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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


Mahā Moggallāna

One of the two Great Disciples, his specialty being the use of psychic powers.

"He was born in Kolitagama near Rājagaha on the same day as Sariputta (the other Great Disciple; they were both older than the Buddha), and was called Kolita after his village.

His mother was a brahminee called Moggali and his father was the chief householder of the village.

Moggallāna's and Sariputta's families had maintained an unbroken friendship for seven generations, and so the children were friends from their childhood.

Sariputta had five hundred golden palanquins and Moggallāna five hundred carriages drawn by thoroughbreds.

One day the two friends went together to see a mime play and there, realizing the impermanence of things, decided to renounce the world.

They first lived as disciples of Sanjaya and then wandered all over Jambudipa (Rose Apple Land — India) discussing with all learned men, but finding no satisfaction. Then they separated, after agreeing that whoever first succeeded in finding what they sought should inform the other.

After some time, Sariputta, wandering about in Rājagaha, met Assaji, was converted by him to the faith of the Buddha, and became a Sotapanna. He found Moggallāna and repeated the stanza he had heard from Assaji "All things arise from causes." and Moggallāna also became a sotapanna.

The two then resolved to visit the Buddha at Veluvana, after an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Sanjaya to accompany them. Sanjaya's disciples, however, five hundred in number, agreed to go, and they all arrived at Veluvana. The Buddha preached to them, and ordained them by the "ehi-bhikkhu-pabbajja." "Come Beggar! Initiation". All became arahants except Sariputta and Moggallāna.

Moggallāna went to the hamlet of Kallavala in Magadha, and there, on the seventh day after his ordination, drowsiness overcame him as he sat meditating. The Buddha knew this, and appearing before him, exhorted him to be zealous. That very day he attained arahantship.

"Sariputta is as she who brings forth and Moggallāna is as the nurse of what is brought forth;
Sariputta trains in the fruits of conversion, Moggallāna trains in the highest good.
Sariputta is able to teach and make plain the four Noble Truths;
Moggallāna, on the other hand, teaches by his iddhipatihariya — demonstrations of psychic power.

Moggallāna's pre-eminence lay in his possession of iddhi-power. He could create a living shape innumerable times and could transfer himself into any shape at will. Several instances are given of this special display of iddhi.

Once at the Buddha's request, with his great toe he shook the Migaramatupasada [— a rock solid monastery, The Palace of Migara's Mother (she was the daughter in law of Migara ... but that is another story)] and made it rattle in order to terrify some monks who sat in the ground floor of the building, talking loosely and frivolously, regardless even of the fact that the Buddha was in the upper story.

Though Moggallāna's pre-eminence was in iddhi-power, yet in wisdom, too, he was second only to Sariputta [and it was the other way around in terms of iddhi-power and Sariputta].

Moggallāna died before the Buddha, Sariputta dying before either ... According to the Commentaries his death resulted from a plot of the Niganthas [I believe these are the early Jains, headed by Nataputta the Jain, the founder of the sect — several debates centered around this group and its leader.]

Moggallāna used to visit various worlds and return with his report that he had discovered that those who followed the Buddha's teaching reached happy worlds, while the followers of the heretics were reborn in woeful conditions. These statements diminished the number of the heretics and they bribed brigands to kill Moggallāna. They surrounded the Elder's cell in Kalasila, but he, aware of their intentions, escaped through the keyhole.

On six successive days this happened; on the seventh, they caught him [as I heard it, he gave up, having seen the futility of his attempts to evade his fate — see below] and beat him, crushing his bones

Ball Peen Hammer
They used an old torture method in which a hammer, like a ball-peen hammer, is used to break every single bone in the body.

and leaving him for dead. Having recovered consciousness, with a great effort of will, he dragged himself to the Buddha [I doubt this description — more likely he used psychic power to transport the body] in order to take his leave, and there he died ... This sad death is said to have been the result of a sin committed by him in a previous birth. Acting on the instigation of his wife, he had taken his blind parents into a forest, where, pretending that they were attacked by thieves, he had beaten them to death. For this deed he suffered in hell for innumerable years, and in his last birth lost his life by violence.

See: AN 7 58
SN 2 21 1
SN 2 21 3
Theragātha: Psalms of the Brethren CCLXIII