by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words
This page describes Sagata 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 Sāgata was born into a worthy family in the city of Haṃsāvatī, during the time of Buddha Padumuttara. On a certain occasion, while he was listening to the Buddha’s discourse, he witnessed the Buddha honouring a bhikkhu as the foremost among the bhikkhus who were adept at the attainment of concentrating on the tejokasiṇadhātu, the element of heat. He aspired for that honour and expressed his aspiration to become the foremost bhikkhu in the mastery of that concentration to the Buddha. The Buddha predicted that his aspiration would be fulfilled.
(b) Ascetic Life adopted in His Final Existence
The future Sāgata devoted himself to works of merit throughout his life. After his death, he was reborn in the deva-world and the human world only, and during the time of Buddha Gotama, he was reborn into a brahmin family in Savatthi. The young brahmin, named Sāgata, had occasion to listen to a discourse by the Buddha which caused him steadfastly devoted to the Buddha and hence become a bhikkhu. He mastered the eight mundane jhānic attainments and became adept at the five mundane supernormal powers.
Taming of A Nāga
(Extract from Vinaya Piṭaka, Pācittiya Division, Surāpāna Sikkhāpada) Once, on his tour of the country, in the Province of Cetīya, the Buddha arrived at Bhaddivatika village (so named because of its strong fencing). Cow-herds, goat-herds, cultivators and passers-by saw the Buddha coming at a distance and warned Him urgently that there lived a swift, vicious, poisonous serpent at the ferry-crossing, which was marked by the mango tree, and that they were concerned that the Buddha might face danger if He went that way. The Buddha did not say anything to them.
(The vicious serpent at the Mango Tree Ferry, was, in its former life, a ferry man plying there. He quarrelled with some travellers and was killed in the fray. He swore vengeance on his attackers before his death and consequently he was reborn as a powerful serpent there.
(Since the man had held a grudge against the local populace, when he was reborn as a powerful serpent, he exercised his powers in such a way that he would cause draught in the rainy season and heavy rains to fall in the wrong season. Crops failed and people resorted to propitiating him every year. They also put up a shrine for him at the ferry point.)
The Buddha crossed the river at the Mango Tree Ferry with His company of bhikkhus, meaning to put up for the night at that place. Cow-herds, goat-herds, cultivators and passers-by warned the Buddha three times against going that way but the Buddha, knowing well how to handle the situation, did not say anything.
Then the Buddha, going by stages, arrived at Bhaddivatika village. The Venerable Sāgata stayed at the shrine dedicated to the serpent at the Mango Tree Ferry. He went into the den where the serpent lived, placed a grass mat on the ground, sat with legs crossed, and with his body held erect, he entered into jhāna.
The serpent was very angry with the intruder and sent out hot fumes. The Venerable Sāgata responded with fumes of greater power. The serpent got furious and sent out flames. But the Venerable Sāgata, who was entering into the jhānic attainment of concentration on the element of heat, produced flames of greater intensity.
Then the serpent realized that he was up against someone who was more powerful than himself. He said: “Venerable Sir, I take refuge in your reverence.” The Venerable Sāgata said: “You need not take refuge in me. Take refuge in the Buddha.” “Very well, Venerable Sir,” the serpent said. Hence, he became a disciple of the Buddha and was established in the Three Refuges, and became friendly to the local populace. Rains fell during proper season and bumper crops were harvested. (Commentary on Aṅguttara) After the Venerable Sāgata had tamed the serpent, he joined the Buddha at Bhaddhivatika village.
The Buddha’s Visit to Kosambī
After bringing Enlightenment to many deserving persons, the Buddha proceeded to Kosambī. The citizens of Kosambī had learnt about the conquest of Venerable Sāgata over the serpent, after a great battle. When the Buddha entered Kosambī, He was welcomed by the citizens. They also visited the Venerable Sāgata, made obeisance to him, and sitting in a suitable place, said him: “Venerable Sir, what sort of thing is a rare thing for your reverence? What sort of of thing would please your reverence? What sort of thing shall we prepare for your reverence?” Although Venerable Sāgata did not say anything, bhikkhus of the Group of Six intervened and said: “Lay supporters, there is a red beverage with the colour of the pigeon’s feet and which is clear. That alcoholic drink is a rare thing for bhikkhus;it is delightful. So prepare that kind of beverage.”
A Note on the Band of Six, Chabbaggī
There were in Sāvatthi six friends who considered earning a living burdensome and preferred a life of ease as bhikkhus. They were (l&2) Paṇḍuka and Lohitaka, the twain; (3&4) Mettiya and Bhūmajaka, the twain; and (5&6) Assaji and Punabbasuka, the twain. They sought bhikkhu-elders of great authority, namely, the two Chief Disciples, as their preceptors whom they could look to in case of trouble.
(After five years' standing in bhikkhuhood and having mastered the Fundamental Precepts for bhikkhus (the Mātikā), they agreed among themselves to split up into three sub-groups to be stationed at prosperous places. This was to ensure a regular livelihood for themselves.
(The first sub-group with (1) Paṇḍuka and (2) Lohitaka as leaders was, by agreement among the group of Six, assigned to Sāvatthi with these considerations: Sāvatthi was a city of 5.7 million houses resided by worthy families. It had suzerainty over the Provinces of Kāsi and Kosala with eighty thousand villages, Paṇḍuka and Lohitaka were to set up monastic compounds at advantageous sites at Sāvatthi, where fruit trees of sorts were to be cultivated and gardens to attract lay supporters. These fruits and flowers should be presented regularly to lay supporters who, thus befriended, would send their boys to the monastery to be novitiated and then admitted into the Order. In this way, a big following of bhikkhu pupils was to be raised by the two leaders.
(Likewise, (3) Mettiya and (4) Bhūmajaka, the second subgroup was assigned to Rājagaha with these considerations: Rājagaha was a city where 130 million people lived. It had suzerainty over the Provinces of Aṅga and Magadha, which were three hundred yojanas wide, and had eighty thousand villages. Similarly, Mettiya and Bhūmajaka were to set up monastic compounds at advantageous sites at Rājagaha, where fruit tree of sorts were to be cultivated and gardens to attract lay supporters. By making gifts of fruits and flowers, the people should be befriended. And they would send their boys to the monastery to be novitiated and then admitted into the Order. In this way, a big following of bhikkhu pupils was to be raised by the two leaders.
(Kīṭāgiri was a market town with a big area around it. Since it received rains during the rainy season as well as during the cold season, it produced three crops of paddy a year. There the third sub-group, headed by (5) Assail and (6) Punabbasuka should settle down. They were given the same assignments and objectives as the previous leaders.
(The six leaders carried out the above plan with some success. Each of the three sub-groups were able to raise five hundred (or more) bhikkhu pupils, making a total of over fifteen hundred bhikkhu pupils in their fold, who were known as the sect of ‘the group of six bhikkhus’.
(Of the six leaders of the sect, Paṇḍuka and Lohitaka with their five hundred pupils were of good morality. They used to accompany the Buddha on his tours. Although they might commit fresh infringement of the bhikkhu precepts, they would do so because there was no specific ban on that particular action. If the precept clearly prohibited something, they did not infringe it. The other four leaders of the sect and their people did not care about the precepts.)
——Commentary on the Nikāya Book Two——
The citizens of Kosambī were simple folks. They took the advice of the bhikkhus of the Band of Six in all sincerity. They made a clear red brew, like the colour of the pigeon’s feet, and hence called Kapotika. As Venerable Sāgata passed their door, each house offered the rare drink to the him. At that time there was no Vinaya rule prohibiting bhikkhus from taking liquor. The Venerable Sāgata did not consider it improper to drink it. He obliged his donors by drinking a little of the brew at each house. When he left the city, he collapsed at the city door.
As the Buddha was leaving the city in the company of bhikkhus, He saw the Venerable Sāgata lying on the ground. He had him carried to the monastery, where the other bhikkhus laid him with his head turned towards the Buddha. But the Venerable, who was intoxicated with liquor, turned himself such that his feet were towards the Buddha.
Then the Buddha addressed the bhikkhus thus:
Buddha: “Bhikkhus, Sāgata usually had respect and deference for Me, did he not?”
Bhikkhus: “He did, Venerable Sir.”
Buddha: “Now, does Sāgata show any respect and deference for me?”
Bhikkhus: “No, Venerable Sir.”
Buddha: “Bhikkhus, Sāgata had vanquished the serpent at the Mango Tree ferry, did he not?”
Bhikkhus: “Yes, he did, Venerable Sir.”
Buddha: “In his present state, would Sāgata be able to vanquish the serpent?” Bhikkhus: “No, Venerable Sir.”
Buddha: “Bhikkhus, by taking liquor one is rendered senseless through intoxication, would it be proper for one to take liquor?”
Bhikkhus: “No, Venerable Sir.”
The Buddha continued: “Bhikkhus, taking alcoholic drinks is improper, wrong, unwarranted, unbecoming for a bhikkhu, and yet Bhikkhu Sāgata, possessed of the five supernormal powers, took it. Why did he do it? Bhikkhus, this is an act which does not lend itself to reverence by those who do not already have reverence for a bhikkhu...” After denouncing the act, the Buddha declared that any bhikkhu who takes alcoholic drink is liable to incur a Pācittiya breach of the Precepts.
——Extract from the Vinaya Piṭaka, Pācittiya Division, Surāpāna Sikkhāpada——
Attainment of Arahatship
On the next day, Venerable Sāgata recovered his senses and repented his mistake. A sense of shame and dread overcame him. After admitting this fault to the Buddha and making obeisance, he had a deep emotional awakening. And with diligence in the development of Insight, he soon attained arahatship.
(c) Etadagga Title achieved
On one occasion, when the Buddha held a congregation of bhikkhus at the Jetavana monastery, He declared:
“Bhikkhus, among My bhikkhu-disciples who are adept at dwelling in the jhānic attainment of concentration on the element of heat, Bhikkhu Sāgata is the foremost (etadagga).”