The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes Sona Kutikanna 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 (17): Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa Mahāthera

(By the name given to him by his parents the Venerable One was Soṇa. As a lay man, he used to wear the earrings worth a crore, as such the name Kuṭikaṇṇa was added. Hence he was known as Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa Mahāthera.)

(a) Aspiration expressed in The Past

The virtuous man, the future Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa Mahāthera, during the lifetime of the Buddha Padumuttara, also went along with people to the monastery in the aforesaid manner. While standing at the edge of the audience and listening to the Buddha’s sermon, he saw a monk being declared the foremost (etadagga) among those who taught in a sweet voice. Sona then thought: “I, too, should become the foremost (etadagga) among those who teach in sweet voice in the dispensation of a future Buddha.” So he invited the Buddha and performed a great dāna for seven days and at the end of which, he said: “Exalted Buddha, seven days ago you declared a monk as the foremost (etadagga) among those who teach in sweet voice (kalyāṇavakkaraṇa), I too wish to be like that monk in the dispensation of a future Buddha as a result of this act of merit of mine.” Seeing that the man’s wish would be fulfilled without any hitch, the Buddha predicted: “Later, in the dispensation of Buddha Gotama, your wish will be fulfilled.” After saying thus the Buddha departed.

(b) Monkhood in His Final Existence

Having performed meritorious deeds until his death, Soṇa was reborn only in the worlds of devas and humans (without any rebirth in the four woeful states) and finally took conception in the womb of a devotee, named Kāḷī, the wife of a merchant, in the town of Kuraraghara, in the country of Avanti, before the appearance of our Buddha. When the pregnancy was in advanced stage, Kāḷī went back to her parents in Rājagaha.

At that time, our Buddha had attained Omniscient Buddhahood and taught the Dhammacakka Sutta in the Deer Park at Isipatana. (The date then was the full moon day of Āsāḷhā, 103 Mahā Era.) On the occasion of the teaching of the sermon, devas and Brahmās from the hundred thousand universes gathered in unison in the Deer Park. Present at the gathering were twenty-eight yakkha generals, and one of them was Sātāgira, were listening to the Buddha’s sermon.

(Herein a detailed account of the two demon generals may be looked up in the Chapter 10)

(The account given in Chapter 10 is based on the exposition of the Hemavata Sutta of the Suttanipāta Commentary. According to that exposition, while Sātāgira was listening to the Dhammacakka Sermon, he remembered his friend Hemavata. He, therefore, was inattentive and failed to realize the Path and the Fruition. Only when he returned with Hemavata to listen to the sermon, that both of them became noble sotāpannas, eventually.

(What is based on the Ekaka-nipāta of the Aṅguttara Commentary begins from his attainment of sotāpatti after hearing the Dhammacakka Sermon. Thereafter, he went to fetch Hemavata and met him on the way in the sky above the house of Kāḷī (of Kuraraghara), near Rājagaha, who was the daughter of a merchant. On meeting with Hemavata, he was asked by the latter about the physical practices (kāyasamācāra), livelihood (ājīva) and mental practices (manosamācāra) of the Buddha, and he answered each and every question. In this way, when the questions and answers on the Buddha’s virtues and attributes as contained in the Hemavata Sutta came to an end, Hemavata reflected on his friend’s pious words step by step and became established in sotāpatti-phala. The difference of the two accounts is due to the different reciters bhāṇaka).

Not seeing his friend Hemavata on the occasion of the Buddha’s teaching of the Dhammacakka Sermon, Sātāgira went to look for him and met him on the way, in the sky above Kāḷī’s house. And the questions and answers on the Buddha’s physical conduct, etc. took place.

While Sātāgira was talking about the Dhamma in his explanation of the Buddha’s conduct, Kāḷī overheard all and began to have faith in the Buddha without having personally seen him and became established in sotāpatti-phala, just as somebody who has enjoyed the meal prepared and meant for another person. She was the first noble sotāpanna and female lay devotee among women and the eldest ‘sister’ to them all.

Having become a sotāpanna, Kāḷī gave birth to a son that very night. The son was given the name Soṇa. After living with her parents for as long as she wanted, Kāḷī returned to Kuraraghara. Since the son was one wearing the earrings worth a crore, he was also known as Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa.

Saṃvega and His Monkhood

At that time, the Venerable Mahā Kaccāyana was staying in the hill known as Papata (or Pavatta or Upavatta), depending upon Kuraraghara as his alms resort. The lay devotee, Kāḷī, was serving the Venerable who constantly visited her house. Her son, Soṇa, also moved about the Venerable constantly and became friendly with him.

Whenever he had an opportunity, Soṇa would go to the Venerable to wait upon him. The Venerable also continuously taught him the Dhamma in return. The boy, therefore, felt a good deal of saṃvega and became ardent to practise the Dhamma. At one time, he travelled with a caravan to Ujjenī for commercial purpose and while camping at night, he became afraid to stay with the stuffy crowd. So, he went to another place and slept. The caravan moved on in the morning without him, as nobody remembered to wake him up before they proceeded.

When Soṇa awoke and not seeing anybody, he hurried to follow the caravan along the caravan road and reached a banyan tree. At the tree, he saw a male peta, who was disgusting ugly and big-bodied, picking up and eating pieces of his own flesh that were falling off from his bones. So Soṇa asked him what he was and the peta answered his identity. Soṇa asked again why he was doing that and he answered that he was doing so because of his past kamma. Soṇa then asked him to explain and his explanation was as follows: “O Master, in the past, I was a wicked merchant of Bharukaccha, earning my living by deceiving others. Besides, I abused monks who came for alms and said to them: ‘Eat your own flesh!’ As a result of these evil deeds, I am now undergoing the kinds of suffering you are now witnessing.” On hearing the incident, Soṇa was startled a great deal.

Thenceforth, he continued his journey and came across two peta boys, from whose mouth black blood was trickling. So he asked about them, as he had done before. To Soṇa, the young petas then related their evil deed done in the past: While being human, they traded in perfumes to earn their living as youngsters. And while doing so, their mother invited and offered meals to certain arahats. On coming home, they abused and cursed: “O mother, why did you give our things to the monks? May bubbles of black blood ooze from the mouths of those who consumed the food given by our mother!” On account of their evil deed, they suffered in hell and as a residual result of that very evil deed, they were reborn in the world of petas, suffering in that manner when they were encountered by Soṇa. On hearing their story too, Soṇa was very startled. In fact, the startling effect was even greater than on the previous occasion. (The stories of such saṃvega are told in the Udāna Aṭṭhakathā and the Sāratthadīpanī Ṭikā.)

Soṇa arrived in Ujjenī and returned to Kuraraghara after doing his business. He then approached the Venerable Mahā Kaccāyana and told him of his business. The Venerable gave Sona a religious talk on the disadvantages of birth in woeful cycles of saṃsāra and its round of suffering and as well as on the advantages of unbecoming and discontinuation of birth in these cycles of saṃsāra and its round of suffering. Having paid his respect to the Venerable, Soṇa went home. He had his evening meal, and fell asleep for a while. Later, he woke up and began to reflect on the sermon of the Venerable. This reflection and his recollection of the states of the petas whom he had met, he felt great fear of saṃsāra and its woeful cycles. Thus, he was inclined very much to become a bhikkhu.

At daybreak, he cleansed himself and went to the Venerable Kaccāyana and reported to him what he had thought: “Venerable Sir, when I reflected in various ways on the sermon given by you, I found that it was not easy to undergo this noble (threefold) training, which resembled a newly polished conch shell, perfect and pure.” He went on: “I would like to shave my hair and beard, put on the dyed robe and leave lay life, to enter bhikkhuhood.” Having thus spoken of his wish to become a bhikkhu, he made a request: “Therefore, Sir, I would like you to ordain me.”

Venerable Kaccāyana then investigated mentally whether Soṇa’s wisdom was ripe or not, he came to know that it was not. Wishing to wait for the time when Sona’s wisdom would ripen, the Venerable said: “It is difficult, Sona, to take up for life the noble practice of sleeping alone and eating alone. Therefore, Soṇa, what I would like to ask you is this: practise first occasionally, while still a lay man, the noble practice of solitary sleeping and solitary eating, (as on Uposatha days, etc.) which is taught by the Exalted Buddha.”

Then Soṇa’s eagerness to become a bhikkhu subsided as his faculties were not mature yet and his saṃvega consciousness was not serious enough. Though his eagerness had subsided, he did not stay carelessly but remained in the teaching of the Venerable and constantly approached him to listen to his Dhamma. As time went by, he became inclined for a second time to become a bhikkhu, so he renewed his request. This time too the Venerable gave him the same advice.

When Soṇa requested for a third time, the Venerable Mahā Kaccāyana knew it was time to ordain him because of the maturity of his wisdom and the Venerable could only ordain him as a sāmaṇera. Though he was to ordain Soṇa as a bhikkhu, such ordination could not take place because only two or three bhikkhus lived in Kuraraghara, whereas there were many in the Middle Country. And these bhikkhus were staying very far separately, one in a village or two in a market town. From there, the Venerable brought two or three bhikkhus for Sona, his co-resident pupil. But while he was away to bring other bhikkhus, the previous ones would leave for another place to attend to other matters. After waiting for some time for their return, he went out to bring back those who had left but the others who had remained there, departed on some other matters.

As he had to repeat his attempt to organise in this way, it took him more than three years to group ten monks together. An upasampadā ordination could only be performed at that time when ten monks were present. The Venerable was staying alone then. It was only after three long and troublesome years that the Venerable managed to have the required number of monks to give his pupil, Sāmaṇera Soṇa, higher ordination. (This is reproduced from the Sārattha Ṭikā.)

Having received ordination, Sāmaṇera Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa [now a monk] learnt and took a meditation subject, and when he assiduously engaged in Vipassanā meditation, he attained arahatship even during that vassa and studied Sutta-nipāta also under the Venerable. After performing pavāraṇā at the end of vassa, he wanted to pay homage to the Buddha very much and he asked his preceptor, Venerable Mahā Kaccāyana, for permission to do so. (His request in detail may be seen in the Vinaya Mahāvagga translation.)

The preceptor Venerable then said: “Soṇa, when you arrived there, the Buddha will let you stay in His Perfumed Chamber and ask you to give a sermon. Accordingly, you are bound to do that. Being pleased with your sermon, the Buddha will give you a reward. Take such and such a reward. Please pay homage to the the Exalted Buddha in my name!” Saying thus, the Venerable gave his permission whole-heartedly.

Having obtained his preceptor’s permission, Venerable Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa went to the residence of his mother, Kālī, wife of a merchant, and told her of his plan. His mother consented and requested: “Very well, dear son! When you go to meet the Buddha, please take this rug, as my donation, and spread it on the ground in the Perfumed Chamber!” With these words the mother handed him the rug.

Taking the rug with him, Venerable Soṇa packed his bedding and set out for Jetavana, Sāvatthi. The Buddha was then seated on the Dhamma throne, a seat meant for the Buddha. Venerable Soṇa stood at a suitable place and showed his respect to the Buddha. Having exchanged words of greeting with Venerable Soṇa, the Buddha emphatically asked the Venerable Ānanda: “For this bhikkhu, dear son Ānanda, arrange lodging!”

(Herein, if the Buddha wished to stay with a visiting bhikkhu in the same Perfumed Chamber, He would specially ask to provide lodging for him. But for a visitor with whom he has no reason for staying together, he would say nothing. For such a person, the Venerable Ānanda or somebody else on duty would make an accommodation at another suitable place.)

Knowing the wish of the Buddha, Venerable Ānanda provided accommodation for Venerable Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa in the Perfumed Chamber.

Then the Buddha spent the time by being absorbed in jhāna for several hours of the night and then He entered the Perfumed Chamber. Venerable Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa too spent a long time sitting, during the night, in absorption of jhāna and then he too entered the Perfumed Chamber. Wishing to talk with Venerable Soṇa through engagement of jhāna, the Buddha let the time pass by sitting and engaging in all jhānas, that were common to disciples, in the open space. Having done so, He washed His feet and got into the dwelling. Sensing the wish of the Master, Venerable Soṇa followed, after engaging in the jhāna befitting the hours in hand in the open space.

Having entered into the Perfumed Chamber, as permitted by the Buddha, he made a robescreen and passed the time sitting at the feet of the Buddha. In the last watch of the night, having lain down on the right side, which is sīhaseyya (lying style of a lion), with mindfulness, the Buddha rose when it was near daybreak. He then sat down and, thinking that Soṇa’s physical weariness must have subsided by this time, He asked him: “Dear son bhikkhu, remember something to recite!” The Venerable recited the sixteen discourses beginning with the Kāma Sutta, all of which forming the whole section known as the Aṭṭhaka Vagga of the Sutta Nipāta in very sweet voice without making error in even a single letter.

When the recitation ended, the Buddha gave him blessing and asked: “Dear son bhikkhu, all sixteen discourses of the Aṭṭhaka Vagga you have learnt wonderfully, you have got them well by heart! (As they contained correct articulation) they were of pleasant sounds. They are clean, flawless, full of words leading to the understanding of meaning that is free from any impairment. Dear son bhikkhu, how long have you been a bhikkhu?” “Just one vassa, Exalted Buddha,” answered Venerable Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa.

Again the Buddha asked: “Dear son bhikkhu, why did your bhikkhuhood start so late?” “Exalted Buddha,” replied Venerable Soṇa, “I have long seen the disadvantages of sensual pleasures. But household life is so narrow, full of duties and things to attend to. Knowing that, i.e. the mind of one who has seen the defects of sensual pleasures as they really are, remained unsinkable into household life for long, but like drops of water falling from the lotus leaf, it was this defiled thoughts that finally slip away from my heart.”

So the Buddha uttered a solemn utterance as follows:

Disvā ādīnavaṃ loke, ñatvā dhammaṃ nirūpadhiṃ
Ariyo na ramatī pāpe, pāpe na ramatī suci

Because he has clearly seen through the eye of Vipassanā the defects of impermanence, suffering and changeability everywhere in the world of formations (saṅkhāra) and also because he has penetrated through the fourfold Path wisdom, Nibbāna, which is the cessation of the fourfold substratum of existence (upadhi), the Noble One, who is away from defilements, does not take pleasure in evil deeds. (Why? Because for one, a haṃsa-like individual whose deeds, physical, etc. are pure, there is no precedent that such a person should find happiness in the aggregate of dirty old unwholesome things that resemble a place full of excrement.)

Venerable Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa then thought: “The Exalted One gave a joyous speech to me. Now is the time for me to transmit what my teacher has asked.”

So thinking, he adjusted his upper robe on his left shoulder and bowed his head at the feet of the Master, saying:

“Exalted One, my preceptor, the Venerable Mahā Kaccāyana made obeisance to you with his head. He also sent a message as follows:

(1) ‘Exalted Buddha, the southern region of the country of Avanti has few bhikkhus. I acquired bhikkhuhood only after having ten bhikkhus gathered from various places with great difficulty, which took me three years. I wonder if you, Exalted Buddha, would allow higher ordination performed by less than ten bhikkhus in that region.

(2) ‘Exalted Buddha, in that southern region of Avanti, the uneven ground rising from its surface, and resembling the black hoof-print of a cow, is so rough. I wonder if you, Exalted Buddha, would allow the sandal with layers of sole in that region. (At that time, the sandal with only one layer of sole was allowed. Hence the request.)

(3) ‘Exalted Buddha, the people in the southern region of Avanti are fond of bathing. They regard water as a cleansing factor. I wonder if you, Exalted Buddha, would allow daily bath. (At that time, monks, as a rule, were to bathe once in a fortnight. Hence the request.)

(4) ‘Exalted Buddha, in that region of Avanti, sheep-skin, goat-skin and deer-skin are used as spreads. Just as, Exalted One, in the Middle Country (Majjhima-desa), mats made of eragu grass, soragu grass, majjaru grass and jantu grass, are used, so are sheep-skin, goat-skin and deer-skin used in South-Avanti. I wonder if you, Exalted Buddha, would allow these skins for spreads. (At that time no animal skin or hide was allowed for such use in that region. Hence the request.)

(5) ‘Exalted Buddha, people nowadays entrust bhikkhus outside the sīmā with robes, saying: “This robe is given to such and such a bhikkhu.” The entrusted co-resident bhikkhus went to the bhikkhu concerned and said: ‘Such and such a man, friend, gives a robe to you.’ But the bhikkhu does not accept the robe as he thinks that his acceptance would require him to perform an act of forfeiting and is therefore against the Vinaya. Because of such doubt, there is no such acceptance. Perhaps the Buddha might tell as the correct way of accepting the robe.” So does the Venerable Mahā Kaccāyana ask you through me”

Because of what had been reported by Venerable Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa, the Buddha then gave a Dhamma-talk to him and addressed the monks as follows:

“Monks, rare are bhikkhus in the southern region of Avanti. In such bordering areas, I allow performance of ordination by a group of five monks, the fifth being an expert in the Vinaya.”

The phrase ‘bordering areas’ in that injunction means the areas outside the Middle Country, to the east of which being the market town of Gajaṅgala, beyond which being a great sāla tree; beyond that sāla tree exist bordering areas.

It means the area lying outside the Middle Country and beyond the river Salalavati in the south-east.

It means the area lying outside the Middle Country and beyond the market town of Setakaṇṇika in the south.

It means the area outside the Middle Country and beyond the brahmin village of Thūna in the west.

It means the area outside the Middle Country and beyond the mountain called Usīraddhaja in the north.

(1) “Monks, in those bordering areas, in such situation, I allow performance of ordination by a group of five bhikkhus, the fifth one being an expert in the Vinaya.

(2) “Monks, in that southern region of Avanti, the uneven ground, swollen and full of black hoof-prints of cattle, is so rough. I allow you monks (to wear) sandals with layers of sole in all those bordering areas.

(3) “Monks, in that southern region of Avanti, people attach importance to bathing. They regard water as a cleansing factor. I allow monks daily bath in all those bordering areas.

(4) “Monks, in that southern region of Avanti, sheep-skins, goat-skins and deer-skins are used as spreads. As, monks, in the Middle Country, mats made of eragu grass, soragu grass, majjaru grass and jantu grass, are used, so are those animal skins used as spreads in that region of Avanti. I allow monks to use sheep-skin, goat-skin and deer-skin for spreads in all those bordering areas.

(5) “Monks, if people entrust bhikkhus, who happen to be outside the sīmā, with a robe, saying: ‘This robe we give to such and such a bhikkhu.’ As long as the robe does not go into the hand of the monk concerned, the robe cannot be reckoned as something recognized by the would-be recipient for use. I allow you monks to accept that robe.”

Again, as had been asked by his mother, Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa paid obeisance, in her name, to the Buddha and said: “Exalted Buddha, your donor, Kāḷī, the female lay devotee, has offered this rug for use as a mat on the floor in your Fragrant Chamber.” With these words, he handed the rug to the Buddha, and then he rose from his seat, made obeisance and returned to his monastery on Papata Hill, near Kuraraghara town, in Avanti.

On returning to his preceptor, Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa reported all about the mission. Next day, he went to the house of his mother, Kāḷī, and stood at the entrance for alms-food. Hearing that her son was at the door, she came out quickly, showed her respect, took the alms-bowl from the Venerable’s hand, prepared a seat and offered food.

Then followed a conversation between the mother and the Venerable:

Mother: Son, have you seen the Exalted One?

Venerable: Yes, I have, donor.

Mother: Have you also paid obeisance to the Exalted One in my name?

Venerable: Yes, I have. The rug given by you to the Exalted One, I personally spread it as a mat, as you had asked, in the Fragrant Chamber which He occupies.

Mother: How about your visit to the Exalted One? Was it true that you spoke something about the Dhamma? Was it true that the Exalted One also gave you blessings?

Venerable: How did you come to know about these things?

Mother: The guardian spirit of this house, son, told me that the day the Exalted One gave blessings to you, devas and Brahmas of the ten thousand worldspheres did the same. I want you to relate to me, son, the Dhamma in the same words as you have addressed to the Exalted One.

The Venerable accepted the mother’s request by being silent. Knowing of the Venerable’s acceptance, the mother had a great pavilion built at the house-gate and let the Venerable repeat exactly as he had said to the Buddha; the mother thereby held a grand Dhammameeting.

(c) Etadagga Title achieved

At a later time, sitting in the midst of His noble disciples, the Buddha spoke in praise of Venerable Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa as follows:

Etadaggaṃ bhikkhave mama sāvakānaṃ bhikkhūaṃ kalyāṇa-vakkaraṇaṃ yadidaṃ Soṇo Kuṭikaṇṇo.”

“Monks, among my disciples who give pious talks in a sweet and pleasant voice, Kuṭikaṇṇa Soṇa is the best.”

Thus the Buddha named the Mahāthera the foremost in kalyānavakkarana, ‘giving pious talks in a sweet and pleasant voice’.

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