Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

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

090 – Moggallana

Moggallana and Sariputta on the foot of the Buddha
(Courtesy: Sakyamuni: An Exhibition of Rare Thankas Central
Institute of Buddhist Studies Choglamsar Leh; p.20)

M oggallana, popularly known as Maha Moggallana in the Pali tradition, was one of the two chief disciples of the Buddha. He was ordained along with Sariputta; and on the same day the Buddha, too, had declared that they were the Chief Disciples. As Sariputta was best known for his wisdom, Moggallana was best known for the possession of the supernatural powers. For example, he was capable of creating manifold living shapes; and assuming any form. Further, he shook the monastery called Migaramatupasada by the touch of his great toe to warn some monks who were gossiping on the ground floor despite the knowledge that the Buddha was upstairs.

Moggallana was born on the same day when Sariputta was born. He derived his name from his mother who was called Moggali (or Moggallani). He was also called Kolita, which was the name of his village. The friendship between the families of Moggallana and Sariputta existed for seven generations; and the two were the friends since their childhood. Once, the two friends went to see a mime-play (giraggasamajja) and realised through the play that the “world itself is a drama” as “all the worldly things are impermanent”. This realisation made them renounce the world. First, they became the disciples of Sanjaya; and when dissatisfied with his teachings they wandered all over the Indian subcontinent to discuss with the scholars of the time. Eventually, not being satisfied by them they separated with the understanding that each would inform the other of any worthy discovery.

So, when Sariputta heard a discourse of Assaji, a disciple of the Buddha, he was impressed with his doctrine and became a Sotapanna. He then went to Moggallana to inform him of his discovery; who in turn also became a Sotapanna, soon after hearing the teaching of the Buddha. The two then marched to the Buddha along with five hundred disciples of Sanjaya. They all met the Buddha and heard his discourse and became the arahatas but for the two, Moggallana and Sariputta. Moggallana then went to the hamlet of Kallavala in Magadha and a week after his ordination he, too, attained a high stage of trance, where he received the exhortation of the Buddha and finally achieved the arahatahood.

Moggallana’s demonstration of the great supernatural power was best exemplified in the subjugation of the great serpent called the Naga Nandopananda, as he could enter the fourth stage of the trance most quickly.

When there was a schism in the Order engendered by Devadatta, the Buddha sent the two chief disciples to Gayasisa to bring back the misguided monks. Both the monks accomplished their task by bringing back all the five hundred monks to the order. If Sariputta was the preceptor of Rahula (the son of the Buddha); Moggallana was his teacher. Both Sariputta and Moggallana had a mutual request for each other. Moggallana died a fortnight after Sariputta on a new moon night.

Moggallana’s end was pathetic as he was beaten and killed by the brigands in his cell in Kalasila. He then crawled and dragged his body with several crushed bones to the Buddha and sought his leave to depart from the world. According to the tradition the cause of his pathetic end was due to his gross misconduct against his old, senile and blind parents in one of his births, as he had undertaken the ill-advice of his wife to carry them to a forest and to beat them to death. He had followed that advice out of his infatuation during that birth. As no one can escape the fruits of the karma, he too had his death in the similar way in his current birth.

Moggallana is identified with numerous characters in the Jataka tales, e.g., Kisavaccha in the Indriya Jataka, the tortoise in the Kurungamiga Jataka, the tiger in the Tittira Jataka, the Garuda king in the Vidhurapandita Jataka and so on.