Mahamaudgalyayanena ca

"And Mahamaudgalyayana"

(Continued from issue #41)          by Bhiksuni Heng Hsien

     This passage of the Amitabha Sutra names the principle Bhiksu disciples of Sakyamuni Buddha. In the last lesson the Elder Sariputra was discussed and now Mahamaudgalyayana, the disciple most skilled in spiritual penetrations and magic powers will be considered.

 mahat, the stem which may appear in compounds as    maha (see VBS #35),  has three meanings: (1)great, (2) many, and (3) triumphant. From the point of view of ordinary living beings, Maudgalyayana is "Maha," but the Buddha simply called him Maudgalyayana.

      Maudgalyayana means, "descended from people connected with beans."1 The derivation is complex, but is based upon the Sanskrit word for the mung bean, mudga.2 Another interpretation is "descended from people connected with wild herbs and roots."3 In either case, what is referred to is an Indian ascetic practice involved with food. When they cultivated the Way, Mahamaudgalyayana’s ancestors ate either beans or ate only food that grew wild in forests and jungles, never touching any food that had been planted and harvested.
      Maudgalyayana was the disciple's family name. His personal name was Kolita. sometimes written   Kolika. It contains the Sanskrit word koli, "jujube tree."  A couple wishing to have a son  in ancient India would often seek aid from a local tree spirit. The Maudgalyayanas  consulted the spirit of a koli tree  in this regard, and to honor the  spirit they named their son Kolita.

      It was for the sake of Mahamaudgalyayana’s mother that Sakyamuni Buddha established the first Ullambana Festival, the celebration which comes at the end of the Bhiksu Sangha’s annual summer retreat. At that time the laity makes offerings to the Sangha of the ten directions, requesting the aid of the united Sangha in liberating their deceased relatives and friends from the evil destinies into which they may have fallen.

      Although he was first in spiritual penetrations, Mahamaudgalyayana could not save his mother and went to the Buddha for help. At the first Ullambana Festival she was freed from her rebirth as a hungry ghost by the united power of the Sangha and was reborn in the heavens.

(To be continued)