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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas

Index

Assaji Thera

DPPN: The fifth of the Panca-vaggiya monks. When the Buddha preached the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, he was the last in whom dawned the eye of Truth, and the Buddha had to discourse to him and to Mahanama while their three colleagues went for alms.[1] He became an arahant, together with the others, at the preaching of the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta.[2] He was responsible for the conversion of Sariputta and Moggallana. Sariputta, in the course of his wanderings in search of Eternal Truth, saw Assaji begging for alms in Rajagaha, and being pleased with his demeanour, followed him till he had finished his round. Finding a suitable opportunity, Sariputta asked Assaji about his teacher and the doctrines he followed. Assaji was at first reluctant to preach to him, because, as he said, he was but young in the Order. But Sariputta urged him to say what he knew, and the stanza which Assaji uttered then, has, ever since, been famous, as representing the keynote of the Buddha's teaching:|| ||

"Ye dhamma hetuppabhava tesam hetum Tathagato aha||
tesan ca yo nirodho, evam vadi Mahasamano."|| ||

[225] Sariputta immediately understood and hurried to give the glad tidings to Moggallana that he had succeeded in his quest.[3]

Sariputta held Assaji in the highest veneration, and we are told that from the day of this first meeting, in whatever quarter he heard that Assaji was staying, in that direction he would extend his clasped hands in an attitude of reverent supplication, and in that direction he would turn his head when he lay down to sleep.[4]

One day when Assaji was going about in Vesali for alms, the Nigantha Saccaka, who was wandering about in search of disputants to conquer, saw him, and questioned him regarding the Buddha's teaching because he was a well-known disciple (natannatara-savaka). Assaji gave him a summary of the doctrine contained in the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta.. Feeling sure that he could refute these views attributed to the Buddha, Saccaka went with a large concourse of Licchavis to the Buddha and questioned him. This was the occasion for the preaching of the Cüla-Saccaka Sutta.[5] The Commentary[6] tells us that Assaji decided on this method of exposition because he did not wish to leave Saccaka any loophole for contentious questioning. The Samyutta Nikaya[7] records a visit paid by the Buddha to Assaji as he lay grievously sick in Kassa-parama near Rajagaha. He tells the Buddha that he cannot enter into jhana because of his difficulty in breathing and that he cannot win balance of mind. The Buddha encourages him and asks him to dwell on thoughts of impermanence and non-self.

 


[1] Vin. i. 13. He became a sotapanna on the fourth day of the quarter (AA. i. 84).

[2] Vin. i. 14; J. i. 82.

[3] Vin.i. 39 ff.; the incident is related in the DhA. (i.75 ff.) with slight variations as to detail.

[4] DhA. iv. 150-1.

[5] M. i. 227 ff.

[6] MA. i. 452.

[7] S. iii. 124 ff.

 


 

There is some problem here with the identification of the Assaji of SN 3.22.88 with the Assaji who renounced the world with Gotama and who was the first teacher of Sariputta. That Assaji would almost certainly have been called there 'Assaji Thera', where instead he is called 'ayasma Assaji, 'Elder'. Either this is the mistake or there is a far more serious error in that 'Assaji Thera' was supposed to have attained arahantship during the second discourse (Panca Suttam) and this Assaji still has doubts and must be instructed concerning inconstance, pain and not self.

 


"Ye dhamma hetuppabhava||
tesam hetum Tathagato aha||
tesan ca yo nirodho,||
evam vadi Mahasamano."||
Assaji's explanation of Gotama's teaching to Sariputta

What things as become by forces driven
The Tathagata says: 'Such are the driving forces
and such their end.'
Thus teaches the Great Shaman.
- Olds translation