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

Page last updated on 8 October, 2020

Association for Insight Meditation Home Page

Mahāsamaya Sutta

1. Mahāsamaya Sutta.– Taught at Mahāvana in Kapilavatthu, where the Buddha was staying with five hundred Arahants. The gods of the ten thousand world systems had come to visit the Buddha and the monks, and were joined by four gods from the Suddhāvāsā, who greeted the Buddha in verse. The Buddha then addressed the monks and recited this sutta (D.ii.253‑62). It is possible to divide the discourse into three parts. The first contains a list of the devas ¹ and other beings present to worship the Buddha. It is a long list of strange names given in verses, mostly doggerel. Many of the beings mentioned are to us now mere names, with no special information attached. Most of them were probably local deities, the personification of natural phenomena, guardian spirits, fairies, harpies, naiads, dryads, and many others, who are here represented as adherents of the Buddha, come to do him honour. It is noteworthy that even the most important gods — e.g., Soma, Varuṇa, and Brahmā — are only incidentally mentioned, added to the list, as it were, without special distinction.

The second part of the sutta is the framework of the words attributed to the Buddha, introducing the list of devas, giving the Buddha’s warning to the monks to beware of Māra and Māra’s declaration that he had no power over them as Arahants are free from fear. The third part of the sutta may be called the prologue, the verses of greeting spoken by the devas from Suddhāvāsā (Rhys Davids, Dial.ii.282 f). This prologue is elsewhere preserved as a separate episode (S.i.27).

The Commentaries give long accounts of the teaching of the Mahāsamaya (e.g., SNA. 357 ff; DA.ii.672 ff). The Arahants mentioned are Sakyan and Koliyan youths, representatives of Sakyan and Koliyan families, sent to join the Order as a sign of gratitude to the Buddha for having averted the quarrel between the two families regarding the water of the Rohiṇī. On that occasion the Buddha had taught the opposing armies the Attadaṇḍa Sutta and the Phandana, Laṭukika, and Vaṭṭaka Jātakas.² He then related the story of their origin, showing that both families were descended from a common stock. When the quarrel was thus settled, two hundred and fifty young men from each family entered the Order and the Buddha dwelt with them in Mahāvana. However, the wives of the men tried to entice them back; the Buddha, therefore, took them to Himavā, where he taught them the Kuṇāla Jātaka on the banks of the Kuṇāla Lake. At the conclusion of the discourse they attained to various fruits of the Path, from Stream-winning to Non-returning. He then returned with them to Mahāvana, where they developed insight and became Arahants. They assembled to pay homage to their teacher on the evening of the full-moon day of Jeṭṭhamāsa, and to the assembly came the devas of the ten-thousand world systems. The Buddha told the monks the names of the devas present (as given in the Mahāsamaya), and, surveying the assembly, saw that it consisted of two kinds of beings, one capable of benefiting by his teaching (bhabbā), and the other not so capable (abhabbā). The capable he saw, could be divided into six groups according to temperament: those of lustful temperament (rāgacaritā), hating (dosa), deluded (moha), discursive (vitakka), faithful (saddhā), and intelligent temperament (buddhicaritā). To these, respectively, he taught six suttas, calculated to benefit each separate class, and, in order that each sutta might take the form of a dialogue, he created a Buddha form to ask questions, while he himself answered them. The six suttas, so taught, were the Purābheda, Kalahavivāda, Cūlavyūha, Mahāvyūha, Tuvaṭaka and Sammāparibbājaniya. Countless numbers of beings realised the Truth (AA.i.173, 320; Mil. 20, 350; SNA.i.174).

The teaching of the Mahāsamaya Sutta was among the incidents of the Buddha’s life sculptured in the Relic Chamber of the Mahā Thūpa. Mhv.xxx.83.

¹ A similar list of devas is found in the Mahavastu (i. 245; iii.68, 77); the addition of Siva to this list is significant. The list of gods given in the Mahāsamaya should be compared with that given in the Āṭānāṭiya Sutta.

² DA.ii.674 adds the Paṭhavi-udrīyana (not found, but it would be about the breaking up of the earth, ed.) and the Rukkhadhamma Jātakas

2. Mahāsamaya Sutta.– See the Sammāparibbājanīya Sutta.