The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes The Sandal-Wood Bowl 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 Buddha’s Sixth Vassa at Mount Makula. 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).

The Buddha, having kept the sixth vassa at the Mount Makula monastery, left for Rājagaha and took up residence at Veḷuvana monastery there.

At that time, a rich man of Rājagaha, being desirous of disporting himself in the River Ganges, caused a huge net to be constructed in the form of a casket surrounding all four sides of the place where he was to disport, to protect himself against all possible danger from both above and below the spot and against the risk of his jewellery being washed.

At that time, a red sandal-wood tree was drifting down the Ganges from the upper reaches of the river. The current of the river had caused it to fall by washing away the sand at its base. The tree lost its size, shape or form as it dashed against the cliffs and rocks while floating down the swift current during the course of a long journey. It had been battered, broken into pieces, tattered and finally a heartwood piece of red sandalwood, with the constant abrasion, had taken the form of a block of wood with a smooth surface. As it floated down, it was caught in the rich man’s net with all the duckweeds wrapped around it. The servants and attendants brought it to their master, the rich man.

At that time, the rich man of Rājagaha was a man without any religious belief; he did not hold the Right View (Sammā-diṭṭhi) or the Wrong View (Micchā-diṭṭhi) either. He brought the bowl of sandalwood to his house and had the upper layer chipped off with an adze. They found the reddish heartwood emitting the sweet fragrance of sandalwood.

It set him thinking: “I have so many kinds of sandalwood in my house, and what should I do with this one!” and it eventually dawned on him:

“In the world today, there are many people, who profess themselves to be arahats. I have no idea as to who is a real arahat. I will have a lathe to be installed in my house and get the block of sandal-wood made into an alms-bowl; the wood dust from the lathe I will use, but the bowl I will donate as charity. I will put it into a containing frame and keep it hanging from a pole made by tying a series of bamboos, end to end, to a height of sixty cubits, and announce: ‘Anyone who can prove himself to be an arahat by flying into the air through jhānic power and securing the bowl can have it for his own. And the arahat who can actually come by air and claim the bowl as announced, I, together with my family, will accept him and worship him as our teacher.’ ”

He, accordingly, had the sandal-wood made into an alms-bowl, and kept it hanging in a framework from a series of bamboos tied together to a height of sixty cubits, announcing:

“Any real arahat in the world my receive this bowl by flying through the space (sky).”

The Six Sectarian Teachers

At that time, there were residing in Rājagaha six sectarian teachers who professed themselves to be arahats and sages of their own sects. They were:

(1) Purana Kassapa:

His proper name is Purana, and he belonged to a clan known as Kassapa, and he came to be known as Purana Kassapa.

This is a brief account of this sect teacher: There was a rich man who had ninety-nine slaves, and Purana was born as the 100th slave, hence he was named Purana or “Centenary Slave.” He was considered an auspicious slave for being the hundredth one, and he was not criticized for his misdeeds or blamed for negligence of duty.

With all that, he absconded with a conceited idea: “Why should I stay in this house?” and ran straight into a gang of robbers who stripped him bare. He had not enough decency to clad himself in leaves or grass. He went into a village with his body altogether nude. People misplaced their faith in him, speaking highly of him: “This recluse is an arahat; he is so self-denying and continent; there is no one like him.” They went to him with offerings of hard and soft food. He thought to himself: “Mine being nude is the cause of gaining such gifts.” From that time on, he remained unclothed even when he had clothings offered him. He became fixed in his belief that nakedness was a condition of a recluse. He had five hundred men who became his disciples by adopting such a way of life. In this way he became a leader of a sect, an illustrious teacher, a god to his followers.

N.B. When we examine the life of this sect leader closely, we find that he absconded from his master’s place only to run straight into a gang of robbers, who stripped him bare. That was how he was reduced to the state of nakedness. But unintelligent people thought that nakedness constitutes holiness and pronounced him an arahat. When accepted as such, he began to style himself as a great sage, a god, even though he had nothing to show in the matter of spiritual development and practice. He and the following five sect leaders, in their self-acclaimed positions, had made speculations and pronounced them as creeds of their own. For details, reader may refer to 2-Samañña phala Sutta of Sīlakkhanda Vaggaof-Dīgha Nikāya.

(2) Makkhali Gosala

His proper name was Makkhali, Gosala was added to his name as he was born at the village of Gosala (or as he was born in a cow-shed where bullocks were kept during the rainy season).

A short account of his life:

He was a slave, like Purana. One day as he was going across a muddy spot with an oilpot on his shoulder, his master warned him to be careful not to slip and fall: “My lad, don't slip: My lad... don't slip.” But he was so careless that he did slip and fall and so he tried to run away because of fear of his master.

When his master caught him by a portion of his nether garment, he abandoned his clothings and escaped through the fingers of his master. (The rest of the story is identical with that of Purana Kassapa.)

(3) Ajita Kesa-kambala:

He was also the teacher of a sect. His proper name was Ajita. He used to wear a garment, kaṃbala, made of human hair (kesā), and he came to be known as Ajita Kesa-kambala.

(4) Pakudha Kaccayana:

He was also the teacher of a sect. His proper name was Pakudha. He belonged to Kaccayana clan, so he came to be known as Pakudha Kaccayana. He eschewed cold water. He used either warm water or vinegar to tidy up after defecating, or to wash away dirt or dust. He considered himself to have breached the precepts whenever he had crossed a stream or a river. Such lapses had to be atoned for by piling sand in small heaps and taking the precepts before he could continue his journey.

(5) Sancaya Belatthaputta:

He was also the teacher of a sect. The Venerables Sāriputta and Mahā Moggallāna lived with him when they started leading the life of a wandering ascetic. His proper name was Sancaya. He was the son of a man called Belattha, and he came to be known as Sancaya Belatthaputta.

(6) Nigantha Nathaputta.

He was also the teacher of a sect. He professed: “We have no defilements binding us; we are free from fettering defilements.” Hence the term ‘Nigantha.’ (In fact they were far from being free from defilements). His father was called Natha and he came to be known as Nigantha Nathaputta.

The sandal bowl was kept hanging from the top of a pole made up of a number of bamboos, to a height of sixty cubits. A general announcement was made to the effect that "anyone who has become an arahat in this world may receive the bowl by flying through space with jhānic power." Whereupon, the teacher, Purana Kassapa came to the rich man of Rājagaha and said: “Rich man.. I am an arahat and am also one with power and so give the bowl to me.” He made such a bold claim without any rhyme or reason. The rich man of Rājagaha tactfully made a meaningful reply: “Venerable Sir... I have already offered the bowl to any real arahat who possesses power. If you be a real arahat and if you have such power, bring down and take away the bowl with your powers.” (Since Purana Kasssapa was not an arahat replete with jhānic power, he had to return with his hopes dashed to the ground).

The other teachers also came to claim the bowl in like manner as Purana Kassapa: on the second day there came Makkhali Gosala; on the third, Ajita Kesakambala; on the fourth day, Pakudha Kaccayana, on the fifth, Sancaya Belatthaputta; they all met the same fate as Purana Kassapa, since they could not fulfil the condition set out by the rich man.

On the sixth day, Nigandha Nathaputta summoned his disciples and confided to them: “Go ye to the rich man of Rājagaha and tell him: ‘The bowl is only fit for our Great Sage; do not make our Great teacher come all the way through space for a negligible wooden bowl such as that; do exempt our Great Sage from such a task and offer it to him.’” He thus sent his disciples to the rich man of Rājagaha.

His disciples went to the rich man of Rājagaha and told him as instructed by their teacher. Whereupon, the rich man gave them a firm reply: “Only those who can come through space may get the bowl.”

Nigantha Nathaputta had a desire to go there personally and so he confided these instructions to his disciples:

“I will make a sham attempt by lifting one of my legs and hands, as though I am about to shoot up into the sky, and you all come saying: ‘O Great Sage.. What are you going to do.. please do not demonstrate the secrets of the virtues of arahattaphala for the sake of a wooden bowl,’ and then you will push and make me fall to the ground.”

He thus confided to them his plans.

After conspiring with his disciples, Nathaputta went to the rich man and said: “Rich man.. this bowl is not fit for anybody else, why should you want me to fly in the air for a paltry wooden bowl. Do offer it to me.” “Venerable Sir... just fly up to the sky and take it,” was the rich man’s terse reply.

Whereupon, Nathaputta said: “If that is the case I will shoot up into the sky” and turning to his disciples he asked them to move aside and he lifted one of his hands and feet. Then his disciples hastened to their teacher and said to him: “O Great teacher... what do you mean by this!... it is not worth demonstrating the virtues of arahatta-phala for the sake of a worthless wooden bowl” as previously arranged. They pulled him by his hands and feet and caused him to fail to the ground. Nathaputta, while still lying on the ground, told the rich man: “O rich man... you have seen that my disciples would not allow me to fly into the sky. I urge you to offer me that bowl.” But the rich man was not to be moved. He calmly repeated: “Please take it only by flying into the sky.”

Thus the six teachers made six attempts for six days in succession, but to no purpose.

Venerables Mahā Moggallāna and Pindola.

On the seventh day, the two Venerables, namely, Venerables Mahā Moggallāna and Pindola came out of the Veḷuvana monastery to enter the City of Rājagaha for the usual round of receiving alms food.

When they were putting on robes while on a huge rock near the city, they overheard the calumniating remarks of some drunken persons:

“Friends... those six sectarian teachers used to go round announcing themselves as arahats in the past. It is now the seventh day since the rich man of Rājagaha made the announcement: ‘If there is an arahat, let him come through space to take the bowl,’ after hanging the sandalwood bowl from a series of bamboo poles tied together to a height of sixty cubits. Not even one person declaring: ‘I am an arahat’ has been able to fly into the sky. Only today we know well there are no arahats in the world.”

On hearing that remark, Venerable Mahā Moggallāna asked the Venerable Pindola: “Friend... do you hear the derogatory remark of those drunken persons? His sweeping calumniating remark also affects the prestige of Buddha-Sāsana. You possess power; you are mighty; Go and bring the sandalwood bowl by flying through space.” Whereupon, Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja replied: “Friend... The Buddha had elevated you to the Chief position (Etadaggaṃ) with respect to your supernormal power, and, as such, I wish you to do it yourself. I will accomplish the task only if you do not undertake it.” (This shows that Venerable Pindola had given priority to Venerable Mahā Moggallāna out of respect for his seniority). Whereupon, Venerable Mahā Moggallāna willingly permitted the Venerable Pindola to accomplish the task all by himself.

Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja obtained The Sandal-Wood Bowl

Having obtained permission from Mahā Moggallāna, Venerable Pindola entered into the fourth jhāna state, it being the basis of supernormal psychic power and arising therefrom, he caused the huge slab of rock, on which they stood to put on their robes, to rise into space by means of his super-normal will. The rock, with neatly and elegantly trimmed sides, was made to fly like a piece of silk cotton-wool and circle round seven times above the city of Rājagaha which had an area of three gavutas. The huge slab of rock seemed to be an enormous lid covering the city of Rājagaha.

The citizens were frightened at the sight of a huge rock hanging over their heads and thinking “the huge slab of rock has covered and pressed us” ran helter-skelter and took shelter under nearby places, covering their heads with flat trays. When the huge rock had made its seventh round above the city, Venerable Pindola made himself visible through the rock. Whereupon the citizens appealed to the Venerable: “Venerable Sir... please hold the rock fast, lest it destroys all of us.” Even as the people looked on, the Venerable caused the huge rock to return to its original position by kicking and tossing it with his toes.

When Venerable Pindola stood in the sky right above the residence of the rich man. The latter, on seeing him, crawled on his breast on the ground and invited the Venerable to descend. Once the Venerable was in his house, he had the bowl brought down and filled it with four kinds of nourishment, ‘Catu-madu’, to its brim. He then offered it to the Venerable with due respect.

People came rallying round (Venerable Pindola)

As the Venerable was on the way to the monastery with the bowl, people who had missed the opportunity of seeing the super-normal power, for their being away in the fields, came rallying round the Venerable and requested: “Venerable Sir... please let us see the supernormal performance like the others.” They followed him right up to the monastery witnessing the miracle as demonstrated by the Venerable.

The Buddha prescribed A Ruling Prohibiting Demonstration of Miracles

On hearing uproarious noises, Buddha asked the Venerable Ānanda: “Dear Son Ānanda..,whose clamour are those?” The Venerable Ānanda replied: “Most Exalted Buddha... Venerable Pindola had flown up into the sky and brought down the sandalwood bowl offered by the rich man of Rājagaha. Hearing the news many people have followed at his heels. Those clamorous voices are the voices of the people.”

Whereupon, the Buddha caused the Sangha to be assembled and asked Venerable Pindola: “Dear Son Pindola... is it true that you had obtained the sandalwood bowl of the rich man of Rājagaha by means of a miracle (pāṭihāriya)?” When Pindola replied it was true, the Buddha censured him, giving many reasons and preached some discourses by way of exhortation, and then He prescribed a ruling: Na bhikkhave Iddhipatihāriyam dassetabbam, yo dasseya āpatti dukkatassa——Bhikkhus... no bhikkhu shall display a miracle; the defaulter is guilty of transgression, “Dukkata Āpatti.” He then continued that the sandalwood bowl be broken into pieces and distributed amongst the bhikkhus to be powdered for use as eye medicine, and prescribed another ruling that no bhikkhu should make use of wooden bowls, any defaulter would be guilty of transgression, “Dukkata Āpatti.”

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