The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes Nandaka 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 Nandaka 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 witnessed a bhikkhu being honoured by the Buddha with the etadagga title of foremost bhikkhu in giving admonition to bhikkhunīs. He had an ardent desire to be designated with the same title by some future Buddha. He therefore made extraordinary offerings to the Buddha and later expressed his wish before Him. The Buddha saw that his aspiration would be fulfilled and made the prediction accordingly.

(b) Ascetic Life adopted in His Final Existence

The future Nandaka devoted himself to meritorious deeds till his death and after passing away from that existence, he was reborn only in the good destinations. During the time of Buddha Gotama, he was reborn into a worthy family in Sāvatthi. When he attained adulthood, he listened to the Buddha’s discourse which aroused his devotion so much so that he renounced lay life and took up bhikkhuhood. Soon after, striving strenuously in bhikkhu practice, he attained arahatship. He had a special competence in exercising the Power of Remembering past existences. He also was a gifted orator who could draw the attention of the four types of devotees who gathered before the Buddha or the Sangha by his skill in exposition. Thus, he came to be popularly known as Venerable Nandaka, the Expounder of the Doctrine.

At one time, the Buddha had to intervene between the two warring groups of Sakyan princes: the Koliya clan and the Kapilavatthu clan. They were living on each side of a small river called the Rohini. They could not amicably decide on the distribution of the scanty water to each clan’s cultivators. After pacifying both sides, the Buddha asked 250 princes from each clan to take up bhikkhuhood. These five hundred Sakyan princes were young (They were attached to their families) and did not find happiness as bhikkhus. Hence, the Buddha took them to (a far-away forest in the midst of which lay) Lake Kuṇāla. There, He delivered the Kuṇāla Jātaka and aroused emotional awakening in them. The Buddha knew about this and expounded the Four Ariya Truths to them which caused them to be established in sotāpatti-phala. Then He taught them the Mahāsamaya Sutta in the Mahāvana forest, at the end of which, the five hundred bhikkhus became arahats. (For detail on this episode refer to Chapter 22.)

The five hundred wives of these bhikkhus, who had renounced their lay lives, did not see any reason to remain in their lofty mansions. So they all gathered around Mahāpajāpati Gotamī, the Buddha’s foster mother, to plead with the Buddha for admission into the Order. They went to the Mahāvana forest where, at the ardent request by Mahāpajāpati Gotamī, the Buddha allowed them to become female-bhikkhus or bhikkhunīs after laying down eight cardinal principles to be observed by them. Since there were no bhikkhunīs before them, their admission ceremony was performed by bhikkhus only. (Later, admission of bhikkhunīs required both a congregation of bhikkhus and that of bhikkhunīs) The important thing relating to the Venerable Nandaka is that all these five hundred bhikkhunīs were, in one of their former existences, queen consorts to the Venerable Nandaka who was then a king.

Then the Buddha enjoined bhikkhus to admonish bhikkhunīs. When it was the Venerable Nandaka’s turn to give admonition to the five hundred bhikkhunīs, he did not go to them but deputed another bhikkhu to carry out the task. This was because he knew, by his

Knowledge of Recollecting Past Existences, that these five hundred bhikkhunīs had been his consorts in his former existence. He was concerned that if some other bhikkhu who was endowed with similar knowledge saw him surrounded by these bhikkhunīs, he might be misunderstood as being still attached to his former consorts.

The five hundred bhikkhunīs were keen on receiving admonition from the Venerable Nandaka. The Buddha then said to Venerable Nandaka: “Nandaka, admonish the bhikkhunīs personally, do not depute another bhikkhu when it is your turn.” Venerable Nandaka, in respectful compliance with the Buddha’s words, went to the bhikkhunīs on the allotted day, the fourteenth day of the lunar month, which was on uposatha day. He admonished them on the subject of the six internal sense bases (āyatana) at the end of which, the five hundred bhikkhunīs, former Sakyan princesses, attained Fruition of Sotāpatti-phala.

The bhikkhunīs were pleased and delighted with the Venerable Nandaka’s discourse. They approached the Buddha and expressed their appreciation of the Supramundane Path and the Fruition which they had experienced. The Buddha then reviewed their case, and saw that the same discourse by the Venerable Nandaka, if repeated, would lead them to arahatship. So, on the following day, the Buddha let them hear the same discourse from Venerable Nandaka. As the result of which, the five hundred bhikkhunīs became arahats.

On the day when the five hundred bhikkhunīs approached the Buddha, He knew that the repeated discourse had benefited them and so He said to the bhikkhus:

Bhikkhus, the discourse by Bhikkhu Nandaka yesterday is like the full moon that appears on the fourteenth day of the month whereas the discourse he made today is like the full moon that appears on the fifteenth day of the month.” Thus extolled the Buddha on the merit of the Venerable Nandaka’s discourse. (The full text of the discourse by Venerable Nandaka is found in Nandakovāda Sutta, Uparipaṇṇāsa.)

(c) Etadagga Title achieved

With reference to the above episode, the Buddha, on another occasion, sitting in the bhikkhu congregation, declared:

Etadaggaṃ bhikkhave mama sāvakānaṃ bhikkhūaṃ bhikkhunovādakānaṃ yadidaṃ Nandako.”

Bhikkhus, among the bhikkhu-disciples who give instruction to bhikkhunīs, Bhikkhu Nandaka is the foremost (etadagga).”

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