Maudgalyayana was one of the Buddha's closest disciples. He was also popularly known as Mahamaudgalyayana. He is also considered as the second of the Buddha's two foremost male disciples, first being Sariputra. It is recorded that Maudgalyayana and Sariputra, in their youths, became spiritual wanderers. While they had for the thirst of the spiritual needs, they stumble up the teachings of Buddha and eventually came into contact with the Buddha. It is believed that Maudalyayana attains enlightenment shortly after he got the discourse from the Buddha. Maudalyayana died at the age of 84 yrs, killed through the efforts of a riviating sect.
As mentioned in Pali Canon and other Buddhists scripture, Maudalayana was known for his filial piety, he also transferred his merits to his mother. This act was later converted into Buddhist tradition in many Buddhist countries and was ultimately called ghost festival.
Historical Background of Maudgalyayana
Meeting with the Buddha
As mentioned in Buddhist texts, Maudgalyayana was born in a Brahmin family. His mother was a female Brahmin named Mogallani while his father was Kshatriya and was the chief in the village. Maudgalyayana was previously named Kolita after the name of the village. His childhood friend Upatisya, later named Sariputra, was also born on the same day. Both the children develop an intense interest in the spiritual life in the earlier life. Therefore they learned from different spiritual gurus but none of the gurus satisfy their needs. They both came to conclusion to search at different place separately and whoever finds the spiritual guru he will inform other and shall obtain the teaching together.
While searching Upatisya met Assaji, a Buddhist Monk during the alms collection. He was one of the first five disciples of the Buddha. Assaji's serene deportment inspires Uptisya to approach him and learn more. In reply, Assaji tells him that he can only teach a little since he is still newly ordained. He then expresses the essence of the Buddha's teaching which helped Upatisya to attain the first stage on the Buddhist spiritual path. As promised Uptisya also informed Kolita about his learning. Afterwards, Kolita also attained the first stage. They both along with others went to visit the Buddha in Venuvana with the objective to ordain as Buddhist monks.
After the ordination, they both got a new name, Upatisya, and Kolita then known as Sariputra and Maudgalyayana respectively.
The brief statement that Asvajit said to Upatisya is known as the Ye Dharma Hetu stanza. This stanza has been described as the essence of the Buddhist teaching. This stanza has been inscribed throughout the Buddhist world - in Buddhist schools as well as in Buddhist arts - Buddha statues and stupas.
Maudgalyayana and Sariputra
Even though they are only friends, they both are closely related to each other. Both of them were born on the same day and died in the same period. Their families were also friends and in their student life, both were co-pupils under the same teacher. In many sutras, they have been shown high appreciation and kindness to one another.
The early Buddhist texts agree that Sariputra is spiritually superior to Maudgalyayana. In terms of specialization, the text describes that Maudgalyayana specializes in psychic powers while Sariputra in wisdom. Therefore, most of the texts describe Maudgalyayana as the second chief male disciple next to Sariputra.
According to the Pali Canon, Maudgalyayana's death was at the same year as the Buddha got parinirvana. He died at the age of eighty-four. It is mentioned that Jain monks persuade a group of robbers to kill Maudgalyayana. Jain monks acted as such because they were jealous of Maudgalyayana for his success. The murder was very violent at the Kalasila Cave on the Isigili hill near Rajagaha. It is believed that the violent murder was the karma of previous life.
Relics of Maudgalyayana
In Pali Canon, the Buddha is said to have had the ashes of Maudgalyayana collected and then he builds the stupa in the gateway of the Veluvala in the name of Maudgalyayana. According to the Divyavadina, emperor Ashoka visited the stupa and made an offering on the advice of Upagupta Thera. Also, the Chinese pilgrims reported that a stupa dedicated to Maudgalyayana relics could be found under the Indian city Mathura and in several other places in Northeast India.
It is recorded that relics of Maudgalyayana along with Sariputra was displayed to different places. First, it was displayed in Victoria and Albert Museum in England and then after Colombo Museum, Srilanka. It was then displayed at Dharmarajika Vihara, Calcutta then followed by Burma. In Burma, the relics were displayed along with images of Burmese Buddhas. Later it was displayed at Nepal and Ladakh, India. Finally, the relics were enshrined at Chetiyagiri Vihara, Sanchi after distribution of some parts of relics to Burma and Srilanka.