary to move or did something wrong, she was beaten more severely. Lacking relatives or friends to protect her, she had no choice but to put up with this treatment. She was thinking of hanging herself. “Today 1 was told to come to the river to draw water, and I cried when 1 saw the reflection of my wretched face,” she concluded.
As the old woman broke into tears again, Kacchayana said to her, “If you hate your poverty so much, why don't you sell it?”
Raising her face in amazement, the woman replied, “But no one buys poverty!”
“There is one person who buys it,” said Kacchayana. “I will teach you about him. Do as I instruct you. First cleansed yourself in the river.”
The old woman followed his instructions, though she looked doubtful.
“Now that you have cleansed yourself, you must make an offering.”
“But I own nothing at all. Even this water jug belongs to my master, the woman answered.”
“Yes, you do own something,” Kacchayana said. “Go now and fill my begging bowl with pure water.”
The woman did as she was told and gave the water to Kacchayana. Accepting her offering, he explained slowly and carefully, “Old woman, it is the Buddha who buys poverty. If you purify your heart as you cleansed your body with pure water, your soul will become an immense treasure. You could then give that treasure to others, just as you have given this water to me.”
The old woman nodded, and Kacchayana continued, “Can you stop hating your master ? Can you make up your mind to serve him well in all the work you undertakes ?” Tears flowed from the old woman's eyes.
“Very well,” said Kacchayana. “Tonight, after your master goes to sleep, meditate on the
Buddha and remember that he is always by your side and that he understands your sufferings and hardships.”
It is said that on the same night, in a corner of her master's house, the old woman died in tranquillity. To convert people to Buddhism in a place so distant from where Shakyamuni himself was teaching must have demanded tremendous effort. Kacchayana meditated upon and organized the teachings he had received from Shakyamuni so that he could explain the Dharma convincingly, to others.
Once, when Kacchayana was resting with a group of people beside a pond, an old
Brahman, leaning on a stick. joined the assembly and stood for a while observing. Then he tottered toward Kacchayana and angrily asked if none of the people in the gathering kneel, the respect due the elderly. Kacchayana said quietly that he had never forgotten the reverence due to age but that he saw no elderly people around him.
“I am older than all the rest of you,” snapped the Brahman, “yet no one showed me proper courtesy, when I came to this place!”
Kacchayana remained calm, as he said, “Shakyamuni teaches that though a person is
eighty, or ninety years old, white haired and toothless, if he is still obsessed with the desires of the five senses--sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch--he is a child. And a person who is twenty-five, with lustrous skin and black hair, is an elder if he has been liberated from the desires of affectionate attachment.”
Hearing this, the old Brahman was abashed and departed in silence. Although Shakyamuni never went to Avanti, Kacchayana continued to be devoted to him. And Shakyamuni never forgot his disciple Kacchayana, who was spreading the Buddhist teachings in a distant land. Later, when a man named Sona, who had accepted the Buddhist faith because of Kacchayana's teaching, made the long and difficult journey to the Jetavana Monastery to hear Shakyamuni directly, he described to Shakyamuni in detail the valuable work Kacchayana was doing in Avanti.
Foremost In Understanding the Doctrine of the Void
“My hut is well roofed. No wind can enter, and it is comfortable. Gods, make it rain as hard as you like. My mind, making diligence its abode, is wholly tranquil and liberated. Gods, make it rain as hard as you like.” - Subhuti
This passage in the Theragatha is attributed to Subhuti, who was revered as foremost among the Buddha's disciples in non belligerence and in understanding of the doctrine of the Void,
the teaching that there is no fixed, permanent self.
The above passage is said to have been composed to mark the presentation of a house to Subhuti by King Bimbisara of Magadha. Though the day of the presentation ceremony drew near, the carpenter had still not thatched the roof. The king prayed that it would not rain until the building was finished, but this alarmed the peasants, who were afraid their crops would wither. Sympathetic to the peasants, Subhuti is said to have recited this prayer for rain, which he had no need to fear, since diligence was the true abode of his mind.
Before becoming one of Shakyamuni's disciples, Subhuti had been a man plagued by anger. Once he had freed himself from that emotion, however, he was able to remain calm even at the thought of being drenched by rain pouring through the roof of his house. He was able to say, “My true abode is the secure house of the knowledge that all things in the universe are insubstantial, homogeneous, and equal. Thus 1 am at ease no matter what the weather. Therefore, gods, for the sake of the peasants and their crops, let it rain.” His verse overflows with the joy of
freedom from attachment to transient phenomena that understanding of the doctrine of the Void brings.
Subhuti was the son of Sumana, who was the younger brother of Sudatta, the wealthy merchant who donated the Jetavana Monastery to Shakyamuni. As a child Subhuti was so attractive and intelligent that his parents had high hopes for him and took great care in his upbringing. But as he grew older, people came to dislike him. Even neighbors who had formerly been friendly would frown at the very sight of him. This was due to his habit of speaking ill of everyone he encountered.
After a while his anger was directed not only at human beings but at other creatures as well. He even hurled stones and curses at birds in the sky. His parents and relatives could do nothing to control his raging. After a series of quarrels with his mother and father, one day a reprimand of theirs caused Subhuti to run away from home. He dashed into the nearby mountains and refused to rerurn.
But the quiet of the forest and mountains did not calm his anger. Stamping on the ground
and throwing stones at birds, he moved deeper and deeper into the woods. Suddenly he was surprised by the abrupt appearance of an old man, who asked gently, “Why have you come alone into this forest?”
Subhuti retorted brusquely, “Everyone makes a fool of me. Today my father scolded me and made me so angry that I ran away from home.”
Remaining calm in the face of Subhuti's curtness, the old man said, “Being angry without doing good will only increase your suffering. It cannot benefit you in any way. At the Jetavana Monastery, near Savatthi, ,there is a noble man who teaches human beings how to abandon evil and do good. You should go to him and ask to be allowed to hear his teaching.”
Subhuti had become tired of the vicious circle of being shunned by others because of his angry outbursts and then of taking their attitude as cause for further irritation. He decided to follow the old man's advice. The knowledge that the Jetavana Monastery had been built by his uncle Sudatta may also have influenced his decision. That morning Savatthi was bustled with people. This was the day on which the Jetavana Monastery, donated by Sudatta as a place where the Buddhist teachings could be expounded, was to be presented to Shakyamuni. Subhuti entered the building with a group eager to hear the Buddha's teaching. When he beheld Shakyamuni's radiant countenance and welcoming smile, Subhuti felt the mass of discontent that had built up within him dissipate. He made up his mind then and there to request acceptance as one of the Buddha's disciples.
After the presentation ceremony he approached Shakyamuni and asked to be admitted to the Sangha. Shakyamuni gazed at Subhuti and said, “Short temper is clearly written on your face. There is no room for irritability in the discipline of a monk's life. You must have patience and forbearance. Do you think you can develop these traits?”
Subhuti was silent. Shakyamuni continued, “If you are constantly angry, without trying to
alter your mental attitude, evil will increase day by day until finally the very seeds of goodness will disappear. An irascible man's anger makes him suffer the torments of hell, since he is constantly poisoning his own mind with a venom that leads to faultfinding and killing. He shuts himself up in his own suffering until ultimately, he is unable to find a way, out of it.”
Through Shakyamuni's words, Subhuti came to see clearly the cause of his own ceaseless suffering. His constantly finding fault with others had robbed him of the flexibility necessary for peace of mind, and he had been continually, hounded by the fear that the people he had abused would attack him in retaliation. The thought of the retribution he would have to suffer for the countless sins he had committed in his rage terrified Subhuti, and he repented profoundly of the harm he had done not only to people but also to animals and birds.
After Subhuti had become a disciple, Shakyamuni taught him. “The attitude of blaming
others arises from the idea that others exist because one exists oneself and from the self-centered notion that all others are mistaken.” Subhuti was also taught that the way to eliminate the effects of his past sins was to assimilate thoroughly the doctrine of causal origination and thus to realize that his own existence depended on the existence of others.
”It is wrong to be obsessed by desires and to yearn for pleasure,” Shakyamuni told him. “It
is also wrong to find the source of desires in one's own physical being and consequently torment one's body. The follower of the Way avoids both extremes. The follower of the Way does not speak of others behind their back, since doing so leads to falsehood. The follower of the Way does not speak rapidly though the fast talker understands his own meaning, others may misunderstand.”
The follower of the Way does not speak in his own local tongue. The same vessel is called
by different names in different regions, and it may be taken for its very opposite. Thinking that only what one says oneself is correct invites misunderstanding on the part of others.
“Failure to keep these teachings arises from attachment to one's own being. And this is the origin of all conflict.”
For the rest or his life, Subhuti abided by these teachings and never again became angry no matter how much he was persecuted. Severing all attachment to his own being, he achieved a state of selflessness and was revered as the disciple who understood the doctrine of the Void better than all others.
Without faith, the difficult task of attaining selflessness is impossible. At one point, after paying reverence to Shakyamuni, Subhuti asked him, “Revered teacher, what is the nature of
faith? What should a person do to become ardently faithful?”
Shakyamuni replied, “Revere and keep the precepts. Hear, understand and follow the Dharma. Establish good relations with your fellow monks in the Sangha. Be submissive when exhorted, be diligent in discipline, and be joyful in carrying out the teachings.”
Although he was inconspicuous among the Buddha's ten great disciples, Subhuti loved and respected his master and, thoroughly disciplining himself in the teaching that his own existence depended on the existence of others, ultimately attained enlightenment.
Foremost in Teaching the Dharma
As the rainy season approached, Shakyamuni's disciples returned to their home districts to reflect quietly on what they had heard and done in the previous season, to repent of shortcomings, to be diligent in meditation, and to renew their will to attain enlightenment. After the rainy season, when they returned to their master, he looked fondly at each and then said :
“You all look well and seem to have made excellent use of your retreat. I think all of you have advanced through discipline and training. Still there is something I should Like to ask of you.. Is there anyone among you who is esteemed for the following qualities by those who devotedly pursue the same course of discipline? Is there anyone among you who lives wanting little and knowing that little is enough and who praises lack of desire and realization of sufficiency as wonderful and precious? Is there anyone among you who diligently strives in solitude and praises the accomplishment of not being misled either by solitude or worldliness, saying that such an accomplishment is wonderful and precious? Is there anyone among you who strives and extols the wonder and value of striving? Is there anyone among you who, observing the precepts, being diligent in meditation, and having attained wisdom praises the value and magnificence of the precepts, meditation, and wisdom? Is there anyone among you who, having attained the liberation of enlightenment and the Eye of Wisdom, praises the wonder and value of enlightenment and the attainment of the Eye of Wisdom through it? Is there anyone among you whose words and acts agree so splendidly that they encourage his fellow monks, awaken in them the desire to pursue the Way, and give them joy?”
The monks replied in unison, “World-honored One, there is one person of the kind you describe. He is none other than Punna-Mantaniputta.”
On hearing this, Sariputta, who was sitting beside Shakyamuni, thought that Punna must be a wonderful and happy man if his fellow monks were in such agreement about him before their teacher.
Eventually Saripurta met Punna. Punna's speech was so lucid and cogent, each word so well chosen, that Saripurta imagined he was hearing Shakyamuni speak. He realized that none of Shakyamuni's other disciples could expound the master's teachings as correctly. Sariputta praised Punna, saying that a disciple like him was a source of supreme joy to all who heard him teach. Punna, in return, praised Sariputta's discourse.
Punna's eloquence made him known as foremost in teaching the Dharma. But he had not always been such a fine person. His father was a wealthy landed Brahman in the village of Donavatthu, in the Kingdom of Kosala. His mother, Mantani, was the Younger sister of Kondanna, one of Shakyamuni's earliest disciples. Mantani reared Punna with the greatest care and affection.
Blessed with superior qualities and a fine environment, Punna grew into a brilliant youth. But everyone has faults, and Punna's greatest fault was pride, probably because he had been so indulged. Even marriage to a beautiful woman who made him the envy of all did not satisfy him. When he realized that people praised his mother and wife but not him, he became jealous and wondered why this should be, since he was so much more outstanding. His jealousy kept him constantly on edge. Finally, one day he realized that praising his mother and wife was the same as praising him. He felt ashamed of the conceit that had made him angry when people failed to praise him.
Overwhelmed by his shortcomings, Punna decided to make a fresh start. Leaving home, wife and children, for the next twenty years he devoted himself completely to Brahman discipline. He achieved great success and attracted a large following.
Punna firmly believed in the correctness of his own philosophy. When he heard that Shakyamuni was teaching in Rajagaha, he immediately went there with twenty-nine disciples to challenge him to a debate, confident that he, Punna would win. Shakyamuni greeted Punna quietly and persuaded him of the futility of debate, explaining that instead of engaging in debate people should seek liberation through dialogue.
Punna realized the importance of Shakyamuni's teachings and asked Shakyamuni to accept him as a disciple. His followers did the same. The solemnity of their ordination deeply moved all the beholders.
1. Zenno Ishigami, Disciples of the Buddha, Tokyo: 1989.
2. Ven. Piyasilo, The Great Disciples of the Buddha, FOBM: 1986.