One of the two teachers to whom Gotama, after his renunciation, first attached himself, the other being Uddaka Ramaputta. In the Milindapanha (p.236) Alara is mentioned as Gotamas fourth teacher. The ThigA. (p.2) says he went to Bhaggava before going to Alara. The Mtu. (ii.117f.) and the Lal. (330f), give quite different accounts.
In the Ariyaparivesana Sutta (M.i.163-5; also 240ff; ii.94ff, 212ff) the Buddha describes his visit to Alara. Gotama quickly mastered his doctrine and was able to repeat it by heart; but feeling sure that Alara not only knew the doctrine but had realised it, he approached him and questioned him about it. Alara then proclaimed the Akincannayatana, and Gotama, putting forth energy and concentration greater than Alaras, made himself master of that state. Alara recognised his pupils eminence and treated him as an equal, but Gotama, not having succeeded in his quest, took leave of Alara to go elsewhere (VibhA.432). When, after having practised austerities for six years, the Buddha attained Enlightenment and granted Sahampatis request to preach the doctrine, it was of Alara he thought first as being the fittest to hear the teaching. But Alara had died seven days earlier (Vin.i.7).
The books mention little else about Alara. The Maha Parinibbana Sutta (D.ii.130; Vsm.330) mentions a Mallian, Pukkusa, who says he had been Alaras disciple, but who, when he hears the Buddhas sermon, confesses faith in the Buddha. Pukkusa describes Alara to the Buddha as one who practised great concentration. Once Alara was sitting in the open air and neither saw nor heard five hundred passing carts though he was awake and conscious.
As already stated above, the aim of Alaras practices is stated to have been the attainment of Akincannayatana, the stage of nothingness. Whether this statement is handed down with any real knowledge of the facts of his teaching, it is not now possible to say. Asvaghosa, in his Buddhacarita (xii.17ff), puts into the mouth of Arada or Alara, a brief account of his philosophy. It has some resemblance - though this is slight - to the Sankhya philosophy, but in Alaras teaching some of the salient characteristics of the Sankhya system are absent. In reply to Gotamas questions about the religious life and the obtaining of final release, Alara describes a system of spiritual development which is identical with the methods of the Buddhist monk up to the last attainment but one. The monk reaches the four jhanas and then attains successively to the states of space, infinity and nothingness. The last three stages are described in the terms of the first three of the four Attainments. (For a discussion on this see Thomas, op. cit., p.229-30; see also MA.ii.881; VibhA.432). According to Buddhaghosa (AA.i.458),
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