The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes The story of Aggidatta 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 story of Sumana, Aggidatta and Jambuka. 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).

Summary: Removing the Wrong Views of One Thousand Hermits headed by Aggidatta

Notes: This story of Aggidata is mentioned in the Buddha Vagga of the second volume of Dhammapada Commentary.

This discourse of five stanzas, beginning with the words, bahum ve yaranam yanti, etc., was expounded by the Buddha while residing at Jetavana monastery, with reference to a hermit by the name of Aggidatta, (formerly a court brahmin of King Kosala) who was then residing near a pile of sand.

(N.B. The hermit Aggidatta was living near a pile of sand lying between the three countries of Anga, Magadha and Kuru that were adjacent to Rājagaha. That appeared to be the reason why Sayagyi U Lin, who was first in charge of the translation project, had put this story of Aggidatta in the table of contents of events that took place when the Buddha was keeping vassa in the city of Rājagaha.)

The Brahmin Aggidatta was the court advisor of King Mahā Kosala, father of King Pasedani Kosala. On the expiry of his father, King Pasedani Kosala retained Aggidatta in the same rank as his court advisor, esteeming him as his father’s old counsellor. When Aggidatta went to the palace to attend to duties, he was treated with due respect by the King and was given the same seat which he had occupied before.

One day, it occurred to Aggidatta: “King Pasenadi Kosala treats me with due respect, no doubt, but it is not easy to make kings accept one’s counsel all the time. It is natural that the King would prefer to deal with advisors of his own age. I have become too old, it is time that I lead the life of a recluse.”

So he sought permission from the King and having made public his decision by the beating of drums in the city of Savatthi, within seven days he abandoned all his belongings to become a recluse outside of the Buddha’s Teaching, sāsana.

Ten thousand male followers became his disciples and they dwelt at a place situated between the Anga, Magadha and Kuru countries. Aggidatta, as their leader, gave them instruction for their observance: “My disciples.... anyone thinking any of these thoughts; thoughts of sensual desire (kāma-vitakka), thoughts of ill-will (vyāpāda-vitakka), thoughts of harming others (vihiṃa-vitakka), shall carry one bundle of sand from the river and dump it here.” His disciples promised to observe this disciplinary rule and every time they detected an unwholesome thought, such as kāma-vitakka, etc., arising in their mind, they chastised themselves by carrying a bundle of sand from the river and dumping it as promised, in the appointed place. In time, the pile of sand assumed a huge dimension.

The pile of sand was later taken over by a nāga king named Ahichatta. People from Anga, Magadha and Kuru used to come with offerings for the hermits every month. The hermit Aggidatta then exhorted them thus: “O my disciples, go to the hills for refuge, go to the jungles for refuge; go to the parks for refuge; go to the trees for refuge. If you take refuge in the hills, in the jungles, in the parks and in the trees, you will be free from all kinds of suffering.” He also made the same exhortation to his ten thousand hermit disciples.

Aggidatta was popularising himself through teaching wrong practices at a time when the Bodhisatta, as Prince Siddhattha, after renouncing the world had attained Buddhahood and was residing in the Jetavana monastery of Savatthi. Rising one early morning at dawn and mentally surveying the whole world for sentient beings who are ripe for emancipation, the Buddha perceived in His mind’s eye the hermit Aggidatta together with all of his ten thousand disciples. The Buddha also knew then that all of them had accomplished the sufficing conditions (upanissaya) for attainment of arahatship. So He gave instructions to the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna, saying: “Son Moggallāna, why have you ignored the hermit Aggidatta who is making people walk along the wrong Path that will not lead them to the Shores of Nibbāna, go now, son Moggallāna, to these hermits and exhort them.”

Venerable Mahā Moggallāna replied: “The most Glorious, Exalted Buddha, the number of these hermits is great. They might not readily accept the instructions from me alone. Should your Reverence also come along, they would readily obey your instructions.” Whereupon, the Buddha responded: “We will come also, but you might go ahead first to exhort them.”

While proceeding first as instructed by the Buddha, Venerable Mahā Moggallāna thought to himself: “These hermits are many and strong, any attempt to give instructions to them while gathering in one place might lead them to turn against me en masse.” So he caused a torrential rain to fall, through his abhiñña, with the result that the hermits rising from their places, rushed into their own dwelling places.

Venerable Mahā Moggallāna then stood in front of the entrance to Aggidatta’s dwelling and called the hermit by name: “O Aggidatta.” On hearing the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna’s voice, Aggidatta wondered as to who had called him by name, since there was no one in the world who could address him thus. In a fit of pique, he gave a sharp reply: “Who is that calling me by my name?” Venerable Mahā Moggallāna answered: “Its me, Brahmin Aggidatta.” “What do you want to say?” responded Aggidatta. When the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna made the polite reply: “I wish you could show me a place where I could spend a night,” Aggidatta said curtly: “There is no vacant place for you; each room has its own occupant.”

Venerable Mahā Moggallāna then replied: “Aggidatta, it is natural that men come to the abode of men, bullocks to the abodes of bullocks and recluses to the abode of recluses. Please do not talk to me like that, do allot a lodging to me to spend the night.” The hermit then asked: “Are you a recluse?” “Yes, I am,” was the reply. Aggidatta then queried: “If you are a recluse, where are the equipments of recluse; what are your utensils?” “O Brahmin,” replied Mahā Moggallāna in a serious manner, “I possess the equipments of a recluse; but thinking it is cumbersome to carry them separately while wandering around, I take them along only inside me.” Aggidatta was much annoyed to see the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna going about without the necessary equipments of a recluse.

Knowing the state of his mind, Venerable Mahā Moggallāna said: “O Aggidatta, don't be angry with me, just point a place for me.” Aggidatta gave the terse reply: “There is no place for you around here.” Indicating the pile of sand with his finger, Mahā Moggallāna enquired with patience: “Who lives at that pile of sand?” “A dragon king,” was the reply. “Then allot it to me,” insisted Venerable Mahā Moggallāna. The hermit made the cautious reply: “I dare not allot it to you. The dragon king is of violent, terrible nature.” Mahā Moggallāna replied: “Let it be, never mind about it. You just allot it to me.” “If so, you better judge for yourself whether the place is suitable for occupation or not,” retorted Aggidatta.

Then the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna went towards the pile of sand and when the dragon king, Ahichatta, caught sight of him, he thought to himself: “This recluse does not seem to know my presence here. I will dispose of him by exhaling fumes.” With this thought, the dragon king started emitting dense clouds of noxious vapour. Venerable Mahā Moggallāna considered: “This dragon king has over estimated himself, thinking no one else can send out fumes.” Therefore, he also started exhaling wave after wave of vapour, which, together with that emitted by the dragon king, rose higher and higher up to the realm of the Brahmās. The voluminous fumes exhaled by both of them caused great suffering to the dragon king while Venerable Mahā Moggallāna remained unscathed.

Suffering from the effects of the fumes, the nāga king became so furious that he sent out a continuous stream of blazing flames. By developing the jhāna of the fire-device (Fourth rūpavacara kriya jhāna with fire-device as its object), Mahā Moggallāna also sent out, in competition, more violent flames. The blazing fires produced by both of them went up as far as the Brahmā realm; but none of them caused any harm to the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna while the Naga king was subjected to great suffering. His whole body appeared as though it were consumed in a blazing fire. At the sight of the massive conflagration, the hermit teacher, Aggidatta, and his disciples wrongly concluded: “The nāga king had set the recluse ablaze; he has been destroyed now completely, for not listening to our advice. It serves him right.”

Having overcome the nāga king by subduing its haughtiness, Venerable Mahā Moggallāna sat on the pile of sand, while the nāga king kept itself coiled around the sandpile, with its hood spread over him like a terraced chamber crowned with a fine pinnacle.

To make immediate enquiries as to the fate of the recluse, the hermits went to the scene of recent combat and saw the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna sitting becomingly on the peak of the sand-pile. They could not help making obeisance to him with their clasped hands, speaking highly of him in many ways, and asked him: “O recluse, have you not suffered anything at the hands of the nāga king?” Then Mahā Moggallāna replied: “Don't you see the nāga standing by with its hood spreading like a white umbrella over me?” The hermits uttered in amazement: “O friends, this is a wonderful feat worthy of cheers by the snapping of the fingers! The recluse has subdued a powerful nāga such as this. It is marvellous indeed!” They then rallied round Mahā Moggallāna in a group.

At that moment, the Buddha arrived there, Mahā Moggallāna rose from his seat and made obeisance to Him. The hermits asked him: “Is this recluse more powerful than yourself?” “This great recluse is replete with six glories; He is my master, I am merely His disciple,” was the reply.

The Buddha took His seat on the pile of sand. The hermits went around and with clasped hands raised, spoke in high praise of the Buddha: “The recluse who subdued the nāga king is but a disciple, one wanders how mighty his master might be.” The Buddha then called

Aggidatta and asked him: “What kind of instructions do you give to your hermits and lay disciples for their guidance?"

Aggidatta gave his reply “Exalted Buddha, I gave this instruction to them, ‘O Disciples, go to the hills for refuge, go to the jungles for refuge, go to the parks for refuge; go to the trees for refuge. If you take refuge in the hills, in the jungles, in the parks and under the trees, you will be free from all kinds of suffering.’ On hearing this truthful answer, the Buddha said:

“Aggidatta, one who takes refuge in the mountains, forests, gardens, trees cannot escape from suffering; as a matter of fact, one who takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha alone can escape from all the sufferings of the round of rebirths! The Buddha then went on expounding the true way of escape from suffering in five stanzas:

1) Bahum ve saranam yanti
pabbatāni vanāni ca
manussā bhayatajjitā

Aggidatta, people take refuge, through fright, in the mountains, such as Mt. Isigili, Mt. Vepulla, Mt. Vebbara, etc., or in the forest groves, such as Mahāvana, Gosinga sandal groves, etc., or in the gardens and parks, such as Veḷuvana, Jivaka mango park, etc., and under the trees, such as Udena treetemple, Gotama tree-temple, etc. All these are erroneously regarded as refuges and means of protection from dangers.

2) Netaṃ kho saranaṃ khemaṃ
netaṃ saranamuttamaṃ
netam saranamāgamma
sabbadukkhā pamuccati

Aggidatta, these mountains, forests, gardens or trees are not safe, harmless refuges, they do not constitute the best, the highest refuge. By taking refuge in these mountains, forests, gardens or trees one cannot gain release from the continuous cycle of dukkha.

3) Yoca Buddhañca Dhammañca
Sanghañca saranaṃgato
cattari Ariyasaccāni
sammappaññādya passati

4) Dukkhaṃ dukkhasamuppādaṃ
dukkhassa ca atikkamaṃ
Ariyam caṭṭhañgikam maggaṃ

Aggidatta, any person, whether laity or recluse, who takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha as a safe haven, as a secure shelter (with sincere, pure faith in the three Gems; with transcendental consciousness, lokuttara saranagamana cittuppada); any person, whether laity or recluse, who realizes truly and rightly through Insight wisdom, magga-ñāṇa, the Four Noble Truths, namely, the Noble Truth of Dukkha, the Noble Truth of origin of Dukkha, the Noble Truth of cessation of Dukkha and the Noble Truth of the Path leading to the cessation of Dukkha, that is, the Eightfold Noble Truth of Right View, Right Thought, etc.

5) Etam saranam khemaṃ
etam sarana muttamaṃ
etam saranamāgamma
sabbadukkhā pamuccati

Aggidatta, only the refuge taken by such a person of noble disposition, with abounding faith in the Three Gems is a safe and harmless refuge. Only the refuge taken by such a person of noble disposition, with abounding faith in the Three Gems, constitutes the best, highest refuge. Only the refuge taken by such a person of noble disposition, with abounding faith in the Three Gems, can bring about release from the continuous cycle of dukkha.

At that very moment, all the hermits, the leader and the followers instantly turned into full-fledged monks like senior theras of sixty years’ standing readily robed and equipped with the eight requisites, paying homage to the Buddha with great respect.

That day, when all the hermits became ehi-bhikkhus, happened to be the occasion when people from Anga, Magadha and Kuru congregated at the hermits' place with offerings for their hermit teachers. When they saw the hermits assuming the form of bhikkhus, they began to wonder: “How is that, is our teacher Aggidatta superior to the great recluse Gotama or is the great recluse Gotama superior to our teacher?” Then they wrongly surmised that since the great recluse had come to the presence of their teacher, their teacher, Aggidatta, must be superior to the great recluse.

The Buddha knew what was in the minds of the people, and He told Aggidatta: “Dear son Aggidatta you might yourself remove doubt from the minds of your audience.” Aggidatta replied: “Most Exalted Buddha, it has also been my intention to do so,” and so saying, he went up high into the air and descended therefrom seven times. And after that he stood making obeisance to the Buddha, declaring: “Satta me bhante Bhagava, savakohamasmi—— Glorious Buddha, You, the Exalted Buddha, are my teacher; I am but a disciple of yours.” thus removing doubt being entertained by his followers.

End of the story of hermit Aggidatta.

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