Only Sri Lanka has many Arahants
Bhikkhu Maliyadeva lived in 6 AD in Mandalaramaka in present Kurunegala -as one of the last identified Maha Arahants
Perhaps with the exception of Lord Buddha’s land of birth, there is no other place on earth that can lay claim to a more glittering array of Arahants, who placed their indelible footprints for prosperity other than the blessed isle of Lanka.
A few remarkable anecdotes gleaned from their lives of humility and fathomless wisdom as recorded in the explanatory texts to the Nikayas display the enormity of the individual that stood behind them.
They have projected to the world involuntary though, through each of those episodes the subdued splendour of the profound philosophy presented by successive Buddhas who make their appearance on the human plane in intervals of almost an eternity.
Bhikkhu Maliyadeva, known to have lived in 6 AD in Mandalaramaka temple in a village named Kalla in the District of present Kurunegala is mentioned in the chronicles as one of the last identified Maha Arahants in the land.
Three years into higher ordination, he was still an avid student of Tripitaka as well as a serious practitioner of insight meditation. In one of his alms-rounds in Kalla village, a female devotee developed maternal love towards the mendicant monk while offering a spoonful of soup, invited him in and served him with excellent food. “Son, where is your habitation?” she asked.
Exactly on the day of completion of the retreat, he attained Arahanthood along with the four great powers of analysis (Patisambhida)
When told that he was a student of scripture in Madalaramaka, she volunteered to offer all his midday meals till he completes his scholarly undertaking.
Accepting her offer he regularly partakes of his meal at the upasika’s house. On each occasion at the end of the meal he exclaims “May you be happy, may you be free of sorrow” and then departs. The entire three months of the rains retreat he honoured her with his presence at meal time.
Exactly on the day of completion of the retreat, he attained Arahanthood along with the four great powers of analysis (patisambhida).
On a particular day, the resident Maha Thera of Mandalaramaka temple addressed the Maha Arahant Maliyadeva “Friend Mahadeva, people will gather at the temple today, it is good if you offer them the gift of Dhamma”, which was tolerated by the latter.
Bhikkhu Maliyadeva, known to have lived in 6 AD in Mandalaramaka temple in a village named Kalla in the District of present Kurunegala is mentioned in the chronicles as one of the last identified Maha Arahants in the land
Young novice monks went up to the lady benefactress of the Maha Arahant to inform her that she should listen to the sermon due to be delivered by her Bhikkhu son at the temple that evening.
“Children”, she replied, “It is not everyone who can preach. The only Dhamma he taught me for three months was to be happy and to be free of sorrow. Please do not play the fool with me, children.”
The samaneras insisted “Upasika, do not draw inferences on his knowledge or lack of it. Go to the temple and listen to the preaching tonight” she remained silent.
However, having gone to the temple in the evening by herself and offering flowers, she stood at the end of the gathering of listeners in the sermon hall.
The daytime preacher aware of his limitations rose from his chair and left.
Arahant Maliyadeva with a colourful ‘Vijinipatha’ in his hand then climbed the pulpit, recited the opening stanza of his sermon and told himself ‘for the whole of three months I blessed the upasika with two lines, tonight I shall span the entire Tripitaka and explain the purport of those two lines to her,’ and so did he throughout the night. At break of dawn, termination of the sermon and upasika’s attainment of womanhood occurred in unison.
Anguttara Nikaya cites the incident to illustrate the situation of reaching Nibbana by suppression of defilements through constant study and dissemination of Dhamma by a yogi alongside his practice of insight meditation.
Visuddhimagga concludes the episode with the observation that Elder Mahanaga was one of those subject to ‘hate temperament’ with a tendency to be overwhelmed by the element of light
Back to Arahant Maliyadeva Thera, the tiny wattle and daub ‘kuti’ the great bhikkhu occupied which one has to enter with bent head, preserved at Arankale hermitage in Kurunegala, remains a stunning symbol of noble monkhood to this day.
The stupendous volume of Buddha’s teaching consists of eighty-four thousand thematic monads of which a whole eighty-two thousand were proclamations of the Blessed One Himself. The rest consisted of expositions of the Dhamma by Maha Arahants the erudite scholars, great disciples with absolute mastery of the great teaching. One such was Punna, son of a Brahmin lady names Manthani, sister of Kondanna Thera, and later designated the most colourful preacher of the dispensation by Gauthama Buddha.
Arahant Punna on a request made by the ‘General of Dhamma’Venerable Sariputta to explain the seven stages of purification, made a brilliant exposition of it not realizing that it was Venerable Sariputta who made the request.
It was subsequently termed the ‘Relay of the Chariots’ that formed the basis of the legendary treatise Visuddhimagga of Badhantacharya Buddhagosha.
When a practitioner progresses on his path of insight meditation he reaches a stage where he observes a bright illumination in front of him. As explained in the text it is termed the stage of ‘tender insight’ indicative of suppression of defilements, and if one is not diligent he could misguide himself that he has succeeded in penetrating the truth.
It is a distraction and is one of the ten imperfections that lie on the path. The ability of the mediator to distinguish at this stage between the path and what is not the path is the fifth of the seven purifications mentioned above.
Perhaps the most sensational example of this almost imperceptible state of confusion was also exhibited in ancient Lanka. In Thalangara temple lived a Maha Arahant named Dhammadinna, possessed of the four categories of discrimination ‘siwpilisimbiya’, expounding the great philosophy to a large community of bhikkhus. A particular day while in his daytime quarters on wondering whether his teacher the Elder Mahanaga living at Ukkavila has brought his monkhood to fruition saw that he was still an ordinary man and if he does not visit him he would die an ordinary man. Rising into the air he alighted near the Elder who was himself spending the time in his daytime quarters.
The Arahant paid homage to him, performed his respectful duties and sat at his side. “Friend, what brought you here at this unusual hour?” the Elder asked.
“Venerable Sir, I have come to ask a question”. “Ask friend, if I know I shall reply,” the Elder said. A thousand questions were asked.
All thousand of them were answered without a pause. The Elder was told his knowledge indeed was sharp and was questioned as to when this particular state was attained by him. “Sixty years ago, friend” he replied. “Do you practise concentration, Venerable Sir?” “That is not difficult, friend,” he said.
“Then, Venerable Sir, do create an elephant”, and a white elephant was created by the elder. “Now sir, make him come towards you quickly”. He made it thunder towards him trumpeting aloud, ears outstretched, tail straightened and the trunk buried in its mouth. At the horrific sight of the enraged beast rushing towards him, the Elder sprang to his feet in order to flee. The Arahant held him by the corner of his robe, “Venerable Sir, are Arahant’s ever frightened?” he said.
Awakened to reality the Elder knelt at the Arahant’s feet pleading “Dhammadinna, please come to my rescue” “Venerable Sir, entertain no doubts whatsoever I came here exactly for that purpose”, replied the Arahant and gave him a meditation topic. Having taken the meditation topic the Elder went up to the walk and reached Arahantship on the third footstep. Visuddhimagga concludes the episode with the observation that Elder Mahanaga was one of those subject to ‘hate temperament’ with a tendency to be overwhelmed by the element of light.
To the noble bhikkhu who has comprehended the stark nature of life, the inherent insecurity of human existence and the need to abide by a meticulous regimen of virtue (Sila) to fulfil his lifetime ambition, even the prospect of death is of no concern at all. Violation of site entails far greater consequences than mere termination of life. The case of Ambakathaka Tissa of Ciragubha is in point.
Embarked on a long journey during a period of famine he failed to receive his midday meal from a single household. Exhausted, he sat down in the shade of a mango tree with ripe fruits lying around. He wouldn’t eat them since there was none to offer them to him. Partaking of food unoffered is a prohibition imposed upon a Buddhist monk.
A passerby who saw the prostrate monk went up to him and squeezed a mango into his mouth, to no avail. He then took the limp body onto his shoulder and proceeded to his village. Midway through, the monk came to and advised himself ‘This man is no father, mother or brother of yours, nor is he your relative. He does this entirely on account of your untrammelled Sila’. Augmenting insight meditation in quick succession he attained Arahantship still on the stranger’s back. Lanka’s ancient history abounds with such fascinating accounts.
Elder Sangharakkhitha the Great, past sixty years of age was lying in his death-bed. When monks queried about his supramundane state, he replied: “I have no supramundane state”. The child bhikkhu attending on him said: “Venerable Sir, people have gathered up to a twelve ‘yoththa’ assuming you have passed into parinirvana and they would be disappointed to hear you have died in the ordinary state”. The Elder replied “Friends, wanting to see Metteya Buddha I didn’t develop insight. Lend me a hand to set myself up, then.”
Just as the child monk who helped him to it up was moving away, the Elder reached the zenithal state and gave a signal by snapping his fingers. The assembled Bhikkhus said to him “Venerable Sir, you have performed a difficult a task by achieving the supramundane state in the hour of death.”
“That wasn’t difficult friends, I will tell you what is difficult. From the day of going forth, I do not recollect an instance where I did anything unknowingly and without the presence of mind”. His nephew to pass away at fifty years of age in the same manner.
In need necessarily be said that it is the sacred duty of the Bhikkhu Order today to establish a Supreme Sangha Council invested with wide-ranging powers to safeguard the great religion that has inspired the human spirit for centuries against the insidious attacks presently being directed at it from within and without.