|Title||Chief Lay Disciple|
Anathapindika (Pali: Anāthapiṇḍika; Sanskrit: Anāthapiṇḍada) was a wealthy merchant and banker, believed to have been the wealthiest merchant in Savatthi in the time of Gautama Buddha. Born Sudatta, he received the nickname Anathapindika, literally "one who gives alms to the poor", due to his reputation of loving to give to those in need. Anathapindika was the chief male lay disciple and the greatest patron of Gautama Buddha along with his female counterpart Visakha. Anathapindika is known as the male lay disciple of the Buddha who was foremost in generosity. Anathapindika is frequently referred to as Anathapindika-setthi (setthi meaning "wealthy person" or "millionaire"), and is sometimes referred to as Mahā Anāthapindika to distinguish him from Cūla Anāthapindika, another disciple of the Buddha.
In Buddhist belief, when a fully enlightened Buddha arrives in the world, he always has a set of chief disciples that fulfill different roles. On top of the pair of chief Arahant disciples such as Gautama Buddha's chief male disciples Sariputta and Moggallana, and his chief female disciples Khema and Uppalavanna, all Buddhas have a set of chief lay disciples as well. Gautama Buddha's chief male lay disciple and patron was Anathapindika, with his chief female lay disciple and patron being Visakha.
According to the Pali Canon, in the time of Padumattara Buddha, a householder was inspired when Padumattara Buddha spoke of his own chief lay disciple and patron. The householder then resolved in that lifetime to become the chief lay disciple of a future Buddha himself, and did several good deeds in hopes of becoming one. His wish was fulfilled in this lifetime when he was reborn as Anathapindika and became the chief male lay disciple of Gautama Buddha.
Early Life and Family
Anathapindika was born with the given name Sudatta, and was the son of a wealthy merchant named Sumana. When Sudatta grew up, he married a woman named Puññalakkhanā, the sister of a wealthy merchant in Rājagaha. Sudatta was known for his generosity even before his conversion to Buddhism, and was known to the public by the nickname "Anathapindika", or "one who gives alms to the poor", due to his love for giving. Anathapindika had one son, Kāla, and three daughters, Mahā-Subhaddā, Cūla-Subhaddā and Sumanā. His daughter-in-law was Sujātā, the youngest sister of his female counterpart, Visakha.
Meeting the Buddha
The Pali Canon describes Anathapindika's first encounter with the Buddha as being in Rājagaha. While on business, Anathapindika went to visit his brother-in-law, who was already a follower of the Buddha. When he arrived at this brother-in-law's house, he noticed that the household was preparing for an elaborate feast, and mistook it as preparation for a wedding or a visit from the king. When Anathapindika asked about the preparations, his brother-in-law explained that they were preparing for a visit from the Buddha (the Enlightened One) and his monks. Upon hearing this, Anathapindika became overjoyed, exclaiming "You mean that a fully enlightened being had arisen in the world?", and immediately resolved to go meet him.
The following day Anathapindika arose early to meet the Buddha, but realized it was still dark. He still continued however, after a friendly yakka whispered in his ear and urged him to continue. Anathapindika eventually reached a figure which called him "Sudatta" and asked him to come forward. Surprised to hear his birth name, which was not known to the public, he concluded it could only be the Buddha, and went forward. The Buddha then had a discussion with him and expounded the Four Noble Truths, afterwards Anathapindika achieved the state of Sotapanna, a stage of enlightenment.
Building Jetavana Monastery
Following Anathapindika's first encounter with the Buddha, he requested to offer him a meal, which the Buddha accepted, and then asked to build a temple for him and his monks in his hometown of Savatthi, to which the Buddha agreed.
Shortly after, Anathapindika went back to Savatthi to search for a place to build the monastery. Looking for a place that was both accessible to followers and peacefully secluded, he came across a park belonging to Prince Jeta, the son of King Pasenadi of Kosala. Anathapindika offered to buy the park from the prince but the prince refused, after Anathapindika persisted, the prince joking said he will sell him the park if he covers it with gold coins, to which Anathapindika agreed.
Anathapindika later came back with wagons full of gold pieces to cover the park with. When Prince Jeta stated he was merely joking, Anathapindika and the prince went to arbitrators who concluded that Prince Jeta had to sell the park at the agreed price. After seeing Anathapindika's resolve, Prince Jeta offered to build a wall and gate for the monastery. Afterwards, Anathapindika spent several million more gold pieces building the temple and its furnishings, in what would come to be known as the Jetavana Monastery, also often referred to in Buddhist scriptures as "Anathapindika's Monastery".
Chief Lay Disciple
The Buddha designated Anathapindika as his chief lay disciple, along with Visakha. He is considered to be the male Buddhist lay disciple who was foremost in both generosity and character. Throughout his life, Anathapindika received hundreds of monks at his house for alms daily and regularly sent food, medicine and supplies to the monastery. The temple was also regularly maintained by Anathapindika's servants.
Whenever the Buddha was in Savatthi, Anathapindika would visit him twice a day. After first meeting the Buddha, Anathapindika committed to following the teachings and strictly observing the five precepts, as well as encouraged his family, friends, employees, and everybody around him to do the same. Anathapindika was also well versed in the Dhamma, and an excellent debater. Buddhist scriptures describe a time when he visited a temple of another religious tradition and a debate ensues, with Anathapindika skillfully defeating the followers of the other religious tradition.
Anathapindika and Visakha were not only the greatest donors to Gautama Buddha but also his primary aides when dealing with the general public. The Buddha frequently turned to one of the two chief lay disciples whenever there needed to be something arranged with the lay community.
Encounter with the Earth Spirit
Even the wealthy Anathapindika's wealth was not limitless. At one time, the wealthy banker lost a significant amount of his fortune in a flash flood, which washed away large amounts of his gold, and was reduced to poverty due to his love of giving as well as due to lending out large amounts to his friends. Despite this, Anathapindika continued his patronage and support of Buddhism, although more modestly. It is said he later returned to his wealthy status, however, due to the help of a redemptive deva, or spirit.
Based on accounts from the Buddhist scriptures, there was a deva living in Anathapindika's house at the time. According to the laws of his realm, the deva had to leave his abode whenever the Buddha or a monk was in the house, as a form of respect. Annoyed by this, the deva appeared before Anathapindika and suggested he preserve his treasure and stop his patronage of Buddhism since he was no longer wealthy. Appalled by this suggestion, Anathapindika explained that the only treasures he knew of were the Three Jewels; the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, and that he would continue to support Buddhism so long as he had something to give. Anathapindika then ordered the deva to leave his house, stating that enemies of the Buddha were not welcome, forcing the deva to find a new place to live. The homeless deva went to several authorities, eventually reaching Sakka, the king of the devas in Trāyastriṃśa, who suggested he must atone by retrieving Anathapindika's lost gold, convincing his debtors to repay their debts, and by giving Anathapindika a buried treasure, which had no owner. This resulted in Anathapindika returning to wealth, even richer than he was before.
The Story of Kalakanni
The extent of Anathapindika's generosity was not limited just to material gifts. One famous story described in the Buddhist scriptures is the story of Kalakanni. Kalakanni (whose name means "unlucky bird") was a childhood friend of Anathapindika who was impoverished. When Kalakanni asked Anathapindika for aid, the setthi offered him a job at his house. This decision was met with backlash from Anathapindika's household, due to Kalakanni's low status and the superstition at the time of Kalakanni's name being a bad omen. Anathapindika ignored this superstition and his status however, and granted his friend a job. This eventually worked in the favor of the household however, when a group of thieves attempted to rob Anathapindika while he was away on a business trip. When the vigilant Kalakanni noticed the thieves, he started making loud noises, convincing the thieves that the household was full and causing them to leave.
When Anathapindika grew ill later in life he was visited by Sariputta and Ananda, two of the Buddha's principle disciples. Sariputta delivered a sermon, recommending Anathapindika focus on freeing his mind from clinging and to reflect on the impermanence of existence. The setthi later proclaimed this sermon to have been the most profound sermon he has ever heard, which Sariputta explained was because this teaching was not normally given to laypeople. Shortly after Sariputta and Ananda left, Anathapindika died. According to the Buddhist scriptures, Anathapindika was reborn as a deva in Tusita heaven after his death, where he would live as long as his female counterpart Visakha, and the king of Tavatimsa heaven, Sakka.
Anathapindika is considered to be one of the most exemplary adherents of the Buddhist virtue of generosity. Not only did he regularly provide alms and necessities to the monks at Jetavana, he hosted hundreds of monks at his residence for meals daily. Referring to Anathapindika, the Buddha stated that for one who was dedicated to perfecting the virtue of generosity, nothing in the world is capable of stopping him from giving. Anathapindika's love of giving, combined with some misfortune, at one point reduced the setthi to poverty. But even in times of hardship, Anathapindika was described as continuing his patronage of Buddhism, although with much more modest gifts. His wealth was eventually restored to him however, due to the power of the merit of his generosity.
Anathapindika's patronage had a significant impact on Buddhism. Anathapindika's hometown of Savatthi was considered to be the center of Buddhism at the time, being the location of a significant number of the Buddha's sermons. On top of that, the Buddha spent more rainy seasons at Jetavana monastery than at any other temple during his lifetime. After the building of Migāramātupāsāda monastery in Savatthi by Visakha, the Buddha would alternate between Anathapindika's monastery and Visakha's monastery whenever he was staying in Savatthi. Anathapindika's generosity even inspired King Pasenadi, another follower of the Buddha, to himself start generous patronage of Buddhism.
Buddhist scholars George D. Bond and Ananda W.P Guruge, point to the story of Anathapindika as evidence that the Buddhist path for lay people and the rewards of generosity in Buddhism are not distinct from the path to Nirvana that is the focus of Buddhist monastics.
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