More of Thera Sariputta:
[The Life of Sariputta compiled and translated from the Pali texts by Nyanaponika Thera © 1994–2012]
In the written pages of the Buddhist Tripitaka, the most voluminous and detailed scripture of any religion. next to the Enlightened One himself, Sariputta and Moggallana,the two disciples of his, stand highest in the veneration of Buddhists in the Theravada lands. Their names are as inseparable from the annals of Buddhism as that of the Buddha himself.
Thera Sariputta's life so closely interwoven with the life and ministry of the Buddha that he plays an essential part in it. Even among the Arahats, saints freed from all defilements of passion and delusion, he shone like the full moon in a starry sky.
When the Buddha caused his disciples to assemble and bestowed upon the two Elders the rank of Chief Disciples. At this, some monks were displeased and said 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. If not to them, then either to the group of two hundred and fifty 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 he was told, he said: "I do not show preference, but give to each what he has aspired to. When, for instance, Kondañña-the Knower in a previous life gave almsfood 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, Arahatship. And so it came about. But when Sariputta and Maha Moggallana many aeons ago, at the time of the Buddha Anomadassi, were born as the brahman youth Sarada and landowner Sirivaddhaka, they made the aspiration for Chief Discipleship. This, O bhikkhus, was the aspiration for these my sons at that time. Hence I have given them just what they aspired to, and did not do it out of preference."
This account of the beginning of the Venerable Sariputta's career is taken from the Commentary to the Anguttara Nikaya, Etad-agga section, with some passages from the parallel version in the Dhammapada Commentary. From it some of the principal traits of the Venerable Sariputta's character are already discernible. His capacity for deep and constant friendship showed itself while he was still a worldling, a youth nurtured in luxury and pleasure, and it persisted after he had abandoned the household life. On receiving his first insight into the Dhamma, and before proceeding any further, his first thought was for his friend Kolita and the vow they had sworn together. His penetrating intellect is revealed in the promptness with which he grasped the essence of the Buddha's teaching from a few simple words. And, most rare of all, he combined that intellectual power with a modesty and sweetness of nature that expressed itself in gratitude and reverence for anyone, even the misguided Sañjaya, who had taught him things of value. 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 Nava Sutta (Sutta-Nipata), and also in the Commentary to v. 392 of the Dhammapada, that whenever the Venerable Sariputta lived in the same monastery as the Elder Assaji, he always went to pay obeisance to him immediately after having done so to the Blessed One. This he did out of reverence, 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, the Venerable Sariputta used to face the direction in which the Elder Assaji was living, and to pay homage to him by touching the ground at five places (with the head, hands and feet), and saluting with joined palms.
But this led to misunderstanding, for when other monks saw it they said: "After becoming a Chief Disciple, Sariputta still worships the heavenly quarters! Even today he cannot give up his brahmanical views!" Hearing these remarks, the Blessed One said: "It is not so, bhikkhus. Sariputta does not worship the heavenly quarters. He salutes him through whom he came to know the Dhamma. It is him he salutes, worships and reveres as his teacher. Sariputta is one who gives devout respect to his teacher." It was then that the Master preached to the monks assembled there the Nava Sutta, which starts with the words:
"As gods their homage pay to Indra,
So should a man give reverence to him
From whom he learned the Dhamma."
Love Buddha's dhamma,
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