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Vaṅgīsa Thera

He belonged to a brahmin family and was proficient in the Vedas. He gained repute by tapping on skulls with his finger nail and telling thereby where the owners of the skull were reborn. During three years he thus gained much money. Then, in spite of the protests of his colleagues, he went to see the Buddha, who gave him the skull of an Arahant (according to the Apadāna, he saw Sāriputta first and learnt from him about the Buddha). Vaṅgīsa could make nothing of this and joined the Order to learn its secret. He was ordained by Nigrodha Kappa Thera, and, meditating on the thirty-two constituents of the body, he won Arahantship. He then visited the Buddha again and praised him in various verses, full of similes and metaphors. This brought him reputation as a poet (Kāvyacitta or Kāveyyamatta). Later the Buddha declared him foremost among those pre-eminent in ready expression (paṭibhānavantānaṃ). His resolve to attain to this position was made in the time of Padumuttara Buddha. A.i.24; Dpv.iv.4; ThagA.ii.192 ff; AA.i.149 ff; DhA.iv.226 f; SNA.i.345 f; Ap.ii.495 ff.

The Theragāthā contains numerous verses spoken by him on various occasions (Thag.1208‑79; most of these are repeated at S.i.183 ff ) — some of them (1209‑18) uttered about himself, his attempts to suppress desires excited by the sight of gaily dressed women (Cf. S.i.185; on one such occasion, he confessed his disaffection to Ānanda, who admonished him); others (1219‑22) were self admonitions against conceit because of his facility of speech; some were spoken in praise of discourses taught by the Buddha — e.g., the Subhāsita Sutta (1227‑30), a sutta on nibbāna (1238‑45), and a sutta taught at the Pavāraṇā ceremony (1231‑7). Several verses were in praise of his colleagues — e.g. Sāriputta (1231‑3), Aññāta-Koṇḍañña (1246‑8), and Mahā-Moggallāna (1249‑51). One of Vaṅgīsa’s long poems (vvs. 1263‑74) is addressed to the Buddha, questioning him as to the destiny of his (Vaṅgīsa’s) teacher Nigrodha Kappa. The Commentary (ThagA.ii.211) explains that when Nigrodha Kappa died Vaṅgīsa was absent and wished to be assured by the Buddha that his teacher had reached nibbāna. However, the poem is more than a question. It is really a eulogy of the Buddha. Another verse (1252) describes the Buddha as he sat surrounded by his monks on the banks of the Gaggarā at Campā.

The Saṃyuttanikāya (S.i.185 ff; SA.i.207 ff ) devotes one whole section (Vaṅgīsa Saṃyutta) to Vaṅgīsa, dealing with the incidents connected with his life and giving poems made by him on these occasions. The Milindapañha (p.390) also contains a poem attributed to Vaṅgīsa in praise of the Buddha. According to the Apadāna (Ap.ii.497, vs.27), he was called Vaṅgīsa, both because he was born in Vaṅga and also because he was master of the spoken word (vacana). See also Vaṅgīsa Sutta and Subhāsita Sutta.

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