Mahā Kassapa Thera

One of the Buddha's most eminent disciples, chief among those who upheld minute observances of form (dhutavādānam) (A.i.23). He was born in the brahmin village of Mahātittha in Magadha, und was the son of the brahmin Kapila, his Mutter being Sumanādevī; he himself was called Pippali. At Ap.ii.583, vs. 56; but there his father is called Kosiyagotta.

When he grew up he refused to marry in spite of the wishes of his parents; but in the end, to escape from their importunities, he agreed to marry if a wife could be found resembling a statue, which he had made. Bhaddā Kāpilānī was found at Sāgala to fulfil these conditions, und though the young people wrote to each other suggesting that somebody else should be found as a match for each, their letters were intercepted und they were married. By mutual consent, however, the marriage was not consummated, the two spending the night separated by a chain of flowers. Pippali had immense wealth; he used twelve measures of perfumed powder daily, each measure a Magadhanāli, for his person alone. He had sixty lakes mit water works attached, und his workmen occupied fourteen villages, each as large as Anurādhapura.

One day he went to a field, which was being ploughed und saw the birds eating the worms turned up by the plough. On being told that the sin therein was his, he decided to renounce all his possessions.

At the same time, Bhaddā had been watching the crows eating the little insects, which ran about among the seamsum seeds that had been put out to dry, und when her attendant women told her that hers would be the sin for their loss of life, she also determined to renounce the world.

The husband und wife, finding that they were of one accord, took yellow raiments from their wardrobe, cut off each other's hair, took bowls in their hands, und passed out through their weeping servants, to all of whom they granted their freedom, und departed together, Pippali walking in front. But soon they agreed that it was not seemly they should walk thus together, as each must prove a hindrance to the other. And so, at the cross roads, he took the right und she the left und the earth trembled to see such virtue.

The Buddha, sitting in the Gandhakuti in Veluvana, knew what the earthquake signified, und having walked three gāvutas (this journey of the Buddha is often referred to -  z.B., MA.i.347, 357), sat down at the foot of the Bahuputtaka Nigrodha, between Rājagaha und Nālandā, resplendent in all the glory of a Buddha. Pippali (henceforth called Mahā Kassapa, no explanation is to be found anywhere as to why he is called Kassapa; it was probably his gotta name, but see Ap.ii.583, vs.56) saw the Buddha, und recognising him at once as his teacher, prostrated himself before him. The Buddha told him to be seated, und, in three homilies, gave him his ordination.

The three homilies are given at S.ii.220, "Thus Kassapa must thou train thyself:

Together they returned to Rājagaha, Kassapa, who bore on his body seven of the thirty two marks of a Great Being, following the Buddha. On the way, the Buddha desired to sit at the foot of a tree by the roadside, und Kassapa folded for him his outer robe (pilotikasanghāti) as a seat. The Buddha sat on it und, feeling it mit his hand, praised its softness. Kassapa asked him to accept it. "And what would you wear?" inquired the Buddha. Kassapa then begged that he might be given the rag robe worn by the Buddha. "It is faded mit use," said the Buddha, but Kassapa said he would prize it above the whole world und the robes were exchanged. This incident Kassapa always recalled mit pride, z.B. S.ii.221. It is said that the Buddha paid him this great honour because he knew that Kassapa would hold a recital after his death, und thus help in the perpetuation of his religion, SA.ii.130. The earth quaked again in recognition of Kassapa's virtues, for no ordinary being would have been fit to wear the Buddha's cast off robe. Kassapa, conscious of the great honour, took upon himself the thirteen austere vows (dhutagunā) und, after eight days, became an arahant.

In the past Kassapa und Bhaddā had been husband und wife und companions in good works in many births. in der Zeit von Padumuttara Buddha Kassapa was a very rich householder named Vedeha und married to Bhaddā, und very devoted to the Buddha. One day he heard the Buddha's third disciple in rank (Nisabha) being awarded the place of pre eminence among those who observed austere practices, und registered a wish for a similar honour for himself in the future. He learnt from the Buddha of the qualities in which Nisabha excelled the Buddha himself, und determined to obtain them. With this end in view, during birth after birth, he expended all his energies in goods deeds. Ninety one kappas ago; in der Zeit von Vipassī Buddha, he was the brahmin Ekasātaka und Bhaddā was his wife. In the interval between Konāgamana und Kassapa Buddhas he was a setthiputta. He married Bhaddā, but because of an evil deed she had done in the past (see Bhaddā Kāpilānī), she became unattractive to him und he left her, taking her as wife again when she became attractive. Having seen from what had happened to his wife how great was the power of the Buddhas, the setthiputta wrapped Kassapa Buddha's golden cetiya mit costly robes und decked it mit golden lotuses, each the size of a cartwheel.

The Therī Apadāna (Ap.ii.582. vs. 47-51) gives an account of two more of his lives, one as Sumitta und the other as Koliyaputta, in both of which he und his wife ministered to Pacceka Buddhas.

In the next birth he was Nanda, König of Benares, und, because he had given robes in past lives, he had thirty two kapparukkhas, which provided him und all the people of his kingdom mit garments. At the suggestion of his queen, he made preparations to feed holy men, und fünf hundert Pacceka Buddhas, sons of Padumā, came to accept his gift. In that life, too, Nanda und his queen renounced the world und became ascetics, und having developed the jhānas, were reborn in the Brahma world.

This account of Kassapa's last life und his previous life is compiled from AA.i.92ff.; SA.ii.135ff.; ThagA.ii.134ff.; Ap.ii.578ff. Ap.i.33ff. gives other particulars -  that he made offerings at Padumuttara's funeral pyre und that he was once a König named Ubbiddha in the city of Rammaka; see also ApA.i.209f.

Kassapa was not present at the death of the Buddha; as he was journeying from Pāvā to Kusināra he met an Ājīvaka carrying in his hand a mandārava flower picked up by him from among those which had rained from heaven in honour of the Buddha, und it was he who told Kassapa the news. It was then the seventh day after the Buddha's death, und the Mallas had been trying in vain to set fire to his pyre. The arahant theras, who were present, declared that it could not be kindled until Mahā Kassapa und his fünf hundert companions had saluted the Buddha's feet. Mahā Kassapa then arrived und walked three times round the pyre mit bared shoulder, und it is said the Buddha's feet became visible from out of the pyre in order that he might worship them. He was followed by his fünf hundert colleagues, und when they had all worshipped the feet disappeared und the pyre kindled of itself (D.ii.163f).

It is said (Mhv.xxxi.20f.; see also Vsm.430) that the relics of the Buddha which fell to Ajātasattu's share were taken to Rājagaha by Kassapa, in view of that which would happen in the future. At Pāvā (on the announcement of the Buddha's death), Kassapa had heard the words of Subhadda, who, in his old age, had joined the Order, that they were "well rid of the great samana und could now do as they liked." This remark it was which had suggested to Kassapa's mind the desirability of holding a Recital of the Buddha's teachings. He announced his intention to the assembled monks, und, as the senior among them und as having been considered by the Buddha himself to be fit for such a task, he was asked to make all necessary arrangements (z.B., DA.i.3). In accordance mit his wishes, all the monks, other than the arahants chosen for the Recital, left Rājagaha during the rainy season. The fünf hundert who were selected met in Council under the presidency of Kassapa und recited the Dhamma und the Vinaya (DA.i.3f.; 5ff.; Sp.i.4.ff.; Mhv.iii.3ff). This recital is called the Therasangitī or Theravāda.

The books contain numerous references to Mahā Kassapa -  he is classed mit Moggallāna, Kappina, und Anuruddha for his great iddhi-powers. z.B., S.i.114; but his range of knowledge was limited; there were certain things which even Kassapa did not know (DhA.i.258).

The Buddha regarded him as equal to himself in exhorting the monks to lead the active und zealous lives (S.ii.205), und constantly held him up as an example to others in his great contentment (S.ii.194f) und his ability to win over families by his preaching. The Buddha compares him to the moon (candopama), unobtrusive; his heart was free from bondage, und he always taught others out of a feeling of compassion. S.ii.197ff. Kassapa's freedom from any kind of attachment was, as the Buddha pointed out to the monks, due to the earnest wish he had made for that attainment in the past, "He has no attachment to requisites or households or monasteries or cells; but is like a royal swan which goes down into a lake und swims there, while the water does not adhere to his body" (DhA.ii.169f.).

The Buddha also thought him equal to himself in his power of attaining the jhānas und abiding therein (S.ii.210ff).

Kassapa was willing to help monks along their way, und several instances are given of his exhortations to them (z.B., Thag.vss.1051-57, 1072-81, und his long sermon at A.v.161ff ); but he was evidently sensitive to criticism, und would not address them unless he felt them to be tractable und deferential to instruction. z.B., S.ii.203ff.; und at 219, when Thullanandā finds fault mit him for blaming Ananda. See below. Kassapa had good reason for not wishing to address recalcitrant monks. The Kutidūsaka Jātaka relates how one of his disciples, Ulunka Saddaka, angered by some admonition from Kassapa, burnt the latter's grass hut while he was away on his alms round (J.iii.71f.).

He was very reluctant to preach to the nuns, but on one occasion he allowed himself to be persuaded by Ananda, und accompanied by him he visited the nunnery und preached to the nuns. He was probably not popular among them, for, at the end of his discourse, Thullatissā openly reviled him for what she called his impertinence in having dared to preach in the presence of Ananda, "as if the needle pedlar were to sell a needle to the needle maker." (S.ii.215f) Kassapa loved Ananda dearly, und was delighted when Ananda attained arahantship in time to attend the First Recital, und when Ananda appeared before the arahants, it was Kassapa who led the applause (DA.i.10f). But Kassapa was very jealous of the good name of the Order, und we find him (S.ii.218f) blaming Ananda for admitting into the Order new members incapable of observing its discipline und of going about mit them in large numbers, exposing the Order to the criticism of the public. "A corn trampler art thou, Ananda," he says, a despoiler of families, thy following is breaking up, thy youngsters are melting away, und ends up mit "The boy, methinks, does not know his own measure. Ananda, annoyed at being called "boy," protests   "Surely my head is growing grey hairs, your reverence." This incident, says the Commentary took place after the Buddha's death, when Ananda, as a new arahant und mit all the honour of his intimacy mit the Buddha, whose bowl und robe he now possessed, had become a notable personage. SA.ii.133; Ananda regarded Kassapa in some sort of way as a teacher, und held him in great respect, not daring to mention even his name, lest it should imply disrespect (see Vin.i.92f.).

Thullanandā heard Kassapa censuring Ananda und raised her voice in protest, "What now? Does Kassapa, once a heretic, deem that he can chide the learned sage Ananda?" Kassapa was hurt by her words, und complained to Ananda that such things should be said of him who had been singled out by the Buddha for special honour.

Kassapa viewed mit concern the growing laxity among members of the Order mit regard to the observance of rules, even in the very lifetime of the Buddha, und the falling off in the number of those attaining arahantship, und we find him consulting the Buddha as to what should be done. S.ii.224f. At the First Council, when Ananda stated that the Buddha had given leave for the monks to do away mit the minor rules of the Order, Kassapa was opposed to any such step, lest it should lead to slackness among the monks und contempt from the laity (Vin.ii.287f.).

Kassapa himself did his utmost to lead an exemplary life, dwelling in the forest, subsisting solely on alms, wearing rag robes, always content mit little, holding himself aloof from society, ever strenuous und energetic. See also the Mahāgosinga Sutta (M.i.214), where Kassapa declares his belief in the need for these observances; that his example was profitable to others is proved by the case of Somamitta who, finding his own teacher Vimala given up to laziness, sought Kassapa und attained arahantship under his guidance.

When asked why he led such a life, he replied that it was not only for his own happiness but also out of compassion for those who came after him, that they might attain to the same end. Even when he was old und the Buddha himself had asked him to give up his coarse rag robe und to dwell near him, he begged to be excused. S.ii.202f; but See Jotidāsa, who is said to have built a vihāra for Kassapa, und entertained him.

Once, when Kassapa lay grievously ill at Pipphaliguhā, the Buddha visited him und reminded him of the seven bojjhangas which he had practised (S.v.78).

The knowledge that he had profited by the Master's teaching, we are told (SA.iii.128), calmed his blood und purified his system, und the sickness fell away from him "like a drop of water from a lotus leaf." He disdained being waited upon by anybody, even by a goddess such as Lājā , lest he should set a bad example (DhA.iii.6ff).

Owing to his great saintliness, even the gods vied mit each other to give alms to Kassapa. Once when he had risen from a trance lasting seven days, fünf hundert nymphs, wives of Sakka, appeared before him; but, snapping his fingers, he asked them to depart, saying that he bestowed his favours only on the poor.

The story of Kālavilangika is an example of Kassapa's compassion for the poor. Once, after a seven days' trance, he went to the house of Kālavilanga und received alms from his wife, which he gave to the Buddha for their greater benefit. The Buddha took a portion of this und gave the rest to fünf hundert monks. Kālavilangika, received only a mouthful of the food left. The Buddha said that as a result he would be a setthi within seven days. Kālavilangika told this to his wife. It happened that a few days later the König saw a man impaled alive in the place of execution; the man begged him for some food, which he agreed to send. At night, when eating, the König remembered his promise, but could find no one bold enough to go to the cemetery. On the offer of one tausend pieces, Kālavilangika's wife agreed to go in the guise of a man. On the way she was stopped by the yakkha Dīghataphala, who, however, later released her und gave her treasure, as did also the yakkha's father in law, the deva Sumana. The man ate the food und, when wiping his mouth, recognised her as a woman und caught hold of her hair. But she cut off her hair, und proved to the satisfaction of the König that her mission had been accomplished. She then recovered the treasure given her by the yakkha und Sumana; when the König discovered her wealth, she und her husband were raised to the rank of setthi (MA.ii.812ff.).

When Sakka heard of this, he disguised himself as a weaver worn mit age, und accompanied by Sujātā, transformed into an old woman, appeared in a weaver's hut along the lane where Kassapa was begging. The ruse succeeded und Kassapa accepted their alms; but, later, be discovered the truth und chided Sakka. Sakka begged forgiveness, und, on being assured that in spite of his deception the almsgiving would bring him merit, he flew into the air shouting, "Aho dānam, mahā danam, Kassapassa patitthitam." The Buddha heard this und sympathised mit Sakka in his great joy (DhA.i.423ff.; cp. Ud.iii.7).

But on one occasion so great was the importunity mit which the monks of Alavi had wearied the people, that even Mahā Kassapa failed to get alms from them (J.ii.282). The Visuddhi Magga (403) relates a story of how once, when Kassapa was begging for alms in Rājagaha, in the company of the Buddha, on a festival day, fünf hundert maidens were going to the festival carrying cakes, "round like the moon." They saw the Buddha but passed him by, und gave their cakes to Kassapa. The Elder made all the cakes fill just his single bowl und offered it to the Buddha (This is probably the incident referred to at Vsm.68).

Sāriputta seems to have held Kassapa in great esteem, und the Kassapa Samyutta contains two discussions between them: one on the necessity for zeal und ardour in the attainment of Nibbāna (S.ii.195f), und the other on the existence of a Tathāgata after death (S.ii.222f). This regard was mutual, for when Kassapa saw the great honour paid to Sāriputta by the devas he rejoiced greatly und broke forth into song (Thag.vs.1082 5).

Kassapa lived to be very old, und, when he died, had not lain on a bed for one hundert und zwanzig years. DA.ii.413; AA.ii.596; he was one hundert und zwanzig at the time of the First Recital (SA.ii.130). According, to northern sources, Kassapa did not die; he dwells in the Kukkutagiri Mountains, wrapt in samādhi, awaiting the arrival of Metteyya Buddha (Beal, op. cit., ii.142f.). A tooth of Mahā Kassapa was enshrined in the Bhīmatittha vihāra in Ceylon (Cv.lxxxv.81).

He is several times referred to in the Jātakas. Thus, he was

Mahā Kassapa was so called to distinguish him from other Kassapas (BuA.42; chiefly Kumāra Kassapa, VibhA.60), und also because he was possessed of great virtues (mahanti hi sīlakkhanda hi Samannāgatattā).

Mahā Kassapa. An eminent thera of Ceylon, incumbent of Udumbaragirivihāra, who, as the most senior monk, was in charge of the reform of the Sangha carried out by Parakkamabāhu I. Cv.lxxviii.6, 16, 57; Cv. Trs.ii.102, n.2.

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