The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes The story of Upatissa (Sariputta) and Kolita (Maha Moggallana) contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as the arrival of Upatissa and Kolita. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

Part 1 - The story of Upatissa (Sāriputta) and Kolita (Mahā Moggallāna)

[Having heard the news of the arrival of the Buddha at Rājagaha, King Suddhodāna sent a number of ministers, each accompanied by one thousand attendants, to invite the Buddha to his Royal City. This event took place at about the waning moon of Phussa (Pyatho). (It will be noted that) if we treat this episode as the starting point of this chapter, it will not be easy for the inclusion of the story of the two Chief disciples[1] hereafter; hence the exposition of the relevant account of the two Chief disciples in abridged form is given here by way of introduction.]

The time was about the first waxing moon of Māgha (Tabodwe) when the Buddha had been in Rājagaha for about half a month. At that time, the great teacher of the wandering ascetics, Sañjaya, was residing at Rājagaha with two hundred and fifty followers. During this period, the wandering ascetic Upatissa, the future Chief Disciple Venerable Sāriputta and wandering ascetic Kolita, the future Chief Disciple Venerable Mahā Moggallāna, happened to be undergoing training in the ascetic practices under this great teacher Sañjaya.

The two ascetics, Upatissa and Kolita, who were childhood friends, found out, on completion of the course of training within two or three days, that the ascetic teacher’s doctrine did not contain any elements whatsoever of the Deathless Nibbāna.

“My friend, this ascetic teacher’s doctrine is fruitless, it is without essence. We will make solemn vow that, from now on, the one who realises first the Deathless Nibbāna should tell about it to the other who is still after it.”

On that day of about the first waxing moon of Phagguna (Tabaung), Venerable Assaji, one of the Panca-vaggis, after rearranging his robe and taking his alms bowl and upper robe, set out for Rājagaha to receive alms-food. His deportment was dignified and inspired confidence, whether in going forward or back, looking forward or sideway, with eyes cast down confining the range of vision to a radius of four hands' lengths.

When ascetic Upatissa, the future Sāriputta, saw the Venerable Assaji entering Rājagaha deporting himself with dignity and grace, he thought to himself:

“I am certain this bhikkhu must be one of those in the world who have attained the arahatta-magga-phala. It might be well to approach him and ask: ‘Friend, under whom have you gone forth? Who is your teacher? Whose teaching have you accepted?’ ” But then he continued to consider thus:

“This is not the proper time to ask this bhikkhu;he is on his alms-round in the city. We two friends have so desired the Deathless State of Nibbāna after having deduced that ‘If there is death, there must also be the State of Deathlessness.’ For me, who has been seeking to realize this inferred objective of Nibbāna, it would be well to dog the footsteps of this monk.” Accordingly he followed closely behind the Venerable Assaji.

When Assaji had finished his alms-round, Upatissa sensed his desire to take a seat for his meal. He therefore laid out a short-legged stool, which he had carried all along the way, and offered some water from his jug when the Thera had had his meal.

Having thus fulfilled the duties that a pupil would do to a teacher, he entered into courteous, cordial conversation with the Thera and said:

“Friend, your faculties are fully clear and serene; your complexion is clear and bright and unblemished. Friend, under whom have you gone forth? Who is your teacher? Whose teaching have you accepted?”

Venerable Assaji replied: “Friend, I have gone forth under the Perfectly-Self Enlightened Buddha, a scion of the unbroken Sakya dynasty, who renounced the world and became a recluse. He is my Teacher, I am the one who accepted His Teaching.” Upatissa then asked: “Friend, what does your teacher Buddha profess? What does He teach?”

Venerable Assaji contemplated: “These wandering ascetics hold views which are antagonistic to the sāsana; and I must show this wandering ascetic Upatissa clearly the deep and subtle nature of the Teaching” and gave this reply: “Friend, I am but a junior member of the Order, having come into the sāsana quite recently. I will not be able to explain the Dhamma extensively. I will be able to tell you its essential meaning only in brief.”

The wandering ascetic Upatissa, the future Sāriputta, thought of informing Venerable Assaji: “I am Upatissa, a wandering ascetic and an intellectual, please teach me to the best of your ability either little or in extension. It is my responsibility to try and understand your discourse by extending it in a hundred or thousand ways,” but said only:

“So, be it, friend. Please teach me a little or much;(and in doing so) please preach me only the essential meaning. I wish to listen only to the essential meaning for what avails to me, if you teach many matters of letters, versification and such others?”

Thereupon, the Venerable Assaji, taught the Dhamma which is complete with the essential meaning of the Four Noble Truths:

Ye dhamma hetuppabbhavā,
Tesaṃ hetuṃ Tathāgato āha;
Tesañca yo nirodho,
Evaṃ vādi Mahāsamano

Friend, the five-fold aggregate, otherwise known as the Truth of Suffering (Dukkha Sacca), owe their origin to craving (taṇhā) or the Truth of Origin of Suffering (Samudaya Sacca). Our Teacher, the Enlightened One has told the Truth of Suffering (Dukkha Sacca) and the Truth of Origin of Dukkha (Samudaya Sacca). He has also taught the Truth of Cessation of Dukkha (Nirodha Sacca) and the Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Dukkha (Magga Sacca). Such is the pure doctrine held by the Great Samana, our Master, who expounds these Four Noble Truths in analytical detail.

After hearing the first half of the above discourse, the wanderer Upatissa attained the Fruition stage of sotāpanna;he finished hearing the remaining half of the discourse when he had already become a sotāpanna.

The future Sāriputta then said:

Eseva dhammo yadi tāvadeva,
paccavyyatha padamasokaṃ;
adiṭṭhaṃ abbhatītaṃ,
bahukehi kappanahutehi

This is the very Teaching, the Truth, we, the two friends, have been searching for, even though it has enabled me to attain personally and realise only the Fruition of the First Path (sotāpatti-phala). You, Venerable Sir, have attained and realised the State where there is no sorrow, the Nibbāna. Because we have not seen this Truth, the Nibbāna, we have suffered a great loss, wasting innumerable world-cycles.

After saying thus, it occurred to Upatissa that there should be some things more special in this supramundane matter, even before he had achieved the higher stages of it. He therefore requested the Venerable Assaji: “Let things stand where they are for the time being; do not continue to teach the higher stages of the doctrine. Let me beseech you to tell me where our teacher, the Enlightened One, is now residing.” “Friend, the Tathāgata has been residing at the Veḷuvana Monastery,” replied the Venerable Assaji. Thereupon, the Upatissa said: “If so, Venerable Sir, please go ahead, I have a friend to whom I have the bounden duty to share the knowledge of the Deathless, which I have acquired before him. After fulfilling my promise to him, I shall follow with my friend in your wake to the presence of the Blessed One.” He then respectfully made obeisance to the Thera, circumambulating three times around him as a gesture of gratitude and made his way towards the residence of wanderers.

Wanderer Kolita’s Attainment of Sotāpanna

When Kolita saw Upatissa coming, even from a distance, it occurred to him: “My friend’s face looks entirely different from that of previous days. It seems certain that he has realised the Deathless Nibbāna.” So he asked Upatissa: “Friend, your faculty of senses is fully clear and serene; your complexion is clear, bright and unblemished. How is that, my friend? Have you acquired the knowledge of the Deathless Nibbāna?” “Yes, friend, I have indeed realized Nibbāna that is free from death.” On being asked by Kolita under what circumstances he had attained the Deathless Nibbāna, Upatissa told him in detail what had transpired during his meeting with the Venerable Assaji and repeated the verse “Ye dhamma hetuppabbhavā..., etc.” After hearing the verse in full length, Kolita attained sotāpatti-phala and asked: “Friend, Upatissa, where is our Master, the fully Enlightened One now residing?” Upatissa replied: “Our Master, the Tathāgata, is residing at Veḷuvana Monastery, according to Venerable Assaji.” Upon this, Kolita, (being an impulsive person) said: “If so, friend, let us go to the Tathāgata right away; the Glorious Buddha, the Enlightened One is our Master, our benefactor.”

Upatissa and Kolita went to Sañjaya and His Disciples

Upatissa, the future Sāriputta, who, with a kindly disposition, had regard for the feelings of their followers, suggested patiently and with foresight: “Friend, those two hundred and fifty wandering ascetics have been depending on us, have always looked up to us, and have lived in the ascetic precincts, always watching our behaviour and disposition. Let us also inform these 250 wanderers. Only if we inform them, they can act as they wish!” and also, as one who always had profound respects for teachers he went on to point out: “Let us also acquaint our teacher Sañjaya with what we have learnt about Nibbāna that is void of death. If he is intelligent and wise, he will believe us and surely come along with us to the Tathāgata. On hearing the teaching by the Tathāgata, he might realise the Path and Fruition through penetrative knowledge.” So saying, the two friends first went to the two-hundred and fifty followers and told them: “We are going to the Tathāgata, the Glorious Buddha, the Enlightened One, who is our Master, our benefactor.”

All the two hundred and fifty disciples responded: “All of us have been living here depending solely upon you and watching your behaviour and disposition. Should you decide to go to the Tathāgata and practise the holy life in the presence of the Blessed One, all of us will also do so.”

Then the two friends went to the great teacher Sañjaya and made three attempts unsuccessfully, to persuade him to go to the Tathāgata with them. Finally the great teacher asked, “Young men, in this world, are there many who are unwise, or many who are wise?” When they replied, “Master, in this world there are many who are unwise and few who are wise,” the great teacher Sañjaya made this final remark, “Young men, if that be the case, wise men will go to the recluse Gotama, the wise, and those who are unwise will come to me, the unwise. You may go ahead, I cannot, in any case, accompany you.” So the two friends, accompanied by their two hundred and fifty followers made their way to Veḷuvana Monastery where the Blessed one was residing.

As Upatissa and Kolita led away the two hundred and fifty wandering ascetics to the Veḷuvana Monastery, the entire precincts of the great teacher Sañjaya became absolutely lifeless and silent. His followers had dispersed, and looking upon the silent and deserted scene, the lonely teacher Sañjaya felt so desolate that under pressure of the raging flame of grief within, boiling blood bubbled forth from his mouth.

At that time, the Buddha was sitting in a stately manner amidst an audience (of Sangha) and delivering a discourse.

When He saw, from a distance, the two ascetic friends and their 250 followers coming towards Veḷuvana Monastery, He drew the attention of the bhikkhus who were listening to His discourse, saying:

Bhikkhus, yonder come Kolita and Upatissa, the two boyhood friends. These two are destined to become the pair of Chief Disciples on my Left and Right.”

The two friends and their 250 disciples approached the Blessed One, bowing their heads at His feet in profound respect.

All of Them becoming Ehi-bhikkhus

Having made their obeisance to the Blessed One, they requested the Buddha that they be ordained as monks: “Glorious Buddha! Glorious Buddha! May we have lower and higher ordinations in your presence.” The Buddha stretched out His golden hand and called out (in the same way as before) thus: “Etha Bhikkhave, etc.——Come, monks. Receive the lower and higher ordinations you have asked for, my dear sons. The Dhamma has been well taught by Me; strive to undergo noble training in its three aspects so as to bring about the end of the round of suffering.” No sooner had the Buddha uttered thus, the two friends, together with their two hundred and fifty disciples, instantly transformed into full-fledged bhikkhus, like senior theras of sixty years’ standing, readily robed and equipped with eight supernaturally created requisites, each in its proper place, paying homage to the Buddha with due respect. The appearance of laymen vanished miraculously as they were transformed into bhikkhus. (The very utterance by the Buddha “Come, monks.” meant a process for them to become established bhikkhus. There was no need to be ordained with the procedure in an ordination hall.)

Attainment of Arahantship by 250 Followers

After they had thus become ehi-bhikkhus, the Buddha proceeded to expound an appropriate discourse, in harmony with the intellectual level and disposition of the 250 followers of the two friends. (With the exception of the two Agga Sāvakas), these 250 bhikkhus attained arahantship at that one sitting.

As regards the two Chief Disciples, they had not yet become accomplished in the three higher Paths, because, of the three sāvaka-ñāṇas, conditions for attainment of Agga-sāvaka pāramī-ñāṇas surpass those of the other two namely, Mahā-sāvaka pāramī-ñāṇa and Pakati-sāvaka pāramī-ñāṇa and are more extensive.

Venerable Mahā Moggallāna’s Attainment of Arahantship

After his ordination, the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna started to practise earnestly the holy life in a forest, depending for his sustenance on a small village, called Kalavalaputta, in the country of Magadha. Making a strenuous effort in his practice, walking up and down the path for full seven days, he felt tired and weak on the seventh day and sat down at the end of the path dozing, being overcome by torpor. The Buddha roused him from the fit of torpidity with teaching and instruction and he eventually overcame it. On hearing the Buddha’s instruction on the meditation on the Elements (Dhātu-kammaṭṭhāna) he became perfected in the three higher Paths and achieved the height of the sāvaka pāramī-ñāṇa[2].

Venerable Sāriputta’s Attainment of Arahantship

Half a month (15 days) from the date of his ordination, (on the full moon day of Māgha), Venerable Sāriputta, while staying with the Buddha in the Sukarakhata cave (dug by pigs) on mount Gijjha-kūṭa, in Rājagaha, heard the Buddha’s discourse on the Vedāna-pariggaha

Sutta also known as Dīghanakha Sutta (of 3-Paribbajaka Vagga, Majjhima Paṇṇāsa, Majjhima Nikāya.) given to the Sāriputta’s own nephew, wanderer Diganakha. While following the discourse intently, the Venerable Sāriputta practised the meditation on feeling (vedanā kamatthana) thereby developing penetrating insight. As a result, he became an arahat, achieving the highest stage of the sāvaka pāramī ñāṇa. He may be likened to one who enjoys the food laid in readiness for another person. He also penetratingly discerned the sixteen states of knowledge.

(Herein, a question might arise: Why did the Venerable Sāriputta, possessed of great wisdom, attained arahantship after the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna? The answer in brief is: The preliminary steps taken by the Venerable Sāriputta, in the matter of meditation practices, were wider or greater than those of the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna. Here is an example: When ordinary common people contemplate travelling, they can do so quickly because they have a limited amount of kit or paraphernalia to carry whereas kings cannot set out quickly because arrangements have to be made for regiments of elephants, horse-men, charioteers, infantry, etc., to accompany them on a grand scale. As the saying goes: ‘It takes the cooking time of a boat load of white beans for a king to appear before his audience.’

Further explanation: Future Buddhas or Sammā-Sambodhisattas, future Private Buddhas or Pacceka-bodhisatta, and future Disciples of a Buddha or Sāvaka- bodhisatta all have, as their object of Insight meditation, the aggregate of conditioned formations or mental and physical phenomena. This aggregate which forms the object of Insight Meditation is known as Sammasanacara which means the practising ground for development of knowledge of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and insubstantiality (anicca, dukkha, anatta). It is also called Vipassanā-bhūmi meaning, the aggregate of mental and physical phenomena which form the basis of developing the Insight (Vipassanā-ñāṇa).

Of these Bodhisattas,

(1) Future Bodhisatta contemplate the anicca, dukkha, anatta, characteristics of the internal aggregate of conditioned existence, that is to say, mental and physical phenomena occurring continuously in sentient beings, as well as of external inanimate objects that have no power of sense-perception, that exist within the compass of one hundred crores of world Universe.

(2) Pacceka-bodhisattas contemplate the anicca, dukkha, anatta, characteristics of conditioned mental and physical phenomena occurring in oneself, of those in the continuum of sentient beings in the Majjhima region as well as of external inanimate objects that have no power of sense-perception.

(3) Sāvaka-bodhisattas (future Chief Disciples, future Great Disciples, future Ordinary Disciples), contemplate the anicca, dukkha anatta characteristics of conditioned mental and physical phenomena without distinguishing, as occurring in the continuum of oneself or in those of others, taking them as one whole external phenomena.

The Venerable Mahā Moggallāna did not contemplate to the fullest extent the impermanent, unsatisfactory, insubstantial characteristics of each and every conditioned phenomenon occurring in the continuum of himself and in those of others; he selected only some of the conditioned phenomena for his contemplation. The Venerable Sāriputta, however in contemplating the three characteristics of conditioned phenomena developed Vipassanā Insight by being more thorough than the Venerable Moggallāna, attending individually to each phenomenon.

The Venerable Mahā Moggallāna may be likened to a person who touches the earth only with the tip of his walking stick as he walks along. He has only touched a (negligible) small area of ground leaving a greater portion untouched. This implies that in the time he utilized in contemplating the object of Insight meditation and attaining the arahantship after seven days, he had meditated on only a portion of the aggregate of the conditioned phenomena. The Venerable Sāriputta, on the other hand, during the fifteen days before he attained the arahatta-phala, took the complete course of sammasana practice reserved for the disciples (not giving attention to those reserved for the Sammā-sambodhisattas and Paccekabodhisattas) so that there was nothing left untouched in the matter of contemplating salient features of the conditioned phenomena. Having realized the arahatta-phala, he perceived with dauntless confidence that, excepting the Fully Enlightened Buddhas and Paccekabuddhas, there was no one who could rise to the intellectual level that he had systematically attained. He found none his equal.

Here is an analogy. There were two men who wanted bamboo staffs. The first man, having found a cluster of bamboos, thought it would take time to clear the bushes to get a good staff. So he cut a length of bamboo within reach of his hand, by thrusting his hand to his arm’s length into the cluster of bamboos. Although this man acquired bamboo staff first, he did not get a good, straight, strong one. The second person, who also found the cluster of bamboos thought he would not get a staff of his choice unless the binding clusters and creepers were removed. He then guarded his loins and with a sharp knife removed the tangled growth and then cut a straight, strong staff of his choice for himself and went off. Although this person acquired a bamboo staff later, he got a good, strong straight one. The Venerable Mahā Moggallāna may be likened to the first person who cut and acquired a bamboo staff first, but not a good, straight strong one; the Venerable Moggallāna also attained the arahantship first but not the highest stage of the sāvaka pāramī ñāṇa. The Venerable Sāriputta may be likened to the second person who patiently took pains to get later a staff that was straight and strong. Venerable Sāriputta attended patiently to his meditation for fifteen days to attain arahantship later but reaching the pinnacle of sāvaka pāramī ñāṇa.

Differences in The Speed of Practice and Attainments between The Two Chief Disciples

Venerable Moggallāna’s paṭipadā for the three lower Paths is of Sukha-paṭipadā-dandhaabhiññā type (after having removed the nīvaraṇas easily, vipassanā-ñāṇas are tardily developed to attain the three lower magga-ñāṇas.) His paṭipadā for the attainment of arahatta-magga is of Dukkha-paṭipadā-khippa-abhiññā type (after having been able to remove the five nīvaraṇas by practising strenuously and with difficulty, vipassanā-ñāṇas are developed sharply and quickly to attain the arahatta-magga.)

The paṭipadā of the Venerable Sāriputta, the Supremo of Dhamma, for the three lower

Paths is Sukha-paṭipadā-dandha-abhiññā (the same as that of the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna). But his paṭipadā for the attainment of arahatta-magga is of Sukha-paṭipadākhippa-abhiññā type (After having removed the five nīvaraṇas without trouble and with ease, vipassanā-ñāṇas are developed sharply and quickly to attain the arahatta-magga). This is the difference between the paṭipadās of the two Mahātheras.

——(Exposition on the 7th, 8th Suttas of Paṭipadā Vagga of the Aṅguttara Commentary)——

The Single Occasion of The Disciples’ Meeting (Sannipāta)

After delivering the discourse entitled “Vedanā-pariggaha Sutta or Dīghanakha Sutta,” the Buddha descended from the mount Gijjhakūṭa before dusk and went to the Veḷuvana monastery. There occurred then the great event of the Disciples' meeting, Sannipāta, which was characterised by four features:

i) It was the full-moon of the month of Māgha.

ii) The Congregation took place without any body’s invitation, as a natural course of event, with the coming together of 1250 bhikkhus (made up of one thousand bhikkhus headed by the Kassapa brothers and two hundred and fifty belonging to the two Chief Disciples’ group.)

iii) All the 1250 participants were ehi-bhikkhus.

iv) All these participants had achieved the Chaḷ-abhiññā (Six fold Higher Knowledge). It was in this congregation of the Disciples, Sāvaka-sannipāta, that the Buddha named the two Chief Disciples, the Mahātheras Sāriputta and Mahā Moggallāna, Agga-sāvakas. On the same day, the Buddha gave instructions on the obligations of a bhikkhu, Ovāda Pāṭimokkha, which no Buddha fails to offer.

Three Occasions of The Buddha’s Teaching. (Dhammābhisamaya)

As described in Chapter 9, on the twenty-four Buddhas, the three great occasions in which Buddhas of the past delivered great sermons, also took place in the time of our Supremely Enlightened Buddha Gotama. These memorable occasions which deserve to be recorded are:

(1) As stated before, the Buddha, after His attainment of Enlightenment, taught, for the first time, the Dhammacakka-pavattana Sutta in the Deer Park where the Venerable Koṇḍañña Thera and eighteen crores of Brahmās became established in the sotāpattiphala.

(This is the first occasion, the first Dhammābhisamaya at which the Four Noble Truths were first made known to devas, humans and Brahmās.)

(2) Then on the great auspicious Mahā Maṅgala day, the Buddha taught the Maṅgala Sutta amidst the assemblage of devas and humans from ten thousand worlds; innumerable devas and humans discerned the Four Noble Truths and attained emancipation. (This is the second occasion, the second Dhammābhisamaya at which the Four Noble Truths were made known to the devas, humans and Brahmās.)

(3) Again, when the Tathāgata taught Cūḷa Rahulovada Sutta (Majjh 3, 324and Sam-2, 324) to Venerable Rāhula, thousands of devas together with the Venerable Rāhula, came to understand the Four Noble Truths and attained emancipation.

(This is the third occasion, the third Dhammābhisamaya at which the Four Noble-Truths were made known to the devas, humans and Brahmās.)

The Single Occasion of The Disciples’ Meeting (Sāvaka sannipāta)

As stated above, our Buddha Gotama, the Self-Enlightened One had only one occasion when the disciples gathered together in an assembly characterised by four features.

It was on this occasion that the Buddha gave instructions for the first time on the obligation of a bhikkhu, Ovāda Pāṭimokkha.

Footnotes and references:


The biographies of Venerables Sāriputta and Mahā Moggallāna will be mentioned in the chapter on the Jewel of the Sangha.


For more particulars, reference may be made to 8- Pacalayamana Sutta, 6-vyyakata vagga, Sutta nipata, Anguttara Nikāra, and relevant Commentaries.

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