Maha Kasyapa
In a small town called Mahatitta in Magadha,1 more than 2,500 years ago, an only son was born to the Brahim Kapila2 and to his wife Sumanadevi. They gave their baby the name Pipphali, which describes the setting of his auspicious birth and means “Born under the Tree.” After having provided their son with the best education, the couple decided that Pipphali should marry. Content with life as a single, though, Pipphali persuaded his parents that he would only be happy if and only if the girl of their choice possessed all the remarkable features of the golden statue of a goddess that the best sculptor in Magadha he hired had made. Pipphali quietly thought that a girl with such outstanding qualities did not exist. He showed his parents the statue, and Bhadra Kapilani was found.
The Nabhasa Online Dictionary & Encylopaedia writes that Bhadra (the Sanskrit spelling) “was the daughter of King Kosiyagotta and Queen Anoja of Sagala in the Madda country.” Other sources say that her mother was Sucimati and her father Kapila.3 Pipphali’s parents must have been very happy because they did everything to make all arrangements for an extravagant wedding feast, and Bhadra arrived. It is said that her dowry consisted of fifty thousand cartloads of riches. Married, the couple lived together, but they agreed that their marriage was not sanctioned because, deep down, both wanted to remain chaste.4 Like Prince Siddhartha Gautama, Kasyapa must have been very spoiled, after all, it is said that his father owned sixteen villages and sixty lakes that were all adorned with elaborate fountains.
Having inherited the estate when his parents died, one day Kasyapa walked past a field he owned and saw birds eating worms that were being unearthed by a plough. Overhearing a conversation his servants had on the law of karma and, seeing how the worms suffered so that the crops from his fields would provide for an overly luxurious lifestyle, he immediately renounced worldly ways. Bhadra saw crows eating little insects and, independent of her husband’s recognition of the infallible workings of karma and its most painful results, she then and there renounced samsara too. Both tried to persuade the other to please take all possessions and call everything his or her own, but neither of them wanted to continue perpetuating the inevitable consequences that arise from being the cause for so much suffering and pain. Instead, they then and there resolved to leave everything behind. It was a meaningful decision.5 The article Maha Kassapa - Father of the Sangha tells us that the day they renounced worldly ways was the same day that Lord Buddha attained perfect enlightenment.6
The young couple distributed everything they owned, granted their servants freedom, and - Kasyapa leading and Bhadra following close behind - they left their palace disguised as ascetics, their hair shorn and unnoticed by anyone. They were recognized by their composure when they passed through a village, though, and the farmers and servants who noticed them fell to their feet and wailed in despair that they please stay. When the young couple reached a crossing, they agreed that Kasyapa should take the road to the right and Bhadra the road to the left - and the earth trembled in the light of their pure motivation.7
Lord Buddha was sitting in his little room in Jetavana when the earth shook on that momentous day. He stood up, took three steps, and sat down under the Bahuputtaka Nigrodha Tree, which stands between Rajagriha and Nalanda and is the location of a shrine of the Mallas. He went there to greet the disciple he knew would come. Kasyapa arrived and realized that the radiant man seated under the tree would be more than his spiritual friend, teacher, and guide. Still “a learner,” the young man paid homage to Lord Buddha, who immediately ordained and transmitted the training to him.8 Lord Buddha and Kasyapa - who now bore seven of the thirty-two marks of a Great Being9 - returned to Rajagriha together. On the way, the Buddha wanted to sit at the foot of a tree by the roadside, and Kasyapa folded his outer robe four-fold and offered it to the Buddha to use as a cushion. Lord Buddha sat down, praised its softness, and asked, “And what will you wear?” Kasyapa begged that he might be given the ragged robe that the Buddha wore. Lord Buddha told him, “It is faded from use,” but Kasyapa replied that he would prize it above the whole world, and so they traded robes.10 The Nabhasa Dictionary of Pali writes that “the earth quaked again in recognition of Kassapa’s virtue.” Aware of the auspicious meaning, Kasyapa took the vows of austerity and after eight days became an Arhat - Maha Kasyapa.11
An Arhat, dgra-bcom-pa
The term Arhat is Sanskrit and means “Worthy One.” It was translated into Tibetan as dgra-bcom-pa, which means “Foe Destroyer,” dgra meaning “enemy, foe, opponent.” The Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary adds, “one who has overcome emotional conflicts, saint, enemy slayer, one who has slain the foe of conflicting emotions and reached the highest result of the vehicles of pious attendants; the status of an Arhat, slayer of the foe, a perfect saint.”12
            Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche points to the “foe” - the conflictive emotions - and teaches that “the enemy” can only be “destroyed” by being “overcome,” another definition of the Tibetan word bcom that describes an Arhat, dgra-bcom-pa. Thrangu Rinpoche describes our usual state of being and points to the source: “In India before the Buddha it was taught that there was just one consciousness. The example for how this one consciousness works is an example of a house with five or six windows and a monkey inside. The monkey would sometimes look out one window, then look out another window, so that on the outside it would appear as if there were different monkeys at different windows. But all the time it was just one monkey. The philosophers said that the house was like the mind and the windows were like the different sensory consciousnesses, and there was just one consciousness just as there was just one monkey. But the Buddha said there wasn't just one consciousness because if there were, then when one was seeing something, one wouldn't be able to hear a sound, or if one heard a sound, one wouldn't be able to smell, and so on. But in fact, one can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel physical sensations at the same time. So there are five distinct consciousnesses that are used to experience a sight, sound, smell, taste, or body sensation. In meditation only two mental consciousnesses are involved, and these are the unstable and stable mental consciousnesses. In the unstable consciousness (often called ‘the mental consciousness’) all kinds of thoughts arise and at times one feels attraction and happiness, other times dislike and unhappiness, and so on. This is our normal consciousness.
“Then there is the stable consciousness that remains completely unaffected by good or bad thoughts, pleasant or unpleasant experiences. The clarity of the stable consciousness remains the same morning, noon, and night and is also called the ‘ground consciousness,’ or alaya consciousness. There is a third mental consciousness called ‘afflicted consciousness’ that has no clarity and is in the state of delusion of always having the thought or feeling of ‘I.’ This thought of ego is always present, whether the mind is distracted or not. It is a very subtle clinging to the self and one has it all the time, whether one is aware of it or not, even when one is sleeping. Whatever one is doing, this subtle ego-clinging is always present, this thought of a ‘me.’ If one hears a sound, there is the subtle reaction, ‘Oh, this is dangerous to me.’ So, it is present all the time and, until the attainment of the state of an Arhat, all beings have this subtle ego-clinging. It is therefore called ‘the lasting consciousness’ because the five sensory consciousnesses change continually. In all there are five sensory consciousnesses and three mental consciousnesses to make a total of eight consciousnesses, not just one. When one meditates, one does not use any of the five non-conceptual consciousnesses.”13
Matthieu Ricard recently confirmed what modern studies of neuroscience and cognitive psychology discover: “(…) according to several studies, people who are best at controlling their emotions behave more selflessly than those who are very emotive. In the face of other people’s suffering, the latter are in fact more concerned with managing their own emotions, dominated by fear, anxiety, and distress, than with the suffering of others. Here again inner freedom, which releases us from the shackles of conflictive emotions, is won only by minimizing obsessive self-absorption. A free, vast, and serene mind is far more likely to consider a distressing situation from an altruistic point of view than is a mind relentlessly beset by internal conflicts. Moreover, it is interesting to see how certain people who witness an injustice or an attack are more focused on the wrongdoer and on pursuing, abusing, or manhandling him than on helping the victim. This is not altruism at all, but anger.”14
His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche responded to a question about the results of being free of emotions that arise from clinging to a self and tells us, “(…) all the negativity, totally, no more negativity. And no more negative karma, also. So you purify all the negativities, such as mental defilements and negative karma. So, everything becomes zero. When you reach that state, then it is peace. You reach the realization of peace. But that is not the full development of all the limitless qualities, nor is it the manifestation of the limitless potential of mind, not yet.”15  In other words, His Eminence added, “There is a slight difference between an Arhat and being a buddha. I mean, not slight. Tremendous.”16 Because, in Thrangu Rinpoche’s words, “(…) the process of purification finally manifests, and therefore there remains an enduring wisdom that is of the nature of non-conceptual compassion.”17
The sixth chapter of the Lotus Sutra, entitled “Announcement of Future Destiny,” relates Lord Buddha’s words to the assembly of monks: “And on that occasion the Lord spoke the following stanzas: ‘With my Buddha-eye, monks, I see that the senior Kasyapa here shall become a Buddha at a future epoch, in an incalculable aeon, after he shall have paid homage to the most high of men. This Kasyapa shall see fully thirty thousand kotis of Ginas,18 under whom he shall lead a spiritual life for the sake of Buddha-knowledge. After having paid homage to those highest of men and acquired that supreme knowledge, he shall in his last bodily existence be a Lord of the world, a matchless, great Seer. And his field will be magnificent, excellent, pure, goodly, beautiful, pretty, nice, ever delightful, and set off with gold threads. That field, monks, (appearing like) a board divided into eight compartments, will have several jewel-trees, one in each compartment, from which issues a delicious odour. It will be adorned with plenty of flowers, and embellished with variegated blossoms; in it are no pits nor precipices; it is even, goodly, beautiful. There will be found hundreds of kotis of Bodhisattvas, subdued of mind and of great magical power, mighty keepers of Sutrantas of great extension. As to disciples, faultless, princes of the law, standing in their last period of life, their number can never be known, even if one should go on counting for aeons, and that with the aid of divine knowledge. He himself shall stay twelve intermediate kalpas, and his true law twenty complete aeons; the counterfeit is to continue as many aeons, in the domain of Rasmiprabhasa.’”19       
Maha Kasyapa was not a scholar in the ordinary sense of the word. We read that “he had a few good reasons for not wishing to address defiant monks. The Kutidusaka Jataka20 relates how one of his disciples, angered by an admonition from Kassapa, burnt the latter’s grass hut while he was away on his alms round.”21 The article Maha Kassapa - Father of the Sangha speaks of further incidents when Kasyapa hesitated to instruct monks because they were unresponsive: Kasyapa heard two monks boast of their skill in preaching. Concerned, he spoke with the Buddha about this, who brought the monks back to reason and made them give up their immature conceit. On another occasion Kasyapa did not want to instruct monks who did not accept criticism, who did not believe in the good, who had no regret or fear of vice, who had no energy and understanding of virtue. Kasyapa compared such a state of decline with the waning moon that daily loses in beauty (confidence), in roundness (shame and regret), in splendour (fear of vice), in height (energy), and in expanse (wisdom). The Buddha told his eminent disciple: “Formerly, there were elders of the Order who were forest-dwellers, living on alms-food, wearing rag-robes, using only the three-fold set of robes, having few wants and being content, living secluded and aloof from society, energetic, and they praised and encouraged such a way of life. When such elders or younger bhikkhus visited a monastery, they were gladly welcomed and honoured as being dedicated to the practice of the Dharma. Then those who thus welcomed and honoured those noble monks would also strive to emulate them in their ways of life, and this would be of great benefit to them for a long time. But nowadays, Kasyapa, those who are honoured when visiting a monastery are not monks of austere and earnest life, but those who are well-known and popular are amply provided with the requisites of a monk. These are welcomed and honoured, and their hosts try to emulate them, which will bring them harm for a long time. Hence one will be right in saying that such monks are harmed and over-powered by what does harm to a monk’s life.”22
Lord Buddha also said:
So it happens, Kasyapa, when beings deteriorate and the true Dharma vanishes, then there are more rules and fewer Arhats. There will be, however, no vanishing of the Dharma until a sham Dharma arises in the world. But when a sham Dharma arises in the world,  there will be more rules and fewer Arhats.
But Kasyapa, it is not a cataclysm of the four elements - earth, water, fire, and air -   that makes the Dharma disappear. Nor is the reason for its disappearance similar to the overloading of a ship that causes it to sink. It is rather the presence of five detrimental attitudes that cause the obscuration and disappearance of the Dharma.
These are the five: It is the lack of respect and regard for the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, the training, and for meditative concentration on the part of monks, nuns, and male and female devotees. But as long as there is respect and regard for these five things the Dharma will remain free of obstacles and will not disappear.
-- The Buddha,  Samyutta Nikaya23 
The Nabhasa Dictionary tells us that Lord Buddha always praised Maha Kasyapa “as an example to others in his great contentment. The Buddha compares him to the moon, unobtrusive; his heart was free from bondage, and he always taught others out of a feeling of compassion. Kasyapa’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.”24
The Buddha Dharma Education Association relates a memorable story about a poor old woman - we will experience her again (!) - who lived on the streets, sick and forlorn: While preparing a luxurious meal for their wealthy lords, the servants and maids would sometimes pour out the water that was inside the bowl, that they had washed the rice with, onto the streets and in her direction. The lonely old woman scooped up the dirty water from the wayside with a flat tile that she owned and was then able to quench her thirst. Maha Kasyapa visited her one day and she felt insulted, thinking he was begging from her. He spoke of Lord Buddha and the Dharma, instructing her in offering whatever she could for the benefit of her own karma. She heard, was confident, helplessly looked around but found nothing to give. Unhappy, she apologized with sincere regret. Maha Kasyapa praised her sincerity and, in response, she offered him the dirty water she was able to scoop up with her little, flat tile. He gladly drank it, and the sick old woman rejoiced. She died shortly afterwards and was born as a beautiful goddess in the celestial realm. One day - much later (!) - she recalled Maha Kasyapa’s kindness toward her, descended from her celestial home in the Heaven of Thirty-three and freely scattered flowers over the body of the most excellent saint.25
The Buddhist Publication Society writes: “The strongest recognition of Maha Kasyapa’s achievement, the highest praise given him by the Buddha, may be found in a sutra where it is said that Maha Kasyapa could attain at will, just like the Buddha himself, the four fine-material and four immaterial meditative absorptions, the cessation of perception and feeling, and could also attain the six supernormal knowledges, which include the supernormal powers and culminate in the attainment of Nirvana. It was because of that deep meditative calm that he could adapt himself, unperturbed, to all external situations and live as one of few wants, materially and socially.”
Furthermore, “In the canonical ‘Verses of the Elders’ (Theragatha), forty verses (1051-1091) are ascribed to Venerable Maha Kasyapa. These stanzas reflect some of the great Elder’s qualities and virtues: his austere habits and his contentedness; his strictness towards himself and brother monks; his independent spirit and self-reliance; his love of solitude, shunning the crowds; his dedication to the practice of meditation. These verses show what does not appear in the prose texts: his sensitivity to the beauty of nature that surrounded him.”26 After having spoken about how wonderfully he perceives the elements manifesting in the world and how he esteems the company of the little animals that were nearby, Maha Kasyapa described his inner content:
No music with five instruments
Can gladden me so much
As when, with mind collected well,
Right insight into Dharma dawns.
-- Theragatha, verse 107127  
Maha Kasyapa lived an exemplary life, dwelling in the forest, subsisting solely on alms, always content with less than the least, ever diligent and energetic. Because of his great saintliness, “even the gods vied with each other to give alms to Kasyapa. Once, when he had risen from a trance lasting seven days, five hundred nymphs, wives of Sakka,28 appeared before him; but, snapping his fingers, he asked them to depart, saying that he bestowed his favours only on the poor.” When Sakka heard of this, he was enraged, disguised himself as a weaver, worn and withered with age and, accompanied by his wife Sujata (an asura maiden who transformed herself into an old woman), the couple appeared in a weaver’s hut situated along the dusty road where Kasyapa was begging. The trick worked and Kasyapa accepted their alms; but later he discovered the truth and reprimanded Sakka, who begged for forgiveness and, “assured that in spite of his deception the almsgiving would bring him merit, he flew into the air shouting, ‘Aho danam, maha danam, Kassapassa patitthi tam.’  The Buddha heard this and sympathized with Sakka in his great joy.”29 The Buddha Dharma Education Association offers the translation of Sakka’s enthralled exclamation: “Oh, almsgiving! Highest almsgiving! Well bestowed on Kasyapa!”30
In The Story of the Elder Mahakassapa it is written that “One day the Elder, who was residing at the Pipphali Cave went to Rajagaha for begging alms. On return from the round and after having had his meal, he sat down developing light of wisdom while trying to find, through his super-normal vision, beings negligent and diligent, as also those going from existence or coming into it - in the water, on the land, on the mountains, and at other places.
“Staying at Jetavana, the Teacher, while surveying with supernormal vision the way in which His disciple Kasyapa was spending that day and finding that he was occupied with the investigation into the birth and death of beings, pondered thus:
Birth and death of beings cannot be reckoned even by Omniscience. Nor is it possible to reckon the number of beings who, after taking conception in the mother’s womb, die without the parents being aware of it. O Kasyapa, this does not lie within your purview. Narrow indeed is your span of knowledge. It is within the spheres of the Buddhas alone to know and to see in their entirety the passing away of beings or their coming into existence.
Thus thinking, the Buddha shed forth lustre and appeared as if He was seated before the Elder, and uttered this verse:
When a learned man drives away negligence through heedfulness, griefless himself, he ascends the palace of wisdom and looks at the sorrowing crowd. Just as a person, standing on a mountain, looks at the people standing on the ground, even so a wise man looks at the deluded.”31
(Erected in remembrance of Lord Buddha’s Parinirvana
more than 1,000 years later in North Thailand, taken by gh)
Lord Buddha Passes into Parinirvana
While Maha Kasyapa was residing in Pava with disciples, Lord Buddha spoke last words to his followers by addressing Ananda:
“Ananda, when the Tathagata passes away, you may consider that you have no teacher. Don’t consider this way. The Doctrine and the Discipline I have taught and laid down to all of you will be your teacher when I pass away.
And the Buddha added,
Bhikkhus, if any of you should happen to have any doubt or perplexity regarding the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, the Path, or the Practice, ask me now. Do not let yourselves feel regret later for not asking me. Do not hesitate to ask questions.
All the bhikkhus remained silent and no one asked any questions. This event finally proved beyond doubt that the Buddha’s Discourses were true and genuine. Then the Buddha paused for a short moment and gave his last words to the bhikkhus as follows:
Oh Bhikkhus! These are my last words now. All conditioned and compounded things have the nature of decay and disintegration. With steadfast mindfulness, endeavour diligently for your own liberation.”32
While walking from Pava to Kushinaga, Maha Kasyapa met a naked ascetic who was holding a Mandara flower that only grows in the heavens. When Maha Kasyapa saw it, he was certain that something had happened. The ascetic told him about Lord Buddha’s Parinirvana on the full moon of Visakha seven days earlier and that he had picked up the Mandara flower from the funeral pyre. He told the Great Ascetic that the pyre of Lord Buddha would not set fire, though, and that the Arhats at Kushinaga proclaimed that the fire could not be kindled until Maha Kasyapa and his disciples had paid homage to Lord Buddha.33 The Great Saint and Sage arrived and circumambulated the pyre three times, his right shoulder bared and his hands joined in prayer to his forehead. His disciples followed his steps and offered homage just like their wonderful teacher and spiritual friend. After they had all touched their foreheads to Lord Buddha’s feet, the funeral pyre spontaneously burst into flames.34
Relics of Lord Buddha
shown during the Great Relic Tour in major cities worldwide in 2005
Maha Kasyapa Thera - the “Elder”- clearly remembered the words spoken by Subhadda while at Pava.35 After the cremation of Lord Buddha, he took the relics to King Ajatasatru in Rajagriha and immediately met preparations to summon and organize the First Great Council to recite Lord Buddha’s teachings so that no distortions occur. The meeting was held under the sponsorship of King Ajatasatru in the Satiapanni Cave outside Rajagriha and the assembled have come to be known by the name Therasangiti or Theravada.36
Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche tells us that Maha Kasyapa organized and presided over the First Great Council in order to guarantee that all teachings that Lord Buddha had presented were properly conveyed and wouldn’t be lost. The main purpose of the Great Council was to gather all teachings and keep each category of Sutra, Vinaya, and Abhidharma very clear and well defined, without mixing or altering the words that were written down. In this way, the First Council established what the teachings of Lord Buddha really are.
Thrangu Rinpoche went into greater detail and tells us that the First Council took place in the same year that Buddha Shakyamuni passed into Parinirvana:37 “In 486 or 483 BC (according to western sources that rely on Pali, in 544 BC), Maha Kasyapa assembled five hundred Arhats to recite the teachings of the Shravakayana, while Bodhisattvas assembled to preserve the Mahayana teachings. The first historic gathering of the Buddhist Sangha was to record, clarify, and consolidate the teachings. At this gathering, Ananda, the very close disciple of the Buddha and endowed with a remarkable memory, recited the Sutras, Upali recited the Vinaya, and Maha Kasyapa the Abhidharma. These three subjects are called Tripitaka, the ‘Three Baskets of Lord Buddha’s teachings.’ Maha Kasyapa saw to it that no disciplinary rule laid down by the Buddha was changed and no new rules added. The Dharma was recited daily by groups who regularly crosschecked to make sure that no omissions or additions were made. The Dharma was then orally passed on from teacher to pupil.”38
In an article offered by The Dharma Fellowship of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, entitled Early Buddhist Monastic Traditions, we learn: “The missionary efforts of the early monastics led to groups of students becoming the followers of specific teachers and preceptors. In the Majjhima-nikaya we read of Sariputra, Maudgalyayana, Kasyapa, and so on, each having ten to forty novice monks under their tuition. The same was true in the Order of nuns, amongst whom women such as Khema, Bhadra, Gautami, Sakula, Dharmadinna and others were foremost teachers. As the first generation of teachers in the Order passed away, their position was taken by one or another of their own leading disciples. Over time this led to the formation of specific lineages that could trace their origin back to one of the disciples of the Buddha himself. Gradually these Teacher-lineages branched like the limbs of glorious enlightenment-trees.
“One of the earliest designations for a specific school or lineage in Buddhism is the term Acaryakula. The word Acaryakula is significant in that it shows how the various orders of the Buddhist community came into being. When today we refer to the Theravada of the south and the various schools of the north, almost as if they were different sects, we should understand that each of these Orders grew from original Teacher-lineages or Acaryakula. Over time, exactly how the teaching was transmitted and the precise set of rules (i.e., the Vinaya) by which the community of monks and nuns were to be governed was remembered slightly differently, according to one lineage than another.
“In an attempt to establish uniformity, sometimes a large council would be called by a significant number of monastics in any given area. When we examine the history of these councils, we find that they were generally under the patronage of certain kings. This meant that the council in question concerned the community of monks and/or nuns then living within that king's territory. Within less than a hundred years after the Buddha's lifetime, Buddhism had so spread out across the continent that no one council could have included all monks and nuns of the time. Therefore the outcome of the early councils was to create conformity amongst a given broad community (maha-sangha) of monastics, and it was those broad communities – having evolved as Teacher-lineages – that formed the first Orders.”39
About thirty years after the assembly of the First Council, Maha Kasyapa Thera entrusted his duties to Ananda, the worthiest in succession, and handed over Lord Buddha’s alms-bowl to him as a symbol of continuing the faithful preservation of the Dharma.40 Then Maha Kasyapa went to Lord Buddha’s Stupa to pay homage and make offerings. He returned to Savatthi to pay last respects to King Ajatasatru, but the guards told him that the king was sleeping and should not be disturbed. Maha Kasyapa went his way and arrived at Kukkutapadagiri.41
The “Kukkutapada Mountain has the shape of three feet of a cock as there are three small mountains standing on it. When Maha Kasyapa arrived at this mountain, the three mountains split and formed a seat to receive him. Maha Kasyapa covered it with grass and sat down. He decided, ‘I will preserve my body with my miraculous power and cover it with my rag-robes.’ Then the three mountains enclosed his body.
“King Ajatasatru was deeply grieved by the news of Maha Kasyapa’s departure. He went to Kukkutapada Mountain with Ananda. When they reached there, the three mountains opened and they saw Maha Kasyapa sitting up straight and meditating. In addition, his body was covered with heavenly Mandara flowers. They both paid homage and made offerings to Maha Kasyapa. When they left, the three mountains closed again.“42 And so, the golden goddess dwelling in Trayastrimsha - who was once an old lady so lonely and forlorn but experienced joy when an elderly monk spoke to her about generosity and karma and gladly drank the water she scooped up from the wayside for him - had also
recalled the most excellent saint, siddha, & sage.
Relic of Maha Kasyapa shown during the Great Relic Tour
Legend says: “When Maitreya Buddha appears in the world, he will come to Kukkuta-padagiri, awaken Maha Kasyapa, receive the Buddha’s robes from him, and then begin to announce the new dispensation.”43
Aware that this short article is merely an attempt to revere Maha Kasyapa, we wish to extend our sincere gratitude to all sources quoted here, especially to the Nabhasa Pali Dictionary of the Theravada Tradition of Buddhism, to our most eminent masters of the Karma Kagyu Lineage, as well as to the many luminaries and individuals who contribute so immensely and generously towards a better appreciation of Lord Buddha’s ever revered saints, sages, and enlightened masters, who always bare their hearts for the welfare of everyone, yesterday as well as today.
Selected, compiled & written by Gaby Hollmann, June 2006.

1 Magadha was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Buddha Shakyamuni. The core of the kingdom was that portion of Bihar that lies south of the Ganges, with its capital at Rajagriha. Gotama Buddha was born as a Prince of Kapilavastu in Kosala, which had been annexed by the Kingdom of Magadha at that time. Magadha was the scene of many incidents in the life of the Buddha and in the life of his disciples.
2 Kapila is often called Kosiyagotta, gotta being a title that points to the Brahmin caste, in this case that of the Kosiya, who were nobles living in the province Kosala.
3 See footnotes above to see why a different family name is given to one and the same person in various texts. Older family names in Semitic and Indogermanic languages are based on place names that usually describe the environment, e.g., Baum, Stein, Rose; newer names are associated with occupations, e.g., Smith, Miller. - Hellmuth Hecker wrote that Bhadra was 16 and Kasyapa was 20 years old when they were married. See Maha Kassapa. Father of the Sangha by Hellmuth Hecker, translated from the German by Nyanaponika Thera, The Wheel Publication, No. 345, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, 1987, Buddhist Dharma Education Association  Inc. & BuddhaNet, 2004, in the site: BuddhaNet (abbr. BDEA). – Kassapa is the Pali spelling, Kasyapa the Sanskrit.
4 See Nabhasa, Bhadda Kapilani.
5 See Nabhasa, Maha Kassapa Thera.
6 See BDEA, Maha Kassapa, in the site:
7 The Nabhasa Dictionary writes that “In due course Bhadda came to the Titthiyarama near Jetavana, where she dwelt for five years, women not having yet been admitted to the Buddha's Order. Later, when Pajapati Gotami, the younger sister of Mayadevi, Lord Buddha’s mother, had obtained the necessary leave, Bhadda joined her and received ordination, attaining arahantship not long after. Later in the assembly, the Buddha declared her foremost of nuns who could recall former lives.” Nabhasa, Bhadda Kapilani. - Jetavana was established by Anathapindika, who had invited the Buddha to come to Savatthi in Rajagriha.
8 See Nabhasa, Maha Kassapa Thera; also Bahuputtaka Nigrodha in the same site. - Kassapa (Kasyapa in Sanskrit) was evidently a well-known clan name and those born into that family were therefore referred to by that name (see footnote 3 here).
9 The Lakkhana Sutta, presented by the Buddha at Savatthi, defines a Great Being. This Sutra is a discourse on the thirty-two bodily marks attained through virtue, manifesting “for whom only two alternatives are open: If he lives the household life, he will become a Universal Monarch ruling in righteousness over the four continents. If he goes forth from the home-life into homelessness, he will become an Enlightened Buddha," a Great Being. BuddhaSasana, Guide to Tipitaka. The Mahasudassana Sutta, Burma Pitaka Association, Rangoon, 1986, in: BuddhaSasana Homepage 04. - The thirty-two marks include dharmachakras on the palms of his hands and on the soles of his feet, a whorl of hair between his brows, and an ushnisha, “protrusion,” on the crown of his head.
10 Nabhasa, Maha Kassapa Thera. - The rag-robe once belonged to Punna, who was a “slave woman. The Commentaries mention that the Buddha once made a rag-robe out of a garment cast off by Punna in a cemetery overgrown with weeds. When the Buddha donned the robe the earth trembled in wonder. When the Buddha picked it up from the cemetery where Punna had cast it off, it was covered with insects.” Nabhasa, Punna.
11 See Nabhasa, Maha Kassapa Thera. Kassapa. - The practices of austerity, called dhutanga, consist of 13 trainings to achieve contentedness, e.g., wearing only the triple set of robes, going for alms, and not omitting any houses on the alms-round.
12 Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary, in:
13 Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, The Practice of Tranquility and Insight. Translated by Peter Roberts, Snow Lion Publication, Ithaca, 1993.
14 Matthieu Ricard, Happiness. Foreword by Daniel Goleman, translated by Jesse Browner, Little, Brown & Company, New York, 2006, page 208.
15 His Eminence Jamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche, A Commentary to “The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra,” composed by the Lord Protector Rangjung Dorje, in: Shenpen Osel, vol. 2, no. 1, March 1998, page 35. See The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa. Commentary by H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche, Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland, 2006. Also An Aspirational Prayer for Mahamudra by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland & Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone, 2001.
16 His Eminence Jamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche, A Commentary, ibid., pages 24-25.
17 Thrangu Rinpoche, The Medicine Buddha Sadhana, in: Shenpen Osel, vol. 4, no. 1, June 2000, page 11.
18 Jina is rgyal-dka in Tibetan, “invincible, unconquerable.” - “rGgyal kha - (khe dang rgyal kha sems can la sbyin/ gyong dang bub ka rang gis len) offering gain and victory to sentient beings and taking loss and defeat for oneself; rgyal kha - khe dang rgyal kha - gain and success;  rgyal kha - victory, success, triumph.” Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary.
19 Saddharma-Pundarika. The Lotus Sutra. Translated by H. Kern (1884). Sacred Books of the East, vol. III, in the site: Sacred-texts, chapter VI, verses 1-9.
20 See a summary of the Jataka in: Nabhasa, Kutidusaka Jataka.
21 See Maha Kassapa. Father of the Sangha by Hellmuth Hecker, ibid.
22 Maha Kassapa, Father of the Sangha, ibid.
23 Quoted in Maha Kassapa, Father of the Sangha, ibid.
24 Nabhasa Dictionary, Maha Kassapa Thera.
25 See BDEA, Maha Kassapa, ibid. See especially The Dhammapada Stories, chapter IV, verse 56, The Story of Thera Mahakassapa. Translated by Daw Mya Tin, Burma Pitaka Association, 1986, in the site: BuddhaSasana,
26 Ibid.
27 Theragatha - Verses of the Elders. Translations by C.A.F. Rhys Davids & K.R. Norman, available in the article by BDEA, Maha Kassapa, ibid.
28 King Sakka ruled over the Heaven of Thirty-three, Tavatimsa in Pali. - The Pali Online Dictionary of Nabhasa defines Catummahajika as the “inhabitants of the lowest deva world. This world derives its name from the Four Great Kings who dwell there as guardians of the four quarters: Dhatarattha of the East, Virulhaka of the South, Virupakkha of the West, and Vessarana of the North. They keep large retinues, all of who dwell in the same world as their lords and accompany them on their travels. These kings are mentioned as having undertaken the protection of the Buddha from the moment of his conception in his mother's womb, and they appear as protectors not only of the Buddha but also of his followers. The four kings appear to have been regarded as recorders of the happenings in the assemblies of the devas. On the eighth day of the lunar half-month, they send their councillors out into the world to discover if men cultivate righteousness and virtue; on the fourteenth day they send their sons, on the fifteenth day they themselves appear in the world, all these visits having the same purpose. Then, at the assembly of the devas, they submit their report to the gods of Tavatimsa, who rejoice or lament according as to whether men prosper in righteousness or not.” Nabhasa, Catummahajika. -  Because their merit is greater, the four devas surpass the other inhabitants of their worlds in ten ways: length of life, beauty, happiness, renown, power; they have better sight, hearing, smelling, taste, and touch.  
29 Nabhasa, Maha Kassapa Thera.
30 BDEA, ibid. – See the footnote above for an explanation why Sakka was so intent upon accumulating merit, addressed by Webu Sayadaw in, Selected Discourses: How Maha Kassapa was deceived. Translated by Roger Bischoff, Department of Pali, University of Rangoon, 1966, in the site:
31 Webu Sayadaw, Selected Discourses: The Story of the Elder Mahakassapa, ibid.
32 Ibid.
33 In the the Maha-Sudassana Sutta the Buddha spoke to Ananda while lying on his death-bed in “the Sal Grove of the Mallas. When Ananda implored him not to realize parinibbana in an insignificant, barren, small town, the Buddha told him that Kusinara was not an insignificant, small place. In times long past, it was known as Kusavati, the capital city of Universal Monarchs who ruled over the four quarters of the world. The Buddha then described the magnificence and grandeur of Kusavati when King Mahasudassana was the ruler there. He also told how the King ruled over his dominions righteously and how, finally abandoning all attachments and practising jhana, he passed away and reached the blissful Brahma realm. The Buddha revealed that he himself was King Mahasudassana of that time. He had cast off the body in this place (former Kusavati) for six times as a Universal Monarch. Now he was casting it off for the seventh and last time. He ended the discourse reminding Ananda that all compounded things are indeed impermanent. Arising and decaying are their inherent nature. Only their ultimate cessation is blissful Nibbana.” BuddhaSasana, Guide to Tipitaka. The Mahasudassana Sutta, Burma Pitaka Association, Rangoon, 1986, in: BuddhaSasana Homepage 04. – “After the Buddha's death his body was carried into the village by the northern gate and out of the town by the eastern gate; to the east of the town was Makutabandhana, the shrine of the Mallas, and there the body was cremated. It is said “that the Buddha had three reasons for coming to Kusinara to die: (1) Because it was the proper environment for the preaching of the Maha-Sudassana Sutta;  (2) because Subhadda (see footnote 35 below) would visit him there and, after listening to his sermon, would develop meditation and become an arahant while the Buddha was still alive; and (3) because the Brahman Doha would be there after the Buddha's death to solve the problem of the distribution of his relics.” Nabhasa, Kusinaga. - Kushinaga was the capital of Malla.
34 See Nabhasa, Maha Kassapa Thera; see also Selected Discourses: The Story of the Elder Mahakassapa by Webu Sayadaw, ibid.
35 Subhadda had said, “The Order is well rid of the Great Samana, who always oppressed us by saying, ‘This is proper for you; that is not proper for you. Now we can do as we like.” - Subhadda was a Brahmin of high rank who lived in Kushinaga and who had spoken with Lord Buddha shortly before His Parinirvana: “Having heard that the Buddha would die in the third watch of the night, Subhadda went to the sala grove where the Buddha lay on his death-bed and asked Ananda for permission to see him. Three times Ananda refused the request, saying that the Buddha was weary. The Buddha overheard the conversation and asked Subhadda to come in. Subhadda asked the Buddha if there were any truth in the teachings of other religious instructors. The Buddha said he had no time to discuss that, but that any system devoid of the Noble Eightfold Path was meaningless, and he taught Subhadda the Doctrine. Subhadda asked to be allowed to join the Order, and the Buddha gave Ananda special permission to admit him at once without waiting for the usual probationary period. Subhadda dwelt in solitude and in meditation and became an arahant. He was the last disciple to be converted by the Buddha.” Nabhasa, Subhadda Thera.
36 See Nabhasa: Maha Kassapa Thera. - It seems that “Hardly had the bodily remains of the Tathagata been cremated when there arose a conflict about the distribution of the relics among the lay folk assembled and those who had sent representatives. Venerable Maha Kassapa remained aloof in that quarrel, as did the other monks like Anuruddha and Ananda. The respected Brahmin Dona divided the relics into eight portions to distribute to the eight kingdoms. Dona kept the vessel in which the relics had been collected.” BDEA, ibid. 
37 Venerable Dr. Rewata Dhamma wrote that the First Council convened three months after the Buddha had passed away. See Ven. Dr. Rewata Dhamma, Buddhist Councils,, in the site:
38 Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche, The Three Vehicles of Buddhist Practice, 1st edition Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi, 1995, revised edition Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone & Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland, 2003.
39 The Dharma Fellowship of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, Early Buddhist Monastic Traditions and Today, Member Library Essays, 2005. – As to the Majjhima-nikaya it is mentioned that during the reign of King Ashoka in the 2nd century the Thera Moggaliputta (not to be mistaken with Maha Maudgalputra) had brought the Third Council to an end and sent missionaries to adjacent countries, the Thera Majjhima to the Himalaya countries. See The Mahavamsa (reprint, London: PTS, 1980), page 82, in: Roger Bischoff, Buddhism in Myanmar (The Wheel Publication No. 399/401, Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy, 1995, with access to the “Insight Edition 1996,” online 2006).
40 See BDEA, ibid. 
41 See BDEA, Gurpa, in the site: BuddhaNet. In the article entitled Maha Kassapa it is said that “There is no report in the Pali literature about the time and circumstances of his death.” BDEA, Maha Kassapa, ibid.
42 BDEA, Maha Kassapa, ibid.
43 BDEA, Gurpa, ibid. - Kukkutapagiri, a Buddhist pilgrimage site, is situated a good distance from Bodhgaya near the village of Gurpa. For travel information, see the site: