This particular legend unfolds one incalculable period (asaṅkheyya) and one hundred thousand aeons in the past. At that time the being who was to become the Venerable Sāriputta was born into a rich brahmin family and was given the name Sarada. At the same time the future Moggallāna was born into a wealthy householder family and was named Sirivaddhana. The two families were acquainted, and the boys became playmates and close friends.

On the death of his father, Sarada inherited the vast family fortune. But before long, reflecting in solitude on his own inevitable mortality, he decided to abandon all his property and go forth seeking a path to deliverance. Sarada approached his friend Sirivaddhana and invited him to join him on this quest, but Sirivaddhana, still too strongly attached to the world, refused. Sarada, however, was firm in his decision. He gave away all his wealth, left the household, and took up the life of a matted-hair ascetic. Quickly, and without difficulty, he mastered the mundane meditative attainments and supernormal powers and attracted to himself a band of disciples. Thus, his hermitage gradually became home to a large community of ascetics.

At this time the Buddha Anomadassi—the eighteenth Buddha, counting back from the present Buddha Gotama—had arisen in the world. One day, on emerging from meditative absorption, the Buddha Anomadassi cast his ‘net of knowledge’ out upon the world and beheld the ascetic Sarada and his retinue. Realizing that a visit to this community would bring great benefits to many beings, he left behind his monks and journeyed to their hermitage alone. Sarada noticed the marks of physical excellence on the body of his visitor and at once understood that his guest was a Fully Enlightened One. He humbly offered him a seat of honour and provided him with a meal from the food gathered by his disciples.

Meanwhile the Buddha’s monks had come to join him at the hermitage—one hundred thousand arahants free from all defilements, led by the two chief disciples, Nisabha and Anoma. To honour the Buddha the ascetic Sarada took a large canopy of flowers and, standing behind the Blessed One, held it over his head. The Master entered the attainment of cessation (nirodhasamāpatti)—the meditative state wherein perception, feeling, and other mental processes utterly cease. He remained absorbed in this state for a full week, while throughout that entire week Sarada stood behind him holding aloft the canopy of flowers.

At the end of the week the Buddha emerged from the attainment of cessation and requested his two chief disciples to give talks to the community of ascetics. When they had finished speaking, he himself spoke, and at the end of his discourse all the ascetic pupils of Sarada attained arahantship and asked to be admitted to the Buddha’s order of monks. Sarada, however, did not attain arahantship, nor any other stage of sanctity. For as he listened to the discourse of the chief disciple Nisabha, and observed his pleasing deportment, the aspiration arose in his mind to become the first chief disciple of a Buddha in the future. Thus, when the proceedings were finished, he approached the Buddha Anomadassi, prostrated himself at his feet, and declared:

“Lord, as the fruit of the act of homage I performed toward you by holding the canopy of flowers over you for a week, I do not aspire for rulership over the gods, nor for the status of Mahābrahmā, nor for any other fruit but this: that in the future I might become the chief disciple of a Fully Enlightened One.”


The Master thought, ‘Will his aspiration succeed?’ And sending

out his knowledge into the future, he saw that it would.

Then he spoke to Sarada thus: “This aspiration of yours will not be barren. In the future, after an incalculable age and one hundred thousand aeons, a Buddha by the name of Gotama will arise in the world, and you will be his first chief disciple, the Marshal of the Dhamma, named Sāriputta.

After the Buddha left, Sarada went to his friend Sirivaddhana and urged him to make an aspiration to become the second chief disciple of the Buddha Gotama. Sirivaddhana had a lavish alms hall built and, after all the preparations were complete, invited the Master and his monks to come for an alms meal. For a full week Sirivaddhana provided the Buddha and the monks with their daily meal. At the end of the festivities, having offered costly robes to all the monks, he approached the Buddha and announced: “By the power of this merit, may I become the second chief disciple of the same Buddha under whom my friend Sarada will become the first chief disciple!”

The Master looked into the future, and seeing that the aspiration would be fulfilled, he gave Sirivaddhana the prediction: he would become the second chief disciple of the Buddha Gotama, a monk of great power and might known by the name Moggallāna.

After the two friends had received their respective predictions,

each devoted himself to good deeds in his own proper sphere. Sirivaddhana, as a lay devotee, looked after the needs of the Sangha and performed various works of charity.

Sarada, as an ascetic, continued with his meditative life. On their deaths Sirivaddhana was reborn in a sense-sphere heavenly world, while Sarada, having mastered the meditative attainments and the divine abodes (brahmavihāra), was reborn in the Brahma-world.


The Buddha declares that all the Buddhas of the past had a pair of chief disciples such as he had in Sāriputta and Moggallāna, and all the Buddhas to arise in the future will likewise have such a pair.

From such statements we can see that the posts of chief discipleship are inherent in the very nature of the Buddha’s Dispensation. Thus, in appointing two monks as chief disciples our Buddha Gotama was not acting according to his own caprice but was conforming to a timeless paradigm—a paradigm followed by all the Fully Enlightened Ones of the past and to be followed by all their successors in the future.

The basic functions of the chief disciples within the Dispensation may be enumerated as threefold: to help the Master in consolidating the Dhamma and thereby in making it a vehicle of spiritual transformation and deliverance for as many beings as possible, both human and celestial; to serve as models for the other monks to emulate and to supervise their training; and to assist in the administration of the Sangha, particularly when the Blessed One goes into solitary retreat or travels alone on an urgent mission.


Always the Buddha remains the final authority at the head of the Dispensation, and the appointment of chief disciples does not represent in any way a democratic ‘devolution of powers’: the Blessed One is the sole source of the teachings, the revealer of the path, the ‘supreme charioteer of persons to be tamed.’  But just as a king requires ministers to supervise the affairs of state, so the Buddha, the King of the Dhamma (dhammarājā), delegates responsibility for particular spheres of training to his best-qualified disciples in each area.


Naturally, the most demanding tasks fall on the two chief disciples, who possess the acumen and ability needed to discharge them most effectively. We thus can see that appointment to chief discipleship is far from being an entitlement to special perks and privileges.


To be appointed a chief disciple is to shoulder an immensely heavy responsibility in all areas of the Dispensation. It is to share the Buddha’s burden of compassion and to work in closest cooperation with him to ensure that the Dhamma becomes ‘successful and prosperous, extended, popular, widespread, well proclaimed among devas and humans’


The reason the Buddhas always appoint two chief disciples seems to be to achieve an optimal balance between the spheres of responsibility and the human aptitudes available to meet them.

A Buddha unites in his own person all perfections; he is ‘the sage perfect in all respects’ (sabbaṅgasampanna muni), But human beings of lesser stature, even enlightened arahants, will display diversities in their characters and talents that qualify them for different tasks.

Thus, to supervise the main areas of responsibility, a Buddha is invariably attended by two chief disciples, one constantly at his right hand, the other at his left.

Of the two, the right-hand disciple, the one regarded as closest to the Blessed One, is the disciple distinguished by excellence of wisdom (mahāpaññā). In the case of the Buddha Gotama, this was the Venerable Sāriputta.

His special task in the Dispensation is the systematisation of the doctrine and the detailed analysis of its content.


By means of his deep insight into the ultimate truth and his sharp discernment of the sphere of differentiated phenomena (dhammadhātu) he is responsible for drawing out the subtle implications of the Dhamma and for explicating its meaning with a wealth of detail that the Buddha, as head of the Dispensation, cannot personally attend to himself.


The other chief disciple, who stands at the Buddha’s left hand, is distinguished by his versatility in the exercise of spiritual power (iddhi). In the Buddha Gotama’s Sangha this position was held by the Venerable Mahāmoggallāna. Such spiritual power is not a means of dominating others or of self-aggrandizement but must be founded upon a perfect realization of selflessness.


The power springs specifically from mastery over the sphere of concentration (samādhi), which opens up a profound comprehension of the fundamental forces that govern mind and matter and their subtle interconnections. Guided by the compassionate ideals of the Dhamma, this power is used to remove obstacles to the secure establishment of the Dispensation in the world and to transform other beings who cannot be easily reached by the gentler transformative approach of verbal instruction.


The relationship in which the two chief disciples stood to one another in the matter of teaching the Dhamma was explained by the Buddha in the ‘Saccavibhaṅga Sutta’:

Associate, O monks, with Sāriputta and Moggallāna, and keep company with them! They are wise bhikkhus and helpers of their fellow monks. Sāriputta is like a mother who brings forth, and Moggallāna is like a nurse to the newborn child. Sāriputta trains (his pupils) in the fruition of stream-entry, and Moggallāna trains them for the highest goal.

In explanation of this passage, the Majjhima Commentary says: ‘When Sāriputta accepted pupils for training, whether they were ordained by him or by others, he favoured them with his material and spiritual help, looked after them in sickness, gave them a subject of meditation, and at last, when he knew that they had become stream- enterers and had risen above the dangers of the lower worlds, he dismissed them in the confident knowledge, ‘now they can, by their own manly strength, produce the higher stages of holiness.’ Having thus become free from concern about their future, he instructed new groups of pupils. But Moggallāna, when training pupils in the same way, did not give up concern for them until they had attained arahantship. This was because he felt, as was said by the Master: ‘As even a little excrement is of evil smell, I do not praise even the shortest spell of existence, be it no longer

the shortest spell of existence, be it no longer than a snap of the fingers.’”

It is said that whenever Sāriputta gave advice, he showed infinite patience; he would admonish and instruct up to a hundred or a thousand times, until his pupil was established in the fruition of stream-entry. Only then did he discharge him and give his advice to others.


Very great was the number of those who, after receiving his instruction and following it faithfully, attained to arahantship. But although the Majjhima Commentary states that Sāriputta used to lead his regular pupils only up to stream-entry, in individual cases he helped monks to attain the higher stages.


The Udāna Commentary, for example, says that “at that time bhikkhus in higher training often used to approach the Venerable Sāriputta for a subject of meditation that could help them to attain the three higher paths.” It was after taking instruction from Sāriputta that the Elder Lakuṇtaka Bhaddiya attained arahantship, having been a stream-enterer at the time.


As chief disciples, Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna shared the responsibility for supervising the affairs of the Sangha under the immediate direction of the Blessed One, and they were the ones expected to take charge in the Master’s absence.

Often the Buddha charged the two chief disciples with special missions arising out of pressing circumstances. One such occasion was when he dispatched them to win back a group of young monks who were being led astray by Devadatta, the Buddha’s ambitious cousin.

After Devadatta had formally split the Sangha by declaring that he would conduct Sangha acts separately, he went to Vultures’ Peak with five hundred young monks whom he had persuaded to become his followers. The Buddha sent Sāriputta and Moggallāna to Vultures’ Peak in order to win them back. When Devadatta saw the two elders’ approach, he assumed that they had decided to forsake the Buddha and join his faction.

He extended to them a warm welcome and treated them as if they were now his chief disciples. In the evening, while Devadatta was resting, the two elders preached to the monks, led them to the attainment of stream-entry, and convinced them to return to the Blessed One.



Among the bhikkhus Sāriputta was outstanding as one who helped others. In the Devadaha Sutta, the Buddha himself said of his great disciple, Sāriputta, bhikkhus, is wise, and a helper of his fellow monks. The commentary, in explanation of these words, refers to a traditional distinction among the ways of helping others: ‘Sāriputta was a helper in two ways: by giving material help (āmisānuggaha) and by giving the help of the Dhamma (dhammānuggaha).’


Elaborating on the way he provided ‘material help,’ the commentary says that the elder did not go on alms round in the early morning hours as the other bhikkhus did. Instead, when they had all gone, he walked around the entire monastery grounds, and wherever he saw an unswept place, he swept it; wherever refuse had not been removed, he threw it away; where furniture such as beds and chairs or earthenware had not been properly arranged, he put them in order.

He did this so that the non-Buddhist ascetics who might visit the monastery would not see any disorderliness and speak in contempt of the bhikkhus.


Then he used to go to the hall for the sick, and having spoken consoling words to the patients, he would ask them about their needs. To procure their requirements he took with him young novices and went in search of medicine either by way of the customary alms round or to some appropriate place.

When the medicine was obtained, he would give it to the novices, saying: “Caring for the sick has been praised by the Master. Go now, good people, and be heedful!” After sending them back to the monastery sick room he would go on the alms round or take his meal at a supporter’s house.


The above was his routine when staying for some time at a monastery. But when going on a journey on foot with the Blessed One, he did not walk at the head of the procession, shod with sandals and umbrella in hand, as one who thinks: ‘I am the chief disciple.’  Rather, he would let the young novices take his bowl and robes and go on ahead with the others, while he himself would first attend to those who were old, very young, or unwell, making them apply oil to any sores they might have on their bodies.

Then, either later on the same day or on the next day, he would leave together with them.


Because of his solicitude for others, on one occasion Sāriputta arrived particularly late at the place where the others were resting. For this reason, he did not get proper quarters and had to pass the night seated under a tent made from robes. Having seen this, the next day the Master caused the monks to assemble and told them the ‘Tittira Jātaka’, the story of the elephant, the monkey, and the partridge who, after deciding which was the eldest of them, lived together showing respect for the most senior. He then laid down the rule that ‘lodgings should be allocated according to seniority’


Sometimes arahant Sāriputta would give material help and the help of the Dhamma together. For example, when the monk Samitigutta was suffering from leprosy in the infirmary, Sāriputta went to visit him and spoke to him thus:

Friend, so long as the five aggregates (khandhā) continue, all feeling is just suffering. Only when the aggregates are no more is there no more suffering.

Having thus given him the contemplation of feelings as a subject of meditation, Sāriputta left. Samitigutta followed the elder’s instruction, developed insight, and realized the six supernormal powers (chaṭabhiññā) as an arahant.


The Dhammapada Commentary records an incident that epitomizes still another outstanding trait of the chief disciple, his patience and forbearance. In the neighbourhood of the Jetavana monastery, where the Buddha was residing, a group of men were praising the noble qualities of Sāriputta. Such great patience has in our elder, they said, that even when people abuse him and strike him, he feels no trace of anger.

“Who is this that never gets angry?” The question came from a brahmin, a holder of false views. And when they told him, “It is our elder, Sāriputta, he retorted: That must be because nobody has ever provoked him.

“That is not so, brahmin,” they replied. “Well, then, I will provoke him to anger.”

“Provoke him to anger if you can!”

“Leave it to me,” said the brahmin. “I know just what to do to him.”

When the Venerable Sāriputta entered the city on his alms round, the brahmin approached him from behind and gave him a tremendous blow on the back. What was that? said Sāriputta; and without so much as turning to look, he continued on his way.


The fire of remorse leapt up in every part of the brahmin’s body. Prostrating himself at the elder’s feet, he begged for pardon. “For what?” asked the elder, mildly. “To test your patience I struck you,” the penitent brahmin replied. “Very well, I pardon you.”


“Venerable sir,” the brahmin said, “if you are willing to pardon me, please take your food at my house.” When the elder silently consented, the brahmin took his bowl and led him to his house, where he served him a meal.

But those who saw the assault were enraged. They gathered at the brahmin’s house, armed with sticks and stones, ready to kill him. When Sāriputta emerged, accompanied by the brahmin carrying his bowl, they cried out: Venerable sir, order this brahmin to turn back!

Why, lay disciples? asked the elder. They replied: The man

struck you, and we are going to give him what he deserves!”


“But what do you mean? Was it you or me that he struck?”

“It was you, venerable sir.”

“Well, if it was me he struck, he has begged my pardon. Go your ways.” And so, dismissing the people and permitting the brahmin to return, the great elder calmly made his way back to the monastery.


The Venerable Sāriputta’s humility was as great as his patience. He was willing to receive correction from anyone, not only with submission but with gratitude.


It is told in the commentary to the Susīma Sutta that once, through momentary negligence, a corner of the elder’s under-robe was hanging down, and a seven-year- old novice, seeing this, pointed it out to him. Sāriputta stepped aside at once and arranged the garment in the proper way, and then he stood before the novice with folded hands, saying: “Now it is correct, teacher!”


There is a reference to this incident in the Milindapañhā, where these verses are ascribed to Sāriputta:


If one who has gone forth this day at the age of seven

Should teach me, I accept it with lowered head;

At sight of him I show my zeal and respect;

May I always set him in the teacher’s place.


It was no wonder, therefore, that throughout his life he continued to show respect for the Venerable Assaji, from whom he had gained his introduction to the Buddha’s Teaching. We are told in the commentary to the Nāvā Sutta (Suttanipāta), and also in the commentary to the Dhammapada, that whenever arahant Sāriputta lived in the same monastery as the Elder Assaji, immediately after having paid homage to the Blessed One, he always went to venerate the great elder, thinking: ‘This venerable one was my first teacher. It was through him that I came to know the Buddha’s Dispensation.’ And when the Elder Assaji lived in another monastery, Sāriputta Thero used to face the direction in which he was living and pay homage to him by touching the ground at five places (with the head, hands, and feet), and saluting him with joined palms.

But this led to misunderstanding, for when other monks saw Sāriputta acting thus they said: After becoming a chief disciple, Sāriputta still worships the heavenly quarters! Even today he cannot give up his brahmanical views! When these complaints reached the Blessed One, he said: “It is not so, bhikkhus. Sāriputta does not worship the heavenly quarters. He salutes the one through whom he first learned the Dhamma, and worships and reveres him as his teacher. Sāriputta is one who gives devout respect to his teacher.”


It was then that the Master preached to the monks the Nāvā Sutta, which starts with the words:

As the devas pay devout homage to Indra,

So one should revere the person

Through whom one has learnt the Dhamma.


 Another example of the Venerable Sāriputta’s gratitude is given in the story of the Elder Rādha. The commentary to the Dhammapada relates that Rādha was a poor brahmin who stayed at the Jetavana monastery at Sāvatthī. He served as a temple hand, performing little services such as weeding, sweeping, and the like, and the monks supported him with food.


When he asked to be ordained, however, the monks did not want to ordain him. One day the Blessed One, in his mental survey of the world, saw that this brahmin was mature for arahantship. He inquired about him from the assembled monks, and asked whether any one of them remembered ever receiving some help from the poor brahmin.

Sāriputta said that he remembered an occasion when he was going for alms in Rājagaha and this poor brahmin had given him a ladleful of alms food that he had begged for himself.


The Master asked Sāriputta to ordain the man, which he did. Sāriputta then advised him and again as to what things should be done and what should be avoided. Rādha always received his admonitions gladly, without resentment, and in a short time he attained arahantship. On this occasion the bhikkhus extolled Sāriputta’s sense of gratitude and said that he who himself willingly accepts advice and obtains pupils who do the same. Commenting on this, the Buddha said that not only then but also formerly Sāriputta had shown gratitude and remembered any good deed done to him.

And in that connection the Master told the Alīnacitta in which Sāriputta was a grateful elephant who dedicated his life to helping a team of carpenters that had nursed him when he was wounded.

The Venerable Sāriputta’s powers of forbearance and humility came to the fore on an occasion when he was the victim of a false accusation. This incident took place when he was dwelling at Jetavana. At the end of the rains retreat the elder took leave of the Master and departed with his own retinue of monks on a journey. A large number of monks also took leave of Sāriputta, and in dismissing them he addressed by name those who were known to him by their personal and family names.


Among them there was a monk who was not known by his personal and family name, but a strong desire arose in him that the chief disciple should address him by those names in taking his departure. In the great throng of monks, however, Sāriputta did not give him this distinction, and the monk was aggrieved. He does not greet me as he does the other monks, he thought, and conceived a grudge against Sāriputta.

At the same time, it chanced that the hem of the elder’s robe brushed against him, and this added to his grievance. He approached the Buddha and complained:

“Lord, the Venerable Sāriputta, doubtless thinking to himself, I am the chief disciple, struck me a blow that almost damaged my ear. And having done that, without so much as begging my pardon, he set out on his journey.

The Buddha summoned Sāriputta into his presence.

Meanwhile, Mahāmoggallāna and Ānanda, knowing that a calumny was about to be exposed, summoned all the monks, convoking an assembly. “Approach, venerable sirs!” they called.

“When the Venerable Sāriputta is face to face with the Master, he will roar his lion’s roar.”


And so it came about. When the Master questioned the great elder, instead of denying the charge he said:

 “O Lord, one who is not firmly established in the contemplation of the body with regard to his body, such a one may be able to hurt a fellow monk and leave without apologizing.”

Then followed Sāriputta’s lion’s roar.

He compared his freedom from anger and hatred with the patience of the earth which receives all things, clean and unclean; his tranquillity of mind to a bull with severed horns, to a lowly outcast youth, to water, fire and wind, and to the removal of impurity; he compared the oppression he felt from his own body to the oppression of snakes and corpses, and the maintenance of his body to that of fatty excrescences.


In nine similes he described his own virtues, and nine times the great earth responded to the words of truth. The entire assembly was moved by the majestic force of his utterance.


As the elder proclaimed his virtues, remorse filled the monk who had unjustly maligned him. Immediately, he fell at the feet of the Blessed One, admitting his slander and confessing his fault.


Thereupon the Buddha said:

“Sāriputta, pardon this deluded man, lest his head should split into seven pieces.

Sāriputta’s reply was: “Venerable sir, I freely pardon this venerable monk.

And, with joined palms, he added, May this venerable monk also pardon me if I have in any way offended him.

In this way they were reconciled. The other monks were filled with admiration, saying:

See, brethren, the extraordinary goodness of the elder! He cherishes neither anger nor hatred against this lying, slanderous monk! Instead, he crouches before him, stretches his hands in reverence, and asks his pardon.”

The Buddha’s comment was: “Monks, it is impossible for Sāriputta and his like to cherish anger or hatred. Sāriputtas mind is like the great earth, firm like a gate post, like a pool of still water.

He then recited the following verse:

Unresentful like the earth, firm like a gate post,

Equipoised and strong in vows,

Mind without impurities like a pool:

For such a one the round of births exists no more.


Another incident of this nature did not end so happily, for the slanderer refused to admit his fault. He was a monk named Kokālika, who approached the Buddha with a slander against the two chief disciples: Sāriputta and Moggallāna have bad intentions, Lord, he said. They are in the grip of evil ambition.

The Master replied:

“Do not say so, Kokālika! Do not say so! Have friendly and trustful thoughts towards Sāriputta and Moggallāna! They are of good and lovable behaviour!

But the misguided Kokālika paid no heed to the Buddha’s words. He persisted with his false accusation, and soon after that his whole body became covered with boils, which continued to grow until eventually he died of his illness and was reborn in hell.

A comparison of these two incidents reveals the importance of penitence. Neither Sāriputta nor Moggallāna bore the monk Kokālika any ill will for his malice, and his apologies, had he offered them, would have made no difference to the attitude of the two chief disciples. But they would have benefited the erring monk himself, averting the consequences of his bad kamma. Evil rebounds upon those who direct it toward the innocent, and so Kokālika was judged and punished by himself, through his own deeds.

To be Continued………