The story begins at two brahmanical villages in India, called Upatissa and Kolita, which lay not far from the city of Rājagaha. Before our Buddha had appeared in the world, a brahmin woman named Rūpasārī, living in Upatissa village, conceived; and so too, on the same day at Kolita village, did another brahmin woman whose name was Moggallī. The two families were closely connected, having been friends with one another for seven generations.

From the first day of their pregnancy the families gave due care to the mothers-to-be, and after ten months both women gave birth to boys, on the same day. On the name-giving day Rūpasārī’s child received the name Upatissa, as he was a son of the foremost family of that village; and for the same reason Moggallī’s son was named Kolita.

When the boys grew up, they were educated and acquired mastery of all the sciences. Each of them had a following of five hundred brahmin youths, and when they went to the river or park for sport and recreation, Upatissa used to go with five hundred palanquins, and Kolita with five hundred horse carriages.

Now at Rājagaha there was an annual event called the Hilltop Festival. Seats were arranged for both youths and they sat together to witness the celebrations. When there was an occasion for laughter, they laughed; when the spectacle was exciting, they became excited; and they paid their fees for the extra shows. In this manner they enjoyed the festival for a second day.

On the third day, however, strange thoughts cast their shadows across their hearts, and they could no longer laugh or share in the excitement. As they sat there, watching the plays and dances, for just a moment the spectre of human mortality revealed itself to their inner vision, and once they had caught a glimpse of it their attitude could never again be the same. For each, this sombre mood gradually crystallized into a compelling question:

“What is there to look at here? Before these people have reached a hundred years, they will all be dead. Shouldn’t we go seek a teaching of deliverance?”

It was with such thoughts in mind that on this third day they sat through the festival.

Kolita noticed that his friend seemed pensive and withdrawn and asked him:

“What is the matter, my dear Upatissa? Today you are not happy and joyous as you were on the other days, but you seem to be troubled about something. Tell me, what is on your mind?”

“My dear Kolita, I have been thinking that there is no benefit at all for us in enjoying these hollow shows. Instead of wasting my time on such festivals, what I really ought to do is to seek a path to deliverance from the entire round of rebirths. But you too, Kolita, seem to be discontented.”

And Kolita replied: “My thoughts are exactly the same as yours.”

When he knew that his friend shared his inclination, Upatissa said:

 “That was a good thought of ours. However, for those who seek a teaching of deliverance there is only one thing to do: to leave home and become ascetics. But under whom shall we live the ascetic life?”

At that time, there lived at Rājagaha a wandering ascetic (paribbājaka) named Sañjaya, who had a great following of pupils. Deciding to take ordination under him, Upatissa and Kolita approached him, each with his own following of five hundred brahmin youths, and all of them received ordination from Sañjaya. And from the time of their ordination under him, Sañjaya’s reputation and support increased abundantly.

Within a short time, the two friends had learned Sañjaya’s entire doctrine. They then went to him and asked:

“Master, does your doctrine go so far only, or is there something beyond?”

Sañjaya replied:

 “So far only does it go. You know it completely.” Hearing this, they thought to themselves:

“If that is the case, it is useless to continue the holy life under him. We have gone forth from home to seek a teaching of deliverance, but under him we cannot find it. India is vast, and if we wander through villages, towns, and cities we shall certainly find a master who can show us the path we are seeking.”

And from then on, whenever they heard that there were wise ascetics or brahmins in this place or that, they went to meet them and learn their doctrines.

There was none, however, who could answer all their questions, while they were able to reply to those who questioned them. Having thus traveled through the whole of India, they returned to Rājagaha. There they made an agreement that whichever of them should find the Deathless first would inform the other. It was a pact of brotherhood, born of the deep friendship between the two young


Sometime after they had made that agreement, the Blessed One, the Buddha, set out for Rājagaha. He had, shortly before, completed the first rainy season retreat following his Enlightenment, and now the time had arrived for wandering and preaching. Before his Enlightenment he had promised King Bimbisāra that he would return to Rājagaha after attaining his goal, and now he set forth to fulfil that promise.

So, in stages the Blessed One journeyed from Gayā to Rājagaha, and having received from King Bimbisāra the Bamboo Grove Monastery (Veḷuvana), he took up residence there.

Among the first sixty-one arahants whom the Master had sent forth to proclaim the message of deliverance to the world was an elder named Assaji.

Assaji had belonged to the group of five ascetics who had attended upon the Bodhisattva while he was engaged in his ascetic practices, and he was also one of the first five disciples. One morning when Assaji was walking on alms round in Rājagaha, Upatissa saw him calmly wending his way from door to door with his bowl in hand.  Struck by Assaji’s dignified and serene appearance, Upatissa thought:


“Never before have I seen such a monk. He must be one of those who are arahants, or who are on the way to arahantship. Should I not approach him and question him?”


But then he considered: “It is not the proper time now for putting questions to this monk, as he is going for alms through the streets. I had better follow behind him after the manner of supplicants.” And he did so.

Then, when the elder had finished his alms round and was seeking a quiet place to eat his meal, Upatissa spread out his own sitting cloth and offered the seat to the elder. The Elder Assaji sat down and took his meal, after which Upatissa served him with water from his own water-container, and in this way performed toward Assaji the duties of a pupil to a teacher.

After they had exchanged the usual courteous greetings, Upatissa said: “Serene are your features, friend. Pure and bright is your complexion. Under whom have you gone forth as an ascetic? Who is your teacher and whose doctrine do you profess?”


Assaji replied: “There is, friend, a great recluse, a scion of the Sākyas, who has gone forth from the Sākya clan. I have gone forth under him, the Blessed One. 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 teaching. I shall show him how profound this teaching 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 doctrine 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 use to me are many words

In response, the Elder Assaji uttered this stanza:

Of those things that arise from a cause,

The Tathāgata has told the cause,

And also what their cessation is:

This is the doctrine of the Great Recluse

Upon hearing the first two lines, there arose in the wanderer Upatissa the dust-free, stainless vision of the Dhamma—the first glimpse of the Deathless, the path of stream-entry—and to the ending of the last two lines he already listened as a stream-enterer.

At once he knew: “Here the means of deliverance is to be found!”

And he said to the elder: “Do not enlarge upon this exposition of the Dhamma, venerable sir. This much will suffice. But where does our Master live?”

“In the Bamboo Grove, wanderer.”

“Then please go ahead, venerable sir. I have a friend with whom I have made an agreement to share the Dhamma. I shall inform him, and together we shall follow you and come into the Master’s presence.”

 Upatissa then prostrated himself at the elder’s feet and went back to the park of the wanderers.

Kolita saw him approaching and immediately knew: “Today my friend’s appearance is quite changed. Surely, he must have found the Deathless.”


And when he inquired, Upatissa replied: “Yes, friend, the Deathless has been found!”


He told him all about his meeting with the Elder Assaji, and when he recited the stanza he had heard, Kolita too was established in the fruit of stream-entry.

“Where, my dear, does the Master live?” he asked.


“I learned from our teacher, the Elder Assaji, that he lives at the Bamboo Grove.”

“Then let us go, Upatissa, and see the Master,” said Kolita.

But Sāriputta was one who always respected his teacher, and therefore he said to his friend:

First, my dear, we should go to our teacher, the wanderer Sañjaya, and tell him that we have found the Deathless. If he can grasp it, he will penetrate to the truth. And even if he does not, he may, out of confidence in us, come with us to see the Master; and hearing the Buddha’s teaching, he will attain to the penetration of the path and fruition.”


So both of them went to Sañjaya and said:

“O teacher! A Buddha has appeared in the world! His doctrine is well proclaimed and his community of monks is following the right path. Let us go and see the Master.”

“What are you saying, my dear?” Sañjaya exclaimed. And refusing to go with them, he offered to appoint them as co-leaders of his community, speaking of the gain and fame such a position would bring them.

But the two wanderers refused to be deflected from their decision, saying: “Oh, we would not mind always remaining pupils. But you, teacher, must know for yourself whether to go or not.”

Then Sañjaya thought: “If they know so much, they will not listen to what I say.” And realizing this, he replied: “You may go, then, but I cannot.”

“Why not, teacher?”


“I am a teacher of many. If I were to revert to the state of a disciple, it would be as if a huge water tank were to change into a small pitcher. I cannot live the life of a pupil now.”

“Do not think like that, teacher!” they urged.

“Let it be, my dear. You may go, but I cannot.”

“O teacher! When a Buddha has appeared in the world, people flock to him in large crowds and pay homage to him, carrying incense and flowers. We too shall go there. And then what will happen to you?”

To which Sañjaya replied: “What do you think, my pupils: are there more fools in this world, or more wise people?”

“Fools there are many, O teacher, and the wise are few.”


“If that is so, my friends, then the wise ones will go to the wise recluse Gotama, and the fools will come to me, the fool. You may go now, but I shall not.”

So the two friends left, saying: “You will come to understand your mistake, teacher!”

And after they had gone, there was a split among Sañjaya’s pupils, and his monastery became almost empty. Seeing his place deserted, Sañjaya vomited hot blood. Five hundred of his disciples had left along with Upatissa and Kolita, out of whom 250 returned to Sañjaya. With the remaining 250, and their own following, the two friends arrived at the Bamboo Grove Monastery.

There the Master, seated among the fourfold assembly, was preaching the Dhamma, and when he saw the two wanderers coming, he addressed the monks:

“These two friends, Upatissa and Kolita, who are now approaching, will be my two chief disciples, an excellent pair.”

Having arrived, the friends bowed low in homage to the Blessed One and sat down at one side. When they were seated, they said to the Master:

“May we obtain, Lord, the going forth under the Blessed One, may we obtain the higher ordination.”

And the Blessed One said: “Come, bhikkhus! Well proclaimed is the Dhamma. Now live the life of purity to make an end of suffering.”

This alone served as the ordination of these venerable ones.

Then the Master continued his discourse, taking the individual temperaments of the listeners into consideration; and with the exception of Upatissa and Kolita all of them attained to arahantship. But on that occasion the two friends did not attain the higher paths and fruits. For them a longer period of preparatory training was needed in order that they could fulfil their personal destiny, that of serving as the Blessed One’s chief disciples.

After their entry into the Buddhist Order, the texts always refer to Upatissa by the name Sāriputta, while Kolita is always called Mahāmoggallāna.

For his intensive training Moggallāna went to live at a village near Magadha named Kallavālaputta, on which he depended for alms. On the seventh day after his ordination, when he was engaged in intense meditation, he was troubled by fatigue and torpor. But spurred on by the Master, he dispelled his fatigue, and while listening to the Master expound the meditation subject of the elements (dhātukammaṭṭhāna), he won the three higher paths and reached the acme of a chief disciple’s perfection.

But the Venerable Sāriputta continued to stay near the Master at a cave called the Boar’s Shelter (sūkarakhata-leṇa), depending on Rājagaha for his alms. Half a month after his ordination the Blessed One gave a discourse to Sāriputta’s nephew, the wandering ascetic Dīghanakha.  Sāriputta was standing behind the Master, fanning him. While listening to the discourse and following it attentively with his mind, as though sharing the food prepared for another, Sāriputta reached the acme of knowledge pertaining to a disciples perfectionand attained to arahantship together with the four analytical knowledges (paṭisambhidā- ñāṇa).

His nephew, at the end of the sermon, was established in the fruit of stream-entry.

Now it may be asked: ‘Did not Sāriputta possess great wisdom? And if so, why did he attain arahantship later than Moggallāna?’ The answer, according to the commentaries, is because of the greatness of the preparations required.

When poor people want to go anywhere, they take to the road at once; but in the case of kings, extensive preparations must be made, and these require time. And so too is it in order to become the first chief disciple of a Buddha.

On that same day, when the evening shadows had lengthened, the Master called his disciples to assembly and bestowed upon the two elders the rank of chief disciples. At this, some monks were displeased and murmured among themselves:

“The Master should have given the rank of chief disciples to those who were ordained first, that is, the group of five disciples; or if not to them, then either to the group of fifty-five bhikkhus headed by Yasa, or to the thirty of the auspicious group (bhaddavaggiya), or else to the three Kassapa brothers. But passing over all these great elders, he has given it to those whose ordination was the very last of all.”

The Master inquired about the subject of their talk. When they told him, he said:

“I do not show preference, but give to each what he has aspired to. When, for instance, Aññā Koṇḍañña in a previous life gave alms nine times during a single harvest, he did not aspire to chief discipleship; his aspiration was to be the very first to penetrate to the highest state, arahantship. And so it came about.


But many aeons ago, at the time of the Buddha Anomadassi, Sāriputta and Moggallāna made the aspiration for chief discipleship, and now the conditions for the fulfilment of that aspiration have ripened.


Hence, I have given them just what they aspired to, and did not do so out of preference.


To be continued……