6. Encounters with Deities
Two meetings of Maha Kassapa with deities of lower or higher
order have been recorded. They are related here because they illustrate
his independence of spirit and his determination to keep to his
austere way of living without accepting privileges from wherever
they were offered.
There was a young female deity, called Laja, who remembered that
she had obtained her present celestial happiness because in her
previous human existence as a poor woman, she had offered parched
rice to the Elder Maha Kassapa with a believing heart, uttering
the aspiration: "May I be a partaker of the truth you have seen!"
On her way home, while reflecting on her offering, she was bitten
by a snake and died, and was immediately reborn in the Heaven of
the Thirty-three gods, in the midst of great splendor.
This the deity, remembered, and in her gratitude she wanted now
to serve the great Elder. Descending to earth, she swept the Elder's
cell and filled the water vessels. After she had done that for three
days, the Elder saw her radiant figure in his cell, and after questioning
her, asked her to leave as he did not wish that monks of the future,
knowing of it, should disapprove of him. His entreaties were of
no avail; the deity rose into the air, filled with great sadness.
The Buddha, aware of what had happened, appeared to the deity and
consoled her by speaking of the worth of meritorious deeds and their
great reward. But he also said that it had been Kassapa's duty to
practice restraint (Commentary to Dh. 118).
In the other story it is told that Maha Kassapa, while living
at the Pipphali Cave, had entered a period of seven days' uninterrupted
meditation, spending the time in unbroken meditative posture. At
the end of that period, after arising from that meditation, he went
to Rajagaha on almsround. At that time there arose in five hundred
female deities of Sakka's celestial realm the keen desire to offer
almsfood to the venerable Maha Kassapa. With. the food prepared,
they approached the Elder, asking for his favor by accepting their
offering. But he asked them to leave as he wanted to bestow his
favor on the poor so that they could benefit from their meritorious
deed. As he did not yield to their repeated entreaties, they finally
left. When Sakka, king of the gods, heard about their vain effort,
a great desire arose in him as well to offer almsfood to that great
Elder. To avoid being refused, he turned himself into an old weaver.
When Maha Kassapa approached, he offered rice to him, and at the
moment the rice was accepted it turned exceedingly fragrant. Then
Maha Kassapa knew who this old weaver truly was, and he reproached
Sakka: "You have done a grievous wrong, Kosiya. By doing so, you
have deprived poor people of the chance to acquire merit. Do not
do such a thing again!" — "We too need merit, revered Kassapa! We
too are in need of it! But have I acquired merit or not by giving
alms to you through deception?" — "You have gained merit, friend.
Now Sakka, while departing, gave voice to the following "Solemn
"Oh, almsgiving! Highest almsgiving!
bestowed on Kassapa!"
— Comy. to Dh. 56; see Udana, 3:7
7. Relations to Pupils and Fellow Monks
One so very dedicated to the meditative life as Maha Kassapa
was cannot be expected to have been keen on accepting and training
many pupils; and, in fact, the canonical texts mention only a few
pupils of his.
One of Kassapa's few recorded discourses addressed to the monks
deals with the subject of overestimating one's attainments:
"There may be a monk who declares he has attained
to the highest knowledge, that of Arahatship. Then the Master,
or a disciple capable of knowing the minds of others, examines
and questions him. When they question him, that monk becomes
embarrassed and confused. The questioner now understands that
the monk has made this declaration through overrating himself
out of conceit. Then, considering the reason for it, he sees
that this monk has acquired much knowledge of the Teaching and
proficiency in it, which made him declare his overestimation
of himself to be the truth. Penetrating the mind of that monk,
he sees that he is still obstructed by the five hindrances and
has stopped half-way while there is still more to do."
Apart from the few instances where Maha Kassapa is speaking to
unnamed monks or a group of monks, the texts record only his relationship
to Sariputta and Ananda.
According to the Jatakas, in former lives Sariputta was twice
the son of Kassapa (J.509,515) and twice the brother of Kassapa
(J.326,488); he was once also Kassapa's grandson (J.450) and his
friend (J.525). In his verses, Kassapa tells that he once saw thousands
of Brahma-gods descend from their heaven, pay homage to Sariputta,
and praise him (Thag. 1082-1086).
Two conversations between Maha Kassapa and Sariputta have been
recorded in the Kassapa Samyutta. On both occasions it was at evening
time, after meditation, that the venerable Sariputta went to see
the venerable Maha Kassapa.
In the first text Sariputta asked: "It has been said, friend
Kassapa, that without ardor and without fear of wrongdoing, one
is incapable of gaining enlightenment, incapable of attaining Nibbana,
incapable of attaining highest security, but that with ardor and
with fear of wrong-doing, one is capable of such attainments. Now
in how far is he incapable of such attainments and in how far is
he capable of them?"
"When, friend Sariputta, a monk thinks: 'If
bad and unwholesome states that have so far not arisen in me
were to arise, this would bring me harm,' and if then he does
not arouse ardor and fear of wrongdoing, then he is lacking
ardor and fear of wrong doing. When he thinks: 'If bad and unwholesome
states that have arisen now in me are not abandoned, this would
bring me harm,' or: 'If unarisen wholesome states were not to
arise, this would bring me harm,' or: 'If arisen wholesome states
were to vanish, this would bring me harm,' if on these occasions,
too, a monk does not arouse ardor and fear of wrong-doing, then
he is lacking these qualities, and lacking them, he is incapable
of attaining enlightenment, incapable of attaining Nibbana,
incapable of attaining the highest security. But if a monk (on
those four occasions for right effort) arouses ardor and fear
of wrong-doing, he is capable of attaining enlightenment, capable
of attaining Nibbana, capable of attaining the highest security"
On another occasion Sariputta asked Maha Kassapa some questions
which one may not have expected: whether the Perfect One (Tathagata)
exists after death, or does not exist, or (in some sense) both exists
and does not exist, or neither exists nor does not exist.
In each case Maha Kassapa replies that this was not declared
by the Exalted One. And when asked why not, he said: "Because it
is of no benefit and does not belong to the fundamentals of the
holy life, because it does not lead to turning away (from worldliness),
nor to dispassion, cessation, (inner) peace, direct knowledge, enlightenment,
"But what, friend, did the Exalted One declare?"
"This is suffering -_ so, friend, has the Exalted
One declared. This is the origin of suffering — the cessation
of suffering — the way to the cessation of suffering — so, friend,
has the Exalted One declared. And why? Because it conduces to
benefit and belongs to the fundamentals of the holy life, because
it leads to turning away (from worldliness), to dispassion,
cessation, (inner) peace, direct knowledge, enlightenment, and
— S. 16:12
We have no tradition as to why Sariputta posed these questions,
which for an arahant should have been fully clear. It is, however,
not impossible that this conversation took place immediately after
Kassapa's ordination and before his attainment of Arahatship, and
that Sariputta wanted to test him in that way; or, perhaps, it was
for the sake of other monks who may have been present.
The Majjhima Nikaya records a sutta (No. 32, Mahagosinga
Sutta) in which Maha Kassapa participated in a group discussion
with several other eminent disciples led by Sariputta. At the time
these elders of the Order were residing in the Gosinga Forest along
with the Buddha, and on a clear moonlit night they approached Sariputta
for a discussion on the Dhamma. Sariputta declared: "Delightful
is this Gosinga Forest, it is a clear moonlit night, the sala-trees
are in full bloom, and it seems as if celestial scents are being
wafted around." Then he asked each distinguished elder in the group
— Ananda, Revata, Anuruddha, Maha Kassapa, and Maha Moggallana —
what kind of monk could illumine that Gosinga Forest. Maha Kassapa,
like the others, replied according to his own temperament. He declared
that a monk who could illumine the Gosinga Forest would be a forest-dweller,
one who went on almsround, who wore rag-robes, who possessed only
three robes, who had few wishes, was content, aloof, not gregarious,
energetic, and who would speak in praise of each of these qualities.
He would also possess virtue, concentration, wisdom. deliverance
and the knowledge and vision of deliverance, and would speak in
praise of each of these attainments.
According to tradition, Maha Kassapa also had close connections
in former lives with the venerable Ananda. Ananda had twice been
his brother (J. 488,535), once his son (J. 450), once even the murderer
of his son (J. 540), and in this life he was his pupil (Maha Vagga
I, 74). The Kassapa Samyutta likewise has two conversations between
them. They concern practical questions, while those with Sariputta
referred to doctrine.
On the first occasion (related at S. 16:10) Ananda asked Kassapa
whether he would go with him to the nunnery. Kassapa, however, refused
and asked Ananda to go alone. But Ananda seemed to be keen that
Kassapa should give a Dhamma talk to the nuns, and he repeated his
request twice. Kassapa finally consented to go and gave a discourse
to the nuns. But the result turned out to be quite different from
what Ananda had expected. One of the nuns, Thullatissa by name,
raised her voice to make a rather offensive remark: "How could the
Revered Kassapa presume to speak Dhamma in the presence of the Revered
Ananda, the learned sage? This is as if a needle peddler wanted
to sell a needle to the needle maker."
Obviously this nun preferred the gentle preaching of Ananda to
Kassapa's stern and sometimes critical approach, which may have
touched on her own weaknesses.
When Kassapa heard the nun's remarks, he asked Ananda: "How is
it, friend Ananda, am I the needle peddler and you the needle maker,
or am I the needle maker and you the needle peddler?"
Ananda replied: "Be indulgent, venerable sir. She is foolish
"Beware, friend Ananda, or else the Sangha may further examine
you. How is it, friend Ananda, was it you to whom the Exalted One
referred in the presence of the Sangha when saying: 'I, O monks,
can attain at will the four fine-material and immaterial meditative
absorptions, the cessation of perception and feeling, the six supernormal
knowledges; and Ananda, too, can so attain'?"
"Not so, venerable sir."
"Or was it that he said: 'Kassapa, too, can so attain'?"
From the above account we see that the venerable Maha Kassapa
did not think that Ananda's conciliatory reply was adequate, or
did full justice to the situation. Thullatissa's remarks showed
her personal attachment to Ananda, who has always been a favorite
with women, and who had also given his strong support to the founding
of the Order of Nuns (Bhikkhuni Sangha). This emotional relation
of Thullatissa's to Ananda could not be put aside just by Ananda's
general remark. Hence Kassapa responded in a way which, at first
glance, appears rather harsh: "Beware, friend Ananda, or else the
Sangha may further examine you!" This was to say that Ananda should
not engage himself too much in ministering to the nuns, as on their
part attachment such as that of Thullatissa's could grow from it,
and cause others to entertain doubts about him. Kassapa's reply
has therefore to be seen as the earnest advice of a taint-free arahant
to one who had not yet reached that state. When, immediately after,
Kassapa mentioned that the Buddha had declared his own meditative
attainments equal with those of himself, and not Ananda's, this
may be taken as pointing to the far different spiritual status of
the two; and it may have served as a spur to Ananda to strive for
those attainments. The nun Thullatissa, however, left the Order.
Another conversation between the venerable Maha Kassapa and Ananda
arose on the following occasion (related at S.16:11). Once the venerable
Ananda went on a walking tour in the Southern Hills, together with
a large company of monks. This was at a time when thirty mostly
young monks, pupils of the venerable Ananda, had given up the robe
and had returned to the lay life. After the venerable Ananda had
ended his tour, he came to Rajagaha and went to see the venerable
Maha Kassapa. When he had saluted him and had sat down, Kassapa
"What are the reasons, friend Ananda, for the
sake of which the Blessed One had said that only three monks
should take their alms meal among families?"
"There are three reasons, venerable sir: it
is for restraining ill-behaved persons, for the well-being of
good monks, and out of consideration for the lay families."
"Then, friend Ananda, why do you go on tour
with those young new monks whose senses are unrestrained, who
are not moderate in eating, not given to watchfulness? It seems
you behave like one trampling the corn. It seems you destroy
the faith of the families. Your following is breaking up, your
new starters are falling away. This youngster truly does not
know his own measure!"
"Gray hairs are now on my head, venerable sir,
and still we cannot escape being called 'youngster' by the venerable
But the venerable Maha Kassapa repeated again the very same words
he had spoken.
This could have ended this matter, as Ananda did not deny that
the reproach was justified. He objected only to the hurtful way
in which Maha Kassapa had expressed his censure. In response to
the admonition, Ananda would have tried to keep his pupils under
stricter discipline. But, again, this matter was complicated by
a nun, Thullananda, who along with Thullatissa was one of the "black
sheep" of the Bhikkhuni Order. She had heard that Ananda had been
called a "youngster" by the venerable Maha Kassapa, and full of
indignation, she voiced her protest saying that Kassapa had no right
to criticize a wise monk like Ananda, as Kassapa had formerly been
an ascetic of another school. In that way, Thullananda diverted
the matter of monastic discipline into personal detraction. Besides,
she was wrong, as our earlier account has shown. (Before meeting
the Buddha, Kassapa had gone forth as an independent ascetic, not
as a follower of another school.) Thullananda soon left the Order,
just as the other wayward nun, Thullatissa, had done.
When the venerable Maha Kassapa heard Thullananda's utterance,
he said to Ananda: "Rash and thoughtless are the words spoken by
Thullananda the nun. Since I left the home life, I have had no other
teacher than the Exalted One, the Holy One, the Perfectly Enlightened