Kaundinya Buddhism


Kaundinya (Sanskrit: कौण्डिन्य, Kaundinya, pāli: Kondañña; ) was an Indian Buddhist monk in the sangha (community) of Gautama Buddha and the first to become an arhat (saint).

Also known as Ajnata Kaundinya (Sanskrit: अज्ञात कौण्डिन्य, Ājñātakauṇḍinya, pāli:Anna Kondañña), he lived during the 6th century BC in the region now called Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, India.


Kaundinya was a Brahmin who distinguished himself for his mastery of the knowledge of the Vedas. He was later appointed as a scholar in the court of King Suddhodana of the Sakya kingdom in the city of Kapilbastu.

He was the only one who unequivocally predicted the birth of Prince Siddhartha, a prince who would become the enlightened Buddha, promising to become his disciple. Kaundinya and four others followed Siddhartha in six years of ascetic practice, but left him disgusted, the moment Siddhartha abandoned the practice of self mortification.

After Enlightenment, Siddartha first spoke about dharma with Kaundinya's group, who were the first to understand the teaching to become its first bhikkhu and arhat.

The first disciple

Kaundinya came to be regarded as the most important of the Buddha's first five disciples and then traveled throughout India spreading the dharma. Among his most influential converts to the doctrine was his nephew Punna, whom the Buddha recognized as the first Dharma preacher. In his last years, he retired to the Himalayas preceding the Buddha's death.

Kaundinya's previous rebirths are described in several stories in Buddhist literature. In them he had vowed that in previous rebirths he would be the first to understand the dharma the moment it was revealed by an enlightened Buddha. It was also documented that the seeds of his relationship with Gautama Buddha as the first saint had been cultivated in previous existences in which they had met.

Early years

Kaundinya was born before Siddhartha's birth to a wealthy Brahmin family in the town of Donavatthu, near Kapilbastu. At a young age he studied the three main texts of the Vedas extensively, excelling in the science of physiognomy (lakhana-manta).

Kaundinya became a young Brahmin in the city of Kapilbastu in the Sakya, kingdom of King Suddhodana. He was one of five scholars who were invited to the royal court to predict the fate of Crown Prince Siddhartha during his naming ceremony.

Siddhartha was the first child born in Suddhodana to Queen Maya in twenty years of marriage, so the event was of great interest. Everyone surrounded the little one with attention, and scholars raising two fingers made a twofold prediction: either Siddhartha would become a Chakravarti (supreme king) or he would renounce the world to become a supreme religious leader.

Kaundinya, raising one finger pointed to his name in the prediction, the only one who explicitly predicted that Siddhartha would renounce the world to become a Buddha.

Renunciation and asceticism

At the age of 29, Siddhartha renounced the world to become an ascetic. Kaundinya, along with Bharika, Baspa, Mahanama and Aśvajit, followed him in the ascetic life, with the approval of the Suddhodarna, who was concerned about Siddhartha's safety.

They were known as the Group of Five or Pañcavaggiyā or Pancaka Bhadravargiya or Group of Five fortunate ones. Siddhartha, mastered all the teachings of the Arada Kalama and later those of the Udraka Ramaputra, beginning the practice of mortification of Self with Kaundinya and his four disciples from Uruvilva.

They followed Siddhartha in the hope that he would become enlightened through Self mortification. These practices consisted of self-deprivation of food and water, exposure to the elements and near-death experiences, all, for six years.

After this period of time Siddhartha rejected the practice self-mortification. Kaundinya and the other four disciples experienced profound disillusionment, believing that Siddhartha wanted to return to worldly life, so they moved away, taking refuge, to continue their practices, in Mrgadava (present-day Isipatana), near Varanasi.

The Buddha's enlightenment

After Siddhartha became the enlightened Gautama Buddha, Kaudinya tried to find his former teachers Arada Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra, but they were dead. The Buddha decided to find Kaundinya and his disciples to share his teachings.

But Kaundinya and his companions after Siddhartha abandoned asceticism were skeptical of Gautama Buddha, and initially refused to acknowledge his presence except to offer him a seat on the ground. However, the ascetics were soon won back by Siddhartha when they sensed the profound change in the Buddha since they had left him.

Gautama Buddha preached the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Pali,. Skt, Dharmacakra Pravartana Sutra), the first discourse after attaining enlightenment, which dealt with the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Path, fundamental pillars of Buddhist teaching on the inherent suffering of existence and how to transcend it.

Kaundinya attained Sotapatti (victor's stream) a specific stage of Asctism, becoming the first man to understand its teachings. The Buddha recognized this by observing: annasi vata bho Kondanno (meaning: you understand, Kondanna).

Five days later, understanding the subsequent Anattalakkhana Sutta (discourse on the characteristics of the non-se) , or powerlessness of the soul (Anātman), Kaundinya fully earned the status of a saint.

Kaundinya thus became the first Buddhist saint (arahant). Having realized the condition of saint (arahanthood), he asked the Buddha for permission to retire from the world, which was granted with the words hey bhi bhikkhu Kaundinya thus became the first bhikkhu in derogation of the Buddha, known as the first member of the Sangha or Buddhist community.

Later, the Jetavana monastery group declared that he was for a long time the first among monks and the first among disciples.

After his enlightenment

After the establishment of the Sanga, or Buddhist community, Kaundinya and other monks traveled with the Buddha on foot across the Ganges plain between present-day Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to spread the Dharma.

Kaundinya helped convert many people to the Buddha's teaching, the most important of whom was his nephew Punna, son of his sister Mantani. This occurred while the Buddha was in Rajgir, where he had gone immediately after first communicating his realization in order to honor his promise to show his teachings to King Bimbisāra.

Meanwhile, Kaundinya returned to his hometown of Kapilavastu and ordained Punna a monk. When Punna attained saint status, 500 of his students became monks. Punna was later recognized by the Buddha as the most important of disciples in the ability to spread dharma.

As with several senior monks of the Gautama Buddha, some of the writings and discourses Kaundinya and other monks are recorded in literature. A poem of sixteen verses found in the Theragatha is attributed to him. The first of these is said to have been recited by Sacca in praise of Kaundinya, after Kaundinya had preached the Four Noble Truths to Sacca.

In other verses, Kaundinya is shown admonishing monks who had strayed from Buddhist doctrine. He was also recognized for his struggles against the Māra, the demon who tried to prevent the Buddha from Enlightenment. Kaundinya was also praised by the Buddha in the Udana, a section of the Pāli Canon, noting his liberation from the destructiveness of desire.

After some time in the Buddhist community (sangha), Kaundinya retired to the foothills of the Himalayas where he spent the last twelve years of his life. Buddhist literature considers two reasons for this choice: the first is that Kaundinya considered his presence a source of discomfort to Śāriputra and Moggallana, the Buddha's two main disciples.

As a senior member of the community, Kaundinya led the monks to the almsgiving ritual, but during the Dharma talks, the two main disciples were seated on either side of the Buddha, while Kaundinya sat behind them. The two felt uncomfortable in front of Kaundinya, so he decided to solve the problem by leaving.

The other reason for Kaundinya's dismissal was his desire to spend more time in religious practice, made difficult because of the attention the community demanded.

According to the Samyutta Nikaya, Kaundinya retreated to the shores of Lake Mandakini in the Chaddanta forest, home of the Paccekabuddhas. It was said that the 8,000 elephants in the forest took turns to meet his supply needs. Before leaving, Kaundinya kissed the Buddha's feet and caressed him with his hands.

He advised his disciples not to mourn him for at least one morning before he returned to the forest. At the time of his death Kaundinya was cremated on a large sandalwood pyre, built with the help of elephants, while the ceremony was presided over by Anuruddha, one of the top ten disciples, along with five hundred other monks.

The ashes were later taken to Veluvana, where they were poured into silver stupas.

Previous and future rebirths

In line with the Buddhist doctrine on reincarnation, the previous lives of the Kaundinya are described in Buddhist texts. They repeatedly show a theme dear to the Kaundinya, namely, visualizing in previous lives religious inclinations, many of which involved experiences with the Buddha's similar previous lives.

This is a common theme among leading disciples, each of whom had many encounters with the future Gautama Buddha, and is consistent with Buddhist concepts of karma and cause and effect.

It is said in the Theravada that Kaundinya began the path to enlightenment at the time of the 13th Buddha, Padumuttara Buddha. The son of a wealthy householder in Hamsavati, Kaundinya saw the monk, the first disciple of the Buddha Padmuttara.

In his previous life, Kaundinya laid the foundation for the existence of the Buddha and the sangha community and predicted that he would become the first disciple of a future Buddha. Padumuttara is said to have prophesied the realization of this in the era of Gautama Buddha, for a time 1,000 eons in the future.

After the death of Padmuttara Buddha, the Kaundinya built a bejeweled chamber within the cetiya (memorial) where the relics were kept and made an offering in jewelry.

Apadana offers a variation on this reincarnation. It claims that the Kaundinya was the first to offer a meal to Padumuttara, becoming a deva of the mythical world of Tuṣita. It is also said that during the time of the Buddha Vipassi, the Kaundinya was a landlord named Mahakala who offered the Buddha the first fruits of his field.

The Mahāvastu explains the origin of Kaundinya's vow in attaining the state of holiness in his final rebirth. This account states that in a previous life he was a potter in Rajgir. A Paccekabuddha suffering from bile attacks sought refuge in the potter's hut and was healed.

In time, many Paccekabuddhas came to visit the potter's hut seeking information about the health status of their friends. The potter asked him which of them had first realized the dharma, a question the patient answered in the affirmative. Then the potter made his vow.

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