Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C. B. Varma Introduction | Glossary | Bibliography

089 – Sariputta

Sariputta in meditation with the shaven head, which tempted the yaksa to give a blow there

T he two most prominent disciples of the Buddha were Moggallana and Sariputta. They are called the Dhamma-Senapati-s (Commander-in-Chief of the Buddhist dharma). Sariputta is also called the “chief disciple (aggasavaka) of the Buddha.” His real name was Upatissa, yet he was called Sariputta in the Buddhist tradition because he was the son (putta) of Rupasari, a Brahmin woman of the Nalaka village. He is particularly known for the firmity of his vow; and strong determination. He was also entrusted with the ordination of Rahula, the son of Gotama.

He was the first on the earth to have received the teachings of Abhidhamma – the kernel or the essentials of the Buddhist doctrine – on this earth; and the only one among the human beings to have learnt the same directly from the Buddha. He was, therefore, the first acharya to have carried forward the lamp of Abhidhamma on the planet; and thus to initiate the acharya-disciple tradition, which in turn was perpetuated in the like manner through Bhaddaji, Sobhita, Piyajali, Piyapala, Piyadassi, Kosiyaputta, Siggava, Sandeha, Moggalliputta, Sudatta, Dhammiya, Dasaka, Sonaka and Revata; and then through Mahinda, Ittiya, Sambala, Pandita, and Bhaddanama it reached Sri Lanka. Interestingly, this tradition is still alive in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand; though withered away in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Cambodia.

When the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma to his mother in Tavatimsa loka by sitting on the Sakka’s throne under the Paricchataka tree; he would then descend to the lake Anottapa every day to teach the same to Sariputta for three months by creating his own form (the Nimmitta Buddha) there. So, Sariputta became the first among the monks to have learnt Abhidhamma – “the doctrine of all-that-is-within-and-without”. Sariputta, in turn, then taught it to his five hundred disciples every day. Thus, when the Buddha concluded his sermons in Tavatimsa the seven books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, too, were compiled by the following day.

An interesting story is related to Sariputta and a yakkha (Sanskrit: yaksa; spirit). Once at night when Sariputta was deeply engrossed in meditation with his shaven head a yakkha, flying in the sky saw the shining head of Sariputta in the moonlit night. Tempted at the sight, he dealt a powerful blow on the monk’s head. The blow was powerful enough to crumble a mountain. Yet, that did not inflict any damaging effect on the monk except to that he felt a mild headache after the completion of his meditation.

According to the Pali Jatakas Sariputta was born as Krishna (Kanha) in one of his births. Furthermore, his characters in the Jatakas are numerous. He died a fortnight before Moggallana’s death.

Note: It is noteworthy that in the Pali tradition Sariputta was born as Kanha (Krishna) in one of his births (contrary to the belief that the Bodhisatta was born as Krishna). The Bodhisatta was, however, born as a great sage Kanha Dipayana during those days, and it was due to his curse that the lineage of the Vasudeva was eventually destroyed. See Ghata Jataka No.454. As a second Kanha he was born as a great ascetic with the name Kanha Tapassa (Kanha Jataka No.440).

Further, it is interesting to note that the Pali tradition, too, admits that the Buddha was once born as a great monarch with the name Rama Pandita in one of his births and had lived for twenty-thousand years.

See Dasaratha Jataka No.461.