For a Fully Enlightened One his two chief disciples and his personal attendant are as necessary as the ministers of war, of the interior, and of finance are to a king. The Buddha himself used this comparison with a state’s administration. He spoke of Ānanda, who could remember all the discourses, as the treasurer of the Dhamma (the minister of finance), of Sāriputta as its marshal or general-in-command, and of Moggallāna as ‘the child’s nurse’ (the minister of the interior).

Of these four (including the Buddha), two groups of two had certain things in common: both the Buddha and Ānanda belonged to the warrior caste (khattiya), Sāriputta and Moggallāna to the brahmin caste. This affinity showed itself also in their lives. Ānanda was always with the Buddha; from the time when he was appointed his attendant, he followed him like a shadow. Similarly, Moggallāna was almost inseparable from Sāriputta and nearly always dwelt together with him. Whenever the Buddha, in advancing years, felt physically tired, these three disciples were the only ones whom he asked to expound the Dhamma on his behalf.

This happened, for instance, at Kapilavatthu when Moggallāna gave a long discourse on sense control as the remedy against being submerged in the flood of the six senses.

After Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna had attained arahantship, the Buddha announced to the Order that they would now be his chief disciples. Some of the monks were surprised and began to grumble, asking why the Master did not treat with such distinction those ordained first, the ‘men of the first hour,’ as for instance, the first five disciples, or Yasa, or the three Kassapas. Why did he overlook them and give prominence to those who had entered the Order last and were of junior standing? To this, the Awakened One replied that each reaps according to his merit.

For aeons Sāriputta and Moggallāna had been progressing towards this state by gradually cultivating the necessary faculties. Others, however, had developed along different lines. Although both chief disciples were of another caste and from another region than the Buddha’s, their special position within the Noble Order was an outcome of the law of kamma.

In many ways the Buddha had spoken in praise of this noble pair of disciples:

“If a devout lay woman should admonish her only son whom she dearly loves, she would rightly do so by saying: “My dear son, you should be like Citta the householder or Hatthaka of Ālavi!”— because these two are models and exemplars for my lay devotees. (And she should further say:) “But if, my dear, you go forth from home into the homeless life of a monk, you should be like Sāriputta and Moggallāna!”—because they are models and exemplars for my bhikkhu disciples.”

“O monks, seek and cultivate the company of Sāriputta and Moggallāna! They are wise and are helpful to their fellows in the holy life. Sāriputta is like a mother, and Moggallāna is like a nurse. Sāriputta trains the monks for the fruit of stream-entry, and Moggallāna for the supreme goal.”

The characterization of the two in the last text may be interpreted as follows: Sāriputta, like a mother, gives birth to the path of emancipation in his pupils, urging them to cut through the first, most basic fetters and thus attain to stream-entry. In this way he ‘converts’ his pupils by vigorously diverting them from the futility of the round of existence and guiding them into the zone of safety. At this point Moggallāna takes over and leads the pupils further along the upwards path, supporting them in their struggle for arahantship in the same way that he himself had been helped by the Master. Thus he is like a wet-nurse, nourishing the pupils’ strength and sustaining their growth.

Both these aspects are found perfectly united in a Fully Awakened One, but in Sāriputta and Moggallāna they were separate qualifications. Though both were ‘liberated in both ways,’ for Sāriputta the major emphasis was on wisdom, and for Moggallāna on the meditative ‘liberation of the mind’ (cetovimutti). For this reason Sāriputta guided disciples to the intuitive understanding of liberating truth, the breakthrough to the Dhamma (dhammābhisamaya), the vision of things in their real undistorted nature. With Moggallāna, who knew well the subtle and tortuous labyrinths of the mind, the stress was on harnessing the forces of concentration toward the removal of all remaining defilements and fetters.

This fact found perfect expression when these two spiritual sons of the Buddha had to look after Rāhula, the Buddha’s own son. Like every newly ordained monk, Rāhula had two teachers, one in knowledge and one in conduct. Sāriputta was appointed as his teacher in knowledge, and Moggallāna as his teacher in conduct and spiritual practice.

Once Sāriputta said to his friend that, compared with Moggallāna in regard to supernormal powers, he was like a small splinter of rock set against the mighty Himalayas. Moggallāna, however, replied that, compared with Sāriputta in regard to the power of wisdom, he was like a tiny grain of salt set against a big salt barrel. About the differing range of wisdom, the Buddha said that there are questions that only he could conceive and answer, but not Sāriputta; there are other questions that only Sāriputta could clarify, but not Moggallāna; and there are those questions that only Moggallāna could solve, but not the other disciples. Thus the two chief disciples were like a bridge between the supreme qualities of the Buddha and the capacities of the other disciples.

When Devadatta voiced his claim to lead the Order, the Buddha said that he would not entrust anybody with the leadership of the Sangha, not even his two chief disciples, let alone Devadatta. Between the extremes of discipleship—with Sāriputta and Moggallāna at one end of the scale and Devadatta, the most depraved of the disciples, at the other—there is a long and varied line of disciples with different degrees of accomplishments and virtues.

It is characteristic that the only slander uttered against the chief disciples came from a follower of Devadatta. The monk Kokālika, wishing to malign them, told the Buddha that the two had evil intentions, which, in fact, was the case with Devadatta. The Buddha, however, replied:

“Don’t say so, Kokālika, don’t speak like that! Let your heart have glad confidence in Sāriputta and Moggallāna! They are virtuous monks.”

But Kokālika, in spite of this emphatic admonition, persisted in his slander. According to the old texts, Devadatta and Kokālika were reborn in a state of utter suffering, in the deepest hell, while Sāriputta and Moggallāna won the highest bliss, Nibbāna.

In the Pāli Canon there are many reports about the common activities of the two chief disciples as they assisted the Master in looking after the community of monks. Both worked tirelessly for the advancement and benefit of the Order, and their activities aimed at maintaining its inner concord, stability, and discipline deserve special mention.

At the request of the Buddha they brought about the banishment of a clique of monks known as “the group of six” (chabbhaggiya), after their six leaders, whose reckless and scandalous behaviour was threatening to tarnish the entire image of the Buddha’s Dispensation in the eyes of the wider populace of the Ganges Valley.

The Vinaya Piiaka records many instances when the Buddha had to promulgate rules of discipline on account of their misconduct. One major upheaval they brought about is reported in the Kīṭāgiri Sutta, when they flaunted the Buddha’s regulations regarding the proper times for meals. Finally they behaved in such a frenzied way that the Buddha sent Sāriputta and Moggallāna, at the head of a group of virtuous monks, to banish these six from their seat of residence, which was near Kītāgiri. Thereafter most of them left the Order.

The most noteworthy mission the two great disciples performed together was to induce the newly ordained monks led astray by Devadatta to return to the Buddha’s fold and to the right conduct of the monk’s life. At that time, when Sāriputta gave his exhortation to those misguided monks, he spoke about the power of thought reading, while Moggallāna spoke on psychic powers. On another occasion, when a junior monk came to the Buddha and complained that the Venerable Sāriputta had treated him rudely, Moggallāna and Ānanda called together all the monks, so that, for their instruction and edification, they could hear Sāriputta’s dignified reply to those accusations.

The two chief disciples often lived together in the same cell of the monastery, and they held many dialogues for the benefit of their fellow monks. An example of this is the Anaṅgaṇa Sutta, Sāriputta’s great sermon on the removal of ‘evil wishes,’ which was inspired by questions from Moggallāna. At the end of the sermon Moggallāna applauded Sāriputta’s eloquence, comparing his discourse to a garland of flowers which one might place on one’s head as an ornament.

On another occasion, when a group of leading disciples had gathered in the Gosiṅga sāla-tree forest on a full-moon night, Sāriputta asked them each in turn to describe what they considered to be the ideal monk, “one who could illuminate this forest”. Moggallāna replied:

Here, friend Sāriputta, two monks engage in a talk on the higher Dhamma (abhidhamma), and they question each other, and each being questioned by the other answers without foundering, and their talk rolls on in accordance with the Dhamma. That kind of monk could illuminate this Gosiṅga sāla-tree forest.

Later the Buddha confirmed that Moggallāna was indeed a very capable speaker on the Dhamma, as is evident from his discourses in the canon. Talks on the Dhamma gain in range and depth when they issue from an experience that transcends the realm of the senses. The more one has widened one’s consciousness by deep meditation and personal insight into truth, the more convincing one’s words will be, and when one can speak from the heights of wisdom, one’s understanding will be contagious.

The Buddha often extolled his chief disciples for their personal qualities as much as for their contributions to his mission. One particularly striking instance is recorded in the Udāna. When the two were seated near the Master, immersed in deep concentration based on contemplation of the body, first the Buddha spoke an ‘inspired utterance’ (udāna) in praise of Sāriputta:

Just as a mountain made of solid rock Stands firm and unshakable,

Even so, when delusion is destroyed,

A bhikkhu, like a mountain, is not perturbed.

Then he applauded Moggallāna:

With mindfulness of the body established, Controlled over contact’s sixfold base,

A bhikkhu who is always concentrated Can know Nibbāna for himself.

It happened only once that the Buddha preferred Moggallāna’s attitude in a certain matter to that of Sāriputta. After he had dismissed from his presence a band of noisy, unmannerly monks, just recently ordained, the Master later asked his two chief disciples what they had thought when he sent those monks away. Sāriputta said he thought that the Master wanted to enjoy a blissful abiding in meditation and that they, the chief disciples, were to do the same. But the Buddha mildly reproached him, saying that he should never again entertain such thoughts.

Then he turned to Moggallāna with the same question. Moggallāna replied that he, too, had thought the Master wanted to enjoy the bliss of meditation; but if so, then the responsibility for looking after the community of monks would have devolved on Sāriputta and himself.

The Buddha praised him and said that if both his chief disciples took care of the community, it would be as good as if he himself looked after the monks.


The Venerable Mahāmoggallāna was the bhikkhu who had been most assiduous in developing and cultivating the four roads to power, and thus the Buddha named him the foremost disciple among those who possessed the psychic powers. There were, of course, other prominent disciples who were highly skilled in psychic power, but they were usually proficient in only one or two areas.


Thus, for instance, the monk Anuruddha and the nun Sakulā possessed the supernormal vision of the divine eye; the monk Sobhita and the nun Bhaddā Kapilānī could recollect their previous lives far back into the past; the monk Sāgala was skilled in the exercise of the fire element; Cūḷa Panthaka excelled in the ability to manifest himself in multiple bodies; and Pilindavaccha was foremost in communicating with heavenly beings. Mahāmoggallāna, however, had a comprehensive master over the psychic faculties that no other disciple shared, not even the nun Uppalavaṇṇā, who was foremost among the bhikkhunīs in the exercise of the psychic powers.


We shall now turn to what the Buddhist canonical texts relate about Moggallāna’s supernormal faculties.


Once on an Uposatha day, the Buddha sat silently in front of the assembly of monks. At each watch of the night Ānanda requested him to recite the code of monastic discipline, the Pātimokkha, but the Buddha remained silent. Finally, when dawn came, he only said:

“This assembly is impure.”

Thereupon Moggallāna surveyed with his mind the entire assembly and saw one monk sitting there who was ‘immoral, wicked, of impure and suspect behaviour,…rotten within, lustful and corrupt.’ He went up to him and told him to leave, three times. When the monk did not move even after the third request, Moggallāna took him by the arm, led him out of the hall, and bolted the door. Then he begged the Exalted One to recite the Pātimokkha, as the assembly was now pure again.


Once the Master was dwelling together with a community of five hundred monks, all of whom were arahants. When Moggallāna joined them, he searched their minds with his own mind and saw that they were arahants, released and free from all defilements. Then the Venerable Vaṅgisa, the foremost poet in the Sangha, realizing what had taken place, rose from his seat, and in the Buddha’s presence praised Moggallāna in verse:

While the sage is seated on the mountain slope, Gone beyond to the far shore of suffering,

His disciples sit in attendance on him,

Triple-knowledge men who have left Death behind.

Moggallāna, great in spiritual power,

Encompassed their minds with his own,

And searching (he came to see) their minds: Fully released, without acquisitions!


A third report tells us that once, while the Venerable Anuruddha was meditating in solitude, he considered how the noble path that leads to the extinction of suffering can be perfected by means of the four foundations of mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna).


Then Moggallāna, penetrating Anuruddha’s mind by his own, appeared before him through supernormal power and requested him to describe in detail this method of practice.


One evening when Sāriputta went to see Moggallāna he found that his features had such a strikingly serene expression that he felt moved to ask Moggallāna whether he had dwelt in one of the peaceful abodes of mind. Moggallāna replied that he had dwelt only in a coarse abode, but that he had been engaged in a talk on the Dhamma. On being asked with whom he had such a talk, Moggallāna replied that it had been with the Exalted One.

 Sāriputta remarked that the Master was now dwelling very far away, in Sāvatthī, while they themselves were in Rājagaha. Had Moggallāna gone to the Buddha by way of supernormal power, or had the Buddha come to him? Moggallāna replied that neither had been the case; rather, they had directed toward each other their divine eye and divine ear, which enabled them to engage in a Dhamma talk on the mental faculty of energy.


Then Sāriputta exclaimed that Moggallāna, being endowed with powers so great, might be able to live through an entire aeon, like the Buddha, if he so wished.

With the divine ear Moggallāna could also hear the voices of nonhuman beings, deities, spirits, etc., and receive messages from them. So, for instance, a spirit had warned him against Devadatta, who harboured evil intentions toward the Buddha and was plotting against him.


As mentioned above, Moggallāna, with his divine eye, was able to perceive the Buddha over a long distance. The texts describe other occasions when the Elder made use of this faculty. Once, while Sāriputta was sitting in meditation, a malicious demon (yakkha) pounded him on the head. Moggallāna saw this and asked his friend how he was feeling. Sāriputta, who had not seen the demon, said that he was feeling generally well, but was troubled by a slight touch of headache. Then Moggallāna praised his strength of concentration, but Sāriputta said that Moggallāna had been able to see that demon while he himself could not.

To be Continued……