The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes Tapussa and Bhallika 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 the Life Stories of Male Lay Disciples. 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).

Biography (1): Tapussa and Bhallika

(a) Their Past Aspirations

(I shall describe the story of the brothers, Tapussa and Bhallika, based on the Commentary on the Aṅguttara Nikāya and the Commentary on the Theragāthā, the Ekaka nipāta.)

The future Tapussa and future Bhallika were reborn into a worthy family in the city of Haṃsāvatī, during the time of Buddha Padumuttara. When they were listening to a discourse by the Buddha, they saw two disciples being named as the foremost in being the first of the Buddha’s disciples who were established in the Three Refuges. The two brothers aspired to that distinction and after making an extraordinary offering to the Buddha, they wished for that goal. (Aṅguttara Commentary)

Other Past Existences in The Intervening Period

The two brothers lived a life full of meritorious deeds and, after passing away from that memorable existence, they were never reborn into the miserable states of apāya but, instead, in the deva-world or the human world only. The future Bhallika was reborn, thirtyone world-cycles ago in a period which was devoid of any Buddhas, as a man who offered all kinds of fruits to a Paccekabuddha named Sumana. For that good deed, he was reborn only in the good destinations. During the time of Buddha Sikhī, he was reborn into a brahmin family in the city of Arunavatī. He heard the news that two merchant brothers, Ujita and Ojita, had opportunity of offering first alms-food to Buddha Sikhī who had appeared from the seventh seven-day abiding in the attainment in Cessation and who was about to begin his eighth seven-day abiding in the attainment of Cessation. He went to visit Buddha Sikhī together with his friend, (the future Tapussa), and after paying homage to the Buddha, requested Him to accept their alms-food offering the next day. On the next day, they made an extra-ordinary offering to the Buddha and said: “Venerable Sir, for this good deed, let both of us have the opportunity of making the first alms-food to a Buddha in the future.”

The two friends were reborn in various existences, during which they performed meritorious deeds together, resulting in rebirth at the fortunate destinations. During the time of Buddha Kassapa, they were born into the family of a cattle merchant. For a long period of life, lasting many years, they offered milk-food to the Sangha. (These events are described in the Commentary on the Theragāthā.)

(b) Discipleship in Their Last Existence

The two friends were reborn into the fortunate destinations for the infinite years which constituted the interim period between the two Buddhas. During the time of Buddha Gotama, before the Buddha attained Perfect Enlightenment, they were reborn as two sons to a travelling merchant who carried his goods, using a big caravan, from place to place. Their native town was called Asitañcana (the Commentary on Theragātā refers to it as Pokkharavatī). The elder brother was named Tapussa and the younger, Bhallika.

They became householders and carried on the trading together, using a caravan of five hundred bullock carts. At that time, Buddha Gotama had attained Perfect Enlightenment and had passed seven times the seven-days of abiding in the attainment of Cessation, and was about to enter into the eighth seven-days period of abiding in the attainment of Cessation at the foot of a ‘Linlun’ tree, (the Sapium baccatum).

The caravan of the two merchant brothers were then not far from that tree. At that moment, the deva, who had been the mother to the merchant brothers in the immediately previous existence, saw the dire need of the Buddha for sustenance, who, after staying for forty-nine days (having last taken Sujātā’s milk-rice in forty-nine morsels), must eat that day for His survival. She thought that her two sons should be able to provide the food just in time. So, using her psychic powers, she made the bullocks unable to move.

The two brothers inspected the bullocks, the carts, and all relevant conditions which made the carts immobile. They were at their wit’s ends to find the reason. Their deva mother, seeing them disheartened, possessed a man in the caravan and said to them: “Dear sons, you are not harassed by any demon or peta or nāga but it is me, a deva of the terrestrial realm, who was your mother in your last existence, who is doing this. (Now, sons,) the Buddha, who is endowed with Ten Powers, is staying at the foot of a ‘Linlun’ tree. Go and offer alms-food to the Buddha which will be the first food He takes after attainment of Buddhahood.”

The two brothers were delighted by the deva’s word. And thinking that if they were to cook alms-food it would take too much time, therefore they took some of their choicest preserved food, put them in a gold salver, and, going near the Buddha, said: “Venerable Sir, may you, out of compassion, accept this victuals.” The Buddha reviewed the situation and considered what action the previous Buddha did in such a case. The Four Great Deva Kings then visited the Buddha and each offered an alms-bowl, which was made of granite and having the colour of the green gram. The Buddha considered the great benefit that would accrue to the four devas, and so accepted all the four bowls, and (placing them one a top the other,) willed that the four bowls became one, and accordingly, the four granite bowls became a single alms-bowl with four rims.

The two brothers then put their alms-food into the Buddha’s alms-bowl. (The Buddha ate the food.) After the Buddha had finished eating, the brothers offered water for drinking and washing. Then they made obeisance to the Buddha and sat in a suitable place. The Buddha gave them a discourse, at the end of which, both brothers were established in the Two Refuges. (The story of the establishment of the two brothers in the Two Refuges (dve vācika saraṇagamaṇa) has been described in Chapter 8.).

After having established in the Two Refuges, before departing, the two brothers requested from the Buddha: “Venerable Sir, may the Bhagavā, out of compassion, bestow on us something which we may revere every day.” The Buddha passed His right hand over His head and gave them eight hairs as relics. The brothers put the hairs in a gold casket and took them home. Back at their town, they erected a shrine at the entrance of the town of Asitañcana where the eight relic-hairs from the living Buddha were enshrined. On uposatha days, the shrine emitted Buddha-rays.

(c) The Two Brothers being designated as Foremost Lay Disciples

On one occasion, when the Buddha was residing at the Jetavana monastery and acknowledging distinguished lay disciples accordingly to their merits, He declared:

Bhikkhus, among My lay disciples who have taken refuge earliest in the Buddha and the Dhamma, the merchant brothers, Tapussa and Bhallika, are the foremost.”

The Attainment of Path-Knowledge

Tapussa and Bhallika were the earliest of the Buddha’s lay disciples who took refuge in the Buddha and the Dhamma. Later, the Buddha made His first discourse, the Dhammacakka, at the Migadāvana forest near Bereave. After that, He went and resided in Rājagaha. The two brothers also arrived at Rājagaha on a trading journey. They visited the Buddha, made obeisance and sat in a suitable place. The Buddha gave discourse to them, at the end of which, the elder brother Tapussa was established in Stream-Entry Knowledge and its Fruition. The younger brother became a bhikkhu and in due time attained arahatship and was endowed with the Six Supernormal Powers. (Commentary on the Theragāthā, Book I).

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