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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas

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Sariputta

One of the two Great Disciples, his specialty was knowledge of the Dhamma and it's applications, I hear he made a specialty of guiding beginners to Stream-entry.

DPPN: The chief disciple of Gotama ... he is also called Upatissa, which was evidently his personal name. The name Upatissa is hardly ever mentioned in the books. He had three younger brothers — Cunda, Upasena, and Revata — and three sisters — Cala, Upacala and Sisupacala; all of whom joined the Order.

... Sariputta had a very quick intuition, and he became a sotapanna immediately after hearing the first two lines of the stanza spoken by Assaji [all things arise from causes][hetu]. Moggallana attained arahantship on the seventh day after his ordination, but it was not till a fortnight later than Sariputta became an arahant. He was staying, at the time, with the Buddha, in the Sukarakhatalena in Rajagha, and he reached his goal as a result of hearing the Buddha preach the Vednapariggaha Sutta to Dighanakha. [aka the Dighanakha Sutta; MN 74]

In the assembly of monks and nuns, Sariputta was declared by the Buddha foremost among those who possessed wisdom. He was considered by the Buddha as inferior only to himself in wisdom. The Buddha would frequently merely suggest a topic, and Sariputta would preach a sermon on it in detail ... The Buddha is recorded as speaking high praise of him "Wise art thou, Sariputta, comprehensive and manifold thy wisdom, joyous and swift, sharp and fastidious. He is ... held up as the supreme example of the perfect disciple, risen to mastery and perfection in noble virtue, noble concentration, noble perception, noble deliverance.

We also find instances of Sariputta questioning his colleagues, or being questioned by them, on various topics ... . On another occasion, Anuruddha tells Sariputta of his power of seeing the thousand-fold world-system, his unshaken energy, and his untroubled mindfulness. Sariputta tells him that his deva-sight is mere conceit, his claims to energy conceit, and his mindfulness just worrying, and exhorts him to abandon thoughts of them all. Anuruddha follows his advice and becomes an arahant.

The care of the Sangha and the protection of its members' integrity was Sariputta's special concern by virtue of his position as the Buddha's Chief Disciple. Thus we find him being sent with Moggallana to bring back the monks who had seceded with Devadatta. His admonitions to the monks sometimes made him unpopular. He was meticulous about rules laid down by the Buddha. Thus a rule had been laid down that one monk could ordain only one samanera, and when a boy was sent to him for ordination from a family which had been of great service to him, Sariputta refused the request of the parents till the Buddha had rescinded the rule. Another rule forbade monks to eat garlic and when Sariputta lay ill and knew he could be cured by garlic, even then he refused to eat them till permission was given by the Buddha for him to do so ... . While Sariputta was severe in the case of those who failed to follow the Buddha's discipline, he did not hesitate to rejoice with his fellow-monks in their successes ... .It was evidently the custom of Sariputta to visit sick monks as did the Buddha himself.

A quaint story is told of a Yakkha who, going through the air at night saw Sariputta wrapt in meditation, his head newly shaved. The sight of the shining head was a great temptation to the Yakkha, and, in spite of [being warned against it] he dealt a blow on the Thera's head. The blow was said to have been hard enough to shatter a mountain, but Sariputta suffered only a slight headache afterwards.

Sariputta died some months before the Buddha ... The Samyutta Nikaya [S.v.161] records that he died at Nalagamaka (the place of his birth) and gives an eulogy of him pronounced by the Buddha after his death. There is no need to doubt the authenticity of this account. It merely states that when Sariputta was at Nalagamaka he was afflicted with a sore disease. His brother, Cunda-Samanuddesa, was attending on him when he died. His body was cremated, and Cunda took the relics to Savatthi with Sariputta's begging-bowl and outer robe. The relics were wrapped in his water strainer. Cunda first broke the news to Ananda, who confessed that when he heard it his mind was confused and his body felt as though drugged. Together they sought the Buddha and told him of the event, and the Buddha pointed out to them the impermanence of all things. [my recollection of this story also includes the note that Sariputta's mother thought that he had wasted his life by becoming a Beggar, but that she was won over in the end by a powerful deity who came down and explained exactly how important Sariputta really was.])

 

§

 

[Hetu.] This is the story as told by Bhk. Nyanaponika in The Story of Sariputta: [Upatissa (Sariputta) has noticed the aura of Assaji and curious, follows him and strikes up a conversation]: After they had exchanged the usual courteous greetings. Upatissa said: "Serene are your features, friend. Pure and bright is your complexion. Under whom, friend, have you gone forth as an ascetic? Who is your teacher and whose doctrine do you profess?"

Assaji replied: "There is, O friend, the Great Recluse, the scion of the Sakyas, who has gone forth from the Sakya clan. Under that Blessed One I have gone forth. That Blessed One is my teacher and it is his Dhamma that I profess."

"What does the venerable one's master teach, what does he proclaim?"

Questioned thus, the Elder Assaji thought to himself: "These wandering ascetics are opposed to the Buddha's dispensation. I shall show him how profound this dispensation is." So he said: "I am but new to the training, friend. It is not long since I went forth from home, and I came but recently to this teaching and discipline. I cannot explain the Dhamma in detail to you."

The wanderer replied: "I am called Upatissa, friend. Please tell me according to your ability, be it much or little. It will be my task to penetrate its meaning by way of a hundred or a thousand methods." And he added:

 

"Be it little or much that you can tell,
the meaning only, please proclaim to me!
To know the meaning is my sole desire;
Of no avail to me are many words."
In response, the Elder Assaji uttered this stanza:

 

"Of all those things that from a cause arise,
Tathagata the cause thereof has told;
And how they cease to be, that too he tells,
This is the doctrine of the Great Recluse."

The Pali:

 

Ye dhamma hetuppabhava||
tesam hetum tathagato aha,||
tesañ ca yo nirodho||
evamvadi mahasamano' ti.|| ||

Bhk. Nyanaponika remarks: This gatha was later to become one of the best-known and most widely-disseminated stanzas of Buddhism, standing for all time as a reminder of Sariputta's first contact with the Dhamma and also as a worthy memorial to Assaji, his great arahant teacher. Spoken at a time when the principle of causality was not accorded the prominence it enjoys today in philosophical thought, its impact on the minds of the early Buddhists must have been revolutionary.

My translation:

 

'Ye things reason-arisen become
of these reasons the Tathagata speaks
and of those their eradication'
thus speaks the great shaman.

 


 

References:

SN 5 47 13
SN 5 47 14
SN 2 21 2
SN 2 21 3


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