Shariputra (Sanskrit शारिपुत्र, Pali sāriputta, Chinese 舍利子 Shèlìzǐ), also Sariputta, is one of the two (the other is Maugalyayana) chief disciples of Gautama Buddha in Buddhist tradition.
Since their youth, Maudgalyayana and Sariputta wandered in spiritual quests. Soon after meeting the Buddha they both became arhats. In Theravada, Shariputra is esteemed second to the Buddha in the depth and breadth of wisdom. In Sanskrit texts he was called Sharadwatiputra.
Childhood and youth
According to Buddhist sources, Shariputra was born into a Brahmanical family and was given the name Upatissa after his native village near Rajagaha, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha.
Upatissa was born on the same day as Kolita, a boy from a neighboring village who later became the second great disciple of Buddha Maudgalyayana. The parents belonged to respected families who had been friends for seven generations. This friendship was passed on to the boys as well.
Shariputra's father's name was Vaganta, and his mother's name was Rupasari. Upatissa was the eldest son and had three younger brothers, Chunda, Upasena, Revata, and three sisters, Chala, Upachala, Sisupachala. All of them later became monks and nuns, as did their children.
Chunda, later known as Samanudessa (newcomer to the Sangha), was later present at Shariputra's death and brought news of his passing and relics to the Buddha. Upasen's brother (Vagantaputta) was considered the best in noble behavior (pali samantapasadika).
He died of a snake bite. Shariputra's mother did not want her youngest son Revatha to become a monk either and betrothed him as a child. On his wedding day, Revatha saw his bride's decrepit grandmother and ran away from the ceremony.
After becoming a monk, he stayed many years later in the acacia forest, where he became an arhat. The Buddha recognized him as the best among the practitioners in the forests.
Upatissa Rupasari's mother, unlike her children, remained a zealous brahmana all her life, feuding with the Buddha and his disciples. One day, when Shariputra and the monks asked for alms in her own village, she fed them, scolding her son and calling him a sponger.
Rahula, who witnessed this scene, told it to the Buddha, and he praised the disciple for his restraint in not reacting to the scolding:
I call a brahman one who, free from anger, observes his duties, is virtuous and devoid of lust, who is restrained and for whom this body is the last Dhammapada 400
Very early on Kolita and Upatissa discovered an interest in spiritual quest. According to Theravada and Mahasanghika sources, during the annual "Festival of the Mountains," the young men felt a deep sense of spiritual dissatisfaction (pāli samvega).
They decided to renounce worldly life and become ascetics. In Rajagaha they met Sanjaya Belathaputta, who initiated them into the spiritual order. Sanjaya was probably an agnostic who tended to be skeptical of basic philosophical questions.
Not satisfied with his teachings, Kolita and Upatissa continued their wanderings. In the Mulasarvastivada, however, the Buddhist canons of China and Tibet present Sanjaya as a teacher of religious fervor and profound meditative insight, which, according to some accounts, enabled him to predict the coming of the Buddha. These sources speak of his illness, death, and two disciple followers.
For a long time Upatissa and Kolita spent their wanderings. At the age of about 40 they returned to Magadha, where they separated and continued their search separately, agreeing that the first to find the true path would inform the other. It was around this time that the Buddha made the first turn of the Dharma wheel in Benares.
Meeting the Buddha
The sutra "Upatissa's Questions" tells how one day Upatissa met a wandering monk, Assaji, one of the first five disciples of the Buddha, who was collecting alms Upatissa offered him his mat and water from his jug, thus putting himself in the disciple's place.
He asked him to tell him about the Dhamma. In response, Assaji uttered a phrase that has become one of the most common and recognizable among Buddhists:
Having considered all the conditioned phenomena, The Tathagata named their cause, And also pointed out what they culminate in, Such is the teaching of the Great Hermit.
At these words Upatissa got a pure vision of the Dhamma. He conveyed what he had heard to Kolita, who also understood that all that is subject to arising is also subject to cessation. Upātissa and Kolita immediately reached the stage of entering the stream (pāli sotāpanna).
Determined to become followers of the Buddha, they asked Sanjaya to join them, but he refused. All 500 of Sanjaya's disciples went to the Buddha's first resting place, the bamboo grove of Venuwana (pāli Veḷuvana), but when they learned that their teacher had remained, half returned.
Sanjaya was so saddened by the departure of part of the flock that, according to some sources, he bled out.
The words spoken by Assaji at the request of Upatissa, known in Pali as Ye dhammā hetuppabhavā, are traditionally considered the quintessence of the Buddha's teachings.
They are quoted in all Buddhist schools, engraved on Buddha statues and stupas, and recited during rituals. According to Herman Oldenberg and Thanissaro Bhikkhu, an Indologist, these verses were recommended by a decree of Emperor Ashoka as a subject for study and reflection.
The Mulasarvastivada states that the Buddha himself sent Assaji to teach the Upatissa. After becoming monks, Upatissa and Kolita received new names: Shariputra (Sariputra) and Mahamaudgalyana.
The first name meant "Son of Sari" (that was the name of Upatissa's mother) and the second "Great Maudgalyayana", which distinguished the new monk from other representatives of the same family.
The new monk, Shariputra, living in the same monastery as Aswājīt, always paid his respects to him personally, and when he was away, made a bow with the five parts of his body (pāli Abhivād) in his direction.
This caused a misunderstanding, as the other monks thought the Buddha's chief disciple continued to hold the Brahmanical view and worship the heavens. The Buddha then explained that Shariputra was thus expressing his gratitude to the first teacher who had introduced him to the Dhamma.
Soon after initiation, all 250 former disciples of Sanjaya attained arhatship with the exception of Shariputra and Maudgalyayana. Maudgalyayana became an arhat after a week in Magadha, in the village of Kallawala.
Fatigue and lethargy overtook him in the process, but with the Buddha's encouragement and advice he passed through the remaining three stages by meditating on the elements (Pali dhatu-kammatthana).
It took Shariputra another 14 days of seclusion at Kabana cave near Rajagaha to completely eliminate the obscurations (Pali asavakkhaya). Two weeks passed after Shariputra became a monk. He stood behind the Buddha and waved his fan as he had a conversation with the hermit Dighanakha, Shariputra's nephew, about comprehending sensations.
Listening to their conversation it was as if Shariputra "tasted food not prepared for him," but it benefited him and he simultaneously attained arhatship and the four dhyans (pali patisambhuda-nana), while Digkhanakha attained the fruit of entering the stream (pali sotapatti-phala).
According to the commentaries, the first two disciples of the Buddha took longer to become arhats because of their extensive preliminary practices. They are likened to kings whose preparations for the journey are more difficult and time-consuming than those of commoners.
Like Maudgalyayana, Shariputra became an arhat by rapid comprehension (pali khippabhinna), he practiced independently and easily (pali sukha-patipada), as stated in the Sariputta Sutta of NA 4.
The path from sotapanna to arhat is described by Shariputra himself in the collection of verses of the enlightened monks Theragatha (Thag. 17.2) and in the Anupada sutta of MN 111.
The two main disciples of the Buddha
Many canonical texts in the Pali canon, such as the Ukkachela Sutta SN 47.14 and the Mahapadana Sutta DN 14, mention that every Buddha of the past had two main disciples. Shakyamuni Buddha was no exception. After Shariputra and Maudgalyayana became arhats, the Tathagata's choice fell on them.
Some of the bhikkus were unhappy that the newcomers had overtaken the more experienced monks.
Buddha replied that he has no favorites, but everyone gets what he deserves: many kalpas ago in the time of Buddha Anomadassi, Maudgalyayana and Shariputra expressed a wish to one day become the main disciples of Buddha and for a long time they accumulated necessary qualities for the elevation determined by their karma.
The story of Sarada and Sirivadanna
Legends say that one asankhya and 100,000 kalpas ago, the one destined to become Shariputra was born into a Brahmanical family under the name of Sarada, while the future Maudgalyayana was born into a Vaishya family and was named Sirivadanna.
Being the main heir of his deceased father, Sarada, however, gave away all his possessions and became a hermit. At that time Buddha Anomadassi, the 18th Buddha before Gautama Buddha, having looked around the world with his "net of knowledge," saw the eminent ascetic Sarada with his disciples and decided to visit him.
The Buddha's 74,000 disciples, led by Nisabha and Anoma, followed. For a week, while Buddha Anomadassi was in a state of extinction (pali nirodha-samapatti), Sarada held a garland of flowers over his head.
Then, during a sermon by one of the two principal disciples of Buddha Nisabha, he developed an ambition to become the first disciple of the Buddha someday. Looking into the future, Buddha Anomadassi saw that the hermit's wish would come true.
After the Buddha left, Sirada went to his friend Siriwadana, who also decided to create reasons for a similar good fortune. He had a huge hall built for offerings, where he invited the Buddha and his disciples and treated them to a week's worth of meals.
After receiving a prediction from Buddha Anomadassi that his wish would come true, he devoted himself as a layman to attending to the needs of the sangha, while Sarada continued to perfect himself in meditation. In the next life Sirivadana was born in the heaven of passion, while Sarada ascended to the world of Brahma.
According to the jatakas, the Buddha was united with Shariputra and Maudgalyayana by a strong karmic bond. The future disciples of the Tathagata were born both in the high worlds, becoming ascetics, generals, ministers, kings, gods (Moon God and Sun God, prince-naga), and in the animal world (woodpecker and turtle, monkey and jackal, tiger and lion).
In the Kkhantivada-jataka 313, Shariputra appears as a royal general who bandages the wounds of an ascetic (bodhisattva) who taught patience and provoked the wrath of King Kalab.
The evil king, having decided to test the ascetic's patience, orders to cut off his legs and hands, and the general assists him and urges the king to give up his revenge.
As early disciples, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana helped spread the Dhamma, served as role models, and assisted the Buddha in the concerns of the sangha. The Kitagiri Sutta MN 70 describes how the bhikkhus who were led astray by the troublemakers began to eat at inappropriate times and to communicate inappropriately with the laity.
The Buddha sent Shariputra and Maudgalyayana to them to announce their banishment (pabbajania-kamma). Maudgalyayana and Shariputra came to Devadatta after he caused a rift in the sangha.
According to Pali sources, the disciples were carrying out a mission entrusted to them by the Buddha. The texts of Dharmaguptaka, Sarvastivada, and Mulasarvastivada say that they volunteered to do so.
Relieved by the appearance of the two chief disciples of the Buddha, Devadatta decided that they wanted to join him and let his guards go. Then Maudgalyayana and Shariputra persuaded the other monks to return.
According to the Kokalika sutta AN 10.89, one of Devadatta's followers, a Kokalika monk, accused Maudgalyayana and Shariputra of having vicious desires. The Buddha cautioned him by saying:
Don't say that, Kokalika, don't say that! Let joyful faith in Shariputra and Maudgalyayana live in your heart! They are virtuous monks. Kokalika sutta: Kokalika NA 10.89
In spite of this, Kokalika continued his accusations. Then his body became covered with boils and he passed away and went to Paduma Hell.
End of life and death
Shariputra was four years older than the Buddha; he lived 84 years and died at his parents' house on the full moon of the month of kattika (October-November), two weeks before Maudgalyayana passed away and six months before the Buddha's parinirvana.
The Buddha spent the last rainy season at Beluvagama and returned to the Jetavana monastery. There Shariputra paid him homage and immersed himself in a direct experience of nirvana (Pali arahattaphala-samapatti). Upon emerging from meditation, he assessed his vitality and realized that he had no more than a week to live.
Remembering his mother, who had no faith in the Buddha and held false views, Shariputra saw that he was the only one who could help her. He asked the Buddha's permission to go to the village of Nalaka, as his life was running out. The tathagata replied, "Do, Shariputra, what you think is timely," and asked for a final sermon on the Dhamma.
At the end of the sermon, the saddened inhabitants of Jethavana saw the elder off. Calling them to mindfulness, Shariputra reminded them of the nature of all that is compound and conditioned and told them to go back.
A week later, accompanied by five hundred disciples, he arrived at the banyan tree outside the village gate where he met Uparevata's nephew. He informed Shariputra's mother of his arrival.
The mother thought her son had decided to become a layman and prepared shelter for him and his companions. In the meantime the elder fell ill, probably suffering from dysentery. Four great rulers of the gods, including the king of the gods, Shakra, came to see the dying man. The mother witnessed their visit and was in awe of her son.
Then he gave her a sermon in which he revealed the essence of the teachings, and the old brahmana acquired the fruit of entering the stream. Thereupon Shariputra wrapped himself in a cloak, lay down on his right side and immersed himself in deep meditation. At sunrise he attained final nibbana.
On his mother's orders, a precious pavilion was erected in which the funeral ceremony was held for a whole week. During the cremation sermons on the Dhamma were recited.
After its conclusion, Chunda, the younger brother of Shariputra, collected the relics, the bowl, and the clothes of the arhat and carried them to Savaththi to give to the Buddha. On meeting Chunda, the Tathagata extolled Shariputra, ordered a stupa to be erected in his honor, and set out for Rajagaha. At the time of his arrival, Maudgalyanna had also passed away.
The Buddha also asked that a stupa be built for his relics and proceeded towards the Ganges, eventually reaching the village of Ukkachela (Wadji), where he delivered the sermon which became known as the Ukkachela Sutta of SN 47.14.
The Tathagata said that after the death of his chief disciples the sangha was empty to him, as if a healthy tree had lost a few branches. But he did not grieve or mourn for Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, for all that is born and conditioned must perish, and he advised the monks to seek refuge in the Dhamma.
In comparing his disciples, the Buddha metaphorically referred to Ananda, who possessed phenomenal memory, as the Guardian of the Dharma; Shariputra, who helped his disciples get rid of gross fetters and enter the stream (become sotapanā) as the Dharma Commander (Pali Dhammasenāpati); Maudgalyayana as the Dharma Nurse because he developed the strong points of his disciples and cared for their development.
In Sachchavibhanga sutta MN 141, the Buddha advises monks to nurture friendship with Maudgalyayana and Shariputra, comparing them to mother and nurse.
On the path of liberation, Shariputra emphasized intuitive understanding of truth, insight (pali dhammabhisamaya), while Maudgalyayana emphasized concentration (pali cetovimutti). When the Buddha instructed his disciples to take care of his son Rahula, Shariputra helped him comprehend the Dharma, while Maudgalyayana was a mentor in right conduct and spiritual perfection.
Unsurpassed in wisdom
The Buddha proclaimed Shariputra unsurpassed in wisdom (pali etadaggam mahāpaññānam), which was expressed in four analytical knowledge (pali patisambhida-nana): knowledge of meaning, Dhamma, meaning of words and analytical knowledge of the previous three kinds of knowledge.
In the Anupada sutta of MN 111, the Buddha declares Shariputra to be his true spiritual son who helps to set in motion the wheel of Dhamma.
Shariputra's sermons, which are included in the Pali canon, are second only to the Buddha's sermons. The Maha khatthipadopama sutta of MN 28 is an example of a systematic analysis in which Shariputra likens the four noble truths to the trail of an elephant, which can contain the trail of any animal.
The Conversation on the Right View (Samadittthi sutta MN 9) gives a detailed exposition of the Dhamma and, in particular, an interpretation of interdependent origination. This sutta later served as material for extensive commentaries.
The Sangiti sutta DN 34 and the Dasutara sutta DN 35, which conclude the Digha-nikaya, systematize the categories of the teachings in a numerical scheme. The Sangiti sutta was recited in the presence of the Buddha and approved by him.
The death of the Jain leader Mahavira led to discord among them and Shariputra urged the recitation of this sutta in order to create a spirit of harmony (Pali samaggirasa) among the Buddhists.
The commentary on the Dhammasangani states that during the three months in which the Buddha preached Abhidhamma in the Tavatimsa heaven, he returned daily to the human world to eat and converse with Shariputra. The latter later passed on the knowledge he had gained to his five hundred disciples.
Shariputra maintained a friendly relationship with Ananda. After accepting novices as monks, Shariputra took them to Ananda and vice versa, so that they could receive higher initiation, they had 500 disciples in common.
They forwarded to each other the garments and necessities they received as gifts. In response to the Buddha's question about the recognition of Shariputra's virtues, Ananda replied:
Sariputta is wise, possessing vast, broad, vivid, quick, sharp, and all-pervading wisdom. Sariputta has few desires, he is content with what he has, tends to solitude, needs no communication, is energetic, eloquent, ready to listen... Susima sutta SN 2.29
Shariputra's willingness to help others is mentioned in the Devadaha sutta SN 22.2, which describes how Shariputra trained monks to properly explain the fundamental points of the Dhamma to those interested.
Being the first in wisdom (Pali mahapanna), Shariputra would suggest topics for meditation to the monks, and when he realized that they were in the flow, he would let them go.
He had infinite patience in giving advice and was capable of repeating the explanation many times. Another disciple of the Buddha, Maudgalyayana, took care of his disciples until they became arhats.
Sariputta is like a mother who gives birth, and Mogallana is like a babysitter for the newborn. Sariputta explains how to attain the fruit of entering the stream, And Mogallana explains how to attain the highest goal. Sachchavibhanga sutta
In addition to spiritual assistance, Shariputra also provided material support. Early in the morning, when the other monks went out for alms, he would stay at the monastery and clean up, as he did not want possible visitors to condemn the bhikka for the mess.
He would visit the sick and, together with the young monks, search for medicines. During his wanderings on foot, Shariputra never walked at the head of the procession.
After giving the newcomers his clothes and bowl, the chief disciple of the Buddha let them go ahead of him. Sometimes he would help the needy on the way and have to catch up with the monks. One day the elder was late and had no place to sleep.
On learning that Shariputra had spent the night pacing back and forth or sitting at the foot of a tree, the Buddha told the monks a jataka about a partridge, which spoke of the need for subordination.
When he visited the leprosy-stricken monk Samitigutta, Shariputra suggested that he meditate on his own senses; as a result, Samitigutta developed insight into the essence of phenomena and became an arhat. When Anathapindika, the chief patron of the Buddha among the householders, fell ill, Shariputra gave him a sermon.
He reminded him that Anathapindika had become a sotapana, free from the bad qualities that lead to birth in unblessed estates, and firmly adhered to the Noble Eightfold Path. By the end of the conversation the householder's pain had subsided.
Before his death, Shariputra again admonished him to eliminate clinging to the phenomena of the conditioned world. Having been reborn as a young deity in the heaven of Tushita, the former householder visited the Buddha and offered praise to his chief disciple.
Shariputra was noted for his meekness and patience. The commentary on the Dhammapada tells the story of a Brahman who had false views and heard that an elder did not give in to anger, even if he was insulted and beaten, and decided to test this.
He approached Shariputra from behind and slapped him hard on the back. He did not even turn around and asked what it was. The Brahman was filled with remorse and invited Shariputra to his house for dinner.
The people who saw the attack wanted to punish the Brahman, but the elder protected him. It was characteristic of Shariputra to listen with meekness to criticism against him.
The text "Milinda's Questions" contains the following verse connected with the episode in which the seven-year-old monk pointed out to the elder the impropriety of his clothing:
If that monk who teaches me is older than seven years old, I take it with my head down; I show him my zeal and respect; And he will always be a teacher to me. "Milinda's Questions."
The Buddha said that the perfect friend draws the attention of comrades to their mistakes, and Shariputra was not shy about directly pointing out people's blunders if it benefited them. In this way he helped Anuruddha get rid of his last attachments and attain arhatship
Once in Jethavan at the end of the rainy season, Shariputra bid farewell to the Buddha and the monks before leaving on his journey. One monk wanted the elder to address him personally. Not waiting, he held a grudge. Not only that, as he passed by, Shariputra touched him with the edge of his cloak.
The monk complained to the Buddha about the pride of the elder who allegedly hit him in the ear and did not apologize. The Buddha called Shariputra to him and he described in nine comparisons the state of his mind, free from animosity and ill-will. The slanderer repented, apologized, and was forgiven.
The Buddha held both disciples in high esteem and only once considered Maudgalyayana's opinion superior to that of Shariputra. After chasing away a crowd of noisy, ill-mannered monks who had recently joined the sangha, the Buddha asked his chief disciples what they thought of it.
Shariputra replied that Guru must have wanted to enjoy the bliss of meditation and that his disciples should do the same. And Maudgalyayana felt that in this case the care of the community fell on their shoulders. The Buddha praised him by saying:
"All right, all right, Moggallana! Either I should look after the Sangha of monks, or Sariputta and Moggallana should do so." Chatuma Sutta: In Chatuma MN 67
The Theragattha says that Shariputra felt no inclination (pāli panidhi) to the five higher powers that Maudgalyayana had mastered to perfection. However, he acquired these attributes of the chief disciple of the Buddha without effort in attaining arhatship.
According to the "Treatise on Supernatural Powers" contained in the Patisambhidamagga, Shariputra possessed power over phenomena through the power of concentration (pāli samadhivipphara-iddhi), that is, the ability to influence the course of physiological processes and natural phenomena.
The Junkha sutta Ud 4.4 tells us how an evil yakkha struck Shariputra who was meditating. Maudgalyayana saw this and asked his friend how he was feeling.
Shariputra experienced only a slight headache after the severe blow, but he did not recognize the yakkha who had attacked him, so he admired Maudgalyayana's powers of concentration, who could see such beings. The Buddha said the following words about this:
His mind is calm like a mountain. Calm and serene... When the mind is developed in this way, How can it be possessed by suffering? Junha Sutta Ud 4.4
In one of the suttas, Shariputra, speaking of the possession of supernatural powers, likened himself to a rock fragment and Maudgalyayana to the Himalayas. Maudgalyayana replied that if compared in wisdom, he would be like a grain of salt and Shariputra a whole barrel.
For Theravadins and Sarvastivadins, Shariputra was the second founder of religion after the Buddha. Among the opponents of Shariputra's interpretations the most influential were the Sautrantics.
In the Theravada tradition it is believed that Shariputra was the author of many of the major suttas, one of the compilers of the Abhidharma and gave the idea for three important commentaries on the Pali Canon (Nidesa, Mahanidesa and Patisambhidamaga) and some sources attribute to him the authorship of the Nidesa.
It was Shariputra who asked the Buddha to compile a set of monastic rules, the Patimokhu, so that the path to holiness would exist as long as possible. He is also credited with the creation of the Majjhima-nikai.
If Shariputra was not the direct author of the Sangiti-paryaya treatise, early Abhidharma developed on the basis of the method of exposition practiced by the shravaks who heard the Buddha's instructions.
Shariputra along with Maudgalyayana and Katyayana were credited with creating the canonical texts because their method of expounding the Teachings corresponded to the archetype of Abhidharma texts. Shariputra is believed to have developed the structure of the Abhidharma, and he defined the numerical series in the Pattkhana.
His contributions also include 42 Suttanta-matica couplets, the fourth part of Dhammasangani (Attdhuddharakanda) and the order of reading Abhidharma (Pali vacanamagga).
In a talk with Shariputra, Elder Punya Mantaniputta gave a sermon on the stages of the Buddhist path. This teaching formed the basis of Buddhadhaghoshi's work Visuddhimagga.
In the text Milindapanha, Elder Nagasena repeatedly cites the sayings of the Thera Shariputra. Comparing Nagasaena with Shariputra, King Milinda said:
Apart from Thera Shariputra, commander of the Teachings, there is no one in the Teachings of the Enlightened One equal to you in the art of answering my questions! "Milinda's Questions, p. 372
The biography of Shariputra is devoted to Shariputra-prakarana, the work of Ashwaghoshi, author of the famous biography Life of the Buddha.
The Vatsiputra school of sthaviravada, formed around 280 BC, was founded by Vatsiputra, a follower of Shariputra.
In Sri Lanka on the day of the full moon of the month of il (November-December) a kathina ceremony is held to conclude the ritual season of vass, on the same day the tradition coincides with the Buddha sending the first sixty arhats to preach his doctrine and the death of Shariputra.
Shariputra in Mahayana
In the later Mahayana literature, Shariputra's name continued to be associated with teachings such as the Prajnaparamita sutra, the Lotus of the Good Law and the Avatamsaka sutra.
However, unlike the Pali canon in which the wise and powerful arhat is invariably presented from a positive perspective, some Mahayana sources treat his image differently, presenting him as a less intelligent person and using him as a counterpoint.
In the Vimalakirti sutra, Shariputra symbolizes the Shravak lineage, which, according to Mahayana, represents "less complex teachings. This sutra describes how Shariputra could not comprehend the Mahayana doctrines presented by Vimalakirti and was defeated in a debate with a number of interlocutors, among whom was a female deva.
The Ashtasahasrika-prajnaparamita-sutra is one of the earliest sutras of Mahayana Buddhism. The 32 chapters outline the Buddha's conversations with Shariputra, Subhuti and Punna Mantariputta, as well as the lord of the gods, Indra. Ananda appears in the last chapters. The dialogue between Shariputra and Avalokiteshvara (Sutra of the Heart) is one of the most famous texts in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.
In the Chinese tradition, Shariputra is the author of the Dharmaskandha, one of the collections of the Abhidharma-pitaka sutras of the Sarvastivadins.
In the 19th century archaeologist Alexander Cunningham and Lieutenant Fred C. Maisy found a box with the names of Maudgalyayana and Shariputra in the Indian stupas in Sanchi and Satdhara, in which they found fragments of bones and pieces of sandalwood.
According to Cunningham, this wood was used for Shariputra's funeral pyre. The explorers were believed to have divided up the relics they discovered and sent them to Great Britain. On the way one ship sank and the part belonging to Cunningham was allegedly lost.
In 2007, historian Torkel Brekke managed to prove that Lieutenant Maisie took all the relics with him and the find survived. The relics were transferred to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and became the subject of disputes over possession.
Under growing pressure from the Buddhist community, the museum returned the relic box to the Mahabodhi Society in Sri Lanka in 1947. In 1952 the relics were officially deposited in the Sanchi shrine. They were then transported throughout Southeast Asia.
Prime Minister Nehru of India used the event to promote unity, and religious tolerance and legitimate state authority. In Burma, the display of relics helped legitimize the government, unify the nation and revive religious practice, so at the request of the public, some of the relics were left in the country and are kept in the Kaba Aye (English)pagoda, Yangon.
Currently part of the relics of Shariputra and Maudgalyayana are in Sri Lanka at the Mahabodhi Society and are displayed annually for worship during the Vesak celebration. In 2015 the relic was displayed outside the annual festival during a visit by Pope Francis.
The breach of tradition drew criticism, with the head of the Mahabodhi Society responding by saying that since 1984 it was the Pope's first visit to a Buddhist temple, and adding that "religious leaders should play a positive role to unite rather than divide [their] communities."