Subhūti (in Chinese 须菩提, in pinyin Xūpútí; ... - 5th century) was an Indian Buddhist monk, one of the ten great Śrāvaka of Gautama Buddha.
It is said that because of his mastery of the meditation of loving kindness (mettā), every gift offered to him brought the greatest merit to the giver. For this reason, the Buddha declared him the disciple who was most worthy of gifts (dakkhiṇeyyānaṃ).
In Prakrit and Pāli, his name literally means "Good Existence" (su: "good," bhūti: "existence"). He is also sometimes called "Old Subhūti" (Subhūti Thera). He was a contemporary of famous arhats such as Śāriputra, Mahākāśyapa, Maudgalyāyana, Mahākātyāyana and Ānanda.
In Theravada Buddhism
In Theravada Buddhism, Subhūti is famous as the monk who was most worthy of gifts because of his practice of absorption on loving kindness (mettā-jhāna) before receiving alms.
He was the son of Sumana-seṭṭhī and the younger brother of Anāthapiṇḍika. On the day of Jetavana's dedication, he heard the Buddha preach and left the common world. After ordination he mastered the two categories of Vinaya rules and, after obtaining a subject for meditation, lived in the forest.
There he developed insight and attained arhat status on the basis of mettā-jhāna. Teaching the Dhamma without distinction or limitation, he was declared the leader of those who lived remote and at peace (araṇavihārīnaṃ aggo) and those who were worthy of gifts (dakkhiṇeyyānaṃ) (Ai24; cf. Ud.vi.7, where the Buddha praises his competence in meditation).
It is said that when he went begging he produced mettā-jhāna at every door, so every gift given to him was of the highest merit. In the course of his travels he arrived in Rājagaha and Bimbisāra promised to build him a dwelling. However, the king forgot his promise and Subhūti meditated in the open air.
There was no rain, and discovering the cause, the king had a leaf hut built for him. As soon as Subhūti entered the hut and sat cross-legged on the bed of hay, the rain began to fall.
In Mahāyāna Buddhism
Among Mahāyāna traditions, Subhūti is perhaps best known as the disciple to whom the Buddha speaks when he imparts the Diamond Sūtra (Sanskrit: Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, Chinese: 金剛 經 or 金剛 般若 經), an important teaching within the Prajñāpāramitā genre.
This, along with the Sūtra of the Heart (Sanskrit: Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya, Chinese: 心 經 or 般若 心 經), is one of the most well-known sūtras among both practitioners and non-practitioners of Buddhism. Subhūti is also responsible for much of the exposition in the early Prajñāpāramitā sutra.
In the Lotus Sutra (Sanskrit: Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra, Chinese: 法 華 (花) 經 or 妙法 蓮華 (花) 經), chapter 6 (conferring prophecy), the Buddha confers prophecies of enlightenment on Subhūti, along with other śrāvaka such as Mahākāśyapa, Mahākātyāyana and Mahāmaudgalyāyana.
In the Zen writings
In Zen Buddhism, Subhūti appears in several koans, such as this one:
One day, in a state of sublime emptiness, Subhūti was resting under a tree when flowers began to fall around him. "We praise you for your talk about emptiness," the gods whispered to Subhuti.
"But I did not speak of emptiness," replied Subhuti. "You didn't talk about emptiness, we didn't hear emptiness," the gods replied. "This is true emptiness." The flowers poured down on Subhuti like rain.
Panchen lama lineage
In the lineage of the Panchen Lamas of Tibet there were four "Indian" and three Tibetan incarnations of the Buddha Amitabha before Khedrup Gelek Pelzang, who is recognized as the first Panchen Lama. The lineage begins with Subhuti.
In Chinese literature
A character based on Subhūti appears in the classic Chinese novel The Journey to the West, as the teacher of the monkey king Sun Wukong. The story of Sun Wukong's first meeting with Subhūti was a play on the Zen story of Huineng meeting Hongren, as told in the Platform Sūtra of Zen Buddhism. Because of Subhūti's role in the story, his name has remained familiar in Chinese culture.