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Raṭṭhapāla

1. Raṭṭhapāla Thera.– Pre-eminent among those who left the world through faith (saddhāpabbajitānaṃ) (A.i.24). He was born at Thullakoṭṭhita in the Kuru country as the son of a very wealthy councillor and was called by his family name of Raṭṭhapāla — given to the family because it retrieved the fortunes of a disrupted kingdom, says the Commentary. He lived in great luxury, and, in due course, married a suitable wife.

When the Buddha visited Thullakoṭṭhita, Raṭṭhapāla went to hear him teach and decided to leave the world. His parents would not, however, give their consent until he threatened to starve himself to death. Realising then that he was in earnest, they agreed to let him go on condition that he would visit them after his ordination. Raṭṭhapāla accompanied the Buddha to Sāvatthi, and there, dwelling alone, he attained Arahantship within a short time (However, MA.ii.725 says he took twelve years, during which time he never slept on a bed, DA.iii.236). Then, with the Buddha’s permission, he returned to Thullakoṭṭhita and dwelt in the deer park of the Kuru king. The day after his arrival, while begging for alms, he came to his father’s house. His father was in the entrance hall having his hair combed, but, failing to recognise his son, he started to abuse him, taking him for an ordinary monk, one of those who had robbed him of his son. Just at that moment the slave girl of the house was about to throw away some stale rice, which Raṭṭhapāla begged of her. The girl recognised his voice, gave him the rice and told his parents who he was. When his father came to look for his son, he found him eating stale rice as though it were ambrosia. (This eating of stale rice made of him an “agga-ariyavaṃsika,” — a leading member of the lineage of Noble Ones — Sp.i.208; MA.ii.726). Having already finished eating, when invited to enter the house, he would not do so, but on the next day he went again, and his father tried to tempt him by making a display of the immense wealth that would be his should he return to the lay life, while his former wives, beautifully clothed, asked him about the nymphs, for whose sake he led the homeless life. “For the sake of no nymphs, Sisters,” he said, and they fell fainting under the shock of being addressed as “Sisters.” Growing impatient at the conduct of his family, he asked for his meal, ate it, taught them ¹ on the impermanence of all things, the futility of wealth, the snare of beauty, etc., and returned to Migacīra. (Through the air, says the Commentary (ThagA.ii.34; MA.ii.730), because his father put bolts on the house and tried to keep him there. He also sent men to remove his yellow robes and clothe him in white.

The Kuru king, who was feasting there, and had often heard of Raṭṭhapāla’s fame, visited him. Their conversation is recorded in the Raṭṭhapāla Sutta. Raṭṭhapāla then returned to the Buddha. Raṭṭhapāla’s story is given in M.ii.54 ff; MA.ii.722; ThagA.ii.30 ff; AA.i.144 ff., cp. Avadas. ii.118 ff; Mtu.iii.41, n.1.

In a previous birth, before the appearance of Padumuttara Buddha, Raṭṭhapāla was one of two rich householders of Haṃsavatī, both of whom spent their wealth in good deeds. They once waited on two companies of ascetics from Himavā; the ascetics left, but their leaders remained, and the two householders looked after them until they died. After death, one of them (Raṭṭhapāla) was reborn as Sakka, while the other was born as the Nāga king Pālita (v.l. Pathavindhara), who, in this Buddha age, became Rāhula. At Sakka’s request, Pālita gave alms to Padumuttara and wished to be like the Buddha’s son, Uparevata. Sakka himself entertained the Buddha and his monks for seven days and wished to resemble the monk Raṭṭhapāla, whom Padumuttara Buddha had declared to be foremost among those who had joined the Order through faith. Padumuttara declared that the wish of both would be fulfilled in the time of Gotama Buddha.

MA.ii.722; ThagA.ii.30 differs in many details; it makes no mention of Pālita, and says that in Padumuttara’s time, too, the householder’s name was Raṭṭhapāla. The name of the monk, disciple of Padumuttara, whose example incited the householder to wish for similar honour, is not given. This account adds (see also AA.i.143 f ) that in the time of Phussa Buddha (q.v.) he was one of those in charge of the almsgiving held in the Buddha’s honour by his three step-brothers. Bimbisāra and Visākha were his colleagues (AA.i.165). The Ap.i.63 f is again different. It says that in Padumuttara’s time the householder gave the Buddha an elephant with all its trappings, and then, buying it back, built with the money a saṅghā-rāma containing fifty-four thousand rooms. As a result he was king of the gods fifty times and Cakkavatti fifty-eight times. AA.i.141 gives the story at greater length, some of the minor details varying.

Raṭṭhapāla is mentioned (e.g., SNA.i.232; at AA.ii.596 Yasa’s name is added) with Soṇa-seṭṭhiputta as one who enjoyed great luxury as a householder. He is an example (DA.ii.642; SA.iii.201; VibhA.306; DhA.iv.195) of one who attained to the higher knowledge through resolution (chandaṃ dhuraṃ katvā). The Vinaya Piṭaka (Vin.iii.148; Ratthapāla is here called a young man of a good family (kulaputta). The incident probably refers to his lay life) contains a stanza quoted by the Buddha, in which Raṭṭhapāla’s father enquires of his son why the latter never asked him for anything. “Because begging is a degrading thing,” says Raṭṭhapāla.

¹ Buddhaghosa says that according to the Commentators of India — the elders living on other side of the ocean (para-samudda-vāsī-therānāṃ, he taught them while standing; the stanzas so taught are given in M.i.64 f. and again in Thag.769‑75)

2. Raṭṭhapāla Thera.– A monk in the time of Padumuttara Buddha. He was declared foremost among those who left the world through faith. However, see Raṭṭhapāla, (1).

3. Raṭṭhapāla.– The name of the family into which Raṭṭhapāla (1) was born. See Raṭṭhapāla (1).

4. Raṭṭhapāla Thera.– A monk of Sri Lanka, author of the Madhura-sasavāhinī (q.v.)

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