Sariputta was one who always respected his teacher, and therefore he said to his friend: "First, my dear, we shall go to our teacher, the Wanderer Sañjaya, and tell him that we have found the Deathless.
If he can grasp it, he will penetrate to the Truth. And even if he does not he may, out of confidence in us, come with us to see the Master; and hearing the Buddha's teaching, he will attain to the penetration of the Path and Fruition."
So both of them went to Sañjaya and said: "Oh, our teacher! What are you doing? A Buddha has appeared in the world! Well proclaimed is his Teaching and in right conduct lives his community of monks. Let us go and see the Master of the Ten Powers!"
"What are you saying, my dear?" Sañjaya exclaimed. And refusing to go with them he spoke to them of the gain and fame they would enjoy if they would share his, the teacher's, place.
But they said: "Oh, we should not mind always remaining in the state of pupils! But you, O teacher, you must know whether to go or not!"
Then Sañjaya thought: "If they know so much, they will not listen to what I say." And realizing that, he replied: "You may go, then, but I cannot."
"Why not, O teacher?"
"I am a teacher of many. If I were to revert to the state of a disciple, it would be as if a huge water tank were to change into a small pitcher. I cannot live the life of a pupil now."
"Do not think like that, O teacher!" they urged.
"Let it be, my dear. You may go, but I cannot."
"Oh teacher! When a Buddha has appeared in the world, people flock to him in large crowds and pay homage to him, carrying incense and flowers. We too shall go there. And then what will happen to you?"
To which Sañjaya replied: "What do you think, my pupils: are there more fools in this world, or more wise people?"
"Fools there are many, O teacher, and the wise are few."
"If that is so, my friends, then the wise ones will go to the wise recluse Gotama, and the fools will come to me, the fool. You may go now, but I shall not."
So the two friends left, saying: "You will come to understand your mistake, O teacher!" And after they had gone there was a split among Sañjaya's pupils, and his monastery became almost empty. Seeing his place empty, Sañjaya vomited hot blood. Five hundred of his disciples had left along with Upatissa and Kolita, out of whom two hundred and fifty returned to Sañjaya. With the remaining two hundred and fifty, and their own following, the two friends arrived at the Bamboo Grove Monastery.
There the Master, seated among the fourfold assembly was preaching the Dhamma, and when the Blessed One saw the two coming he addressed the monks: "These two friends, Upatissa and Kolita, who are now coming, will be two excellent disciples to me, a blessed pair."
Having approached, the friends saluted the Blessed One reverentially and sat down at one side. When they were seated they spoke to the Blessed One, saying: "May we obtain, O Lord, the ordination of the Going Forth under the Blessed One, may we obtain the Higher Ordination!"
And the Blessed One said: "Come, O bhikkhus! Well proclaimed is the Dhamma. Now live the Life of Purity, to make an end of suffering!" This alone served as the ordination of these venerable ones.
Then the master continued his sermon, taking the individual temperaments of the listeners into consideration; and with the exception of the two chief disciples all of them attained to Arahatship. But the two chief disciples had not yet completed the task of attaining to the three higher paths of sanctity. The reason for this was the greatness of the "knowledge pertaining to the perfection of a disciple" (savakaparami-ñana), which they had still to reach.
Upatissa received the name of Sariputta on becoming a disciple of the Buddha, while Kolita became known as Maha Moggallana.
Now the Venerable Maha Moggallana went to live at a village in Magadha called Kallavala, on which he depended for almsfood. 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, 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).
But the Venerable Sariputta continued to stay near the Master, at a cave called the Boar's Shelter (Sukarakhata-lena), depending on Rajagaha for his almsfood. Half a month after his ordination the Blessed One gave a discourse on the comprehension of feelings to the Venerable Sariputta's nephew, the wandering ascetic Dighanakha. The Venerable Sariputta was standing behind the Master, fanning him. While following with his thoughts the progress of the discourse, as though sharing the food prepared for another, the Venerable Sariputta on that occasion reached the acme of "knowledge pertaining to a disciple's perfection and attained to Arahatship together with the fourfold analytical knowledge (patisambhida-ñana)." And his nephew, at the end of the sermon, was established in the Fruition of stream-entry.
Now it may be asked: Did not the Venerable Sariputta possess great wisdom; and if so, why did he attain to the disciple's perfections later than the Venerable Maha Moggallana? The answer is, because of the greatness of the preparations necessary for it. When poor people want to go anywhere they take to the road at once; but in the case of kings, larger preparations are required, as for instance to get ready the elephants and chariots, and so on. Thus it was in this case.
On that same day, when the evening shadows had lengthened, the Master caused his disciples to assemble and bestowed upon the two Elders the rank of Chief Disciples. At this, some monks were displeased and said among themselves: "The Master should have given the rank of Chief Disciples to those who were ordained first, that is, the Group of Five disciples. If not to them, then either to the group of two hundred and fifty bhikkhus headed by Yasa, or to the thirty of the Auspicious Group (Bhaddavaggiya), or else to the three Kassapa brothers. But passing over all these Great Elders, he has given it to those whose ordination was the very last of all."
The Master inquired about the subject of their talk. When he was told, he said: "I do not show preference, but give to each what he has aspired to. When, for instance, Kondañña-the Knower in a previous life gave almsfood nine times during a single harvest, he did not aspire to Chief Discipleship; his aspiration was to be the very first to penetrate to the highest state, Arahatship. And so it came about. But when Sariputta and Maha Moggallana many aeons ago, at the time of the Buddha Anomadassi, were born as the brahman youth Sarada and landowner Sirivaddhaka, they made the aspiration for Chief Discipleship. This, O bhikkhus, was the aspiration for these my sons at that time. Hence I have given them just what they aspired to, and did not do it out of preference."
This account of the beginning of the Venerable Sariputta's career is taken from the Commentary to the Anguttara Nikaya, Etad-agga section, with some passages from the parallel version in the Dhammapada Commentary. From it some of the principal traits of the Venerable Sariputta's character are already discernible. His capacity for deep and constant friendship showed itself while he was still a worldling, a youth nurtured in luxury and pleasure, and it persisted after he had abandoned the household life. On receiving his first insight into the Dhamma, and before proceeding any further, his first thought was for his friend Kolita and the vow they had sworn together. His penetrating intellect is revealed in the promptness with which he grasped the essence of the Buddha's teaching from a few simple words. And, most rare of all, he combined that intellectual power with a modesty and sweetness of nature that expressed itself in gratitude and reverence for anyone, even the misguided Sañjaya, who had taught him things of value. It was no wonder, therefore, that throughout his life he continued to show respect for the Venerable Assaji, from whom he had gained his introduction to the Buddha's Teaching. We are told in the Commentary to theNava Sutta (Sutta-Nipata), and also in the Commentary to v. 392 of the Dhammapada, that whenever the Venerable Sariputta lived in the same monastery as the Elder Assaji, he always went to pay obeisance to him immediately after having done so to the Blessed One. This he did out of reverence, thinking: "This venerable one was my first teacher. It was through him that I came to know the Buddha's Dispensation." And when the Elder Assaji lived in another monastery, the Venerable Sariputta used to face the direction in which the Elder Assaji was living, and to pay homage to him by touching the ground at five places (with the head, hands and feet), and saluting with joined palms.
But this led to misunderstanding, for when other monks saw it they said: "After becoming a Chief Disciple, Sariputta still worships the heavenly quarters! Even today he cannot give up his brahmanical views!" Hearing these remarks, the Blessed One said: "It is not so, bhikkhus. Sariputta does not worship the heavenly quarters. He salutes him through whom he came to know the Dhamma. It is him he salutes, worships and reveres as his teacher. Sariputta is one who gives devout respect to his teacher." It was then that the Master preached to the monks assembled there the Nava Sutta, which starts with the words:
"As gods their homage pay to Indra,
So should a man give reverence to him
From whom he learned the Dhamma."
Another example of the Venerable Sariputta's gratitude is given in the story of Radha Thera. The Commentary to verse 76 of the Dhammapada relates that there was living at Savatthi a poor brahman who stayed in the monastery. There he performed little services such as weeding, sweeping, and the like and the monks supported him with food. They did not, however, want to ordain him. One day the Blessed One, in his mental survey of the world, saw that this brahman was mature for Arahatship. he inquired about him from the assembled monks, and asked whether any one of them remembered to have received some help from the poor brahman. The Venerable Sariputta said that he remembered that once, when he was going for alms in Rajagaha, this poor brahman had given him a ladle full of almsfood that he had begged for himself. The Master asked Sariputta to ordain the man, and he was given the name Radha. The Venerable Sariputta then advised him time and again as to what things should be done, and always Radha received his admonitions gladly, without resentment. And so, living according to the Elder's advice, he attained Arahatship in a short time.
This time the bhikkhus remarked on Sariputta's sense of gratitude and said that he who himself willingly accepts advice obtains pupils who do the same. Commenting on this, the Buddha said that not only then, but also formerly Sariputta had showed gratitude and remembered any good deed done to him. And in that connection the Master told theAlinacitta Jataka, the story of a grateful elephant.