The Story of Uggasena
Uggasena was a skilful acrobat.
“”Then, Uggasena went back to Rajagaha, and it was proclaimed that
Uggasena would publicly demonstrate his skill in seven days’ time.
On the seventh day, a long pole was put up and Uggasena stood on top
of it. At a signal given from below he somersaulted seven times on
the pole. At about this time, the Buddha saw Uggasena in his vision
and knew that time was ripe for Uggasena to attain arahatship. So,
he entered Rajagaha and willed that the audience should turn their
attention to him instead of applauding Uggasena for his acrobatic
feats. When Uggasena saw that he was being neglected and ignored, he
just sat on top of the pole, feeling very discontented and
depressed. The Buddha then addressed Uggasena, “Uggasena, a wise man
should abandon all attachment to the khandha aggregates and strive
to gain liberation from the round of rebirths.”
Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:
Verse 348. Give up the past, give up the future, give up the
present. Having reached the end of existences, with a mind freed
from all (conditioned things), you will not again undergo birth and
At the end of the discourse Uggasena, who was still on top of the
pole, attained arahatship. He came down and was soon admitted to the
Order by the Buddha.””
The pole was said to be death-defyingly high. Yet Ugasena was able
to go through all stages of insight and attain arahantship without
Verse 348: Let go of the past. Let go of the future. Let go of the present. Crossing to the farther shore of existence, with mind released from everything, do not again undergo birth and decay.348
A troupe of five hundred circus performers came to RÄjagaha every six months and drew big crowds, earning much wealth. The people piled up stacks of beds in order to watch. A young man named Uggasena, who was the son of a millionaire, fell in love with a certain female acrobat. He told his parents he would die unless he could marry her, and refused to eat in spite of being urged repeatedly to take a wife more suited to his family’s wealth. Unable to dissuade their son, they sent a messenger to seek the girl’s hand in marriage. Her father
refused, saying that if their son wanted to marry her, he would have to join their troupe and travel with them. Uggasena joined the troupe to marry the acrobat’s daughter, and wandered from place to place, looking after the carts, and so forth. In due course, his wife became pregnant and gave birth. As she played with her son, she called him “Son of a cart-driver”, “Son of a firewood gatherer”, “Son of a water-carrier”, “Son of a know-nothing.”
Hearing her talk like this, Uggasena decided to learn the art of tumbling. He went to her father and asked him to teach him. After a year, he mastered the art, and prepared to display his skill to the crowd for the first time at RÄjagaha. An announcement was made to the crowd that Uggasena, the son of the millionaire, would perform, and he climbed to the top of a bamboo pole sixty cubits high. Poised on top of the pole, he called for the crowd’s attention, ready to perform somersaults. At that very moment, the Buddha entered the city
for alms, and everyone paid attention to him. Uggasena performed seven
somersaults, landing safely back on top of the pole each time, but there was no applause as no one was watching. Utterly deflated, he just stood there thinking that his performance had been a complete failure. Knowing his thoughts, the Buddha sent the Elder Moggallana to ask Uggasena to perform his feat again. Thinking, “The Teacher wishes to see my performance”, Uggasena turned fourteen somersaults, and stood on top of the pole. The Buddha spoke to him,
“Uggasena, a wise man should give up attachment to the past, future, and present to gain release from birth, old age, disease, and death”.
Then the Buddha uttered the above verse, and on its conclusion, Uggasena gained Arahantship together with analytical knowledge (patisamphita 4), even while stood on top of the bamboo pole. Uggasena descended from the pole, approached the Buddha, paid homage, and requested the Going Forth. The Buddha ordained him with the words, “Come, monk”.
Later, the monks asked him, “Were you not afraid as you descended from the pole”? Uggasena replied that he had no fear, and the Buddha confirmed it, uttering this verse (Dhp v 397):
“He who has cut off all fetters, who trembles not,
who has gone beyond ties, who is unbound” , him I call a brahmana.
On another occasion the monks were talking about Uggasena, wondering how the son of a millionaire could become a wandering circus performer, and how could such a person be endowed with the perfections for Arahantship. Having inquired about the subject of their conversation, the Buddha related a story of the past.
Uggasena’s past life:
When the golden cetiya of the Buddha Kassapa was being constructed, a husband and wife, having taken abundant food, set out to work as labourers. On the way they saw an elder walking for alms. The wife urged her husband to fetch his almsbowl, and they offered him alms, both making an earnest wish to attain the knowledge that he had gained. The elder, being an Arahant endowed with psychic powers, looked into their futures and smiled. Seeing him smile, the wife said
that he must have been an actor, and her husband agreed. Thus due to these words, the pair became actors, but due to their earnest wish they also attained Arahantship. Uggasena’s wife also retired from the world and gained Arahantship, according to her wish in her previous life.
We read in the Discourse to Díghanakha (Middle Length Sayings II, no.
74) that the Buddha taught Dhamma to the wanderer Díghanaka on
Vulture’s Peak near Råjagaha. He taught him about the getting rid of
wrong views and about the impermanence of conditioned realities.
Såriputta, who was an ariyan but had not yet attained arahatship, was
also present at the time of that discourse. We read:
Now at that time the venerable Såriputta was standing behind the
Lord, fanning the Lord. Then it occurred to the venerable Såriputta:
The Lord speaks to us of getting rid of these things and those by
means of super-knowledge, the Well-farer speaks to us of casting out
these things and those by means of superknowledge”. While the
venerable Såriputta was reflecting on this, his mind was freed from
the cankers without clinging. But to the wanderer Díghanakha there
arose the stainless, spotless vision of dhamma, that whatever is of
the nature to arise all that is of the nature to stop…
Såriputta attained arahatship, but he did not go into solitude in
order to attain it; he was fanning the Buddha. Díghanakha listened to
the Buddha and then became a sotåpanna.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (III, Khandhå-vagga, Middle Fifty,
chapter 4, §89, Khema) that Khemaka, who was an anågåmí, attained
arahatship while he was preaching and monks who were listening
attained arahatship as well. We read:
Now when this teaching was thus expounded the hearts of as many as
sixty monks were utterly set free from the åsavas, and so was it also
with the heart of the venerable Khemaka…
If one is on the right Path, paññå can be developed, no matter what
the circumstances are, even to the degree of enlightenment. People
may wonder whether it would be possible to notice it when a person
attains nibbåna. But can one see whether someone else is mindful or
not mindful? Who knows the cittas of other people? We cannot know
when someone else is mindful of nåma and rúpa or when he attains
The question may arise whether all four stages of enlightenment (the
stages of the sotåpanna, the sakadågåmí, the anågåmí and the arahat)
can be attained in the course of one life. We read in the suttas
about disciples of the Buddha who attained the ariyan state but not
yet arahatship and realized arahatship later on in life. Ånanda, for
example, did not attain arahatship during the Buddha’s life, but he
became an arahat after the Buddha had passed away, the evening before
the first great council was to start (the
Illustrator of Ultimate
meaning”, commentary to the
Discourse”, Minor Readings, Khuddaka Nikåya).