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Barbara O'Brien

The First Disciples

By July 5, 2012

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I've been writing biographies of the Buddha's major disciples.  I haven't gotten to them all yet. As I research, I keep running into new ones.

The biographical information we have about the disciples is, of course, more folklore than history. Still, sometimes through the mythic mists of time you can get a glimpse of a real person with a very human story. For example, Maudgalyayana (or Moggallana in Pali) struggled to stay awake during meditation -- a problem many of us can relate to.

Anathapindika was the wealthy layman who built the first monastery, in Jeta Grove. It is remembered that he was determined not to ask for special treatment because of his generosity. When he went to hear the Buddha speak, he would sit to one side and not ask questions, but would wait for the Buddha to address him if he chose.

I found Anathapindika's modesty very moving. He was a true bodhisattva, showing more concern for the enlightenment of others than for himself.

When he was on his deathbed, Anathapindika sent for the Buddha's disciples Sariputra and Ananda instead of the Buddha himself, because he was too modest to make demands of the Buddha. His last wish was to make the Buddha's highest teachings more widely available to laypeople.

Another disciple I hadn't known much about was Upali. Upali was a low-caste barber who had become a favorite of some of the Buddha's princely kinsmen. When some of his clients chose to become disciples of the Buddha, Upali followed them.

Upali feared the Buddha would reject him as a disciple because of his low birth. Instead, the Buddha insisted on ordaining Upali first, before the princes, which made him their superior in the monastic order. Very sweet story.

The Buddha's son Rahula also became a disciple, when he was only about nine years old. Most of the stories about Rahula are about his struggles as a novice monk. It couldn't have been easy to be the Boss's Kid who was treated no differently from the other monks. The Buddha gave his son no special acknowledgment.

In one story, a senior monk entered Rahula's shelter during a heavy rain and took over Rahula's sleeping spot (the sleeping quarters were assigned by seniority). Abruptly turned out in the rain, Rahula found shelter in a latrine.

After a time he heard his father's voice outside, saying "Who is there?" "It is Rahula," the boy replied. "I see," said the Buddha, who walked away. I wonder if the father had heard his son had been left outside in a storm, and was checking on him.

July 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm
(1) Phra Ajahn Bill says:

I love those storys. I have a book written in English in my room in Thailand of about 12 of these guys or so. I pull it out and read it from time to time.

July 5, 2012 at 5:09 pm
(2) Phra Ajahn Bill says:

I love those storys. I have a book written in English in my room in Thailand of about 12 of these guys or so. I pull it out and read it from time to time. What’s amazing is your talking about ordinary men and women who became icons.

July 6, 2012 at 3:55 am
(3) Vinod Veer says:

I found these deciples more intresting as well more motivating. I would like to know is any scrupture or photoes are available with any one pl share.

I would like to share one more deciple of Buddha and he was Ther Talputta, He was an artiest of his time before he became deciple. The most famous quote of his is “Only, you mind, make us Brahmas, you make us Khattiyas, or Kingly seers,One day we became Vessa or Suddas; existance of Deva too is because of you alone”

July 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm
(4) mickeypamo says:

Dear Barbara,
I’m so happy you are researching and writing biographies of realized practitioners and disciples and followers, et. al., of the Buddha. I’ve always been told to study the lives of the masters . . . surely for the purpose of mentorship or as examples of walking Dharma purely. So your book will be welcomed. Let me know if http://TheKarmaPress.com can be of service.
. . . I think the Buddha did not come to check on Rahula. The Buddha may have come to show his son that he, the Buddha was there for him.
I heard that “Rahula” means “baggage” . . . in the context of Prince Siddharta’s departure from his palace, leaving his wife and child. I’m sure the prince loved both and always continued to love them, yet as a wife and child to him, he may have seen the family situation all around him to be too much baggage for his lonely walk. Come to think of it, it is an issue with many an American Buddhist who wants to go beyond householder status to Seeker of Love and Wisdom. Rahula understood.

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