The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes Surambattha, the Householder 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 (8): Sūrambaṭṭha, the Householder

(a) His Past Aspiration

The future Sūrambaṭṭha the householder was born into a worthy family in the city of Haṃsāvatī, during the time of Buddha Padumuttara. While listening to a sermon by the Buddha, he saw a lay disciple being named by the Buddha as the foremost lay disciple who had firm conviction in the Teaching. He aspired to that distinction, and, after making an extraordinary offering, he expressed his wish that at some future existence his aspiration would be fulfilled.

(b) His Last Existence as Sūrambaṭṭha The Householder

The future Sūrambaṭṭha was reborn in the deva or human realms for a hundred thousand world-cycles before being reborn into a rich man’s family of Sāvatthi, during the time of Buddha Gotama. His name was Sūrambaṭṭha. When he came of age, he married and became a regular lay supporter of ascetics who were outside the Buddha’s Teaching.

Sūrambaṭṭha The Householder attained Stream-Entry Knowledge

Early one morning, the Buddha, in His routine review of the world for individuals who were ready for Enlightenment, saw the ripeness of the past merit of Sūrambaṭṭha the householder to gain sotāpatti-magga. So, He went to Sūrambaṭṭha’s house for alms-food. Sūrambaṭṭha thought to himself: “Samana Gotama comes from a royal family and has earned a vast reputation in the world. Perhaps, it is only proper for me to welcome Him.” Thinking thus, he went to the Buddha, made obeisance at His feet, took His alms-bowl, and conducted Him to a raised couch which was set aside for noble persons. He made offerings of food and after attending on Him, sat in a suitable place.

The Buddha preached a discourse, which suited the mental framework of Sūrambaṭṭha. At the end of which, he was established in sotāpatti-phala. After bestowing Sūrambaṭṭha with Stream-Entry Knowledge, the Buddha returned to the monastery.

Māra tested The Conviction of Sūrambaṭṭha

Then Māra thought: “This Sūrambaṭṭha the householder belongs to my fold (being a follower of the ascetics which are outside the Buddha’s Teaching). But the Buddha has visited his house today. Why? Has Sūrambaṭṭha become an ariya after hearing the Buddha’s discourse? Has he escaped from my domain of sensuality? I must find out.” Then, being possessed of powers of impersonating anyone, he assumed the form of the Buddha completed with the thirty-two marks of the great man and in perfect Buddha-style of holding the alms-bowl and the robe. In that deceitful impersonation, he stood at the door of Sūrambaṭṭha the householder.

Sūrambaṭṭha wondered why the Buddha visited a second time, when he was informed by his attendants. “The Buddha never comes without some good reason,” he replied, and approached the impersonated Buddha in the belief that he was the real Buddha. After making obeisance to the impersonated Buddha, he stood in a suitable place, and asked: “Venerable Sir, the Bhagavā has just left this house after having a meal. For what purpose does the Bhagavā come again?”

The bogus Buddha(Māra) said: “Lay supporter Sūrambaṭṭha, I made a slip in my discourse to you. I said that all of the aggregates are impermanent, woeful and insubstantial. But the five aggregates are not always of that nature. There are certain of the five aggregates that are permanent, stable and eternal.”

The Steadfast Conviction of Sūrambaṭṭha The Householder

Sūrambaṭṭha, a Stream-Enterer, was vexed by that statement. He pondered thus: “This is a statement of most serious import. The Buddha never makes a slip in His speech, for He never utters a word without proper consideration. They say that Māra is the opponent of the Buddha. Surely this must be Māra himself.” Thinking correctly thus, he asked bluntly: “You are Māra, are you not?” Māra was shocked and shaken as if struck with an axe because it was a confrontation by an ariya. His disguise fell off and he admitted: “Yes, Sūrambaṭṭha, I am Māra.”

Sūrambaṭṭha rebuked: “Wicked Māra, even a thousand of your kind will not be able to shake my conviction. Buddha Gotama, in His discourse has said: ‘All conditioned things are impermanent.’ And the Buddha’s discourse has led me to sotāpatti-magga. Get out of here!” He said sternly to Māra, flipping his fingers. Māra had no words to cover up his ruse, and vanished immediately.

In the evening, Sūrambaṭṭha went to the Buddha and related the visit of Māra to him and what Māra had said, and how he had dealt him. “Venerable Sir,” he said to the Buddha, “in this way has Māra attempted to shake my conviction.”

(c) Sūrambaṭṭha is named as The Foremost Lay Disciple

Referring to this incident, the Buddha, during His residence at the Jetavana monastery, on the occasion of naming outstanding lay disciples in accordance with their merits, declared:

Bhikkhus, among My lay disciples who have unshakeable conviction in My Teaching, Sūrambaṭṭha is the foremost.”

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