The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes Subhuti 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).

(a) Aspiration expressed in The Past

This Subhūti Mahāthera, a virtuous clansman, was born in the family of a brahmin householder before the appearance of Buddha Padumuttara, a hundred thousand aeons ago, his name was Nanda.

When the young Nanda came of age, he was educated in the three Vedas but since he could not find any beneficial substance in them, he became an ascetic with other youths, numbering forty-four thousand, at the foot of the mountain named Nisabha. He attained the five mundane psychic powers and reached the eight mundane attainments. He also help his companions, the forty-four thousand ascetics, attained the jhānic and psychic powers.

At that time, Buddha Padumuttara appeared in the world and while He was sojourning in the royal city of Haṃsāvatī, He surveyed the world of sentient beings one morning and saw the potentials of Nanda’s pupils, the forty-four thousand matted-hair ascetics, for attainment of arahatship. As for Nanda himself, the Buddha also saw that he would aspire to be a great disciple endowed with two-fold honour. Hence, He cleansed himself early in the morning and set out for the hermitage of Nanda, taking His bowl and robe by Himself, in the way mentioned in the story of Venerable Sāriputta. The offering of various fruits, the spreading and offering of seats of flowers and the engagement in nirodha-samāpatti that took place at the hermitage was similar to that described in the account of Venerable Sāriputta.

What was different here was that when the Buddha rose from his nirodha-samāpatti, He instructed a disciple, who was endowed with the two-fold honour of (1) living free from mental defilements and blissfully, and (2) being worthy of receiving excellent offering, saying: “Dear son, deliver a sermon in appreciation of the offering of floral seats to Me by the whole lot of ascetics!” Remaining seated, the Venerable delivered the sermon, reflecting on the Teaching (Three Piṭakas). At the end of the Venerable’s sermon, Buddha Padumuttara Himself preached. When this was over, all the forty-four thousand ascetics attained arahatship. As regards their teacher, the ascetic Nanda, he could not follow the Buddha’s sermon attentively, as he was mentally admiring the preaching bhikkhu. (As he was taking interest in the preaching Venerable, he could not pay full attention to the teaching of the Buddha.) Stretching out His hand to the forty-four thousand pupils, the Buddha called out: “Etha bhikkhavo——Come, monks.” All of them instantly lost their hair and beard and became equipped with requisites made by His supernormal powers, and turned into solemn monks with their sense-faculties well controlled, like mahātheras of sixty years' standing and eighty years' living.

Having saluted the Buddha, the ascetic Nanda stood in His presence and asked: “Venerable Sir, who is the monk that gave the talk in appreciation of the offering of the floral seats.” “That monk,” answered the Buddha, “is the foremost (etadagga) in blissful living, free from moral defilements and in worthiness of accepting excellent offering in My dispensation.” “I do not wish for other human and divine pleasure as the result of this adhikāra act of mine, performed for seven days, but I do wish to become the foremost (etadagga) in the twofold virtue, in the dispensation of a future Buddha, like the Venerable who has just given the appreciative talk,” the ascetic Nanda aspired. Seeing that his dream would come true without any obstacles, the Buddha made a prophecy and departed. As Nanda always listened to the Dhammadiscourses in the very presence of the Buddha and kept his jhānas in their undiminished state, he immediately took rebirth in the realm of Brahmas on his death. (This was the Venerable Subhuti’s resolution and meritorious act performed in the past. His good works done during the interim period of a hundred thousand aeons are not mentioned in the Commentary.)

(b) Ascetic Life adopted in His Find Existence

When a hundred thousand aeons had elapsed and when the present dispensation came into existence, the clansman, who would become Subhūti Mahāthera, was reborn as a son of Sumana, the wealthy merchant (and brother of Anāthapiṇḍika) in the city of Sāvatthi and was named Subhūti. When our Buddha appeared and while He was staying with Rājagaha as His resort for alms-food, Anāthapiṇḍika the merchant arrived at the house of his friend (and brother-in-law) the merchant of Rājagaha, bringing with him goods produced in Sāvatthi. On his arrival, he heard of the emergence of the Buddha. After going to the Buddha, who was staying now in Sātavana forest, he became established in sotāpatti-phala in this first meeting with Him. (After becoming a noble sotāpanna), he requested the Buddha to visit Sāvatthi and had lodgings built, one at every yojana, along the journey of forty-five yojanas between Sāvatthi and Rājagaha, at the expense of a hundred thousand coins. He also bought Prince Jeta’s garden of eight royal pai, for which the payment was made by placing gold coins, touching each other, covering the garden area. Then on the whole garden site, he built the Jetavana Monastery for the Buddha and dedicated it to Him. (For a detailed account of this event please refer to Chapter 29 for the story of Anāthapiṇḍika.)

On the day of the dedication of the monastery, Subhūti went along with his older brother and listened to the Dhamma and so strong was his faith that he adopted a monk’s life. Having become a monk, he studied and was accomplished in the Dye Mātikā, after which he had meditation taught to him and strove to practise ascetic practices. All this led him to arahatship via the development of Vipassanā based on mettā-jhāna (meditation on lovingkindness).

(c) Achievement of Double Etadagga Title

When he gave a sermon, Venerable Subhūti did so objectively (dhamma-diṭṭhana) i.e. by concentrating on the Dhamma itself (but not by making any reference to an individual, pugglā-diṭṭhāna) the way the Buddha did. (This led him to be declared the foremost (etadagga) in living in bliss, free from mental defilements, araṇa-vihārī).

When the Venerable went on alms-round, thinking that “if I adopt this method, great benefits will accrue to the donors.” At every house, he habitually engaged in the mettājhāna before he received the alms-food. (This caused him to be the foremost (etadagga) in being worthy of excellent gift (dakkhiṇyya).

Later on, therefore, when the Buddha held a meeting with the assembly of monks, He said in praise of the Venerable Subhūti as follows and declared:

Etadaggaṃ. bhikkhave mama sāvakānaṃ bhikkūnaṃ araṇavihārīnaṃ yadidaṃ Subhūti (1), dakkhiṇeyyānaṃ yadidaṃ Subhūti (2).”

“Monks, among my bhikkhu-disciple (1) who live blissfully, being detached from defilements, Subhūti stands foremost, and so does he stand out (2) among those who are worthy of best offerings.”

(Herein (1) with reference to araṇa-vihārī etadagga, moral defilements, such as rāga (passion), etc. are called raṇa (because they lead to lamentation). Arahats, who live enjoying bliss, as they are away from moral defilements, are said to be araṇa-vihārī individuals. Apart from Venerable Subhūti, there were other arahats who lived such a life too. But when they preached, they did so by employing the method which considered in making reference to a certain person (puggalā-diṭṭhāna dhamma-desanā) whom they either praised or censured. But Venerable Subhūti adopted the method which required him to speak of the Dhamma itself as his objective (dhamma-diṭṭhāna)——the Dhamma taught by the Buddha. That was why he was declared the etadagga among the araṇa-vihārī bhikkhus.

(The Upari-paṇṇāsa Pāli contains the Araṇa-vibhaṅga Sutta which enumerates the six factors of araṇa-vihāra, ‘living in bliss,’ as follows: (a) Following the Middle Path (Majjhima-Paṭipadā) which avoids the two evil extremes. (b) Following the dhammadiṭṭhāna method, one says: “This is the thing to be praised. This is the thing to be censured.” If following the puggalā-diṭṭhāna method, one says: “He is the person to be praised,” and this amounts to flattering; and if one says: “He is the person to be censured”, this amounts to humiliation. Hence avoidance of both flattering and humiliation. (c) Development of internal happiness (ajjhatta-sukha) after distinguishing between the two kinds of happiness; internal happiness derived from samatha (tranquillity) and vipassanā (insight) meditation and external happiness (bahiddhā-sukha) derived from the five senses. (d) Speaking of any person, either in his presence or in his absence only, if one’s speech is truthful and profitable. (e) Speaking or preaching not in haste but smoothly, and (f) Arguing not in a foreign land about the foreign language (though it may be different from one’s native language).

(With regard to (2) dakkhiṇeyya etadagga, other arahats were also worthy of receiving excellent gifts. But, on receiving food at every house, Venerable Subhūti was aware that ‘if I do in this way, special benefits will accrue to the donors’. Therefore, he first meditated on loving-kindness, then rose from his meditation and received the food. This, therefore, earned him the etadagga of dakkhineyya.

(In this connection, (it should be mentioned that) the Captain of the Dhamma, Venerable Sāriputta, did the cleansing of the objects. ‘Cleansing of the object’ means ‘cleansing of one’s ownself’ that becomes worthy of the gift and enhancement of its result. In this connection, it may be stated that Venerable Sāriputta, the Captain of the Dhamma, used to purify the object, (and by ‘the object’ is meant the ‘Venerable’s own self’ that became worthy of the gift and that enhanced result of the gift through his engagement in nirodhasamāpatti.) Venerable Subhūti, however, purified the act of giving (and by ‘the act of giving’ is meant this: when the Venerable engaged in meditation on mettā, the donors mentally reacted to his meditation; their hearts became softer and their adorations more enthusiastic before they made the offering. Hence the purification of the charitable act and the development of its result took place also through the donor as the donor is led by his mental tenderness and highly developed adoration.) Elaboration: When Venerable Sāriputta went on alms-round, he stood at the door and engaged in mettā meditation for sometime until the donor came out bringing the food. Only when the donor reached him, he emerged from his meditation and received the food. Venerable Subhūti, however, engaged in meditation on loving-kindness and only when the donor reached him, he emerged from his meditation and accepted the offering. Exposition of the Araṇavibhaṅga Sutta in the Uparipaṇṇāsa Commentary may be noticed in particularly.)

The sermons with reference to the Venerable Subhūti should be noted from the Apādāna Text and Commentary, etc.)

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