Monday, April 19, 2010

Sariputra's meeting with Asvajit

Veluvana was the most perfect setting for a monastic order; Ananda’s description of veluvana is often recalled to prove the extent of its appropriateness, which is known to us today as ‘Gopaka Moggallana Sutta.’ Once Brahman Vassakara, the Magadhan administrator asked Ananda about the suitability of Veluvana, and he replied with these words

"Certainly, Brahman, the Bamboo Grove is delightful, quiet, free of noise, with an air of isolation, remote from human beings, & appropriate for retreat because of guardians & protectors like yourself." (Gopaka Moggallana Sutta) (MN 108, PTS: M iii 7)

Besides the serene ambiance of Veluvana its distance from the population center at the time was perfect, it was not in the middle of the town and yet near enough for the monks residing at the Sangha to visit it for alms. The community was very generous and supported Bhikkhus with almsgiving besides other donations.

It was an exchange between Bhikkhu Asvajit during one such visit to town with Sariputra that prompted the lifelong association of the Buddha’s with his two chief disciples. Sariputra was greatly impressed by Bhikkhu Asvajit’s calm presence and subtle yet reassured demeanor and asked him whose teachings he followed. The answer given by Asvajit has been found engraved on many sculptures in and around Nalanda; Asvajit had epitomized the Buddha’s doctrine to Sariputra, in the following words,

Of things, which proceed from a cause, their cause the Tathagata has told,

And also their cessation: Thus teaches the great ascetic.
In other words, everything subject to a cause is also subject to cessation.


This life-altering event was adorned by erecting a stupa at the spot where Sariputra on listening to these words attained arhantship, and when he repeated what he had heard to his friend Moggallana; he also instantly achieved the same. Xuanzang visited the stupa northeast of the North face of royal Precinct in the 7th century and mentions it in his travelogue. Many orientalists tried to locate the Stupa but the place has now numerous mounds and is amidst dense forest.

Sariputra and Moggallana left their teacher Sanjaya Belatthaputta, to join the Sangha and pursue the teachings of the Buddha. Sanjaya tried to stop them from going away as many as three times, trying to lure them into important positions in the order but the determination of Sariputra that the Buddha is a better guide in his pursuit didn’t waver but instead 500 other followers of Sanjaya also decided to join the Buddha (Vin.i.38ff ).

The Buddha greeted them with the revelation that the two new disciples of his would become his greatest disciples. Within two weeks of joining the community both Sariputra and Moggallana became Arahants. As Buddha had predicted Sariputra and Moggallana became the chief disciples (aggasāvaka) and became an essential part of the Sangha, they were known as right and left hands of Buddha and many images are found in Buddhist temples in Srilankan depicting the two on either side of the Buddha. Sariputra was dear to the Buddha for his greater intelligence while Moggallana wielding the greatest miraculous powers.

The popularity of the Buddha’s teachings grew dramatically and large numbers of householders left physical world to join the Order, and this caused quite a chaos in the people’s standard living style and they ended up blaming the Buddha for breaking up their families. The Buddha gave it a deep thought and realized the need to find a balance between the materialistic and spiritual world. The hard practice of giving up the worldly life is not for each individual and people needed to be taught that they can still practice Dhamma while living a non-ascetic life. (Vin.i.42f). The Buddha delicately handled the situation by teaching the new monks to be gentle when seeking alms, to preach living by the Dhamma but not necessarily give up the physical world. The Buddha believed in maintaining the balance for co-existence in the surroundings, be it equilibrium between material and spiritual or monks and society. He explained it to them as interdependency and a give and take where alms are exchanged in lieu of the teachings of the dhamma.

NEXT POST: Visit to kapilvasthu- Rahula joined the Sangha


Anonymous said...

Sariputra and Moggallana, thanks to Ven. Assvajit, became one of the closest disciples of Lord Buddha. Sariputra was even given the title "Marshal of Dharma".
Both of them were able to bring back the 500 buddhist monks who left the order to follow Ven. Devedatta and the reason they was able to bring back them was Sariputra great preaching on Dharma.

Peter Vredeveld said...

Sariputra was truly one of the most helpful buddhist monks and as you mentioned “The Marshall of Dharma”. He and Ven. Moggallana ware the reason that the 500 buddhist monks that followed the Devadatta came back to Lord Buddha after hearing the recitation of Dharma from Ven. Sariputra.
When Lord Buddha first saw Sariputra and Moggallana, Lord Buddha said to his fellow buddhist monks that the two have arrived and these two will be the closer to the blessed one.