The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes Uruvela Kassapa 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

The future Uruvelā Kassapa was born into a worthy family in the city of Haṃsavati during the time of Buddha Padumuttara. When he came of age, he listened to a discourse by the Buddha. While doing so, he witnessed a bhikkhu being named by the Buddha as the foremost bhikkhu in having a large following. He was inspired by that bhikkhu to become another of his kind in future. He made great offerings to the Buddha and His Sangha for seven days, at the end of which, he made offering of a set of three robes to the Buddha and each of the members of the Sangha and, thereafter, he expressed his aspiration to become a foremost bhikkhu at some future time, having a big following. The Buddha reviewed his aspiration and saw that it would be fulfilled and thus made the prediction: “You will be named by Buddha Gotama as the foremost bhikkhu in His Teaching with a big following.” After making the august pronouncement Buddha Padumuttara returned to His monastery.

Life as Royal Brother to Buddha Phussa

In that existence of receiving Buddha Padumuttara’s prognostication, the future Uruvelā Kassapa lived a meritorious life until he died and was reborn in the deva-world and subsequently either in the human world or the deva-world. Then ninety-two world-cycles prior to the present world-cycle, when Buddha Phussa appeared in the world, the future Uruvelā Kassapa was reborn as the half brother of the Buddha. The Buddha had three younger half-brothers and this prince (future Uruvelā Kassapa) was the eldest of the three. (The three brothers attended upon the Buddha with the four bhikkhu requisites for one vassa, the details of which will be described. Also refer to Chapter 14.)

(b) Ascetic Life adopted in His Final Existence

The three royal brothers gave a great offering of valuable articles to the Buddha and His Sangha at the end of the vassa. They also spent their whole lives in doing meritorious deeds, and were reborn in the fortunate destinations only. During the present world-cycle, before the advent of Buddha Gotama, they were reborn into a brahmin family whose clan name was Kassapa. On coming of age, they become masters of the three Vedas and the eldest brother had five hundred pupils; the second brother had three hundred pupils; and the youngest brother had two hundred pupils who became their disciples.

When they reviewed their learning they realised that the Vedas offered just for the present life but lacked knowledge that was of benefit in the hereafter. The eldest Kassapa brother, together with his five hundred disciples, renounced the world and led the life of a recluse. They retired into the Uruvelā forest and he became known by the name of their place as Uruvelā Kassapa. The second brother and his three hundred disciples likewise became recluses and lived at the river bend of the Gaṅgā and he came to be known as Nadī Kassapa. The youngest brother also became a recluse together with his two hundred disciples and they dwelled at a place called Gayāsīsa, and hence he became known as Gayā Kassapa. The three Kassapa brothers became famous as teachers of their own religious sects. During the time when the three Kassapa brothers were giving guidance to their respective groups, the Buddha (Gotama) had appeared in the world. The Buddha passed the first vassa at the Migadāya forest, also known as Isipatana, where he caused the enlightenment of the Group of Five Ascetics and the fifty-five youths led by Yasa, son of a merchant. All these sixty disciples become the first arahats in this world. At the end of the vassa, the Buddha enjoined the sixty arahat-bhikkhus to spread the Good Doctrine while He headed toward the Uruvelā forest alone. On his way, he met the thirty princes, all brothers, at Kappāsika forest, whom he called up as bhikkhus (using the word, “Come, bhikkhu”) and caused their enlightenment as ariyas of various grades, training themselves for arahatship. The Buddha then proceed alone to the Uruvelā forest because He saw the ripeness of Uruvelā Kassapa for enlightenment and also saw that all the three Kassapa brothers and their followers would gain arahatship. When the Buddha met Uruvelā Kassapa, He had to display 3500 kinds of miracles, the most remarkable of which being the taming of the powerful nāga. Finally, Uruvelā Kassapa and his five hundred disciples were called up by the Buddha into bhikkhuhood. On learning the news of the eldest brother becoming a bhikkhu, the younger brothers and their followers likewise became bhikkhus. All of them were called up by the Buddha into bhikkhuhood. (For details refer to Chapter 14.)

The Buddha took the one thousand newly admitted bhikkhus to Gayāsīsa. He sat on the rock platform there and considered the appropriate discourse for them. He remembered that these recluses of brahmin origin had all along been indulging in fire-worship, and accordingly delivered them a discourse giving the simile of the fire that relentlessly burns the three forms of existence: the sensuous, the fine material and the non-material spheres. The Discourse entitled Ādittapariyāya had the desired effect of turning all the bhikkhus into arahats.

Then the Buddha saw that the time was opportune for Him to visit Rājagaha, where He had, before His attainment of Buddhahood, promised King Bimbisāra that He would visit his city after attaining Buddhahood. He journeyed to Rājagaha accompanied by a thousand arahats and rested in the toddy palm grove. King Bimbisāra, on being reported about the arrival of the Buddha, went to meet Him, in the company of one hundred and twenty thousand brahmin householders. After making obeisance to the Buddha, he sat in a suitable place. On that occasion, the fame of Uruvelā Kassapa had become so well established that the brahmin retinue of the King paid their homage to Uruvelā Kassapa. The Buddha knew that the audience were unable to decide which of the two, Himself or Uruvelā Kassapa, was superior. He was also aware that the people, having doubt, could not pay attention to the Dhamma. So He said to Uruvelā Kassapa: “Kassapa, your followers are in a quandary. Clear up their mental confusion.” Thus, the Buddha indicated to the Venerable to display miracles.

The Venerable Uruvelā Kassapa respectfully responded: rising from his seat, he made obeisance to the Buddha in fivefold contact, and rose up to the sky about a palm-tree’s height. There, remaining in mid-air, he took on various forms as he wished and said to the Buddha: “Venerable Bhagavā, the Bhagavā is my Teacher; I am your pupil, your disciple. Venerable Bhagavā, the Bhagavā is my Teacher; I am your pupil, your disciple.” Then he descended to the ground and paid homage to the Buddha at His feet. Then he rose up again to twice the height of a palm tree, created a variety of forms himself, came down and paid homage at the Buddha’s feet. On the seventh time of repeating this miraculous feat, he rose to a height of seven palm-trees, and after descending to the ground, and making obeisance to the Buddha, he sat in a suitable place.

The big audience were now in no doubt about the supremacy of the Buddha and acclaimed Him as the great Samana. Then only the Buddha gave a discourse to them, at the end of which, King Bimbisāra and eleven hundred thousand brahmin householders attained sotāpatti-phala and the remaining ten thousand brahmins took the Triple Gem as their refuge;the fact they acknowledged to the Buddha.

(c) Etadagga Title achieved

The one thousand pupils who had served the Venerable Uruvelā Kassapa, after attaining arahatship, thought that since they had reached the acme of bhikkhu practice, they did not need to go anywhere for their religious advancement and so remained in the company of their erstwhile leader.

On one occasion, the Buddha, in a bhikkhu congregation at the Jetavana monastery, declared:

Etadaggaṃ bhikkhave mama sāvakānam bhikkhūnam mahā-parisānaṃ yadidam Uruvela Kassapo.”

Bhikkhus, among My bhikkhu-disciples who have a big following, Uruvelā Kassapa is the foremost (etadagga).”

(In this matter, the Venerable Uruvelā Kassapa had the unique position of having a constant following of one thousand bhikkhus, taking into account the followers of his two younger brothers. If each of the one thousand bhikkhus were to act as preceptor and admit one bhikkhu, Uruvelā Kassapa’s following would become two thousand, and if the original one thousand were to admit two new bhikkhus each into the Order, the his following could become three thousand. Hence he was in an unrivalled position in the number of following.

     ——Commentary on the Aṅguttara——

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