statue of Buddha that we see in any Buddhist temple today
is normally accompanied by the statues of His two great
disciples. The one standing at the left side of Buddha's
statue is Maha Mogallan while the one at the right side
is Ananda. However this was not the situation when Buddha
began propagating Dharma. Not long after Buddha attained
enlightenment, Sariputra and Mogallana entered the Sangha
and became His attendants. Mogallana always stood on Buddha's
left while Sariputra stood on His right.
becoming Buddha's disciples, Sariputra attained liberation
from bondage and reincarnation within two weeks while Mogallana
did it in seven days and was already an Arhat with supernatural
was very optimistic and brave and he always took up the
cudgels for justice. In addition, he was pre-eminent above
all Buddha's disciples in terms of supernatural powers as
he always utilized his powers during Dharma propagation.
Though Buddha disallowed His disciples to reveal their divine
power and delude others, He always praised Mogallana for
his supernatural powers.
Past Life - Vow to Attain Supernatural Powers
want to know how Mogallana achieved his supernatural powers,
we have to trace back to his past life.
actually a fisherman in his previous life. Later he realised
that earning his livelihood by catching fish was a karma
of great suffering. He also felt that one must cultivate
merits for a better future life; therefore, he decided to
change his line. Then one day, he met a Pratyeka-buddha
and was impressed with his dignified manner. With reverence,
he invited the Pratyeka-buddha to his house to receive offerings.
As the Pratyeka-buddha was not good in preaching, he could
only use his divine powers to save the world. After his
meal, he jumped into the air and moved freely in all directions.
Mogallana was so impressed that he vowed to attain supernatural
powers in his next life.
there's a will there's a way. Hence, Mogallana finally achieved
pre-eminence in supernatural powers during his next life
when he was Buddha's disciple.
Supernatural Powers - Communication with the Buddha
had the divine powers to hear any sounds, whether near or
far, and to see things through obstructions. He could also
travel to any place he liked in an instant. Many a time
he used his miraculous powers to help Buddha in His propagation
the people of Sravasti gave a banquet to make offering to
the monks and nuns of many religions. Mogallana was the
first guest to arrive at the banquet which was held at a
big square opposite a river.
many heretics also came for the offerings and they hoped
to get the best seat first. Unexpectedly, the river suddenly
rose and they had difficulty on crossing it. Just then,
Mogallana saw Buddha and His disciples approaching from
far. He therefore transformed into a bridge decorated with
gems across the river and awaited Buddha's arrival.
seeing the bridge, the heretics were delighted and they
rushed across the bridge. However, before they could reach
the other side of the river, the bridge collapsed suddenly.
As a result, they fell into the river, all yelling for help.
bridge reappeared across the river when Buddha arrived.
Walking across the bridge with His disciples, Buddha saw
the heretics struggling in the river. The compassionate
Buddha immediately saved the heretics through His supernatural
power and then allowed them to follow Him. Once they reached
the other side of the river, safe and sound, the bridge
vanished in the air.
incident had led the heretics to the conclusion that they
could not stand comparison with the Buddha and His disciples.
Mogallana and Sariputra were assigned to lead the Sangha
and to propagate the Dharma at Karanda-venuvana in Rajagrha.
Both of them stayed in the same meditation room.
night, all was quiet and there was only a lamp glimmering
in the meditation room. In the depth of night, Sariputra
broke the silence and asked Mogallana:" Venerable Mogallana,
pardon my asking a blunt question, but have you been meditating
on one pointedness tonight?"
did you ask this?" Mogallana asked softy in reply.
I have not heard you breathe for quite some time,"
Sariputra, I have gone to seek Buddha's instruction on a
question on the meditation practice. During the silence
just now, I was actually talking to the Buddha."
could it be? Lord Buddha is now in Jetavana in the north
and we are staying at Karandu-venuvana in the south. The
two places are a long way away from each other. How could
you possibly talk to the Buddha?"
Sariputra, the Buddha has divine vision and hearing which
both of us have also attained. That is why we can always
communicate with each other no matter where we are."
matter of fact, Sariputra had known this already, but he
always maintained his modesty. After hearing Mogallana's
words, he was very pleased and said in admiration, "Venerable
Mogallana, it's the highest honour that I can learn with
you under the same teacher because your supernatural powers
and virtues are so great."
replied smilingly, "Venerable Sariputra, I, too, feel
greatly honoured for being able to associate with a wise
and virtuous venerable like you."
and Mogallana respected and admired each other and their
friendship had never faded.
Harmed by Mara
while Mogallana was taking a stroll, a Mara entered his
stomach through divine power. Mogallana felt a pain in the
stomach on which a lump as big as a bowl could be seen.
He quickly went back and meditated in his room. Knowing
that it was a Mara opposing him, he said, " Mara, come
out quick! You should not harass the Buddha and His disciples."
thought, "This is strange! the Buddha does not even
know what I look like. How could Mogallana possibly know?"
Then Mogallana said again, "Mara! I know you are now
wondering how Mogallana got to know what you look like when
Buddha does not even know it."
was very shocked to hear that. He quickly transformed into
saliva and escaped. From then on, he never dared to challenge
could not harm Mogallana and could not shake his determination
to practise the Way.
when Mogallana was passing by a park, he met a very attractive
woman in her thirties. This woman was actually waiting for
him there. When he walked near her, she smiled at him and
tried to talk with him.
stopped to take a look. He immediately knew her intention;
therefore, he said sternly, "Poor woman! Your body
is already filthy and now, instigated by the heretics, you
go against your conscience for the sake of some money and
come to me with evil intention!"
woman was very shocked to hear that. Mogallana continued,
"I knew your intention the moment I saw you. You are
befuddled by your own beauty which fosters the opportunities
for you to commit sins. And your sins have already led you
to sink deeper and deeper!"
rather ashamed, the woman said, "Venerable sir, I have
known beforehand that you are preeminent in supernatural
powers among all Buddha's disciples. I actually intended
to use my charm to defeat your divine power. But now, I
know I am a sinful person. Though I want to be good, I am
afraid I am beyond remedy. As I have a horrible past, there
will be a day of dreadful retribution for my evil deeds."
The woman cried sadly after saying that.
later told Mogallana of her past. She was married at the
age of sixteen and had a daughter. Before long, her father
passed away and her mother later had an intimate relationship
with her husband. She was so furious that she left the family
and remarried another man. Her second husband later had
a mistress who happened to be her own daughter. When she
discovered that, she felt so ashamed. She left home again
and became a prostitute leading a sinful life. She would
do anything as long as she was paid to do so.
hearing what she said, Mogallana did not despise her. Instead,
he saw the true, the good and the beautiful side of this
woman. He said kindly to her, "You certainly have a
horrific past. But there's no need to be sad and disappointed.
No matter how sinful you are, as long as you follow the
teachings of the Dharma and repent your past evil deeds,
you will be saved. Come, let me bring you to the Buddha."
It is thus obvious that Mogallana possessed not only great
supernatural powers but also the skills to convert others
to the Buddha Dharma.
How Far the Buddha's Voice could Reach
day, when Mogallana was in the meditation room, he could
actually hear the voice of the Buddha who was teaching in
the hall. He was very surprised because the Buddha was quite
far from him. To find out how far the Buddha's voice could
reach, he decided to go to Buddhaksetra, or land of a Buddha.
his divine feet, he came to a Buddhaksetra and saw Lokesvararaja
Buddha preaching there. The delighted Mogallana sat down
and listened to the preaching.
he could hear the preaching of the Buddha on the earth and
that of the Lokesvararaja Buddha at the same time.
Mogallana's presence was later discovered by one of the
bodhisattvas. Knowing that he was the great disciple of
the Buddha on the earth, Lokesvararaja Buddha asked him,
"Venerable, you are here to find out how far the voice
of the Buddha can reach. Am I right?"
you should not have this intention. The power of all Buddhas
is quite beyond the mortals and the preaching of all Buddhas
is everywhere in the immaterial universe. The state that
the living beings reach can be far or near. One must not
have discrimination and try to find out how far the Buddha's
voice can reach."
felt quite ashamed after hearing that. From then on, he
never dared do the same again.
frequented not only Buddhaksetra but also the hell to observe
living beings receiving the retribution for their good or
day, while looking at the realm of hungry ghosts with his
vision, Mogallana saw his mother suffering there. He was
very sad. So, with the help of his miraculous power, the
filial Mogallana provided a bowl of rice for his mother.
However, when the rice reached his mother's hands, it turned
into charcoal and could not be eaten. Upon seeing that,
Mogallana could not help but cried sadly. Though he could
tell what caused the ghosts to receive their retribution,
he could not explain his mother's suffering. So he immediately
went to ask the Buddha.
said compassionately, "Mogallana, your mother had in
her previous life, slandered the Buddha and the Sangha.
Moreover, she did not believe in retribution and had been
greedy and hot-tempered. That is why she is receiving such
a retribution. The reason why you do not know your mother's
karma is that your miraculous power has been hindered by
the love between mother and son!"
Buddha, is there any way to help my mother get out of the
realm of hungry ghosts?" Mogallana asked earnestly.
you cannot save you mother on your own because her bad karma
is very serious. The only way is to rely on the miraculous
powers of the holy monks to help her free from the suffering
in the realm of hungry ghosts.
fifteenth of the seventh lunar month every year is the last
day of summer retreat for all monks and many of them will
have attained enlightenment by then. If one makes elaborate
offerings to all holy monks on this day, he can rely on
their united efforts to release his parents and relatives
from the woeful states. If his parents are alive, they will
live a longer and happier life."
delighted Mogallana carried out Buddha's instructions and
made offerings to all monks on the last day of summer retreat.
True enough, his mother was immediately freed from her suffering.
He was very grateful to Buddha and praised the beneficence
of the Triple Gem. He also urged people to make offerings
to Buddha and Sangha on the fifteenth of the seventh lunar
month to repay the kindness of their parents. And this is
the origin of the Ullambana Festival.
was noted not only for his great supernatural powers but
also for his filial piety!
when the disciples gathered and discussed what they had
gained from learning the Buddha Dharma, Mogallana recited
a gatha, or metrical hymn, which was as follows:
simple gatha helps beginners to grasp the objective of Buddhism.
Like Venerable Mogallana, it is always on our mind.
Limitations of Supernatural Powers
always thought that nothing was impossible with his supernatural
power. However, little did he realise that supernatural
power could not help one escape the law of cause and effect.
Neither did he know that it could not defeat karma and free
one from the cycle of life and death.
the Buddha's homeland Kapilavastu was invaded by King Vidudabha
of Kosala. Being a patriot, the Buddha had succeeded in
blocking the enemy for three times. But King Vidudabha did
not want to give up. Knowing that this was due to the karma
of Sakya clan. The Buddha had no choice but to let it be.
was deeply agitated when heard that Kapilavastu was surrounded
by enemy troops. Though the Buddha told him this was the
karma of Sakya clan, he insisted on saving the clan people
with his miraculous power.
into Kapilavastu which was already encircled by enemy troops
ring upon ring. He selected the five hundred outstanding
Sakyas and put them in a bowl. When he had safely flown
out of the country, he opened the bowl and found that the
five hundred people in it had already turned into a flood
then realised one could not violate the law of cause and
effect taught by the Buddha. Even supernatural power could
not outmatch karmic effect.
was still enthusiastic in propagating the Buddha Dharma
even when he was getting older. And that invited the jealousy
of the heretics. They could not harm the Buddha but they
awaited a chance to assassinate Mogallana.
while Mogallana was on a mission of propagating the Dharma,
the heretics saw him passing by the foot of a hill. They
pushed some heavy rocks down the hill and Mogallana was
crushed to death!
Ajatasatru was every furious when he knew that Mogallana
was assassinated by the heretics. He then ordered the arrest
of the murderers and as a result, a few thousand heretics
were thrown into the fire pot!
death of Mogallana caused much sorrow to the other monks.
They wondered why Mogallana did not use his great supernatural
powers to resist the heretics, or at least to avoid their
plot. So they went to consult the Buddha.
aware of the future happenings on earth. Buddha was not
as emotional as His disciples. Instead, He said calmly to
them, "Mogallana could have resisted the heretics with
his supernatural power. However, when Kaplivastu was once
being attacked by King Vidudabha, Mogallana had tried his
supernatural power to save the people there but did not
succeed. He then realised that supernatural power could
not outmatch karma and that one had to face his karmic effect.
Moreover, when he was a fisherman in his previous life,
he had killed many lives. Anyway, don't be sad. The Truth
will not vanish though Mogallana has passed away."
Lord Buddha, we still feel that his death is really a tragic
one!" said the bhikkhus.
! Death is nothing to those who have attained enlightenment.
Birth and death are facts of life and we should not be afraid
of death. The more important thing is whether we have the
confidence in facing death. Mogallana had died with a clear
mind and entered Nirvana. Furthermore, he sacrificed his
life for the Dharma. Therefore, his death is commendable
disciples who were still very sad asked the Buddha again,
"Lord Buddha! We know that we should have the spirit
of sacrificing our life for the Truth. However, Mogallana
had sacrificed himself too soon. We really need him to lead
us in the Dharma. Lord Buddha! Why did you not tell him
to take precaution against the heretics?"
Buddha comforted them in an encouraging tone, "Bhikkhus,
Mogallana could have actually protected himself with his
miraculous power. But he knew that no one could escape the
karmic result due to cause and effect. Since he killed many
lives in his previous life, he had to go through this karmic
effect. In addition, he had vowed to devote his life to
the Truth. As his wish had come true, he gladly entered
Nirvana. If all my disciples can have the spirit of Mogallana
who sacrificed himself for the Dharma, it will benefit all
sentient being. Bhikkhus! You should all follow the example
bhikkhus were deeply touched by the words of the Buddha.
They saw that in future more and more people would practise
the Buddha's Dharma if they followed in the footsteps of
Venerable Maha Mogallana and the Buddha's Sasana would spread
for the benefit of all sentient beings.