Sariputta often described as marshal of dhamma, one of the two chief disciples of Buddha. In exposition of the Dhamma and wisdom, he was second only to the Buddha. He was often asked to continue preaching whenever the Buddha required to rest. Many temples of Sri Lanka have statutes of Sariputta and Moggallana flanking right and left of Buddha Statute.
Sariputta (previously known as Upatissa) and Moggallana (previously known as Kolita) were very close family friends and the boys grew up together. Each of them had a following of 500 brahmin youths. One day, while watching celebrations at a Hilltop Festival, they felt no joy for the shows as all conditioned things are impermanent. They decided to become ascetics to seek the truth of deliverance. They became Sanjaya’s disciples but were dissatisfied with the teaching. They decided to travel throughout India to search for a teacher who could teach the Truth. They made a pact that the first one who found the truth, would tell the other about it.
At Rajagaha; he spotted one of the first five ascetics, Venerable Assaji while he was on his alms round. His mindful and dignified manner impressed him that he approached him and asked who was Venerable Assaji’s teacher and what was His teaching. Venerable Assaji replied “Buddha was his teacher and He taught everything subject to a cause is also subject to cessation."
Upon listening to these, Sariputta was established in Stream-entry. Remembering the pact with his friend, he quickly searched for Moggallana who similarly became a stream-enterer upon hearing the stanza. They approached their former teacher, Sanjaya who refused to go along with them to see the Buddha. Many of Sanjaya’s followers went along to seek out Buddha and his teachings at the Bamboo Grove Monastery.
Upatissa and Kolita sought ordination and higher ordination under the Buddha who admitted them by “ Come O Bhikkhu!” Upatissa became Sariputta and Kolita was known as Maha Moggallana. On the 7th day after ordination, Venerable Maha Moggallana attained Arahantship while listening to the Buddha expounding on the meditation subject of the elements. Sariputta took another week more and he attained arahantship while he was listening to the dhamma on the comprehension of feelings, given by the Buddha to Sariputta’s nephew, Dighanakha. On that same day, Buddha assembled his disciples and bestowed upon two of them as the Chief Disciples of the Dispensation.
The 2 chief disciples (Sariputta and Moggallana) worked together to propagate dhamma, restore order and faith in the Sangha. They won back 500 monks led astray by Devadatta by preaching to them at Vultures’ Peak. They also admonished monks who misbehaved themselves like the monks led by Assaji (not the Elder Assaji), and Punnabbasu of Kitagiri. When Rahula (Buddha's son) was ordained, Sariputta was his preceptor and Moggallana his teacher.
Sariputta was grateful and continued to show respect to his first teacher, Venerable Assaji by prostrating in his direction. He would ordain an elderly brahmin (Radha) when others refused, as he remembered that the particular Brahmin had offered him alms food before. Shortly after ordination, Venerable Radha became an arahant.
Venerable Sariputta had very good relations with fellow monks. Sariputta repeated to Ananda what Buddha often said, ‘the whole of Holy life was good friends.’ Venerable Ananda would give ordination to young pupils and then bring them to Venerable Sariputta for Higher ordination. Venerable Sariputta did likewise and between the 2 of them, they shared 500 pupils in common. Venerable Ananda also would offer robes and other requisites, which he received to Venerable Sariputta. In the Theragatha and Cunda Sutta, Venerable Ananda’s “world was plunged into darkness for him” when Venerable Sariputta passed away. There were 2 other occasions when he fell ill that Venerable Maha Mogallana attended to him.
Sariputta was Helper of his fellow monks: • Venerable Sariputta also helped his friend, Venerable Anuruddha in his final break-through to Arahantship as recorded in the Anguttara Nikaya (Tika Nipata #128). • He showed infinite patience to his pupils until they were established in Stream – entry. The Udana had also said that bhikkhus in higher training would approach Venerable Sariputta for a subject of meditation. Many had reached the highest goal after instruction from Venerable Sariputta. • Sariputta would tidy up the monastery after the monks had gone out for the morning alms round. He would attend and console the sick, procuring medications for them. When going on a journey, he would be one of the last to go, attending first to the old, young and sick and leaving together with them.
Venerable Sariputta’s meditative absorption was so deep that he did not feel the blow from a mischievous spirit. This impressed Venerable Mogallana who witnessed the act.
In the Anupada Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya), Sariputta was said to have master the four fine material and four immaterial jhanas; and the cessation of perception and feeling. The Buddha had declared that Sariputta rightly turned the supreme Wheel of Dhamma just as He himself turned it.
Turner of Wheel of Dhamma
Venerable Sariputta had given many classic discourses like Sammaditthi Sutta and the Greater Sutta on the Elephant Footprint Simile of the Majjhima Nikaya. Other masterpiece works are: Sammacitta Sutta, Sangiti Sutta and Dasuttara Sutta.
Venerable Sariputta had three brothers and three sisters who took ordination and became arahants. Only Sariputta’s mother remained a staunch Brahmin and was hostile to the Buddha’s teachings and his followers. Venerable Sariputta was only able to convert her mother on his deathbed. She was so impressed by Beings who came to visit her sick son. such as o Great Divine Kings; o Sakka, the king of gods; o Brahma She realized that her son’s teacher must be held in even higher esteem and was filled with joy. After a dhamma talk by Sariputta, she was established in stream – entry.
After Venerable Sariputta had established his mother in stream entry, he soon entered into Mahaparinibbana in his birth chamber at Nalaka village (Nalanda) in Magadha country. Sacred rites were performed for a whole week after which the body was placed on the pyre and cremated. Venerable Cunda took the relics, alms bowl and robes to Buddha at Savatthi. At the Vajji country on the River Ganges, the Buddha gave the Ukkacela Sutta in praise of the two Chief Disciples who had acted in accordance with the Master’s Dispensation. He exhorted the monks to be islands even unto themselves, seeking the Teaching as their refuge.