The Life of Most Excellent Maudgalputra – Maha Moggallana in Pali
Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche tells us, “Because he knew the inclinations of human beings and because he knew what would be best for those who sought his advice, Buddha Shakyamuni sent those students ready for clear understanding and insight to his noble disciple Shariputra, who instructed them in reasoning and valid cognition. Lord Buddha sent those followers attracted to miracles to his excellent disciple Maudgalputra, who performed miraculous deeds so that they would be able to have trust. The Buddha sent those pupils sensitive to respectful behaviour to his perfect disciple Katyaputra, who displayed discipline so that they would be encouraged and assured that the Noble Doctrine he had realized is true and sincere.”1
            The short account here is based to a large extent on the Nabhasa Pali Dictionary & Encyclopaedia of the Theravada Tradition of Buddhism.
In the short account on The Life of Most Excellent Shariputra, we read that the site of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa taught that “The great University of Nalanda was founded by King Kumaragupta, who reigned c. 415-455 AD. When Fa-Hien visited Nalanda in the fourth century it was a rather desolate little place called Nala, chiefly remembered for being the village where Shariputra was born and where his remains were laid to rest in a Stupa.”2 The Pali Online Dictionary and Encyclopaedia of Nabhasa writes that Stupas of Shariputra and Maudgalputra, Moggallana in Pali, were said to be on the grounds of Jetavana, which is situated near Nala, therefore near Rajagriha, and that they existed until the time of King Asoka.3
Venerable Nyanaponika Thera tells us that not far from the city of Rajagriha, Maudgalputra was born in the village Kolita and is therefore often referred to as Kolita, and Shariputra was born in Upatissa and is therefore often referred to as Upatissa. The “two families were closely connected, having been friends with one another for seven generations. (…) Both mothers gave birth to their boys on the same day.”4
Noble Maudgalputra’s mother was a Brahmin called Moggali and his father was the chief of the village. The two boys, Kolita and Upatissa, were pupils of the Brahmin Sanjaya but found no satisfaction in the instructions they had received. One day the lads visited a festival and the same thought occurred to both of them while watching a few performances. Upatissa turned to his friend and confided in him, “My dear Kolita, to look at these things here is of no benefit at all. It is utterly worthless. I ought to seek a teaching of deliverance for myself. That, my Kolita, is what I was thinking while seated here. But you, Kolita, seem to be discontented, too.” In response to what they both discerned, they travelled through the whole of India seeking meaningful advice and when home again they agreed, “He who should attain to the Deathless State first should inform the other. It was a pact of brotherhood, born of a deep and genuine friendship between the two young men. Some time after they had made that agreement, the Blessed One, the Buddha, came to Rajagriha.”5
While wandering through town, Utapissa, i.e., Sharibu, noticed a stunning figure begging for alms and followed him. After having found a suitable opportunity and having offered respect by inviting him to a meal, he asked the man called Assaji, “Serene are your features, friend. Pure and bright is your complexion. Under whom have you gone forth as an ascetic? Who is your teacher and whose doctrine do you profess?” Assaji replied, “There is, O friend, the Great Recluse, the scion of the Sakyas, who has gone forth from the Sakya clan. Under that Blessed One I have gone forth. That Blessed One is my teacher and it is his Dharma that I profess.”6 Utapissa asked Assaji to share some teachings with him. Reluctant, the stanza that Assaji then spoke moved him deeply. Assaji said: “Of all those things that from a cause arise, Tathagata the cause thereof has told; and how they cease to be, that too he tells, this is the doctrine of the Great Recluse.” (Anattalkokkana Sutra.)7 Upatissa immediately understood and hastened to tell his best friend Kolita the wonderful news. They rushed to the Bamboo Grove Monastery after an unsuccessful attempt to persuade their teacher Sanjaya to accompany them. Sanjaya's disciples, five hundred in number, agreed to go, though, and they all went to Veluvana, Jetavana, together.8
Lord Buddha saw them approaching and “told the assembly of monks: ‘These two friends, Upatissa and Kolita, who are now coming, will be two excellent disciples to me, a blessed pair.’ Having requested ordination, the Buddha told them: ‘Come, O Bikkhus! Well proclaimed is the Dharma. Now live the Life of Purity to make an end of suffering!’ This alone served as the ordination of these venerable ones. (…) Upatissa received the name of Shariputra on becoming a disciple of the Buddha, while Kolita was given the name Moggallana.”9
On the day that Maudgalputra and Shariputra were ordained, “the Buddha announced to the assembly of monks that he had assigned them Chief Disciples and then recited the Patimokka.”10 The text in the BuddhaSasana also refers to an incident where “Moggallana had penetrated the minds of 500 of his disciples and determined that they were all Arahaths. The monk Vangisa, who was well-known for his poetic language, had immediately realized what had happened and praised Moggallana’s ability to the Buddha as follows:
While the sage is seated on the mountain slope,
gone beyond to the far shore of suffering,
His disciples sit in attendance on him,
triple knowledge men who have left death behind.
Moggallana, great in spiritual powers,
encompassed their minds with his own
and searching (he came to see) their minds.” 11Noble Vangisa
According to the Saccavibhanga Sutra, the Buddha told the monks to follow Maudgalputra and Shariputra and described them with these words:
Sariputta is as she who brings forth,
and Moggallana is as the nurse of what is brought forth.
Sariputta trains in the fruits of conversion,
Moggallana trains in the highest good.
Sariputta is able to teach and make plain the Four Noble Truths.
Moggallana, on the other hand, teaches by his iddi-patihariya.12
Recalling Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche’s introduction above, it seems appropriate to mention that Thrangu Rinpoche teaches that powers are achieved and are certainly a feature of Mahasiddhas and saints. Rinpoche presents instructions that are the decisive factors in realizing the three wisdoms that arise from hearing the invaluable Buddhadharma, contemplating the instructions, and meditating the practices one receives.13
“Now the Venerable Moggallana went to live in a village in Magadha called Kallavala, on which he depended for alms food. On the seventh day after his ordination when he was doing the recluse's work (of meditation), fatigue and torpor fell upon him. But spurred on by the Master, Lord Buddha, he dispelled his fatigue, and while listening to the Master expounding to him the meditation subject of the elements (dhatu-kammatthana), he completed the task of winning to the three higher paths and reached the acme of a disciple's perfections (savaka-parami).”14
Like the hosts of the Universal Emperor
conquered the continents and islands,
the yogin who knows the taste of sahaja
conquers samsara, and pure pleasure reigns.15
The Pali Dictionary & Encyclopaedia presents a detailed account of Maha Maudgalputra’s miraculous deeds through siddhi-power: “He could create a living shape innumerable times and could transfer himself into any shape at will. He is recorded as saying that he could crush Sineru (Mt. Meru) like a kidney bean and, rolling the earth like a mat between his fingers, he could make it rotate like a potter's wheel, or could place the earth on Sineru like an umbrella on its stand. When the Buddha and his monks failed to get alms, Moggallana offered to turn the earth upside down so that the essence of the earth, which lay on the under-surface, might serve as food. Several instances are given of this special display of iddhi. Once, at the Buddha's request, with his great toe he shook the Migaramatapusada16 and made it rattle in order to startle some monks who sat on the ground floor of the building, talking loosely and frivolously, regardless even of the fact that the Buddha was in the upper storey.
“On another occasion, Moggallana visited King Sakka in the Heaven of the Thirty-three to find out if he had profited by the Buddha's teaching. He found him far too proud and obsessed by the thought of his own splendour. He thereupon shook Sakka's palace till Sakka's hair stood on end with fright and his pride was humbled.17
“Moggallana visited the Brahma heaven, too, in order to help the Buddha stifle the arrogance of Baka Brahma. He himself questioned Baka in a solemn conclave in the Sudhamma-Hall in the Brahma heaven and made him confess his conviction that his earlier views were erroneous. Further visits to the Brahma heaven are also recorded.
“According to the commentaries, Moggallana's greatest exhibition of iddhi-power was the subjugation of Naga Nandopananda. The Buddha and five hundred monks, on their way to Tavatimsa (the second heaven in the celestial realm of desire and home of King Sakka) one morning travelled over the Naga king's abode as he was having a meal. In anger, the Naga coiled round Sineru and covered the road to Tavatimsa. Thereupon several members of the Buddha's retinue offered to quell the Naga's power, but the Buddha would not agree until Moggallana sought permission to do so. It is said that no other monk had the power to face all the dangers created by the Naga and remain unscathed. Moggallana and Nandopananda vied with one another in the exhibition of their iddhi-power, and, in the end, Nandopananda had to acknowledge defeat. He was thereupon conducted to the Buddha, whose follower he became.”18
The Dhammapada recounts The Story of the Question Raised by Thera Maha Moggallana after he returned from the deva world: “Once, Thera Maha Moggallana visited the deva world and found many devas living in luxurious mansions. He asked them for what good deed they were reborn in the deva world and they gave him different answers. One of them was reborn in the deva world not because he gave away much wealth in charity or because he had listened to the Dharma, but just because he always spoke the truth. The second one was a female deva who was reborn in the deva world because she did not get angry with her master and had no ill will towards him, even though he often beat her and abused her. For keeping her temper and abandoning hatred she was reborn in the deva world. Then, there were others who were reborn in the deva world because they had offered little things like a stick of sugar cane, a fruit, or some vegetables to a Bhikkhu or to someone else.
“On his return from the deva world, Thera Maha Moggallana asked the Buddha whether it was possible to gain such great benefits by just speaking the truth, or by restraining one’s actions, or by giving small amounts of such trifling things like fruits and vegetables. To him the Buddha answered, ‘My son, who do you ask? Have you not seen for yourself and heard what the devas said? You should not have any doubt. Little deeds of merit surely lead one to the world of the devas.’ Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows: ‘One should speak the truth, one should not yield to anger, one should give when asked even if it is only a little. By means of these three one may go to the world of the devas.’”19
Maha Maudgalputra is remembered for his miraculous abilities, while his wisdom was second only to that of Noble Shariputra. Both Arhats could answer questions like no other disciple of the Buddha. The Buddha paid a compliment to Maudgalputra's powers of preaching, when, having preached himself to the Sakyans at Kapilavastu and, being weary, he asked Maudgalputra to talk to the monks in his stead when they were home again. Noble Maudgalputra did - he spoke to them about lust and the way to eliminate desire, attachment, and greed. The sutras contain eloquent instructions he imparted on qualities that lead to authenticity and say that Sakka visited Maudgalputra in company with numerous other deities on many occasions, too, requesting instructions. Many devas accompanied Sakka to hear Maudgalputra share his wisdom and insight with them.
“When the Buddha taught Abhidharma in Tavatimsa, Moggallana was entrusted with the authorization to teach the people in Jumbudipa, who were waiting for Lord Buddha’s return. Moggallana provided for these people spiritually, while Anathapindika looked after their bodily needs.20 When the time drew near for the Buddha's return, Moggallana, at the request of the people, went to Tavatimsa, diving into the earth and climbing Sineru, in full view of them all, in order to find out what the Buddha intended doing, so that he could inform the people on earth waiting for him.”21
The Pali Dictionary tells us that on the 7th day of the last week, King Sakka created a ladder for Lord Buddha’s return, consisting of pure gold, pure silver, and precious gems that reached from the summit of Mt. Meru to Samkassa, the location on earth where the Buddha descended. We are told that Tushita, the Heaven of Joyful,” dGa’ldan in Tibetan, is the fourth of the six heavens in the realm of desire. It is said that Bodhisattvas are reborn there before their last birth, i.e., just before attaining Buddhahood.22
Devadatta, the cousin of the Buddha and brother of Ananda, split the Sangha by declaring that he would conduct things separately and went to Rajagriha with a large assembly of monks who had become his followers. To win them back, Lord Buddha sent Maudgalputra and Shariputra to deal with the matter and, while Devadatta was sleeping, the two friends spoke to the assembly and they all returned to Lord Buddha.23
Venerable Dhamasami wrote: “In many ways, the Buddha took whatever opportunity available to Him to enlighten us on the issue of friendship. The Buddha often commended Venerable Sariputta and Venerable Moggallana, the two Chief Disciples as good friends to the Bhikkhus. The Master made it known to Venerable Sariputta and Venerable Moggallana themselves when He said, ‘Sariputta, you are a wise man; Moggallana, you are a wise man too – Pandito tvam Sariputta, Pandito tvam Moggallana.At the same time He told them that  ‘a good friend is not always loved and is not loved by all,’ and  the wise form only a minority in the world.’”24
Excellent Maudgalputra visited many realms of existence and always returned to Lord Buddha and the Sangha with the good news that those who followed the Buddhadharma were happier and more peaceful than the heretics he had heard and seen, the heretics who remained strung up by cords of craving and escorted by decay and were therefore, in truth, miserable. The good tidings spread fast and many people took refuge in Lord Buddha after having heard or seen Maha Maudgalputra reveal what he had realized. This enraged the heretics, who hired killers to slay him.25 They surrounded Excellent Maudgalputra's meditation cell in Kalasila,26 but he, aware of their intentions, escaped through the keyhole of his little door. They returned using the same tactics the next six days and he escaped again. They caught him on the seventh day, beat him up, smashed his bones to pieces, and left him lying there, convinced that he was dead. Having recovered consciousness and with immense willpower, Maha Maudgalputra dragged his shattered body to Lord Buddha to take leave - he died in the presence of the Buddha. The entire Sangha and the world of the nagas and devas were struck with deep, deep sorrow. Maha Maudgalputra left this world two weeks after his dear friend Shariputra had parted. The oral tradition of Shri Lanka says that his body was the colour of a blue lotus.27
According to the Jataka, he was cremated regally. Lord Buddha collected the sacred relics and had a Stupa erected at Veluvana, Jetavana near Rajagriha, to honour the precious remains of the one who served the Dharma so very fearlessly.28
Relics of Maha Maudgalputra shown during the Great Relics Tour in 2005
Venerable Nyanaponika Thera wrote, “When the great stupa at Sanchi29 was opened in the middle of the last century, the relic chamber was found to contain two stone receptacles; the one to the north held the body relics of Maha Moggallana, while that on the south enclosed those of Shariputra.” Venerable Nyanaponika formulated this meaningful connection: “If Shariputra was notable for his lasting sense of gratitude, he was no less so for his capacity for friendship. With Maha Moggallana, the friend and companion since his youth, he maintained a close intimacy, and many were the conversations they held on the Dharma.”30
Compiled  & written by Gaby Hollmann, June 2006

1 Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, The Buddha Nature. Instructions on A Treatise entitled: “A Teaching on the Essence of the Tathagatas (The Tathagatagarbha)” by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, according to An Illumination of the Thoughts of Rangjung (Dorje): A Commentary to “The Treatise that Teaches the Buddha Nature” by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye the Great. Translated from Tibetan by Peter Roberts, presented at the Namo Buddha Seminar in Oxford, 1990, unpublished manuscript.
2 The site of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, Monastic Buddhism in the Medieval Period and the 84 Mahasiddhas. The Library of Member Essays, in: The Dharma Fellowship of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, 2006.
3 See Pali Online Dictionary and Encyclopaedia, Jetavana.
4 The Life of Shariputra. Compiled & translated from the Pali texts by Venerable Nyanaponika Thera, Buddhist Publication Society, Sri Lanka, 1987, available for free distribution: The Wheel Publication, no. 90/92, Dharma Net-Dharma Book. 
5 The Life of Shariputra by Venerable Nyanaponika Thera.
6 Ibid.
7 The Life of Shariputra, ibid.  -- Tathagata is the Sanskrit term that means “Splendour of Excellence, Buddha,” De-bzhin-gshegs-pa in Tibetan. “This verse was to become one of the best known and most widely-disseminated stanzas of Buddhism, standing for all time as a reminder of Shariputra’s first contact with the Dharma and also as a worthy memorial to Assaji, his great Arahat teacher.” The Life of Shariputra, ibid.  -- See the Pali Dictionary, Assaji. Introducing Assaji in more detail, the Dictionary wrote that he “was the last in whom dawned the eye of Truth, and the Buddha had to discourse to him and to Mahandama while their three colleagues went for alms. He became an arahant, together with the others, at the preaching of the Anattalokkana Sutta.” This sutra contains the teachings that no self can be found in any of the five skandhas. -- See Guide to Tipitaka. Digha Nikaya – Collection of Long Discourses of the Buddha, in the site: BuddhaSasana, 2006. This guide to “the Collection in the Suttanta Pitaka, named Digha Nikaya, as it is made up of thirty-four long discourses of the Buddha, is divided into three divisions (a) Silakkhandha Vagga, Division Concerning Morality, (b) Maha Vagga, the Large Division, and (c) Pathika Vagga, the Division beginning with the discourse on Pathika, the Naked Ascetic.” In the site: Guide to Tipitaka, 2006.
8 Veluvana is “A park near Rajagaha, the pleasure garden of Bimbisara.” See the terribly tragic life story of the greatest patron of Buddha, Bimbisara, King of Magadha, with its capital at Rajagriha in: The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C. B.Varma: IGNCA,nic/Jataka 092.
9 Pali Dictionary, Moggallana. In the quotations we will speak of Moggallana, otherwise use Maudgalputra, his name in Sanskrit.
10 Patimokka in Pali is “the name given to a set of two hundred and twenty seven rules to be observed by members of the Buddhist Order. The rules are not mainly economic, regulating the behaviour of the members of the Order towards one another in respect of clothes, dwellings, furniture, etc., held in common.” Pali Online, Patimokka.
11 BuddhaSasana, Moggallana.
12 Pali Dictionary, Saccavibhanga Sutta. -- “Patihariya means ‘miracle,’ ‘marvel.’ Three marvels are ascribed to the Buddha: the marvel of magic (iddi-patihariya), the marvel of mind-reading (adesana-patihariya), and the marvel of instruction (anusasani-patihariya). The Buddha says that he sees danger in the first two and therefore abhors them. The ‘marvel of instruction’ is called ‘more noble and sublime.’” Pali Dictionary, Patihariya.
13 In this context see especially Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche, The Aspirational Prayer of Mahamudra, Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone & Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland, 2002, also His Eminence Tai Situpa Rinpoche, The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra,  Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland, 2005. In the short life story of Excellent Maudgalputra we will see that he possessed all three siddhis, always aware that, for instance, “Mahapandita Naropa found siddhi in learning.” Keith Dowman, Masters of Mahamudra, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1985, page 145.
14 The Life of Shariputra by Venerable Nyanaponika Thera, ibid. – Dhatu is Sanskrit and means “the expanse of space.” Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche defined dhatu as space that is “empty and has the quality of providing room so that we can talk, sit, or do any activity.” He taught about the eighteen elements (khams in Tibetan), which are constituents of mind: the six objects, six organs, and six consciousnesses. Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche, Transcending Ego: Distinguishing Consciousness from Wisdom. A Treatise of the Third Karmapa, Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone, & Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland, 2001, specifically table 4 on page 48.
15 Keith Dowman, Masters of Mahamudra, page 142. Sahaja, lhan-gcig-skyes-pa in Tibetan, means “co-emergence,” which Keith Dowman described: “From the beginning the ultimate and the relative, form and emptiness, have arisen simultaneously; the inborn absolute is inherent in every instant of sensory experience, and it merely remains for the sadhaka (‘a practitioner of sadhana’) to recognize. However, this is not so easy as the degenerate, latter-day Bengali sahaja-yoga school with its concepts of ‘natural enlightenment’ and ‘no practice’ would believe.” Ibid., page 421.
16 Migaramatupasada is the “name given to the monastery erected east of Savatthi by Visakha Migaramata (a chief female lay supporter of the Buddha). During the last twenty years of his life, when the Buddha was living at Savatthi, he divided his time between the Anathapindikarama at Jetavana and the Migaramatupasada, spending the day in one place and the night in the other. See Pali Dictionary, Migaramatapusada.
17 For a description of the universe see Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Myriad Worlds. Buddhist Cosmology in Abhidharma, Kalachakra and Dzog-chen. Translated & edited by the International Translation Committee of Kunkhyab Choling founded by the V.V. Kalu Rinpoche, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, 1995. – See A Discourse on Sakkapanha Sutta. The Questions of Sakka by Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, an abridged English translation by U Aye Maung, edited by Bhikkhu Pesala, first published in Burma, 1980, new edition, Association for Insight Meditation, Middlesex, 1996.
18 Pali Dictionary, Nandopananda.
19 The Dhammapada Stories. XVII (4), verse 224. Translated by Daw Mya Tin, Burma Pitaka Association, 1986, in: Nibbana com.
20 “While in Rajgir the wealthy businessman Anathapindika first met the Buddha and invited him to come to Savatthi. The Buddha said he would be happy to come but asked that suitable accommodations be provided. When Anathapindika returned to Savatthi he purchased a park near the town and built a large monastery there. Called Jetavana, this park became the Buddha's favourite resort and he spent every rainy season of the last 20 years of his life except one there. Today the ruins of Jetavana's many monasteries are set in attractive and peaceful gardens. The Buddha delivered more discourses there than in any other place, e.g., the Kakacupama Sutta, the Vimamsaka Sutta, and the Angulimala Sutta.” Savatthi, in: BuddhaNet/Pilgrim, online 2006. -- Savatthi lies slightly southwest of Lumbini in the State of Uttar Pradesh in India.
21 Pali Dictionary, Moggallana.
22 See Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche, The Life of the Buddha and the Four Noble Truths, Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone & Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust Publications, Auckland, 2001, page 33. See also Myriad Worlds, page 250.
23 See The Life of Shariputra, ibid.
24 Venerable Dhamasami, The Practice of Chanting in Buddhism, 1999, in the site: Dmasami3.
25 Those “unworthy in ten respects: they were without faith, unrighteous, without fear and shame, they chose wicked men as friends, extolled themselves and disparaged others, were greedy of present gain, obstinate, untrustworthy, sinful in their thoughts, and held wrong views.” Pali Dictionary, Niganthas.
26 Kalasila is a black stone along the side of Mt. Isigili, one of the five mountains around Rajagriha and a favourite place where Lord Buddha and his monks spent time in seclusion.  
27 BuddhaSasana, Moggallana.
28 See Pali Online Dictionary, Moggallana.
29 Sanchi lies in Madhaya Pradesh and is the site of Buddhist monuments from the 3rd century BCE to the 13th century BC, almost covering the entire range of Indian Buddhism.
30 The Life of Shariputra by Venerable Nyanaponika Thera.