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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


[256] At the top, Beggars, of those of my Upasakas who is respected by the people (puggalappasannanam) is Jivako Komarabhacco.

Jivako Komarabhacco

A celebrated physician. He was the son of Salavati, a courtesan of Rajagaha. Directly after birth the child was placed in a basket and thrown on a dust-heap, from where he was rescued by Abhayarajakumara. When questioned by Abhaya, people said "he was alive" (jivati), and therefore the child was called Jivaka; because he was brought up by the prince (kumarena posapito), he was called Komarabhacca (Footnote: It has been suggested, however, that Komarabhacca meant master of the Kaumarabhrtya science — the treatment of infants) When grown up, he learnt of his antecedents, and going to Takkasila without Abhaya's knowledge, studied medicine for seven years. His teacher then gave him a little money and sent him away as being fit to practice medicine. His first patient was the setthi's wife at Saketa, and for curing her he received sixteen thousand Kahapanas, a manservant, a maid-servant and a coach with horses. When he returned to Rajagaha, Abhaya established him in his own residence. There he cured Bimbisara of a troublesome fistula and received as reward all the ornaments of Bimbisara's five hundred wives. He was appointed physician to the king and the king's women and also to the fraternity of monks with the Buddha at its head. Other cures of Jivaka's included that of the setthi of Rajagaha on whom he performed the operation of trepanning [releasing brain pressure by drilling a hole in the skull], and of the son of the setthi of Benares who had suffered from chronic intestinal trouble due to misplacement, and for this case Jivaka received sixteen thousand kahapanas.

When Candappajjota, king of Ujjeni, was ill, Bimbisara lent Jivaka to him. Candappajjota hated ghee, which was, however, the only remedy. Jivaka prepared the medicine, prescribed it for the king, then rode away on the king's elephant Bhaddavatika before the king discovered the nature of the medicine. Pajjota, in a rage, ordered his capture and sent his slave Kaka after him. Kaka discovered Jivaka breakfasting at Kosambī and allowed himself to be persuaded to eat half a myrobalan, which purged him violently. Jivaka explained to Kaka that he wished to delay his return; he told him why he had fled from the court and, having returned the elephant, proceeded to Rajagaha. Pajjota was cured and, as a token of his favor, sent Jivaka a suit of Siveyyaka cloth, which Jivaka presented to the Buddha. Jivaka was greatly attracted by the Buddha. Once when the Buddha was ill, Jivaka found it necessary to administer a purge, and he had fat rubbed into the Buddha's body and gave him a handful of lotuses to smell. Jivaka was away when the purgative acted, and suddenly remembered that he had omitted to ask the Buddha to bathe in warm water to complete the cure. The Buddha red his thoughts and bathed as required.

After Jivaka became a Sotapanna, he was anxious to visit the Buddha twice a day, and finding Veluvana too far away, he built a monastery with all its adjuncts in his own Ambavana in Rajagaha, which he gave to the Buddha and his monks. When Bimbisara died, Jivaka continued to serve Ajatasattu, and was responsible for bringing him to the Buddha after his crime of parricide [An interesting story, see the Samannaphala Sutta, D.i (Dialogues of the Buddha, V.I)]

Jivaka's fame as a physician brought him more work than he could cope with, but he never neglected his duties to the Saṅgha. Many people, afflicted with disease and unable to pay for treatment by him, joined the Order in order that they might receive that treatment. On discovering that the Order was thus being made a convenience of, he asked the Buddha to lay down a rule that men afflicted with certain diseases should be refused entry into the Order (Vin. i. 71f). Jivaka was declared by the Buddha chief among his lay followers loved by the people (puggalappasannanam). He is included in a list of good men who have been assured of the realization of deathlessness.

It may have been the preaching of the Jivaka Sutta which effected Jivaka's conversion. One discussion he had with the Buddha regarding the qualities of a pious lay disciple is recorded in the Anguttara Nikaya (A.iv.222).

At Jivaka's request, the Buddha enjoined upon monks to take exercise; Jivaka had gone to Vesali on business and had noticed their pale, unhealthy look (Vin.ii.119).

From: PTS, Hare, trans., The Book of the Gradual Sayings, The Book of the Eights, #VI (26)

Jivaka Komarabhacca

Once the Exalted One was dwelling at Rajagaha in Jivaka's Mango Grove. There Jivaka Komarabhacca came and visited him and, after saluting, sat down at one side. There, addressing the Exalted One, he said:

'Lord, how becomes a man a lay-disciple?'

'When, Jivaka, he has found refuge in the Buddha found refuge in Dhamma, found refuge in the Order, then he is a lay-disciple.'

'Lord, how is a lay-disciple virtuous?'

'When, Jivaka, a lay-disciple abstains from taking life; abstains from taking what is not given him; abstains from lustful and evil indulgences; abstains from lying; and abstains from spirituous intoxicants, the cause of indolence — then a lay-disciple is virtuous.'

'Lord, how does a lay-disciple help on his own welfare, but not that of another?'

'When, Jivaka, he has achieved faith for self, but strives not to compass faith in another; he achieved virtue for self, but strives not to compass virtue in another; has achieved himself renunciation, but strives not to compass renunciation in another; longs himself to see the monks, but strives not for this sight for another; longs himself to hear Saddhamma, but strives not for this hearing for another; is mindful himself of Dhamma he has heard, but strives not that another should be mindful of it; reflects himself upon the meaning of Dhamma he is mindful of, but strives not for another to reflect thereon; when he knows himself both the letter and the spirit of Dhamma and walks in conformity therewith, but strives not for another so to walk — then a lay disciple helps on his own welfare, but not that of another.'

'And how, lord, does a lay-disciple help on both his own welfare and the welfare of another?'

[The reverse.]