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Arahant (Arahat) Rahula 1

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

Published: 2015-03-01 — Updated: 2019-05-01 History

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Only son of Gotama Buddha. He was born on the day on which his father left the household life (J.i.60; AA.i.82, etc.; cf. J.i.62). When the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu for the first time after his Enlightenment and accepted Suddhodana’s invitation, Rahula’s mother (Rahulamata) sent the boy to the Buddha to ask for his inheritance (dayajja). The Buddha gave him no answer, and, at the conclusion of the meal, left the palace. Rahula followed him, reiterating his request until at last the Buddha asked Sariputta to ordain him. (According to SNA.i.340, Moggallana taught him the kammavaca; see also J.ii.393). When Suddhodana heard of this he protested to the Buddha, and asked as a boon that, in future, no child should be ordained without the consent of his parents, and to this the Buddha agreed (Vin.i.82f.; the story of Rahula’s conversion is also given at DhA.i.98f).

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It is said (AA.i.145) that immediately after Rahula’s ordination the Buddha preached to him constantly (abhinhovadavasena) many suttas for his guidance. Rahula himself was eager to receive instruction from the Buddha and his teachers and would rise early in the morning and take a handful of sand, saying: “May I have today as many words of counsel from my teachers as there are here grains of sand!” The monks constantly spoke of Rahula’s amenability, and one day the Buddha, aware of the subject of their talk, went amongst them and related the Tipallatthamiga Jataka (J.i.160ff ) and the Tittira Jataka (J.iii.64ff ) to show them that in past births, too, Rahula had been known for his obedience. When Rahula was seven years old, the Buddha preached to him the Ambalatthika Rahulovada Sutta (q.v.) as a warning that he should never lie, even in fun. Rahula used to accompany the Buddha on his begging rounds. Sometimes he would accompany Sariputta on his begging rounds. He was present when Sariputta went to his (Sariputta’s) mother’s house, where he was roundly abused by her for having left her. DhA.iv.164f).

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Rahula noticed that he harboured carnal thoughts fascinated by his own physical beauty and that of his father, the Buddha preached to him, at the age of eighteen, the Maha Rahulovada Sutta (q.v.). Two other suttas, also called Rahulovada, one included in the Samyutta and the other in the Anguttara (see below), formed the topics for Rahula’s meditation (Vipassana). To these Suttas Buddhaghosa (MA.i.635) adds the Samanera, or Kumarapañha, and proceeds to enumerate the different purposes which the Buddha had in view in preaching these suttas; see also AA.ii.547. SNA.i.340 says, about the Rahula Sutta (q.v.), that the Buddha constantly preached it to Rahula. See also the Rahula Samyutta.

Later, the Buddha, knowing that Rahula’s mind was ripe for final attainment, went with him alone to Andhavana, and preached to him the Cula Rahulovada Sutta. At the end of the discourse, Rahula became an arahant, together with one hundred thousand crores of listening devas. SA.iii.26 says these devas were among those who, in the time of Padumuttara Buddha, had heard Rahula’s wish to be born as the son of a future Buddha. They were subsequently born in various deva worlds, but on this day they all assembled at Andhavana in order to be present at the fulfilment of Rahula’s wish. This scene was one of the incidents sculptured in the Relic Chamber of the Maha Thupa, as was also the ordination of Rahula. Mhv.xxxi.81, 83.

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Afterwards, in the assembly of monks, the Buddha declared Rahula foremost among those of his disciples who were anxious for training (sikkhakamanam). A.i.24; the Vinaya (iii.16) gives a story illustrating Rahula’s extreme conscientiousness in the observance of rules. He arrived one evening at Kosambi, when the Buddha was staying there in the Badarikarama. Rahula was told there of a new rule which had been laid down to the effect that no novice should sleep under the same roof as a fully ordained monk. Unable to find any resting place which did not violate this rule, Rahula spent the night in the Buddha’s jakes. When the Buddha discovered him there the next morning, he modified the rule. This incident and Rahula’s keenness in observing rules are described again in greater detail at J.i.161f. There the Buddha is said to have found fault with Sariputta for his neglect of Rahula (see also Sp.iv.744). On another occasion, finding no place in which to sleep because monks who had arrived late had taken his sleeping place, Rahula spent the night in the open, in front of the Buddha’s cell. Mara, seeing him there, assumed the form of a huge elephant and trumpeted loudly, hoping to frighten him. But the plot failed. This was eight years after Rahula had attained arahantship (DhA.iv.69f.).

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In the time of Padumuttara Buddha, both Rahula and Ratthapala were rich householders of Hamsavati, who, realizing the vanity of riches, gave all away to the poor. One day they entertained two ascetics of great power. The ascetic to whom Rahula ministered was in the habit of visiting the abode of the Naga king, Pathavindhara, and had been impressed by its magnificence. Therefore, in returning thanks to Rahula for his hospitality, he wished that his host might resemble Pathavindhara. Rahula remembered this, and after death he was born in the Naga world as Pathavindhara, his friend being born as Sakka. He was, however, dissatisfied with his lot, and one day when, with Virupakkha, he was on a visit to Sakka, Sakka recognized him, and finding out that he was dissatisfied, suggested to him a remedy. Pathavindhara invited the Buddha to his abode. The Buddha, attended by Sumana and one hundred thousand arahants, came and was entertained by him. In the company of monks was Uparevata, the Buddha’s son, seated next to him, and Pathavindhara was so fascinated by him that he could not take his eyes off him. Discovering who he was, Pathavindhara expressed a wish that he, too, might be born as the son of a future Buddha. Later, in the time of Kassapa Buddha, Rahula was born as Pathavindhara, the eldest son of King Kiki, later becoming his viceroy. His seven sisters built seven residences for the Buddha, and, at their suggestion, Pathavindhara built five hundred residences for the monks.

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The story of the past as given here is taken from AA.i.141ff.; part of it is given in MA.ii.722 under Ratthapala, but the account differs in details. There the Naga world is called Bhumindhara, and the Naga king, Palita. SNA.i.341 differs again and calls the king Sankha. See also ThagA.ii.30 on Ratthapala, where no mention is made of Rahula. The Apadana (i. 60f.) gives a different version altogether. There Rahula gave Padumuttara Buddha a carpet (santhara), as a result of which, twenty one kappas ago, he was born as a khattiya named Vimala, in Renuvati. There he lived in a palace, Sudassana, specially built for him by Vissakamma.

Four verses uttered by Rahula are included in the Theragatha (vs.295 98; Mil.413 contains several other stanzas attributed to Rahula).

It is said that the news of Rahula’s birth was brought to the Bodhisatta when he was enjoying himself in his pleasances on the banks of the royal pond after being decked by Vissakamma. As soon as the news was announced, he made up his mind to renounce the world without delay, for he saw, in the birth of a son, a new bond attaching him to household life (“Rahulajato, bandhanam jatam,” the word “rahula” meaning bond). J.i.60; DhA.i.70. The Ap. Commentary, however, derives Rahula from Rahu; just as Rahu obstructs the moon, so would the child be as obstruction to the Bodhisatta’s Renunciation.

According to the Digha and Samyutta Commentaries (DA.ii.549; SA.iii.172), Rahula predeceased the Buddha and even Sariputta, and the place of his death is given as Tavatimsa. For twelve years he never lay on a bed. (DA.iii.736).

In numerous Jatakas, Rahula is mentioned as having been the Bodhisatta’s son — e.g., in the Uraga, Kapi (No. 250), Kumbhakara, Khandahala, Culla Sutasoma, Daddara, Bandhanagara, Makkata, Makhadeva, Mahajanaka, Mahasudassana, Vidhurapandita, Vessantara, Sihakotthuka and Sonaka. He was also Yaññadatta, son of Mandavya (Sariputta) and the young tortoise in the Mahaukkusa. The Apadana (ii.551) says that in many births Uppalavanna and Rahula were born of the same parents (ekasmim sambhave) and had similar tendencies (samanacchandamanasa).

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Rahula was known to his friends as Rahulabhadda (Rahula, the Lucky). He himself says (Thag. vs. 295f ) that he deserved the title because he was twice blest in being the son of the Buddha and an arahant himself. Mention is often made in the books (DhA.i.124; MA.i.537; Mil.410 attributes this statement to Sariputta; SNA.i.202 expands it to include others) that, though Rahula was his own son, the Buddha showed as much love for Devadatta, Angulimala and Dhanapala as he did for Rahula.

Asoka built a thupa in honour of Rahula, to be specially worshipped by novices. Beal, Records i. 180, 181.

May all be happy and well!


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