He was named Dhana at birth. Born to a Brahmin family, having mastered Triveda, he entered the bhikkhu order in his old age, being impressed by a sermon of Lord Gautama Buddha. From the day he received higher ordination, a gaily dressed woman follows him wherever he goes, enters the village and departs with him. But she remains invisible to the monk.
Women offering pindapatha to the monk often taunt him, “Venerable Sir, this spoonful is for you, this is for your friend.” The moment he enters the temple he is surrounded by Samaneras and young bhikkhus who snigger that Dhana has turned a ‘kundaya’ - perhaps a reference to the woman’s long hair, and as time passed he came to be known as Kundadhana Bhikkhu.
Unable to take their jibes any longer, he retaliates insinuating vulgarity and ill-breeding on the youngsters, their teachers and mentors. On Buddha being informed of the situation, He summoned Kundadhana Bhikkhu who confessed to his wrongdoing, as do all wrongdoers before a Buddha. Buddha advised the bhikkhu against the misdemeanour and also said that he has been unable to digest the previous kamma of his upto that time.
In due course King Kosala came to hear of a monk moving around with a woman and decided to ascertain the truth for himself. When he arrived at the temple with a few men he observed from a distance a woman standing close to the bhikkhu who was darning a robe in the veranda. As he walked towards them the woman appeared to be entering the monk’s ‘kuti’. Without worshipping the bhikkhu the king followed her into the room but found the room empty, and the king realized it was nothing but a weird kamma that was dogging the bhikkhu. Coming out, the king worshipped the bhikkhu and standing to a side inquired of him whether he did not feel faintness after his alms rounds, to which the bhikkhu answered in the affirmative. “Who would offer alms to a bhikkhu constantly being trailed by a woman? Venerable Sir, you need not beg food from today, l will offer all your bhikkhu requisites henceforth. May you be blessed with energy and diligence in your pursuit of the noble endeavour,” said the king before leaving. The bhikkhu remained silent. With agreeable sustenance forthcoming from the monarch, Bhikkhu Kundadhana with single-minded concentration succeeded in attaining Arahanthood in no time, whereupon the woman simply disappeared.
Women offering pindapatha to the monk often taunt him, “Venerable Sir, this spoonful is for you, this is for your friend.” The moment he enters the temple he is surrounded by Samaneras and young bhikkhus who snigger that Dhana has turned a ‘kundaya’ - perhaps a reference to the woman’s long hair, and as time passed he came to be known as Kundadhana Bhikkhu
The above episode concerning the mysterious female relates to an equally unnerving incident of many epochs (buddhantara) before, to the time of Kashyapa Buddha when Kundadhana Bhikkhu was an earth-bound invisible god (bhumatu deva). He saw two monks from the village proceed to the temple of Kassapa Buddha in the main city to participate in the half-yearly pratimoksha vinaya practice. Noticing the extremely strong bond of friendship between the two, the bhumatu god followed behind, wondering whether their friendship could be broken by whatever means. Before long an opportunity arose for senseless sacrilege. One of the monks handed over his robe to the other and walked into the bush near a waterhole to answer a call of nature. When the thero emerged from the bush, the bhumatu god assuming the form of a pretty woman walked behind him knotting up her loose hair, wiping sand off her back and continually adjusting her dress. The dumbstruck companion mumbled to himself, ‘ had l known he was a sinner of this magnitude l would not have undertaken this journey in the first place, handed the bowl and robe back to him saying he wouldn’t tread the same path with him again. To the evil-fearing bhikkhu it was as though a dagger had pierced his heart .
“Friend, what is it that you are saying, you call me a sinner. I have never fallen into a state of degradation in my life before. What is it that you saw?”
“What else is there to see? Did you not come here with a pretty woman?” Deny as he did, the latter wouldn’t accept it. Dismissing all his pleas, the bhikkhu took a different path to reach the temple in the city. The blameless bhikkhu too arrived on a separate route and entered the temple, whereupon the accuser monk promptly walked out of the temple building. Immensely worried that what he did was a heinous thing, the bhumatu god took on the appearance of an old upasaka this time, came up to the monk standing outside to inquire what he was doing out there. When told there was a thoroughly debased monk in the temple, the god declared, “Venerable Sir, please do not take it amiss. Your friend is of exceptional virtue, the woman you saw was none other than me.” He confessed his only intention was to test the strength of their friendship and nothing else. “ Good man, who are you?” asked the monk. “Venerable Sir, l am an earth- dwelling god” he replied, falling at the bhikkhu’s feet in his real-life god figure. “Venerable Sir, do forgive me, your friend is not aware of this incident, he is guiltless. Please perform the uposatha with him.”
The bhikkhu went in and did as he was told, though he never lived with his friend again. The faultless monk attained Arahanthood in that birth itself and the bhumatu god could not escape hell an entire ‘buddhantara’. On occasions that he was born in the human world, crimes committed by others invariably descended on him. In his last existence as Kundadhana Bhikkhu too, nature made him pay in his own coin the villainy he played upon two pious beings in the timeless past. His crime however did not fall within the purview of Ananthariya kamma of unpardonable magnitude, since the offence of causing dissension within bhikkhu order can be committed by another bhikkhu alone, in accordance with vinaya.
When finally Bhikkhu Kundadhana reached Arahanthood in solitude under Lord Gautama Buddha, none other mundane bhikkhu was wise to it. On one occasion , Buddha instructed Ananda Thero to extend invitations to five hundred monks with irdhi power to attend an almsgiving of the aristocratic upasika Subadhra in the distant city of Ugga. When the thero commenced distributing invitations (salaka) to bhikkhus, Arahant Kundadhana reached his hand out before all others, when Ananda Thero stopped him. “ These invitations are not meant for people like you, friend, they are for Arahants” he said.
When the incident was reported to Buddha, He merely exclaimed “ Give them to whoever who requests them.” Realising there was an unseen factor he could not fathom, Ananda Thero returned to offer salaka again, when the noble Kundadhana Bhikkhu having absorbed the fourth jhana of the higher powers rose to the sky and said “ Ananda, give me a salaka, the Great Teacher knows me. He will not prevent me from receiving the first salaka that is offered. “Accordingly, he was given the very first one, and based on this incident he was named ‘ first among those entitled to the first salaka ‘, a title he had aspired to in the presence of Padumuttara Buddha.
Recounting the genesis of his sensational journey he narrated how Piyamatura Buddha in his presence partook of a meal of bananas offered by him and made a remarkable pronouncement in the presence of both humans and inhumans gathered on a mountain top. He said, on account of my offering a meal to a Buddha with gladness of heart l would rule the heavens on eleven occasions and the earth, a thirty four. A hundred thousand eons (kalpa) hence when a Buddha by the name of Gotama of the Okkaka clan makes His appearance on earth, l would acquire the name Kundadhana due to a crime of trifling with pious Arahants, and arise from the great mass of Dhamma to be a Buddha Putra, an heir to the sublime treasure of Gautama Buddha.
Having finally accomplished his task of monkhood, Bhikkhu Kundadhana uttered an expression of joy that the charioteer who drove him to the magnificent sanctum of Nirvana was none other than his unrelenting determination and energy. The physical body that he carried was his last, he averred.
Theragatha is the most colourful segment of Buddhist scripture that affords a fascinating glimpse into the unique world of a random selection of two hundred and fifty five exceptional beings designated as Arahants.