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Anāthapiṇḍika

A banker (seṭṭhi) of Sāvatthi who became famous because of his unparalleled generosity to the Buddha. His first meeting with the Buddha was during the year after the Enlightenment, in Rājagaha,¹ to where Anāthapiṇḍika had come on business.

His wife was the sister of the treasurer (seṭṭhi) of Rājagaha, and when he arrived he found the treasurer preparing a meal for the Buddha and his monks on so splendid a scale that he thought that a wedding was in progress or that the king had been invited. On learning the truth he became eager to visit the Buddha, and did so very early the next morning.² He was so excited by the thought of the visit that he got up three times during the night. When, at last, he started for Sītavana, the road was quite dark, but a friendly yakkha, Sīvaka, sped him on with words of encouragement. By force of his piety the darkness vanished.

The Buddha was staying in the Sītavana, and when Anāthapiṇḍika reached there spirits opened the door for him. He found the Buddha walking up and down, meditating in the cool air of the early dawn. The Buddha greeted him and talked to him on various aspects of his teaching. Anāthapiṇḍika was immediately converted and became a Stream-winner. He invited the Buddha to a meal the next day, providing everything himself, although the treasurer, the Mayor of Rājagaha and King Bimbisāra asked to be allowed to help. After the meal, which he served to the Buddha with his own hand, he invited the Buddha to spend the rainy season at Sāvatthi, and the Buddha accepted, saying, “Householder, the Tathāgatas delight in solitude.”

“I understand, Blessed One, I understand,” was the reply.

When Anāthapiṇḍika had finished his business at Rājagaha he set out towards Sāvatthi, giving orders along the way to his friends and acquaintances ³ to prepare dwellings, parks, rest-houses and gifts all along the road to Sāvatthi in preparation for the Buddha’s visit. Understanding the request implied in the Buddha’s words when he accepted the invitation, Anāthapiṇḍika looked out for a quiet spot near Sāvatthi where the Buddha and the monks might dwell, and his eye fell on the park of Jetakumāra. He bought the park at great expense and erected therein the famous Jetavanārāma (q.v.) As a result of this and of his numerous other benefactions in the cause of the religion (sāsana), Anāthapiṇḍika came to be recognised as the chief of alms-givers.⁴

Anāthapiṇḍika’s personal name was Sudatta, but he was always called Anāthapiṇḍika ⁵ — “Feeder of the destitute” — because of his munificence; he was, however, very pleased when the Buddha addressed him by his own name.⁶ He spent eight hundred million on the purchase of Jetavana and a like sum on the construction of the vihāra; another eight hundred million were spent in the festival of dedication. He fed one hundred monks in his house daily in addition to meals provided for guests, people of the village, invalids, etc. Five hundred seats were always ready in his house for any guests who might come.⁷

Anāthapiṇḍika’s father was the millionaire (seṭṭhi) Sumana.⁸

Anāthapiṇḍika married a lady called Puññalakkhaṇā;⁹ he had a son Kāḷa and three daughters, Mahā-Subhaddā, Cūḷa-Subhaddā and Sumanā. Mention is also made of a daughter-in-law, Sujātā by name, daughter of Dhanañjaya and the youngest sister of Visākhā. She was very haughty and ill-treated the servants.¹⁰

The son, in spite of his father’s efforts, showed no piety until he was finally bribed to go to the vihāra and listen to the Buddha’s teaching (see Kāḷa). The daughters, on the other hand, were most dutiful and helped their father in ministering to the monks. The two elder ones attained to the First Fruit of the Path, married, and went to live with the families of their husbands. Sumanā obtained the Second Fruit of the Path, but remained unmarried. Overwhelmed with disappointment because of her failure in finding a husband, she refused to eat and died; she was reborn in Tusita.¹¹

The Bhadraghaṭa Jātaka ¹² tells us of a nephew of Anāthapiṇḍika who squandered his inheritance of four hundred million. His uncle gave him first one thousand and then another five hundred with which to trade. This also he squandered. Anāthapiṇḍika then gave him two garments. On applying for further help the man was taken by the neck and pushed out of doors. A little later he was found dead by a side wall.

The books also mention a girl, Puṇṇā, who was a slave in Anāthapiṇḍika’s household. On one occasion when the Buddha was starting on one of his periodical tours from Jetavana, the king, Anāthapiṇḍika, and other eminent patrons failed to stop him; Puṇṇā, however, succeeded, and in recognition of this service Anāthapiṇḍika adopted her as his daughter.¹³ On uposatha days his whole household kept the fast; on all occasions they kept the five precepts (pañcasīla) inviolate.¹⁴

A story is told of one of his labourers who had forgotten the day and gone to work; but remembering later, he insisted on keeping the fast and died of starvation. He was reborn as a deva.¹⁵

Anāthapiṇḍika had a business village in Kāsi and the superintendent of the village had orders to feed any monks who came there.¹⁶ One of his servants bore the inauspicious name of Kālakaṇṇi (curse); he and the banker had been playmates as children, and Kālakaṇṇi, having fallen on evil days, entered the banker’s service. The latter’s friends protested against his having a man with so unfortunate a name in his household, but he refused to listen to them. One day when Anāthapiṇḍika was away from home on business, burglars came to rob his house, but Kālakaṇṇi with great presence of mind drove them away.¹⁷ A similar story is related of another friend of his who was also in his service.¹⁸

All his servants, however, were not so intelligent. A slave woman of his, seeing that a fly had settled on her mother, hit her with a pestle in order to drive it away, and killed her.¹⁹ A slave girl of his borrowed an ornament from his wife and went with her companions to the pleasure garden. There she became friendly with a man who evidently desired to rob her of her ornaments. On discovering his intentions, she pushed him into a well and killed him with a stone.²⁰

The story of Anāthapiṇḍika’s cowherd, Nanda, is given elsewhere. Not all of the banker’s friends were virtuous; one of them kept a tavern.²¹

As a result of Anāthapiṇḍika’s selfless generosity he was gradually reduced to poverty. However, he continued his gifts even when he had only bird-seed and sour gruel. The devata who dwelt over his gate appeared before him one night and warned him of his approaching penury; it is said that every time the Buddha or his monks came to the house she had to leave her abode over the gate and that this was inconvenient to her and caused her to be jealous. Anāthapiṇḍika paid no attention to her warnings and asked her to leave the house. She left with her children, but could find no other lodging and sought counsel from various gods, including Sakka. Sakka advised her to recover for Anāthapiṇḍika the eight hundred million that debtors owed him, another eighteen that lay in the bottom of the sea, and yet eighteen more lying unclaimed. She did so and was re-admitted.²²

Anāthapiṇḍika went regularly to see the Buddha twice a day, sometimes with many friends,²³ and always taking with him alms for the young novices. However, we are told that he never asked a question of the Buddha lest he should weary him. He did not wish the Buddha to feel obliged to teach to him in return for his munificence.²⁴ However, the Buddha of his own accord taught him on various occasions; several such discourses are mentioned in the Aṅguttaranikāya: on the importance of having a well-guarded mind like a well-protected gable in a house;²⁵ on the benefits the recipient of food obtains (life, beauty, happiness, strength); on the four obligations that make up the pious householder’s path of duty (gihisāmikiccāni) — waiting on the Order with robes, food, lodgings, and medical requisites;²⁶ on the four conditions of success that are hard to win (wealth gotten by lawful means, good report, longevity, happy rebirth); on the four kinds of happiness that a householder should seek: ownership, wealth, debtlessness, blamelessness;²⁷ on the five kinds of enjoyment that result from wealth rightfully obtained — enjoyment experienced by oneself and one’s friends and relations, security in times of need, ability to pay taxes and to spend on one’s religion, the giving of alms to bring about a happy rebirth;²⁸ the five things that are very desirable but difficult to obtain — long life, beauty, happiness, glory, good condition of rebirths;²⁹ the five sinful acts that justify a man’s being called wicked;³⁰ the inadvisability of being satisfied with providing requisites for monks without asking oneself if one also experiences the joy that is born of ease of mind  ³¹ (evidently a gentle warning to Anāthapiṇḍika).

The Buddha taught the Velāma Sutta to encourage Anāthapiṇḍika when he had been reduced to poverty and felt disappointed that he could no longer provide luxuries for the monks.³² On another occasion the Buddha tells Anāthapiṇḍika that the Stream-winner (sotāpanna) is a happy man because he is free from various fears: fear of being born in hell, among beasts, in the realm of hungry ghosts (peta) or in some other unhappy state; he is assured of reaching Enlightenment.³³

Elsewhere the Buddha tells Anāthapiṇḍika that it is not every rich man who knows how to indulge in the pleasures of sense legitimately and profitably.³⁴

There is, however, at least one sutta taught as a result of a question put by Anāthapiṇḍika himself regarding gifts and those who are worthy to receive them;³⁵ and we also find him consulting the Buddha regarding the marriage of his daughter, Cūḷa Subhaddā.³⁶

Anāthapiṇḍika died before the Buddha. As he lay grievously ill he sent a special message to Sāriputta asking him to come (again, probably, because he did not want to trouble the Buddha). Sāriputta went with Ānanda and taught him the Anāthapiṇḍikovāda Sutta. His pains left him as he concentrated his mind on the virtuous life he had led and the many acts of piety he had done. Later he fed the Elders with food from his own cooking-pot, but quite soon afterwards he died and was born in the Tusita heaven.³⁷ That same night he visited the Buddha at Jetavana and uttered a song of praise of Jetavana and of Sāriputta who lived there, admonishing others to follow the Buddha’s teaching. In heaven he will live as long as Visākhā and Sakka.³⁸

Various incidents connected with Anāthapiṇḍika are to be found in the Jātaka stories. On one occasion his services were requisitioned to hold an inquiry on a bhikkhuṇi who had become pregnant.³⁹

Once when the Buddha went on tour from Jetavana, Anāthapiṇḍika was perturbed because there was no one left for him to worship; at the Buddha’s suggestion, an offshoot from the Bodhi tree at Gaya was planted at the entrance to Jetavana.⁴⁰

Once a brahmin, hearing of Anāthapiṇḍika’s luck, comes to him in order to find out where this luck lay so that he may obtain it. The brahmin discovers that it lay in the comb of a white cock belonging to Anāthapiṇḍika; he asks for the cock and it is given to him, but the luck flies away elsewhere, settling first in a pillow, then in a jewel, a club, and, finally, in the head of Anāthapiṇḍika’s wife. The brahmin’s desire is thus frustrated.⁴¹

On two occasions he was waylaid by rogues. Once they tried to make him drink drugged toddy. He was at first shocked by their impertinence, but, later, wishing to reform them, frightened them away.⁴²

On the other occasion, the robbers lay in wait for him as he returned from one of his villages; by hurrying back he escaped them.⁴³

Whenever Anāthapiṇḍika visited the Buddha, he was in the habit of relating to the Buddha various things which had come under his notice, and the Buddha would relate to him stories from the past containing similar incidents. Among the Jātaka stories so taught are: Apaṇṇaka, Khadiraṅgāra, Rohiṇī, Vārunidūsaka, Puṇṇapāti, Kālakaṇṇi, Akataññū, Verī, Kusanāli, Siri, Surāghaṭa, Visayha, Hiri, Sirikālakaṇṇī and Sulasā.

Anāthapiṇḍika was not only a shrewd business man but also a keen debater. The Aṅguttaranikāya ⁴⁴ records a visit he paid to the wanderers (paribbājaka) when he could think of nothing better to do. A lively debate ensues regarding their views and the views of the Buddha as expounded by Anāthapiṇḍika. The latter silences his opponents. When the incident is reported to the Buddha, he speaks in high praise of Anāthapiṇḍika and expresses his admiration of the way in which he handled the discussion.

During the time of Padumattara Buddha, Anāthapiṇḍika had been a householder of Haṃsavatī. One day he heard the Buddha speak of a lay-disciple of his as being the chief of alms-givers. The householder resolved to be so designated himself in some future life and did many good deeds to that end. His wish was fulfilled in this present life. Anāthapiṇḍika is sometimes referred to as Mahā Anāthapiṇḍika to distinguish him from Culla Anāthapiṇḍika.

Footnotes

¹ The story is given in Vin.ii.154 ff; SA.i.240 ff, etc. ² Vin.ii.155‑6.

³ He had many friends and acquaintances and his word was held to be of weight (ādeyyavaco), loc. cit., p.158. However, see J.i.92, where it is said that Anāthapiṇḍika bore all the expenses of these preparations. Vihāras were built costing l,000 pieces each, a league (yojana) apart from each other.

A.i.25. AA.i.208; MA.i.50. Vin.ii.156.

AA.i.208‑9. He fed 2,000 monks daily says DhA.i.151; but see J.iii.119, where a monk, who had come from far away and had missed the meal hour, had to starve.

AA. loc. cit. The name of Anāthapiṇḍika’s brother was Subhūti.

J.ii.410; J.iii.435, she was the sister of the treasurer (seṭṭhi) of Rājagaha. SA.i.240.

¹⁰ J.ii.347. ¹¹ DhA.i.150 f. ¹² J.ii.431. ¹³ MA.i.347‑8. ¹⁴ J.iii.257.

¹⁵ MA.i.540‑1. ¹⁶ Vin.iv.162 f. ¹⁷ J.i.364 f. ¹⁸ J.i.441. ¹⁹ J.i.248 f.

²⁰ J.iii.435. ²¹ J.i.251. ²² DhA.iii.10 ff; J.i.227 ff.

²³ J.i.95 ff; he went three times says J.i.226. ²⁴ DhA.i.3. ²⁵ A.i.261 f.

²⁶ Referred to also in S.v.387, where Anāthapiṇḍika expresses his satisfaction that he had never failed in these obligations.

²⁷ These various tetrads are given in A.ii.64 ff. ²⁸ A.iii.45‑6. ²⁹ A.iii.47‑8.

³⁰ Destroying life, etc. A.iii.204. ³¹ A.iii.206‑7. ³² A.iv.392 ff.

³³ A.iv.405 f, also S.v.387 f. ³⁴ A.v.177 ff. ³⁵ A.i.62‑3. ³⁶ DhA.iii.466.

³⁷ M.iii.258 f; see also S.v.380‑7, which contain accounts of incidents connected with this visit.

³⁸ DA.iii.740. ³⁹ J.i.148. ⁴⁰ J.iv.229. ⁴¹ J.ii.410 f. ⁴² J.i.268. ⁴³ J.ii.413.

⁴⁴ A.v.185‑9.

Finding Footnote References

Dhammapada Commentary, Yamaka Vagga, v 18, DA.i.152

References in the notes are to the Pāḷi texts of the PTS. In the translations, these are usually printed in the headers near the spine, or in square brackets in the body of the text, thus it would be i 152 in the spine or [152] in the text. References to the Commentaries are usually suffixed with A for Aṭṭhakathā (DA, MA, SNA, etc.) but references to the Jātaka Commentary are given as J, not JA, which would normally be used, as that is reserved for the Journal Asiatic.

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