(THE LIFE STORY OF MOGGALIPUTTA TISSA)
by Bhante Debongshi
The life of the Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa has been an inspiration to the history of enlightenment throughout the ages. His given name was Manabak Tissa. He was born into a Brahmin family by the name of Moggali in a town called Pataliputta in north eastern India. However, after his ordination he was known by the name of Moggaliputta Tissa. At a young age, his father had sent him to a famous teacher for higher studies. When he was sixteen, he had become a great scholar in the Tri-Vedas.
The Greatness of Manabak Tissa is Foreseen
Before Tissa was born, an enlightened Bhikkhu named Siggabha Thera had foreseen his great potential. Thera therefore followed the Brahmin Moggali by going to his house daily for alms. Not to receive alms, but for the sake of his wellbeing, considering the resulting benefits for his future son and for the world. He wanted to offer spiritual support and to show the light of Dhamma to the family of the future enlightened one.
On the day that Tissa was born, Siggabha Thera stood in front of the house to collect alms but pretended like they did not notice him. Despite this setback, he continued to visit the Brahmin household for alms for the following seven years. Even though he did not receive even a single spoon of rice nor a kind word from the Brahmin until he had realized the essence of joy in giving. Without losing his patience, Thera persisted on his prolonged journey in order to accommodate the salvific destiny of Tissa.
Seven Years Later
Venerable Siggabha Thera had been waiting for an opportunity to meet with Tissa. He knew that when the time was right, everything would happen as it was mean to be. One day he arrived at the house earlier than usual and stood in front of the door of the Brahmin. As he was standing there, the servants said to him: 'Mendicant, go away from here'. After seven years of his constant visit to their house this was the first time, he had received a response from them. On that day, the Brahmin Moggali had gone out to perform his duties. On his return to the house, he met the Venerable Thera. In a discouraging manner, he asked: “Hey Pabbajita (mendicant), did you go to our house?” Thera calmly replied, “Yes”. “Did you receive something”? asked the Brahmin. Thera replied, “Yes, Brahmin. I received something”.
Brahmin Moggali’s Aversion Toward Siggabha Thera
Upon arriving home, Moggali asked whether anyone had given something to the Pabbajita (mendicant) and was told that nothing had been given to him. Moggali was then furious with Thera’s words. He waited for Thera to come again so that he could accuse him of being a liar. The next day, Thera came and stood in front of the house as he had every day for seven years. As soon as the Brahmin saw Thera, he began to shout at him. "Pabbajita" (Mendicant), though you had received nothing from our house yesterday, you said that you had. Is this not a lie”? asked the Brahmin accusingly.
Siggabha Thera’s Answer
“Oh, Brahmin! I have been coming to your house for over seven years without getting acknowledgement or receiving anything except being told to go away from here. But yesterday, I was moved by these words: “Go away from here.” This was the first time that I had ever received a response from you, and I am gratified by that. Therefore, I said that I had received something.”
Offering a Meal to Venerable Thera
Upon hearing Thera’s words, the Brahmin thought to himself: 'It is amazing! Even just hearing such vague words, a Bhikkhu considers this as receiving. If he had actually received something, such as a meal, I wonder how much he would have appreciated that. With these thoughts in mind, the Brahmin himself prepared a meal for the Venerable Thera. From the prepared foods, he offered a small spoon of rice and a small bowl of soup, just to examine how he might have joy from giving, and he told the Thera, “from now on you will be served only this much food every time you come.” The Venerable Siggabha Thera warmly and joyfully accepted this offering, said a few words of dhamma and left. The Brahmin was immediately moved by this gesture.
Brahmin Moggali’s Invitation
The next day when Brahmin Moggali saw the Venerable Thera, he felt a deep sense of respect for him and invited him into the house for daily alms. The Venerable Thera gratefully accepted his invitation. From then on, he went on to the Brahmins’ household for alms every day. After the meal, he would deliver a short Dhamma discourse and leave.
Manabak Tissa, the Man of Pride
The son of the Brahmin was named Manabak Tissa. At a young age, he was sent to a famous teacher for higher studies. By the age of sixteen, he had become a great scholar of the Tri-Vedas. As a son of the Brahmin, he was an arrogant man, authoritarian and demanding in nature. One of his habits was to have a special seat at home on which no other person was allowed to sit. The seat was covered with a white cloth when he went out and uncovered when he returned to the house.
Venerable Siggabha Thera's Plan for Interaction with Manabak Tissa
The venerable Siggabha Thera knew that the opportunity had arisen for Manabak Tissa to enter the noble Order. 'Although I have been coming to this house for a long time, I have never had a chance to meet Tissa,' thought the venerable Thera. Therefore, he decided to interact with Tissa by using his special seat. That day, the venerable Thera came for alms early and entered the house. Seeing that no seat had been prepared for him, he stood beside the special seat. Out of respect, the members of the household asked him to sit on it and served him the alms-food.
Manabak Tissa's Arrival at the House
While Thera was eating the alms-food on Tissa’s special seat, Tissa arrived at the house and saw Thera seated on his seat. When he saw this, he became deeply resentful towards the Thera. With a harsh voice, Manabak Tissa asked, “Who allowed to this shaven head Samana to sit on my chair?”
Dialogs Between the venerable Siggabha Thera and Manabak Tissa
Realizing Tissa’s disrespectful attitude toward him, the venerable Thera questioned whether he had learned any sacred words from his teacher. Tissa became even more hostile and boasted about his insight and skills.” And you, Pabbajita (mendicant), do you know any sacred words?” he asked in return. “You may ask about anything that you would like to know?” Thera replied.
Then Manabak Tissa asked many difficult questions of Siggabha Thera from the Tri-Vedas, and in return, Thera skillfully expounded on all of them. Since he had already mastered the Tri-Vedas before entering the Order and was a fully enlightened being, it was effortless for Thera to answer the questions.
Siggabha Thera’s Question to Manabak Tissa
Oh, Tissa! You’ve asked me so many questions. Now I’ll ask you only one question. Will you answer this question for me”? Venerable Thera asked.
“Yes, I’ll answer. Ask me whatever would like”, Tissa replied. Then Thera asked a question about the state of mind from the Abhidhamma Pitaka, Chapter of Cittayamaka. The question was as follows:
Yassa cittāṃ uppajjati na nirujjati, tassa cittāṃ nirujjissati na uppajjissati.
Yassa vā pana cittāṃ nirujjissati na uppajjissati, tassa cittāṃ uppajjati na nirujjati.
'For one whose mind arises and does not fall, his mind shall fall and not arise again. On the contrary, for one whose mind shall fall and does not arise, his mind shall arise again and not fall. Whose mind is it’?
Tissa could not answer the question. Instead, he became confused and infuriated. “What kind of sacred words are those?” he said. Thera replied, “These are the Buddha's sacred words”. In response Tissa said, “You should pass it on me. I want to possess this sacred knowledge!”
Manabak Tissa Entered the Order (Moggaliputta Tissa)
Siggabha Thera said to Manabak Tissa, “These sacred words of the Buddha can be passed on only to those who enter the order, but not to the ordinary laymen”. After hearing these words, Tissa insisted firmly to study the sacred words of the Buddha. In fact, with the permission of his parents, Manabak Tissa entered the order as a samanera (novice) under the guidance of Siggabha Thera in order to learn the Buddha's sacred teachings. His ordination name was given Moggaliputta Tissa, Putta meaning 'son', since Manabak Tissa was the son of Moggali. Therefore, after the ordination his name was given as Moggaliputta Tissa. As a novice, Moggaliputta Tissa was given a meditation subject on the transient nature of the body. He diligently followed the instructions of his teacher. Soon he reached the first state of sainthood (that is, as a first stream winner).
Moggaliputta Tissa's Higher Ordination
Afterward, he was sent to another enlightened Bhikkhu named Chandavajji Thera, from whom he received a higher ordination as a Bhikkhu, learning an advanced meditation technique and the Tripitaka. Through diligently following the guidelines of his teachers, he had a breakthrough experience and moved toward personal transformation.
At this point, he gave up the longing to learn the sacred words and instead sought the path to liberation. Finally, he became fully enlightened. After his teachers attained Parinibbana, he was entitled as the father of the Sangha and a successor to the noble Sasana (the enlightened teaching of Buddha).
The Third Sangha Council
Moggaliputta Tissa brought back the Buddha’s pristine teachings by leading the third Sangha council in the presence of one thousand elderly members of the noble Sangha under the patronage of Emperor Ashoka. The original form of these teachings have been preserved during the council and details of reformation was recorded in the Kathavattu of Abhidhamma.
The life story of Moggaliputta Tissa has been venerated by the wisest throughout the history of enlightenment, and his contributions to the world will not be forgotten.
If you do the right thing even for the wrong reason, the right thing will happen anyway. If you do the wrong thing even for the right reason, the right thing will never happen. That is exactly what happened to Tissa. He entered the noble order for a wrong reason, merely for the sake of learning the sacred words of the Buddha, but he did the right thing in devoting his time and energy to the process of liberation. After some time, he realized that he had done the right thing. His willpower and openness allowed him to bring the ultimate growth to his being, and he became fully liberated and enlightened.