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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


[AN I:191] At the top, Beggars, of those of my Beggars who observes and recommends strict adherence to the smallest details of proper behavior under the Dhamma[1] is Maha Kassapa.

Maha Kassapa

DPPN: He was born in the Brahmin village of Mahatittha in Magadha, and was the son of the Brahmin Kapila, his mother being Sumanadevi; he himself was called Pippali. When he grew up he refused to marry in spite of the wishes of his parents; but in the end, [he married Bhadda Kapilani]. By mutual consent, however, the marriage was not consummated ... Pippali had immense wealth; he used twelve measures of perfumed powder daily ... He had sixty lakes with water-works attached, and his workmen occupied fourteen villages, each as large as Anuradhapura. One day he went to a field which was being ploughed and saw the birds eating the worms turned up by the plough. On being told that the sin therein was his, he decided to renounce all his possessions. At the same time, Bhadda had been watching the crows eating the little insects which ran about among the sesamum seeds that had been put out to dry, and when her attendant woman told her that hers would be the sin for their loss of life [this is clearly a wrong interpretation of Kamma], she also determined to renounce the world.

The husband and wife, finding that they were of one accord, took yellow raiment from their wardrobe, cut off each other's hair, took bowls in their hands, and passed out through their weeping servants, to all of whom they granted their freedom, and departed together, Pippali walking in front. But soon they agreed that it was not seemly they should walk thus together, as each must prove a hindrance to the other. And so, at the crossroads, he took the right and she the left and the earth trembled to see such virtue.

The Buddha ... knew what the earthquake signified, ... and sat down [in the way]. Pippali,(henceforth called Maha Kassapa [the note says: no explanation of why]) saw the Buddha, and recognizing him at once as his teacher, prostrated himself before him. The Buddha told him to be seated, and, in three homilies, [From the Note: Given at S. ii.220; Thus Kassapa must thou train thyself: There shall be a lively sense of fear and regard towards all monks, seniors, novices, and those of middle status.; Whatever doctrine I shall hear bearing upon what is good, to all that I will hearken with attentive ear, digesting it, pondering it, gathering it all up with my will; Happy mindfulness with respect to the body shall not be neglected by me."] gave him his ordination. Together they returned to Rajagaha, Kassapa, who bore on his body seven of the thirty-two marks of a Great Being, following the Buddha [who had all 32]. On the way the Buddha desired to sit at the foot of a tree by the roadside, and Kassapa folded for him his outer robe as a seat. The Buddha sat on it and, feeling it with his hand, praised its softness. Kassapa asked him to accept it. "And what would you wear?" inquired the Buddha. Kassapa then begged that he might be given the rag-robe worn by the Buddha. "It is faded with use," said the Buddha, [I seem to recall he said it was worn out beyond repairing which I mention in the context of calling Bhikkhus "Beggars" I think the image we have of these neatly dressed Monks today is a far cry from what they looked like in the early days.] but Kassapa said he would prize it above the whole world and the robes were exchanged. The earth quaked again in recognition of Kassapa's virtues, for no ordinary being would have been fit to wear the Buddha's cast-off robe. Kassapa, conscious of the great honor, took upon himself the thirteen austere vows (dhutaguna) and, after eight days, became an arahant.

Kassapa was not present at the death of the Buddha; as he was journeying from Pava to Kusinara he met an Ajivaka [guys run around no clothes at all; a-jivaka = to live, no calling] ... who told Kassapa the news. It was then the seventh day after the Buddha's death, and the Mallas had been trying in vain to set fire to his pyre. The arahant theras, who were present, declared that it could not be kindled until Maha Kassapa and his five hundred companions had saluted the Buddha's feet. Maha Kassapa then arrived and walked three times round the pyre with bared shoulder, and it is said the Buddha's feet became visible from out of the pyre in order that he might worship them. He was followed by his five hundred colleagues, and when they had all worshipped the feet disappeared and the pyre kindled of itself ... . At Pava (on the announcement of the Buddha's death), Kassapa had heard the words of Subhadda, who, in his old age, had joined the Order, that they were "well rid of the great samana and could now do as they liked." This remark it was which had suggested to Kassapa's mind the desirability of holding a Recital of the Buddha's teachings. He announced his intention to the assembled monks, and, as the senior among them and as having been considered by the Buddha himself to be fit for such a task, he was asked to make all necessary arrangements. In accordance with his wishes, all the monks, other than the arahants chosen for the Recital, left Rajagaha during the rainy season. The five hundred who were selected met in Council under the presidency of Kassapa and recited the Dhamma and the Vinaya. This recital is called the Therasangiti or Theravada.

Kassapa viewed with concern the growing laxity among members of the Order with regard to the observance of rules, even in the very lifetime of the Buddha, and the falling off in the number of those attaining arahantship, and we find him consulting the Buddha as to what should be done. Kassapa himself did his utmost to lead an exemplary life, dwelling in the forest, subsisting solely on alms, wearing rag-robes, always content with little, holding himself aloof from society, ever strenuous and energetic. When asked why he led such a life, he replied that it was not only for his own happiness but also out of compassion for those who came after him, that they might attain to the same end.

Kassapa lived to be very old, and, when he died, had not lain on a bed for one hundred and twenty years. [By my reckoning that could have made him from 130 to 150 years old — A note says: According to northern sources, Kassapa did not die; he dwells in the Kukkutagiri Mountains, wrapt in samadhi, awaiting the arrival of Metteyya Buddha].


[1]Dhutavadanam. PED has one who inculcates scrupulousness.




See also:
THAG 261
Kindred sayings on Kassapa