The Life of Sariputta
Compiled and translated from the Pali texts by
The Wheel Publication No. 90/92
Copyright ę 1987 Buddhist Publication Society
Buddhist Publication Society
P.O. Box 61
54, Sangharaja Mawatha
Kandy, Sri Lanka
For free distribution only.This edition was transcribed from the print edition in 1994
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In many temples of 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 Arahats Sariputta and Maha Moggallana. They stand in
the positions they occupied in life. Sariputta on the Buddha's right, Maha
Moggallana on his left. When the great stupa at Sanchi 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 body relics of Maha Moggallana, while
that on the south enclosed those of Sariputta. 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 centers of civilisation 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 saints 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 Tripitaka, 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 Theravada 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, Sariputta, who was second only to the Buddha in the depth and range of his
understanding, and his ability to teach the Doctrine of Deliverance. In the
Tripitaka 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 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 the Sariputta
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 Dhamma-senapati, 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 Arahats,
saints 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 man perfected, of man fully
liberated and raised to the highest level of his being; of how such a man acts
and speaks and comports himself towards his fellows; and if the reading of it
gives you strength and faith in the assurance of what man may become,
then our work has been worthwhile, and is fully rewarded.
From Birth to the Attainment of Arahatship
The story begins at two brahmanical villages in India, called Upatissa and
Kolita, which lay not far from the city Rajagaha. Before our Buddha had appeared
in the world a brahman lady named Sari, living in Upatissa village,
conceived; and also, on the same day at Kolita village, did another brahman lady
whose name was Moggalli. 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 the child
of the brahman lady Sari received the name Upatissa, as he was a son of the
foremost family of that village; and for the same reason Moggalli's son was
When the boys grew up they were educated, and acquired mastery of all the
sciences. Each of them had a following of five hundred brahman 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 carriages.
Now at Rajagaha 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 occasion for laughter, they laughed; when the spectacles were
exciting, they became excited; and they paid their fees for the extra shows. In
this manner they enjoyed the festival for a second day; but on the third day
their understanding was awakened and they could no longer laugh or get excited,
nor did they feel inclined to pay for extra shows as they had done on the first
days. Each of them had the same thought: "What is there to look at here?
Before these people have reached a hundred years they will all have come to
death. What we ought to do is to seek for a teaching of deliverance."
It was with such thoughts in mind that they took their seats at the festival.
Then Kolita said to Upatissa: "How is this, my dear Upatissa? You are not
as happy and joyous as you were on the other days. You seem now to be in a
discontented mood, What is on your mind?"
"My dear Kolita, to look at these things here is of no benefit at all.
it is utterly worthless! I ought to seek a teaching of deliverance for myself.
That, my Kolita, is what I was thinking, seated here. But you, Kolita, seem to
be discontented, too."
And Kolita replied: "Just as you have said, I also feel." When he
knew that his friend had the same inclinations, Upatissa said: "That was a
good thought of ours. But 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 Rajagaha an ascetic of the sect of the Wanderers
(paribbajaka), called Sa˝jaya, who had a great following of pupils.
Deciding to get ordination under him, Upatissa and Kolita went there, each with
his own following of five hundred Brahman youths and all of them received
ordination from Sa˝jaya. And from the time of their ordination under him, Sa˝jaya's
reputation and support increased abundantly.
Within a short time the two friends had learned Sa˝jaya's entire doctrine
and they asked him: "Master, does your doctrine go so far only, or is there
Sa˝jaya replied: "So far only it goes. You know all."
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. Under him we cannot find it. But India is vast;
if we wander through villages, towns and cities we shall certainly find a master
who can show us the teaching of deliverance." And after that, whenever they
heard that there were wise ascetics or brahmans at this or that place, they went
and discussed with them. But there was none who was able to answer their
questions, while they were able to reply to those who questioned them.
Having thus traveled through the whole of India they turned back, and
arriving at their old place they agreed between them that he who should attain
to the Deathless State first, should inform the other. It was a pact of
brotherhood, born of the deep friendship between the two young men.
Some time after they had made that agreement, the Blessed One, the Buddha,
came to Rajagaha. It was when he had delivered the Fire Sermon at Gaya Peak that
he remembered his promise, given before his Enlightenment to King Bimbisara,
that he would come to Rajagaha again when he had attained his goal. So in stages
the Blessed One journeyed from Gaya to Rajagaha, and having received from King
Bimbisara the Bamboo Grove Monastery (Veluvana) he resided there.
Among the sixty-one Arahats (Saints) whom the Master had sent forth to
proclaim to the world the virtues of the Triple Gem, there was the Elder Assaji,
who belonged to the group of five ascetics, the Buddha's erstwhile companions
before his Enlightenment, and afterwards his first disciples. The Elder Assaji
had returned to Rajagaha from his wanderings, and when one morning he was going
for alms in the city he was seen by Upatissa, who was on his way to the
Paribbajaka ascetic's monastery. 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 Arahats, or on the way to Arahatship. Should I not
approach him and ask, 'Under whom have you been ordained? Who is your teacher
and whose teaching do you profess?'"
But then he thought: "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 gathered his almsfood, and Upatissa saw him going to
another place intending to sit down and take his meal, he prepared for him his
own ascetic's seat that he carried with him, and offered it to the Elder. The
Elder Assaji took his meal, after which Upatissa served him with water from his
own water-container, and in that way performed towards 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, friend, have you gone forth as an ascetic? Who is your teacher and
whose doctrine do you profess?"
Assaji replied: "There is, O friend, the Great Recluse, the scion of the
Sakyas, who has gone forth from the Sakya clan. Under that Blessed One I have
gone forth. That Blessed One is my teacher and it is his Dhamma that I
"What does the venerable one's master teach, what does he
Questioned thus, the Elder Assaji thought to himself: "These wandering
ascetics are opposed to the Buddha's dispensation. I shall show him how profound
this dispensation 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 teaching and discipline. I cannot explain the Dhamma in detail to
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,
In response, the Elder Assaji uttered this stanza:
the meaning only, please proclaim to me!
To know the meaning is my sole desire;
Of no avail to me are many words."
"Of all those things that from a cause arise,
Upon hearing the first two lines, Upatissa became established in the Path of
Stream-entry, and to the ending of the last two lines he already listened as a
Tathagata the cause thereof has told;
And how they cease to be, that too he tells,
This is the doctrine of the Great Recluse."
When he become a Stream-winner, and before he had achieved the higher
attainments, he thought: "Here will the means of deliverance be
found!" and he said to the Elder: "Do not enlarge upon this exposition
of the Dhamma, venerable sir. This will suffice. But where does our Master
"In the Bamboo Grove Monastery, wanderer."
"Then please go on ahead, venerable sir. I have a friend with whom I
agreed that he who should reach the Deathless State first, should tell the
other. I shall inform him, and together we shall follow on the road you went and
shall come into the Master's presence." Upatissa then prostrated himself at
the Elder's feet, saluted him and, taking the Elder's leave, went back to the
park of the Wandering Ascetics.
Kolita saw him approaching and thought: "Today my friend's appearance is
quite changed. Surely, he must have found the Deathless State!"
And when he asked him about it, Upatissa replied: "Yes, friend, the
Deathless State has been found!" and he recited to him the stanza he had
heard. At the end of the verse, Kolita was established in the Fruition of
Stream-entry and he asked: "Where, my dear, does the Master live?"
"I learned from our teacher, the Elder Assaji, that he lives at the
Bamboo Grove Monastery."
"Then let us go, Upatissa, and see the Master," said Kolita.
But Sariputta was one who always respected his teacher, and therefore he said
to his friend: "First, my dear, we shall go to our teacher, the Wanderer Sa˝jaya,
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 Sa˝jaya and said: "Oh, our teacher! What are
you doing? A Buddha has appeared in the world! Well proclaimed is his Teaching
and in right conduct lives his community of monks. Let us go and see the Master
of the Ten Powers!"
"What are you saying, my dear?" Sa˝jaya exclaimed. And refusing to
go with them he spoke to them of the gain and fame they would enjoy if they
would share his, the teacher's, place.
But they said: "Oh, we should not mind always remaining in the state of
pupils! But you, O teacher, you must know whether to go or not!"
Then Sa˝jaya thought: "If they know so much, they will not listen to
what I say." And realizing that, he replied: "You may go, then, but I
"Why not, O 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, O teacher!" they urged.
"Let it be, my dear. You may go, but I cannot."
"Oh 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 Sa˝jaya 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
So the two friends left, saying: "You will come to understand your
mistake, O teacher!" And after they had gone there was a split among Sa˝jaya's
pupils, and his monastery became almost empty. Seeing his place empty, Sa˝jaya
vomited hot blood. Five hundred of his disciples had left along with Upatissa
and Kolita, out of whom two hundred and fifty returned to Sa˝jaya. With the
remaining two hundred and fifty, 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 the Blessed One saw the two coming he
addressed the monks: "These two friends, Upatissa and Kolita, who are now
coming, will be two excellent disciples to me, a blessed pair."
Having approached, the friends saluted the Blessed One reverentially and sat
down at one side. When they were seated they spoke to the Blessed One, saying:
"May we obtain, O Lord, the ordination of the Going Forth under the Blessed
One, may we obtain the Higher Ordination!"
And the Blessed One said: "Come, O 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 sermon, taking the individual temperaments
of the listeners into consideration; and with the exception of the two chief
disciples all of them attained to Arahatship. But the two chief disciples had
not yet completed the task of attaining to the three higher paths of sanctity.
The reason for this was the greatness of the "knowledge pertaining to the
perfection of a disciple" (savakaparami-˝ana), which they had still
Upatissa received the name of Sariputta on becoming a disciple of the Buddha,
while Kolita became known as Maha Moggallana.
Now the Venerable Maha Moggallana went to live at a village in Magadha called
Kallavala, on which he depended for almsfood. On the seventh day after his
ordination when he was doing the recluse's work (of meditation), fatigue and
torpor fell upon him. But spurred on by the Master,
he dispelled his fatigue, and while listening to the Master expounding to him
the meditation subject of the elements (dhatu-kammatthana), he completed
the task of winning to the three higher paths and reached the acme of a
disciple's perfections (savaka-parami).
But the Venerable Sariputta continued to stay near the
Master, at a cave called the Boar's Shelter (Sukarakhata-lena), depending on
Rajagaha for his almsfood. Half a month after his ordination the Blessed One
gave a discourse on the comprehension of feelings
to the Venerable Sariputta's nephew, the wandering ascetic Dighanakha. The
Venerable Sariputta was standing behind the Master, fanning him. While following
with his thoughts the progress of the discourse, as though sharing the food
prepared for another, the Venerable Sariputta on that occasion reached the acme
of "knowledge pertaining to a disciple's perfection and attained to
Arahatship together with the fourfold analytical knowledge (patisambhida-˝ana)."
And his nephew, at the end of the sermon, was established in the Fruition of
Now it may be asked: Did not the Venerable Sariputta possess great wisdom;
and if so, why did he attain to the disciple's perfections later than the
Venerable Maha Moggallana? The answer is, because of the greatness of the
preparations necessary for it. When poor people want to go anywhere they take to
the road at once; but in the case of kings, larger preparations are required, as
for instance to get ready the elephants and chariots, and so on. Thus it was in
On that same day, when the evening shadows had lengthened, the Master caused
his disciples to assemble and bestowed upon the two Elders the rank of Chief
Disciples. At this, some monks were displeased and said 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. If not to them, then
either to the group of two hundred and fifty 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 he was told, he
said: "I do not show preference, but give to each what he has aspired to.
When, for instance, Konda˝˝a-the Knower in a previous life gave almsfood 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,
Arahatship. And so it came about. But when Sariputta and Maha Moggallana many
aeons ago, at the time of the Buddha Anomadassi, were born as the brahman youth
Sarada and landowner Sirivaddhaka, they made the aspiration for Chief
Discipleship. This, O bhikkhus, was the aspiration for these my sons at that
time. Hence I have given them just what they aspired to, and did not do it out
This account of the beginning of the Venerable Sariputta's career is taken
from the Commentary to the Anguttara Nikaya, Etad-agga section, with some
passages from the parallel version in the Dhammapada Commentary. From it some of
the principal traits of the Venerable Sariputta's character are already
discernible. His capacity for deep and constant friendship showed itself while
he was still a worldling, a youth nurtured in luxury and pleasure, and it
persisted after he had abandoned the household life. On receiving his first
insight into the Dhamma, and before proceeding any further, his first thought
was for his friend Kolita and the vow they had sworn together. His penetrating
intellect is revealed in the promptness with which he grasped the essence of the
Buddha's teaching from a few simple words. And, most rare of all, he combined
that intellectual power with a modesty and sweetness of nature that expressed
itself in gratitude and reverence for anyone, even the misguided Sa˝jaya, who
had taught him things of value. 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 Nava Sutta (Sutta-Nipata), and also in the Commentary to v. 392 of
the Dhammapada, that whenever the Venerable Sariputta lived in the same
monastery as the Elder Assaji, he always went to pay obeisance to him
immediately after having done so to the Blessed One. This he did out of
reverence, 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, the Venerable Sariputta used to face
the direction in which the Elder Assaji was living, and to pay homage to him by
touching the ground at five places (with the head, hands and feet), and saluting
with joined palms.
But this led to misunderstanding, for when other monks saw it they said:
"After becoming a Chief Disciple, Sariputta still worships the heavenly
quarters! Even today he cannot give up his brahmanical views!" Hearing
these remarks, the Blessed One said: "It is not so, bhikkhus. Sariputta
does not worship the heavenly quarters. He salutes him through whom he came to
know the Dhamma. It is him he salutes, worships and reveres as his teacher.
Sariputta is one who gives devout respect to his teacher." It was then that
the Master preached to the monks assembled there the Nava Sutta,
which starts with the words:
"As gods their homage pay to Indra,
Another example of the Venerable Sariputta's gratitude is given in the story of
Radha Thera. The Commentary to verse 76 of the Dhammapada relates that there was
living at Savatthi a poor brahman who stayed in the monastery. There he
performed little services such as weeding, sweeping, and the like and the monks
supported him with food. They did not, however, want to ordain him. One day the
Blessed One, in his mental survey of the world, saw that this brahman was mature
for Arahatship. he inquired about him from the assembled monks, and asked
whether any one of them remembered to have received some help from the poor
brahman. The Venerable Sariputta said that he remembered that once, when he was
going for alms in Rajagaha, this poor brahman had given him a ladle full of
almsfood that he had begged for himself. The Master asked Sariputta to ordain
the man, and he was given the name Radha. The Venerable Sariputta then advised
him time and again as to what things should be done, and always Radha received
his admonitions gladly, without resentment. And so, living according to the
Elder's advice, he attained Arahatship in a short time.
So should a man give reverence to him
From whom he learned the Dhamma."
This time the bhikkhus remarked on Sariputta'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
Sariputta had showed gratitude and remembered any good deed done to him. And in
that connection the Master told the Alinacitta Jataka, the story of a
Maturity of Insight
If Sariputta was notable for his lasting sense of
gratitude, he was no less so for his capacity for friendship. With Maha
Moggallana, the friend and companion of his youth, he maintained a close
intimacy, and many were the conversations they held on the Dhamma. One of these,
which is of special interest as throwing light on the process of Venerable
Sariputta's attainment, is recorded in the Anguttara Nikaya, Catukka-nipata, No.
167. It relates that once the Venerable Maha Moggallana went to see the Elder
and said to him:
"There are four ways of progress, brother Sariputta:
difficult progress, with sluggish direct-knowledge;
"By which of these four ways of progress, brother, was your mind freed from
the cankers without remnants of clinging?" To which the Venerable Sariputta
replied: "By that of those four ways of progress, brother, which is easy
and has swift direct-knowledge."
difficult progress, with swift direct-knowledge;
easy progress, with sluggish direct-knowledge;
easy progress, with direct-knowledge.
The explanation of this passage is that if the suppression of the defilements
preparatory to absorption or insight takes place without great difficulty,
progress is called "easy" (sukha-patipada); in the reverse case
it is "difficult" or "painful" (dukkha-patipada). If,
after the suppression of the defilements, the manifestation of the Path, the
goal of insight, is quickly effected, the direct-knowledge (connected with the
Path) is called "swift" (khippabhi˝˝a); in the reverse case
it is "sluggish" (dandabhi˝˝a). In this discourse the
Venerable Sariputta's statement refers to his attainment of Arahantship. His
attainment of the first three Paths, however, was, according to the commentary
to the above text, connected with "easy progress and sluggish
In such ways as this did the two friends exchange information about their
experience and understanding of the Dhamma. They were also frequently associated
in attending to affairs of the Sangha. One such occasion was when they combined
in winning back certain monks who had been led astray by Devadatta. There is an
interesting passage in this connection which
shows that the Venerable Sariputta's generous praise of Devadatta's achievements
before the latter brought about a schism in the Sangha was the cause of a slight
embarrassment. It relates that when the Buddha asked Sariputta to proclaim in
Rajagaha that Devadatta's deeds and words should no longer be regarded as
connected with the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, the Venerable Sariputta said:
"Formerly I spoke at Rajagaha in praise of Devadatta's magical
powers?" "Yes, Lord," the elder replied. "So you will now
speak truthfully also, Sariputta, when you make this proclamation about
Devadatta." So, after receiving the formal approval of the Sangha, the
Venerable Sariputta, together with many monks, went to Rajagaha and made the
declaration about Devadatta.
When 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 who through ignorance had become his followers. To win them back,
the Buddha sent Sariputta and Maha Moggallana to the Vultures' Peak, and while
Devadatta was resting, the two Chief Disciples preached to the monks, who
attained to Stream-entry and went back to the Master.
Another time when the Venerable Sariputta and the Venerable Maha Moggallana
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 Punnabbassu, living at
Kitagiri, were misbehaving. In spite of repeated admonitions, these monks would
not mend their ways, so the two Chief Disciples were sent to pronounce the
penalty of pabbajaniya-kamma (excommunication) on those who would not
submit to the discipline.
Venerable Sariputta's devotion to his friend was fully reciprocated; we are
told of two occasions when Sariputta was ill, and Maha Moggallana attended to
him and brought him medicine.
Yet there was nothing exclusive about the Venerable Sariputta's friendships,
for according to the commentary to the Maha-Gosinga Sutta there was also
a bond of mutual affection between him and the Elder Ananda. On the part of
Sariputta it was because he thought: "He is attending on the Master -- a
duty which should have been performed by me"; and Ananda's affection was
due to the fact that Sariputta had been declared by the Buddha as his foremost
disciple. When Ananda gave Novice Ordination to young pupils he used to take
them to Sariputta to obtain Higher ordination under him. The Venerable Sariputta
did the same in regard to Ananda, and in that way they had five hundred pupils
Whenever the Venerable Ananda received choice robes or other requisites he
would offer them to Sariputta, and in the same way, Sariputta passed on to
Ananda any special offerings that were made to him. Once Ananda received from a
certain brahman a very valuable robe, and with the Master's permission he kept
it for ten days awaiting Sariputta's return. The sub-commentary says that later
teachers commented on this: "There may be those who say: 'We can well
understand that Ananda, who had not yet attained to Arahatship, felt such
affection. But how is it in the case of Sariputta, who was a canker-free Arahat?"
To this we answer: 'Sariputta's affection was not one of worldly attachment, but
a love for Ananda's virtues (guna-bhatti).'"
The Buddha once asked the Venerable Ananda: "Do you, too, approve of
Sariputta?" And Ananda replied: "Who, O Lord, would not approve of
Sariputta, unless he were childish, corrupt, stupid or of perverted mind!
Learned, O Lord, is the Venerable Sariputta; of great wisdom, O Lord, is the
Venerable Sariputta; of broad, bright, quick, keen and penetrative wisdom is the
Venerable Sariputta; of few wants and contented, inclined to seclusion, not fond
of company, energetic, eloquent, willing to listen, an exhorter who censures
what is evil."
In the Theragatha (v. 1034f) we find the Venerable Ananda describing his
emotion at the time of Sariputta's death. "When the Noble Friend (Sariputta)
had gone," he declares, "the world was plunged in darkness for
me." But he adds that after the companion had left him behind, and also the
Master had passed away, there was no other friend like mindfulness directed on
the body. Ananda's sorrow on learning of the Venerable Sariputta's death is also
described very movingly in the Cunda Sutta.
Sariputta 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 in this way
that he helped the venerable Anuruddha in his final break-through to Arahatship,
as recorded in the Anguttara Nikaya (Tika-Nipata No. 128):
Once the Venerable Anuruddha went to see the Venerable
Sariputta. When they had exchanged courteous greetings he sat down and said to
the Venerable Sariputta: "Friend Sariputta, with the divine eye that is
purified, transcending human ken, I can see the thousandfold world-system.
Firm is my energy, unremitting; my mindfulness is alert and unconfused; the
body is tranquil and unperturbed; my mind is concentrated and one-pointed. And
yet my mind is not freed from cankers, not freed from clinging."
Sariputta must have been stimulating company, and sought after by many. What
attracted men of quite different temperament to him and his conversation can be
well understood from the incident described in the Maha-Gosinga Sutta (Majjhima
Nikaya No. 32). One evening the Elders Maha Moggallana, Maha Kassapa, Anuruddha,
Revata and Ananda went to Sariputta to listen to the Dhamma. The Venerable
Sariputta welcomed them, saying: "Delightful is this Gosinga Forest of Sala
trees; there is moonlight tonight, all the Sala trees are in full bloom, and it
seems that heavenly perfume drifts around. What kind of monk, do you think,
Ananda, will lend more luster to this Gosinga Sala Forest?"
"Friend Anuruddha," said the Venerable Sariputta, "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 will be good, indeed, if the Venerable Anuruddha, abandoning these
three states of mind and paying no attention to them, will direct the mind to
the Deathless Element."
And the Venerable Anuruddha later on gave up these three states of mind,
paid no attention to them and directed his mind to the Deathless Element. And
the Venerable Anuruddha, living then alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, with
determined mind, before long reached in this very life, understanding and
experiencing it by himself, that highest goal of the Holy Life, for the sake
of which noble sons go forth entirely from home into homelessness. And he
knew: "Exhausted is rebirth, lived is the holy life, the work is done,
nothing further remains after this." Thus the Venerable Anuruddha became
one of the Arahats.
The same question was put to the others as well, and each answered according
to his individual nature. Finally, Sariputta gave his own answer, which was as
"There is a monk who has control over his mind, who is 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 Moggallana, may lend luster to this
Gosinga Sala Forest."
They then went to the Buddha, who approved of all their answers and added his
We see from this episode that Sariputta, with all his powerful intellect and
his status in the Sangha, was far from being a domineering type who tried to
impose his views on others. How well did he understand how to stimulate
self-expression in his companions in a natural and charming way, conveying to
them the pensive mood evoked by the enchanting scenery! His own sensitive nature
responded to it, and drew a similar response from his friends.
There are many such conversations recorded between Sariputta and other monks,
not only the Venerables Maha Moggallana, Ananda and Anuruddha, but also Maha
Kotthita, Upavana, Samiddhi, Savittha, Bhumija and many more. It seems that the
Buddha himself liked to talk to Sariputta, for he often did so, and many of his
discourses were addressed to his "Marshal of the Law," to use the
title he gave him.
Once, Sariputta repeated some words the Master had spoken to Ananda on
another occasion. "This is the whole of the Life of Purity (brahmacariya);
namely, noble friendship, noble companionship, noble association."
There could be no better exemplification of that teaching than the life of
the Chief Disciple himself.
Among the bhikkhus Sariputta was outstanding as one who helped others. We
find a reference to this in the Devadaha Sutta.
Some visiting monks, about to return to their own places, took formal leave of
the Buddha. He then advised them to see the Venerable Sariputta and take leave
of him also, telling them: "Sariputta, O bhikkhus, is wise, and a helper of
his fellow monks."
The Commentary, in explanation of these words, says: "Sariputta was a
helper in two ways: by giving material help (amisanuggaha) and the help
of the Dhamma (dhammanuggaha)."
The Elder, it is said, did not go on almsround 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, chairs, etc., or earthenware had not been properly arranged, he put them
in order. He did that lest other, non-Buddhist ascetics, visiting the monastery,
might see some 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 almsround 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. This was his habit when
staying for some time at a monastery.
But when going on a journey on foot with the Blessed One, he did not go with
the very first of the monks, shod with sandals and umbrella in hand, as one who
thinks: "I am the Chief Disciple." But letting the young novices take
his bowl and robes sending them with the others, 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.
Once, when for that reason the Elder Sariputta had arrived particularly late
at the place where the others were resting, he did not get proper quarters for
the night, and seated himself under a tent made from robes. The Master saw this,
and next day he caused the monks to assemble and told them 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 seniormost.
He then laid down the rule that "lodgings should be allocated according to
In this way the Venerable Sariputta was a helper by giving material help.
Sometimes he would give material help and the help of the Dhamma together, as
when he visited Samitigutta, who suffered from leprosy, in the infirmary. The
Theragatha Commentary tells us that he said to Samitigutta: "Friend, so
long as the aggregates (khandha) 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 subject of meditation, Sariputta
went away. Samitigutta, following the Elder's instruction, developed insight and
realised the six supernormal powers (chalabhi˝˝a) as an Arahat.
Again, when Anathapindika was lying on his deathbed, Sariputta visited him,
accompanied by Ananda. Sariputta preached to the dying man on non-attachment,
and Anathapindika was greatly moved by the profound discourse.
Another sickbed sermon given by the Elder to Anathapindika is preserved in
the Sotapatti-Samyutta (Vagga 3, Sutta 6). In this discourse, Anathapindika is
reminded that those things which lead to rebirth in states of woe are no longer
in him, but that he possesses the four basic qualities of Stream-entry (sotapattiyanga)
and the eight path factors: in considering this, his pains would subside. As the
result, his pains did subside.
Once the Elder Channa was lying ill and in great pain. The Venerable
Sariputta paid him a visit, in company with the Elder Maha Cunda. Seeing the
sick monk's agonies, Sariputta 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, and
after they had left he did so. Afterwards the Buddha explained that the Elder
Channa's act was without demerit and blameless, since he had attained Arahatship
while dying. This story is found in the Channovada Sutta (Majjh. 144).
It is said that whenever Sariputta 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
Arahatship. In the Sacca-vibhanga Sutta (Majjh. 141) the Buddha says:
"Sariputta is like a mother who brings forth, while Moggallana is like a
nurse of that which has been brought forth. Sariputta trains to the Fruit of
Stream-entry, and Moggallana trains to the highest goal."
Explaining this passage, the Commentary says: "When Sariputta 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-winners and had risen above the dangers of the lower worlds, he dismissed
them in the confident knowledge that 'Now they can, by their own manly strength,
produce the higher stages of Saintship.' Having thus become free from concern
about their future, he instructed new groups of pupils. But Maha Moggallana,
when training pupils in the same way, did not give up concern for them until
they had attained Arahatship. 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.'"
But although the Majjhima Commentary says that Sariputta used to lead his
regular pupils only up to Stream-entry, in individual cases he helped monks to
attain the higher stages. The Udana Commentary, for example, says that "at
that time bhikkhus in higher training (sekha) often used to approach the
Venerable Sariputta for a subject of meditation that could help them to attain
the three higher Paths." It was after taking instruction from Sariputta
that the Elder Lakuntika Bhaddiya ("The Dwarf") attained Arahatship,
having been a Stream-winner at the time. There is also the case of the Venerable
Anuruddha, referred to on p. 27.
It was in this manner that the Venerable Sariputta gave the help of the
Dhamma. He was a great leader of men and an outstanding spiritual adviser. To
the latter task he brought not only a keen and perceptive understanding of the
human mind, but also a warm, human interest in others which must have been a
great encouragement to those under his spiritual guidance. We have already seen
how ready he was to give generous praise where it was due; he was also keen at
all times to meet noble monks, particularly those whom the Master had commended.
One such was the Elder Punna Mantaniputta; when Sariputta learned that he had
come on a visit he went to meet him. Without telling him who he was, he listened
to Punna's great discourse, the Stage Coach simile (Majjh. No. 24), and when it
was ended gave it high praise.
Administering to the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the monks
under his charge, restraining them with kindly admonitions and encouraging them
with the praise their efforts deserved, guiding them on the path showing in all
he did that vital sympathetic interest which draws forth the best from a pupil,
Sariputta 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,
expert in developing it in those in whom it was latent, and 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.
Two stanzas in the Theragatha (995, 996) relate, in words ascribed to the
Venerable Sariputta himself, the way in which he attained Arahatship. There he
"It was to another that the Blessed One was teaching the Dhamma; to the
Dhamma-preaching I listened intently for my own good. And not in vain, for
freed from all defilements, I gained release."
In the next two verses (996-7) the Elder declares that he felt no inclination to
develop the five supernormal powers (abhi˝˝a). However, the
Iddhividha-Katha of the Patisambhida Magga credits him with possessing
the intensive degree of meditative concentration called "the power of
intervention by concentration" (samadhi-vipphara-iddhi), which is
capable of intervening in certain normal physiological processes or other
natural events. This is illustrated by the anecdote in the Visuddhimagga,
Ch. XII, which records that once when the Venerable Sariputta was living with
the Elder Maha Moggallana at Kapotakandara, he was sitting meditating in the
open with his hair freshly shaved when he was given a malicious blow on the head
by a mischievous spirit. The blow was a very severe one, but at the time it was
given "the Elder was absorbed in meditative attainment; consequently he
suffered no harm." The source of this story is the Udana (IV.4) which
continues the account as follows:
The Venerable Maha Moggallana saw the incident and approached the Venerable
Sariputta to ask how he fared. He asked him: "Brother, are you
comfortable? Are you doing well? Does nothing trouble you?"
The Anupada Sutta (Majjh. III) contains a description
of Sariputta's attainments given by the Buddha himself. In it the Blessed One
declares that the Venerable Sariputta had mastered the nine meditative
attainments, that is the four fine-material and four immaterial jhanas and the
cessation of perception and feeling. And in the Sariputta Samyutta
the Venerable Elder mentions the fact himself, in speaking to Ananda, adding
that in all the stages he was free of any self-reference: "I had no such
thoughts as 'I am entering the jhana; I have entered it; I am rising from
it.'" And on another occasion he describes to Ananda how he attained to
such developed concentration of mind that with regard to the earth element he
was without earth perception of them. Yet it seems that he was without
perception of them. Yet it seems that he was not entirely without perception of
another kind, his only perception being that "Nibbana is ceasing of
"I am comfortable, brother Moggallana," said the Venerable
Sariputta. "I am doing well, brother Moggallana. Only my head troubles me
Whereupon the Venerable Maha Moggallana said: "O wonderful is it,
brother Sariputta! O marvelous is it, brother Sariputta! How great is the
psychic power, and how great is the might of the Venerable Sariputta! For just
now, brother Sariputta, a certain demon gave you a blow on the head. And a
mighty blow it was! With such a blow one might fell an elephant seven or seven
and a half cubits high, or one might split a mountain peak. But the Venerable
Sariputta says only this, 'I am comfortable, brother Moggallana. I am doing
well, brother Moggallana. Only my head troubles me a little.'"
Then the Venerable Sariputta replied: "O wonderful is it, brother
Moggallana! O marvelous is it, brother Moggallana! How great is the psychic
power and how great is the might of the Venerable Moggallana, that he should
see any demon at all! As for me, I have not seen so much as a
This detached attitude to the jhanic attainments may have been due to the
meditative "abiding in voidness" (su˝˝ata-vihara) which the
Venerable Sariputta cultivated. We read in the Pindapata-parisuddhi Sutta
(Majjh. 151) that the Buddha once remarked on the Venerable Sariputta's radiant
features and asked him by which state of mind this radiance had been caused.
The Venerable Sariputta replied that he frequently practiced the abiding in
voidness, upon which the Buddha said that this was the abode of great men, and
proceeded to describe it in detail. The Udana records that on three occasions
the Master saw the Venerable Sariputta seated in meditation outside the
monastery and uttered verses (udana) in praise of a firm and calm mind.
We may perhaps imagine the Venerable Sariputta seated in meditation in a
bower such as that mentioned in the Devadaha Sutta (Khandha Samyutta,
No.2), where it is said "Once the Blessed One lived in the Sakya country,
at Devadaha, a market town of the Sakyas... At that time the Venerable Sariputta
was seated, not far from the Blessed One, under an Elagala bush." The
Commentary to the text tells us: "At Devadaha there was a bower under an
Elagala bush. This bush grows where there is a constant supply of flowing water.
People had made a bower with four posts over which they let the bush grow,
forming a roof. Under it they made a seat by placing bricks there and strewing
it with sand. It was a cool place for the daytime, with a fresh breeze blowing
from the water." It may well have been in some such rustic shelter as this
that the Buddha saw Sariputta deep in meditation, on those occasions when he
extolled his disciple's tranquillity and detachment.
Concerning his attainment to analytical knowledge (patisambhida-˝ana),
the Venerable Sariputta speaks of it in the Anguttara Nikaya (Fours, No. 172),
where he says:
"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 Dhamma, the analytical knowledge of language, the analytical
knowledge of perspicuity. 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."
From all of this it is evident that the Venerable Sariputta was a master of all
the stages of attainment up to and including the highest insight-knowledge. What
could be more aptly said of him than this, in the Buddha's own words:
"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 Sariputta 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 Sariputta that one could
thus rightly declare.
"After me, O monks, Sariputta rightly turns the supreme Wheel of
Dhamma, even as I have turned it."
Majjh. 111, Anupada Sutta
The discourses of Sariputta 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. Sariputta 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.
We find this exemplified in two classic discourses of the Majjhima Nikaya, the Samma-ditthi
Sutta (No. 9) and the Greater Sutta on the Elephant Footprint Simile
The Greater Discourse on the Elephant Footprint Simile
is a masterpiece of methodical treatment. It begins with the statement that the
Four Noble Truths comprise everything that is salutary, then singles out the
Truth of Suffering as being identifiable with the five aggregates of
personality. From these, the aggregate of corporeality is chosen for detailed
investigation; it is shown to consist of the four great elements, each of which
is said to be internal and external. The bodily parts and functions belonging to
the internal element are stated in detail, and it is said of both the internal
and external elements that they neither belong to a self, nor constitute a self.
This insight leads to disgust and detachment regarding the elements.
The discourse then goes on to show the impermanence of the mighty external
elements when they are involved in great upheavals of nature, and against that
background it is stressed that this tiny body, the product of craving, can never
be regarded as "I" or "mine" or considered in the sense of
"I am." And when a monk who has this firm and deeply rooted insight
meets with abuse, blame and hostility on the part of others, he is able to
analyze the situation soberly and so remain master of it. 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 of all the constituent parts
of the situation he knows that they are impermanent. This he discerns with
reference to contact, feeling, perception, formations and consciousness. At this
point of the discourse we see that the other four aggregates, the mental
components of personality, are introduced in an organic context, together with
the already mentioned factor of contact. The discourse then 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 is liable to such injuries.'"
Thereupon he recollects the Master's Simile of the Saw and will resolve to
follow the Buddha's injunction to suffer all injuries in patience, whatever may
happen to him.
But, the sermon continues, if when thus remembering the Buddha, Dhamma and
Sangha the monk's equanimity does not endure, he will be stirred by a sense of
urgency and feel ashamed that, in spite of that recollection of the Triple Gem,
he could not remain constant. On the other hand, if his endurance persists he
will experience happiness. "Even to this extent, much has been achieved by
that monk," says the sutta.
Here all the four elements are treated identically. The concluding section
starts by comparing the body and its constituent parts with a house, which is
made up of its various components. After that follows an exposition of the
conditioned arising of the sixfold perceptual consciousness. In mentioning the
five sense-organs and sense-objects as the basic conditions for the arising of
five-sense consciousness, derived corporeality is here introduced by means of a
prominent part of it, thus completing the treatment of the corporeal aggregate.
With the state of consciousness having thus arisen, all five aggregates are
given, and in that way their conjunction can be understood, as well as their
dependent origination. And in this connection Sariputta quotes the Master:
"He who understands dependent origination understands the Dhamma; and he
who understands the Dhamma understands dependent origination." Desire,
inclination and attachment in regard to the five aggregates is the origin of
suffering. Removal of that desire, inclination and attachment is the cessation
of suffering. And of the monk who has understood this it is said: "Even
to this extent, much has been achieved by that monk," Thus the exposition
is rounded off with the Four Noble Truths. This discourse is indeed like an
intricate and beautifully constructed piece of music ending on a solemn and
Another model exposition of the Venerable Sariputta's is
the Samma-ditthi Sutta. 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 Nikayas there is
no discourse other than the Discourse on Right Understanding, wherein the Four
Noble Truths are stated thirty-two times, and thirty-two times the state of
Arahatship." The same discourse also gives us an original exposition of
dependent origination, with slight, but very instructive, variations. Each
factor of dependent origination is used, as are also the additional sections, to
illustrate the right understanding of the Four Noble Truths, the comprehension
of which is thus greatly enhanced, broadened and deepened. This discourse has
been widely used for instructional purposes throughout the centuries down to the
Another of the Venerable Sariputta's discourses is the Sama-citta
Sutta which was listened to by the
"devas of tranquil mind." It is concerned with the first three stages
of sanctitude, the Stream-winner, the Once-returner and the Non-returner. Its
purpose is to clarify the question of their residuum of rebirths, in the
five-sense world or in the fine-material and non-material worlds, which depends
upon their mode of practice and on the fetters of existence still remaining. It
is a very short discourse, but had a singular impact on the huge assembly of
devas who, according to tradition, assembled to hear it. It is said that a very
large number of them attained Arahatship, and innumerable were those who reached
Stream-entry. This discourse of the Venerable Sariputta is, in fact, counted
among the few which had unusually far-reaching results among beings of the
higher worlds; and although it is a very brief text rather cryptic without the
commentarial explanation, it had a high reputation in succeeding centuries. It
is the sermon that was preached by the Arahat Mahinda on the evening of his
arrival in Ceylon, and the Mahavamsa (XIV, 34ff), Ceylon's famous
chronicle, relates that on this occasion, also, numerous devas listened and
achieved penetration of the Dhamma.
The high regard in which the discourse is held, and the strong impact
ascribed to it, may be attributed to the fact that it helps those on the Path to
define their position as to the kind of rebirths still to be expected by them.
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
The Sangiti Sutta ("The Recital") and Dasuttara
Sutta ("Up to Ten"), two more of the Venerable Sariputta's
sermons, are the last two texts of the Digha Nikaya, the Collection of Long
Discourses. Both these texts are compilations of doctrinal terms, in which a
large number of topics are classified as falling into groups of from one to ten
members. The reason for bringing the compilation only up to ten may have been
that there are only very few groups of doctrinal terms extending beyond ten
members, and these could be supposed to be well known and easily remembered. The
Sangiti Sutta was preached in the presence of the Buddha, and at its
conclusion received his express approval.
While in the Sangiti Sutta the doctrinal terms are arranged solely in
numerical groups of one to ten, in the Dasuttara Sutta each of these ten
groups has tenfold subdivision 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 salutary things..."
These texts must have been compiled at a fairly late period of the Buddha's and
the Venerable Sariputta's life, when there was already in existence a large body
of doctrine and carefully transmitted discourses which required organizing for
ready use, and also anthologies of salient features of the Dhamma became a
useful aid in a comprehensive study of the Teaching. The Sangiti Sutta
was delivered at the time of Nigantha Nataputta's death, on the date of which,
however, scholars differ. 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, Nigantha Nataputta, otherwise Mahavira. This was taken as a warning
example by the Venerable Sariputta, who in his discourse 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 Sangiti Sutta is meant to convey the
"flavor of concord" (samaggi-rasa) in the Teaching, which is
strengthened by doctrinal proficiency (desana-kusalata).
The practical purpose of the Dasuttara Sutta is indicated in the
Venerable Sariputta's introductory verses:
"The Dasuttara (Discourse) I shall proclaim -- a teaching for the
attainment of Nibbana and the ending of suffering, the release from all
Dasuttaram pavakkhami dhammam nibbanappattiya dukkhas' antakiriyaya
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; to them they may have been helpful in presenting numerous
aspects of the Teaching in a form that was easily memorized and assimilated.
Both of these discourses admirably illustrate the Venerable Sariputta's concern
with the preservation of the Dhamma, and his systematic way of ensuring that it
was 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 Sariputta is included at
the end of this book. We shall now turn to a consideration of larger canonical
works attributed to him.
The first is the Niddesa, which belongs to the Khuddaka Nikaya of the
Sutta Pitaka. it is the only work of an exclusively commentarial character
included in the Pali Tipitaka. Of its two parts, the Maha Niddesa is a
commentary to the Atthaka-vagga of the Sutta Nipata, while the Cula Niddesa
comments on the Parayana-vagga and the Khaggavisana Sutta, likewise of
the Sutta Nipata.
The Atthaka-vagga and the Parayana-vagga are the last two books of the Sutta
Nipata, and doubtlessly belong to the oldest parts not only of that work but of
the entire Sutta Pitaka. They were highly appreciated even in the earlier days
of the Sangha, and of the Buddhist laity as well, as is testified by the fact
that the Udana records a recital of the Atthaka-vagga by Sona Thera and the
Anguttara Nikaya a recital of the Parayana-vagga by the female lay disciple,
Nandamata. On at least five occasions the Buddha himself has given explanations
of verses contained in these two parts of the Sutta Nipata. 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 canonical scriptures. The traditional attribution of
it to the Venerable Sariputta must be regarded as highly plausible.
It is quite in character with the great Elder's concern with 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. On this subject, Prof. E.J.
Thomas writes as follows:
The most characteristic feature of the Niddesa... consists of a list of
synonyms of the words commented on. Such lists are not used to explain the
meaning of a word in a particular context. They are repeated in the same form
wherever the word occurs and were evidently intended to be learned in the same
way as the modern kosha (dictionary)... Much of this is also found in
the Abhidhamma books, but in the Niddesa it is used as general matter applied
to passages for which it was not immediately intended... This shows a system
for learning the vocabulary of the Canon, and for explaining archaic forms,
but no further grammatical teaching occurs apart from the description of
certain terms as particles... in the Niddesa we thus have direct evidence of a
general system of instruction applied to a definite work, consisting of
interpretation, doctrinal teaching and the verbal expositions of the
beginnings of grammar. The Abhidhamma books and related works like the Patisambhida
Magga give other traces of its existence. It appears to be this system
which is expressly referred to in the Niddesa (1, 234) and other places as the
four kinds of analysis (patisambhida); the analysis of meanings (attha),
of conditions (dhamma), of grammatical analysis (nirutti), and
clearness of insight (patibhana). The Nirutti of the Niddesa is of the
kind that we should expect to exist when Pali was a living language. All the
grammatical analysis that was required was a knowledge of those words in the
Scriptures that had become obsolete, and the explanation of unusual
grammatical forms by means of current expressions... We can see from its
different forms and readings that it underwent changes and received additions,
and in the case of a work used continually for instruction this would be
The Venerable Sariputta states that he attained to the four kinds of analytical
knowledge (patisambhida) two weeks after his ordination, that is, on
attaining Arahatship. This fact, and the
extensive application of nirutti-patisambhida, "grammatical
analysis," in the Niddesa, make it quite probable that he was actually the
author of both the Niddesa and the Patisambhida Magga.
The Maha Niddesa contains also the commentary on the Sariputta Sutta
(also called the "Therapa˝ha Sutta") which forms the last text
of the Atthaka-vagga. The first part of this text, with verses in praise of the
Master and questions put to him, is ascribed to Sariputta. The Maha Niddesa
explains the opening stanza as referring to the Buddha's return from Tavatimsa
heaven after he had preached the Abhidhamma there. Apart from that it contains
only his questions, the essential part of the text being the Buddha's replies.
The Patisambhida Magga has the appearance of a manual of higher
Buddhist studies, and its range is as broad as that of the mind of its reputed
author. At the beginning it presents treatises on 72 types of knowledge (˝ana)
and on the types of wrong speculative views (ditthi), both of which show
the methodical and penetrative mind of the Venerable Sariputta. In the Treatise
on Knowledge, as well as in other chapters of the work, there are found a large
number of doctrinal terms appearing for the first time and only in the
Patisambhida Magga. It also contains elaborations of terms and teachings that
are mentioned only briefly in other and older parts of the Sutta Pitaka. In
addition to this, it contains material on meditation of great practical value,
as for example on mindfulness of breathing, metta-bhavana,
and numerous insight-exercises. There is also, to give variety to the subject
matter, a passage of hymnic character and great beauty, on the Great Compassion
of the Tathagata. Mahanama Thera of Ceylon, who wrote the Saddhammappakasini,
the commentary to the work, confidently ascribes it to the Venerable Sariputta,
and in the introductory stanzas gives eloquent praise of the great Elder. In the
Patisambhida Magga itself, Sariputta is mentioned twice, once as being one who
possesses samadhi-vipphara-iddhi (in the Iddhividha-katha) and
again in the Maha-pa˝˝a-katha, Solasa-pa˝˝a-niddesa, where it is
said: "Those whose wisdom is equal to that of Sariputta, they partake to
some extent of the Buddha-knowledge."
We come now to one of the most important contributions made by the Venerable
Sariputta to Buddhist teaching. According to tradition (e.g., in the Atthasalini),
the Buddha preached the Abhidhamma in the Tavatimsa heaven to his mother,
Queen Maya, who had been reborn as deva in that world. He did this for three
months, and when returning daily to earth for his meals, he gave to the
Venerable Sariputta the "method" (naya) of that portion of
Abhidhamma he had preached. The Atthasalini 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
Sariputta; the numerical series in the Great Book (Patthana) 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 Law."
The Atthasalini, the Commentary to the Dhamma-sangani also ascribes to
Sariputta the following contributions to the canonical Abhidhamma:
(a) The 42 couplets (dyads; duka) of the Suttanta Matika, which
follows the Abhidhamma Matika, both of which preface the seven Abhidhamma
books. The 42 Suttanta couplets are explained in the Dhammasangani and this
likewise has probably to be ascribed to the Elder.
In the Anupada Sutta the Buddha himself
speaks of the Venerable Sariputta'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 jhana-consciousness given in the Dhammasangani.
(b) The fourth and last part of the Dhammasangani, the Atthuddhara-kanda,
(c) The arrangement for the recitation of the Abhidhamma (vacanamagga).
(d) The Numerical Section (ga˝anacara) of the Patthana.
Concerning the Venerable Sariputta's mastery of the Dhamma, and its
exposition, the Buddha had this to say:
"The Essence of Dhamma (dhammadhatu) has been so well penetrated
by Sariputta, O monks, that if I were to question him therein for one day in
different words and phrases, Sariputta would reply likewise 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,
Sariputta would expound the matter for the same period of time, in various
words and phrases."
And on another occasion the Master employed this simile:
Nidana Samyutta, No. 32
"If he is endowed with five qualities, O monks, the eldest son of a
World-ruling 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-ruling 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
Similarly, O monks, is Sariputta endowed with five qualities and rightly
turns the supreme Wheel of Dhamma, even as I have turned it. And this Wheel
cannot be overturned by ascetics, or priests, by deities or Brahma, nor by
anyone else in the world. What are those five qualities? Sariputta, O monks,
knows what is beneficial, knows the Teaching, knows the right measure, knows
the right time and knows the assembly (he is to address)."
Anguttara Nikaya, V. 132
Other Theras were not behind in their appreciation. The Elder Vangisa, in his
encomium in the Theragatha (vv. 1231-3) praises Sariputta who "teaches in
brief and also speaks in detail," while in the same compilation other great
Elders, Maha Kassapa (vv. 1082-5) and Maha Moggallana (vv. 1158; 1176-7; 1182)
also give their meed of praise. And the Venerable Maha Moggallana, at the end of
Sariputta's Discourse on Guiltlessness, uttered
these words of tribute to his friend's sermon: "To (virtuous and earnest)
monks who have heard the exposition of the Venerable Sariputta it will be like
food and drink to their ears and mind. How well does he lift up his fellow-monks
from what is unwholesome, and confirm them in what is good!"
The relationship in which the two Chief Disciples stood to one another in the
matter of teaching was explained by the Buddha when he said:
"Associate, O monks with Sariputta and Moggallana, and keep company with
them! They are wise bhikkhus and helpers of their fellow-monks. Sariputta is
like a mother who brings forth, and Moggallana is like a nurse to what has
been brought forth. Sariputta trains (his pupils) in the Fruition of
Stream-entry, and Moggallana trains them for the highest goal.
"Sariputta is able to expound the Four Noble Truths in detail, to
teach them and make them intelligible, to proclaim, reveal and explain them,
and make them clear."
Majjh. 141, Sacca-vibhanga Sutta
And in the Anguttara Nikaya (11, 131);
That the Venerable Sariputta's great reputation as a teacher of the Dhamma long
survived him, to become a tradition among later Buddhists, is shown by the
concluding passages of the Milinda-pa˝ha, written some three hundred
years later. There, King Milinda compares Nagasena Thera to the Venerable
Sariputta, saying: "In this Buddha's Dispensation there is none other like
yourself for answering questions, except the Elder Sariputta, the Marshal of the
"A monk of faith, O bhikkhus, should cherish this right aspiration:
'Oh, may I become such as Sariputta and Moggallana!' For Sariputta and
Moggallana are the model and standard for my bhikkhu-disciples."
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.
As we have already seen, the Venerable Sariputta was born into a brahman family
of Upatissa village (or Nalaka), near Rajagaha, his father's name being Vaganta
and his mother's Sari. He had three brothers: Cunda, Upasena and Revata, and
three sisters named Cala, Upacala and Sisupacala. All six took ordination and
Cunda was known by the name Samanuddesa, meaning "the
Novice" in the Sangha, even after becoming a bhikkhu; this was to
distinguish him from the Elder Maha Cunda. At the time of Sariputta'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, an outline of which will be given elsewhere in this book.
Upasena, who came to be known as Vagantaputta, or "Son of Vaganta,"
as Sariputta is "Son of Sari", was said by the Buddha to be foremost
among those of all-pleasing deportment (samantappasadika). He died of a
snakebite, as is related in the Salatayana Samyutta, Vagga 7, Sutta 7.
Revata was the youngest of the brothers, and their mother, wishing to prevent
his 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 (khadira-vana), and while
spending the rainy season there he attained Arahatship. After that he became
known as Revata Khadiravaniya -- "Revata of the Acacia Forest." The
Buddha distinguished him as being the foremost among forest dwellers.
The three sisters, Cala, Upacala and Sisupacala, wishing to follow their
brothers' example, became nuns after their marriage. In marriage, each of them
had a son who was named after his mother Cala (or Cali) and so on. These three
sons were also ordained, being received as novices by Revata Khadtravaniya.
Their good conduct was praised by the Venerable Sariputta, who met them when he
went to see his youngest brother who was ill. This is recorded in the Commentary
to the Theragatha, v. 42.
Cala, Upacala and Sisupacala as nuns are said to have been approached by Mara
with taunting and tempting questions, to which they gave excellent replies.
These are recorded in the Theragatha and Bhikkhuni Samyutta.
In contrast to all these, Sariputta's mother was a staunch brahman and
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 Sariputta was in
his own village of Nalaka with a large retinue of monks, he came to his mother's
house in the course of his almsround. 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 ladies! 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 the Venerable Sariputta spoke not a
word. He took his food, ate it and in silence returned to the monastery. The
Buddha learned of the incident from the Venerable Rahula, 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.
It was not until right at the close of Sariputta's life that he was able to
convert his mother; that story will be told later on. But the incident that has
been related here leads us to a consideration of the great Elder's most pleasing
characteristics, his humility, patience and forbearance.
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 brahman."
It is the neighborhood of Jetavana, where the Buddha is residing. Some men are
in a group, talking about the noble qualities of the Elder Sariputta. "Such
great patience has our noble Elder," they are saying, "that even when
people abuse him and strike him, he feels no trace of anger."
"Who is this that never gets angry?" The question is from a
brahman, a holder of false views. And when they tell him, "It is our Elder,
Sariputta," he retorts: "It must be that nobody has ever provoked
"That is not so brahman," they reply. "Well, then, I will
provoke him to anger." "Provoke him to anger if you can!"
"Leave it to me," says the brahman. "I know just what to do to
The Venerable Sariputta enters the city on his round for alms. Approaching
him from behind, the brahman strikes him in a tremendous blow on the back.
"What was that?" says the Venerable Sariputta; and without so much as
turning to look, he continues on his way.
The fire of remorse leaps up in every part of the brahman's body. Prostrating
himself at the Elder's feet he begs for pardon. "For what?" asks the
Elder, mildly. "To test your patience I struck you," the penitent
brahman replies. "Very well, I pardon you."
"Reverend sir," the brahman says, "if you are willing to
pardon me, hereafter please take your food only at my house." With these
words he takes the Elder's almsbowl, which the Elder willingly yields, and
leading him to his house serves him with food.
But those who saw the assault are enraged. They gather at the brahman's
house, armed with sticks and stones, to kill him. When the Venerable Sariputta
emerges, accompanied by the brahman carrying his bowl, they cry: "Reverend
sir, order this brahman to turn back!"
"Why, lay disciples?" asks the Elder. They answer: "The man
struck you. We are going to give him what he deserves!"
"But what do you mean? Was it you, or me, he struck?"
"It was you, reverend sir." "Well, if it was me he struck, he
has begged my pardon. Go your ways." And so, dismissing the people and
permitting the brahman to return, the great Elder calmly makes his way to the
This incident, recorded in the Dhammapada Commentary, was the occasion of the
Buddha's uttering the verses 389 and 390 of the Dhammapada, which are among
those that give the Buddha's definition of what constitutes a brahman, that is
to say, rectitude of conduct rather than birth or rank.
Let none strike a brahman;
The Venerable Sariputta'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 Devaputta Samyutta, Susima Sutta,
that once, through a momentary negligence, a corner of the Elder's under-robe
was hanging down, and a seven-year-old novice, seeing this, pointed it out to
him. The Venerable Sariputta stepped aside at once and arranged the garment in
the proper equally-circular way. Then he stood before the novice with folded
hands, saying: "Now it is correct, teacher!"
Let no brahman return a blow.
Shame on him that strikes a brahman!
More shame on the brahman who returns the blow!
Not small is the gain to a brahman
Who restrains his mind from what is dear;
As fast as the will to injure wanes
So fast indeed does suffering decline.
Dhammapada, vv 389, 390
There is a reference to this incident in the Questions of Milinda,
where these verses are ascribed to the Venerable Sariputta:
"One who this very day, at the age of seven, has gone forth --
On one occasion the Buddha mildly reproved Sariputta for not
having carried his teaching far enough. When the brahman Dhana˝jani was on his
deathbed he was visited by the Venerable Sariputta. The Elder, reflecting that
brahmans are bent on the Brahma-world (or "union with Brahma") taught
the dying man the way to it through the Brahma-viharas. As a result, it is said,
the brahman was in fact reborn there.
If he should me, I accept it with (bended) head.
At sight of him, I give him ardent zeal and regard.
With respect may I again and again set him in the teacher's place!"
When the Venerable Sariputta returned from the visit, the Master asked him:
"Why, Sariputta, while there was more to do, did you set the brahman Dhana˝jani's
thoughts on the inferior Brahma-world, and then rising from your seat, leave
him?" The Venerable Sariputta replied: "I thought: 'These brahmans are
bent on the Brahma-world. Should I not show the brahman Dhana˝jani the way to
the communion with Brahma?"
"The brahman Dhana˝jani has died, Sariputta", said the Buddha,
"and he has been reborn in the Brahma-world."
This story, which is found in the Dhana˝jani Sutta of the Majjhima
Nikaya (97), is interesting as an illustration of the undesirability of rebirth
in an inferior Brahma-world for one who is capable of bringing rebirth entirely
to an end. For while the Buddha himself sometimes showed only the way to Brahma,
as for example in the Tevijja Sutta, it seems probable that in the case
of Dhana˝jani the Master saw that he was fit to receive a higher teaching,
while the Venerable Sariputta, lacking the capacity of knowing others' hearts (lokiya-abhi˝˝a),
was not able to discern that fact. The result is that Dhana˝jani will spend an
incalculable period in the Brahma-world and will have to take human birth again
before he can achieve the goal.
The Venerable Sariputta received another gentle reproof when, having asked
the Buddha why it was that the Sasana of some of the Buddhas of the past did not
last very long, and the Buddha had replied that it was because those Enlightened
Ones did not preach very much Dhamma, did not lay down regulations for the
disciples, nor institute the recital of the Patimokkha, Sariputta said that it
was now time for the Blessed One to promulgate the regulations and to recite the
Patimokkha, so that the Holy Life might last for a long period. The Buddha said:
"Let it be, Sariputta! the Tathagata himself will know the time for it. The
Master will not lay down regulations for the disciples nor recite the Patimokkha
until signs of corruption have appeared in the Sangha."
The disciple's concern that the Sasana should endure as long as possible is
characteristic of Sariputta; 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 Sotapanna (perhaps a fact of which the Venerable
Sariputta was not aware), and therefore it was not yet necessary to lay down the
rules of the bhikkhu life.
The Catuma Sutta records another
occasion when the great Elder was admonished by the Master. A large number of
monks, newly ordained, as the Commentary tell us, by the Venerable Sariputta and
Maha Moggallana, had come with the latter 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 Catuma. 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
The newly ordained monks left, but some persons intervened in their behalf
and they were allowed to return.
The Buddha then said to the Venerable Sariputta: "What did you think,
Sariputta, when I dismissed that group of monks?"
The Venerable Sariputta replied: "I thought: 'The Blessed One wishes to
remain unconcerned and to abide in the state of happiness here-and-now; so we
too shall remain unconcerned and abide in the state of happiness
"Hold, Sariputta! Do not allow such a thought ever to arise in you
again!" the Buddha said. Then turning to Maha Moggallana, he put the same
"When the Blessed One dismissed those monks," replied Maha
Moggallana, "I thought: 'The Blessed One wishes to remain unconcerned and
to abide in the state of happiness here-and-now. Then I and the Venerable
Sariputta should now look after the community of monks.'"
"Well spoken, Moggallana, well spoken!" said the Master. "It
is either myself or Sariputta or Moggallana who should look after the community
The Sutta account is lacking in certain details which would place the story
in the proper light necessary for an understanding of all its implications, but
it is possible that since the monks who had been dismissed were pupils of
Sariputta and Maha Moggallana, the Elder wished to show his displeasure with
them and to indicate by his aloofness that they had behaved badly.
Once, when the Buddha was residing at Jetavana, the Venerable Sariputta was
the victim of a false accusation. It so happened that at the end of the rains
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 Sariputta, and in
dismissing them he addressed those who were known by their personal and family
names, by those 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, the Venerable Sariputta 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
Sariputta. 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 Sariputta, 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
The Buddha summoned Sariputta into his presence. Meanwhile, the Venerable
Maha Moggallana and the Venerable Ananda, knowing that a calumny was about to be
exposed, summoned all the monks, convoking an assembly. "Approach,
venerable sirs!" they called. "When the Venerable Sariputta is face to
face with the Master, he will roar the roar of a lion!"
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 the Venerable Sariputta'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 Candala 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
traduced him. Immediately, he fell at the feet of the Blessed One, admitting his
slander and confessing his fault. Thereupon the Buddha said: "Sariputta,
pardon this deluded man, lest his head should split into seven pieces."
Sariputta'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 surpassing 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
The Buddha's comment was: "Bhikkhus, it is impossible for Sariputta and
his like to cherish anger or hatred. Sariputta's mind is like the great earth,
firm like a gate post, like a pool of still water."
Unresentful like the earth, firm like a gate post,
Another incident of this nature, in the early Sangha, did not end so happily,
for the calumniator refused to admit his fault. He was a monk named Kokalika,
who approached the Buddha with a slander against the two Chief Disciples;
"Sariputta and Moggallana have bad intentions, O Lord!" he said.
"They are in the grip of evil ambition."
With mind like a clear pool, such is the virtuous man
For whom the round of births exists no more.
The Master replied: "Do not say so, Kokalika! Do not say so! Have
friendly and trustful thoughts towards Sariputta and Moggallana! They are of
good behavior, and lovable!"
But the misguided Kokalika 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.
This incident was well-known. It is recorded in the following places in the
Sutta-pitaka: Brahma Samyutta No. 10; Sutta Nipata, Mahavagga No. 10; Anguttara
Nikaya V. 170, and Takkariya Jataka (No. 481). A comparison of these two
incidents reveals the importance of penitence. Neither the Venerable Sariputta
nor Maha Moggallana bore the monk Kokalika 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 towards the innocent, and so Kokalika was judged and punished by himself,
through his own deeds.
The Further Shore
We now come to the year of the Master's Parinibbana. The Blessed One had
spent the rainy season at Beluva village, near
Vesali, and when the Retreat was over he left that place and, going by the way
he had come, returned by stages to Savatthi and arrived at the Jeta Grove
There the Elder Sariputta, the Marshal of the Law, 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 state of the Fruition
Attainment of Arahatship.
At the time predetermined by him, he arose from the meditation, and this
thought occurred to him: "Do the Enlightened Ones have their final passing
away first, or the Chief Disciples?" 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 only for another week.
He then considered: "Where shall I have my final passing away?" And
he thought: "Rahula finally passed away among the deities of the
Thirty-three, and the Elder Konda˝˝a the Knower at the Chaddanta Lake.
Where, then, will be my place?"
While thinking this over repeatedly he remembered his mother, and the thought
came to him: "Although she is the mother of seven Arahats
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-intuition (abhisamaya) of Stream-entry. Then he asked
himself: "Though whose instruction can she win to the penetration of
And he saw that not through anyone else's but only through his own
instruction in the Dhamma, could it come about. And following upon that came the
thought: "If I now remain indifferent, people will say: 'Sariputta 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
Arahatship, 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
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 have my final
passing away 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 Nalaka." 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
Nalaka." 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 Sariputta. 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: "May, O Lord, the Blessed One permit, may the
Exalted One consent: the time of my final passing away has come, I have
relinquished the life-force.
Lord of the World, O greatest Sage!
Now, says the text, if the enlightened One were to have replied, "You may
have your final passing away," hostile sectarians would say that he was
speaking in praise of death; and if he had replied, "Do not have your final
passing away," 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 your final passing away take place?"
From life I soon shall be released.
Going and coming no more shall be;
This is the last time that I worship thee.
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 for me Nibbana's time has come,
Relinquished have I now the will to live."
The Venerable Sariputta replied: "In the Magadha country, in the village
called Nalaka, there in the chamber of my birth shall I finally pass away."
Then the Blessed One said: "Do, Sariputta, 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 once more a discourse on Dhamma."
The great Elder then gave a discourse, displaying all his descending to
mundane truth, rising again, and again descending, he expounded the Dhamma
directly and in symbols. 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 Perfections throughout an aeon and a
hundred thousand kalpas. My heart's wish has found fulfillment. From now on
there will be no more contact or meeting; severed now is that intimate
connection. The City of Nibbana, the unaging, undying, peaceful, blissful,
heat-assuaging and secure, which has been entered by many hundreds of thousands
of Buddhas -- I too shall enter it now.
"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, wherein I should have to reproach you,
Sariputta. For you are learned, Sariputta, of great wisdom, of broad and bright,
quick, keen and penetrative wisdom."
So now he made answer in the same way: "I forgive you, Sariputta,"
he said. "But there was not a single word or deed of yours that was
displeasing to me. Do now, Sariputta, 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 the Venerable
Sariputta 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 (cakkavala) and the
Himavant, 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
Then the Blessed One thought: "I shall now permit the Marshal of the Law
to depart." and he rose from the seat of the Law, went to his Perfumed Cell
and there stood on the Jewel Slab. Three times the Venerable Sariputta
circumambulated the cell, keeping it to his right, and paid reverence at four
places. And this thought was in his mind: "an aeon and a hundred thousand
kalpas ago it was, when I fell down at the feet of the Buddha Anomadassi 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
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 the Jeta Grove,
leaving the Blessed One there alone. The citizens of Savatthi 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.
The Venerable Sariputta 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
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 Venerable 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 the Venerable Sariputta spent one night wherever he
stopped, and thus for one week he favored many people with a last sight of him.
Reaching Nalaka 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 the Venerable Sariputta. 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: "Grandaunt, my uncle has
"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 Venerable Sariputta then, accompanied by the bhikkhus, went up to the
terrace of the house and entered his birth chamber. After seating himself, 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 brahman lady thought: "The
news of my son is not good," and she stood leaning by the door of her own
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
Law?" And they perceived that he was at Nalaka, 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
"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 the Venerable Sariputta. "There is an
attendant here. You may go."
When they had left, there came in the same manner Sakka the king of the gods,
and after him, Maha Brahma, and all of them the elder dismissed in the same way.
The brahman lady, seeing the coming and going of these deities, asked
herself: "Who could they have been, who came and 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 Upasika (lay devotee) has come."
The Venerable Sariputta asked her: "Why have you come at this unusual
"To see you, dear," she replied. "Tell me, who were those who
"The Four Great Divine Kings, upasika."
"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
"After they had left, who was it that came then, dear?"
"It was Sakka the king of the gods."
"Are you then, greater than the king of gods, dear?"
"He is like a novice who carries a bhikkhu's belongings," answered
Sariputta. "When our Master returned from the heaven of the Thirty-three
(Tavatimsa), Sakka took his bowl and robe and descended to earth together with
"And when Sakka had gone, who was it that came after him, filling the
room with his radiance?"
"Upasika, that was your own Lord and Master, the Great Brahma."
"Then are you greater, my son, even than my Lord, the Great
"Yes, Upasika. On the day when our Master was born, it is said that four
Great Brahmas received the Great Being in a golden net."
Upon hearing this, the brahman lady 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 the fivefold rapture 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, upasika?"
"I was thinking," she replied, "if my son has such virtue,
what must be the virtue of his Master?"
The Venerable Sariputta 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 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 Bhagava...).
And thus he gave her an exposition of the Dhamma, basing it on the virtues of
When the Dhamma talk given by her beloved son had come to an end, the brahman
lady was firmly established in the Fruition 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 ambrosia (the knowledge of the
The Elder thought: "Now I have given my mother, the brahman lady
Rupa-Sari, the nursing-fee for bringing me up. This should suffice." and he
dismissed her with the words: "You may go now, upasika."
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 traveled with you, my brethren. If any deed or word of mine was
unpleasant to you, forgive me, brethren."
And they replied: "Venerable sir, not the least displeasure has ever
come from you to us, who 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 Maha
Parinibbana, 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 Nibbana-element which is without any remnant of
And it was the full-moon day of the month Kattika, which by the solar
calendar is between October and November.
The brahman 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 seated in this house, and to
feed, many a hundred 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 center of the village the upasika had a pavilion
of heart-wood built. In the middle of the pavilion a large, gabled structure was
raised, surrounded by a parapet wall of golden arches and columns. Then they
began the sacred ceremony, in which men 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 woods. They placed the body
of the Venerable Sariputta on the pyre and kindled the wood with bundles of
Usira 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 tarry here any longer. I must
tell the Fully Enlightened One of the final passing away of my elder brother,
the Venerable Sariputta, the Marshal of the Law." So he took the filter
cloth with the relics, and the Venerable Sariputta's almsbowl and robes, and
went to Savatthi, spending only one night at each stage of the journey.
These are the events released in the Commentary to the Cunda Sutta of
the Satipatthana Samyutta, with additions from the parallel version in the
Commentary to the Maha-parinibbana Sutta. The narrative is taken up in
the Cunda Sutta which follows.
Once the Blessed One was dwelling at Savatthi, in Anathapindika's park. At
that time the Venerable Sariputta was at Nalaka village in the Magadha
country, and was sick, suffering, gravely ill. The Novice Cunda
was his attendant.
And the Venerable Sariputta passed away finally through that very illness.
Then the Novice Cunda took the almsbowl and robes of the Venerable Sariputta
and went to Savatthi, to the Jeta Grove, Anathapindika's park. There he betook
himself to the Venerable Ananda and, having saluted him, seated himself at one
side. Thus seated, he spoke to the Venerable Ananda saying: "Venerable
sir, the Venerable Sariputta has had his final passing away. These are his
bowl and robes."
"On this matter, Cunda, we ought to see the Blessed One. Let us go,
friend Cunda, and meet the Master. Having met him, we shall acquaint the
Blessed One with that fact."
"Yes, Venerable sir," said the Novice Cunda.
They went to see the Blessed One, and having arrived there and saluted the
Master, they seated themselves at one side. Then the Venerable Ananda
addressed the Blessed One:
"O Lord, the Novice Cunda has told me this: 'The Venerable Sariputta
has had his final passing away. These are his bowl and robes.' Then, O 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
"How is this, Ananda? When Sariputta had his final passing away, did
he take from you your portion of virtue, or your portion of concentration, or
your portion of the knowledge and vision of deliverance?"
"Not so, Lord. When the Venerable Sariputta had his final passing away
he did not take my portion of virtue... concentration... wisdom...
deliverance, or my portion of the knowledge and vision of deliverance. But O
Lord, the Venerable Sariputta has been to me a mentor, teacher, and
instructor, one who rouses, inspires and gladdens, untiring in preaching
Dhamma, a helper of his fellow monks. And we remember how vitalizing,
enjoyable and helpful his Dhamma instruction was."
"Have I not taught you aforetime, Ananda, 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 to being, put together, and so
is subject to dissolution, how should it be said that is should not depart?
That, indeed, is not possible. It is, Ananda, as though from a mighty hardwood
tree a large branch should break off, so has Sariputta now had his final
passing away from this great and sound community of bhikkhus. Indeed, Ananda,
of that which is born, come to being, put together, and so is subject to
dissolution, how should it be said that it should not depart? This, indeed, is
"Therefore, Ananda, be ye an island unto yourself, a refuge unto
yourself, seeking no external refuge; with the Teaching as your island, the
Teaching 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-colored relics of the bhikkhu who, not
long ago, asked for permission to have his final passing away. He who
fulfilled the Perfections for an incalculable aeon and a hundred thousand
kalpas -- 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, bright wisdom, 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 had been cut -- this was that bhikkhu. Of humble mind like a Candala 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
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 Sariputta 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 earth withal -- now homage pay
To Sariputta who has passed away!
Who, like an outcaste boy of humble mind,
Enters the town and slowly wends his way
From door to door with begging bowls in hand,
Such was this Sariputta -- now homage pay
To Sariputta who has passed away!
One who in town or jungle, hurting none,
Lived like a bull whose horns are cut away,
Such was this Sariputta, who had won
Mastery of himself -- now homage pay
To Sariputta who has passed away!"
* * *
When the Blessed One had thus lauded the virtues of the Venerable Sariputta,
he asked for a stupa to be built for the relics.
After that, he indicated to the Elder Ananda his wish to go to Rajagaha.
Ananda informed the monks, and the Blessed One, together with a large body of
bhikkhus, journeyed to Rajagaha. At the time he arrived there, the Venerable
Maha Moggallana had also had his final passing away. The Blessed One took his
relics likewise, and had a stupa raised for them.
Then he departed from Rajagaha, and going by stages towards the Ganges, he
reached Ukkacela. There he went to the bank of the Ganges, and seated with his
following of monks he preached the Ukkacela Sutta, on the Parinibbana of
Sariputta and Maha Moggallana.
Once the Blessed One was dwelling in the Vajji country, at Ukkacela on the
bank of the river Ganges, not long after Sariputta and Maha Moggallana had
passed away. And at that time the Blessed One was seated in the open,
surrounded by company of monks.
The Blessed One surveyed the silent gathering of monks, and then spoke to
"This assembly, O bhikkhus, appears indeed empty to me, now that
Sariputta and Maha Moggallana have passed away. Not empty, for me, is an
assembly, nor need I have concern for a place where Sariputta and Maha
"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
Sariputta and Maha Moggallana. 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 Sariputta and Maha Moggallana.
"Marvelous it is, most wonderful it is, bhikkhus, concerning those
disciples, that they will act in accordance with the Master's Dispensation,
will act in according to his advice; that they will be dear to the four
Assemblies, will be loved, respected and honored by them. Marvelous it is,
most wonderful it is, bhikkhus, concerning the Perfect Ones, 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 to 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 ye an island unto yourselves, a refuge unto
yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Teaching as your island, the
Teaching 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 Law." The Venerable Sariputta
died on the full moon of the month Kattika, which begins in October and ends in
November of the solar calendar. The death of Maha Moggallana followed a
half-month later, on the Uposatha of the New Moon. Half a year later, according
to tradition, came the Parinibbana of the Buddha himself.
Could such an auspicious combination of three great personages, so fruitful
in blessings to gods and men, have been brought about purely by chance? We find
the answer to that question in the Milinda-pa˝ha
where Nagasena says:
"In many hundred thousands of births, too, sire, the Elder Sariputta was
the Bodhisatta's father, grandfather, uncle, brother, son, nephew or
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 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 Sariputta
The suttas attributed to the Venerable Sariputta cover a wide range of
subjects connected with the Holy Life, from simple morality up to abstruse
points of doctrine and meditational practice. A list of them, together with a
brief description of the subject matter of each, is given below. their
arrangement in the Sutta Pitaka 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 to them a
period in the Buddha's ministry. One such is the Anathapindika Sutta,
preached just before the great lay disciple's death.
- No. 3 Heirs of Dhamma (Dhammadayada Sutta)
- After the Buddha had discoursed on "heirs of Dhamma" and
"heirs of worldliness" and had retired into his cell, the
Venerable Sariputta 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 and
says that the Middle Way by which they can be eradicated is the Noble
- No. 5: Guiltfree (Anangana 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
- No. 9: Right Understanding (Samma-ditthi Sutta)
- Summary on p. 42
- No. 28: The Greater Discourse on the Elephant Footprint Simile (Maha-hatthipadopama
- Summary on p. 40
- No 43: The Greater Discourse on Explanations (Maha-vedalla Sutta)
- The Elder answers a number of questions put by the Venerable Maha
Kotthita, who was foremost in analytical knowledge. Sariputta 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
- No. 69: Discourse to Gulissani (Gulissani Sutta)
- On the conduct and Dhamma-practice to be followed by a forest-dwelling
monk. Questioned by the Venerable Maha-Moggallana, the Elder confirms that
the same duties apply also to monks living in the vicinity of towns and
- No. 97: Discourse to Dhana˝jani (Dhana˝jani Sutta)
- The Venerable Sariputta explains to the brahman Dhana˝jani 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
Later, when Dhana˝jani was on his deathbed he requested the Elder to
visit him, and the Venerable Sariputta spoke to him, on the way to Brahma
through the Brahma-viharas. The Buddha mildly reproached the elder for not
having led Dhana˝jani to a higher understanding. (See p. 59)
- No. 114: To Be Practiced and Not To Be Practiced (Sevitabbasevitabba
- The Venerable Sariputta 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
- No. 143: Discourse to Anathapindika (Anathapindikovada sutta)
The Venerable Sariputta is called to Anathapindika's deathbed and
admonishes him to free his mind from any attachment whatsoever, beginning
with the six sense organs: "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
organs, the six sense objects, the sixfold consciousness, sixfold contact,
sixfold feeling born of contact; the six elements, the five aggregates, the
four incorporeal jhanas, 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 Sariputta, the skilled teacher, obviously intended. And in
fact his words had that impact because our text says that Anathapindika was
moved to tears by the loftiness of the discourse, one in profundity unlike
any he had ever heard before. Anathapindika passed away soon after, and was
reborn as a deity in Tusita Heaven.
- No. 28: Faith-Inspiring Discourse (Sampasadaniya Sutta)
- An eloquent eulogy of the Buddha by Sariputta, 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
Sariputta's deep confidence in the Buddha. It may be regarded as
complementary to Sariputta's "Lion's Roar" which forms the first
section of the discourse and is repeated in the Maha-parinibbana Sutta.
- No. 33: Doctrinal Recitation (Sangiti Sutta) and
No. 34: Tenfold Series Discourse (Dasuttara Sutta)
- See pp. 44f.
Roman figures denote the number of the book (nipata) and Arabic figures
the number of the sutta. The division of the suttas in the Anguttara Nikaya is
- II, 37 (Samacitta-Sutta):
- On the Stream-winner, the Once-returner and the non-returner, and on what
determines the places of the rebirths they have still before them. See p.
- III, 21:
- On another classification of Noble Persons (ariya puggala): the
Body-witness (kayasakkhi), the one attained to Right Understanding (ditthippatto)
and the one Liberated through Faith (saddha-vimutto).
- IV, 79:
- Sariputta 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.
- IV, 156:
- On four qualities indicative of loss or maintenance of wholesome states of
Here it is said that if one finds in oneself four qualities one can know
for certain that one has lost wholesome qualities, and that 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, and that
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 (relating to wisdom).
- IV, 167f:
- The four types of progress on the Path. See p. 23.
- IV, 171:
- Sariputta elaborates a brief statement made by the Buddha on the four
forms of personalized existence (attabhava) and puts an additional
question. The Buddha's reply to it was later elaborated by Sariputta in the Samacitta
Sutta (see above).
- IV, 172:
- Sariputta states that he attained to the fourfold analytical knowledge (patisambhida-˝ana)
two weeks after his ordination (i.e., at his attainment of Arahatship). He
appeals to the Buddha for confirmation. See p. 38.
- IV, 173:
- Discussion with Maha Kotthita on the limits of the explainable. The
Venerable Sariputta says: "As far, brother, as the six bases of
sense-impression (phassayatana) reach, so far reaches the
(explainable) world of diffuseness (papa˝ca); and as far as the
world of diffuseness reaches, so far reach the six bases of
sense-impression. Through the entire fading away and cessation of the six
bases of sense impression, the world of diffuseness ceases and is
- IV, 175:
- On the need of both knowledge and right conduct (vijjacarana) for
the ending of suffering.
- IV, 179:
- On the reasons for obtaining, and not obtaining, Nibbana in the present
- V, 1 5:
- 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.
- V, 167:
- On how to censure fellow-monks.
- VI, 14-15:
- Causes of a monk's good or bad dying.
- VI, 41:
- Sariputta explains that a monk with supernormal powers may, if he so
wishes, regard a tree trunk merely as being solid, or as a 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.
- VII, 66:
- On respect and reverence, Sariputta says that these are helpful in
overcoming what is unwholesome and developing what is wholesome: that is
respect and reverence towards the Master, the Teaching, the Community of
Monks, the training, meditation, heedfulness (appamada) and towards
the spirit of kindliness and courtesy (patisanthara). Each of these
factors is said to be a condition of the one following it.
- IX, 6:
- On the two things needful to know about people, robes, almsfood, lodging,
villages, towns and countries: that is, whether one should associate with
them, use them, or live in them, or whether one should not.
- IX, 11:
- A second "Lion's Roar" of Sariputta, 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. 63.
- IX, 13:
- A discussion with the Venerable Maha Kotthita about the purpose of living
the Holy Life.
- IX, 14:
- The Venerable Sariputta questions the Venerable Samiddhi about the
essentials of the Dhamma and approves of his answers.
- IX, 26:
- This text illustrates the Venerable Sariputta's scrupulous fairness even
towards antagonists. He corrects a statement attributed to Devaddata which
was probably wrongly formulated by one of Devadatta's followers who reported
it to Sariputta. Later, Sariputta speaks to that monk on the fully developed
and steadfast mind, which is not shaken by even the most attractive sense
- IX, 34:
- On Nibbana, which is described as happiness beyond feelings.
- X, 7:
- Sariputta describes his meditation, during which he had only the single
perception that "Nibbana is the ceasing of existence." See
- X, 65:
- To be reborn is misery; not to be reborn is happiness.
- X, 66:
- To have delight in the Buddha's Teaching and Discipline is happiness; not
to have delight in them is misery.
- X, 67-68:
- Causes of progress and decline in the cultivation of what is salutary.
- X, 90:
- On the ten powers of a canker-free Arahant that entitle him to proclaim
- Sariputta rejects the alternatives that suffering is produced either by
oneself or by another, and explains the conditioned arising of suffering
through the (sixfold sense-) contact (phassa).
- The same is stated with regard to both happiness and suffering (sukha-dukkha).
- On the conditioned arising of existence from nutriment.
- Kalara Sutta. Questioned by the Buddha, Sariputta says that the
knowledge inducing him to declare his attainment of Arahantship was that he
knew: 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 Arahatship: "Extinct is birth..." (khina jati).
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 the Venerable
Sariputta as the starting-point for his attainment of Arahatship. He says
that, as he sees impermanence and suffering in all three kinds of feeling,
there is in him no arising of any hedonic gratification (nandi).
- Sariputta explains in detail the Buddha's saying: "Even if the body
is ill, the mind should not be ill."
- Monks going to distant border districts are instructed by Sariputta 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.
- On the importance of reflecting on the five aggregates. If one who
possesses virtue (or, in Text 123, 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-winner, Once-returner or
Non-returner thus contemplates, he may be able to win to the next higher
stage. An arahat should also contemplate the five aggregates thus, as it
will conduce to his happiness here and now, as well as to mindfulness and
- On ignorance and knowledge.
- In these nine texts Sariputta speaks of his having developed all nine
meditative attainments, i.e., from the first jhana up to the cessation of
perception and feeling; and states that in doing so he was always free of
any self-affirmation. See p. 37.
- Once, at Rajagaha, after the almsround the Venerable Sariputta was taking
food his food near a wall. A female ascetic called Sucimukhi (Bright-face)
approached him and asked whether when eating he turned to one or other of
the directions, as done by some non-Buddhists ascetics. Sariputta denied it
for every one of the directions, explaining them in his own way as being
several means of livelihood that are wrong for ascetics, such as geomancy,
astrology, going on errands, etc. He said that he did not turn to any of
those wrong directions, but sought his almsfood in the right manner; and
what he had thus obtained righteously, that he would eat. Sucimukhi was
deeply impressed, and thereafter went from street to street and place to
place loudly proclaiming: "The Sakya ascetics take their food
righteously! They take their food blamelessly! Please give almsfood to the
- Not the senses and their objects, but the desire for them is the fetter
that binds to existence.
Sariputta replies to questions put by his nephew, Jambukhadaka, who was a
Paribbajaka, i.e., a non-Buddhist ascetic.
- He defines Nibbana and Arahatship as the elimination of greed, hatred and
- 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.
- Questioned by the Buddha, Sariputta 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.
- On the five spiritual faculties. (These texts are translated in Wheel
No. 65/66, The Way of Wisdom, pp. 47f, 49f)
- On the four conditioning factors of Stream-entry (sotapattiyanga).
Sariputta in the Jatakas
As might be expected, the Venerable Sariputta makes frequent appearances in
the Jatakas, the stories of the Buddha's previous lives. In these, the
Bodhisatta and Sariputta assume various roles; in some existences we find
Sariputta as the teacher and the Bodhisatta as pupil, as for example in the Susima
(163), Cula Nandiya (223), Silavimamsa (305), Karandiya
(356) and Maha Dhammapala (447) Jatakas. In the last-mentioned Jataka,
however, the Bodhisatta, as pupil, gives his teacher, Sariputta, a valuable
lesson: not to give the Five Precepts indiscriminately to those who have no
desire to accept them nor the intention to observe them.
In several births Sariputta appears as a human being and the Bodhisatta an
animal. Some examples are the Cula Nandiya Jataka (223), the Romaka
Jataka (277) -- where Sariputta, as a wise ascetic, instructs a partridge,
the Bodhisatta -- the Bhojajaniya Jataka (23) and the Dummedha Jataka
In other stories the roles are reversed, as in the Jarudapana (256)
and Kundakakucchi Sindhava (254) Jatakas (for the latter, see
below), where Sariputta is an animal and the Bodhisatta human. Sometimes, as in
the Kurungamiga Jataka (206), both are animals.
The following are summaries of Jatakas in which the Venerable
Sariputta's previous personalities appear.
- Lakkhana Jataka (11):
- As the wise one of two brother stags, each leader of a herd, Sariputta
brings his herd safely back to the hills from a dangerous track, while his
foolish brother (Devadatta) loses his whole herd.
- Bhojajaniya Jataka (23):
- The Bodhisatta is a superb warsteed, while Sariputta is a knight entrusted
with the task of capturing seven hostile kings. He succeeds, thanks to the
endurance and sacrificing spirit of the steed.
- Visavanta Jataka (69):
- Sariputta is a snake which refuses to suck back its poison from a man
bitten by it, preferring death. This Jataka was told when Sariputta,
the Great Disciple, gave up the eating of meal cakes, which he enjoyed, and
never went back on his resolution.
- Parosahassa Jataka (99):
- Sariputta, as pupil of a hermit teacher, is able to understand short,
enigmatic sayings. A comment on his penetrative mind.
- Dummedha Jataka (122):
- Sariputta, as a king of Benares, is able to appreciate excellence when he
sees it. The Bodhisatta is a superb white elephant. Devadatta, as king of
Magadha, had owned that elephant but lost it through jealousy.
- Rajovada Jataka (151):
- Sariputta and Maha Moggallana are both charioteers of powerful kings.
Meeting one another on a narrow road, each expects the other to give way,
and they decide the issue by proclaiming the virtues of their respective
monarchs. Sariputta, whose king is the Bodhisatta, wins the contest by
showing that his master's virtue is superior: he is not only good to those
who are good, he is good to the bad as well.
- Alinacitta Jataka (156):
- Sariputta, as an elephant, shows the virtue of gratitude.
- Kurungamiga Jataka (206):
- Sariputta as a woodpecker and Maha Moggallana as a tortoise save the life
of the Bodhisatta, who is an antelope, from a hunter (Devadatta). Later, the
woodpecker saves the imprisoned tortoise.
- Cula Nandiya Jataka (223):
- As a wise brahman teacher, Sariputta advises his pupil, Devadatta, not to
be harsh, cruel and violent, but his exhortation is in vain.
- Kundakakucchi Sindhava Jataka (254):
- Sariputta, as a wondrous horse owned by the Bodhisatta, a horse-dealer,
benefits an impoverished old woman who had owned the horse previously.
- Jarudapana Jataka (256):
- Sariputta, as a Naga king, helps the Bodhisatta, a merchant, to transport
some treasure which the latter found.
- Vyaggha Jataka (272):
- In a former life as a Yakkha, the monk Kokalika could not live together
with Sariputta and Maha Moggallana, nor could he live without them.
- Romaka Jataka (277):
- Sariputta, as a wise ascetic, instructs a partridge, the Bodhisatta.
- Abbhantara (281) and Supatta (292) Jatakas:
- Incidents of Sariputta's last life. Rahula, whose mother is a bhikkhuni,
requests the Venerable Sariputta to get sugared mango juice as a medicine
for her flatulence, which he does. In (292), for another illness of hers,
the Venerable Sariputta procures rice cooked with ghee and flavored with red
- Sayha Jataka (310):
- Ananda, as a king sends his courtier, Sayha (Sariputta) to a friend of his
youth (the Bodhisatta) who had become an ascetic, asking him in vain to
return and be the court brahman.
- Khantivadi Jataka (313):
- When the Bodhisatta was a wise ascetic, the Preacher of Patience (Khantivadi),
and was tortured by King Kalabu (Devadatta), Sariputta was that king's
commander-in-chief of the army. Sariputta bandaged the Bodhisatta's wounds.
- Mamsa Jataka (315):
- Sariputta was a hunter and the Bodhisatta a merchant's son. Addressing the
hunter as ""friend", and winning him over with kind words,
the Bodhisatta persuaded him to give up his cruel profession.
- Vannoroha Jataka (361):
- In their last lives, when the Great Disciples Sariputta and Maha
Moggallana were living in solitude, a beggar who attended on them and ate
the remnants of their food, tried to set them at variance but failed. Each
of them just smiled at the calumnies and told to go away. The Jataka
relates that the same had happened in an earlier life when the beggar was a
jackal and Sariputta and Maha Moggallana were a lion and a tiger.
- Kotisimbali Jataka (412):
- Sariputta, as a king of the Garudas (supanna-raja) saves a tree
which was the home of a tree spirit, the Bodhisatta.
- Kanha Dipayana Jataka (444):
- Sariputta is the ascetic Ani-Mandaviya. Impaled by the king on a false
accusation, he bears the torture patiently and without resentment, knowing
it to be the result of past evil kamma. The Bodhisatta is his
brother-ascetic, Kanha Dipayana, who in an Act of Truth confesses that all
throughout he has lived the ascetic life unwillingly, except for the first
- Maha Paduma Jataka (472):
- Sariputta, as a hill spirit, saves the life of the Bodhisatta, who is
Prince Maha Paduma.
A Note on the Relics of Sariputta
and Maha Moggallana
On Sanchi Hill in Bhopal are the remains of ten stupas which are among the
oldest buildings still standing in India. By their architectural features and
sculpture they have always been recognised as belonging to the high noon of
Buddhist art, the characters in which their numerous inscriptions are written
placing them at about the period of Asoka; that is, some time around the middle
of the third century B.C. Some are in good preservation, while others have been
reduced in the course of centuries to mere mounds of earth and stone.
It was in one of these, the now famous Third Stupa, that Sir Alexander
Cunningham discovered the sacred Body Relics of the Buddha's Chief Disciples,
Sariputta and Maha Moggallana, in 1851. At about the same time, more relics of
the two great Arahats were found in a stupa at Satadhara, about six miles
distant from Sanchi.
On sinking a shaft in the center of the stupa on Sanchi Hill, Cunningham came
upon a large stone slab, upwards of five feet in length, lying in a direction
from north to south. Beneath the slab were found two boxes of grey sandstone,
each with a brief inscription in Brahmi characters on the lid. The box to the
south was inscribed "Sariputtasa" "(Relics) of
Sariputta," while that to the north bore the legend "Maha-Mogalanasa."
"(Relics) of Maha Moggallana."
The southernmost box contained a large flat casket of white steatite, rather
more than six inches broad and three inches in height. The surface was hard and
polished and the box, which had been turned on a lathe, was a beautiful piece of
workmanship. Around this casket were some fragments of sandalwood believed to
have been from the funeral pyre, while inside it, besides the Relic, various
precious stones were found. This casket contained a single bone relic of the
Venerable Sariputta, not quite one inch in length.
The stone box to the north enclosed another steatite casket, similar to that
of Sariputta but slightly smaller and with a softer surface. Inside it were two
bone relics of the Venerable Maha Moggallana, the larger of them being something
less than half an inch in length.
Each of the two steatite caskets had a single ink letter inscribed on the
inner surface of the lid: "Sa" for Sariputta on the southern and
"Ma" for Maha Moggallana on that to the north. In Cunningham's words,
"Sariputta and Maha Moggallana were the principal followers of the Buddha,
and were usually styled his right and left hand disciples. Their ashes thus
preserved after death the same positions to the right and left of Buddha which
they had themselves occupied in life."
This is explained by the fact that the Buddha customarily sat facing east.
In the stupa at Satadhara, one of a group which Cunningham noted was called
locally "Buddha Bhita" or "Buddha Monuments," he discovered
two caskets of pale mottled steatite. These were inscribed, like those at
Sanchi, "Sariputtasa" and "Maha Mogallanasa" respectively.
This stupa showed signs of having been violated by robbers, but the bone relics
had been left undistrubed. Cunningham, who is a very capable archaeologist, has
left a detailed account of everything his excavations brought to light in these
and other stupas, and it is thanks to him that the authenticity of the relics is
established beyond all doubt.
The relics from both stupas were removed to England and placed in the
Victoria and Albert Museum, but some discrepancies between Cunningham's
description of the caskets and the actual boxes in which the relics were
deposited gives reason to believe that he, or someone else, transferred the
relics from Sanchi to the caskets discovered at Satadhara, and what became of
the Sanchi steatite caskets is not known for certain.
The Sacred Relics were preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum until
1939, when the Maha Bodhi Society approached the British government with a
request that they be returned to India. The request was at once granted, but
owing to the outbreak of the second World War in that year, the actual transfer
was delayed for reasons of safety until Feb 24th, 1947. On that date they were
handed over to the representatives of the Maha Bodhi Society at the Victoria and
Albert Museum, and so began their journey back to the land of their origin.
Before being restored to India, however, the relics were taken to Sri Lanka,
where they were received with great honor and amid general rejoicing. For two
and a half months in 1947, they were displayed for public worship at the Colombo
Museum, where it has been estimated that well over two million people paid
homage to them. It is said that not only Buddhists but Hindus, Christians and
Muslims joined in paying reverence to them.
The next stage of their journey to the new Vihara that was being erected for
their re-enshrinement at Sanchi, was Calcutta. There the relics were displayed
for public homage at the Dharmarajika Vihara, headquarters of the Maha Bodhi
Society of India. The same scenes of religious devotion were enacted there.
Every day for two weeks an unbroken stream of people filed past the shrine where
the relics were exposed, from morning until late evening. Most of the devotees
were Hindus, but there was also a large number of Muslims among them, and the
reverence shown by all was a deeply impressive sight. Many had come from distant
parts to pay their respects to the remains of these great sons of India.
Next came a request from Burma that the relics should be taken for exposition
here. This was readily granted. The reception given to them in that country
revived all the pomp and religious fervor of ancient times. In order that
everyone in Burma should be given an opportunity of worshipping them, the relics
were conducted on a riverine tour along the Irrawaddy from Mandalay to Rangoon.
The steamer that conveyed them was escorted by boats decorated in traditional
Burmese style, and at every town along the river the relics were taken ashore in
procession for worship at the chief pagoda. At the same time religious meetings
were held, drawing vast crowds of people from the adjacent villages to hear
sermons and the recitation of suttas, which usually continued all through the
Subsequently, at the request of the respective governments, the relics were
taken for exposition to Nepal and Ladakh.
After they were returned to India the Burmese government asked that a portion
of the Sacred Relics should be given to Burma. The Maha Bodhi Society of India
agreed to this, and the then Prime Minister of Burma went in person to Calcutta
to receive them. They were ceremonially transferred to him on the 20th October
1950. The portion allotted to Burma was afterwards enshrined in the Kaba Aye
Zedi (World Peace Pagoda), built on the site of the Sixth Great Buddhist
Council, close to Rangoon. The elaborate ceremonies connected with the crowning
of the pagoda and the installation of the relics lasted from the 5th to 11th of
Another portion was given to Sri Lanka to be enshrined in a new stupa built
by the Maha Bodhi Society of Sri Lanka to receive them. At the time of writing
they are housed in the temple of the Maha Bodhi Society, Colombo, awaiting the
completion of the building.
On the 30th November, 1952, the remaining relics were duly enshrined at
Sanchi on completion of the new Chetiyagiri Vihara built to receive them. There
they remain, objects of the deepest veneration to pilgrims from every Buddhist
country, and a lasting reminder of the lives of those in whom the Buddha's
Teaching bore its finest fruit.
1. According to the Cunda Sutta (Satipatthana
Samyutta) and its Commentary, the name of his birthplace was Nalaka, or
Nalagama, which may be an alternative name. It was probably quite close to the
more famous Nalanda. Sariputta's father was a brhamin named Vaganta. (Comy. to
Dhammapada, v. 75).
2. "Ye dhamma hetuppabhava tesam hetum
tathagato aha, tesanea yo nirodho evamvadi mahasamano 'ti." This gatha
was later to become one of the best-known and most widely-disseminated stanzas
of Buddhism, standing for all time as a reminder of Sariputta's first contact
with the Dhamma and also as a worthy memorial to Assaji, his great Arahat
teacher. Spoken at a time when the principle of causality was not accorded the
prominence it enjoys today in philosophical thought, its impact on the minds of
the early Buddhists must have been revolutionary.
3. That is, monks, nuns, and male and female lay
4. Carita-vasena. This refers to the types of
character (carita) as explained in The Path of Purification
(Visuddhimagga, Ch. III).
5. This is a reference to the Discourse in the
Anguttara Nikaya, Sevens, No. 58 (P.T.S. IV.85).
6. Dighanakha Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya No. 74.
7. The fact of his attainment to analytical
knowledge, which has here been added to the commentarial text, was mentioned by
the Venerable Sariputta himself in Anguttara Nikaya, Fours, No. 172.
8. The Venerable Sariputta refers to his way of
attaining Arahatship in verses 995-96 in the Theragatha.
9. Sutta Nipata, vv. 316ff. (Also called "Dhamma
10. Jataka No. 156.
11. Culavagga, Sanghabhedaka-khandaka,
12. Culavagga, Sanghabhedaka-khandaka,
13. Culavagga, Kammakkhandaka, Pabbajaniyakamma;
Parajika Pali, Sanghadisesa-kanda, Kuladusaka-sikkhapada.
14. Devaputta-Samy., Susima Sutta.
15. See p. 80.
16. Conceit (mana) and restlessness (uddhacca)
are two of the three fetters (samyojana) which are destroyed only at the
stage of Arahatship. Worry (or scruples: kukkucca), however, is removed
already at the stage of Non-returner (anagami).
17. Is not subject to the vagaries of the mind.
18. Magga Samyutta, No. 2.
19. Khanda Samyutta, No. 2.
20. Tittita Jataka (No. 37).
21. Vinaya (Cula-Vagga, Senasana-khandhaka).
22. Theragatha v. 81 and Commentary.
23. Majjh. 143.
24. Udana VII, 1.
25. Samyutta Nikaya, vol. III: Khandha vagga.
26. Ang., Tens, No. 7.
27. The Buddhas, although they are able to divine
such matters themselves, ask questions for the instruction and illumination of
28. See Wheel No. 101.
29. See Right Understanding, Discourse and
Commentary, translated by Soma Thera (Lake House Bookshop, Colombo).
30. Anguttara Nikaya (PTS), Vol I, 63 (Twos, No. IV,
31. The Commentary to the Theragatha, by
Bhadantacariya Dhammapala, quotes from the Niddesa and attributes it to
32. See "Buddhist Education in Pali and
Sanskrit Schools," by E.J. Thomas in Buddhistic Studies, ed. by B.C.
Law (Calcutta, 1931), pp. 223ff.
33. A. II, 160; see p. 15.
34. Translated in Mindfulness of Breathing by
Đanamoli Thera, Kandy, Buddhist Publication Society, 1964).
35. Majjh. No. 111.
36. Majjh. No. 5.
37. A slightly different version of this is found in
the Commentary to the Theragatha where it deals with Sariputta's verses.
38. Parajika Pali, Introductory chapter.
39. Majjh. No. 67.
40. A "lion's roar" (siha-nada) is
a weighty and emphatic utterance, made with assurance.
41. Dhammapada, v. 95.
42. See Maha-parinibbana Sutta, Ch. II (Last
Days of the Buddha, Wheel No. 67/69, p. 26). It was during his stay at
Beluva that the Master fell gravely ill.
43. In the Himalayas.
44. Sariputta himslef and his younger brothers and
45. Vangisa Samy., No. 7.
46. Satipatthana Samyutta, No. 23.
47. Cunda Samanuddesa. Comy: "He was the
Venerable Sariputta's younger brother. Before he received Higher Ordination the
bhikkhus use to call him 'Novice Cunda,' and even when he was an elder he was
still so addressed." (See. p. 54.)
48. Satipatthana Samyutta, No. 24.
49. This is according to the Commentary to the
50. Milinda's Questions by I.B. Horner, Vol.
I, p. 295. See also the chapter "Sariputta in the Jatakas"
(Part V of this book).
51. See "The
Simile of the Cloth" (M. 7) in Wheel No. 61/62, p. 12.
52. See Wheel No. 67/69, pp. 9f.
53. Sariputta's method of teaching in this discourse
invites comparison with the Buddha's in the Sigalovada Sutta (Digha
54. Bhilsa Topes, p. 300.
55. The Cynosure of Sanchi, p. 28.