Home page Up (parent) Next (right) Previous (left) Abbreviations

Page last updated on 8 May, 2017

Association for Insight Meditation Home Page

Mahā-Kappina Thera

One of the most eminent disciples of the Buddha, considered foremost among those who taught the monks (bhikkhu ovādakānaṃ) (A.i.25). He was older than the Buddha, and was born in a frontier kingdom three hundred leagues in extent, in the city of Kukkuṭavatī. On the death of his father he became king under the name of Mahā-Kappina. His chief wife was Anojā, from Sāgala in the Madda kingdom. She had been his companion in good works in past births. Every morning Mahā Kappina would send men out of the four gates of the city to stop any scholarly or learned men who might happen to pass along the road, and then to return and tell him of them. He owned five horses: Vāla, Puppha, Vālavāhana, Pupphavāhana, and Supatta. He rode only Supatta, the others were used by his messengers. One day, after the Buddha’s appearance in the world, traders came from Sāvatthi to Kukkuṭavatī and, after disposing of their goods, went to see Mahā Kappina. He received them and asked them about their country and the teaching (sāsana) which they followed. “Sire,” they replied, “we cannot tell you with unwashed mouths.” A golden jug of water was brought, and with cleansed mouths and clasped hands they told the king of the appearance of the Buddha. At the word “Buddha” Kappina’s body was suffused with rapture. He made them utter the word three times, giving them one hundred thousand pieces. The men told him also of the Dhamma and the Saṅgha, and he trebled his gifts and forthwith renounced the world, followed by his ministers. They set forth to find the Buddha, and reached the bank of a river which they crossed by an “Act of Truth,” saying, “If this teacher be a Sammāsambuddha, let not even a hoof of these horses be wetted.” In this way they crossed three rivers: the Aravacchā, the Nīlavāhinī (q.v.), and the Candabhāgā. The Buddha perceived them with his divine-eye, and after he had eaten at Sāvatthi, went through the air to the banks of the Candabhāgā (one hundred and twenty leagues, says J.iv.180; see also SNA.ii.440) and sat down under the great banyan tree facing the landing stage of the river, sending forth Buddha rays. Kappina and his men saw him and prostrated themselves. The Buddha taught them the Doctrine, and they became Arahants and joined the Order, the formula “Come monk (Ehi bhikkhu)” being their sanction and their ordination. However, see Vism.393, where it says that at the end of the discourse Kappina became only a Non-returner and his followers Stream-winners.

Anojā and the wives of Kappina’s ministers hearing that their husbands had renounced the world and gone to see the Buddha, determined to do likewise. They crossed the river in the same way as Kappina and his retinue, and approached the Buddha as he sat under the banyan tree on the banks of the Candabhāgā. The Buddha made the husbands and wives invisible to each other and taught the latter. They became Stream-winners and were ordained by Uppalavaṇṇā, the Buddha taking the monks to Jetavana. Mahā Kappina spent his days in the ecstasy of absorption (jhāna), and so full of happiness was he that he constantly repeated “Oh! What bliss! (aho sukhaṃ),” which made the monks suspect that he was longing for the pleasures of kingship which he had left behind, until the Buddha dispelled their doubts.

One day the Buddha discovered that Kappina lived inactively, enjoying his happiness, and that he never taught anybody. (Vin.i.105 records that when Kappina was in the Deer Park at Maddakucchi he wondered whether he need attend the uposatha ceremonies, since he himself was pure). The Buddha appeared before him, telling him to go. He sent for him and asked him to teach the Doctrine to his associates. This Kappina did, and at the end of a single discourse one thousand listening recluses became Arahants, hence the title conferred on him.

In the time of Padumuttara Buddha, Kappina had registered a vow to become chief among admonishers of monks, having seen a similar honour conferred on a disciple of the Buddha. He was at that time an assessor (akkhadassa) of Haṃsavatī, and having invited the Buddha and his monks entertained them with great honour. In another birth he was a Koliyan, and waited upon five hundred Pacceka Buddhas and gave them robes. The story of the entertainment of the Pacceka Buddhas is given at length in DhA.ii.112 ff., and the number given there is one thousand. They came to Bārāṇasī, but the king, occupied with the ploughing festival, asked them to return on the third day. The wife of the senior weaver of a village nearby heard this and invited the Pacceka Buddhas to her village, where there were one thousand artisans. On the invitation being accepted, she returned quickly to the village, told the people of what she had done, and they all made the necessary preparations, each family looking after one Pacceka Buddha. The Pacceka Buddhas, by their own wish, stayed on for three months, the same woman seeing to all their comforts. At the end of their visit, she persuaded each family to give a set of robes to its own Pacceka Buddha. The senior weaver was Kappina and his wife Anojā.

In the time of Kassapa Buddha, he was the leader of a guild of one thousand men and built a great pariveṇa containing one thousand rooms. AA.i.175 ff; ThagA.i.507 ff; SA.ii.172 ff; DhA.ii.117 ff. gives a more detailed and slightly different version; ep. Avadānas.ii.102 f.

It is said (DhA.ii.115 f) that once Kassapa Buddha was teaching and that all the householders of Bārāṇasī, with their families, went to hear him. Scarcely had they entered the monastery when there was a heavy downpour of rain. Those who had friends among the novices and monks found shelter in their cells, the others were unprotected. The senior householder then suggested that they should build a great monastery so that all might be sheltered in future; the others agreeing, he himself gave one thousand, each of the other men five hundred, and each woman two hundred and fifty. The monastery had one thousand pinnacles, and when money ran short, each gave half as much again. At the dedication ceremony the festival lasted for seven days. The senior householder’s wife, Anojā, offered the Buddha a casket of anoja flowers and placed at his feet a garment of the colour of the flowers worth one thousand, and made a wish that in future births her body should be of the colour of the anoja flower.

Although Kappina was famed as a teacher of monks, the Theragāthā, curiously enough, contains verses in which he admonishes the nuns (bhikkhuniyo) (Thag.vss. 547‑556; ThagA.i.511).

Kappina is described by the Buddha as pale (? odāta), thin, and having a prominent nose (tanukaṃ tuṅganāsikaṃ). He possessed great psychic powers and had attained every samāpatti, which could be attained (J.ii.284). (It was owing to his powers that he was able to follow the Buddha to the Brahma world, S.i.145; see also S.v.315, where he is described as samādhibhāvanīya). It has been remarked (Brethren, p.257 n.2) that the verses attributed to him are, for the most part, more gnomic sayings of popular philosophy than genuine Dhamma, and that they would have befitted an early Greek Pagan. Mrs. Rhys Davids (J.R.A.S. 1927, ii.p.206 f; also Sākya, p.140) has an interesting theory that Kappina was Assaji’s teacher.

Mahā-Kappina was quite often in the company of Sāriputta, and it is said (Thag.vs.1086) that once, seeing the profound homage the gods paid to his colleague, he smiled by way of congratulation.

See also Kappina Sutta.