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Culapanthaka Thera 1

Homage to the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Highest Self—Enlightened One!

Published: 2015-01-29 — Updated: 2019-02-16

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An eminent arahant, declared chief among monks skilled in creating forms by mind—power and in mental “evolution” (cittavivatta) (A.i.23). He was the younger son of the daughter of a rich merchant of Rajagaha, who developed intimacy with a slave and fled with him when her misconduct was discovered. She wished to return to her parents for the birth of her first child, but her husband always postponed the visit until, in the end, she started to go without his knowledge. He followed her, but the child was born by the wayside, and therefore they called him Panthaka. The same thing occurred at the birth of the second child, and he also received the name of Panthaka, he being Culapanthaka and his brother Mahapanthaka. When the boys grew up they were taken to Rajagaha, where their grandparents took charge of them. Mahapanthaka often accompanied his grandfather to hear the Buddha preach, and he yearned to become a monk. He easily obtained permission and entered the Order, in due course becoming an arahant. With the consent of his grandparents, he ordained Culapanthaka, but the latter proved to be a dullard, and in the course of four months was unable to learn a single stanza. It is said that in the time of Kassapa Buddha Culapanthaka was a clever monk, who once laughed to scorn a dull colleague who was trying to learn a passage by heart.

When Mahapanthaka discovered his brother’s stupidity, he asked him to leave the Order (see DhA.iv.190f), but Culapanthaka so loved the Buddha’s teaching that he did not wish to return to the lay—life. One day Jivaka Komarabhacca, wishing to give alms to the Buddha and the monks, asked Mahapanthaka, who was acting as steward, to collect all the monks in the monastery. This he did, omitting only Culapanthaka who, he said, had made no progress in the Doctrine. Greatly grieved, Culapanthaka determined to leave the Order, but as he was going out the Buddha met him, took him into the Gandhakuti and comforted him, giving him a clean piece of cloth. “Sit with your face to the East,” said the Buddha, “repeat the words ‘rajo—haranam’ and wipe your face with the cloth.” As Culapanthaka carried out these orders he noticed that the cloth became dirty, and as he concentrated his mind on the impermanence of all things, the Buddha sent a ray of light and exhorted him about the necessity of getting rid of the impurities of lust and other evils. At the end of the admonition Culapanthaka attained arahantship with the four patisambhida, which included knowledge of all the Pitakas.

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Tradition has it that Culapanthaka was once a king and that while going in procession round his city he wiped the sweat from his brow with a spotless garment which he wore and noticed how the cloth was stained. His mind then grasped the idea of impermanence, hence the ease with which he did so in his last birth.

Meanwhile, the Buddha and the monks were seated in Jivaka’s house, but when the meal was about to be served the Buddha ordered it to be stopped, saying that there were other monks left in the monastery. A servant was sent to find them, and Culapanthaka, aware of this, contrived that the whole grove appeared full of monks engaged in various activities. When the messenger reported this, he was told to discover which of the monks was Culapanthaka and to bring him. But all the monks answered to this name, and the messenger was forced to return without him. “Take by the hand the first who says that he is Culapanthaka,” ordered the Buddha; and when this was done the other figures vanished. At the conclusion of the meal, Culapanthaka was asked to return thanks, and "like a young lion roaring defiance" the Elder ranged over the whole of the Pitakas in his sermon. Thenceforth his fame spread, and the Buddha, in order to prove how in previous births also Culapanthaka had profited by advice received, related to the monks the Cullakasetthi Jataka (Thag.557—66; AA.i.119ff; J.i.114ff; DhA.i.239ff; ThagA.i.515ff; Vsm.388f).

The Dhammapada Commentary (i.250ff) gives another story of Culapanthaka’s past. He went to Takkasila to learn under a teacher, but though he did everything for his teacher he could learn nothing. The teacher, feeling sorry for him, taught him a charm: “Ghattesi ghattesi, kim karana ghattesi? aham pi tam janami” (“You try and try; what are you trying for? I know it too”). When he had returned home thieves entered his house, but he woke up from his sleep and repeated the charm, whereupon the thieves fled, leaving behind them even their clothes.

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The king of Benares, wandering about the city in disguise, seeing what had happened, sent for Culapanthaka the next day and learnt from him the charm after paying him one thousand. Soon after—wards the king’s commander—in—chief bribed the court barber to cut the king’s throat, but while the barber was sharpening his razor the king repeated the charm. The barber, thinking that his intended crime was discovered, confessed his guilt. The king, realising that the youth had saved his life, appointed him commander—in—chief in place of the traitor, whom he banished. The youth was Culapanthaka and the teacher was the Bodhisatta.

Culapanthaka was a householder in the time of Padumuttara Buddha, and having seen a monk exalted by the Buddha to the rank of chief among those skilled in creating mind—born forms, aspired to the same position. In the time of Kassapa Buddha he was a monk and practised odatakasina for twenty thousand years (AA.i.119).

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Culapanthaka was expert in rupajjhana and in samadhi, while his brother was skilled in arupajjhana and in vipassana. When creating forms, other monks could produce only two or three, while Culapanthaka could bring into being as many as one thousand at the same time, no two being alike in appearance or action (ThagA.i.490; PsA.276).

According to the Apadana (i.58f), Culapanthaka joined the Order at the age of eighteen. It is said (Vin.iv.54f) that when it was his turn to teach the nuns at Savatthi they expected no effective teaching, since he always repeated the same stanza. One day, at the end of the lesson, he overheard their remarks, and forthwith gave an exhibition of his magical powers and of his wide knowledge of the Buddha’s teachings. The nuns listened with great admiration until after sunset, when they were unable to gain entrance to the city. The Buddha heard of this and warned Culapanthaka not to keep the nuns so late.

The Udana (v.10; UdA.319f) contains a verse sung by the Buddha in praise of Culapanthaka, and the Milinda (p.368) quotes a stanza attributed to Culapanthaka which has so far not been traced elsewhere.

May all be happy and well!


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