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Most Venerable Mahā Moggallāna Maha Thero
Religion Buddhism
Dharma names Moggallāna, Mahā Maudgalyāyana
Born c. 568 BCE
Kolitha village, Magadha (today in the Indian State of Bihar)
Died c. 484 BCE (aged 84)[1]
Kālasilā cave, Magadha
Parents Moggalī Brahmin lady (mother)
Senior posting
Title Vāmasāvaka (Left hand side chief disciple of Gautama Buddha) & Dutiyasāvaka (Second chief disciple of Gautama Buddha)
Religious career
Teacher Gautama Buddha
Students Most Ven. Rahula Maha Thera, etc.
Translations of
Pali Moggallāna Thera
Sanskrit Maudgalyāyana
Chinese 目連
Japanese 目犍連
(rōmaji: Mokuren or Mokkenren)
Sinhala මහා මොග්ගල්ලාන මහ රහතන් වහන්සේ
Thai พระโมคคัลลานะ
Glossary of Buddhism

Maudgalyāyana (Pali: Moggallāna), also known as Mahāmaudgalyāyana, was one of the Sakyamuni Buddha's closest disciples. A contemporary of disciples such as Subhuti, Sariputra, and Mahakasyapa, he is considered the second of the Buddha's two foremost disciples (foremost in psychic powers), together with Sariputra. He was born as in a Brahmin family of the village Kolita, after which he was named. His mother was a female Brahmin called Mogallani, and his father was the village chief. Kolita was born on the same day as Upatissa (later to be known as Sariputra), and the two were friends since childhood.[2][3][4]

Mahā Maudgalyāyana's death in Kālasilā.

Finding the Buddha[edit]

According to the Pali scriptures and their commentaries, Kolita and Upatissa developed an interest in the spiritual life when they were young. One day they were watching a show and sitting there, a sense of disenchantment and spiritual urgency came to them: they wished to leave the worldly life behind and started their spiritual life under the wanderer (Pali: paribbājaka) Sañjaya in the Indian Sceptic tradition.[5][4] After a while, the two left Sañjaya and continued their spiritual search. They made an agreement that the first who would find the core of the spiritual life would have to tell the other. One day Upatissa met a Buddhist monk named Asvajit (Pali: Assaji), whose deportment inspired Upatissa to approach Asvajit and learn more. Asvajit then told him the essence of the Buddha's teaching in a few words:[6][4]

These words helped Upatissa to attain the first stage on the Buddhist spiritual path. After this, Upatissa told Kolita about his discovery and Kolita also attained the first stage. They attempted in vain to persuade Sanjaya to join them, but the latter's five hundred students did follow Upatissa and Kolita. They all went to ordain as monks under the Buddha in Veluvana, and all except Upatissa and Kolita attained arhat (last stage of enlightenment). Since Maudgalyayana had not attained enlightenment yet, he continued to strive for it. He attained enlightenment in Magadha, in a village called Kallavala, after he had a vision of the Buddha.[4][6]

Asvajit's brief statement has traditionally been described as the essence of the Buddhist teaching, and according to the writer Thanissaro Bhikkhu, was later recommended in one of Emperor Asoka's edicts as subject of study and reflection. T.W. Rhys Davids believes the brief poem may have made a special impression on Maudgalyayana and Sariputta, because of the Buddhist emphasis on causation.[6][7][note 1]

Death: the arhat's karma[edit]

Maudgalyayana 's death came in November of the same year as the Buddha's passing, when Maudgalyayana was traveling in Magadha. Some accounts put forth that religious cultists stoned him to death, others say they were robbers. The Pali tradition states that a Jain monk persuaded the robber Samana-guttaka to kill Maudgalyayana, out of jealousy for his success. Whatever the case may be, the general consensus is that he was killed in a violent fashion at the Black Rock Cave, on the Isigili Hill near Rajagaha.[10] When asked why Maudgalyayana had not protected himself, and why a great arhat would suffer such a death, the Buddha said that because Maudgalyayana had contracted such karma in a previous life (he had murdered his parents in a previous life—one of the five heinous acts that reap the worst karma), so he had no escape from reaping the consequences. He therefore accepted the results. Further, the Buddha stated that even psychic powers will be of no use in avoiding karma, especially when it is serious karma.[citation needed]

Previous lives[edit]

On the day of Maudgalyayana's ordination, the Buddha gave him and Sariputra the seats of chief disciples. As they were just ordained, some other monks felt offended. The Buddha responded by relating that both disciples had aspired many lifetimes ago to become the two chief disciples under him. They had made such a resolution since the time of previous Buddha Anomadassi, when Maudgalyayana was a layman called Sirivadha. Sirivaddha felt inspired to aspire to become a chief disciple under a future Buddha after his friend, Sariputra in a previous life, recommended him so. He then invited Anomadassi Buddha and his monastic community to have food at his house for seven days, during which he made his resolution for the first time. Afterwards, he and Sariputra continued to do good deeds for many lifetimes, until the present.[4]


Several teachings are traditionally ascribed to Maudgalyayana, including several verses in the Theragatha and many sutras in the Samyutta Nikaya. Besides these, there are many passages that describe his deeds or events in his life. He was seen as learned and wise in ethics, philosophy and meditation. When comparing Sariputra and Maudgalyayana, the Buddha used the metaphor of a woman giving birth to a child for Sariputra, in that he established new students in the first attainment on the spiritual path (Pali: sotāpanna). Maudgalyayana, however, was compared with the master who trains the child up, in that he develops his students further along the path to enlightenment.[10]

In teaching, Maudgalyayana is described to rely much on his psychic powers. Varying accounts in the Pali Canon show Maudgalyayana travelling to and speaking with pretas (spirits in unhappy destinations) in order to explain to them their horrific conditions and give them an understanding of their own suffering, so that they may be released from it or come to terms with it. He then reported about this to the Buddha, who used these examples in his teachings. Similarly, Maudgalyayana is also depicted as teaching devas and brahmas (heavenly beings).[11][4]

Maudgalyayana was able to use his powers of mind-reading in order to give good and fitting advice to his students, so they could attain results quickly.[examples needed] He is described as using his psychic powers to discipline not only monks, but also devas, nagas and other beings. One time some monks were making noise as they were sitting in the same building as the Buddha. Maudgalyayana then shook the building, to teach the monks to be more restrained.[11][4]


Maudgalyayana saves his mother
See also: Ghost festival

Maudgalyayana has an important role in many Mahayana traditions. The Ullambana Sutra is the main Mahāyāna sūtra in which Maudgalyayana is mentioned. The sutra covers the topic of filial piety, and traditionally was a discourse given to Maudgalyayana by Sakyamuni Buddha, in which the Buddha recommended Maudgalyayana to transfer merit to his mother, who was reborn in an unhappy destination.[12][11]

Of particular popularity in China and Japan, the discourse is the foundation for the Ullambana (China) or Obon (Japan) Festival. This festival, also popular among non-Buddhists, is celebrated on the full moon in August or September (China), or from 13 to 15 July (Japan). In this period it is believed that ancestors reborn as pretas or hungry ghosts wander around. People make merits and transfer merit through several ceremonies, so the ghosts may be reborn in a better rebirth.[13] The festival's ideas have striking similarities to Confucian and Neo-Confucian ideals, in that it deals with ancestor worship. It is for this reason that the Ullambana Sutra is often subject to criticism in Chinese popular culture. It has often been called inauthentic, because its Confucian leanings that are often at odds with other Buddhist teachings, as shown in Chinese literature and operas, such as Mulian Rescues His Mother.[citation needed] Nevertheless, in South-East and East Asia Maudgalyayana is honored as a symbol of filial piety, and also psychic powers.[14]

In the Lotus Sutra Chapter 6 (Bestowal of Prophecy), the Buddha bestows prophecies of enlightenment on the disciples Mahakasyapa, Subhuti, Mahakatyayana, and Maudgalyayana .[15]

In the early Buddhist canon, Maudgalyayana is held up by the Buddha as an example who monks should follow.[4] The Pali name Moggallana was now and then used as a monastic name by Buddhist monks, up until the twelfth century C.E.[10]


In the 19th century, archaeologist Alexander Cunningham discovered bone fragments in boxes with Maudgalyayana's and Sariputra's names inscribed on it, both in the Sanchi memorial mound (stupa) and at the stupas at Satdhara.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The general consensus among scholars is that Emperor Asoka referred to the text Sariputta Sutta. However, this consensus is tentative.[8][9]


  1. ^ Hecker (30 November 2013). "Maha-Moggallana". Access to Insight (Legacy Edition). Retrieved 20 February 2017. 
  2. ^ Thakur, Amarnath. Buddha and Buddhist synods in India and abroad. p. 66. 
  3. ^ Rhys Davids 1908, pp. 768–9.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Malalasekera 1937.
  5. ^ Harvey 2013, p. 14.
  6. ^ a b c Rhys Davids 1908, p. 768.
  7. ^ Bhikkhu, Thanissaro (1993). "That the True Dhamma Might Last a Long Time: Readings Selected by King Asoka". Access to Insight (Legacy Edition). Retrieved 19 February 2017. 
  8. ^ Neelis, Jason (2011). Early Buddhist transmission and trade networks : mobility and exchange within and beyond the northwestern borderlands of South Asia (PDF). Dynamics in the History of Religions. 2 (illustrated ed.). Leiden: Brill Publishers. pp. 89–90 n72. ISBN 9004181598. 
  9. ^ Wilson (1856). "Buddhist Inscription of King Priyadarśi: Translation and Observations". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. West Strand: John W. Parker and Son. 16: 363–4. 
  10. ^ a b c d Rhys Davids 1908, p. 769.
  11. ^ a b c Mrozik 2004, p. 487.
  12. ^ Harvey 2013, pp. 263.
  13. ^ Harvey 2013, pp. 262–3.
  14. ^ Mrozik 2004, p. 488.
  15. ^ Tsugunari, Kubo (2007). The Lotus Sutra (PDF). Translated by Akira, Yuyama (revised 2nd ed.). Berkeley, California: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research. pp. 109–11. ISBN 978-1-886439-39-9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 May 2015. 


External links[edit]