The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes Mantaniputta Punna Mahathera 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 forty-one Arahat-Mahatheras and their Respective Etadagga titles. 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).

Biography (9): Mantāṇiputta Puṇṇa Mahāthera

(The Mahāthera’s original name was Puñña. Since he was the son of the Venerable Koṇḍañña’s sister, Mantāṇī the brahmin lady and was thus known as Venerable Mantāni-putta Puñña.)

(a) Aspiration expressed in The Past

The clansman, who would become the Venerable Mantāṇi-putta, was born into the wealthy brahmin family, in the city of Haṃsāvatī, before Buddha Padumuttara appeared a hundred thousand aeons ago. On his naming day, his parents and relatives gave him the name Gotama.

On coming of age, the brahmin youth Gotama, son of a wealthy brahmin, studied the three Vedas and also became skilful in all crafts. While going from place to place in the company of five hundred youths (who were his pupils), he reflected on the Vedas and on seeing in them no means for liberation from saṃsāra, it occurred to him thus: “Like the trunk of a banana plant, these Vedas are smooth outside but there is no substance inside. My wandering with adoring attachment to them resembles an act of grinding the chaff in the hope of getting rice. What is the use of these three Vedas? There is no use at all for me.” Again he pondered: “I shall adopt an ascetic life and develop brahmā-vihāra-jhānas. Being one who never falls off from such jhānas, I shall take rebirth in the abode of Brahmās” Pondering thus he went together with his five hundred pupils to the foot of a hill and lived there as an ascetic.

The followers of the hermit Gotama were matted-hair hermits numbering eighteen thousand. The Master Gotama himself was accomplished in the five mundane psychic powers and the eight mundane jhānas and taught his eighteen thousand disciples how to develop concentration of mind by means of certain devices. Following the teaching of their master, the eighteen thousand disciples also became accomplished in the five mundane psychic powers and the eight mundane jhānas.

In this way, as time went by, when the Master Gotama Hermit became old, the Buddha Padumuttara was still living amidst with a hundred thousand bhikkhus and having His native Haṃsāvatī City as His resort for food. One day at daybreak, when the Buddha surveyed the world of sentient beings, He saw the potentials of the hermit disciples of Gotama.

He also foresaw that “With my visit to Gotama Hermit, he would aspire to be foremost (etadagga) among those who could proclaim the Dhamma well in the dispensation of a Buddha to come.” Accordingly, He cleansed Himself, took His bowl and robe and went in the guise of an insignificant man and stood at the entrance of Gotama’s hermitage, while the hermit’s disciples were away in search of herbs and fruit.

Although he had not known beforehand that the Buddha Padumuttara had appeared, the ascetic teacher Gotama, on seeing the Buddha, guessed the great man from a distance: “Considering the physical perfection of this noble visitor, such a personality could become a universal monarch if He were to live a household life but if He were to live an ascetic life, He could become a genuine Omniscient Buddha, who burst opens the roof of kilesa. Therefore, the man coming, appears to me as one liberated from the three worlds.” As soon as he saw the Buddha, he bowed his head most respectfully and said: “Glorious Buddha, please come this way!” So saying, he prepared and offered a seat to the Buddha. Buddha Padumuttara then took the seat and preached to Gotama.

At that time, his pupils, the matted-hair ascetics, returned. They had the thought: “We shall offer choice fruit and roots to our master and, as for us, we shall only have the remainings,” but, they were surprised by the sight of the Buddha sitting in a high place and their master in a lower place.

“Look, we have been roaming about under the impression that there was nobody else who was nobler than our master in the world. Now we have clearly seen a great man who let our master take a lower seat and who Himself took a higher one. This noble person must be most honourable!” So thinking, they went, bringing their fruit baskets. The Master Gotama, fearing that the pupils might respect him in the presence of the Buddha, asked them from a distance: “Pupils, do not pay homage to me! The Supreme One in the world of sentient beings, together with devas and Brahmās, who deserves the homage of all, is seated here. Pay homage to Him!"Trusting their teacher that he would not have said without knowing, they bowed at the feet of the Buddha.

“Pupils, I have no other food to give to the Buddha. Let us offer Him these fruit and roots.” So saying, he put choice ones into the Buddha’s bowl. Only when the Buddha had partaken the fruit and roots, then the hermit and his pupils ate their shares.

After partaking of fruit as His meal, the Buddha wished: “May the two Chief Disciples come to me with a hundred thousand bhikkhus.” At that moment the Chief Disciple, Venerable Mahādevala, considered: “Where has the Exalted One gone?” and knowing that “the Buddha wishes for our visit,” he appeared in front of the Buddha with his head bowed, together taking a hundred thousand bhikkhus.

Gotama addressed his pupils: “Pupils, we have nothing to offer to the assembly of monks. They have no choice but to stand miserably. Let us make seats of flowers for the Sangha headed by the Buddha. Bring aquatic flowers and terrestrial flowers quick!” The ascetic pupils instantly brought beautiful and fragrant flowers by their supernormal powers from the foot of the hill. And, in the way stated in the story of Mahāthera Sāriputta, they made floral seats. (The engagement in nirodha-samāpatti-jhāna by the Buddha and His monks, the holding of floral umbrellas over them by the hermits and all the other accounts should also be understood in the way as mentioned in the story of Mahāthera Sāriputta.)

On the seventh day, when the Buddha emerged from nirodha-samāpatti-jhāna, He saw the hermits, who were surrounding Him, and asked a bhikkhus-disciple, who was foremost (etadagga) in preaching: “Dear son, these hermits have done a great honour. You dear son, shall give them a sermon in appreciation of the floral seats.” The arahat took the command respectfully and gave an appreciative sermon after reflecting on the Teaching. At the end of the sermon, the Buddha Himself preached, in addition, the means leading to attainment of the Path and the Fruition in a voice that resembled the Brahmā’s. When the preaching ended, the eighteen thousand matted-hair hermits attained arahatship, except their master, Gotama.

As the master, however, was unable to realize the Truth in that life, he asked the Buddha: “Exalted Buddha, who is the bhikkhu that gave a sermon earlier?” When the Buddha answered: “Hermit Gotama, the monk who preached first is the foremost (etadagga) among those who are able to preach well in My dispensation.” Gotama said: “Exalted Buddha, as the result of the merit of my service (adhikāra) given to You, may I, like the monk who preached to me first, become the foremost (etadagga) among excellent preachers in the dispensation of a future Buddha.” Having said thus, he prostrated at the feet of the Buddha.

The Buddha surveyed the future and saw that the wish of Hermit Gotama would be fulfilled without any hitch. Accordingly, He predicted: “In future, a hundred thousand aeons from now, Buddha Gotama will appear. Then you will become foremost among those who are excellent in preaching the Dhamma!” And He called the ascetic pupils who had now become arahats: “Come, monks.” (“Etha bhikkhavo.”) Then the hair and the beard of all the hermits disappeared immediately (without being shaved) They were instantly robed and readily equipped with alms-bowls and robes created by their miraculous power. Their ascetic appearance vanished and they fully attained monkhood like mahātheras who were of sixty years' standing or eighty years of age. Buddha Padumuttara returned to the monastery accompanied by the whole lot of monks.

(b) Ascetic Life adopted in His Final Existence

Having rendered his service to the Buddha till the end of his life and performed good works to the best of his ability, the Hermit Gotama took rebirth only in the realm of gods or that of humans for a hundred thousand aeons. At the time of our Buddha’s appearance, he was reborn in the family of a wealthy brahmin in the brahmin village of Doṇavatthu. The child was named Puñña by the parents and relatives.

Having attained the Path, Wisdom of arahatship and Omniscience, the Buddha taught the First Sermon and in the course of His journey, He stayed somewhere, with Rājagaha as his resort for alms-food. While the Buddha was staying there, Venerable Annasi Koṇḍañña came to the brahmin village of Doṇavatthu, near Kapilavatthu, and ordained Puñña the youth, his nephew (son of his sister) and taught him how to practise as a monk. The next day, Venerable Koṇḍañña visited the Buddha and having venerated respectfully and sought permission, he went to the Chaddante forest, residing there till his death.

Venerable Puñña Mantānī-putta, however, did not go along with his uncle (brother of his mother) to the Buddha, for he thought: “I shall go to the Buddha only after my attainment of arahatship, the culmination of my duties as a monk.” So he stayed behind in the city of Kapilavatthu. And when he put great efforts in his endeavours, he soon attained arahatship. From the Venerable Mantāṇi-putta, five hundred clansmen took ordination. As he himself followed and practised the ten forms of speech (kathā-vatthu) [see notes below], to the five hundred monks he gave an exhortation involving the ten forms of speech. Being established in the exhortation of their teacher, all the five hundred monks worked to fulfil their ascetic duties and attained arahatship.

Knowing about the culmination (arahatship) of their performance of ascetic duties, the five hundred monks went to their preceptor (upajjhāya), Venerable Mantāṇi-putta, and waited upon him. And they said: “Venerable Sir, our ascetic works have culminated in their highest point of arahatship. We also practise the ten forms of speech quite easily. The time has come for us to visit the Exalted One.” On hearing the words of the monks, the Venerable thought: “The Exalted One knows my easy practice of the ten forms of speech. When I preach, I always make it a point to give such a speech. If I now go with them, surely they will surround me. It is not befitting for me to visit the Buddha by being surrounded by such a community of bhikkhus. Let them go earlier and visit the Exalted One first.” So thinking, he said to the monks: “Dear friends, you please go ahead and visit the Exalted One before me. Also, worship at the feet of the Exalted One in my name. I shall follow you by the way you take.”

The five hundred bhikkhus, who were all the natives of Kapilavatthu where the Buddha was born, who were all arahats, free from āsavas, and who had all made easy acquisition of the ten forms of speech, accepted the advice of their preceptor. They arrived at the Veḷuvana monastery of Rājagaha after covering a distance of sixty yojanas. Having venerated at the feet of the Buddha they sat at a proper place.

Since it was a custom (dhammatā-āciṇṇa) of Buddhas to exchange greetings with visitors, the Buddha spoke sweet introductory words by asking: “How are you, monks? Are you fit and well?” and so on. He also put another question: “Where did you come from?” “We came from the region of Kapilavatthu, your birthplace.” replied the monks. Then the Buddha asked: “Among the monks of the region of Kapilavatthu, my birthplace, who is admired by his fellow bhikkhus that one of few wants, speaks words of Dhamma connected with few wants?” As a priority matter, the Buddha asked this question of bhikkhu who easily practised the ten forms of speech. The answer, given unanimously by the five hundred monks was: “The Venerable Mantāṇi-putta is in that way, Venerable Sir.” Overhearing the answer, the Venerable Sāriputta was very keen to meet the Venerable Mantāṇi-putta Puñña.

The Buddha, thereafter, went from Rājagaha to Sāvatthi. Learning of the Buddha’s visit to Sāvatthi, Venerable Mantāṇi-putta Puñña went alone to Sāvatthi and met the Buddha personally (without any monks leading him). The Buddha gave him a sermon with reference to the ten forms of speech (kathā-vatthu). Having listened to the sermon, the Venerable paid respect to the Buddha, and went to Andhavana forest in order to stay in seclusion and spent the day at the foot of a tree. Hearing that the Venerable was on his way to Andhavana, the Venerable Sāriputta followed him, continuously watching the head of the foregoing Venerable from behind, lest he should lose sight of him. After waiting for a chance, Venerable Sāriputta, in the evening, approached the tree (where the Venerable Puñña was). Having exchanged greeting with him, Venerable Sāriputta asked him the series of seven purities (visuddhi). Venerable Puñña answered each and every question. Then one expressed to the other his appreciation of their mutual Dhamma-talks. (A detailed account of this may be taken from the Rathavinīta Sutta, Opamma Vagga, Mūlapaṇṇāsa of the Majjhima Nikāya.)

(c) Etadagga Title achieved.

At a later time, in an assembly of monks, the Buddha spoke in praise of Venerable Mantiṇi-putta:

Etadaggaṃ bhikkhave mama sāvakānam bhikkhūnaṃ dhammakathikānaṃ yad idaṃ Puṇṇo Mantāni-putto.”

“Monks, among my bhikkhu-disciple who preach the Dhamma, Mantāni-putta is the best.

Speaking thus, the Buddha placed the Mahāthera foremost (etadagga) among all excellent Dhamma-preachers.

Notes on Kathā-vatthu:

The ten forms of speech (kathā-vatthu) are:

(1) apiccha-kathā, speech concerning few wants,
(2) santaṭṭhi-kathā, speech concerning easy contentment,
(3) paviveka-kathā, speech concerning seclusion,
(4) asaṃsagga-kathā, speech concerning freedom from the five-fold contact,
(5) vīriyakathā, speech concerning industriousness,
(6) sīla-kathā, speech concerning morality,
(7) samādhikathā, speech concerning mental concentration,
(8) paññā-kathā, speech concerning wisdom,
(9) vimitthu-kathā, speech concerning liberation and
(10) paccavekkhaṇā-kathā, speech concering reflective wisdom.

(As he himself engaged in these ten forms of speech, so did he give these ten to his followers as his advice.)

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