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Assaji-Punabbasukā

The followers of Assaji and Punabbasu. They lived in Kīṭāgiri, between Sāvatthi and Āḷavi, and were guilty of various evil practices. They used to grow flowers, make wreaths and garlands, and send them to girls and women of respectable families and also to slave girls, to lie with such women, and disregard the precepts regarding the eating of food at the wrong time, using perfumes, visiting shows, singing and playing games of various sorts (they violated eighteen precepts, Sp.iii.625). Their abandoned ways of life won popularity for them, and virtuous monks, who did not belong to their group, were not welcomed by the people of the neighbourhood.

The Buddha heard of their nefarious doings from a monk who had been sojourning in the district, and having convened a meeting of the Saṅgha, sent Sāriputta and Moggallāna, together with a number of other monks, (for the recalcitrant were passionate and violent), to carry out an Act of Banishment (pabbājaniyakamma) against them. The deputation of the Saṅgha went to Kīṭāgiri and made an order that the Assaji-Punabbasukā should no longer dwell there, but the latter, instead of obeying the injunction, abused the monks, accusing them of partiality, and not only departed from Kīṭāgiri, but also left the Order. When the matter was reported to the Buddha he had the pabbājaniyakamma revoked (“because it had served no purpose”) (Vin.ii.9‑13, 14, 15).

In the Dhammapada Commentary (DhA.ii.109) we are told that Assaji and Punabbasu had originally been disciples of Sāriputta and Moggallāna, and that when the two Chief Disciples (aggasāvaka) admonished them and their followers on the wickedness of their conduct, some of them reformed themselves and a few retired to the householder’s life.

The Assaji-Punabbasukā seem to have had a special dislike for Sāriputta and Moggallāna. Once the Buddha, on his way somewhere from Sāvatthi, accompanied by Sāriputta, Moggallāna and five hundred others, sent word to the Assaji-Punabbasukā to prepare sleeping places for them. They sent answer that the Buddha was very welcome, but not Sāriputta and Moggallāna, because “they were men of sinful desires and influenced by such desires.” (Vin.ii.171)

However, elsewhere (Kīṭāgiri Sutta, M.i.473 ff) even the Buddha is represented as having been lightly regarded by them. When it was reported to them that the Buddha lived on only one meal a day and found that it made him well and healthy, their reply was that they themselves ate in the evening and the early morning and at noon and outside prescribed hours, and that they found this quite agreeable and saw no reason for changing their mode of life. It is true, however, that even on this occasion when the Buddha sent for them, they came dutifully and listened patiently to his admonition on the necessity of implicit obedience to a teacher in whom they had faith, and we are told that they were “even gladdened in their hearts” after hearing the Buddha. There is, however, no evidence that they reformed after hearing him.

In the Commentaries (e.g., DA.ii.525) the Assaji-Punabbasukā are mentioned as an example of those who paid no heed to precepts great or small, which they had undertaken to observe.

The Samantapāsādikā (Sp.iii.614) mentions that Kīṭāgiri was chosen by them as residence because it was watered by both monsoons, produced three crops, and had suitable sites for buildings. They were five hundred in number.

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