Chief Disciple Venerable Sariputta (THE MARSHAL OF THE DHAMMA)
In many temples in Sri Lanka you will find, on either side of the Buddha image, the statues of two monks. Their robes are draped over one shoulder and they stand in the attitude of reverence, with joined palms. Quite often there are a few flowers at their feet, laid there by some pious devotee. If you ask who they are, you will be told that they are the Enlightened One’s two chief disciples, the arahants Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna. They stand in the positions they occupied in life, Sāriputta on the Buddha’s right, Mahāmoggallāna on his left.
When the great stūpa at Sāñchī was opened up in the middle of the last century, the relic chamber was found to contain two stone receptacles; the one to the north held the bodily relics of Mahāmoggallāna, while that on the south enclosed those of Sāriputta. Thus they had lain while the centuries rolled past and the history of two thousand years and more played out the drama of impermanence in human life. The Roman Empire rose and fell, the glories of ancient Greece became a distant memory; new religions wrote their names, often with blood and fire, on the changing face of the earth, only to mingle at last with legends of Thebes and Babylon; and gradually the tides of commerce shifted the great centres of civilization from East to West, while generations that had never heard the Teaching of the Buddha arose and passed away. But all the time that the ashes of the holy disciples lay undisturbed, forgotten in the land that gave them birth, their memory was held dear wherever the Buddha’s message spread, and the record of their lives was passed down from one generation to another, first by word of mouth, then in the written pages of the Buddhist Tipiṭaka, the most voluminous and detailed scripture of any religion.
Next to the Enlightened One himself, it is these two disciples of his who stand highest in the veneration of Buddhists in the Theravāda lands. Their names are as inseparable from the annals of Buddhism as that of the Buddha himself. If it has come about that in the course of time many legends have been woven into the tradition of their lives, this is but the natural outcome of the devotion that has always been felt for them. And that high esteem was fully justified. Few religious teachers have been so well served by their immediate disciples as was the Buddha. This you will see as you read these pages, for they tell the story of one of the two greatest of them, the Venerable Sāriputta, who was second only to the Buddha in the depth and range of his understanding and in his ability to teach the doctrine of deliverance.
In the Tipiṭaka there is no connected account of his life, but it can be pieced together from the various incidents, scattered throughout the canonical texts and commentaries, in which he figures. Some of them are more than incidents, for his life is so closely interwoven with the life and ministry of the Buddha that he plays an essential part in it, and on a number of occasions it is Sāriputta himself who takes the leading role—as skilled preceptor and exemplar, as kind and considerate friend, as guardian of the welfare of the bhikkhus under his charge, as faithful repository of his Master’s doctrine, the function which earned him the title of Dhammasenāpati, Marshal of the Dhamma.
And always as himself, a man unique in his patience and steadfastness, modest and upright in thought, word, and deed, a man to whom one act of kindness was a thing to be remembered with gratitude so long as life endured. Even among the arahants, those freed from all defilements of passion and delusion, he shone like the full moon in a starry sky. This then is the man, of profound intellect and sublime nature, a true disciple of the Great Teacher, whose story we have set down, to the best of our ability, in the pages that follow. If you, the reader, can gather from this imperfect record something of the qualities of a perfected human being, fully liberated and raised to the highest level of realization, and of how such a person acts and speaks and comports himself toward his fellows, and if the reading of it gives you strength and faith in the assurance of what a human being may become, then our work has been worthwhile and is fully rewarded.
THE QUEST FOR THE DHAMMA EARLY LIFE
The story begins at two brahmanical villages in India, called Upatissa and Kolita, which lay not far from the city of Rājagaha. Before our Buddha had appeared in the world, a brahmin woman named Rūpasārī, living in Upatissa village, conceived; and so too, on the same day at Kolita village, did another brahmin woman whose name was Moggallī. The two families were closely connected, having been friends with one another for seven generations.
From the first day of their pregnancy the families gave due care to the mothers-to-be, and after ten months both women gave birth to boys, on the same day. On the name-giving day Rūpasārī’s child received the name Upatissa, as he was a son of the foremost family of that village; and for the same reason Moggallī’s son was named Kolita. When the boys grew up they were educated and acquired mastery of all the sciences. Each of them had a following of five hundred brahmin youths, and when they went to the river or park for sport and recreation, Upatissa used to go with five hundred palanquins, and Kolita with five hundred horse carriages.
Now at Rājagaha there was an annual event called the Hilltop Festival. Seats were arranged for both youths and they sat together to witness the celebrations. When there was an occasion for laughter, they laughed; when the spectacle was exciting, they became excited; and they paid their fees for the extra shows. In this manner they enjoyed the festival for a second day. On the third day, however, strange thoughts cast their shadows across their hearts, and they could no longer laugh or share in the excitement. As they sat there, watching the plays and dances, for just a moment the spectre of human mortality revealed itself to their inner vision, and once they had caught a glimpse of it their attitude could never again be the same. For each, this sombre mood gradually crystallized into a compelling question: “What is there to look at here? Before these people have reached a hundred years they will all be dead. Shouldn’t we go seek a teaching of deliverance?”
It was with such thoughts in mind that on this third day they sat through the festival. Kolita noticed that his friend seemed pensive and withdrawn and asked him: “What is the matter, my dear Upatissa? Today you are not happy and joyous as you were on the other days, but you seem to be troubled about something. Tell me, what is on your mind?” “My dear Kolita, I have been thinking that there is no benefit at all for us in enjoying these hollow shows. Instead of wasting my time on such festivals, what I really ought to do is to seek a path to deliverance from the entire round of rebirths. But you too, Kolita, seem to be discontented.” And Kolita replied: “My thoughts are exactly the same as yours.” When he knew that his friend shared his inclination, Upatissa said: “That was a good thought of ours. However, for those who seek a teaching of deliverance there is only one thing to do: to leave home and become ascetics. But under whom shall we live the ascetic life?”
At that time, there lived at Rājagaha a wandering ascetic (paribbājaka) named Sañjaya, who had a great following of pupils. Deciding to take ordination under him, Upatissa and Kolita approached him, each with his own following of five hundred brahmin youths, and all of them received ordination from Sañjaya. And from the time of their ordination under him, Sañjaya’s reputation and support increased abundantly. Within a short time the two friends had learned Sañjaya’s entire doctrine.
They then went to him and asked: “Master, does your doctrine go so far only, or is there something beyond?” Sañjaya replied: “So far only does it go. You know it completely.” Hearing this, they thought to themselves: “If that is the case, it is useless to continue the holy life under him. We have gone forth from home to seek a teaching of deliverance, but under him we cannot find it. India is vast, and if we wander through villages, towns, and cities we shall certainly find a master who can show us the path we are seeking.”
And from then on, whenever they heard that there were wise ascetics or brahmins in this place or that, they went to meet them and learn their doctrines. There was none, however, who could answer all their questions, while they were able to reply to those who questioned them. Having thus traveled through the whole of India, they returned to Rājagaha. There they made an agreement that whichever of them should find the Deathless first would inform the other. It was a pact of brotherhood, born of the deep friendship between the two young men.
Sometime after they had made that agreement, the Blessed One, the Buddha, set out for Rājagaha. He had, shortly before, completed the first rainy season retreat following his Enlightenment, and now the time had arrived for wandering and preaching. Before his Enlightenment he had promised King Bimbisāra that he would return to Rājagaha after attaining his goal, and now he set forth to fulfil that promise. So in stages the Blessed One journeyed from Gayā to Rājagaha, and having received from King Bimbisāra the Bamboo Grove Monastery (Veluvana), he took up residence there. Among the first sixty-one arahants whom the Master had sent forth to proclaim the message of deliverance to the world was an elder named Assaji. Assaji had belonged to the group of five ascetics who had attended upon the Bodhisattva while he was engaged in his ascetic practices, and he was also one of the first five disciples.
One morning when Assaji was walking on alms round in Rājagaha, Upatissa saw him calmly wending his way from door to door with his bowl in hand. Struck by Assaji’s dignified and serene appearance, Upatissa thought: “Never before have I seen such a monk. He must be one of those who are arahants, or who are on the way to arahantship. Should I not approach him and question him?” But then he considered: “It is not the proper time now for putting questions to this monk, as he is going for alms through the streets. I had better follow behind him after the manner of supplicants.” And he did so.
Then, when the elder had finished his alms round and was seeking a quiet place to eat his meal, Upatissa spread out his own sitting cloth and offered the seat to the elder. The Elder Assaji sat down and took his meal, after which Upatissa served him with water from his own water-container, and in this way performed toward Assaji the duties of a pupil to a teacher. After they had exchanged the usual courteous greetings, Upatissa said: “Serene are your features, friend. Pure and bright is your complexion. Under whom have you gone forth as an ascetic? Who is your teacher and whose doctrine do you profess?”
Assaji replied: “There is, friend, a great recluse, a scion of the Sākyas, who has gone forth from the Sākya clan. I have gone forth under him, the Blessed One. That Blessed One is my teacher and it is his Dhamma that I profess.” “What does the venerable one’s master teach, what does he proclaim?” Questioned thus, the Elder Assaji thought to himself: “These wandering ascetics are opposed to the Buddha’s teaching. I shall show him how profound this teaching is.” So he said: “I am but new to the training, friend. It is not long since I went forth from home, and I came but recently to this doctrine and discipline. I cannot explain the Dhamma in detail to you.”
The wanderer replied: “I am called Upatissa, friend. Please tell me according to your ability, be it much or little. It will be my task to penetrate its meaning by way of a hundred or a thousand methods.” And he added: Be it little or much that you can tell, The meaning only, please proclaim to me! To know the meaning is my sole desire; Of no use to me are many words.
In response, the Elder Assaji uttered this stanza: Of those things that arise from a cause, The Tathāgata has told the cause, And also what their cessation is: This is the doctrine of the Great Recluse.
Upon hearing the first two lines, there arose in the wanderer Upatissa the dust-free, stainless vision of the Dhamma—the first glimpse of the Deathless, the path of stream-entry—and to the ending of the last two lines he already listened as a stream-enterer. At once he knew: “Here the means of deliverance is to be found!” And he said to the elder: “Do not enlarge upon this exposition of the Dhamma, venerable sir. This much will suffice. But where does our Master live?” “In the Bamboo Grove, wanderer.” “Then please go ahead, venerable sir. I have a friend with whom I have made an agreement to share the Dhamma. I shall inform him, and together we shall follow you and come into the Master’s presence.”
Upatissa then prostrated himself at the elder’s feet and went back to the park of the wanderers. Kolita saw him approaching and immediately knew: “Today my friend’s appearance is quite changed. Surely, he must have found the Deathless.” And when he inquired, Upatissa replied: “Yes, friend, the Deathless has been found!” He told him all about his meeting with the Elder Assaji, and when he recited the stanza he had heard, Kolita too was established in the fruit of stream-entry. “Where, my dear, does the Master live?” he asked. “I learned from our teacher, the Elder Assaji, that he lives at the Bamboo Grove.” “Then let us go, Upatissa, and see the Master,” said Kolita. But Sāriputta was one who always respected his teacher, and therefore he said to his friend: “First, my dear, we should go to our teacher, the wanderer Sañjaya, and tell him that we have found the Deathless. If he can grasp it, he will penetrate to the truth. And even if he does not, he may, out of confidence in us, come with us to see the Master; and hearing the Buddha’s teaching, he will attain to the penetration of the path and fruition.”
So both of them went to Sañjaya and said: “O teacher! A Buddha has appeared in the world! His doctrine is well proclaimed and his community of monks is following the right path. Let us go and see the Master.” “What are you saying, my dear?” Sañjaya exclaimed. And refusing to go with them, he offered to appoint them as co-leaders of his community, speaking of the gain and fame such a position would bring them. But the two wanderers refused to be deflected from their decision, saying: “Oh, we would not mind always remaining pupils. But you, teacher, must know for yourself whether to go or not.”
Then Sañjaya thought: “If they know so much, they will not listen to what I say.” And realizing this, he replied: “You may go, then, but I cannot.” “Why not, teacher?” “I am a teacher of many. If I were to revert to the state of a disciple, it would be as if a huge water tank were to change into a small pitcher. I cannot live the life of a pupil now.” “Do not think like that, teacher!” they urged. “Let it be, my dear. You may go, but I cannot.”
“O teacher! When a Buddha has appeared in the world, people flock to him in large crowds and pay homage to him, carrying incense and flowers. We too shall go there. And then what will happen to you?” To which Sañjaya replied: “What do you think, my pupils: are there more fools in this world, or more wise people?” “Fools there are many, O teacher, and the wise are few.” “If that is so, my friends, then the wise ones will go to the wise recluse Gotama, and the fools will come to me, the fool. You may go now, but I shall not.”
So the two friends left, saying: “You will come to understand your mistake, teacher!” And after they had gone there was a split among Sañjaya’s pupils, and his monastery became almost empty. Seeing his place deserted, Sañjaya vomited hot blood. Five hundred of his disciples had left along with Upatissa and Kolita, out of whom 250 returned to Sañjaya. With the remaining 250, and their own following, the two friends arrived at the Bamboo Grove Monastery.
There the Master, seated among the fourfold assembly, was preaching the Dhamma, and when he saw the two wanderers coming he addressed the monks: “These two friends, Upatissa and Kolita, who are now approaching, will be my two chief disciples, an excellent pair.” Having arrived, the friends bowed low in homage to the Blessed One and sat down at one side. When they were seated they said to the Master: “May we obtain, Lord, the going forth under the Blessed One, may we obtain the higher ordination.” And the Blessed One said: “Come, bhikkhus! Well proclaimed is the Dhamma. Now live the life of purity to make an end of suffering.” This alone served as the ordination of these venerable ones.
Then the Master continued his discourse, taking the individual temperaments of the listeners into consideration; and with the exception of Upatissa and Kolita all of them attained to arahantship. But on that occasion the two friends did not attain the higher paths and fruits. For them a longer period of preparatory training was needed in order that they could fulfil their personal destiny, that of serving as the Blessed One’s chief disciples. After their entry into the Buddhist Order, the texts always refer to Upatissa by the name Sāriputta, while Kolita is always called Mahāmoggallāna.
For his intensive training Moggallāna went to live at a village near Magadha named Kallavālaputta, on which he depended for alms. On the seventh day after his ordination, when he was engaged in intense meditation, he was troubled by fatigue and torpor. But spurred on by the Master, he dispelled his fatigue, and while listening to the Master expound the meditation subject of the elements (dhātukammaṭṭhāna), he won the three higher paths and reached the acme of a chief disciple’s perfection. But the Venerable Sāriputta continued to stay near the Master at a cave called the Boar’s Shelter (sūkarakhata-leṇa), depending on Rājagaha for his alms. Half a month after his ordination the Blessed One gave a discourse to Sāriputta’s nephew, the wandering ascetic Dīghanakha.
Sāriputta was standing behind the Master, fanning him. While listening to the discourse and following it attentively with his mind, as though sharing the food prepared for another, Sāriputta reached the acme of “knowledge pertaining to a disciple’s perfection” and attained to arahantship together with the four analytical knowledges (paṭisambhidāñāṇa)
His nephew, at the end of the sermon, was established in the fruit of stream-entry. Now it may be asked: “Did not Sāriputta possess great wisdom? And if so, why did he attain arahantship later than Moggallāna?” The answer, according to the commentaries, is because of the greatness of the preparations required. When poor people want to go anywhere they take to the road at once; but in the case of kings, extensive preparations must be made, and these require time. And so too is it in order to become the first chief disciple of a Buddha.
On that same day, when the evening shadows had lengthened, the Master called his disciples to assembly and bestowed upon the two elders the rank of chief disciples. At this, some monks were displeased and murmured among themselves: “The Master should have given the rank of chief disciples to those who were ordained first, that is, the group of five disciples; or if not to them, then either to the group of fifty-five bhikkhus headed by Yasa, or to the thirty of the auspicious group (bhaddavaggiya), or else to the three Kassapa brothers. But passing over all these great elders, he has given it to those whose ordination was the very last of all.”
The Master inquired about the subject of their talk. When they told him, he said: “I do not show preference, but give to each what he has aspired to. When, for instance, Aññā Koṇḍañña in a previous life gave alms nine times during a single harvest, he did not aspire to chief discipleship; his aspiration was to be the very first to penetrate to the highest state, arahantship. And so it came about. But many aeons ago, at the time of the Buddha Anomadassi, Sāriputta and Moggallāna made the aspiration for chief discipleship, and now the conditions for the fulfilment of that aspiration have ripened. Hence I have given them just what they aspired to, and did not do so out of preference.”
THE ORIGINAL ASPIRATION
The Buddha’s statement underscores a fundamental tenet of Buddhist thought: that who we are, and what we reap as our life’s destiny, is not the product simply of our intentions and activities within the brief span of time that began with our physical birth, but reflects a deep wellspring of past experience accumulated in the beginningless round of rebirths, saṃsāra. Thus the story of Sāriputta, the great disciple, properly begins in the distant past, with events that have been preserved for us in the form of legend. Such legends, however, are not mere fictions spun by an excessively vibrant imagination.
They are, rather, narrative representations of principles that are too profound and universal to be reduced to mere matters of historical fact, principles that can be adequately conveyed only by turning facts into sacred archetypes and archetypes into spiritual ideals. This particular legend unfolds one incalculable period (asaṅkheyya) and one hundred thousand aeons in the past. At that time the being who was to become the Venerable Sāriputta was born into a rich brahmin family and was given the name Sarada. At the same time the future Moggallāna was born into a wealthy householder family and was named Sirivaddhana. The two families were acquainted, and the boys became playmates and close friends. On the death of his father, Sarada inherited the vast family fortune.
But before long, reflecting in solitude on his own inevitable mortality, he decided to abandon all his property and go forth seeking a path to deliverance. Sarada approached his friend Sirivaddhana and invited him to join him on this quest, but Sirivaddhana, still too strongly attached to the world, refused. Sarada, however, was firm in his decision. He gave away all his wealth, left the household, and took up the life of a matted-hair ascetic.
Quickly, and without difficulty, he mastered the mundane meditative attainments and supernormal powers and attracted to himself a band of disciples. Thus his hermitage gradually became home to a large community of ascetics. At this time the Buddha Anomadassi—the eighteenth Buddha, counting back from the present Buddha Gotama—had arisen in the world. One day, on emerging from meditative absorption, the Buddha Anomadassi cast his “net of knowledge” out upon the world and beheld the ascetic Sarada and his retinue. Realizing that a visit to this community would bring great benefits to many beings, he left behind his monks and journeyed to their hermitage alone. Sarada noticed the marks of physical excellence on the body of his visitor and at once understood that his guest was a Fully Enlightened One. He humbly offered him a seat of honour and provided him with a meal from the food gathered by his disciples.
Meanwhile the Buddha’s monks had come to join him at the hermitage—one hundred thousand arahants free from all defilements, led by the two chief disciples, Nisabha and Anoma. To honour the Buddha the ascetic Sarada took a large canopy of flowers and, standing behind the Blessed One, held it over his head. The Master entered the attainment of cessation (nirodhasamāpatti)—the meditative state wherein perception, feeling, and other mental processes utterly cease. He remained absorbed in this state for a full week, while throughout that entire week Sarada stood behind him holding aloft the canopy of flowers. At the end of the week the Buddha emerged from the attainment of cessation and requested his two chief disciples to give talks to the community of ascetics. When they had finished speaking he himself spoke, and at the end of his discourse all the ascetic pupils of Sarada attained arahantship and asked to be admitted to the Buddha’s order of monks. Sarada, however, did not attain arahantship, nor any other stage of sanctity. For as he listened to the discourse of the chief disciple Nisabha, and observed his pleasing deportment, the aspiration arose in his mind to become the first chief disciple of a Buddha in the future.
Thus, when the proceedings were finished, he approached the Buddha Anomadassi, prostrated himself at his feet, and declared: “Lord, as the fruit of the act of homage I performed toward you by holding the canopy of flowers over you for a week, I do not aspire for rulership over the gods, nor for the status of Mahābrahmā, nor for any other fruit but this: that in the future I might become the chief disciple of a Fully Enlightened One.” The Master thought, “Will his aspiration succeed?” And sending out his knowledge into the future, he saw that it would. Then he spoke to Sarada thus: “This aspiration of yours will not be barren. In the future, after an incalculable age and one hundred thousand aeons, a Buddha by the name of Gotama will arise in the world, and you will be his first chief disciple, the Marshal of the Dhamma, named Sāriputta.”
After the Buddha left, Sarada went to his friend Sirivaddhana and urged him to make an aspiration to become the second chief disciple of the Buddha Gotama. Sirivaddhana had a lavish alms hall built and, after all the preparations were complete, invited the Master and his monks to come for an alms meal. For a full week Sirivaddhana provided the Buddha and the monks with their daily meal. At the end of the festivities, having offered costly robes to all the monks, he approached the Buddha and announced: “By the power of this merit, may I become the second chief disciple of the same Buddha under whom my friend Sarada will become the first chief disciple!” The Master looked into the future, and seeing that the aspiration would be fulfilled, he gave Sirivaddhana the prediction: he would become the second chief disciple of the Buddha Gotama, a monk of great power and might known by the name Moggallāna.
After the two friends had received their respective predictions, each devoted himself to good deeds in his own proper sphere. Sirivaddhana, as a lay devotee, looked after the needs of the Sangha and performed various works of charity. Sarada, as an ascetic, continued with his meditative life. On their deaths Sirivaddhana was reborn in a sense-sphere heavenly world, while Sarada, having mastered the meditative attainments and the divine abodes (brahmavihāra), was reborn in the Brahma-world.
SĀRIPUTTA IN THE JĀTAKAS
From this point on there is no continuous narrative of their activities, but at a certain point in their wandering through the cycle of birth and death the two friends must have crossed paths with another being who much earlier, at the feet of the twenty-fourth Buddha of antiquity, had vowed to win supreme Buddhahood. This was the Bodhisatta, the being who was to become the Buddha Gotama, the Enlightened One of our own historical era. The Jātaka stories record the deeds of the Bodhisatta in some five hundred and fifty of his former births, and in these stories Sāriputta plays a prominent role, appearing more often than any other disciple of the Buddha with the possible exception of Ānanda.
Only a representative sampling of these stories can be considered here. Since the process of rebirth does not respect divisions between realms of existence but flows up from the animal realm to the human and celestial realms, and down from the heavens to the human and animal realms, we find that the specific forms of relationship between Sāriputta and the Bodhisatta vary from life to life. We may take these diverse relationships as the outline for our survey. In several of their past births both the Bodhisatta and Sāriputta were animals.
Once the Bodhisatta was a chief stag who had two sons, both of whom he instructed in the art of leadership. One son (Sāriputta) followed his father’s advice and led his herd to prosperity; the other, who was to become the Buddha’s jealous cousin Devadatta, spurned his father’s advice in favour of his own ideas and thereby brought his herd to disaster (J 11). When the Bodhisatta was a royal goose his two young sons (Sāriputta and Moggallāna) tried to outrace the sun; when they grew weary and were about to collapse in midflight, the Bodhisatta came to their rescue (476).
In a birth as a partridge the Bodhisatta was senior to his two friends, a monkey (Sāriputta) and an elephant (Moggallāna); thus he became their teacher and preceptor, a foretoken of their relationship in their final existence (37). The Bodhisatta again figures as a preceptor in the Sasa Jātaka (316), where he is a wise hare who teaches a monkey (Sāriputta), a jackal (Moggallāna), and an otter (Ānanda) the value of morality and generosity. When Sakka, king of the devas, comes to him in the guise of a hungry brahmin to test his resolve, the hare is ready to throw himself into a fire to provide the brahmin with a meal. On several occasions the two future disciples rendered vital help to the Bodhisatta.
When the Great Being, as a deer, was caught in a snare, his companions—a woodpecker (Sāriputta) and a tortoise (Moggallāna)—saved him by breaking the trap. Although the hunter (Devadatta) caught the tortoise, the other two animals came to his rescue and succeeded in freeing him (206). The Bodhisatta was not, however, always so fortunate, and the Jātakas record their share of tragedies. Thus in one birth story (438), when the Bodhisatta was a partridge who taught the Vedas to young brahmins, a wicked ascetic (Devadatta) killed him and made a meal of him. His friends, a lion (Sāriputta) and a tiger (Moggallāna), came to visit him, and on seeing a feather in the ascetic’s beard, they understood the enormity of his deed. The lion wanted to show mercy, but the tiger slew the ascetic and threw his body in a pit. This incident already discloses a difference in temperament between the two disciples: Sāriputta, though mighty as a lion, is gentle and soft, while Moggallāna, though harmless in his last life as an enlightened monk, can still exhibit the fierceness of a tiger.
In other Jātakas one of the two—the Bodhisatta and Sāriputta—is human and the other an animal, and their roles as benefactor and beneficiary also undergo reversals. Thus we encounter the Bodhisatta as a war steed and Sāriputta as his warrior (23); the Bodhisatta as a peerless white elephant who enters the service of the king of Benares (Sāriputta) (122); the Bodhisatta as a partridge and Sāriputta as a wise ascetic who instructs him (277). But in other births the Bodhisatta is human and Sāriputta an animal. In one story, for example, the Bodhisatta is a hermit who rescues an evil prince (Devadatta) and three animals from a flood. The animals—a snake (Sāriputta), a rat (Moggallāna), and a parrot (Ānanda)—show their gratitude by offering the hermit hidden treasures, but the envious prince tries to have him executed (73). Sometimes the future spiritual heroes were reborn in celestial form.
Once, when the Bodhisatta was Sakka, Sāriputta and Moggallāna were respectively Canda the moon god and Suriya the sun god. Together with several other deities they visited a notorious miser and converted him to a life of generosity (450). Often it is the Bodhisatta who benefits the future disciples, but sometimes we see Sāriputta come to the Bodhisatta’s aid. When they were both reborn as princes of the nāgas, semi-divine serpents, the Bodhisatta was captured by a cruel brahmin who made him perform tricks in public. His elder brother, Sāriputta, set out in search of him and delivered him from this humiliating fate (543).
When the Bodhisatta was the virtuous Prince Mahāpaduma, maligned by his stepmother for refusing her seductive advances, his father the king tried to have him hurled from a precipice; but Sāriputta, as a spirit of the mountain, caught him before he hit the ground and led him to safety (472). Most often in the Jātakas the Bodhisatta and Sāriputta appear in human births. In such stories the Bodhisatta is invariably the hero, the supreme exemplar of virtue and wisdom, while Sāriputta appears as his friend, pupil, son, or brother, and often serves as his benefactor. In one life the Bodhisatta was a king and Sāriputta his charioteer (151).
When they crossed paths with a chariot carrying a rival king (Ānanda), Sāriputta and the rival charioteer (Moggallāna) compared their respective kings’ merits. The rival had to admit the superiority of Sāriputta’s master, who ruled by bestowing benefits on both the good and the wicked while his own master rewarded the good and punished the wicked. In the influential Khantivādi Jātaka (313) the Bodhisatta, as the saintly “preacher of patience,” is reviled and tortured by the wicked King Kālabu (Devadatta).
After the king has severed the Bodhisatta’s limbs to test his patience, the king’s general (Sāriputta) bandages the Bodhisatta’s wounds and begs him not to take revenge. Often in the longer Jātakas the Bodhisatta enters upon the ascetic life, and Sāriputta usually joins him in this quest. Such an inclination would have been deeply implanted in the temperaments of both men, who in their last existence would consummate their spiritual careers only after going forth into homelessness. When the Bodhisatta was the chaplain’s son Hatthipāla he was named the heir to the throne by the childless king. Recognizing the danger in worldly life, he decided to become an ascetic and was soon joined by his three brothers, the eldest of whom was the future Sāriputta (509).
In the Indriya Jātaka (423) the Bodhisatta is an ascetic with seven chief disciples, six of whom, including the eldest (Sāriputta), eventually leave him to establish their own hermitages, but Anusissa (Ānanda) remains behind as his attendant; this presages the relationship between the Buddha and Ānanda in their last existence. Sāriputta did not always concur with the Bodhisatta’s decision to renounce the world. When the Bodhisatta, as a king, decided to enter the ascetic life, his eldest son (Sāriputta) and youngest son (Rāhula) pleaded with him to give up this idea, and he had to struggle inwardly to overcome his attachment to his sons (525). In still another birth, however, the Bodhisatta wavered in his decision to go forth, and this time Sāriputta, as an ascetic named Nārada, appeared to him by mystic power and encouraged him to remain firm in his decision (539).
Thus, buffeted by the winds of kamma, the two noble beings migrated from life to life and from realm to realm through the round of re-becoming. Unlike blind worldlings, however, their wandering was not purposeless and devoid of direction but was guided by aspirations they had formed in the far distant past. After countless lives during which they had practiced the ten perfections, matured their virtue, and forged increasingly closer bonds of comradeship and mutual trust, the time had come for them to actualise the goal for which they had struggled so long. Thus, in their final birth in Middle India some 2,500 years ago, the one emerged as the Buddha Gotama, teacher of devas and humans, the other as his most eminent disciple, the Venerable Sāriputta, Marshal of the Dhamma.
SĀRIPUTTA THE MAN
THE CHIEF DISCIPLE
In the Mahāpadāna Sutta (DN 14) the Buddha relates various details about the six Buddhas who preceded him, beginning with the Buddha Vipassi ninety-one aeons ago. He mentions their names, the periods in which they arose, their caste and clan, their life span, and the milestones of their teaching careers. He also states the names of their two chief disciples, who are in each case described as “the chief pair of disciples, the excellent pair” (sāvakayugaṃ aggaṃ bhaddayugaṃ). Elsewhere in the Pāli Canon (e.g., at SN 47:14) the Buddha declares that all the Buddhas of the past had a pair of chief disciples such as he had in Sāriputta and Moggallāna, and all the Buddhas to arise in the future will likewise have such a pair.
From such statements we can see that the posts of chief discipleship are inherent in the very nature of the Buddha’s Dispensation. Thus in appointing two monks as chief disciples our Buddha Gotama was not acting according to his own caprice but was conforming to a timeless paradigm—a paradigm followed by all the Fully Enlightened Ones of the past and to be followed by all their successors in the future. The basic functions of the chief disciples within the Dispensation may be enumerated as threefold: to help the Master in consolidating the Dhamma and thereby in making it a vehicle of spiritual transformation and deliverance for as many beings as possible, both human and celestial; to serve as models for the other monks to emulate and to supervise their training; and to assist in the administration of the Sangha, particularly when the Blessed One goes into solitary retreat or travels alone on an urgent mission.
Always the Buddha remains the final authority at the head of the Dispensation, and the appointment of chief disciples does not represent in any way a democratic “devolution of powers”: the Blessed One is the sole source of the teachings, the revealer of the path, the “supreme charioteer of persons to be tamed.” But just as a king requires ministers to supervise the affairs of state, so the Buddha, the King of the Dhamma (dhammarājā), delegates responsibility for particular spheres of training to his best-qualified disciples in each area. Naturally, the most demanding tasks fall on the two chief disciples, who possess the acumen and ability needed to discharge them most effectively. We thus can see that appointment to chief discipleship is far from being an entitlement to special perks and privileges.
To be appointed a chief disciple is to shoulder an immensely heavy responsibility in all areas of the Dispensation. It is to share the Buddha’s burden of compassion and to work in closest cooperation with him to ensure that the Dhamma becomes “successful and prosperous, extended, popular, widespread, well proclaimed among devas and humans” (DN 16; SN 51:10). The reason the Buddhas always appoint two chief disciples seems to be to achieve an optimal balance between the spheres of responsibility and the human aptitudes available to meet them. A Buddha unites in his own person all perfections; he is “the sage perfect in all respects” (sabbaṅgasampanna muni), But human beings of lesser stature, even enlightened arahants, will display diversities in their characters and talents that qualify them for different tasks. Thus, to supervise the main areas of responsibility, a Buddha is invariably attended by two chief disciples, one constantly at his right hand, the other at his left. Of the two, the right-hand disciple, the one regarded as closest to the Blessed One, is the disciple distinguished by excellence of wisdom (mahāpaññā).
In the case of the Buddha Gotama, this was the Venerable Sāriputta. His special task in the Dispensation is the systematisation of the doctrine and the detailed analysis of its content. By means of his deep insight into the ultimate truth and his sharp discernment of the sphere of differentiated phenomena (dhammadhātu) he is responsible for drawing out the subtle implications of the Dhamma and for explicating its meaning with a wealth of detail that the Buddha, as head of the Dispensation, cannot personally attend to himself. The other chief disciple, who stands at the Buddha’s left hand, is distinguished by his versatility in the exercise of spiritual power (iddhi). In the Buddha Gotama’s Sangha this position was held by the Venerable Mahāmoggallāna.
Such spiritual power is not a means of dominating others or of self-aggrandizement but must be founded upon a perfect realization of selflessness. The power springs specifically from mastery over the sphere of concentration (samādhi), which opens up a profound comprehension of the fundamental forces that govern mind and matter and their subtle interconnections. Guided by the compassionate ideals of the Dhamma, this power is used to remove obstacles to the secure establishment of the Dispensation in the world and to transform other beings who cannot be easily reached by the gentler transformative approach of verbal instruction. Detailed discussion of the Venerable Sāriputta’s first major task as chief disciple, the systematisation of the Dhamma, will be undertaken in the next chapter, when we examine his role as “turner of the Wheel.” Here we will focus upon the ways Sāriputta and Moggallāna jointly fulfilled the other two roles of chief disciples, serving as exemplars and mentors for the monks and assisting in the administration of the Sangha.
In an injunction given to the Sangha the Buddha held up the two chief disciples as models for the other monks to follow: “A monk of faith, O bhikkhus, should cherish this right aspiration: ‘Oh, may I become such as Sāriputta and Moggallāna!’ For Sāriputta and Moggallāna are the model and standard for my bhikkhu disciples” (AN 2:131). In their mastery over the three aspects of the path—virtue, concentration, and wisdom—they embodied the qualities the monks still in training were to acquire for themselves. But even more, because they both possessed the analytical knowledges and skill in speech, they were ideal teachers to whom the younger monks could turn for guidance and instruction. The relationship in which the two chief disciples stood to one another in the matter of teaching was explained by the Buddha in the Saccavibhaṅga Sutta: Associate, O monks, with Sāriputta and Moggallāna, and keep company with them! They are wise bhikkhus and helpers of their fellow monks. Sāriputta is like a mother who brings forth, and Moggallāna is like a nurse to the newborn child. Sāriputta trains (his pupils) in the fruition of stream-entry, and Moggallāna trains them for the highest goal. (MN 141)
In explanation of this passage, the Majjhima Commentary says: “When Sāriputta accepted pupils for training, whether they were ordained by him or by others, he favored them with his material and spiritual help, looked after them in sickness, gave them a subject of meditation, and at last, when he knew that they had become stream enterers and had risen above the dangers of the lower worlds, he dismissed them in the confident knowledge, ‘now they can, by their own manly strength, produce the higher stages of holiness.’ Having thus become free from concern about their future, he instructed new groups of pupils.
But Moggallāna, when training pupils in the same way, did not give up concern for them until they had attained arahantship. This was because he felt, as was said by the Master: ‘As even a little excrement is of evil smell, I do not praise even the shortest spell of existence, be it no longer than a snap of the fingers.’” It is said that whenever Sāriputta gave advice, he showed infinite patience; he would admonish and instruct up to a hundred or a thousand times, until his pupil was established in the fruition of stream-entry. Only then did he discharge him and give his advice to others. Very great was the number of those who, after receiving his instruction and following it faithfully, attained to arahantship. But although the Majjhima Commentary states that Sāriputta used to lead his regular pupils only up to stream-entry, in individual cases he helped monks to attain the higher stages.
The Udāna Commentary, for example, says that “at that time bhikkhus in higher training often used to approach the Venerable Sāriputta for a subject of meditation that could help them to attain the three higher paths.” It was after taking instruction from Sāriputta that the Elder Lakuṇṭika Bhaddiya attained arahantship (Ud 7:1), having been a stream-enterer at the time. As chief disciples, Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna shared the responsibility for supervising the affairs of the Sangha under the immediate direction of the Blessed One, and they were the ones expected to take charge in the Master’s absence.
On one occasion, recorded in the Cātumā Sutta (MN 67), the Buddha makes this point clear by reproaching the Venerable Sāriputta for failing to recognize his responsibility. Once a large number of monks (newly ordained, as the commentary tells us, by Sāriputta and Moggallāna) had come to pay their respects to the Buddha for the first time. On arrival they were allotted quarters and started chatting with the resident monks of Cātumā. Hearing the noise, the Buddha summoned the resident monks to question them about it, and was told that the commotion was caused by the new arrivals.
The text does not say the visiting monks were present at the time, but they must have been, for the Buddha addressed them with the words: “Go away, monks, I dismiss you. You should not stay with me.” The newly ordained monks left, but some lay supporters intervened on their behalf and they were allowed to return. The Buddha then said to Sāriputta: “What did you think, Sāriputta, when I dismissed that group of monks?
Sāriputta replied: “I thought: ‘The Blessed One wishes to live at ease and to abide in the state of happiness here-and-now; so we too shall live at ease and abide in the state of happiness here-and-now.’” “Wait, Sāriputta! Do not allow such a thought ever to arise in you again!” the Buddha said. Then turning to Moggallāna, he put the same question to him. “When the Blessed One dismissed those monks,” replied Moggallāna, “I thought: ‘The Blessed One wishes to live at ease and to abide in the state of happiness here-and-now.
Then Sāriputta and I should now look after the community of monks.’” “Well spoken, Moggallāna, well spoken!” said the Master. “It is either I myself or Sāriputta and Moggallāna who should look after the community of monks.” It was the Venerable Sāriputta too who first appealed to the Buddha to lay down the code of monastic rules. He had asked the Buddha why it was that the Dispensation of some of the Buddhas of the past did not last very long while that of others did, and the Buddha had replied that the Dispensation did not last long in the case of those Buddhas who did not preach much Dhamma, nor lay down regulations for the disciples, nor institute the recital of the Pātimokkha; but the Dispensation of those Buddhas who took these precautions endured. Sāriputta then got up, saluted the Master respectfully, and said, “It is now time for the Blessed One to promulgate the regulations and to lay down the Pātimokkha, so that the holy life might last for a long time.”
But the Buddha replied: “Let it be, Sāriputta! The Tathāgata himself will know the occasion for that. The Master will not lay down regulations for the disciples nor recite the Pātimokkha until signs of corruption have appeared in the Sangha” (Vin III 9–10). This concern that the Dispensation should endure as long as possible is characteristic of Sāriputta; equally characteristic was it of the Buddha that he did not wish to lay down regulations until such time as it was absolutely necessary to do so. He went on to explain that at that time the least-advanced member of the Sangha was a stream-enterer (perhaps a fact of which Sāriputta was not aware), and therefore it was not yet necessary to lay down the rules of the bhikkhu life.
Often the Buddha charged the two chief disciples with special missions arising out of pressing circumstances. One such occasion was when he dispatched them to win back a group of young monks who were being led astray by Devadatta, the Buddha’s ambitious cousin. After Devadatta had formally split the Sangha by declaring that he would conduct Sangha acts separately, he went to Vultures’ Peak with five hundred young monks whom he had persuaded to become his followers. The Buddha sent Sāriputta and Moggallāna to Vultures’ Peak in order to win them back. When Devadatta saw the two elders approach, he assumed that they had decided to forsake the Buddha and join his faction. He extended to them a warm welcome and treated them as if they were now his chief disciples. In the evening, while Devadatta was resting, the two elders preached to the monks, led them to the attainment of stream-entry, and convinced them to return to the Blessed One (Vin II 199–200).
Another time that Sāriputta and Moggallāna worked together to restore order in the Sangha was when a group of monks led by Assaji (not the Elder Assaji referred to earlier) and Punabbasu, living at Kīṭāgiri, were misbehaving. They ate in the evening, sang and danced with young girls in the town, and mingled with laypeople in ways that besmirched the dignity of the Sangha. In spite of repeated admonitions these monks would not mend their ways, so the two chief disciples were sent to pronounce the penalty of banishment (pabbājaniya-kamma) on them for refusing to submit to the discipline (Vin II 12; 3:182–83).
Among the bhikkhus Sāriputta was outstanding as one who helped others. In the Devadaha Sutta (SN 22:2) the Buddha himself said of his great disciple, “Sāriputta, bhikkhus, is wise, and a helper of his fellow monks.” The commentary, in explanation of these words, refers to a traditional distinction among the ways of helping others: “Sāriputta was a helper in two ways: by giving material help (āmisānuggaha) and by giving the help of the Dhamma (dhammānuggaha).” Elaborating on the way he provided “material help,” the commentary says that the elder did not go on alms round in the early morning hours as the other bhikkhus did.
Instead, when they had all gone, he walked around the entire monastery grounds, and wherever he saw an unswept place, he swept it; wherever refuse had not been removed, he threw it away; where furniture such as beds and chairs or earthenware had not been properly arranged, he put them in order. He did this so that the non-Buddhist ascetics who might visit the monastery would not see any disorderliness and speak in contempt of the bhikkhus. Then he used to go to the hall for the sick, and having spoken consoling words to the patients, he would ask them about their needs. To procure their requirements he took with him young novices and went in search of medicine either by way of the customary alms round or to some appropriate place. When the medicine was obtained he would give it to the novices, saying: “Caring for the sick has been praised by the Master. Go now, good people, and be heedful!” After sending them back to the monastery sick room he would go on the alms round or take his meal at a supporter’s house. The above was his routine when staying for some time at a monastery.
But when going on a journey on foot with the Blessed One, he did not walk at the head of the procession, shod with sandals and umbrella in hand, as one who thinks: “I am the chief disciple.” Rather, he would let the young novices take his bowl and robes and go on ahead with the others, while he himself would first attend to those who were old, very young, or unwell, making them apply oil to any sores they might have on their bodies. Then, either later on the same day or on the next day, he would leave together with them. Because of his solicitude for others, on one occasion Sāriputta arrived particularly late at the place where the others were resting. For this reason he did not get proper quarters and had to pass the night seated under a tent made from robes. Having seen this, the next day the Master caused the monks to assemble and told them the Tittira Jātaka (J 37), the story of the elephant, the monkey, and the partridge who, after deciding which was the eldest of them, lived together showing respect for the most senior. He then laid down the rule that “lodgings should be allocated according to seniority” (Vin II 160–61).
Sometimes Sāriputta would give material help and the help of the Dhamma together. For example, when the monk Samitigutta was suffering from leprosy in the infirmary, Sāriputta went to visit him and spoke to him thus: “Friend, so long as the five aggregates (khandhā) continue, all feeling is just suffering. Only when the aggregates are no more is there no more suffering.” Having thus given him the contemplation of feelings as a subject of meditation, Sāriputta left. Samitigutta followed the elder’s instruction, developed insight, and realized the six supernormal powers (cha¿abhiññā) as an arahant (Th 81 and Comy.). A sickbed sermon given by the elder to Anāthapiṇḍika, the Buddha’s chief patron, is preserved in the Sotāpatti Saṃyutta (SN 55:26).
In this discourse, given when Anāthapiṇḍika was afflicted by such severe pain that he felt as if his head was being crushed, Sāriputta consoled the great lay disciple by reminding him that as a streamenterer he was utterly free of the bad qualities that lead to rebirth in states of woe and that he possessed the four factors of stream-entry (sotāpattiyaṅga): unwavering confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, and “the virtues dear to the noble ones.” Moreover, he was securely established on the Noble Eightfold Path and thus was certain to reach the fruits of the path, enlightenment and deliverance. As Anāthapiṇḍika listened to him, his pains subsided and right on the spot he recovered from his illness. As a mark of gratitude he then offered Sāriputta the food that had been prepared for himself.
On one occasion, however, the Buddha mildly reproved Sāriputta for not having carried his teaching far enough. When the brahmin Dhānañjāni was on his deathbed he was visited by the Venerable Sāriputta. The elder, reflecting that brahmins are bent on the Brahmaworld, taught the dying man the four brahma-vihāra—the meditations on universal love, compassion, altruistic joy, and equanimity—the path to the Brahma-world, but ended his discourse there without teaching the path of insight. When the Venerable Sāriputta returned from the visit, the Master asked him: “Why, Sāriputta, while there was more to do, did you set the brahmin Dhānañjāni’s thoughts on the inferior Brahma-world, and then rising from your seat, leave him?”
Sāriputta replied: “I thought: ‘These brahmins are bent on the Brahma-world. Should I not show the brahmin Dhānañjāni the way to union with Brahmā?’” “The brahmin Dhānañjāni has died, Sāriputta,” said the Buddha, “and he has been reborn in the Brahma-world.” This story, which is found in the Dhānañjāni Sutta (MN 97), is interesting as an illustration of the undesirability of rebirth in an inferior Brahma-world for one who is capable of bringing rebirth to an end.
For while the Buddha himself sometimes showed only the way to Brahmā, as for example in the Tevijja Sutta, it seems probable that in this case he saw that Dhānañjāni was fit to receive a higher teaching, while Sāriputta, lacking a Buddha’s unique knowledge of others’ faculties, was unaware of this. As a consequence Dhānañjāni would have to spend a long time in the Brahma-world and might have to take human birth again before he could achieve the goal.
Once the Elder Channa was lying ill and in great pain. The Venerable Sāriputta paid him a visit, in company with the Elder Mahācunda. Seeing the sick monk’s agonies, Sāriputta at once offered to go in search of medicines and suitable food for him. But Channa told them he had decided to take his life. They appealed to him to abandon such thoughts, but were not successful; after they retired Channa “used the knife.” Later the Buddha explained that in this matter the Elder Channa was blameless, since he had attained arahantship while dying and had passed away into final Nibbāna. This story is found in the Channovāda Sutta (MN 144; SN 35:87).
When Anāthapiṇḍika was lying on his deathbed, he requested the Venerable Sāriputta to visit him “out of compassion.” Sāriputta came at once, accompanied by Ānanda, and preached to the dying man a stirring sermon on nonattachment (MN 143). He told the lay disciple that he should put away clinging to all the phenomena of the conditioned world: to the six sense faculties, the six sense objects, the six kinds of consciousness, the six kinds of contact, the six kinds of feeling—in brief, to everything seen, heard, sensed, and thought. Anāthapiṇḍika was moved to tears by this profound discourse, the likes of which, he said, he had never before heard. Shortly after this encounter Anāthapiṇḍika died and was reborn in the Tusita heaven.
One night, while the rest of the world slept, the new deva Anāthapiṇḍika paid a visit to Jetavana in his celestial body and in the presence of the Blessed One recited a verse in praise of the chief disciple: Sāriputta truly is endowed with wisdom, With virtue and with inner peace. Even a monk who has gone beyond At best can only equal him. The next day the Buddha informed the monks what had happened, but he did not mention the identity of his visitor. Ānanda then said to the Master: “Venerable sir, that young deva must surely have been Anāthapiṇḍika. For Anāthapiṇḍika had full confidence in the Venerable Sāriputta.”
The Buddha confirmed that Ānanda’s inference was correct. It was in this manner that the Venerable Sāriputta gave the help of the Dhamma. A great leader and outstanding spiritual adviser, he brought to the task of guiding others not only a keen and perceptive understanding of the human mind, but also a warm sympathetic interest in other people, which must have been a great encouragement to those under his guidance. Administering to the physical as well as to the spiritual needs of the monks under his charge, restraining them with kindly admonitions and encouraging them with the praise their efforts deserved, Sāriputta combined the qualities of a perfect teacher with those of a perfect friend. He was ready to help in every way, in small things as in great. Filled with the virtue of the holy life himself, he was quick to see virtue in others, was expert in developing it in those in whom it was latent, and was among the first to extol it where it was in full flower. His was no cold, aloof perfection, but the richest intermingling of spiritual exaltation with the qualities that are finest and most endearing in a human being.
THE UNRESENTFUL The Dhammapada Commentary (to vv. 389–90) records an incident that epitomizes still another outstanding trait of the chief disciple, his patience and forbearance. In the neighbourhood of the Jetavana monastery, where the Buddha was residing, a group of men were praising the noble qualities of Sāriputta. “Such great patience has our elder,” they said, “that even when people abuse him and strike him, he feels no trace of anger.” “Who is this that never gets angry?” The question came from a brahmin, a holder of false views. And when they told him, “It is our elder, Sāriputta,” he retorted: “That must be because nobody has ever provoked him.” “That is not so, brahmin,” they replied. “Well, then, I will provoke him to anger.” “Provoke him to anger if you can!” “Leave it to me,” said the brahmin. “I know just what to do to him.”
When the Venerable Sāriputta entered the city on his alms round, the brahmin approached him from behind and gave him a tremendous blow on the back. “What was that?” said Sāriputta; and without so much as turning to look, he continued on his way. The fire of remorse leapt up in every part of the brahmin’s body. Prostrating himself at the elder’s feet, he begged for pardon. “For what?” asked the elder, mildly. “To test your patience I struck you,” the penitent brahmin replied. “Very well, I pardon you.” “Venerable sir,” the brahmin said, “if you are willing to pardon me, please take your food at my house.”
When the elder silently consented, the brahmin took his bowl and led him to his house, where he served him a meal. But those who saw the assault were enraged. They gathered at the brahmin’s house, armed with sticks and stones, ready to kill him. When Sāriputta emerged, accompanied by the brahmin carrying his bowl, they cried out: “Venerable sir, order this brahmin to turn back!” “Why, lay disciples?” asked the elder. They replied: “The man struck you, and we are going to give him what he deserves!” “But what do you mean? Was it you or me that he struck?” “It was you, venerable sir.” “Well, if it was me he struck, he has begged my pardon. Go your ways.” And so, dismissing the people and permitting the brahmin to return, the great elder calmly made his way back to the monastery. The Venerable Sāriputta’s humility was as great as his patience. He was willing to receive correction from anyone, not only with submission but with gratitude. It is told in the commentary to the Susīma Sutta (SN 2:29) that once, through momentary negligence, a corner of the elder’s under-robe was hanging down, and a seven-yearold novice, seeing this, pointed it out to him.
Sāriputta stepped aside at once and arranged the garment in the proper way, and then he stood before the novice with folded hands, saying: “Now it is correct, teacher!” There is a reference to this incident in the Milindapañhā, where these verses are ascribed to Sāriputta: If one who has gone forth this day at the age of seven Should teach me, I accept it with lowered head; At sight of him I show my zeal and respect; May I always set him in the teacher’s place. (Mil 397) It was no wonder, therefore, that throughout his life he continued to show respect for the Venerable Assaji, from whom he had gained his introduction to the Buddha’s Teaching.
We are told in the commentary to the Nāvā Sutta (Suttanipāta), and also in the commentary to the Dhammapada (to v. 392), that whenever Sāriputta lived in the same monastery as the Elder Assaji, immediately after having paid homage to the Blessed One, he always went to venerate the great elder, thinking: “This venerable one was my first teacher. It was through him that I came to know the Buddha’s Dispensation.” And when the Elder Assaji lived in another monastery, Sāriputta used to face the direction in which he was living and pay homage to him by touching the ground at five places (with the head, hands, and feet), and saluting him with joined palms. But this led to misunderstanding, for when other monks saw Sāriputta acting thus they said: “After becoming a chief disciple, Sāriputta still worships the heavenly quarters! Even today he cannot give up his brahmanical views!”
When these complaints reached the Blessed One, he said: “It is not so, bhikkhus. Sāriputta does not worship the heavenly quarters. He salutes the one through whom he first learned the Dhamma, and worships and reveres him as his teacher. Sāriputta is one who gives devout respect to his teacher.” It was then that the Master preached to the monks the Nāvā Sutta, 11 which starts with the words: As the devas pay devout homage to Indra, So one should revere the person Through whom one has learnt the Dhamma.
Another example of the Venerable Sāriputta’s gratitude is given in the story of the Elder Rādha. The commentary to the Dhammapada (to v. 76) relates that Rādha was a poor brahmin who stayed at the Jetavana monastery at Sāvatthī. He served as a temple hand, performing little services such as weeding, sweeping, and the like, and the monks supported him with food. When he asked to be ordained, however, the monks did not want to ordain him. One day the Blessed One, in his mental survey of the world, saw that this brahmin was mature for arahantship. He inquired about him from the assembled monks, and asked whether any one of them remembered ever receiving some help from the poor brahmin. Sāriputta said that he remembered an occasion when he was going for alms in Rājagaha and this poor brahmin had given him a ladleful of alms food that he had begged for himself.
The Master asked Sāriputta to ordain the man, which he did. Sāriputta then advised him time and again as to what things should be done and what should be avoided. Rādha always received his admonitions gladly, without resentment, and in a short time he attained arahantship. On this occasion the bhikkhus extolled Sāriputta’s sense of gratitude and said that he who himself willingly accepts advice obtains pupils who do the same. Commenting on this, the Buddha said that not only then but also formerly Sāriputta had shown gratitude and remembered any good deed done to him. And in that connection the Master told the Alīnacitta Jātaka (J 156), in which Sāriputta was a grateful elephant who dedicated his life to helping a team of carpenters that had nursed him when he was wounded.
The Venerable Sāriputta’s powers of forbearance and humility came to the fore on an occasion when he was the victim of a false accusation. This incident took place when he was dwelling at Jetavana. At the end of the rains retreat the elder took leave of the Master and departed with his own retinue of monks on a journey. A large number of monks also took leave of Sāriputta, and in dismissing them he addressed by name those who were known to him by their personal and family names. Among them there was a monk who was not known by his personal and family name, but a strong desire arose in him that the chief disciple should address him by those names in taking his departure. In the great throng of monks, however, Sāriputta did not give him this distinction, and the monk was aggrieved. “He does not greet me as he does the other monks,” he thought, and conceived a grudge against Sāriputta.
At the same time it chanced that the hem of the elder’s robe brushed against him, and this added to his grievance. He approached the Buddha and complained: “Lord, the Venerable Sāriputta, doubtless thinking to himself, ‘I am the chief disciple,’ struck me a blow that almost damaged my ear. And having done that, without so much as begging my pardon, he set out on his journey.” The Buddha summoned Sāriputta into his presence. Meanwhile, Mahāmoggallāna and Ānanda, knowing that a calumny was about to be exposed, summoned all the monks, convoking an assembly. “Approach, venerable sirs!” they called. “When the Venerable Sāriputta is face to face with the Master, he will roar his lion’s roar.” And so it came about.
When the Master questioned the great elder, instead of denying the charge he said: “O Lord, one who is not firmly established in the contemplation of the body with regard to his body, such a one may be able to hurt a fellow monk and leave without apologizing.” Then followed Sāriputta’s lion’s roar. He compared his freedom from anger and hatred with the patience of the earth which receives all things, clean and unclean; his tranquillity of mind to a bull with severed horns, to a lowly outcast youth, to water, fire and wind, and to the removal of impurity; he compared the oppression he felt from his own body to the oppression of snakes and corpses, and the maintenance of his body to that of fatty excrescences. In nine similes he described his own virtues, and nine times the great earth responded to the words of truth. The entire assembly was moved by the majestic force of his utterance.
As the elder proclaimed his virtues, remorse filled the monk who had unjustly maligned him. Immediately, he fell at the feet of the Blessed One, admitting his slander and confessing his fault. Thereupon the Buddha said: “Sāriputta, pardon this deluded man, lest his head should split into seven pieces.” Sāriputta’s reply was: “Venerable sir, I freely pardon this venerable monk.” And, with joined palms, he added, “May this venerable monk also pardon me if I have in any way offended him.” In this way they were reconciled. The other monks were filled with admiration, saying: “See, brethren, the extraordinary goodness of the elder! He cherishes neither anger nor hatred against this lying, slanderous monk! Instead, he crouches before him, stretches his hands in reverence, and asks his pardon.”
The Buddha’s comment was: “Monks, it is impossible for Sāriputta and his like to cherish anger or hatred. Sāriputta’s mind is like the great earth, firm like a gate post, like a pool of still water.” He then recited the following verse: Unresentful like the earth, firm like a gate post, Equipoised and strong in vows, Mind without impurities like a pool: For such a one the round of births exists no more. (Dhp 95)
Another incident of this nature did not end so happily, for the slanderer refused to admit his fault. He was a monk named Kokālika, who approached the Buddha with a slander against the two chief disciples: “Sāriputta and Moggallāna have bad intentions, Lord,” he said. “They are in the grip of evil ambition.” The Master replied: “Do not say so, Kokālika! Do not say so! Have friendly and trustful thoughts towards Sāriputta and Moggallāna! They are of good and lovable behaviour!” But the misguided Kokālika paid no heed to the Buddha’s words. He persisted with his false accusation, and soon after that his whole body became covered with boils, which continued to grow until eventually he died of his illness and was reborn in hell. This incident was well known. It is recorded in the following places in the Sutta Piṭaka: Saṃyutta Nikāya (SN 6:10); Suttanipāta: Mahāvagga (10); Aṅguttara Nikāya (10:89); and Takkāriya Jātaka (J 481).
A comparison of these two incidents reveals the importance of penitence. Neither Sāriputta nor Moggallāna bore the monk Kokālika any ill will for his malice, and his apologies, had he offered them, would have made no difference to the attitude of the two chief disciples. But they would have benefited the erring monk himself, averting the consequences of his bad kamma. Evil rebounds upon those who direct it toward the innocent, and so Kokālika was judged and punished by himself, through his own deeds.
FRIENDSHIPS AND RELATIVES
Such personal qualities as gratitude, kindness, helpfulness, and patience won for the Venerable Sāriputta many deep friendships which endured throughout his life as a monk. With Moggallāna, the friend and companion of his youth, he maintained intimate ties until death separated them in the very last year of the Buddha’s life. But Sāriputta’s friendships were in no way exclusive. According to the commentary to the Mahāgosiṅga Sutta there was also a bond of mutual affection between Sāriputta and the Elder Ānanda. On Sāriputta’s part it was because he thought: “He is attending on the Master—a duty which should have been performed by me”; and Ānanda’s affection was due to the fact that Sāriputta had been declared by the Buddha as his foremost disciple.
When Ānanda gave novice ordination to young pupils, he used to take them to Sāriputta to obtain higher ordination under him. Sāriputta did the same in regard to Ānanda, and in that way they had five hundred pupils in common. Whenever Ānanda received choice robes or other requisites he would offer them to Sāriputta, and in the same way, Sāriputta passed on to Ānanda any special offerings that were made to him. Once Ānanda received from a certain brahmin a very valuable robe, and with the Master’s permission he kept it for ten days, awaiting Sāriputta’s return.
The subcommentary says that later teachers commented on this: “There may be those who say: ‘We can well understand that Ānanda, who had not yet attained to arahantship, felt such affection. But how is it in the case of Sāriputta, who was a cankerfree arahant?’ To this we answer: ‘Sāriputta’s affection was not one of worldly attachment, but a love for Ānanda’s virtues (guṇa-bhatti).’” The Buddha once asked Ānanda: “Do you, too, approve of Sāriputta?” And Ānanda replied: “Who, Lord, would not approve of Sāriputta, unless he were childish, corrupt, stupid, or of perverted mind! Sāriputta is wise, of great wisdom, of broad, bright, quick, keen, and penetrative wisdom. Sāriputta is of few wants and contented, inclined to seclusion, not fond of company, energetic, eloquent, willing to listen, an exhorter who censures what is evil” (SN 2:29).
In the Theragāthā (1034 f.) we find Ānanda describing his emotion at the time of Sāriputta’s death. “When the noble friend (Sāriputta) had gone,” he declares, “the world was plunged in darkness for me.” But he adds that after the companion had left him behind, and the Master had also passed away, there was no other friend like mindfulness directed to the body. Ānanda’s sorrow on learning of Sāriputta’s death is also described very movingly in the Cunda Sutta. 13 Sāriputta was a true friend in the fullest sense of the word. He well understood how to bring out the best in others, and in doing so did not hesitate sometimes to speak straightforwardly and critically, like the ideal friend described by the Buddha, who points out his friend’s faults. It was through such honest criticism that he helped the Venerable Anuruddha in his final breakthrough to arahantship, as recorded in the Aṅguttara Nikāya (3:128):
Once the Venerable Anuruddha went to see the Venerable Sāriputta. When they had exchanged courteous greetings he sat down and said to the Venerable Sāriputta: “Friend Sāriputta, with the divine eye that is purified, transcending human sight, I can see the thousandfold world-system. Firm is my energy, unremitting; my mindfulness is alert and unconfused; my body is tranquil and unperturbed; my mind is concentrated and one-pointed. And yet, my mind is not freed from the cankers, not freed from clinging.” “Friend Anuruddha,” said the Venerable Sāriputta, “that you think thus of your divine eye, this is conceit in you. That you think thus of your firm energy, your alert mindfulness, your unperturbed body, and your concentrated mind, this is restlessness in you. That you think of your mind not being freed from the cankers, this is worrying in you. It would be good, indeed, if you would abandon these three states of mind and, paying no attention to them, direct your mind to the deathless element.”
The Venerable Anuruddha followed Sāriputta’s advice and in a short time he attained the destruction of the cankers. Sāriputta must have been stimulating company, as he was sought after by many. What attracted people of quite different temperaments to him and his conversation can be well understood from the incident described in the Mahāgosiṅga Sutta (MN 32). One evening the Elders Mahāmoggallāna, Mahākassapa, Anuruddha, Revata, and Ānanda went to Sāriputta to listen to the Dhamma. Sāriputta welcomed them, saying: “Delightful is this Gosiṅga sāla-tree forest, it is a clear moonlit night, the sāla trees are in full bloom, and it seems as if celestial scents are being wafted around. What kind of monk, do you think, Ānanda, will lend more lustre to this Gosiṅga sāla-tree forest?”
The same question was put to the others as well, and each replied according to his personal temperament. Finally, Sāriputta gave his own answer, which was as follows: There is a monk who has control over his mind, who is not under the control of his mind. In whatever (mental) abiding or attainment he wishes to dwell in the forenoon, he can dwell in it at that time. In whatever (mental) abiding or attainment he wishes to dwell at noon, he can dwell in it at that time. In whatever (mental) abiding or attainment he wishes to dwell in the evening, he can dwell in it at that time. It is as though a king’s or royal minister’s cloth chest were full of many-colored garments, so that whatever pair of garments he wishes to wear in the morning, or at noon, or in the evening, he can wear it at will at those times. Similarly it is with a monk who has control over his mind, who is not under the control of his mind; in whatever (mental) abiding or attainment he wishes to dwell in the morning, or at noon, or in the evening, he can do so at will at those times. Such a monk, friend Moggallāna, can lend lustre to this Gosiṅga sāla-tree forest.
They then went to the Buddha and reported the course of their discussion. The Master approved of all their answers and added his own. We see from this episode that, despite his powerful intellect and his status in the Sangha, Sāriputta was far from being a domineering type who tried to impose his views on others. He understood well how to stimulate self-expression in his companions in a natural way, conveying to them the pensive mood evoked by the enchanting scenery. His own sensitive nature responded to natural beauty and drew a similar response from his friends. There are many such conversations recorded between Sāriputta and other monks, not only with Moggallāna, Ānanda, and Anuruddha, but also with Mahākoṭṭhita, Upavāṇa, Samiddhi, Savittha, Bhūmija, and many more. Sāriputta was also keen to meet noble monks, particularly those whom the Master had commended. One such was the Elder Puṇṇa Mantāniputta, whom he had not met before the Buddha praised him before the Sangha.
When Sāriputta learned that Puṇṇa had come on a visit he went to meet him and, without revealing his own identity, engaged him in a profound discussion on the successive stages of purification and their relation to Nibbāna. His questions elicited from Puṇṇa a great discourse, the Rathavinīta Sutta (The Stage Coach Simile; MN 24), which delineates the stages of the Buddhist path later used by Ācariya Buddhaghosa as the framework for his monumental treatise, the Visuddhimagga. It seems that the Buddha himself liked to talk to Sāriputta, for he often did so, and many of his discourses were addressed to his “Marshal of the Dhamma.”
Once Sāriputta approached the Buddha and repeated some words the Master had spoken to Ānanda on another occasion: “This is the whole of the holy life (brahmacariya); namely, noble friendship, noble companionship, noble association” (SN 45:2). There could be no better exemplification of that teaching than the life of the chief disciple himself. As we have already seen, Sāriputta was born into a brahmin family of Upatissa village (or Nālaka), near Rājagaha. His father’s name was Vaganta and his mother’s Rūpasārī. No mention is made of his relationship with his father, and we may thus presume that his father died in Sāriputta’s youth. He had three brothers: Cunda, Upasena, and Revata, and three sisters named Cālā, Upacālā, and Sisūpacālā. All six took ordination into the Buddhist Order and attained arahantship. Cunda was known by the name Samaṇuddesa, meaning “the novice” in the Sangha, even after becoming a bhikkhu; this was to distinguish him from the Elder Mahācunda.
At the time of Sāriputta’s death, Cunda was his attendant, and it was he who informed the Buddha of his passing away, bringing with him the chief disciple’s relics. The story is told in the Cunda Sutta, recounted below. Upasena, who came to be known as Vagantaputta, or “Son of Vaganta,” as Sāriputta is “Son of Sārī,” was said by the Buddha to be foremost among those of all-pleasing deportment (samantapāsādika). He died of a snakebite, as is related in the Sa¿āyatana Saṃyutta (SN 35:69). Revata was the youngest of the brothers. Their mother, wishing to prevent him from seeking ordination, had him married when he was a very young boy. But on the wedding day he saw the grandmother of his future wife, an old woman of 120, stricken with all the signs of decrepitude. At once he became disgusted with worldly life. Escaping from the wedding procession by a ruse, he fled to a monastery and was ordained. In later years he was on his way to see the Buddha when he stopped at a forest of acacia trees (khadīravana), and while spending the rainy season there he attained arahantship.
After that he became known as Revata Khadīravaniya—“Revata of the Acacia Forest.” The Buddha distinguished him as being the foremost among forest dwellers. The three sisters, Cālā, Upacālā, and Sisūpacālā, wishing to follow their brothers’ example, became nuns after their marriages. In marriage, each of them had a son who was named after his mother, Cālā (or Cālī) and so on. These three sons were also ordained, being received as novices by Revata Khadīravaniya, and their good conduct was praised by Sāriputta (in the commentary to Th 42). When Cālā, Upacālā, and Sisūpacālā became nuns they were approached by Māra, who tried to taunt and tempt them. Their excellent replies are recorded in the Therīgāthā and the Bhikkhunī Saṃyutta.
In contrast to all these, Sāriputta’s mother was a staunch brahmin who, throughout the years, remained hostile to the Buddha’s Teaching and his followers. In the commentary to the Dhammapada (v. 400) it is related that once, when the Venerable Sāriputta was in his own village of Nālaka with a large retinue of monks, he came to his mother’s house in the course of his alms round. His mother gave him a seat and served him with food, but while she did so she uttered abusive words: “Oh, you eater of others’ leavings!” she said. “When you fail to get leavings of sour rice gruel, you go from house to house among strangers, licking the leavings off the backs of ladles! And so it was for this that you gave up eighty crores of wealth and became a monk! You have ruined me! Now go on and eat!” Likewise, when she was serving food to the monks, she said: “So! You are the men who have made my son your page boy! Go on, eat now!”
Thus she continued reviling them, but Sāriputta spoke not a word. He took his food, ate it, and in silence returned to the monastery. The Buddha learned of the incident from his son Rāhula, who had been among the monks at the time. All the bhikkhus who heard of it wondered at the elder’s great forbearance, and in the midst of the assembly the Buddha praised him, uttering the stanza: He that is free from anger, who performs his duties faithfully, He that guards the precepts and is free from lust; He that has subdued himself, he that wears his last body— He it is I call a brahmin. (Dhp 400) It was not until the very close of Sāriputta’s life that he was able to convert his mother; that story will be told below. But the incident just related reminds us again of the great elder’s most pleasing characteristics—his humility, patience, and forbearance.
When the Bodhisatta had left the household life in search of a path to enlightenment he first entered upon discipleship under two distinguished meditation masters of the time, through whose guidance he reached the two highest formless attainments, the base of nothingness and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (see MN 26). From the account of Sāriputta’s quest it seems that his inclinations took him along a different route, not to the feet of those who had mastered the domain of superconscious states but to those who excelled in philosophical discourse and intellectual analysis.
His initiation into the Dhamma, too, as we have seen, came about not through the path of the meditative absorptions but through a direct, spontaneous insight into the conditionality of all phenomena and into the unconditioned element beyond the network of causes and effects. Nevertheless, once Sāriputta became a disciple of the Buddha, he quickly attained mastery over all the stages of meditative absorption and harnessed his meditative experience as a tool for the final breakthrough to full enlightenment. The process by which Sāriputta advanced from the stage of streamenterer to that of arahantship is related by the Buddha in the Anupada Sutta (MN 111).
In this revealing discourse the Blessed One declares that during the two-week period of his striving for the final goal, Sāriputta had practiced “insight into states one by one as they occurred” (anupadadhamma-vipassanā). He mastered in succession the nine meditative attainments: the four fine-material jhānas, the four immaterial states, and the cessation of perception and feeling. On mastering each attainment except the last two (which are too subtle for introspective investigation), he would analyse it into its constituent factors, define each of these factors in turn, and then consider how they arose, how they persisted, and how they disappeared. Abiding “unattracted, unrepelled, independent, detached, free, dissociated, with a mind rid of barriers,” he would then cultivate the next higher attainment until he reached the cessation of perception and feeling. His actual breakthrough to arahantship, as mentioned above, took place while he was standing behind the Buddha, fanning him as the Master gave a discourse to the wanderer Dīghanakha, Sāriputta’s nephew.
The theme of the Buddha’s talk was the comprehension of feelings. The Buddha began by explaining the nature of the body, instructing Dīghanakha to contemplate the body in such a way that desire, affection, and concern for the body would be abandoned. Then he explained the contemplation of feeling: all feeling should be seen as impermanent, conditioned, and dependently arisen, as subject to break up, vanish, disappear, and cease. As Sāriputta listened to the Buddha’s words, he reflected: “The Blessed One speaks about the abandonment of these things through direct knowledge; he speaks about the relinquishment of these things through direct knowledge.” As he reflected thus, suddenly final knowledge arose and his mind was liberated from the cankers by non-clinging.
In his stanzas in the Theragāthā, Sāriputta recalls the way he attained arahantship: The Blessed One, the Buddha, the One with Vision, Was teaching the Dhamma to another. While the Dhamma was being taught I lent an ear, keen on the goal. That listening of mine was not in vain, For I am released, free from cankers. (Th 995–96)
Although Sāriputta ranked first among the Buddha’s disciples in overall comprehension of the Dhamma, unlike many other monks he did not strive after the supernormal modes of knowledge and psychic powers that were often accessories of an arahant. Thus in the next verses of the Theragāthā (996–97) he states that he felt no inclination (paṇidhi) for the five supernormal powers (abhiññā), qualities in which his friend Mahā-moggallāna excelled. Nevertheless, the commentary to these verses tells us that while Sāriputta made no deliberate effort to obtain the supernormal powers, they “came into his hands” spontaneously along with his attainment of arahantship, being inherent qualifications of a chief disciple. The “Treatise on Psychic Power” of the Paṭisambhidāmagga (2:212) also credits Sāriputta with “the power of intervention by concentration” (samādhivipphāra-iddhi), which is capable of intervening in certain normal physiological processes or other natural events. The canonical basis for this ascription is a story in the Udāna (4:4).
Once, when Sāriputta was living with Moggallāna at Kapotakandarā, he was sitting in meditation out in the open air on a full-moon night, his head freshly shaved. A malicious demon (yakkha) passing overhead, in a spiteful mood, descended and gave the elder a severe blow on the head, but he was so deeply absorbed in meditation that he suffered no harm. The story continues: The Venerable Mahāmoggallāna saw the incident, approached the Venerable Sāriputta, and asked him: “Friend, are you comfortable? Are you doing well? Does nothing trouble you?” “I am comfortable, friend Moggallāna,” said the Venerable Sāriputta. “I am doing well, but I have a slight headache.” Thereupon the Venerable Mahāmoggallāna said: “It is wonderful, friend Sāriputta! It is marvellous, friend Sāriputta! How great is the psychic power and might of the Venerable Sāriputta! For just now, friend Sāriputta, a certain demon gave you a blow on the head. And such a mighty blow it was that it might have felled an elephant or split a mountain peak.
But the Venerable Sāriputta says only this, ‘I am comfortable, friend Moggallāna. I am doing well, friend Moggallāna, but I have a slight headache.’” Then the Venerable Sāriputta replied: “It is wonderful, friend Moggallāna! It is marvellous, friend Moggallāna! How great is the psychic power and might of the Venerable Moggallāna, that he should see any demon at all! As for me, I have not seen so much as a mud-sprite.”
Meanwhile the Blessed One had been listening in, with his divine ear, to this discussion between the two elders, and he then spoke the following “inspired utterance” in praise of Sāriputta: Whose mind stands unmoving as a rock, Unattached to things that arouse attachment, Unangered by things that provoke anger. How can suffering come to one Whose mind has been cultivated thus? After he had become securely established in the highest goal, meditation became for Sāriputta a natural expression of his realization rather than a means toward some higher attainment. In the Sāriputta Saṃyutta, the Venerable Ānanda questioned Sāriputta on several occasions about how he had passed his day, and Sāriputta replied that he had spent the day dwelling in the various stages of meditative absorption.
But in the case of each stage, he added, he was utterly free of self-reference: “I had no such thoughts as ‘I am entering the jhāna; I have entered it; I am rising from it’” (SN 28:1–9). On another occasion Sāriputta described to Ānanda how he could enter a unique state of concentration in which he would not be cognizant of any familiar object of cognition. In regard to the earth element he was without perception of earth, and so also in regard to the other three elements, the four immaterial objects, and everything else pertaining to this world or even to the world beyond. And yet, he said, he was not entirely without perception. His only perception was: “Nibbāna is the cessation of becoming” (bhavanirodho nibbānaṃ) (AN 10:7). This inscrutable attainment seems to be identical with the meditative “abiding in voidness” (suññatāvihāra) that the Venerable Sāriputta regularly cultivated.
We read in the Piṇḍapāta-pārisuddhi Sutta (MN 151) that the Buddha once noticed that Sāriputta’s features were serene and radiant and asked him how he had acquired such radiance. Sāriputta replied that he frequently practiced the abiding in voidness. Thereupon the Buddha exclaimed that this was the abode of great men and proceeded to describe it in detail. The commentary identifies this “abiding in voidness” with the fruition attainment of arahantship (arahattaphala-samāpatti), entered upon by focusing on Nibbāna’s aspect of voidness (suññatā). When Sāriputta became absorbed in this meditative state, even the gods from the highest heavens descended to venerate him, as the Venerable Mahākassapa testifies in the following verses: These many devas powerful and glorious, Ten thousands devas from Brahmā’s company, Stand with joined hands worshipping him, Sāriputta, wise Marshal of the Dhamma, The great meditator in concentration: “Homage to you, O thoroughbred man, Homage to you, O supreme man. We do not know what it is In dependence on which you meditate.” (Th 1082–84)
For Sāriputta proficiency in meditative absorption was skillfully balanced by a capacity for thorough and exact analysis that had been honed through his practice of insight meditation. Among the Buddha’s bhikkhu disciples Sāriputta was the foremost of those with great wisdom (etadaggaṃ mahāpaññānaṃ), and in the exercise of wisdom he stood second only to the Enlightened One himself. The chief expression of Sāriputta’s wisdom was his facility in the four analytical knowledges (paṭisambhida-ñāṇa), which he acquired during the two week period following his ordination: It was half a month after my ordination, friends, that I realized, in all their parts and details, the analytical knowledge of meaning, the analytical knowledge of the doctrine, the analytical knowledge of language, the analytical knowledge of perspicacity.
These I expound in many ways, teach them and make them known, establish and reveal them, explain and clarify them. If anyone has any doubt or uncertainty, he may ask me and I shall explain (the matter). Present is the Master who is well acquainted with our attainments. (AN 4:173) The first analytical knowledge confers special insight into the meaning of the doctrines, their implications and ramifications, as well as into the effects that might arise from specified causes. The second gives special insight into the doctrines themselves, their interconnections within the total framework of the Dhamma, as well as into the causes from which certain effects might spring. The third is skill in the understanding of language, grammar, and etymology. The fourth is the ability to marshal the former three types of knowledge when expounding the Dhamma in order to awaken understanding in others. Through his endowment with the four analytical knowledges Sāriputta excelled not only in personal understanding but also in the tasks of teaching and explaining the Dhamma. Because he was so versatile in all these respects, at the conclusion of the Anupada Sutta (MN 111), the Buddha could declare him to be his true spiritual son and his chief assistant in the work of “turning the Wheel of the Dhamma”: If one could ever say rightly of one that he has come to mastery and perfection in noble virtue, in noble concentration, in noble wisdom, and noble liberation, it is of Sāriputta that one could thus rightly declare. If one could ever say rightly of one that he is the Blessed One’s true son, born of his speech, born of the Dhamma, formed of the Dhamma, heir to the Dhamma, not heir to worldly benefit, it is of Sāriputta that one could thus rightly declare. After me, O monks, Sāriputta rightly turns the supreme Wheel of the Dhamma, even as I have turned it.
THE TURNER OF THE WHEEL
The discourses of the Venerable Sāriputta and the books attributed to him form a comprehensive body of teaching that for scope and variety of exposition can stand beside that of the Master himself. Sāriputta understood in a unique way how to organize and present the rich material of the Dhamma lucidly, in a manner that was intellectually stimulating and also an inspiration to practical effort.
In the Theravāda tradition he is regarded not only as the progenitor of many suttas of prime importance but also as the original inspiration behind three substantial exegetical treatises and the individual responsible for the final codification of the Abhidhamma. We will discuss each of these contributions in turn.
We find the Venerable Sāriputta’s skill as an expositor of the Dhamma exemplified, first, in two classic discourses of the Majjhima Nikāya, the Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta (The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint; MN 28) and the Sammādiṭṭhi Sutta (Discourse on Right View; MN 9).
The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint is a masterpiece of methodical treatment. Sāriputta begins by stating that just as the elephant’s footprint can contain the footprints of all other animals, so the Four Noble Truths comprise everything wholesome. He then singles out, from the four truths, the truth of suffering for detailed analysis, ending with the five aggregates, or personality factors. He next enumerates the five aggregates—material form, feeling, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness—and then singles out, for closer attention, the aggregate of material form. This he explains as twofold: the four great elements and the secondary types of matter derived from the four elements. Each of the elements in turn, he declares, is found both internally, in one’s own body, and externally, in the outer world. He enumerates the bodily parts and functions belonging to the internal elements, and declares of both the internal and external elements that they neither belong to a self nor constitute a self. Seeing them thus, one becomes disenchanted with the elements and overcomes one’s attachment to this body.
Sāriputta then goes on to show the impermanence of the mighty external elements: they are all destined for destruction in the great cataclysms of nature, and when one realizes this one can never again consider this tiny body, the product of craving, as “ or “mine.” If a monk who has seen the elements in such a way is abused, blamed, and attacked by others, he will analyse the situation soberly and remain imperturbable. He recognizes that the painful feeling that has arisen in him is produced by ear-contact, which is in itself no more than a conditioned phenomenon; and he knows that all the elements of this experience of abuse—contact, feeling, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness—are impermanent. At this point we see that Sāriputta has introduced the other four aggregates, the mental components of personality, in an organic way, so that the meditator can resolve the entire experience into the five impermanent, selfless aggregates. He continues: “Then his mind, just by taking only the elements as its object, becomes elated, gladdened, firm, and intent; and even if he is beaten and injured he will think: ‘This body is of such a nature that it is liable to these injuries.’”
Thereupon he will recollect the Master’s Kakacūpama Sutta (Simile of the Saw; MN 21) and will resolve to follow the Buddha’s injunction to bear all injuries with patience and without regard even for his life. But, the elder continues, if while he is recollecting the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha the monk cannot maintain his equanimity, he will be stirred by a sense of urgency and feel ashamed that despite his recollection of the Triple Gem he could not remain undisturbed. On the other hand, if his endurance persists, he will experience abundant happiness. “Even to this extent, much has been achieved by that monk,” he says. Sāriputta applies the same method of analysis in turn to each of the other three great elements. He then compares the body and its constituent parts to a house, which is made up of bricks, timber, shingles, etc. and has no independent nature apart from its components.
Then, in the concluding portion of the sutta, he launches into a perspicacious account of the conditioned origination of consciousness through the six sense faculties. The five sense organs and sense objects, the basic conditions for the arising of the fivefold sense consciousness, are species of matter derived from the four elements, and thus he completes the analysis of the aggregate of material form by including secondary matter. Each section of consciousness that arises from an object and sense faculty includes an associated feeling, a perception, and various volitional formations, and thus all five aggregates are implicated. These five aggregates, the elder declares, are dependently arisen, and thus with these words he introduces the doctrine of dependent origination (paṭicca-samuppāda). Then he quotes the Master: “One who sees dependent origination sees the Dhamma; and one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination.” Desire, inclination, and attachment in regard to the five aggregates are the origin of suffering. Removal of desire, inclination, and attachment is the cessation of suffering. And of the monk who has understood this, he says: “Even to this extent, much has been achieved by that monk.” Thus he rounds off the exposition with the Four Noble Truths.
This discourse is indeed like an intricate and beautifully constructed piece of music ending on a solemn and majestic chord.
A second model exposition of Sāriputta’s is the Discourse on Right View. This is a masterpiece of teaching, which also provides a framework for further elaboration, such as given in the extensive commentary to it. The commentary says: “In the Buddha Word as collected in the five great Nikāyas there is no discourse other than the Discourse on Right View, wherein the Four Noble Truths are stated thirty-two times, and thirty-two times the state of arahantship.”
In this discourse Sāriputta includes an original exposition of dependent origination, with slight, but very instructive, variations. The wholesome and unwholesome courses of action, the four kinds of nutriment, and each factor of dependent origination are used to illustrate the Four Noble Truths, which is also treated in its own right; thus the range of the four truths is greatly enhanced, broadened, and deepened. This discourse has been widely used for instructional purposes in Buddhist lands throughout the centuries down to the present day. Another discourse of Sāriputta’s that has been held in high esteem is the Samacitta Sutta, which was listened to by the “devas of tranquil mind” (AN 2:35).
Its theme is the residuum of rebirths awaiting disciples on the first three stages of sanctity—the stream-enterer, the once-returner, and the non-returner-and its purpose is to clarify whether their rebirths are to take place in the sensual world or in the fine-material and immaterial worlds. Although the discourse is very short, it had a singular impact on the vast assembly of devas who, according to tradition, had gathered to hear it. It is said that many devas in the assembly attained arahantship, while those who reached stream-entry were countless. This discourse is, in fact, one of the few which had such unusually far-reaching results among beings of the higher worlds; and though it is brief and rather cryptic without the commentarial explanation, it has been revered and studied through the centuries. It was this sermon that the arahant Mahinda preached on the evening of his arrival in Sri Lanka, and the Mahāvaṃsa (14:34 ff.), the island’s famous chronicle, relates that on this occasion, too, numerous devas listened to it and achieved penetration of the Dhamma.
The veneration accorded to the discourse, and the strong impact ascribed to it, may stem from the fact that it helps those on the path to determine the kind of rebirths they may expect. Devas on higher levels of development are sometimes inclined to regard their heavenly status as final, and do not expect to be reborn in the five-sense world, as may sometimes be the case. The great elder’s discourse gave them a criterion by which to judge their position. For worldlings still outside the paths as well it must have offered valuable orientation for the direction of their efforts.
The Saṅgīti Sutta (The Recital) and Dasuttara Sutta (The Tenfold Series), two more of Sāriputta’s sermons, are the last two texts of the Dīgha Nikāya (nos. 33 and 34). They are both compilations of doctrinal terms which classify a large number of topics according to a numerical scheme ranging from one to ten members. The reason for stopping the compilation at ten may have been that the groups of doctrinal terms extending beyond ten members are very few in number, and these would have been well known and easily remembered. The Saṅgīti Sutta was preached in the presence of the Buddha, and at its conclusion he gave it his express approval.
While the Saṅgīti Sutta arranges the doctrinal terms solely in numerical groups of one to ten, the Dasuttara Sutta classifies each numerical set in accordance with a tenfold scheme which serves to bring out the practical significance of these groups. For example: One thing (1) is of great importance, (2) should be developed, (3) should be fully known, (4) should be abandoned, (5) implies decline, (6) implies progress, (7) is hard to penetrate, (8) should be made to arise, (9) should be directly known, (10) should be realized. What is the one thing of great importance? Heedfulness in wholesome qualities…. What is the one thing that should be abandoned? The conceit “I am”.… What is the one thing that should be realized? Unshakable liberation of mind.
These texts must have been compiled at a fairly late period of the Buddha’s ministry, when there was already in existence a large body of doctrine and carefully transmitted discourses which required organizing for ready use, and also where anthologies of salient features of the Dhamma had become a useful aid in a comprehensive study of the Teaching. The Saṅgiti Sutta was delivered shortly after the death of Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta, the leader of the Jains, otherwise known as Mahāvīra. It was, in fact, this event that occasioned the preaching of the sutta, for it speaks of the dissensions, schisms, and doctrinal disagreements that arose among the Jains immediately after the death of their master. Sāriputta took the eruption of internal conflict in the Jain camp as a warning for the Buddhists, and in his discourse he stresses that this text “should be recited by all in concord and without dissension, so that the holy life should last long for the welfare and happiness of gods and men.”
The commentators say that the Saṅgiti Sutta is meant to convey the “flavour of concord” (sāmaggirasa) in the Teaching, which is strengthened by doctrinal proficiency (desanākusalatā). The practical purpose of the Dasuttara Sutta is indicated in Sāriputta’s introductory verses: The Dasuttara (Discourse) I shall proclaim A teaching for the attainment of Nibbāna And the ending of suffering, The release from all bondage.
It seems likely that these two suttas served as a kind of index to selected teachings. They may have been useful also to those monks who did not memorize a great many texts, granting them quick access to numerous aspects of the Teaching in a form that was easily memorized and assimilated. Both of these discourses admirably illustrate Sāriputta’s concern with the preservation of the Dhamma and his systematic way of ensuring that it would be transmitted intact in all its details. It was for that purpose that he provided “study aids” such as these and other discourses, together with works like the Niddesa.
A summary of other discourses given by the Venerable Sāriputta is included at the end of this study. We shall now turn to a consideration of larger canonical works attributed to him. The first is the Niddesa, which belongs to the Khuddaka Nikāya of the Sutta Piṭaka. It is the only work of an exclusively commentarial character included in the Pāli Tipiṭaka. Of its two parts, the Mahāniddesa is a commentary to the Aṭṭhakavagga of the Suttanipāta, while the Cū¿aniddesa comments on the Pārāyanavagga and the Khaggavisāṇa Sutta, also included in the Suttanipāta. The Aṭṭhakavagga and the Pārāyanavagga are the last two books of the Suttanipāta and doubtlessly belong to the oldest parts of the entire Sutta Piṭaka. They were highly appreciated even from the earliest days both by monks and laity, as is clear from the fact that the Udāna records a recital of the Aṭṭhakavagga by Soṇa Thera, while the Aṅguttara Nikāya mentions a recital of the Pārāyanavagga by the female lay disciple Nandamātā.
On at least five occasions the Buddha himself has given explanations of verses contained in these two parts of the Suttanipāta. Apart from the high esteem in which they were evidently held, the fact that these two verse collections contain numerous archaic words and terse aphoristic sayings makes it understandable that in very early days a commentary on them was composed which was later included in the Sutta Piṭaka. The traditional ascription of it to the Venerable Sāriputta must be regarded as highly plausible, at least with respect to the original nucleus of the work if not to the literary document now found in the Pāli Canon. It is quite in character with the great elder’s concern for the methodical instruction of bhikkhus that the Niddesa contains not only word explanations, clarifications of the context, and supporting quotations from the Buddha Word, but also material obviously meant for linguistic instruction, such as the addition of many synonyms of the word explained.
The Mahāniddesa also contains a commentary on the Sāriputta Sutta (also called the Therapañhā Sutta), the last text of the Aṭṭhakavagga. The first part of this sutta consists of verses in praise of the Master and a series of questions put to him, which the commentaries ascribe to Sāriputta. The Mahāniddesa explains the opening stanza as referring to the Buddha’s return from the Tāvatiṃsa heaven after he had preached the Abhidhamma there. Apart from that it contains only the questions, assigned to Sāriputta, and the replies, which are obviously spoken by the Buddha. The Paṭisambhidāmagga appears to have been a manual of higher Buddhist studies, and its range is as broad as that of the mind of its reputed author.
The work consists of thirty treatises of varying length. The first, a long treatise on seventy-two types of knowledge (ñāṇa), and the second, on the types of wrong speculative views (diṭṭhi), both show the working of a methodical and penetrative mind such as was characteristic of Sāriputta. The “Treatise on Knowledge,” as well as other chapters of the work, contains a large number of doctrinal terms unique to the Paṭisambhidāmagga. It also elaborates upon terms and teachings that are mentioned only briefly in the older parts of the Sutta Piṭaka, and includes material of great practical value dealing with meditation, as for example on mindfulness of breathing, the meditation on loving-kindness (mettā), and numerous exercises for the development of insight. In the middle of the text, giving variety to the subject matter, we find a passage of hymnic character and striking beauty on the great compassion of the Tathāgata. Mahānāma Thera, who wrote the Saddhammappakāsinī, the commentary to the work, confidently ascribes it to Sāriputta, and in the introductory stanzas he eloquently praises the great elder. In the Paṭisambhidāmagga itself, Sāriputta is mentioned twice, once as being one who possesses “the power of intervention by concentration” (samādhivipphāra-iddhi) in the “Treatise on Psychic Power” (see above, p. 36) and again in the “Treatise on Great Wisdom” (2:196), where it is said: “Those whose wisdom is equal to that of Sāriputta, they partake to some extent of the Buddha-knowledge.”
We come now to one of the most important contributions made by the Venerable Sāriputta to the Buddhist teaching, namely, his codification of the Abhidhamma. According to the Atthasālinī, the commentary to the Dhammasaṅgaṇī, the Buddha preached the Abhidhamma in the Tāvatiṃsa heaven—the heaven of the Thirty-three-to the devas who had gathered from the ten-thousandfold world-system; at the head of this celestial assembly was his mother, Queen Māyā, who had been reborn as a deva in the Tusita heaven. The Buddha taught the Abhidhamma for three months, returning briefly to the human realm each day to collect his alms food. It was then that he would meet Sāriputta and transmit to him the “method” (naya) of that portion of Abhidhamma he had just preached.
The Atthasālinī says: “Thus the giving of the method was to the chief disciple, who was endowed with analytical knowledge, as though the Buddha stood on the edge of the shore and pointed out the ocean with his open hand. To the elder the doctrine taught by the Blessed One in hundreds and thousands of methods became very clear.” Thereafter the elder passed on what he had learned to his five hundred disciples.
Further it is said: “The textual order of the Abhidhamma originated with Sāriputta; the numerical series in the Great Book (Paṭṭhāna) was also determined by him. In this way the elder, without spoiling the unique doctrine, laid down the numerical series in order to make it easy to learn, remember, study, and teach the Dhamma.”
The Atthasālinī also ascribes to Sāriputta the following contributions to the canonical Abhidhamma: (a) the forty-two couplets (dyads; duka) of the Suttanta Mātikā, which follows the Abhidhamma Mātikā, both of which preface the seven Abhidhamma books. The fortytwo Suttanta couplets are explained in the Dhammasaṅgaṇī and this likewise has probably to be ascribed to the elder; (b) the fourth and last part of the Dhammasaṅgaṇī, the Atthuddhārakaṇḍa, the “Synopsis”; (c) the arrangement for the recitation of the Abhidhamma (vacanāmagga); (d) the numerical section (gaṇanacāra) of the Paṭṭhāna. In the Anupada Sutta (MN 111) the Buddha himself speaks of Sāriputta’s analysis of meditative consciousness into its chief mental concomitants, which the elder undertook from his own experience, after rising from each of the meditative attainments in succession. This analysis may well be either a precursor or an abridgment of the detailed analysis of meditative consciousness found in the Dhammasaṅgaṇī.
Concerning the Venerable Sāriputta’s mastery of the Dhamma and his skill in exposition, the Buddha said (SN 12:32): The essence of Dhamma (dhammadhātu) has been so well penetrated by Sāriputta, O monks, that if I were to question him about it for one day in different words and phrases, Sāriputta would reply for one day in various words and phrases. And if I were to question him for one night, or a day and a night, or for two days and nights, even up to seven days and nights, Sāriputta would expound the matter for the same period of time, in various words and phrases. And on another occasion the Master compared the great elder to a crown prince (AN 5:132): If he is endowed with five qualities, O monks, the eldest son of a world monarch righteously turns the Wheel of Sovereignty that had been turned by his father. And that Wheel of Sovereignty cannot be overturned by any hostile human being. What are the five qualities? The eldest son of a world monarch knows what is beneficial, knows the law, knows the right measure, knows the right time, and knows the society (with which he has to deal, parisā). Similarly, O monks, is Sāriputta endowed with five qualities and rightly turns the supreme Wheel of Dhamma, even as I have turned it. And this Wheel of Dhamma cannot be overturned by ascetics, or priests, by deities or Brahmā, nor by anyone else in the world. What are those five qualities? Sāriputta, O monks, knows what is beneficial, knows the Dhamma, knows the right measure, knows the right time, and knows the assembly (he is to address).
That Sāriputta’s great reputation as a teacher of the Dhamma long survived him, to become a tradition among later Buddhists, is shown by the concluding passage of the Milindapañhā, written some three hundred years later. There King Milinda compares the Elder Nāgasena to the Venerable Sāriputta, saying: “In this Buddha’s Dispensation there is none other like yourself for answering questions, except the Elder Sāriputta, the Marshal of the Dhamma” (Mil 420). That grand reputation still lives today, upheld by the cherished teachings of the great disciple, preserved and enshrined in some of the oldest books of Buddhism alongside the words of his Master.
THE FURTHER SHORE
THE LAST DEBT PAID
We now come to the year of the Master’s Parinibbāna, his complete passing away. The Blessed One had spent the rainy season at Beluvagāma, a village near Vesālī, and when the retreat was over he left that place and returned by stages to Sāvatthī, arriving back at the Jetavana monastery. There the Elder Sāriputta, the Marshal of the Dhamma, paid homage to the Blessed One and went to his day quarters. When his own disciples had saluted him and left, he swept the place and spread his leather mat. Then, having rinsed his feet, he sat down cross-legged and entered into the fruition attainment of arahantship (arahattaphalasamāpatti). At the time predetermined by him, he arose from the meditation, and this thought occurred to him: “Do the Enlightened Ones pass away into final Nibbāna first, or do the chief disciples do so?” And he saw that it is the chief disciples who pass away first. Thereupon he considered his own life force and saw that its residue would sustain him for only one more week.
He then considered: “Where shall I attain final Nibbāna?” And he thought: “Rāhula attained final Nibbāna among the deities of the Thirtythree, and the Elder Aññā Koṇḍañña at the Chaddanta Lake in the Himalayas. Where, then, shall I pass away?” While thinking this over repeatedly he remembered his mother, and the thought came to him: “Although she is the mother of seven arahants, she has no faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. Has she the supportive conditions in her to acquire that faith or has she not?” Investigating the matter he discerned that she had the supportive conditions for the path of stream-entry. Then he asked himself: “Through whose instruction can she win to the penetration of truth?”
He saw that it could not come about through anyone else’s instruction in the Dhamma but his own. And following upon that there came the thought: “If I now remain indifferent, people will say: ‘Sāriputta has been a helper to so many others; on the day, for instance, when he preached the Discourse to the Deities of Tranquil Mind a large number of devas attained arahantship, and still more of them penetrated to the first three paths; and on other occasions there were many who attained to stream-entry, and there were thousands of families who were reborn in heavenly worlds after the elder had inspired them with joyous confidence in the Triple Gem. Yet despite this he cannot remove the wrong views of his own mother!’ Thus people may speak of me. Therefore I shall free my mother from her wrong views, and shall attain final Nibbāna in the very chamber where I was born.”
Having made that decision, he thought: “This very day I shall ask the Master’s permission and then leave for Nālaka.” And calling the Elder Cunda, who was his attendant, he said: “Friend Cunda, please ask our group of five hundred bhikkhus to take their bowls and robes, for I wish to go to Nālaka.” And the Elder Cunda did as he was bidden. The bhikkhus put their lodgings in order, took their bowls and robes, and presented themselves before the Elder Sāriputta. He, for his own part, had tidied up his living quarters and swept the place where he used to spend the day. Then, standing at the gate, he looked back at the place, thinking: “This is my last sight of it. There will be no more coming back.” Then, together with the five hundred bhikkhus, he went to the Blessed One, saluted him, and spoke: “O Lord, may the Blessed One permit, may the Exalted One consent: the time has come for me to attain final Nibbāna. I have relinquished the life force.” Lord of the world, O greatest sage! I soon shall be released from life. Going and coming shall be no more; This is the last time I worship you. Short is the life that now remains to me; But seven days from now, and I shall lay This body down, throwing the burden off. Grant it, O Master! Give permission, Lord! At last the time has come for my Nibbāna; Now I have relinquished the will to live. Now, says the text, if the Enlightened One were to have replied, “You may attain final Nibbāna,” hostile sectarians would say that he was speaking in praise of death; and if he had replied, “Do not attain final Nibbāna,” they would say that he extolled the continuation of the round of existence. Therefore the Blessed One did not speak in either way, but asked: “Where will you attain final Nibbāna?”
Sāriputta replied: “In the Magadha country, in the village called Nālaka, in the chamber where I was born.” Then the Blessed One said: “Do, Sāriputta, what you think timely. But now your elder and younger brethren in the Sangha will no longer have the chance to see a bhikkhu like you. Give them one last discourse on the Dhamma.” The great elder then gave a discourse in which he displayed all his wondrous powers. Rising to the loftiest heights of truth, descending to mundane truth, rising again, and again descending, he expounded the Dhamma directly and with similes. And when he had ended his discourse he paid homage at the feet of the Master. Embracing his legs, he said: “So that I might worship these feet I have fulfilled the ten perfections throughout an incalculable period and a hundred thousand aeons. My heart’s wish has found fulfilment. From now on there will be no more contact or meeting; that intimate connection is now severed. I shall soon enter the City of Nibbāna, the unaging, undying, peaceful, blissful, heat-assuaging and secure, which has been entered by many hundreds of thousands of Buddhas. If any deed or word of mine did not please you, O Lord, may the Blessed One forgive me! It is now time for me to go.”
Now, once before, the Buddha had answered this, when he said: “There is nothing, be it in deeds or words, for which I should have to reproach you, Sāriputta. For you are learned, Sāriputta, of great wisdom, of broad and bright wisdom, of quick, keen, and penetrative wisdom” (SN 8:7). So now he answered in the same way: “I forgive you, Sāriputta,” he said. “But there was not a single word or deed of yours that was displeasing to me. Do now, Sāriputta, what you think timely.” From this we see that on those few occasions when the Master seemed to reproach his chief disciple, it was not that he was displeased with him in any way, but rather that he was pointing out another approach to a situation, another way of viewing a problem. Immediately after the Master had given his permission and Sāriputta had risen from paying homage at his feet, the great earth cried out, and with a single huge tremor shook to its watery boundaries.
It was as though the great earth wished to say: “Though I bear these girdling mountain ranges with Mount Meru, the encircling mountain walls and the Himalayas, I cannot sustain on this day so vast an accumulation of virtue!” And mighty thunder split the heavens, a vast cloud appeared, and heavy rain poured down. Then the Blessed One thought: “I shall now permit the Marshal of the Dhamma to depart.”
And he rose from the seat of the Dhamma, went to his Perfumed Cell, and there stood on the Jewel Slab. Three times Sāriputta circumambulated the cell, keeping it to his right, and paid reverence at four places. And this thought was in his mind: “It was an incalculable period and a hundred thousand aeons ago that I prostrated at the feet of the Buddha Anomadassī and made the aspiration to see you. This aspiration has been realized, and I have seen you. At the first meeting it was my first sight of you; now it is my last, and there will be none in the future.” And with raised hands joined in salutation he departed, going backwards until the Blessed One was out of sight. And yet again the great earth, unable to bear it, trembled to its watery boundaries.
The Blessed One then addressed the bhikkhus who surrounded him. “Go, bhikkhus,” he said. “Accompany your elder brother.” At these words, all the four assemblies of devotees at once went out of Jetavana, leaving the Blessed One there alone. The citizens of Sāvatthī also, having heard the news, went out of the city in an unending stream carrying incense and flowers in their hands; and with their hair wet (the sign of mourning), they followed the elder, lamenting and weeping. Sāriputta then admonished the crowd, saying: “This is a road that none can avoid,” and asked them to return. And to the monks who had accompanied him, he said: “You may turn back now. Do not neglect the Master.” Thus he made them go back, and with only his own group of disciples, he continued on his way.
Yet still some of the people followed him, lamenting, “Formerly our noble monk went on journeys and returned. But this is a journey without return!” To them the elder said: “Be heedful, friends! Of such nature, indeed, are all things that are formed and conditioned.” And he made them turn back. During his journey Sāriputta spent one night wherever he stopped, and thus for one week he favoured many people with a last sight of him. Reaching Nālaka village in the evening, he stopped near a banyan tree at the village gate. It happened that at the time a nephew of the elder, Uparevata by name, had gone outside the village and there he saw Sāriputta. He approached the elder, saluted him, and remained standing.
The elder asked him: “Is your grand-aunt at home?” “Yes, venerable sir,” he replied. “Then go and announce our coming,” said the elder. “And if she asks why I have come, tell her that I shall stay in the village for one day, and ask her to prepare my birth chamber and provide lodgings for five hundred bhikkhus.” Uparevata went to his grand-aunt and said: “Grand-aunt, my uncle has come.”
“Where is he now?” she asked. “At the village gate.” “Is he alone, or has someone else come with him?” “He has come with five hundred bhikkhus.”
And when she asked him, “Why has he come?” he gave her the message the elder had entrusted to him. Then she thought: “Why does he ask me to provide lodgings for so many? After becoming a monk in his youth, does he want to be a layman again in his old age?” But she arranged the birth chamber for the elder and lodgings for the bhikkhus, had torches lit, and then sent for the elder. Sāriputta, accompanied by the bhikkhus, then went up to the terrace of the house and entered his birth chamber. After sitting down, he asked the bhikkhus to go to their quarters. They had hardly left when a grave illness, dysentery, fell upon the elder, and he felt severe pains. When one pail was brought in, another was carried out.
The brahmin woman thought: “The news of my son is not good,” and she stood leaning by the door of her own room. And then it happened, the text tells us, that the Four Great Divine Kings asked themselves: “Where may he now be dwelling, the Marshal of the Dhamma?”And they perceived that he was at Nālaka, in his birth chamber, lying on the bed of his final passing away. “Let us go for a last sight of him,” they said. When they reached the birth chamber, they saluted the elder and remained standing. “Who are you?” asked the elder. “We are the Great Divine Kings, venerable sir.” “Why have you come?” “We want to attend on you during your illness.” “Let it be!” said Sāriputta. “There is an attendant here. You may go.”
When they had left, there came in the same manner Sakka, the king of the devas, and after him, Mahābrahmā, and all of them the elder dismissed in the same way. The brahmin woman, seeing the coming and going of these deities, asked herself: “Who could they have been who paid homage to my son and then left?” And she went to the door of the elder’s room and asked the Venerable Cunda for news about the elder’s condition. Cunda conveyed the inquiry to the elder, telling him: “The great upāsikā (lay devotee) has come.” Sāriputta asked her: “Why have you come at this unusual hour?” “To see you, dear,” she replied. “Tell me, who were those who came first?”
“The Four Great Divine Kings, upāsikā.” “Are you, then, greater than they?” she asked. “They are like temple attendants,” said the elder. “Ever since our Master took rebirth they have stood guard over him with swords in hand.” “After they had left, who was it that came then, dear?” “It was Sakka, the king of the devas.” “Are you, then, greater than the king of the devas, dear?” “He is like a novice who carries a bhikkhu’s belongings,” answered Sāriputta.
“When our Master returned from the heaven of the Thirtythree, Sakka took his bowl and robe and descended to earth together with him.” “And when Sakka had gone, who was it that came after him, filling the room with his radiance?” “Upāsikā, that was your own lord and master, Mahābrahmā.” “Then are you greater, my son, even than my lord, Mahābrahmā?” “Yes, upāsikā. On the day when our master was born, it is said that four Mahābrahmās received the Great Being in a golden net.”
Upon hearing this, the brahmin woman thought: “If my son’s power is such as this, what must be the majestic power of my son’s master and lord?” And while she was thinking this, suddenly rapture and joy arose in her, suffusing her entire body. The elder thought: “Rapture and joy have arisen in my mother. Now is the time to preach the Dhamma to her.” And he said: “What was it you were thinking about, upāsikā?” “I was thinking,” she replied, “if my son has such virtue, what must be the virtue of his master?”
Sāriputta answered: “At the moment of my master’s birth, at his great renunciation of worldly life, on his attaining Enlightenment, and at his first turning of the Dhamma Wheel—on all these occasions the ten-thousand fold world-system quaked and shook. None is there who equals him in virtue, in concentration, in wisdom, in deliverance, and in the knowledge and vision of deliverance.” And he then explained to her in detail the words of homage: “Such indeed is that Blessed One… (Iti pi so Bhagavā…).” And thus he gave her an exposition of the Dhamma, basing it on the virtues of the Buddha.
When the Dhamma talk given by her beloved son had come to an end, the brahmin woman was firmly established in the fruit of stream entry, and she said: “Oh, my dear Upatissa, why did you act like that? Why, during all these years, did you not bestow on me this ambrosial knowledge of the Deathless?”
The elder thought: “Now I have given my mother, the brahmin woman Rūpasārī, the nursing-fee for bringing me up. This should suffice.” And he dismissed her with the words: “You may go now, upāsikā.” When she was gone, he asked: “What is the time now, Cunda?” “Venerable sir, it is early dawn.” And the elder said: “Let the community of bhikkhus assemble.” When the bhikkhus had assembled, he said to Cunda: “Lift me up to a sitting position, Cunda.” And Cunda did so. Then the elder spoke to the bhikkhus, saying: “For forty-four years I have lived and travelled with you, my bhikkhus. If any deed or word of mine was unpleasant to you, forgive me, bhikkhus.”
And they replied: “Venerable sir, you have never given us the least displeasure, although we have followed you inseparably like your shadow. But may you, venerable sir, grant forgiveness to us.” After that the elder gathered his large robe around him, covered his face, and lay down on his right side. Then, just as the Master was to do at his own Parinibbāna, he entered into the nine successive attainments of meditation, in forward and reverse order, and beginning again with the first absorption he led his meditation up to the fourth absorption. And at the moment after he had entered it, just as the crest of the rising sun appeared over the horizon, he utterly passed away into the Nibbāna-element without residue. And it was the full-moon day of the month Kattika, which by the solar calendar corresponds to October/November.
The brahmin lady in her room thought: “How is my son? He does not say anything.” She rose, and going into the elder’s room she massaged his legs. Then, seeing that he had passed away, she fell at his feet, loudly lamenting; “O my dear son! Before this, we did not know of your virtue. Because of that, we did not gain the good fortune to have offered hospitality and alms to hundreds of bhikkhus! We did not gain the good fortune to have built many monasteries!” And she lamented thus up to sunrise. As soon as the sun was up, she sent for goldsmiths and had the treasure room opened and had the pots full of gold weighed on a large scale.
Then she gave the gold to the goldsmiths with the order to prepare funeral ornaments. Columns and arches were erected, and in the centre of the village the upāsikā had a pavilion of heartwood built. In the middle of the pavilion a large, gabled structure was raised, surrounded by a parapet of golden arches and columns. Then they began the sacred ceremony, in which human beings and deities mingled.
After the great assembly of people had celebrated the sacred rites for a full week, they made a pyre with many kinds of fragrant wood. They placed the body of the Venerable Sāriputta on the pyre and kindled the wood with bundles of fragrant roots. Throughout the night of the cremation the concourse listened to sermons on the Dhamma. After that the flames of the pyre were extinguished by the Elder Anuruddha with scented water. The Elder Cunda gathered together the relics and placed them in a filter cloth.
Then the Elder Cunda thought: “I cannot delay here any longer. I must tell the Fully Enlightened One of the final passing away of my elder brother, the Venerable Sāriputta, the Marshal of the Dhamma.” So he took the filter cloth with the relics, and Sāriputta’s bowl and robes, and went to Sāvatthī, spending only one night at each stage of the journey. These are the events related in the commentary to the Cunda Sutta of the Satipaṭṭhāna Saṃyutta, with additions from the parallel version in the commentary to the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta. The narrative is taken up in the Cunda Sutta (SN 47:13).
Once the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthī, in Jetavana, the monastery of Anāthapiṇḍika. At that time the Venerable Sāriputta was at Nālaka village in the Magadha country, and was sick, suffering, gravely ill. The novice Cunda was his attendant.27And the Venerable Sāriputta passed away through that very illness. Then the novice Cunda took the alms-bowl and robes of the Venerable Sāriputta and went to Sāvatthī, to Jetavana, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. There he approached the Venerable Ānanda and, having saluted him, sat down at one side and said: “Venerable sir, the Venerable Sāriputta has passed away. These are his bowl and robes.” “On this matter, friend Cunda, we ought to see the Blessed One. Let us go, friend Cunda, and meet the Master. Having met him, we shall report this to the Blessed One.” “Yes, venerable sir,” said the novice Cunda.
They went to see the Blessed One, and having arrived there and saluted the Master, they sat down at one side. Then the Venerable Ānanda addressed the Blessed One: “Lord, the novice Cunda has told me this: ‘The Venerable Sāriputta has passed away. These are his bowl and robes.’ Then, Lord, my own body became weak as a creeper; everything around became dim and things were no longer clear to me, when I heard about the final passing away of the Venerable Sāriputta.” “How is this, Ānanda? When Sāriputta passed away, did he take from you your portion of virtue, or your portion of concentration, or your portion of wisdom, or your portion of deliverance, or your portion of the knowledge and vision of deliverance?”
“Not so, Lord. When the Venerable Sāriputta passed away he did not take my portion of virtue…of concentration…of wisdom…of deliverance, or of the knowledge and vision of deliverance. But, Lord, the Venerable Sāriputta has been to me a mentor, a teacher, an instructor, one who rouses, inspires and gladdens, untiring in preaching the Dhamma, a helper of his fellow monks. And we remember how vitalizing, enjoyable, and helpful his Dhamma instruction was.” “Have I not taught you already, Ānanda, that it is the nature of all things near and dear to us that we must suffer separation from them and be severed from them? Of that which is born, come into being, put together, and so is subject to dissolution, how should it be said that it should not depart? That, indeed, is not possible. It is, Ānanda, as though from a mighty hardwood tree a large branch should break off, so has Sāriputta now passed away from this great and sound community of bhikkhus. Indeed, Ānanda, of that which is born, come into being, put together, and so is subject to dissolution, how should it be said that it should not depart? That, indeed, is not possible. “Therefore, Ānanda, be an island unto yourself, a refuge unto yourself, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.”
The commentary takes up the narrative thus: The Master stretched forth his hand, and taking the filter with the relics, placed it on his palm, and said to the monks: These, O monks, are the shell-coloured relics of the bhikkhu who, not long ago, asked for permission to attain final Nibbāna. He who fulfilled the ten perfections for an incalculable period and a hundred thousand aeons—this was that bhikkhu. He who helped me in turning the Wheel of the Dhamma that was first turned by me—this was that bhikkhu. He who obtained the seat next to me—this was that bhikkhu. He who, apart from me, had none to equal him in wisdom throughout the whole ten-thousandfold universe—this was that bhikkhu. Of great wisdom was this bhikkhu, of broad wisdom, of bright wisdom, of quick wisdom, of penetrative wisdom was this bhikkhu. Few wants had this bhikkhu; he was contented, bent on seclusion, not fond of company, full of energy, an exhorter of his fellow monks, censuring what is evil. He who went forth into homelessness, abandoning the great fortune obtained through his merits in five hundred existences—this was that bhikkhu. He who, in my Dispensation, was patient like the earth—this was that bhikkhu. Harmless like a bull whose horns have been cut—this was that bhikkhu. Of humble mind like an outcast boy—this was that bhikkhu. See here, O monks, the relics of him who was of great wisdom, of broad, bright, quick, keen, and penetrative wisdom; who had few wants and was contented, bent on seclusion, not fond of company, energetic—see here the relics of him who was an exhorter of his fellow monks, who censured evil!
Then the Buddha spoke the following verses in praise of his great disciple: To him who in five times a hundred lives Went forth to homelessness, casting away Pleasures the heart holds dear, from passion free, With faculties controlled —now homage pay To Sāriputta who has passed away!
To him who, strong in patience like the earth Over his own mind had absolute sway, Who was compassionate, kind, serenely cool, And firm as the great earth —now homage pay To Sāriputta who has passed away!
Who, like an outcast boy of humble mind, Enters the town and slowly wends his way From door to door with begging bowl in hand, Such was this Sāriputta —now homage pay To Sāriputta who has passed away!
One who in town or jungle, hurting none, Lived like a bull whose horns are cut away, Such was this Sāriputta, who had won Mastery of himself —now homage pay To Sāriputta who has passed away!
When the Blessed One had thus lauded the virtues of the Venerable Sāriputta, he asked for a stūpa to be built for the relics. After that, he indicated to the Elder Ānanda his wish to go to Rājagaha. Ānanda informed the monks, and the Blessed One, together with a large body of bhikkhus, journeyed to Rājagaha. At the time he arrived there, the Venerable Mahāmoggallāna had also passed away.
The Blessed One took his relics likewise and had a stūpa raised for them. Then he departed from Rājagaha, and going by stages toward the Ganges, he reached Ukkacelā. There he went to the bank of the Ganges, and seated with his following of monks, he preached the Ukkacelā Sutta (SN 47:14), on the Parinibbāna of Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna.
Once the Blessed One was dwelling in the Vajji country, at Ukkacelā on the bank of the river Ganges, not long after Sāriputta and Moggallāna had passed away. And at that time the Blessed One was seated in the open, surrounded by the company of bhikkhus. The Blessed One surveyed the silent gathering of bhikkhus, and then spoke to them, saying: “This assembly, O bhikkhus, appears indeed empty to me, now that Sāriputta and Moggallāna have passed away. Not empty for me is an assembly, nor need I have concern for a place where Sāriputta and Moggallāna dwell. “Those who in the past have been Holy Ones, Fully Enlightened Ones, those Blessed Ones, too, had such excellent pairs of disciples as I had in Sāriputta and Moggallāna. Those who in the future will be Holy Ones, Fully Enlightened Ones, those Blessed Ones, too, will have such excellent pairs of disciples as I had in Sāriputta and Moggallāna."
“Marvellous it is, most wonderful it is, bhikkhus, concerning those disciples, that they will act in accordance with the Master’s teaching, will act in accordance with his advice; that they will be dear to the four assemblies, will be loved, respected, and honoured by them. Marvellous it is, most wonderful it is, bhikkhus, concerning the Perfect One, that when such a pair of disciples has passed away there is no grief, no lamentation on the part of the Perfect One. For of that which is born, come into being, put together, and so is subject to dissolution, how should it be said that it should not depart? That, indeed, is not possible.
“Therefore, bhikkhus, be an island unto yourselves, a refuge unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.”
And with that profound and deeply moving exhortation, which echoes again and again through the Buddha’s Teaching up to the time of his own final passing away, ends the story of the youth Upatissa who became the Master’s chief disciple, the beloved Marshal of the Dhamma. The Venerable Sāriputta died on the full-moon day of the month Kattika, which begins in October and ends in November of the solar calendar. The death of Mahāmoggallāna followed a half-month later, on the day of the new moon. Half a year later, according to tradition, came the Parinibbāna of the Buddha himself. Could such an auspicious combination of three great personages, so fruitful in blessings to gods and humans, have been brought about purely by chance?
We find the answer to that question in the Milindapañhā where the Elder Nāgasena says: “In many hundred thousands of births, too, sire, the Elder Sāriputta was the Bodhisatta’s father, grandfather, uncle, brother, son, nephew, or friend.” So the weary round of becoming, which linked them together in time, came at last to its end. Time, which is but the succession of fleeting events, became for them the Timeless, and the round of birth and death gave place to the Deathless. And in their final lives they kindled a glory that has illumined the world. Long may it continue to do so!
DISCOURSES OF SĀRIPUTTA
The suttas attributed to the Venerable Sāriputta cover a wide range of subjects connected with the holy life, from simple morality up to abstruse points of doctrine and meditation practice. A list of them, together with a brief description of the subject matter of each, is given below. Their arrangement in the Sutta Piṭaka does not give any indication of the chronological order in which they were delivered. Some few, however, contain references to particular events which make it possible to assign them to a period in the Buddha’s ministry. One such is the Anāthapiṇḍika Sutta, preached just before the great lay disciple’s death.
THE MAJJHIMA NIKĀYA
3: Heirs in Dhamma (Dhammadāyāda Sutta)
After the Buddha has discoursed on “heirs of Dhamma” and “heirs of worldliness” and then retired into his cell, Sāriputta addresses the monks on how they should conduct themselves, and how not, when the Master goes into seclusion. They likewise should cultivate seclusion, should reject what they are told to give up, and should be modest and lovers of solitude. He concludes by speaking on the evil of the sixteen defilements of mind (see MN 7) and says that the middle way by which they can be eradicated is the Noble Eightfold Path.
5: Without Blemishes (Anaṅgaṇa Sutta) On four types of persons: those who are guilty of an offence and know it, and those who are guilty and unaware of it; those who are guiltless and know it, and those who are guiltless and unaware of it. The first of each pair is said to be the better one of the two, and the reason is explained. This discourse shows the importance of self-examination for moral and spiritual progress.
9: Right View (Sammādiṭṭhi Sutta). Summarized above, p. 48. 28: The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint (Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta). Summarized above, pp. 46–47. 43: The Greater Series of Questions and Answers (Mahāvedalla Sutta) The elder answers a number of questions put by the Venerable Mahākoṭṭhita, who was foremost in analytical knowledge. Sāriputta matches the excellence of the questions with the clarity and profundity of his answers. The questions and answers extend from analytical examination of terms, through the position of wisdom and right understanding, to subtle aspects of meditation.
69: Discourse to Gulissāni (Gulissāni Sutta) On the conduct and Dhamma practice to be followed by a forestdwelling monk. Questioned by the Venerable Mahāmoggallāna, the elder confirms that the same duties apply also to monks living in the vicinity of towns and villages.
97: Discourse to Dhānañjāni (Dhānañjāni Sutta) Sāriputta explains to the brahmin Dhānañjāni that the multifarious duties of a layman are no excuse for wrong moral conduct, nor do they exempt one from painful consequences of such conduct in a future existence. Later, when Dhānañjāni was on his deathbed, he requested the elder to visit him, and Sāriputta spoke to him on the way to Brahmā through the brahma-vihāra. The Buddha mildly reproached the elder for not having led Dhānañjāni to a higher understanding. (See p. 26.)
114: To Be Cultivated and Not to Be Cultivated (Sevitabbāsevitabba Sutta) Sāriputta elaborates upon brief indications given by the Buddha on what should be practiced, cultivated, or used, and what should not. This is shown with regard to threefold action in deed, word, and thought; in relation to mental attitudes and views, the six sense objects, and the monk’s requisites.
143: Discourse to Anāthapiṇḍika (Anāthapiṇḍikovāda Sutta) Sāriputta is called to Anāthapiṇḍika’s deathbed and admonishes him to free his mind from any attachment whatsoever, beginning with the six sense faculties: “Thus should you train yourself, householder: ‘I shall not cling to the eye, and my consciousness will not attach itself to the eye.’ Thus, householder, should you train yourself.” This is repeated in full for each of the other five sense faculties, the six sense objects, the sixfold consciousness, sixfold contact, sixfold feeling born of contact, the six elements, the five aggregates, the four formless spheres, and concludes with detachment from this world and all other worlds; detachment from all things seen, heard, sensed, and thought; from all that is encountered, sought, and pursued in mind. In short, detachment should be practiced as to the entire range of experience, beginning with what for a dying person will be his immediate concern: his sense faculties and their function. This call for detachment drawing ever wider circles and repeating the same mighty chord of thought must have had a deeply penetrating impact and a calming, liberating, even cheering influence on the dying devotee’s mind.
This was what Sāriputta, the skilled teacher, obviously intended. And in fact his words had that impact because our text says that Anāthapiṇḍika was moved to tears by the loftiness of the discourse, one in profundity unlike any he had ever heard before. Anāthapiṇḍika passed away soon after, and was reborn as a deity in Tusita heaven.
28: Faith-Inspiring Discourse (Sampasādaniya Sutta) An eloquent eulogy of the Buddha by Sāriputta, spoken in the Buddha’s presence and proclaiming the peerless qualities (anuttariya) of his Teaching. It is an expression and at the same time a justification of Sāriputta’s deep confidence in the Buddha. The first section of the discourse is also found in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta.
33: Doctrinal Recitation (Saṅgīti Sutta), and 34: Tenfold Series Discourse (Dasuttara Sutta). See above, pp. 49–50.
2:35: Samacitta Sutta. On the stream-enterer, the once-returner, and the non-returner, and on what determines the places of the rebirths they have still before them. See above, p. 48–49. 3:21: On another classification of noble persons (ariyapuggala): the bodywitness (kāyasakkhī), the one attained to right understanding (diṭṭhipatta), and the one liberated through faith (saddhāvimutta). 4:79: Sāriputta asks the Buddha why the enterprises of some people fail, those of others succeed, and those of others even surpass their expectations. The Buddha replies that one of the reasons is generosity, or lack of it, shown to ascetics, priests, and monks.
4:158: On four qualities indicative of loss or maintenance of wholesome states of mind. If one finds in oneself four qualities, one can know for certain that one has lost wholesome qualities; this is what has been called deterioration by the Blessed One. These four are: excessive greed, excessive hate, excessive delusion, and lack of knowledge and wisdom concerning the diverse profound subjects (relating to wisdom). If, on the other hand, one finds in oneself four other qualities, one can know for certain that one has not lost one’s wholesome qualities; this is what has been called progress by the Blessed One. These four other qualities are: attenuated greed, attenuated hate, attenuated delusion, and the possession of knowledge and wisdom concerning the diverse profound subjects. 4:167–68: The four types of progress on the path. See above, pp.
4:172: Sāriputta elaborates a brief statement made by the Buddha on the four forms of personalized existence (attabhāva) and puts an additional question. The Buddha’s reply to it was later elaborated by Sāriputta in the Samacitta Sutta (see above). 4:173: Sāriputta states that he attained to the fourfold analytical knowledge (paṭisambhidā-ñāṇa) two weeks after his ordination (i.e., at his attainment of arahantship). He appeals to the Buddha for confirmation. See p. 10.
4:174: Discussion with the Venerable Mahākoṭṭhita on the limits of the explainable. Sāriputta says: “As far, friend, as the six bases of sense-contact (phassāyatana) reach, so far reaches the (explainable) world of diffuseness (papañca); and as far as the world of diffuseness reaches, so far reach the six bases of sense-contact. Through the entire fading away and cessation of the six bases of sense-contact, the world of diffuseness ceases and is stilled.” 4:175: On the need for both knowledge and right conduct (vijjācaraṇa) for the ending of suffering. 4:179: On the reasons for obtaining, and not obtaining, Nibbāna in the present life.
5:165: Five reasons why people ask questions: through stupidity and foolishness; with evil intentions and through covetousness; with a desire to know; out of contempt; with the thought: “If he answers my question correctly, it is good; if not, then I shall give the correct answer.” 5:167: On how to censure fellow monks.
6:14–15: Causes of a monk’s good or bad dying. 6:41: Sāriputta explains that a monk with supernormal powers may, if he so wishes, regard a tree trunk merely as being solid, or as liquid, fiery (calorific), or airy (vibratory), or as being either pure or impure (beautiful or ugly), because all these elements are to be found in the tree.
7:66: On respect and reverence. Sāriputta says that these are helpful in overcoming what is unwholesome and developing what is wholesome: that is, respect and reverence toward the Master, the Teaching, the community of monks, the training, meditation, heedfulness (appamāda), and the spirit of kindliness and courtesy (paṭisanthāra). Each of these factors is said to be a condition of the one following it.
9:6: On the two things one should know about people, robes, alms, lodgings, villages, towns, and countries: whether or not one should associate with them, use them, or live in them. 9:11: The “lion’s roar” of Sāriputta, uttered in the Master’s presence on the occasion of a monk’s false accusation; with nine similes proclaiming his freedom from anger, detachment from the body, and his inability to hurt others. See p. 32.
9:13: A discussion with Mahākoṭṭhita about the purpose of living the holy life. 9:14: Sāriputta questions the Venerable Samiddhi about the essentials of the Dhamma and approves of his answers. 9:26: This text illustrates Sāriputta’s scrupulous fairness even toward antagonists. He corrects a statement attributed to Devadatta that was probably wrongly formulated by one of Devadatta’s followers, who reported it to Sāriputta. Later, Sāriputta speaks to that monk on the fully developed and steadfast mind, which is not shaken by even the most attractive sense impressions. 9:34: On Nibbāna, which is described as happiness beyond feelings.
10:7: Sāriputta describes his meditations, during which he had only the single perception that “Nibbāna is the cessation of becoming.” See p. 43. 10:65: To be reborn is misery; not to be reborn is happiness. 10:66: To have delight in the Buddha’s Teaching and discipline is happiness; not to have delight in them is misery. 10:67–68: Causes of progress and decline in the cultivation of what is wholesome. 10:90: On the ten powers of a canker-free arahant that entitle him to proclaim his attainment.
24: Sāriputta rejects the alternatives that suffering is produced either by oneself or by another and explains the conditioned arising of suffering through sense contact. 25: The same is stated with regard to both happiness and suffering (sukha-dukkha). 31: On the conditioned arising of existence from nutriment.
32: Kalāra Sutta. Questioned by the Buddha, Sāriputta says that the knowledge inducing him to declare his attainment of arahantship was that he knew this: the cause of birth being extinct, the result—i.e., future birth—becomes extinct. Hence he was able to say, in the words of the stock formula declaring arahantship: “Extinct is birth…” (khīṇā jāti). He then replies to further questions of the Buddha about the cause and origin of birth, becoming, and the other terms of dependent origination, leading up to feeling, the contemplation of which had served Sāriputta as the starting point for his attainment of arahantship. He says that since he sees impermanence and suffering in all three kinds of feeling, there is in him no arising of any hedonic gratification (nandi).
22. Khandha Saṃyutta
1: Sāriputta explains in detail the Buddha’s saying: “Even if the body is ill, the mind should not be ill.” 2: Monks going to distant border districts are instructed by Sāriputta on how to answer questions posed to them by non-Buddhists. He tells them that the removal of desire for the five aggregates is the core of the Teaching.
122–23: On the importance of reflecting on the five aggregates. If a monk who possesses virtue or learning contemplates the five aggregates as impermanent, bound up with suffering, and void of self, he may be able to attain to stream-entry. If a stream-enterer, oncereturner, or non-returner thus contemplates, he may be able to win the next higher stage. An arahant should also contemplate the five aggregates thus, as it will conduce to his happiness here and now, as well as to mindfulness and clear comprehension. 126: On ignorance and knowledge.
28. Sāriputta Saṃyutta
1–9: In these nine texts Sāriputta speaks of his having developed all nine meditative attainments, i.e. from the first jhāna up to the cessation of perception and feeling; and states that in doing so he was always free of any self-affirmation. See p. 40.
10: Once, at Rājagaha, after the alms round Sāriputta was taking his food near a wall. A female ascetic called Sucimukhī (Bright Face) approached him and asked whether when eating he turned to one or other of the directions, as was done by some non-Buddhist ascetics. Sāriputta interpreted her questions as referring to wrong means of livelihood. He denied following any of these and said that he sought his alms in the right manner; and what he had thus obtained righteously, that he would eat. Sucimukhī, deeply impressed, thereafter went from street to street and square to square loudly proclaiming: “The Buddhist ascetics take their food righteously! They take their food blamelessly! Please give alms-food to the Buddhist ascetics!” 35. Salāyatana Saṃyutta 232: Not the senses and their objects, but the desire for them is the fetter that binds to existence.
38. Jambukhādaka Saṃyutta
Sāriputta replies to questions put by his nephew, Jambukhādaka, who was a non-Buddhist ascetic. 1–2: He defines Nibbāna and arahantship as the elimination of greed, hatred, and delusion. 3–16: He replies to questions about those who proclaim truth; about the purpose of the holy life; about those who have found true solace. He explains feeling, ignorance, the taints, personality, etc., and speaks on what is difficult in the Buddha’s doctrine and discipline.
48. Indriya Saṃyutta
44: Questioned by the Buddha, Sāriputta says that not out of faith in him, but from his own experience he knows that the five spiritual faculties (confidence, etc.) lead to the Deathless. 48–50: On the five spiritual faculties.
55. Sotāpatti Saṃyutta
55: On the four conditioning factors of stream-entry (sotāpattiyaṅga).
References: 1. The Great Disciples of The Buddha by Nyanaponika Thera and Hellmuth Hecker 2. https://suttacentral.net/