The story begins at two brahmanical villages in India, called Upatissa and Kolita, which lay not far from the city Rajagaha. Before our Buddha had appeared in the world a brahman lady named Sari, living in Upatissa village,conceived; and also, on the same day at Kolita village, did another brahman lady whose name was Moggalli.
The two families were closely connected, having been friends with one another for seven generations. From the first day of their pregnancy the families gave due care to the mothers-to-be, and after ten months both women gave birth to boys, on the same day. On the name-giving day the child of the brahman lady Sari received the name Upatissa, as he was a son of the foremost family of that village; and for the same reason Moggalli's son was named Kolita.
When the boys grew up they were educated, and acquired mastery of all the sciences. Each of them had a following of five hundred brahman youths, and when they went to the river or park for sport and recreation, Upatissa used to go with five hundred palanquins, and Kolita with five hundred carriages.
Now at Rajagaha there was an annual event called the Hilltop Festival. Seats were arranged for both youths and they sat together to witness the celebrations. When there was occasion for laughter, they laughed; when the spectacles were exciting, they became excited; and they paid their fees for the extra shows. In this manner they enjoyed the festival for a second day; but on the third day their understanding was awakened and they could no longer laugh or get excited, nor did they feel inclined to pay for extra shows as they had done on the first days. Each of them had the same thought: "What is there to look at here? Before these people have reached a hundred years they will all have come to death. What we ought to do is to seek for a teaching of deliverance."
It was with such thoughts in mind that they took their seats at the festival. Then Kolita said to Upatissa: "How is this, my dear Upatissa? You are not as happy and joyous as you were on the other days. You seem now to be in a discontented mood, What is on your mind?"
"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, seated here. But you, Kolita, seem to be discontented, too."
And Kolita replied: "Just as you have said, I also feel." When he knew that his friend had the same inclinations, Upatissa said: "That was a good thought of ours. But for those who seek a teaching of deliverance there is only one thing to do: to leave home and become ascetics. But under whom shall we live the ascetic life?"
At that time, there lived at Rajagaha an ascetic of the sect of the Wanderers (paribbajaka),called Sañjaya, who had a great following of pupils. Deciding to get ordination under him, Upatissa and Kolita went there, each with his own following of five hundred Brahman youths and all of them received ordination from Sañjaya. And from the time of their ordination under him, Sañjaya's reputation and support increased abundantly.
Within a short time the two friends had learned Sañjaya's entire doctrine and they asked him: "Master, does your doctrine go so far only, or is there something beyond?"
Sañjaya replied: "So far only it goes. You know all."
Hearing this, they thought to themselves: "If that is the case, it is useless to continue the Holy Life under him. We have gone forth from home to seek a teaching of deliverance. Under him we cannot find it. But India is vast; if we wander through villages, towns and cities we shall certainly find a master who can show us the teaching of deliverance." And after that, whenever they heard that there were wise ascetics or brahmans at this or that place, they went and discussed with them. But there was none who was able to answer their questions, while they were able to reply to those who questioned them.
Having thus traveled through the whole of India they turned back, and arriving at their old place they agreed between them that he who should attain to the Deathless State first, should inform the other. It was a pact of brotherhood, born of the deep friendship between the two young men.
Some time after they had made that agreement, the Blessed One, the Buddha, came to Rajagaha. It was when he had delivered the Fire Sermon at Gaya Peak that he remembered his promise, given before his Enlightenment to King Bimbisara, that he would come to Rajagaha again when he had attained his goal. So in stages the Blessed One journeyed from Gaya to Rajagaha, and having received from King Bimbisara the Bamboo Grove Monastery (Veluvana) he resided there.
Among the sixty-one Arahats (Saints) whom the Master had sent forth to proclaim to the world the virtues of the Triple Gem, there was the Elder Assaji, who belonged to the group of five ascetics, the Buddha's erstwhile companions before his Enlightenment, and afterwards his first disciples. The Elder Assaji had returned to Rajagaha from his wanderings, and when one morning he was going for alms in the city he was seen by Upatissa, who was on his way to the Paribbajaka ascetic's monastery. Struck by Assaji's dignified and serene appearance, Upatissa thought: "Never before have I seen such a monk. He must be one of those who are Arahats, or on the way to Arahatship. Should I not approach him and ask, 'Under whom have you been ordained? Who is your teacher and whose teaching do you profess?'"
But then he thought: "It is not the proper time now for putting questions to this monk, as he is going for alms through the streets. I had better follow behind him, after the manner of supplicants." And he did so.
Then, when the Elder had gathered his almsfood, and Upatissa saw him going to another place intending to sit down and take his meal, he prepared for him his own ascetic's seat that he carried with him, and offered it to the Elder. The Elder Assaji took his meal, after which Upatissa served him with water from his own water-container, and in that way performed towards Assaji the duties of a pupil to a teacher.
After they had exchanged the usual courteous greetings. Upatissa said: "Serene are your features, friend. Pure and bright is your complexion. Under whom, friend, 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 Dhamma that I profess."
"What does the venerable one's master teach, what does he proclaim?"
Questioned thus, the Elder Assaji thought to himself: "These wandering ascetics are opposed to the Buddha's dispensation. I shall show him how profound this dispensation is." So he said: "I am but new to the training, friend. It is not long since I went forth from home, and I came but recently to this teaching and discipline. I cannot explain the Dhamma in detail to you."
The wanderer replied: "I am called Upatissa, friend. Please tell me according to your ability, be it much or little. It will be my task to penetrate its meaning by way of a hundred or a thousand methods." And he added:
"Be it little or much that you can tell,
the meaning only, please proclaim to me!
To know the meaning is my sole desire;
Of no avail to me are many words."
In response, the Elder Assaji uttered this stanza:
"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."
Upon hearing the first two lines, Upatissa became established in the Path of stream-entry, and to the ending of the last two lines he already listened as a stream-winner.
When he become a stream-winner, and before he had achieved the higher attainments, he thought: "Here will the means of deliverance be found!" and he said to the Elder: "Do not enlarge upon this exposition of the Dhamma, venerable sir. This will suffice. But where does our Master live?"
"In the Bamboo Grove Monastery, wanderer."
"Then please go on ahead, venerable sir. I have a friend with whom I agreed that he who should reach the Deathless State first, should tell the other. I shall inform him, and together we shall follow on the road you went and shall come into the Master's presence." Upatissa then prostrated himself at the Elder's feet, saluted him and, taking the Elder's leave, went back to the park of the Wandering Ascetics.
Kolita saw him approaching and thought: "Today my friend's appearance is quite changed. Surely, he must have found the Deathless State!"
And when he asked him about it, Upatissa replied: "Yes, friend, the Deathless State has been found!" and he recited to him the stanza he had heard. At the end of the verse, Kolita was established in the Fruition of stream-entry and he asked: "Where, my dear, does the Master live?"
"I learned from our teacher, the Elder Assaji, that he lives at the Bamboo Grove Monastery."
"Then let us go, Upatissa, and see the Master," said Kolita.