The Life of Sariputta

by Nyanaponika Thera | 1994 | 26,620 words

Compiled and translated from the Pali texts by Nyanaponika Thera The Wheel Publication No. 90/92 ISBN 955-24-0015-5 Copyright © 1987 Buddhist Publication Society For free distribution only. You may print copies of this work for your personal use. You may re-format and redistribute this work for use on computers and computer networks, provided th...

The Elder's Relatives

As we have already seen, the Venerable Sariputta was born into a brahman family of Upatissa village (or Nalaka), near Rajagaha, his father's name being Vaganta and his mother's Sari. He had three brothers: Cunda, Upasena and Revata, and three sisters named Cala, Upacala and Sisupacala. All six took ordination and attained Arahatship.

Cunda was known by the name Samanuddesa, meaning "the Novice" in the Sangha, even after becoming a bhikkhu; this was to distinguish him from the Elder Maha Cunda. At the time of Sariputta's death, Cunda was his attendant and it was he who informed the Buddha of his passing away, bringing with him the Chief Disciple's relics. The story is told in the Cunda Sutta, an outline of which will be given elsewhere in this book.

Upasena, who came to be known as Vagantaputta, or "Son of Vaganta," as Sariputta is "Son of Sari", was said by the Buddha to be foremost among those of all-pleasing deportment (samantappasadika). He died of a snakebite, as is related in the Salatayana Samyutta, Vagga 7, Sutta 7.

Revata was the youngest of the brothers, and their mother, wishing to prevent his seeking ordination, had him married when he was a very young boy. But on the wedding day he saw the grandmother of his future wife, an old woman of 120, stricken with all the signs of decrepitude. At once he became disgusted with worldly life. Escaping from the wedding procession by a ruse, he fled to a monastery and was ordained. In later years he was on his way to see the Buddha when he stopped at a forest of acacia trees (khadira-vana), and while spending the rainy season there he attained Arahatship. After that he became known as Revata Khadiravaniya -- "Revata of the Acacia Forest." The Buddha distinguished him as being the foremost among forest dwellers.

The three sisters, Cala, Upacala and Sisupacala, wishing to follow their brothers' example, became nuns after their marriage. In marriage, each of them had a son who was named after his mother Cala (or Cali) and so on. These three sons were also ordained, being received as novices by Revata Khadtravaniya. Their good conduct was praised by the Venerable Sariputta, who met them when he went to see his youngest brother who was ill. This is recorded in the Commentary to the Theragatha, v. 42.

Cala, Upacala and Sisupacala as nuns are said to have been approached by Mara with taunting and tempting questions, to which they gave excellent replies. These are recorded in the Theragatha and Bhikkhuni Samyutta.

In contrast to all these, Sariputta's mother was a staunch brahman and hostile to the Buddha's Teaching and his followers. In the Commentary to the Dhammapada (v. 400) it is related that once, when the Venerable Sariputta was in his own village of Nalaka with a large retinue of monks, he came to his mother's house in the course of his almsround. His mother gave him a seat and served him with food, but while she did so she uttered abusive words: "Oh, you eater of others' leavings!" she said. "When you fail to get leavings of sour rice-gruel you go from house to house among strangers, licking the leavings off the backs of ladies! And so it was for this that you gave up eighty crores of wealth and became a monk! You have ruined me! Now go on and eat!"

Likewise, when she was serving food to the monks, she said: "So! You are the men who have made my son your page boy! Go on, eat now!"

Thus she continued reviling them, but the Venerable Sariputta spoke not a word. He took his food, ate it and in silence returned to the monastery. The Buddha learned of the incident from the Venerable Rahula, who had been among the monks at the time. All the bhikkhus who heard of it wondered at the Elder's great forbearance, and in the midst of the assembly the Buddha praised him, uttering the stanza:

"He that is free from anger, who performs his duties faithfully.
He that guards the precepts, and is free from lust;
He that has subdued himself, he that wears his last body --
He it is I call a brahman."

It was not until right at the close of Sariputta's life that he was able to convert his mother; that story will be told later on. But the incident that has been related here leads us to a consideration of the great Elder's most pleasing characteristics, his humility, patience and forbearance.

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