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Ven Sariputta

Sariputta: The Marshal of the Dhamma

Śāriputra (Sanskrit), or Sāriputta (Pāli), is a top master of Wisdom. In Heart Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha preaches to him.

He is also called Upatissa, which was evidently his personal name (M.i.150). The commentators say that Upatissa was the name of his village and that he was the eldest son of the chief family in the village, but other accounts give his village as Nálaka. His father was the brahmin, Vanganta (DhA.ii.84), and his mother, Rúpasári. It was because of his mother’s name that he came to be called Sáriputta.

Śāriputra had already embarked on life as a spiritual ascetic when he encountered the teachings of the Buddha. Śāriputra had a close friend Mahāmaudgalyāyana (Pāli: Mahāmoggallāna), another wandering ascetic. They both renounced the world on the same day and became disciples of the sceptic Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta before converting to Buddhism.

After hearing of the Buddha’s teachings from a monk named Assaji (Sanskrit: Asvajit), Śāriputra sought out the Buddha and became an adherent to his teachings. These two are often depicted together with the Buddha, and several sutras regard interactions between Śāriputra and Mahāmaudgalyāyana (who became renowned among the early Buddhists for his mastery of supernatural powers).

Śāriputra often preached with the Buddha’s approval and was awarded the title of ‘General of the Dharma’ (Pāli: Dhammasenāpati) for his propagation of the teachings and is regarded as the founder of the Abhidharma tradition. However, the Buddha also lightly reprimanded Sariputta on occasion when he did not fully explain the Dhamma to a prince, or when he allowed a group of novice monks to become too loud.

Nevertheless, Śāriputra was one of the most highly praised disciples and on at least one occasion the Buddha declared him to be a true spiritual son and his chief assistant in “turning the Wheel of the Dhamma”.

Sariputta went to his native place with the permission of the Buddha, Nalaka, a Brahmin village as he wanted his mother who was still a non-Buddhist to be shown the correct path and faith. He attained Parinibbana at the village called Nalaka after being successfully able to convert his mother and make her a path winner. According to the Pali Canon, Sariputta died peacefully on the full moon day of the Kartika month of the ancient Indian calendar, a few months before the Buddha, having achieved Parinibbana, and when Sariputta’s assistant, Cunda, gave the news to Ananda, Ananda was very distressed. He passed the news along to the Buddha, who remained at peace, and chastised Ananda’s reaction.

According to the Cunda Sutta:

“On one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. Now at that time Ven. Sariputta was staying among the Magadhans in Nalaka village — diseased, in pain, severely ill. Cunda the novice was his attendant. Then, because of that illness, Ven. Sariputta attained total Unbinding. So Cunda the novice, taking Ven. Sariputta’s bowl & robes, went to Ven. Ananda in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery, near Savatthi, and on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to Ven. Ananda: “Venerable sir, Ven. Sariputta has attained total Unbinding. Here are his bowl & robes.”

After his body was cremated, the filter cloth with the relics, alms bowl and robes were taken to the Buddha by Chunda and on the Buddha’s instruction handed over to King Ajātashatru. King Ajātashatru enshrined these relics in a Stupa which was venerated by the followers. After some time in BC 261 King Dharmasoka (Ashok) opened the Stupa on instructions received from Moggaliputtatissa who indicated the third Buddhist Council.

According to Daulton, “In the early 1950s, the British had already returned, with great fanfare, to India, the relics of the Buddha’s chief disciples, Sariputra and MahaMaudgalyana, which Alexander Cunningham had uncovered at Sanci in 1851 and ferreted to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.”

The Buddha said in the Ukkacela Sutta:

“Those who in the past have been Holy Ones. Fully enlightened Ones, those Blessed Ones, too, had such excellent pairs of disciples as I had in Sariputta and Maha Moggallana. Those who in the future will be Holy Ones, fully Enlightened Ones, those Blessed Ones too will have such excellent pairs of disciples as I had in Sariputta and Maha Moggallana.”

In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha does predict that Śāriputra will become a fully awakened Buddha one day, named Flower Glow Tathāgata, at which Śāriputra’s mind is said to “dance with joy”.

A dialogue between Śāriputra and Avalokiteśvara is also the context of the Heart Sutra, a brief but essential text in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.

Bibliography:

  • Great Disciples of the Buddha, Their Lives Their Works Their Legacy, Nyanaponika Thera and Hellmuth Hecker, edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications, 2003, ISBN 0-86171-381-8, chapter 1
  • The Life of Sariputta, Nyanponika Thera
  • Cunda Sutta, Satipatthana Samyutta, No 13, Samyutta Nikaya
  • Ukkacela Sutta, Satipatthana Samyutta, No. 14, Samyutta Nikaya
  • Relics of the Buddha, John S. Strong, Princeton University Press, 2004, ISBN-13:978-0-691-11764-5, page 206
  • Buddhism A to Z, Ronald B Epstein, Buddhist Text Translation Society, 2003, ISBN 0-88139-353-3, pages 176 -177

Websites:

1. Sariputta – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia2. The Life of Sariputta

3. Sáriputta

4. Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha – 02a

5. Sáriputta Sutta

6. Wh090–2 — Life of Sariputta — Plain text