Mahā Kassapa Thera
One of the Buddha's most eminent disciples, chief among
those who upheld minute observances of form (dhutavādānam) (A.i.23). He was born
in the brahmin village of Mahātittha in
Magadha, and was the son of the brahmin
Kapila, his mother being
Sumanādevī; he himself was called Pippali. At
Ap.ii.583, vs. 56; but there his father is called Kosiyagotta.
When he grew up
he refused to marry in spite of the wishes of his parents; but in the end, to
escape from their importunities, he agreed to marry if a wife could be found
resembling a statue, which he had made. Bhaddā Kāpilānī was found at Sāgala to fulfil these conditions, and though the young people wrote to each
other suggesting that somebody else should be found as a match for each, their
letters were intercepted and they were married. By mutual consent, however, the
marriage was not consummated, the two spending the night separated by a chain of
flowers. Pippali had immense wealth; he used twelve measures of perfumed powder
daily, each measure a Magadhanāli, for his person alone. He had sixty lakes with
water works attached, and his workmen occupied fourteen villages, each as large
One day he went to a field, which was being ploughed and saw
the birds eating the worms turned up by the plough. On being told that the sin
therein was his, he decided to renounce all his possessions.
At the same time, Bhaddā had been watching the crows eating the little insects, which ran about
among the seamsum seeds that had been put out to dry, and when her attendant
women told her that hers would be the sin for their loss of life, she also
determined to renounce the world.
The husband and wife, finding that they were of one
accord, took yellow raiments from their wardrobe, cut off each other's hair,
took bowls in their hands, and passed out through their weeping servants, to all
of whom they granted their freedom, and departed together, Pippali walking in
front. But soon they agreed that it was not seemly they should walk thus
together, as each must prove a hindrance to the other. And so, at the cross
roads, he took the right and she the left and the earth trembled to see such
The Buddha, sitting in the Gandhakuti in
what the earthquake signified, and having walked three gāvutas (this journey of
the Buddha is often referred to - e.g., MA.i.347, 357), sat down at
the foot of the Bahuputtaka Nigrodha, between
Rājagaha and Nālandā, resplendent
in all the glory of a Buddha. Pippali (henceforth called Mahā Kassapa, no
explanation is to be found anywhere as to why he is called Kassapa; it was
probably his gotta name, but see Ap.ii.583, vs.56) saw the Buddha, and
recognising him at once as his teacher, prostrated himself before him. The
Buddha told him to be seated, and, in three homilies, gave him his ordination.
The three homilies are given at S. ii.220, "Thus Kassapa
must thou train thyself:
- (1) 'There shall be a lively sense of fear and regard (hirotappa)
towards all monks, seniors, novices, and those of middle status.'
- (2) 'Whatever doctrine I shall hear bearing upon what
is good, to all that I will hearken with attentive ear, digesting it,
pondering it, gathering it all up with my will.'
- (3) 'Happy mindfulness with respect to the body shall
not be neglected by me.'"
Together they returned to Rājagaha, Kassapa, who bore on
his body seven of the thirty two marks of a Great Being, following the Buddha.
On the way, the Buddha desired to sit at the foot of a tree by the roadside, and
Kassapa folded for him his outer robe (pilotikasanghāti) as a seat. The Buddha
sat on it and, feeling it with his hand, praised its softness. Kassapa asked him
to accept it. "And what would you wear?" inquired the Buddha. Kassapa then
begged that he might be given the rag robe worn by the Buddha. "It is faded with
use," said the Buddha, but Kassapa said he would prize it above the whole world
and the robes were exchanged. (The robe which Kassapa exchanged with the Buddha
was Punnā's cloak. See Punnā 6).
This incident Kassapa always recalled with pride,
e.g. S. ii.221. It is said that the Buddha paid him this great honour because he
knew that Kassapa would hold a recital after his death, and thus help in the
perpetuation of his religion, SA.ii.130. The earth quaked again in recognition
of Kassapa's virtues, for no ordinary being would have been fit to wear the
Buddha's cast off robe. Kassapa, conscious of the great honour, took upon
himself the thirteen austere vows (dhutagunā) and, after eight days, became an
In the past Kassapa and Bhaddā had been husband and wife
and companions in good works in many births. In the time of
Kassapa was a very rich householder named Vedeha and married to Bhaddā, and very
devoted to the Buddha. One day he heard the Buddha's third disciple in rank (Nisabha)
being awarded the place of pre eminence among those who observed austere
practices, and registered a wish for a similar honour for himself in the future.
He learnt from the Buddha of the qualities in which Nisabha excelled the Buddha
himself, and determined to obtain them. With this end in view, during birth
after birth, he expended all his energies in goods deeds. Ninety one kappas ago;
in the time of Vipassī Buddha, he was the brahmin
Ekasātaka and Bhaddā
was his wife. In the interval between Konāgamana and
Kassapa Buddhas he was a setthiputta. He married Bhaddā, but because of an evil deed she had done in the
past (see Bhaddā Kāpilānī), she became unattractive to him and he left her,
taking her as wife again when she became attractive. Having seen from what had
happened to his wife how great was the power of the Buddhas, the setthiputta
wrapped Kassapa Buddha's golden cetiya with costly robes and decked it with
golden lotuses, each the size of a cartwheel.
The Therī Apadāna (Ap.ii.582. vs.
47-51) gives an account of two more of his lives, one
as Sumitta and the other as Koliyaputta, in both of which he and his wife
ministered to Pacceka Buddhas.
In the next birth he was Nanda, king of Benares,
and, because he had given robes in past lives, he had thirty two kapparukkhas,
which provided him and all the people of his kingdom with garments. At the
suggestion of his queen, he made preparations to feed holy men, and five hundred
Pacceka Buddhas, sons of Padumā, came to accept his gift. In that life, too,
Nanda and his queen renounced the world and became ascetics, and having
developed the jhānas, were reborn in the Brahma world.
This account of Kassapa's last life and his previous life
is compiled from AA.i.92ff.; SA.ii.135ff.; ThagA.ii.134ff.; Ap.ii.578ff.
Ap.i.33ff. gives other particulars - that he
made offerings at Padumuttara's funeral pyre and that he was once a king named
Ubbiddha in the city of Rammaka; see also ApA.i.209f.
Kassapa was not present at the death of the Buddha; as he
was journeying from Pāvā to
Kusināra he met an
Ājīvaka carrying in his hand a
mandārava flower picked up by him from among those which had rained from heaven
in honour of the Buddha, and it was he who told Kassapa the news. It was then
the seventh day after the Buddha's death, and the Mallas had been trying in vain
to set fire to his pyre. The arahant theras, who were present, declared that it
could not be kindled until Mahā Kassapa and his five hundred companions had
saluted the Buddha's feet. Mahā Kassapa then arrived and walked three times
round the pyre with bared shoulder, and it is said the Buddha's feet became
visible from out of the pyre in order that he might worship them. He was
followed by his five hundred colleagues, and when they had all worshipped the
feet disappeared and the pyre kindled of itself (D.ii.163f).
It is said
(Mhv.Xxxi.20f.; see also Vsm.430) that the relics of the Buddha which fell to Ajātasattu's share were taken to
Rājagaha by Kassapa, in view of that which
would happen in the future. At Pāvā (on the announcement of the Buddha's death),
Kassapa had heard the words of Subhadda, who, in his old age, had joined the
Order, that they were "well rid of the great samana and could now do as they
liked." This remark it was which had suggested to Kassapa's mind the
desirability of holding a Recital of the Buddha's teachings. He announced his
intention to the assembled monks, and, as the senior among them and as having
been considered by the Buddha himself to be fit for such a task, he was asked to
make all necessary arrangements (e.g., DA.i.3). In accordance with his wishes,
all the monks, other than the arahants chosen for the Recital, left Rājagaha
during the rainy season. The five hundred who were selected met in Council under
the presidency of Kassapa and recited the Dhamma and the Vinaya (DA.i.3f.;
5ff.; Sp.i.4.ff.; Mhv.iii.3ff). This recital is called the Therasangitī or
The books contain numerous references to Mahā Kassapa -
he is classed with Moggallāna,
Kappina, and Anuruddha for his great
iddhi-powers. E.g., S. i.114; but his range of knowledge was limited; there were
certain things which even Kassapa did not know (DhA.i.258).
The Buddha regarded him as equal to himself in exhorting
the monks to lead the active and zealous lives (S.ii.205), and constantly held
him up as an example to others in his great contentment (S.ii.194f) and his
ability to win over families by his preaching. The Buddha compares him to the
moon (candopama), unobtrusive; his heart was free from bondage, and he always
taught others out of a feeling of compassion. S. ii.197ff. Kassapa's freedom from
any kind of attachment was, as the Buddha pointed out to the monks, due to the
earnest wish he had made for that attainment in the past, "He has no attachment
to requisites or households or monasteries or cells; but is like a royal swan
which goes down into a lake and swims there, while the water does not adhere to
his body" (DhA.ii.169f.).
The Buddha also thought him equal to himself in his power
of attaining the jhānas and abiding therein (S.ii.210ff).
Kassapa was willing to help monks along their way, and
several instances are given of his exhortations to them (E.g., Thag.vss.1051-57,
1072-81, and his long sermon at A.v.161ff ); but he
was evidently sensitive to criticism, and would not address them unless he felt
them to be tractable and deferential to instruction. E.g., S. ii.203ff.; and at
219, when Thullanandā finds fault with him for blaming
Ananda. See below.
Kassapa had good reason for not wishing to address recalcitrant monks. The
Kutidūsaka Jātaka relates how one of his disciples,
Ulunka Saddaka, angered by
some admonition from Kassapa, burnt the latter's grass hut while he was away on
his alms round (J.iii.71f.).
He was very reluctant to preach to the nuns, but on one
occasion he allowed himself to be persuaded by Ananda, and accompanied by him he
visited the nunnery and preached to the nuns. He was probably not popular among
them, for, at the end of his discourse, Thullatissā openly reviled him for what
she called his impertinence in having dared to preach in the presence of Ananda,
"as if the needle pedlar were to sell a needle to the needle maker." (S.ii.215f)
Kassapa loved Ananda dearly, and was delighted when Ananda attained arahantship
in time to attend the First Recital, and when Ananda appeared before the
arahants, it was Kassapa who led the applause (DA.i.10f). But Kassapa was very
jealous of the good name of the Order, and we find him (S.ii.218f) blaming
Ananda for admitting into the Order new members incapable of observing its
discipline and of going about with them in large numbers, exposing the Order to
the criticism of the public. "A corn trampler art thou, Ananda," he says, "a
despoiler of families, thy following is breaking up, thy youngsters are melting
away," and ends up with "The boy, methinks, does not know his own measure."
Ananda, annoyed at being called "boy," protests "Surely my head is
growing grey hairs, your reverence." This incident, says the Commentary took
place after the Buddha's death, when Ananda, as a new arahant and with all the
honour of his intimacy with the Buddha, whose bowl and robe he now possessed,
had become a notable personage. SA.ii.133; Ananda regarded Kassapa in some sort
of way as a teacher, and held him in great respect, not daring to mention even
his name, lest it should imply disrespect (see Vin.i.92f.).
Thullanandā heard Kassapa censuring Ananda and raised her
voice in protest, "What now? Does Kassapa, once a heretic, deem that he can
chide the learned sage Ananda?" Kassapa was hurt by her words, and complained to
Ananda that such things should be said of him who had been singled out by the
Buddha for special honour.
Kassapa viewed with concern the growing laxity among
members of the Order with regard to the observance of rules, even in the very
lifetime of the Buddha, and the falling off in the number of those attaining
arahantship, and we find him consulting the Buddha as to what should be done.
S.ii.224f. At the First Council, when Ananda stated that the Buddha had given
leave for the monks to do away with the minor rules of the Order, Kassapa was
opposed to any such step, lest it should lead to slackness among the monks and
contempt from the laity (Vin.ii.287f.).
Kassapa himself did his utmost to lead an exemplary life,
dwelling in the forest, subsisting solely on alms, wearing rag robes, always
content with little, holding himself aloof from society, ever strenuous and
energetic. See also the Mahāgosinga Sutta (M.i.214), where Kassapa declares his
belief in the need for these observances; that his example was profitable to
others is proved by the case of Somamitta who, finding his own teacher
Vimala given up to laziness, sought Kassapa and attained arahantship under his
When asked why he led such a life, he replied that it was
not only for his own happiness but also out of compassion for those who came
after him, that they might attain to the same end. Even when he was old and the
Buddha himself had asked him to give up his coarse rag robe and to dwell near
him, he begged to be excused. S. ii.202f; but See Jotidāsa, who is said to have
built a vihāra for Kassapa, and entertained him.
Once, when Kassapa lay grievously ill at
Buddha visited him and reminded him of the seven
bojjhangas which he had
The knowledge that he had profited by the Master's
teaching, we are told (SA.iii.128), calmed his blood and purified his system,
and the sickness fell away from him "like a drop of water from a lotus leaf." He
disdained being waited upon by anybody, even by a goddess such as
lest he should set a bad example (DhA.iii.6ff).
Owing to his great saintliness, even the gods vied with
each other to give alms to Kassapa. Once when he had risen from a trance lasting
seven days, five hundred nymphs, wives of Sakka, appeared before him; but,
snapping his fingers, he asked them to depart, saying that he bestowed his
favours only on the poor.
The story of Kālavilangika is an example of Kassapa's
compassion for the poor. Once, after a seven days' trance, he went to the house
of Kālavilanga and received alms from his wife, which he gave to the Buddha for
their greater benefit. The Buddha took a portion of this and gave the rest to
five hundred monks. Kālavilangika, received only a mouthful of the food left.
The Buddha said that as a result he would be a setthi within seven days.
Kālavilangika told this to his wife. It happened that a few days later the king
saw a man impaled alive in the place of execution; the man begged him for some
food, which he agreed to send. At night, when eating, the king remembered his
promise, but could find no one bold enough to go to the cemetery. On the offer
of one thousand pieces, Kālavilangika's wife agreed to go in the guise of a man.
On the way she was stopped by the yakkha Dīghataphala, who, however,
later released her and gave her treasure, as did also the yakkha's father in
law, the deva Sumana. The man ate the food and, when wiping his mouth,
recognised her as a woman and caught hold of her hair. But she cut off her hair,
and proved to the satisfaction of the king that her mission had been
accomplished. She then recovered the treasure given her by the yakkha and
Sumana; when the king discovered her wealth, she and her husband were raised to
the rank of setthi (MA.ii.812ff.).
When Sakka heard of this, he disguised himself as a weaver
worn with age, and accompanied by Sujātā, transformed into an old woman,
appeared in a weaver's hut along the lane where Kassapa was begging. The ruse
succeeded and Kassapa accepted their alms; but, later, be discovered the truth
and chided Sakka. Sakka begged forgiveness, and, on being assured that in spite
of his deception the almsgiving would bring him merit, he flew into the air
shouting, "Aho dānam, mahā danam, Kassapassa patitthitam." The Buddha heard this
and sympathised with Sakka in his great joy (DhA.i.423ff.; cp. Ud.iii.7).
But on one occasion so great was the importunity with
which the monks of Alavi had wearied the people, that even Mahā Kassapa failed
to get alms from them (J.ii.282). The Visuddhi Magga (403) relates a story of how
once, when Kassapa was begging for alms in Rājagaha, in the company of the
Buddha, on a festival day, five hundred maidens were going to the festival
carrying cakes, "round like the moon." They saw the Buddha but passed him by,
and gave their cakes to Kassapa. The Elder made all the cakes fill just his
single bowl and offered it to the Buddha (This is probably the incident referred
to at Vsm.68).
Sāriputta seems to have held Kassapa in great esteem, and
the Kassapa Samyutta contains two discussions between them: one on the necessity
for zeal and ardour in the attainment of Nibbāna (S.ii.195f), and the other on
the existence of a Tathāgata after death (S.ii.222f). This regard was mutual,
for when Kassapa saw the great honour paid to Sāriputta by the devas he rejoiced
greatly and broke forth into song (Thag.vs.1082 5).
Kassapa lived to be very old, and, when he died, had not
lain on a bed for one hundred and twenty years. DA.ii.413; AA.ii.596; he was one
hundred and twenty at the time of the First Recital (SA.ii.130). According, to
northern sources, Kassapa did not die; he dwells in the Kukkutagiri Mountains,
wrapt in samādhi, awaiting the arrival of Metteyya Buddha (Beal., op. cit.,
ii.142f.). A tooth of Mahā Kassapa was enshrined in the
Bhīmatittha vihāra in
He is several times referred to in the Jātakas. Thus, he
- the father in the Gagga Jātaka (ii.17),
- the brahmin in the
- one of the devaputtas in the
- Mendissara in the
Indriya (iii.469), and in the
- the father in the
- the teacher in the
- Mātali in the
- one of the seven brothers in the
- the bear
in the Pañcuposatha (iv.332),
- the chaplain in the
in the Sambhava (v.67),
- the senior ascetic in the
- Kulavaddhana setthi in the
- Suriya in the
- the tree sprite in the
- the father in the Sāma
(vi.95), and Sūra Vāmagotta in the Khandahāla (vi.157).
Mahā Kassapa was so called to distinguish him from other
Kassapas (BuA.42; chiefly Kumāra Kassapa,
VibhA.60), and also because he was possessed of great
virtues (mahanti hi sīlakkhanda hi Samannāgatattā).
An eminent thera of Ceylon, incumbent of Udumbaragirivihāra, who, as the most
senior monk, was in charge of the reform of the Sangha carried out by
Parakkamabāhu I. Cv.lxxviii.6, 16, 57; Cv. Trs.ii.102, n.2.