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The Great Sariputta, the foremost disciple of Gautama Samma-Sambuddha

W. D. Wickramasinghe

The Great Sariputta had his final passing away on the Kattika Full Moon Day according to the solar calendar which is Il Full Moon Day.

Born into a very wealthy Brahmin family in the village called Nalaka (probably or close to modern Nalanda) he was named Upatissa on the name-giving day as the son of the foremost family in the village. His father's and mother's names were Vaganta and Sari respectively.

On the very same day of his birth in the adjoining village called Kolita, another Brahmin lady named Moggali also bore a son, who for the same reason, was given the name Kolita.

The two youths on growing up received a good education and acquired mastery in all the then sciences. From early childhood they became inseparable friends, perhaps due to similar links in previous lives.

On the occasion of a hill-top festival which was then held annually in Rajagaha called Giragga Samajja, the two youths enjoyed the fun and frolic of the celebrations consummately for two consecutive days.

On the third day however, they attended it completely disillusioned and in a mood of utter disgust and could no longer enjoy themselves as they did on the two previous day, for their understanding in the meanwhile had been awakened to realise the utter futility of all what they saw and enjoyed.

The minds of both were filled with thoughts such as these that together they decided to renounce wordly pleasures and seek a Teaching of Deliverance.

At that time there lived at Rajargaha a wandering ascetic by name of Sanjaya who had a great following of pupils.

The two youths received ordination under him and before long learned and mastered his entire doctrine; but were not satisfied as this teaching did not proceed beyond the cosmic laws of change and becoming which entailed sufferings and finally death.

Their quest being for a complete deliverance from these, they took leave of him and wandered through villages, towns and cities of whole India in search of a teacher who would show the teaching they desired.

Having thus travelled and found none, they returned to their respective villages having agreed between them that he who finds such a teaching first would inform the other.

Search ends

One day when Upatissa was journeying towards the monastery of the wandering Ascetics he espied a person bearing a dignified and calm disposition, clad in yellow robe and carrying a begging-bowl, walking with measured steps and eyes cast down doing his alms-round.

He was so struck by his radiant countenance and saintly deportment that within him arose the thought: "Never before I have seen such a monk. He must be one who has attained the deathless State, Arahantship.

This great personality was Elder Assaji, one of the five ascetics of Gautama Samma-Sambuddha's erstwhile companions who deserted him before his enlightenment and now one among the sixty disciples who had attained Arahantship.

After the Elder had finished his meal, Upatissa asked him: "Friend, who is your teacher and whose doctrine are you professing? to which the former replied: "There is, Oh, Friend, the great Being who has gone forth and it is His Teaching that I profess. "Thereupon Upatissa asked him: "What does your Teacher, your Master, the Venerable One proclaim?"

The reply that Elder Assaji gave to this question of Upatissa in a stanza of just four lines revealing very subtlety through its course the Truth of Suffering and its Cause, brought out very vividly the Law of Causality (Dependant Origination and Cessation - an aspect of great profundity in Buddha's Teaching).

It was, indeed, a masterpiece in brevity of a fundamental law of the universe born of a deep and clear insight into the true nature of phenomena. It runs thus:

"Of all things that from a cause arise,
Tathagatha the cause thereof has told;
And how they cease to be, that too He tells,
This is the doctrine of the Great Recluse."

Upon hearing only the first two lines of it Upatissa was established in the Path of Stream entry (the Path of Real Sainthood) and on ending the last he had become a Stream-Winner, one attained to the Fruit (phala) of the first stage of Sainthood - Sotapanna.

After ascertaining where the Buddha was sojourning and saying that he would follow him with a friend with whom he had agreed that he who first finds the deathless State shall make it known to the other, he took leave of the Elder worshipping him prostrating at his feet.

Fulfils pledge

Upatissa as one who had cultivated virtuous qualities over an aeon and hundred thousand kalpas, never failed to fulfil the promises he had made. Remembering the pact with his friend Kolita, he betook himself immediately to where he was.

Kolita on seeing a change in his friend's appearance, said to himself: "Surely my friend must have found the deathless State" and enquired of him whether it was so. Upatissa replied in the affirmative and recited the stanza said by Elder Assaji, at the end of which Kolita, too, attained to the fruition of the first stage of sainthood.

Before proceeding to the Bamboo Grove Monastery (Veluvanaramaya) where the Buddha was, Upatissa thought of their one-time teacher too, the wandering ascetic Sanjaya, and together they left to tell him that a Samma-Sambuddha has arisen in the world and persuade him to join them.

In spite of all their entreaties however, he refused to join them as he was not prepared to revert to the state of a disciple. Having thus failed in their attempt they left him, saying: "You will realise your mistake, Oh teacher" out of compassion for him and wended to the Monastery to meet Buddha.

Meets the Buddha

The Blessed One, on seeing the two approaching addressed the monks, saying "These two friends, Upatissa and Kolita, who are coming hither will be two excellent disciplies of mine, a blessed pair."

Having approached the Master, they reverentially prostrated at His feet, worshipped Him and sought ordination of the 'Going Forth' (Renunciation and Discipleship) under Him.

Both were ordained personally by the Buddha pronouncing the well-known formula "Come O Bhikkhu! Well proclaimed is the Dhamma. Now live the life of purity to make an end of suffering." Upatissa was given the religious name Sariputta and Kolita Moggalana, after the names of their respective mothers'.

Half a month of his ordination, Venerable Sariputta, reached the acme of knowledge pertaining to a disciple's Perfection and attained Arahantship together with the fourfold Analytical Knowledge, viz: Knowledge as to the Dhamma (Law) its Meaning, Language and Perspicuity (ability to expound the Dhamma lucidly - Patisambhida Nana).

On the evening of the same day Venerable Sariputta and Moggalana were conferred with the rank of Chief Disciples by the Blessed One which the two had aspired for many ages ago during the time of Samma-Sambuddha Anomadassi when born as Brahmin youths named Sarada and the Landowner Sirivaddaka, respectively.

Foremost disciple

Sariputta became the foremost disciple of the Buddha. His ability to expound the Dhamma in many diverse ways, both in scope and aspects, in a lucid manner taking into consideration the temperaments of the listeners, enable him to be ranked second to the Buddha in his respect and earn for himself the title of 'General of the Dhamma'.

Noble qualities

Sariputta reputed for his virtuous qualities, cultivated over an incalculable period of time and which found their utmost fulfilment in this his last birth.

As much as he was patient and unresentful, he possessed also the admirable quality of gratitude which he unfailingly expressed, whenever the occasion arose, to who so had helped him in whatever way or degree. To quote:

Whenever his first Dhamma teacher, the Elder Assaji, was living in the same monastery as he, never did he fail to pay obeisance to him daily immediately after his having done so to the Buddha.

On occasions when he was not present, he faced the direction that he was and did so prostrating on the ground and touching it at five places with his head and joined palms.

On another occasion when a poor brahmin youth who was performing minor services at the monastery in Savatthi was seen by the Buddha in His daily survey of the worlds to be karmically matured for Arhantship and on enquiring of the monks present whether anyone among them could remember receiving at anytime help in some sort from him, it was Sariputta who said that one day when he was on his alms-round the brahmin youth gave him a laddle full of alms-food he had begged and collected for himself. On hearing it, the Blessed One asked Sariputta to ordain him.

Humility was yet another outstanding trait of his character. Once a seven year old novice noticing a corner of Sariputta's under-robe trailing aground, he drew his attention to it. Venerable Sariputta stepped aside at once and arranged the garment in the proper way. After that, he stood before the young novice and with joined palms, said: "Now it is correct, teacher!"

Prior knowledge of Passing away, etc.

While Sariputta was once sojourning at Jetvanaramaya, he adverted his mind for knowledge as to where and when his Final Passing Away would take place and to whom he could be of spiritual help before it occures.

Accordingly, knowledge arose that he would pass away a week hence in his birth-chamber at Nalaka and his mother, the staunch believer in Brahma as the Creater of the World and Heavens the person who could be helped; and that too by no other than himself.

Deciding, therefore, to leave for Nalaka that same day, he gathered together the five hundred pupils who were under his tutelage and betook himself to the Buddha.

The Blessed One perhaps having known earlier of Sariputta's impending passing away, merely asked him: "sariputta, where have you decided to have your Final Passing Away" to which he replied: "In Magadha District, in the village of Nalaka, in my birth chamber I shall pass away."

The Blessed One, thereupon said: "Sariputta, do what is timely" and requested him to give a discourse on the Dhamma for the last time for the benefit of the younger members of the Sanga who will have no chance of seeing him again. At the end of the discourse, for the second time sariputta fell at the Master's feet and asked the Blessed One forgiveness for any word or deed of his that would have displeased Him.

Pays last debt

On the evening of the sixth day of his departure from Jethavanaramaya Sariputta arrived at Nalaka. Having entered and seated on the bed of his birth-chamber he fell gravelly ill, stricken with dysentery. His brother, Cunda, was ministering to him.

His mother, who was leaning on the side of the door of her room, saw four persons of godly appearance, illuminating the whole area with their radiance and brilliance, entering Sariputta's chamber, worshipping him, then standing awhile and again worshipping him and leaving.

After they had left she saw another, more godly looking and radiant and a brilliance of a higher intensity, entering and leaving in the same manner. Soon after, she saw yet another, outshining all others in every respect, entering and leaving similarly.

The Brahmin lady wondered as to who they could be and after the last had left entered Sariputta's room and Sariputta seeing her asked what she has come for at so unusual an hour, to which she replied: "To see you, dear and enquire as to who that came, worshipped you and left."

Sariputta said the four that came first were the Four Great Kings of Catummaharajika Devaloka who, like temple attendants, stand guard over his Master ever since His birth with swords in hand; second was Sakka, King of the God who, like a novice, carried his Master's bowl and robe and descended to earth with Him daily after His preaching to the gods of the Tavatimsa Devaloka; and the third that came was her Lord and Master, the Great Brahma, who was one of the four Great Brahmans that received his Master in a golden net when he was born.

Upon hearing these there arose in the Brahmin lady the thought: "If my son is so great as that, what must be the majestic power of his Master and Lord." While she was thinking thus, suddenly the fivefold rapture arose in her suffusing her entire body.

Sariputta being aware of it asked her: "Upasika, what were you thinking about?" and after she told him what it was.

Sariputta then declared,as a prelude, the great events that took place at the Master's Birth, Renunciation, Enlightenment, etc, at each of which the ten thousand world systems quaked and shook; and that there is no one anywhere to equal Him in Virtue, Wisdom, Deliverence and Vision of Deliverance.

Thereafter he gave a discourse on the virtues of the Buddha, at the end of which the Brahmin lady, mother of seven Arhants and once very hostile to the Buddha and a staunch devotee of Maha Brahma as the Creator of the World, attained to the fruition of the first stage of sainthood which, for sure, will enable her to reach the goal of Nibbana in seven more births the very most.

Thus did Sariputta pay his mother the nursing - fee for bringing him up - his last debt in the world!


After dismissing his mother, Sariputta addressed the monks who accompanied him to the village. "For forty years I have lived and travelled with you, my bretheren.

If any deed or word of mine was unpleasant to you forgive me, bretheren," and they replied:

"Venerable Sir, not the least displeasure have you caused us, who followed you inseperably like your shadow, but may you forgive us if we had done any wrong to you".

Immediately after that he gathered his robe around him and covering the face laid on the right side. Just at the moment the sun appeared on the horizon he passed away into the Element of Nibbana.


Source: Daily News, Sri Lanka, Friday, 26 November 2004, https://www.dailynews.lk

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