The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes Bakula 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 Bākula was born in a brahmin family on the eve of the advent of Buddha Anomadassī, one incalculable period and one hundred thousand world-cycles before the present world-cycle. When he came of age, he learned the three Vedas and gained mastery in them. But he found that this learning lacked the essence of what he was looking for. “I will seek welfare in the hereafter,” he decided, and so he renounced the world, became a hermit and resorted to a remote mountain. After due diligence, he gained the five kinds of special apperception and the eight jhānic attainments. He spent his time in dwelling in the bliss of jhāna.

Then the Buddha Anomadassī appeared in the world and went from place to place in the company of a big number of ariya disciples. The hermit, who was to become the Venerable Bākula world-cycles later, was thrilled by the news of the appearance in the world of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. He went to Buddha Anomadassī and on hearing His discourse, became established in the Three Refuges. He did not want to leave his mountain abode and remained a hermit, but often visited the Buddha to hear His Dhamma.

One day, the Buddha suffered from an attack of colic. On his visit to Him, the hermit (future Bākula) was told by the Buddha of His ailment. The hermit went back to his mountain gladly, grasping the opportunity of earning merit by collecting herbs to cure the Buddha. He delivered the medicine to the attendant-bhikkhu who then administered it to the Buddha. A single dose of the medicine completely cured the colic.

When the Buddha had recovered, the hermit approached Him and made his solemn wish:

“Venerable Sir, I have brought the cure for the Bhagavā’s disease. For this deed of merit, may I, in my farings in saṃsāra, be free of disease at all times, never subject to the slightest ailment even for the duration of the milking of a cow.”

This was the remarkable merit done by the future Bākula in that past existence.

Aspiring to be Foremost in having Perfect Health

After passing away from that existence, the hermit was reborn in the Brahmā-world, and after this Brahmā existence, he was reborn only in the deva-world and the human world over the entire length of one asaṅkhyeyya-kappa. During the time of Buddha Padumuttara, he was reborn into a worthy family in the city of Haṃsāvatī. On one occasion, he saw the Buddha named a bhikkhu as the foremost bhikkhu in perfect health or freedom from disease, and so he aspired to that honour at some future time. He made great offerings to the Buddha and the Sangha (as was usual with aspirants to such unique status), and later expressed his aspiration. The Buddha made the prediction that his aspiration would be realized.

Healing as A Hermit

The future Bākula spent the whole of his life doing deeds of merit and passed away to good destinations only. Then ninety-one world-cycles prior to the present world-cycle, he was born into a brahmin family, in the city of Bandhumati, on the eve of the appearance of Buddha Vipassī. As in his former existence during Buddha Anomadassī, he became a hermit and took up his dwelling at the foot of a mountain, enjoying the bliss of jhānic attainment.

Then Buddha Vipassī appeared in the world and went about in the company of sixty-eight hundred thousand bhikkhus (arahats), with Bandhumati as the resort for collecting daily alms-food, where He benefited His father, King Bandhuma, with discourses on the Doctrine. Later He resided in the Deer Park known as Khemā, 'the Sanctuary'.

The hermit, the future Bākula, heard the news of the appearance of the Buddha in the world. He approached Buddha Vipassī, and on hearing the His discourse, became a disciple of His. Although he took refuge in the Three Refuges, he did not want to leave his mountain abode and remained there as a recluse, but frequenting the monastery of the Buddha to attend on Him.

One day, the Sangha, with the exception of the two Chief Disciples and the Buddha Himself, caught an infectious headache, which was due to contact with poisonous pollen wafted in the air from a certain poisonous kind of plant growing in the Himavanta. When the hermit visited the Buddha and saw the infected bhikkhus lying down with their heads covered, he inquired a bhikkhu about the cause of the ailment. On being told the cause, he thought that an opportunity presented itself for him to tend to the sick bhikkhus and earn merit. He gathered the necessary herbs, prepared a medicine, and administered it to the sick bhikkhus who were immediately cured.

Repairing an Old Monastery

After living the full life span as a hermit, he passed away and was reborn in the Brahmā realm. After that existence, he was reborn only in the fortunate destinations for a period of ninety-one kappas only, when Buddha Kassapa appeared. He was born a householder in Bārāṇasī then. One day, he went to a remote country together with a team of carpenters to fetch timber for repairing his house. On the way, he came across an old monastery in a state of disrepair. He considered that repairing his own house had no particular merit to his hereafter life but by repairing the monastery, he could earn much merit. Therefore, he sent his team of carpenters to find timber from the countryside and had the old monastery renovated fully, adding a new kitchen, a new eating place, a new fire-place for the cold season, a new walk, a new hot bath-room, a new larder, a new latrine, a new clinic, a store of medicines and medicinal requisites comprising drugs, ointments, snuffs, inhalants. All these he dedicated to the Sangha.

(b) Ascetic Life adopted in His Final Existence

The worthy man (future Bākula) devoted himself to good deeds till the end of his life. And for the whole of the interim period between the two Buddhas, lasting infinite worldcycles, he was reborn in the deva-world and the human world only. During the era of Buddha Gotama, just before He attained Perfect Enlightenment, future Bākula was conceived in the womb of the wife of a merchant of Kosambī. His parents reached the height of fortune and fame from the time of his conception. His mother believed that her child was endowed with great past merit, and on the day she gave birth to him, she had the infant bathed in the Yamunā river for the sake of his health and long life. This was done with ceremony. (The Reciters of the Majjhima Nikāya claimed that the infant was sent to bathe in the river on the fifth day after his birth.)

The nurse, who took the baby to the Yamunā, amused herself by dipping the baby in and out of the water. As she was doing so, a big fish drew near it, mistaking the baby for food. The nurse was frightened and ran away, leaving the baby to be swallowed by the fish.

But, as the baby was endowed with great past merit, he suffered no pains in being swallowed by the fish, but felt quite comfortable in the stomach of the fish, as though he were lying in bed. (If it were any other child it would die instantly. But since this baby was destined to be an arahat, the power of the arahatta-magga-ñāṇa dormant in him, saved his life. This is the kind of iddhi (super-natural power) called Ñāṇavipphāra-iddhi. The fish suffered great pain due to the power of the supposed victim inside it. It felt as if it had swallowed an iron ball and swam downstream for thirty yojanas where, at Bārāṇasī, it was caught in a fisherman’s net. Big fish usually do not die in the net but were beaten to death. In this case, due to the power of the baby inside it, it died on its own accord so that no beating was necessary. The usual practice of fishermen was to cut up such a big fish to pieces for sales. But, in this case, the child inside it had great power to prevent it from being cut. Therefore, the fisherman carried it on his shoulder by means of a yoke and went about calling for prospective buyers, declaring the price as a thousand coins. This was an unusually high price and the citizens of Bārāṇasī would not buy it.

In Bārāṇasī, there was a merchant, worth eighty crores, who had no child born to his family. His household servants purchased the fish for a thousand coins. Normally, preparing of food such as cutting a fish was left to her servants by the merchant’s wife. But, in this case, she went into the kitchen and cut open the big fish, not at the stomach as was usually done, but at the back. This too was due to the great power of the baby inside. She was pleasantly surprised to find a bonny baby inside the fish. She took him, who was golden hued, and carrying it in her arms cried: “I've got a baby here! I have got him from inside the fish!” She showed him gleefully to her husband, who had the strange find (of the living baby) announced with the beat of the drum in the city. Then he reported the matter to the King who said: “The baby, who had survived in the stomach of a fish, must surely be of a person of great past merit. Let it remain in your care.”

The Name Bākula

The natural parents of the baby in Kosambī learnt the news of a living baby being found in a fish in Bārāṇasī and they went to Bārāṇasī to investigate. They found the baby richly adorned, playing in the house of the rich man in Bārāṇasī. “What a lovely child this is!” the mother remarked and said that it was her child. The foster mother disagreed and said: “No, it is my child.”

Natural mother: “Where did you get this child?”

Foster mother: “I get it from the stomach of a fish.”

Natural mother: “If so, this is not your child. It is mine.”

Foster mother: “Where did you get yours?”

Natural mother: “I conceived it and it was born out of my womb after ten months of pregnancy, I sent it to the Yamunā river to bathe and it was swallowed by a big fish.”

Foster mother: “Maybe it was another fish that swallowed your child. It is however true that I got this child from inside a fish.”

Thus the two mothers each claimed the child as her own. This matter was brought before the King for decision.

The King of Bārāṇasī gave his decision as follows: “The wife of the merchant of Kosambī is the natural mother whose claim to the child is unshakable. On the other hand, the wife of the merchant of Bārāṇasī is not groundless in her claim to the child. For, when one buys fish, it is customary that the entrails of the fish are not taken out by the seller so that the buyer gets the whole fish. The child she got from inside the fish is legally her property. The former has her right to the child as a natural mother. The latter has right to the child as a son by way of a gift. Each is entitled to claim the child, and he is entitled to inherit from both the families.” From that day onwards, both the families enjoyed unprecedented fortune and fame. And the child was brought up in luxury by both families. His name was Bākula Kumāra, Bākula the son of a merchant.

Bākula’s Luxurious Life

When Bākula came of age, his two pairs of parents built three mansions each; each for his seasonal residence at Kosambī and Bārāṇasī. He spent only four months at each of the two cities, attended by a big retinue of entertaining girls. When he moved from one city to the other at the end of a four-month stay, he travelled in pomp in a grand barge with dancing girls. The entertaining girls at each city divided the transit period equally between them, i.e. the sending-off team served on the barge for two months after which they were relieved (about half-way) by the welcoming team. The merchant’s son then spent four months in great ease and comfort at the each place. He completed eighty years of age living in that manner.

Bākula’s Bhikkhuhood and Arahatship

When Bākula was eighty years old, Buddha Gotama had attained Perfect Enlightenment. After teaching His first discourse, the Dhammacakka, the Buddha toured the country and, travelling by stages, reached Kosambī. (According to the reciters of the Majjhima Nikāya, He reached Bārāṇasī.) On learning the arrival of the Buddha, the unrivalled type of his previous meritorious deed prompted Bākula to go and see the Buddha. Making offerings of flowers and perfumes to the Buddha, he listened to the His discourse which heightened his devotion so much that he took up bhikkhuhood. As a bhikkhu, he remained a worldling for seven days only because, at the dawn of the eighth day, he attained arahatship with the fourfold Analytical Knowledge.

At that time, the former ladies who awaited on him had returned to their parents' homes in Bārāṇasī and Kosambī. They were devoted to the Venerable Bākula and made robes for him. He wore their robes in turns; half month using those offered from Kosambī, another half month on those from Bārāṇasī. Besides, the citizens of both the cities made special offerings to him of whatever fine food or articles which they had.

(c) Etadagga Title achieved

During the eighty years of household life, Bākula never experienced any ailment, even for a fleeting moment such as holding a piece of solid unguent and savouring its smell. On the completion of his eightieth year, he became a bhikkhu with great satisfaction and as a bhikkhu, he also enjoyed perfect health. Moreover, he was never in want of any of the four bhikkhu requisites.

Thus, on one occasion, when the Buddha was residing at the Jetavana monastery in Sāvatthi, in a bhikkhu congregation, He declared:

Etadaggaṃ bhikkhave mama sāvakānaṃ bhikkhūnaṃ appābādhānaṃ yadidaṃ Bākulo.”

Bhikkhus, among My bhikkhu-disciples who enjoy good health, who are free from disease, Bhikkhu Bākula is the foremost (etadagga).”

Wonders of Bākula

Some marvellous facts concerning the Venerable Bākula, as mentioned in the Bākula Sutta, Uparipaṇṇāsa, are reproduced here.

Once, the Venerable Bākula was staying in Rājagaha in the Veḷuvana monastery, when the naked ascetic Kassapa, who had been his friend during his lay life, visited him. After the usual exchange of memorable greetings, he sat in a suitable place and said to the Venerable Bākula: “Friend Bākula, for how long have you been a bhikkhu?” “Friend, I have been a bhikkhu for eighty years.” “Friend Bākula, during these eighty years, how many times have you had sexual intercourse?” This was a rude question.

Then the Venerable Bākula revealed some marvellous and extraordinary things about himself as follows:

(1) “Friend Kassapa, you should not have put the question to me thus: ‘Friend Bākula, during these eighty years, how many times have you had sexual intercourse?’ Instead, friend Kassapa, you should have put the question to me only in this way: ‘Friend Bākula, during these eighty years, how many times has perception concerning sense-pleasures (kāma-saññās) arisen in you?’ Friend Kassapa, I have been a bhikkhu for eighty years. (The Venerable Bākula’s age was 160 years then.) All through these eighty years, never has there arisen in me any perception concerning sense pleasures.” (That no consciousness concerning sense-pleasures had ever arisen in Venerable Bākula is a marvellous fact about him.)

(2) & (3) “Friend Kassapa, I have been a bhikkhu for eighty years. All through these eighty years, there never has arisen in me any perception concerning ill-will (vyāpāda-sañña) or any perception concerning harmful thought (vihimsa-saññā) towards anyone.” (That no perception concerning ill-will had ever arisen in the Venerable Bākula is also a marvellous fact and that no perception concerning harmful thought towards others had ever arisen in him is also a marvellous fact concerning him.)

(4) “Friend Kassapa, I have been a bhikkhu for eighty years. All through these eighty years, there never has arisen in me any sensual thought.” (The fact that no sensual thought had ever arisen in the Venerable Bākula is a marvellous fact concerning him.)

(5) & (6) “Friend Kassapa, I have been a bhikkhu for eighty years. All through these years, no harmful thought has ever arisen in me.” (The fact that no harmful thought had ever arisen in the Venerable Bākula is a marvellous fact concerning him.)

(7) “Friend Kassapa, I have been a bhikkhu for eighty years. All through these eighty years, I have never accepted any robe offered by lay supporters who are not related to me.” (This non-acceptance of robes offered by non-relatives is a marvellous fact concerning the Venerable.)

(8) “Friend Kassapa, I have been a bhikkhu for eighty yeas. All through these eighty years, I have never cut robe-material with a knife.” (This non-cutting of robematerial is a marvellous fact concerning the Venerable.)

“Friend Kassapa, I have been a bhikkhu for eighty years. All through these eighty years:

(9) I have never sewn a robe with a needle.

(10) I have never dyed a robe.

(11) I have never sewn a kaṭhina robe.

(12) I have never taken part in the making of robes of companion-bhikkhus.

(13) I have never accepted offering of alms-food at any lay person’s house.

(14) I have never had any such thought as: ‘It would be well if somebody were to invite me.’

(15) I have never sat in a house.

(16) I have never taken a meal in a village or a town.

(17) I have never cast my eyes on a woman, noticing her feminine characteristics,

(18) I have never given a discourse to any woman, even a stanza of four lines.

(It is proper for a bhikkhu to discourse to a woman in five or six words. If a doctrinal question be asked by a woman, a bhikkhu may answer it in as many as a thousand stanzas. Yet the Venerable Bākula did not discourse to a woman. Discoursing to lay supporters is mostly the job of those bhikkhus who have attachment to them. This point should be remembered well)

(19) I have never gone near a bhikkhunī's monastery.

(It is proper for a bhikkhu to visit a sick bhikkhunī. And yet the Venerable Bākula did not do so. In such rule, where exceptions are allowed, he never bothered those exceptions.)

(20) I have never given a discourse to a bhikkhunī.

(21) I have never given a discourse to a probationer bhikkhunī.

(22) I have never given a discourse to a female novice.

(23) I have never initiated anyone into the Order as a novice.

(24) I have never acted as preceptor to a candidate for full bhikkhuhood. (25) I have never given any instruction to any bhikkhus.

(26) I have never allowed myself to be served by a novice.

(27) I have never bathed in a bath-house.

(28) I have never used bath-powder.

(29) I have never allowed myself to be massaged by a companion bhikkhu.

(30) I have never been ill, even for the duration taken to draw a drop of milk.

(31) I have never taken even a bit of herbal medicine.

(32) I have never leaned against a support.

(33) I have never lain on a bed.” (This is also a marvellous fact about the Venerable Bākula.)

(34) “Friend Kassapa, I have been a bhikkhu for eighty years. All through these eighty years, I have never taken up residence for the rains-retreat period near a village (This mode of dwelling in the forest throughout the whole period of bhikkhuhood is another marvellous fact about the Venerable.)

(35) “Friend Kassapa, I remained in a defiled state (i.e. as a worldling) only for the first seven days of bhikkhuhood, eating the alms-food from the people. On the eighth day, knowledge of arahatta-phala arose in me.” (That Venerable Bākula attained arahatship on the eighth day of his bhikkhuhood is also a marvellous fact concerning him.)

(After hearing the marvellous and extraordinary facts about the Venerable Bākula, the naked ascetic Kassapa requested the Venerable that he be admitted into the Order as a bhikkhu under this Teaching. Venerable Bākula did not act as preceptor but found a suitable bhikkhu to be preceptor to Kassapa, who was admitted into the Order. Not long after, Venerable Kassapa, by diligently engaging in the Noble Practice, attained arahattaphala and became an arahat.)

(36) Then one day Venerable Bākula, holding his key, went from one monastery to another and announced thus: “Venerable Ones, come forth! Venerable Ones, come forth! Today I shall realize parinibbāna!” (The fact that the Venerable Bākula was able to do so is also a marvellous thing concerning him.)

(37) When the Sangha was thus apprised and the companion bhikkhus had gathered themselves, the Venerable Bākula, reflecting that during his whole life he had never caused any bhikkhus any inconvenience, and that at his death also he did not wish any bhikkhu to bear the burden of his dead body, wished that his body be consumed by fire by itself. He sat in the midst of the gathering of bhikkhus, entering into the jhāna of concentration on the element of heat and passed away. As soon as he passed away his body was consumed by a flame which arose from the body and there was just a small collection of relics resembling Jasmine buds. (This way of passing away in the midst of a gathering of bhikkhus is also a marvellous thing concerning Venerable Bākula.)

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