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Gautama Buddha

Maudgalyayana Maudgalyayana Rescuing His Mother

Dharma names
Moggallāna, Mahā Maudgalyāyana

Vāmasāvaka (Left hand side chief disciple of Gautama Buddha) & Dutiyasāvaka (Second chief disciple of Gautama Buddha)

Most Ven. Rahula Maha Thera, etc.

Sariputta, Gautama Buddha, Mahākāśyapa, Ananda, Rāhula

Maudgalyāyana (Pali: Moggallāna), also known as Mahāmaudgalyāyana, was one of the Sakyamuni Buddha's closest disciples. A contemporary of disciples such as Subhuti, Śāriputra, and Mahākasyapa, he is considered the second of the Buddha's two foremost disciples (foremost in psychic powers), together with Śāriputra. Maudgalyāyana became a spiritual wanderer in his youth, together with his friend Śāriputra. After heaving searched for a while, they came into contact with the Buddhist teaching and eventually the Buddha himself. Maudgalyāyana attained enlightenment shortly after that. As a teacher, he became known for his psychic powers, which he used extensively in his teaching methods. He died at the age of eighty-four, being killed through the efforts of a rivaling sect. This violent death was a result of Maudgalyāyana's karma of having killed his own parents in a previous life.


In Mahāyāna texts, Maudgalyāyana became known for his filial piety through a popular account of him transferring his merits to his mother. The account led to a tradition in China and Japan known as the ghost festival, during which people dedicate their merits to their ancestors. Maudgalyāyana has also traditionally been associated with Abhidharma texts or meditation, as well as the Dharmaguptaka school. In the 19th century, relics were found attributed to him.

Maudgalyayana Maudgalyayana Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia


Maudgalyayana Maudgalyayana Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia

In the Pali Canon, it is described that Maudgalyāyana had a skin color like a blue lotus or a rain cloud. Oral tradition in Sri Lanka says that this was because he was born in hell in many lifetimes. (See § Death because of karma, below.) Karaluvinna believes, however, that originally a dark skin was meant, not blue. In the Mahāsāṃghika Canon, it is stated however that he was "beautiful to look at, pleasant, wise, intelligent, full of merits..." (translation by Migot).

Meeting the Buddha

According to Buddhist texts, Maudgalyāyana was born in a Brahmin family of the village Kolita, after which he was named. His mother was a female Brahmin called Mogallāni, and his father was the village chief. Kolita was born on the same day as Upatiṣya (later to be known as Śāriputra), and the two were friends since childhood. Kolita and Upatiṣya (Pali: Upatissa) developed an interest in the spiritual life when they were young. One day they were watching a show and sitting there, a sense of disenchantment and spiritual urgency overcame them: they wished to leave the worldly life behind and started their spiritual life under the mendicant wanderer Sañjaya Vairatiputra (Pali: Sañjaya Belatthiputta). In the Pali Canon, he is described as a teacher in the Indian Sceptic tradition, as he did not believe in knowledge or logic, nor did he answer speculative questions. Since he could not satisfy Kolita and Upatiṣya earnest spiritual needs, they left. The Mahāsāṃghika Canon has a similar account. In the Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition, in Tibetan accounts and other accounts of the Chinese Buddhist Canon, however, he is depicted as a teacher with admirable qualities like meditative vision or religious zeal. He fell ill though, and died, causing the two disciples to look further. In some versions, he even went so far to predict the coming of the Buddha through his visions.

Maudgalyayana Maudgalyayana Yang Kyung Soo

Whatever the case may be, Kolita and Upatiṣya left and continued their spiritual search, splitting up in separate directions. They made an agreement that the first who would find the "ambrosia" of the spiritual life would tell the other. Next, what follows is the account leading up to taking of refuge by Kolita and Upatiṣya under the Buddha, which is considered an ancient element in the traditional accounts about their lives. Upatiṣya met a Buddhist monk named Aśvajit (Pali: Assaji), one of the first five disciples of the Buddha, who was walking for alms. In the Mūlasarvāstivāda version, the Buddha had sent him there to teach Upatiṣya . Aśvajit's serene deportment inspired Upatiṣya to approach him and learn more. Aśvajit told him he was still newly ordained and could only teach a little. He then expressed the essence of the Buddha's teaching in these words:

These words helped Upatiṣya to attain the first stage on the Buddhist spiritual path. After this, Upatiṣya told Kolita about his discovery and Kolita also attained the first stage. The two disciples, together with Sañjaya's five hundred students, went to ordain as monks under the Buddha in Veṇuvana (Pali: Veḷuvana). From the time of their ordination, Upatiṣya and Kolita became known as Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana, respectively, Maudgalyāyana being the name of Kolita's clan. After having ordained, all except Upatiṣya and Kolita attained arhat (Pali: arahant; last stage of enlightenment). Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra attained enlightenment one to two weeks later, Maudgalyāyana attaining in Magadha, in a village called Kallavala. At that time, drowsiness was obstructing him from attaining. After he had a vision of the Buddha advising him how to overcome drowsiness, he was able to achieve enlightenment. In some accounts, it is said that he meditated on the elements. In the Commentary to the Pali Dhammapada, the question is asked why the two disciples attained enlightenment slower than the other former students of Sañjaya. The answer given is that Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana were just like kings, who required a longer time to prepare for a journey than commoners: their attainment was of greater depth than the other students and therefore required more time.

Aśvajit's brief statement, also known as the Ye Dharma Hetu stanza, has traditionally been described as the essence of the Buddhist teaching, and is perhaps the most iterated statement, both in Buddhist texts and inscriptions. It can be found on many Buddha statues and rock inscriptions. According to Indologist Oldenberg and writer Thanissaro Bhikkhu, the verses were recommended in one of Emperor Asoka's edicts as subject of study and reflection. Indologist T.W. Rhys Davids, believed the brief poem may have made a special impression on Maudgalyāyana and Sariputta, because of the Buddhist emphasis on causation. Philosopher Paul Carus explained that the stanza was a bold and iconoclastic response to Brahmanic traditions, as it "repudiates miracles of supernatural interference by unreservedly recognising the law of cause and effect as irrefragable", whereas Japanese Zen teacher Suzuki was reminded of the experience that is beyond the intellect, "in which one idea follows another in sequence finally to terminate in conclusion or judgment".

Although in the Pali tradition, Maudgalyāyana is described as an arhat who will no longer be reborn again, in the Mahayāna traditions this is sometimes interpreted differently. In the Lotus Sutra, Chapter 6 (Bestowal of Prophecy), the Buddha is said to predict that the disciples Mahākasyapa, Subhuti, Mahakatyayana, and Maudgalyāyana will become Buddhas in the future.

Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana

On the day of Maudgalyāyana's ordination, the Buddha allowed him and Śāriputra take the seats of chief disciples. According to the Pali Buddhavaṃsa text, each Buddha has had such a pair of chief disciples. As they were just ordained, some other monks felt offended that the Buddha gave such honor to them. The Buddha responded by relating that both disciples had aspired many lifetimes ago to become chief disciples under him. They had made such a resolution since the time of previous Buddha Aṇomadassī, when Maudgalyāyana was a layman called Sirivadha. Sirivaddha felt inspired to become a chief disciple under a future Buddha after his friend, Śāriputra in a previous life, recommended him so. He then invited Aṇomadassī Buddha and the monastic community (Saṃgha) to have food at his house for seven days, during which he made his resolution to become a chief disciple for the first time. Afterwards, he and Śāriputra continued to do good deeds for many lifetimes, until the present. After the Buddha appointed Maudgalyāyana as chief disciple, he became known as "Mahā-Maudgalyāyana", mahā meaning 'great'.

Post-canonical texts describe Maudgalyāyana as the second chief disciple, next to Śāriputra. The early canons agree that Śāriputra was superior to Maudgalyāyana, and their specializations are described as psychic powers (Sanskrit: ṛddhi, Pali: iddhi) for Maudgalyāyana and wisdom for Śāriputra. In Buddhist art en literature, Buddhas are commonly depicted with two main disciples (Japanese: niky ōji, Classical Tibetan: mchog zung) at his side—in the case of Sakyamuni Buddha, the two disciples depicted are most often Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra. Although there are different perspectives among different Buddhist canons as to some disciples' merits, in all Buddhist canons, Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra are recognized as the two main virtuous disciples. This fact is also confirmed by archaeological findings. Moreover, Maudgalyāyana is often included in traditional lists of 'four great disciples' (pinyin: sida shengwen) and eight arhats. Despite these widespread patterns in both scripture and archaeological research, it has been noted that that in later iconography, Ānanda and Mahākasyapa are depicted much more, and Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra are depicted much less.

The lives of Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra were closely connected. Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra were born on the same day, and died in the same period. Their families had long been friends. In their student years, Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra were co-pupils under the same teacher. After having helped each other to find the essence of the spiritual life, their friendship remained. In many sutras they show high appreciation and kindness to one another. For example, when Śāriputra falls ill, Maudgalyāyana is described to use his psychic powers to obtain medicine for him. Śāriputra was considered the wisest disciple of the Buddha, but Maudgalyāyana was second to him in wisdom. The one thing that gave them a strong bond as spiritual friends was the love for the Buddha, which both expressed often .


Several teachings are traditionally ascribed to Maudgalyāyana, including several verses in the Theragatha and many sutras in the Samyutta Nikaya. Besides these, there are many passages that describe his deeds or events in his life. He was seen as learned and wise in ethics, philosophy and meditation. When comparing Śāriputra with Maudgalyāyana, the Buddha used the metaphor of a woman giving birth to a child for Śāriputra, in that he established new students in the first attainment on the spiritual path (Pali: sotāpanna). Maudgalyāyana, however, was compared with the master who trains the child up, in that he developed his students further along the path to enlightenment.

The Buddha is described in the texts as placing great faith in Maudgalyāyana as a teacher. He often praised Maudgalyāyana for his teachings. Maudgalyāyana was also given the responsibility to train Rahula, the Buddha's son. After the schism caused by Devadatta, the Buddha asked Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra to convince Devadatta's following to come back to the Buddha, which they did successfully. The Buddha also entrusted Maudgalyāyana with other tasks than teaching: the Commentary to the Dhammapada states that Maudgalyāyana supervised the construction of the Migaramatupasada monastery.

Teaching through psychic powers

In the Anguttara Nikaya, Maudgalyāyana is called foremost in psychic powers. In teaching, Maudgalyāyana is described to rely much on such powers. Varying accounts in the Pali Canon show Maudgalyāyana travelling to and speaking with pretas (spirits in unhappy destinations) in order to explain to them their horrific conditions. He helped them understand their own suffering, so that they may be released from it or come to terms with it. He then reported about this to the Buddha, who used these examples in his teachings. Similarly, Maudgalyāyana is also depicted as teaching devas and brahmas (heavenly beings). Maudgalyāyana was able to use his powers of mind-reading in order to give good and fitting advice to his students, so they could attain results quickly. He is described as using his psychic powers to discipline not only monks, but also devas, dragons, and other beings. Once some monks were making noise as they were sitting in the same building as the Buddha. Maudgalyāyana then shook the building, to teach the monks to be more restrained. But the most-quoted example of Maudgalyāyana's demonstration of psychic powers, was his victory over the dragon (naga) Nandopananda, which required mastery of the jhānas (states in meditation). In other stories, he showed his strength in more mundane matters: there is a Sanskrit account of Utpalavarṇā (Pali: Uppalavaṇṇā) trying to seduce Maudgalyāyana. He resisted her, however, and persuaded her to ordain as a bhikṣuṇī (nun).

A tradition account that is widely spread in Mahāyāna Buddhist countries like China and Japan, is the account of Maudgalyāyana (pinyin: Mulian) looking for his mother after her death. The story originates from the Ullambana (pinyin: Yulanben jing) and has been made popular through edifying folktales (pinyin: bianwen) like The Transformation Text on Mu-lien Saving His Mother from the Dark Regions. The story has Maudgalyāyana look for his deceased parents through his psychic powers. When he could not find her, he asked the Buddha for help. The Buddha advised him to make merits on his mother's behalf, which helped her to be reborn in a better place. In some other accounts, Maudgalyāyana did find his mother, reborn as a spirit. When Maudgalyāyana tried to offer food to his mother through his psychic powers, the food burst into flames each time. Maudgalyāyana therefore asked the Buddha for advice, who recommended him to make merit to the Saṃgha and dedicate it to his mother. Through such transfer of merit he would be able to help seven generations of his parents and ancestors.

Another account involving Maudgalyayana, related in the Chinese translation of the Ekottara Agāma, was the production of what was described as the first Buddha image, the Udāyana Buddha. The account relates that during the Buddha's visit to the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven (Pali: Tāvatiṃsa), King Udāyana missed the Buddha so much he asked Maudgalyāyana to use his psychic powers to transport thirty-two craftsmen to the heaven and make an image of the Buddha there. The image that was made eventually was from sandalwood, and many other accounts have attempted to relate it to later Buddha images in other areas and countries.


According to the Pali tradition, Maudgalyāyana 's death came in November of the same year as the Buddha's passing, when Maudgalyāyana was traveling in Magadha. He died at the age of eighty-four. Some accounts put forth that rivaling traditions stoned him to death, others say that those traditions hired robbers. The Pali tradition states that Jain monks persuaded a group of robbers led by a Samaṇa-guttaka to kill Maudgalyāyana, out of jealousy for his success. Maudgalyāyana would often teach about the visits he had made to heaven and hell, the fruits of leading a moral life, and the dangers of leading an immoral life. These teachings made the number of followers from rivaling traditions decrease. Whoever killed Maudgalyāyana, the general consensus is that he was killed in a violent fashion at the Kālasilā Cave, on the Isigili Hill near Rājagaha.

At that time, Maudgalyāyana dwelled alone in a forest hut. After an encounter with Māra he foresaw that his days were numbered, and felt the body to be just an obstruction and burden. He had no wish to use psychic powers to keep himself alive for much longer. Despite this, when he saw the bandits approaching, he made himself vanish with these powers. The bandits found an empty hut, and although they searched everywhere, found nobody. They left and returned on the following day, for six consecutive days, with Maudgalyāyana escaping from them in the same way. According to Buddhist teachings, he not do so to protect himself, but to save the bandits from the negative karma of such a deed as killing an arhat. On the seventh day Maudgalyāyana suddenly lost the psychic powers he had long wielded. Maudgalyāyana realized that he was now unable to escape. The bandits entered, beat him repeatedly and left him lying in his blood. Being keen on quickly getting their payment, they left at once. Maudgalyāyana's great physical and mental strength was such that he was able to regain consciousness and was able to journey to the Buddha. In some accounts, he then returned to Kalasila and died there, teaching his family before dying. In other accounts, he died in the Buddha's presence.

In a previous life, Maudgalyāyana was the only son born to his family. He was dutiful, and took care of all the household duties. As his parents aged, this increased his workload. His parents urged him to find a wife to help him, but he persistently refused, insisting on doing the work himself. After persistent urging from his mother, he eventually married. His wife looked after his elderly parents, but after a short period became hostile to them. She complained to her husband, but he paid no attention to this. One day, when he was outside the house, she scattered rubbish around and when he returned, blamed it on his blind parents. After continual complaints, he capitulated and agreed to deal with his parents. Telling his parents that their relatives in another region wished to see them, he led his parents onto a carriage and began driving the oxen cart through the forest. While in the depths of the forest, he dismounted and walked along with the carriage, telling his parents that he had to watch out for robbers, who were common in the area. He then impersonated the sounds and cries of thieves, pretending to attack the carriage. His parents told him to fend for himself, as they were old and blind, and implored the "thieves" to leave their son. While they were crying out, he beat and killed his parents, and threw their bodies into the forest before returning home. In another version recorded in the commentaries, Maudgalyāyana did not carry the murder through though, touched by the words of his parents.

After Maudgalyāyana's death, people asked why Maudgalyāyana had not protected himself, and why a great enlightened monk would suffer such a death. The Buddha said that because Maudgalyāyana had contracted such karma in a previous life (the murder of one's own parents is one of the five heinous acts that reap the worst karma), so he could not avoid reaping the consequences. He therefore accepted the results. Further, the Buddha stated that even psychic powers will be of no use in avoiding karma, especially when it is serious karma.

In some accounts of Maudgalyāyana's death, many of his students fell ill after his death, and died as well.


Maudgalyāyana has an important role in many Mahāyāna traditions. The Ullambana Sutra is the main Mahāyāna sūtra in which Maudgalyāyana is mentioned. The sūtra covers the topic of filial piety, and traditionally was a discourse given to Maudgalyāyana by Sakyamuni Buddha, in which the Buddha recommended Maudgalyāyana to transfer merit to his mother. (See § Helping mother in hell, above.) The sutra was highly influential, judging from the six commentaries that were written about it, of which two have survived. Popular in China and Japan, the discourse is the foundation for the Ullambana (China) or Obon (Japan) Festival. The festival was probably spread from China to Japan in the seventh century. This festival, also popular among non-Buddhists, is celebrated on the full moon in August or September (China), or from 13 to 15 July (Japan). In this period it is believed that ancestors reborn as pretas or hungry ghosts wander around. People make merits and transfer merit through several ceremonies, so the spirits may be reborn in a better rebirth. The festival has striking similarities to Confucian and Neo-Confucian ideals, in that it deals with ancestor worship. It is for this reason that the Ullambana Sutra is often subject to criticism in Chinese popular culture. It has often been called inauthentic, because its Confucian leanings that are often at odds with other Buddhist teachings, as shown in Chinese literature and operas, such as Mulian Rescues His Mother.

There are several canonical and post-canonical texts that are traditionally connected to the person of Maudgalyāyana. In the Theravāda tradition, the Vimānavatthu is understood to be a collection of accounts related by Maudgalyayana to the Buddha, dealing with his visits to heavens. In the Sarvāstivāda tradition, Maudgalyāyana is said to have composed the Abhidharma texts called the Dharmaskandha and the Prajñāptibhāsya, although the former is attributed to Śāriputra in some Sankrit and Tibetan scriptures. Scholars have their doubts on whether Maudgalyāyana was really the author of these works. They do believe, however, that Maudgalyāyana and some other main disciples compiled lists (Sanskrit: mātṛikā, Pali: mātikā) of teachings as mnemonic devices. These lists formed the basis for what later became the Abhidharma. Despite these associations with Abhidharma texts, pilgrim Xuan Zang reports that during his visits in India, Śāriputra was honored by monks for his Abhidharma teachings, whereas Maudgalyāyana was honored for his meditation, the basis for psychic powers. Migot has shown that in most canons, Maudgalyāyana was associated with meditation and psychic powers, as opposed to Śāriputra's specialization in wisdom and Abhidharma.

There is also an entire tradition that traces its origins to Maudgalyayana, or to a follower of him, called Dharmagupta: this is the Dharmaguptaka school, one of the early Buddhist schools.

In the Tipiṭaka, Maudgalyāyana is held up by the Buddha as an example who monks should follow. The Pali name Moggallāna was used as a monastic name by Buddhist monks, up until the twelfth century C.E. In South-East and East Asia Maudgalyāyana is honored as a symbol of filial piety and psychic powers.

Finally, an account in the Divyāvadāna relates that Ānanda once told the Buddha about Maudgalyāyana's good qualities as a teacher. The Buddha said that in the future, a person like him would be hard to find. The Buddha then had an image hung above the gate of the Veluvaḷa monastery to honor Maudgalyāyana, depicting the Wheel of Becoming. Thomas links this legend of the wheel with the teaching of dependent origination, which is widely known in Buddhism.


In a Jātaka account, the Buddha is said to have had the ashes of Maudgalyāyana collected and kept in a stūpa (memorial mound) in Veluvaḷa. According to the Divyāvadāna, emperor Ashoka visited the stūpa and made an offering, on the advice of Upagupta Thera. In the seventh century CE, Xuan Zang reported that a stūpa could be found under the Indian city Mathura, containing remains of Maudgalyāyana. In the 19th century, archaeologists Alexander Cunningham and F.C. Maisay discovered bone fragments in boxes, with Maudgalyāyana's and Śāriputra's names inscribed on it, both in the Sanchi Stūpa and at the stūpas at Satdhara. There was controversy in Great Britain whether or not the relics found should be brought back to Britain. However, in 1861, the Archeological Survey of India was founded, and the Sanchi stūpa was preserved and consequently protected, including the purported relics of Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra.


Maudgalyayana Wikipedia