Maha Moggallana

 

Moggallana was considered the next wisest and highly developed disciple after Sariputra by Buddha. His most developed faculties were not his wisdom but his Siddhis or psychic powers. But the Buddha knew that Dhamma had to be followed by understanding and not to impress people with miracles and psychic powers. Many times, these powers were a deterrent on the spiritual path. The Buddha prohibited the unnecessary exhibition of these powers unless they were used to achieve some good. He is referred to in Chinese as Mulian and in Japanese as Mokkenren or Mokuren.

Early Life

Kolita or Maudgalyayana(Sanskrit) or Maha Moggallana(Pali) was born in a well to do Brahmin family near the kingdom of Magadha. His mother’s name was Moggalli and his father was the chief householder of the village. He was born at the same time as Sariputra the foremost disciple of the Buddha and right from childhood both of them were firm friends having the same interests and pursuits. Once in their youth both of them went to Rajagriha, Magadha’s capital to amuse themselves in a ‘hill festival’. But a sense of restlessness plagued them as none of the entertainment shows could sustain their interest. Suddenly they began to question the meaning of their existence and a sense of dispassion arose in them. Both of them decided to lead a meaningful existence and seek the company of the holy.

Spiritual Quest

They began their spiritual quest under a famous Non Buddhist teacher Sanjaya Belatthaputta. But he could not fulfil their spiritual hunger as he could not explain to them how to transcend suffering and misery. One day they came across a monk named Assaji who was one of the first five disciples of the Buddha and seeing his peaceful and noble countenance, they asked him the source of his inner Bliss. He then gave them a jist of the Buddha’s teachings. Hearing this they were determined to meet the Buddha himself and went to the Bamboo Grove Monastery at Rajagriha where the King of Magadha who was a devotee of the Buddha had donated to Buddha the Monastery.

Success

The Buddha recognising their spiritual prowess ordained them and from this time onwards they separated to pursue their meditations in solitude. Moggallana chose the forests in Magadha to continue his spiritual practices. In one week with the intensity of his depth and determination and with the help and guidance of the Buddha he attained Spiritual enlightenment.

Among all the other disciples, Moggallana excelled in magical (parapsychological) faculties like telepathy, clairvoyance, astral travel, telekinesis etc. He never misused his powers nor allowed them to get in the way of his spiritual development but made use of them at times for the higher good of the Sangha and community. With his powers he explained to them the causes of their sufferings as he could visualise their wrong actions of previous births which helped them to understand and attain results quickly. He appeared in a number of Jataka tales in various roles along with the Buddha who appeared as the Bodhisattva.

Sutras

The main Sutra in which Moggallana is mentioned is the Ullambana Sutra. It was a discourse given by Buddha to him on filial piety and how Moggallana could save his mother who was said to be suffering in hell. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha prophecies his enlightenment. He is mentioned in the Shurangama Sutra with the Buddha on a discourse about mind consciousness.

Several discourses by him are recorded in the Tipitaka.

Death

It is said that on account of his karmic misdeeds of a previous life, his death was not natural and he was killed by some opposers of the religion. But he had reached a state of liberation where nothing affected him and he died peacefully at Buddha’s feet with a firm and serene mind. Buddha eulogised him to all the followers as a classic example of compassion, humility and patience and stated that Moggallana’s exemplary life would be an example to all followers in their search for truth and liberation.

Conclusion

Moggallana was compared to a wet nurse who nourished and sustained the strength and growth of the pupil. He was a teacher in conduct and spiritual practice while Sariputra was a powerhouse of wisdom. Thus these two chief disciples of the Buddha were like a bridge between the supreme qualities of the Buddha and the capacities of the other disciples. Thai and Sri Lankan temples generally have the main statue of Buddha flanked by two smaller statues of Sariputra and Moggallana.

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