Upagupta, the Fourth Buddhist Patriarch, and High priest of Acoka

L.A.Waddell, LL.D.
Journal, Asiatic Society of Bengal
Vol.1151. Part 1.
May 1987
P.76-P.84


. P.76 The name of Upagupta occurs incidentally in the scriptures and commentaries of the so-called Northern of Mahaayaana Buddhists, as the patronymic of the fourth member of the series of patriarchs of the Buddhist Church, in direct succession from the epoch of Caakya Muni`s death. (1) He is also referred to therein,as being the converter and spiritual adviser of the great emperor Aeí╝oka; (2) and it is in this respect, as the alleged inspirer of A.cooka's great missionary movement, which led to Buddhism becoming a power in the world, that Upagupta claims our special notice. Of such importance is he considered, that his coming is alleged to have been predicted by both Buddha himself (3) and by his favourite disciple Aananda.(4) And of him Taaranaatha. The Tibetan historian, writes: 'since the death of the Guide (Buddha) no man has been born who has done so much good to living beings as this man. (5) In the scanty references to Upagupta by European writers it is generally stated that " he is not known to the southern school of Buddhism. " (6) This statement, however, is probably not strictly true. For, I find that a great Buddhist arahat of the same name, and apparently this identical person, is well known to the Burmese. The circumstances, however, under which he is known to them are peculiar. Although he is one of the most popular of the Buddhist Saints in Burma, and a special festival is held in his honor every year, as will ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Rockhill's Life of the Buddha, and the early history of his Order, 170, and the Chinese lists by Edkins, Chinese Buddhism, pp. 6-7, etc; Lassen's Ind. Alterth. II, 1201; also Beal and Eitcl and my Buddhism of Tibet, p.8. 2 Beal's Si-yu-ki,II,88. Burnonf's Introduction du Buddhisme Indien, pp. 118, 197, 336, 379. 3 Burnouf's Intro., 336. Taaranaatha's Hist. Of Indian Buddhism, fol. 12. 4 Rockhill's Life, xxxxx 164. 5 Beal's Si-yu-ki, I, 182. N. 48. 6 Taaranaatha's op. cit., fol,12. P.77 presently be described, and his name is familiar to all the monks as well as the laity; still the former could not point out to me any reference to him in their scriptures, either ancient or modern. The fact seems to be that Upagupta is not now an orthodox character in Burma, and his traditional worship or veneration is probably a survival of the Mahaayaana form of Buddhism, which prevailed in medí╝vial times in both Burma and Ceylon. But why he should be regarded as unorthodox by the puritan modern Sthaviras or the so-called southern Buddhists, is remarkable, seeing that Upagupta was himself a Sthavira and the leader of the Sthavira sect of primitive Buddhists, who followed the simple ethics of the original Vinaya code. Perhaps it may have been owing to his having been credited with disreputable magic powers, while he had not like his great wizard prototype, Maaudgalyaayana, ('Mogalli') the saving fortune of being a personal follower of the Buddha. In this connection it is noteworthy that Upagupta holds in most of the Northern chronicles, the identical position in regard to Acoka which the relatively vague and less trustworthy Ceylonese traditions ascribe to 'Mogalliputta Tissa' (Mandgalyiputra Ti.sya), a name which is unknown to the Northern authorities. So it is perhaps worth considering whether this latter name may not be merely a title of Upagupta, and formed possibly by fusing the names of the two chief disciples of the Buddha Maudgalyi-putra, (1) and Upatis (or Caariputra), to bring him, as the great patrou monk of Ceylon, as near as possible to Caakya Muni himself. However this may be, as Upagupta seems a person- age of considerable historical importance, I propose here to string together the notices of his life which I have gleaned from various sources. Legendary versions of his life are to be found in the Tibetan in the 3rd and 4th chapter of Taaranaatha's History of Buddhism in India,(2)and in the 47th chapter of the Mongolian Dsaí╝y-Blubn. (3) Thranaahta, a Tibetan who never visited India and who wrote less than three conturies ago, makes Upagupta precede Acooka by about one generation, but the much more turstworthy Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsiang in common with the Nepalese accounts(4) state that Upagupta was the chief monk and adviser of Acoka at Paa.taliputra. In the ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 He is often so-called, e.g. Beal's si-yu-ki, I, 39, 40, 59, 61, 108, 180, 183, 187, 235; II, 6, 7, 9, 175 et seq. Also in colloqnial Tibetan where his name is shortened into 'Mongal-pu and Mohugal-pu'; while Caariputra is called 'Shaari-pu.' Conf. Also Csoma's Analysis of the Kah-gyur, & c., in Vol. XX of Asiatic Researches, pp. 49, 52. 2 Translated into German by Schiefner. 3 Translated into German by I. Schmidt as 'Der weise und der Thor.; 4 See preceding footnote No. 2. p.78 following biographical account the details where not otherwise stated are taken form the original Tibetan text of Taaranaatha. Upagupta is said to have been the son of one Gupta, a perfume-seller(1) of Benares, (2) (or 'Chali'(3) of Mathuraa;(4) ) and he entered the Buddhist order at the age of seventeen,(5): one hundred years after the Nirvaa.na of the Blessed one (Caakya Muni). "(6) This date is given according to the same generally consistent chronology of the Northern Buddhists which also places the great Acoka at one hundred years after the Nirvaa.na, (7) and which knows of no second Acoka or the Kaalaacoka of Ceylonese tradi tion. He was converted by the arahat Yacas or Yasheka, who seems to be the same as the president of the council of Vaieaali, which as both northern and southern accounts agree was held one hundred and ten years after the Nirvaa.na. Three years after entering the order he attained Arahatship of an exceptionally high order, becoming 'a Buddha without the marks, ' (Alak.sa.nakoo Buddha.h); (8) and he converted many to the faith. Succeeding to the patriarchate of the Buddhist Church on the death of Caa.navaasika, the third patriarch, in Campaa (Bhagalpur) " he crossed the sunken Ganges (or 'the Bargal river') to Videha (Bettiah) in western Tirahuti (Tirhut) and went to the monastery erected by the householder Vasusaara." After a short stay there he proceeded to Mt. Gandha(9) where he made many converts. Thence he went to "Mathuraa in the north-west of the Middle Country" and resided at the monastery on the top of Mount 'Shira' (C ra or Ucira or Urumu.n.da (10) or Muru.n.dha (11) founded during the time of the patriarch Caa.nnvaasika, by the two chief merchants of the place Na.ta and Bha.t.ta (12) While here, he converted crowds of people who had been beguiled ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Rockhill's Life, Sec. p.164. Burnouf's Intro., p.336. Schiefner, his translation of Taaranaatha has omitted the word Gupta which occurs in the Tibetan text. 2 Der Weise und der Thor., 47 chap. 3 So a Chinese gentleman reads for me the Chinese word in Eitel's Dictionary, p.87, and which Mr.Eitel renders 'Paa.taliputra.' 4 Burnouf's Intro., 336. 5 Beal's Si-yu-ki, I, p.182 n. 6 Rockhill's life, Sec., p.164. Baniyo Nanjio;s History of Japanese Buddhist Sects, 24. 7 Beal's Si-yu-ki, II, 85, and Burnouf's Intro., 330. 8 Cf. Also Burnouf's Intro.,337 and n. 1: Rock- hill's Life, sec., 164. 9 Or Gandhara, or Gandamaadana. 10 Conf. Also Burnouf's Intro. 337. 11 Rockhill's Life, Sec. 164. 12 Conf. Also Rockhill and Burnouf as above. P.79 by Maara in the shape of a dancer with attendants male and female. Upagupta overcomes these by magical means bestowing on them garlands which he turns into clinging corpses, from which he sets them free only on condition that they cease their wicked ways. In this regard it is curious to find that dancing girls are the subject of some very fine sculptures which were found at an ancient Buddhist site at Mathuraa.(1) A slightly different and more dramatic version of this personal contest with Maara is given by Aevagho.sa as an Avadaana(2) According to this version "Maara found Upagupta lost in meditation and placed a wreath of flowers on his head. On returning to consciousness and finding himself thus crowned, he entered again into Samaadhi to see who had done the deed. Finding it was Maara, he caused a dead body to fasten itself round Maara's neck. No power in heaven or earth could disentangle it. Finally Maara returned to Upagupta, confessed his fault and prayed him to free him from the corpse. Upagupta consen ted on the condition that he (Maara) would exhibit himself under the form of Buddha 'with all his marks.' Maara does so and Upagupta overpowered by the magnificence of the supposed Buddha falls down before him in worship. The tableau then closed amid a terrific storm." At Mathuraa, both Hiuen Tsiang and Taaranaatha mention a large cave into which Upagupta was in the habit of throwing a chip of wood to register the number of individuals who attained Arahatship through him, until the cave ultimately became filled with the chips. From Mathuraa he proceeded to Aparaanta (3) (Sií╝dh), during the reign of a king called Mahendra and his son 'Chamasha, ' and there the inhabitants of Bagal erected for him a retreat in 'the grove of the duck-herd,' which was called' the Saí╝ghaaraama of the duck'íVthis certainly does not seem to be the Kukku.taaraama or monastery of the Cock, as Sehiefner translates.(4) Hiuen Tsiang also states that "Upagupta the great Arahat frequently sojourned in this kingdom (Sindh), "(5) a country which, he notes, w s famous for its salt. And as ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Archeal. Survey of India Repts. Vol. XVII, Plate XXXI. The sculptures represent dancing girls dancing on dwarfs, which have been supposed to symbolize energy acting on Matter. 2 Beal's Fo-sho-hing-tsano-king, p.XII ( Sacred Bks. Of East ), and in Si-yu-ki, I,p.182 3 Taaranaatha op. Cit. 4 This place was in Aparaanta in the extreme west of India, while the Kukku.t-aaraama was in Paataliputra. Conf. Schiefner's translation of Taaranaatha's History, p.18. The Tibetan word is 'bya-gag' which according to Jaeschke's Dictionary is the name of a species of water-bird or duck. And my Ms. Tibeto-Sanskrit Dictionary gives the Sanskrit equivalent as Bukuh, and the feminine as Naakuli. 5 Beal's Bi-yu-ki, II, 273. P.80 the word Sindh means in Sanskrit 'Sea-salt' it is possible that the Burmese legend which makes Upagupta reside in the salt sea, may have its origin in a too literal translation of this word. Hituen Tsiang records that " the places where he (Upagupta) stopped (in his explaining the Law and convincing and guiding men) and the traces he left are all commemorated by the building of Sagghaaraamas or the erection of stuupas. These buildings are seen everywhere."(1) He visited 'Kha-chhe' (Kashmir), in a miraculous manner, says a Tibetan account, (2) and there he erected " the long stone." This seems a reference to his planting of an Acoka-pillar. During his three months stay in that country, he preached the law, worked many miracles, and amid lightning and earthquakes he descended to the watery palace of the Naaga dragon-king of the lake of Kha-chhe, and afterwards "disappeared into the sky." At Paa.taliputra,his hermitage was,as in Mathuraa, on a hill which is described by Hiuen Tsiang as " a little mountain. In the crags and surrounding valleys there are several tens of stone dwellings which Acoka Raaja made for Upagupta and other arahats by the intervention of the genii. " (3) The ruins of this artificial hill now form the Choti pahaa.rii or 'small hill' to the south of Patna, as was identified by me some years ago; (4) and this identification has been confirmed by the excavation of the r ined tower by its side, as described by the great Chinese pilgrim. Acoka's conversion to Buddhism according to the Chinese account was effected by Upagupta, who also, it is stated, advised the erection of monasteries and stuupas all over India. Amongst the first of these monasteries was the Kukku.taaraama or ' Garden of the Cock,' erected to the south-east of the city and capable of holding a thousand monks.(5) This building was the scene of the dialogues reported in the Divyaavadaana, in the Mahaayaana Suu tra entitled the Gu.na Kara.n.da Vyuuha, purporting to have been held between Acoka and Upagupta, and translated in part by Burnouf. (6) A Tibetan version also is said to exist. Upagupta's first visit to Acoka, is made in the Indian Divyaaradaana to come some time after Acoka's conversion, and his erection of relicstuupas. But it is Upagupta who is associated with Acoka in the latter's pilgrimages to the sacred Buddhist spots, and his marking of them by the ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Idem. 2 A Ms. extract from the Tibetan translation of the Kaalacakra (Tib. 'Dns-'khor.) 3 Beal's Si-yu-ki, II.... 4 Preliminary Report on the Ruin s of Paa.ta- liputra. Calcutta, 1892, p.15. 5 Beal's Si-yu-ki, II, 88. 6 Burnonf's Intro., pp. 338, et seq. P.81 magnificent monuments which later tradition ascribes to the agency of the genii. Interesting details are also given of the manner in which Acoka made these pilgrimages. It is related, (1) how Acoka at the instance of Yacas, the elder, invites Upagupta who was at Mathuraa to come to his assistance at Paa.taliputra, and the king provides the boats for this long river journey. On his arrival, Acoka receives him with the highest honours and exclaims: " You who resemble the Master!" You who are the sole eye of the universe, and the chief interpreter (of the Law) be my refuge Sir, and give me your commands ! I shall eagerly hasten, accomplished sage, to obey thy voice!' The sage replied ' O great king, Bhagavat, the Venerable Tathaagata, the perfect and complete Buddha has entrusted to me as well as to you the depository of the Law. Let us make every effort to preserve that which the Guide of beings has transmitted to us, when he was in the midst of his disciples.' íEíEíEíE Then (the king ) falling at the feet of th e Sthavira Upagupta cried out, 'This O Sthavira, is my wish: I wish to visit, honour, and mark by a sign for the benefit of remote posterity all the spots where the Blessed Buddha has sojourned.' ' Very good, O great king,' replied the Sthavira, 'this thought of thine is good. I will go this day to show you the spots where the blessed Buddha sojourned' (2) íEíEíEíE " Then the king equipped with an army of the four bodies of troops, took perfumes, flowers and garlands, and set out in the company of the Sthavira Upagupta. The latter began by conducting the king to the garden of Lumbini. Then extending his right hand he said to him: 'Lere O great king, was the Bhagavat born.' And he added 'Here (at this site), excellent to see, should be the first monument consecrated in honour of the Buddha' íEíEíEíE The king after giving a hundred thousand (golden coins) to the people of the country raised a stuupa and retired."(3) Now it is remarkable that the words here used are almost the identical words which Acoka himself uttered at this place, as inscribed on his edict-pillar which has just been found by Dr.Fuuhrer in the place which was first indicated by me, (4) and by me also were made the arrangements for the recovery of this lost site. This inscription on the acoka-edict-pillar at the actual birth-place of the Buddha is translated by Dr. Bí╝hler in the Times of the 25th ultimo (January), as recording ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Burnouf's Intro., p. 337. 2 Burnouf's Intro., p.340. 3 Idem., p.342. 4 See my article sent to this Society on the 11th May, 1896, entitled a Tibetan Guide-book to the site of Buddha's birth and death, and afterwards published in more detail in the Englishman of 1st June, 1896. P.82 that " king Piyadasi (Acoka), twenty years after his accession (literally 'anointing') himself came to this very spot and there worshipped saying. 'Here was the Buddha, the Caakya ascetic born,' and that he erected this stone pillar which records that 'Here the Venerable One was born.'" Thus it would almost appear as if Acoka had merely repeated the words put into his mouth by Upagupta. However this may be, this remarkable coincidence seems to strengthen materially the historical value of this part of the somewhat legendary divyaacadaana, which in spite of the internal evidence of its having been composed much later than the epoch of Acoka, still Burnouf had already considered it to be semi-historical. (1) This Acoka-legend goes on the relate how Upagupta conducted the king to most of the chief sites hallowed by Buddha and his chief disciples. Amongst these latter, especial prominence is given to Maudgalyaayana with whom as has been mentioned Upagupta seems possibly to have had his name associated. Certainly the following reference to Maudgalyaayana invests him with much the same attributes as those ascribed to Upagupta at Mathuraa and Kashmir; and these are also mentioned by Hiuen Tsiang (2) and others. (3) The Avadaana says:- " The Sthavira Upagupta showing afterwards the stuupa of the Sthavira Mahaa Maudgalyaayana thus spoke, 'Here, O great king, is the stuupa of (the remains of ) the great Maudgalyaayana; you ought to honour it.' 'What are the merits of this sage, queried the king. The Sthavira replied 'He has been designated by Bhagavat as the chief of those who possessed supernatural power, because with the great toe of his right foot he shook Vaijayanta, the palace of Cakra, the Indra of the gods. He converted the two Na ga kings Nanda and Upananda.' And he uttered this verse: 'It is necessary to honour, all that one can, Kolita (ie, Maudgalyaayan.a) the foremost of Braahmans. íEíEíEíE Who in this world could surpass the ocean of power of this sage in the perfect Intelligence-he who has conquered the serpents, those famous beings, so difficult to subdue?' The king having given a hundred thousand (golden pieces) for the stuupa of the great Maudgaalyaayana (4) exclaimed with hands joined in respect, 'I honour with bended head the celebrated Mudgalyaayana, the foremost of sages, gifted with supernatural power, who has freed himself from birth, old age, sorrow and pain.' " (5) ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Burnouf's Intro., 378 n. 2 Beal's si-yu-ki, II, 176. 3 Conf. My Buddhism of Tibet, pp. 98-99. 4 This Acoka Stuupa was visited by Hiuen Tsiang (Beal's Si-yu-ki, II, 175.) 5 Burnouf's Intro., p.348. P.83 As to Upagupta's death, accounts differ. Some state that he died (1) and that this event occurred at Mathuraa; (2) but I find no reference to his relic-stuupas. The Japanese legend related, (3) that " there was an earthquake and he transcended (or crossed over;)" or it may read, " he went to 'Shin-tam.' " The Burmese tradition seems to make him yet alive like Mabaakasyapa and a few other Arahats by getting outside the circle of re-births. His personal entity or Sattra while it still retained a body has by mystical means become liberated from the influence of Avidyaa and the operation of the Causal Nexus, and in this way by his supernatural power or Rddhi, he has secured immortality.(4) The residence in the sea,allotted to this immor- talized Upagupta, as a sort of king of the Naaga or dragon-spirits, could be explained by his reputation for supernatural power and his special association with Sindha or 'sea-salt,' his coming to Acoka by boat, and the connexion of his name with the conquest of Naaga-kings.(5) And Acoka himself is also credited with having become reborn as a Naaga. A slightly different and more humourous version of the legend of the popular Burmese saint, is given by Mr.Sc tt in his charming book on the Burmese. He relates(6) that ' Oopagoh' is condemned to existence as a water-god through having in his previous existence " carried off the clothes of a bather, and for this mischievous pleasantry is condemned to remain in his present quarters till Areemadehya (Maitreya) the next Buddha shall come. Then he will be set free and entering the Thenga (Saggha) will become a Rahan and attain Neh'ban(Nirvaa.na). He is a favourite subject for pictures, which represent him sitting under his brazen roof or on the stamp of a tree, eating out of an alms-bowl which he carries in his arms. Sometimes he is depicted gazing sideways up to the skies, where he seeks a place that is not polluted by corpses." (7) This version, however, does not indicate why 'Oopagoh' should be worshipped with such zeal by Burmese Buddhists; while the version given me by a learned Burman, as above noted, relates that the hero is a great Arahat who by his magical power has secured long life or immortality, and can conf er luck. The Burmese festival in honour of this ' Upagu,' resembles some- ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Eitel's Dict, p.187. 2 Taaranaatha, fol. 11. 3 Butsu dso dsui, p.151. 4 Conf. my Buddhism of Tibet, p.120. 5 Burnouf's Intro., p.336. And his doings at Kashmir as above related. 6 The Burman,his Life and Notions, by Sway Yoe, I, 272. 7 This reference to corpses may be compared with the Mathuraa incidents in his biography. P.84 what the feast in honour of the great Indian Naaga king, mahaakaala, the 'Dai Koko' of the japanese Buddhists who also celebrated this festival in a somewhat similar manner, a leading feature of which is the treasure-boat of the Naaga dragou-spirits.(1) It is held on the last day of the Buddhist Lent or Var.sa (Waas), at the end of the rainy season, about October. All the houses are ablaze with lamps and nearly every Burman builds a tiny boat, decorates it with flowers, illuminates it and then launches it on the river, with music, and the prayer that it may be carried on to 'Upagu,' and bring back to them the luck-giving saint-a procedure which recalls the incident of Acoka sending boats to bring Upagupta, the saintly interpreter of the Law, which confe s religious fortune. The effect of this miniature flotilla is often very fine. A thousand tiny specks of light dancing on the dark bosom of the waters. During the night all eagerly expect to have the good fortune of a visit from the 'Upagu' somewhat like the visit of Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) on Christmas eve; for those who are thus favoured are endowed with long life and good luck. On such occasions many clandestinely sprinkle water on their door steps for good luck in pretence that the water-god has paid them a visit. Such seems to be the popular hero-worship in Burma, now-a-days, accorded to the great High Priest of Aclka. ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 W.Anderson's Catalogue of Chinese and Japanese paintings in the British Museum, p. 38.