by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words
This page describes Sobhita 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 Sobhita was born into a worthy family, in the city of Haṃsāvatī, during the time of Buddha Padumuttara. While listening to a discourse by the Buddha, he saw a bhikkhu being designated as the foremost among the bhikkhu-disciples who could remember their past lives. He aspired to that honour in some future existence. After making extraordinary offerings to the Buddha, he expressed this wish. The Buddha predicted that his wish would be fulfilled.
(b) Ascetic Life adopted in His Final Existence
The future Sobhita spent his life in doing deeds of merit and passed away to the good destinations only. During the time of Buddha Gotama, he was reborn in the brahmin caste in Savatthi. He was named Sobhita.
Young Sobhita had occasions to listen to the Buddha’s discourse. When his devotion grew to such an extent that he became a bhikkhu and practised the Noble Practice well and eventually attained arahatship. He was especially endowed with a keen Power of remembering past existences (pubbenivāsa-ñāṇa).
(c) Etadagga Title achieved
Five hundred world-cycles ago, from the present world-cycle, the future Sobhita, under the teaching of other faiths, had practised jhāna of Fine Material Sphere which is devoid of consciousness. While dwelling in the fourth jhāna of that description, he passed away without relapsing from jhāna and was reborn in the realm of Fine Material Sphere where he lived for five hundred world-cycles, which is the full life span in that existence.
After passing away from that existence, he was reborn in the human world as Sobhita, the brahmin youth. As he was ripe for enlightenment, he became a bhikkhu in the Teaching (of Buddha Gotama). He strove diligently for arahatship and eventually attained it and was endowed with the Three Powers, i.e. Power of Remembering Past Existences, Power of the Divine Sight and Power of Extinction of Āsavas.
One day, as he exercised his Power of Remembering Past Existences, he could see his rebirth in the present existence and on going back he could see his death (i.e. deathconscious moment) at the existence in the second last existence. But he could not see the second last existence which was in the Fine Material Sphere, which is without consciousness.
(Power of Remembering Past Existences is founded on the recalling of the deathconsciousness moments and the rebirth-consciousness moments of past existences. This Power pertains only to mental phenomena such as understanding the causal relation of mental processes by way of proximity. The Fine Material Sphere (asaññasatta), which is devoid of consciousness, does not lend itself to this scrutiny.)
——Sārattha Ṭikā, Vol. II–
Thus, his second last existence being devoid of mental phenomena and hence unknowable even by the Power of Remembering Past Existences, Venerable Sobhita used his intuition thus: “Any being who still fares in the round of rebirth has not a single moment when the aggregates (khandha) do not arise. A being, reborn in the Fine Material Sphere, is devoid of consciousness, has a life span of 500 world-cycles. Therefore, I must have been reborn in that Sphere and remained alive without consciousness. That was surely my second last existence.” That was how Venerable Sobhita arrived at the knowledge of his past existence.
Recollecting past existence of one, who is reborn in the Fine Material Sphere, is devoid of consciousness, is a matter falling within the province of the Buddhas only, The conclusion drawn by the Venerable Sobhita was an extra-ordinary mental faculty, which is like hitting a yak’s hair with a dart of yak’s hair, or like printing a foot track in the sky.
Therefore, referring to this unparalleled power of the Venerable Sobhita, the Buddha, on another occasion for naming foremost bhikkhus, declared:
“Bhikkhus, among My bhikkhu-disciples who have the power to recollect their past existences, Bhikkhu Sobhita is the foremost (etadagga).”
(For more information on this extraordinary faculty of the Venerable Sobhita, refer to the Vinaya Pārājika, the fourth Pārājika, ending with Vinīta vatthu, and the Commentary and Sub-Commentary thereon.)