to Practise a Religious Life
and five hundred years ago, in the village of Magadha Kingdom,
there was a rich Brahmin whose wealth and property were estimated
to be more than those of the king. Venerable Maha Kassapa
was born in this Brahmin family.
Maha Kassapa was also born under the tree. He was named Pipphali
which meant " born under the tree". As he was the
only son in the family, he received every care and love from
his parents. At the age of eight, he learned painting, arithmetic,
literature, music and so on. Unlike the other kids, he had
no desire for material comfort and pleasures, and he preferred
to be alone.
quickly, Maha Kassapa had grown into a handsome young man
and his parents wanted him to get married. Maha Kassapa expressed
his wish to practise a religious life. But his parents did
not approve him to do so. Maha Kassapa thought out a plan
to stop his parents from forcing him to get married. He hired
a famous sculptor to sculpture a statue of a beautiful lady
out of gold. He then took the statue to his parents and said,
"If you want me to get married, you must find a lady
as pretty as this statue to be my wife."
were troubled by his request and finally they followed the
advice of a Brahmin who placed the golden statue under a great
umbrella and sent it to every corner of Magadha. Whenever
the statue was brought to a place, the Brahmin would tell
the crowd, "Ladies, give offerings to this goddess and
you will get your wish."
sailed across the Ganges (or the Holy River) and reached a
city called Vaisali. There lived a rich Brahmin who had a
pretty daughter named Subhadra. One day, Subhadra, noted for
her great beauty, was invited by her friends to worship the
golden goddess. She was so pretty that the golden goddess
was overshadowed by her. The Brahmin was very delighted. He
then paid a visit to her family and her parents gladly approved
of the marriage.
was arranged and Subhadra was brought to the family of Maha
Kassapa. On the wedding night, both of the bridegroom and
the bride looked worried and sat aside. Finally Maha Kassapa
broke the silence and asked Subhadra what troubled her. Subhadra
replied, "I have no desire for the five passions and
I would like to practise a religious life. But my father was
tempted by the wealth of your family and agreed to this marriage.
Now my hope of practicing a religious life was dashed."
was glad to learn this and both agreed to sleep on separate
parents were very unhappy when they came to know their son
and daughter-in-law slept separately. They ordered one bed
to be removed from their room. Maha Kassapa dared not oppose
his parents and he comforted Subhadra: "Don't be depressed,
we can take turns to sleep. As I am the only son, I don't
want to disappoint my parents. Do be patient, our ambition
will be fulfilled one day."
years passed and Maha Kassapa's parents had left the world.
One day, Subhadra ordered the servants to extract some sesame
oil. There were countless worms wriggling in the sesame oil.
Subhadra overheard a conversation by her servants, "There
will be a day of retribution as we have killed so many living
things. But this is not our fault, we just carry out the order
of our mistress," Subhadra was very shocked to hear that
and ordered the servants to stop extracting the sesame oil.
Then she stayed in her room and immersed herself in thought.
same day, Maha Kassapa was inspecting the farm. He saw the
farmer and the buffalo working toilsomely in the field and
observed that countless worms were killed by the plough and
treads. As Maha Kassapa was disgusted at seeing all these
living beings suffer, he decided to go home.
returned home, he saw his wife looking rather troubled. After
saying out what they had seen, both of them felt that the
worldly life was miserable and meaningless. Maha Kassapa decided
to renounce the world and he asked Subhadra to wait for him
at home. He promised her that once he had found a good teacher,
he would return and fetch her so that they could renounce
the world together.
said that the day Maha Kassapa renounced the world coincided
with the day that the Lord Buddha attained perfect enlightenment.
looked for a religious teacher everywhere, but none could
satisfy him. Two years later, he was told that Sakyamuni Buddha
was the Great Enlightened One who was dwelling in Venuvana
(Bamboo-grove) with His thousand disciples. Hence Maha Kassapa
followed the devotees to Venuvana to listen to the preaching
of the Buddha and was deeply moved by the virtues and wisdom
of Buddha. One day, after listening to the preaching of Buddha,
he went home. On his way home, he saw the Buddha sitting under
a tree, as stately as a golden mountain. He was surprised
to see the Buddha there as he remembered that the Buddha was
still in Venuvana before he left there. He prostrated himself
before the Buddha and said, "Lord Buddha, my great teacher,
please take me as your disciple."
said, "Maha Kassapa, no one in this world is qualified
to be your teacher unless he had attained enlightenment. Do
come with me."
rose and went in the direction of Venuvana. Walking behind
the Buddha, Maha Kassapa shed tears of joy. Buddha turned
his head and said, "I have heard about you for a long
time and I know you will come to see me one day. You will
be a great help to the propagation of Buddhism. Do take good
care of yourself."
attained enlightenment seven days after he was ordained as
years after the Buddha attained the Way, His foster mother
Mahaprajapati was allowed to enter the Order and thus a religious
group of nuns was formed. This reminded Maha Kassapa of what
he had promised Subhadra. Two years after Maha Kassapa renounced
the world, Subhadra had actually also renounced the world
and became an ascetic of another religion. Maha Kassapa then
asked a nun to fetch her.
Subhadra joined the Order of Bhikkhunis, her surpassing beauty
became the topic of gossipers. She hence isolated herself
from the masses and stopped begging for food.
felt pity for her and with the approval of the Buddha, he
shared the food that he begged with her. This however became
the topic of gossipers, some even accused them of having an
intimate relationship. Maha Kasssapa did not take all this
gossip to heart, but in order to encourage Subhadra to practise
the Way, he left her alone.
devoted every effort to practicing the Way and she finally
from a Poor Old Women
there was a poor woman who had neither relatives nor home.
Once she was seriously ill and lay in the open air. Sometimes
when servants of a rich family happened to pour beside her
the water used for rinsing rice, she would use a piece of
tile to collect the dirty water for drinking.
felt pity for her and paid a visit to her. The old lady was
surprised to see Maha Kassapa and said, "I am in extreme
poverty, no one else in this country is poorer than me. Isn't
there any person in this world giving offerings to the monks?
Why do you come to see me? You should instead try to save
me from poverty."
replied, "No one in this world is more dignified and
benevolent than the Buddha or His disciples. I am here to
save you in poverty. I have thought of helping you to meet
your material needs, but material goods can only save you
for the time being and you will become poorer in the future.
It would be better if you offer anything to me so that you
can accumulate merits for your future life and be reborn in
a wealthy family or in the heavenly realms."
old woman could not find anything to offer to him and she
cried sadly: "I have neither food nor clothes to offer
who has the will to give alms is not a poor man, one who has
a sense of shamefulness is the follower of the Buddha. You
possess these two rare treasures in the world, hence you are
not poor at all. Those rich people who do not give alms and
are shameless are the most ignorant and poorest men."
woman was in great joy upon hearing the teachings of Maha
Kassapa and she cherished much hopes for the future. She offered
Maha Kassapa the water used for rinsing rice. Maha Kassapa
drank it before her and her heart was filled with happiness.
after that, this old woman passed away and entered the deva
realm. Due to the merits of offering water to Maha Kassapa,
she became a beautiful deva. Once, she recalled her good karma
and the kindness of Maha Kassapa, hence she descended from
the heavens and spread flowers on Maha Kassapa.
was a strict observer of the austerity practices. These practices
are optional for the monks as they are very demanding, those
who practice follow these rules: one dwells under the open
sky; eats only alms food; stays no more than three day in
one place; takes one meal a day; accept alms food from everyone,
without preference; possess only three robes; mediates at
the foot of a tree or the open air; wear only rag robes; and
live and meditate in burial grounds.
enjoyed the life of austerity. He did not join Sariputra and
Maha Mogallana in teaching. He just cultivated the this way
of practiced earnestly and hence when the Buddha entered Nirvana,
he was able to unify the Order.
lived as an austere monk even in his old age. Once Buddha
held an assembly in the hall and asked Maha Kassapa to sit
with Him. Maha Kassapa prostrated himself before the Buddha
and said, "Lord Buddha, I am not your chief disciple
and hence I am not qualified to sit with you."
then described to the Order the boundless virtue of Maha Kassapa
and added that even without the His help, Maha Kassapa could
still seek his own enlightenment and attain the stage of Pratyeka
advised Maha Kassapa to stop the austerities practicise, but
Maha Kassapa said, "Lord Buddha, I need to continue on
in these practices as I am not as able as Sariputra, Maha
Mollagana and Purna in Teaching. But I will not forget the
kindness of the Buddha and can repay the kindness of the Buddha
in this way. One who is propagating the Dharma must set a
good example to people, and virtue can be cultivated through
the austere life. If one can get used to such an austere life,
it shows one's ability for tolerance and the spirit of utter
devotion to the Dharma and the people. My practice of the
austerities will exert a subtle influence on people's thinking
and will indirectly help them. Lord Buddha, for the consolidation
of the Buddha's Order and the salvation of all living beings,
I feel I can not give up the practice. Please forgive my obstinacy."
hearing that, the Buddha was pleased, He said to the Bhikkhus,
"What Maha Kassapa has said is correct. To propagate
the Dharma we must consolidate
the Order. To consolidate the Order, we must
allow some people if they wish to follow these practices.
People like Maha Kassapa can inspire one in the practice of
the Dharma. Maha Kassapa, you may do as you wish."
decided to enter Parinirvana at the age of eighty. During
the same year, Maha Mollagana died and entered Nirvana and
Sariputra went back to his home town to enter Nirvana. The
most suitable persons who could take over the task of Buddha
were Maha Kassapa and Ananda.
entered Nirvana in the city of Kusinagara, Maha Kassapa was
still propagating the Dharma in the northern country. He immediately
returned to Kusinagara when he received the news. Everyone
was deeply grieved by the departure of the Buddha.
days after Lord Buddha entered Parivirvana. Maha Kassapa finally
arrived. When he saw the feet of the Buddha stretching out
from the coffin, he made an obeisance to the Buddha and said,
"Lord Buddha, the Great Saviour, we will follow your
that, the feet of the Buddha were back into the coffin and
He finally entered Nirvana. Thereupon, Maha Kassapa took the
responsibility for the spreading of the Dharma.
days after the Buddha entered Parinirvana, a Great Assembly
was held to agree upon the text of the Buddha's Teachings.
Council headed by Maha Kassapa, Ananda, Aniruddha, Upali and
Purna was formed and was preside over by Maha Kassapa. When
the Buddha was alive, Sariputra and Maha Mollagana were the
Buddha's right-hand men. Maha Kassapa seldom participated
in religious activities, but he practised the Way diligently.
When the Buddha and His two chief disciples entered Nirvana,
Maha Kassapa unexpectedly took the responsibility of leading
the Order. Thus it can be seen that his attainment and virtue
were indeed great.
thirty years after the assembly of the First Council, Maha
Kassapa enter Nirvana. He entrusted his duties to Ananda,
then he leaped into the air and went to the Buddha's pagoda
to pay homage and make offerings.
returned to Savatthi, he paid a visit to King Ajatasatru to
make his farewell. But the guards said that the King was asleep
and should not be disturbed. Hence he left the palace and
came to the Kukkutapada Mountain. The Kukkutapada resembled
the shape of the three feet of a cock as there were three
small mountains standing on it.
Kassapa arrived at this mountain, the three mountains split
and formed a seat to receive him. Maha Kassapa covered it
with grass and sat on it. He said to himself: "I will
preserve my body with my miraculous power and cover it with
my rag robes.
The the three mountains enclosed his body. King Ajatasatru
was deeply grieved by the news of Maha Kassapa's departure.
He went to Kukkutapada Mountain with Ananda. When they reached
there, the three mountains opened up and they saw Maha Kassapa
sitting up straight and meditating. In addition, his body
was covered with Mandara flowers. They both paid homage and
made offerings to Maha Kassapa. When they left, the three
mountains closed again.