1. Vakkali Thera.– He belonged to a brahmin family of Sāvatthi and became proficient in the three Vedas. After he once saw the Buddha he could never tire of looking at him, and followed him about. In order to be closer to him he became a monk, and spent all his time, apart from meals and bathing, in contemplating the Buddha’s person. One day the Buddha said to him, “The sight of my foul body is useless; he who sees the Dhamma, sees me” (yo kho dhammaṃ passati so maṃ passati; yo maṃ passati so dhammaṃ passati) (Cp. Itv. sec. 92). However, even then Vakkali would not leave the Buddha until, on the last day of the rains, the Buddha commanded him to depart. Greatly grieved, Vakkali sought the precipices of Vulture’s Peak (Gijjhakūṭa). The Buddha, aware of this, appeared before him and uttered a stanza; then stretching out his hand, he said: “Come, monk.” Filled with joy, Vakkali rose in the air pondering the Buddha’s words and realised Arahantship. AA.i.140 f; the Apadāna account (Ap.ii.465 f ) is similar. It says that the Buddha spoke to him from the foot of the rock. Vakkali jumped down to meet the Buddha, a depth of many cubits, but he alighted unhurt. It was on this occasion that the Buddha declared his eminence among those of implicit faith; also DhA.iv.118 f. The DhA. reports three verses uttered by the Buddha in which he assures Vakkali that he will help him and look after him.
According to the Theragāthā Commentary (ThagA.i.420), when Vakkali was dismissed by the Buddha he lived on Gijjhakūṭa, practising meditation, but could not attain insight because of his devotional nature (saddhā). The Buddha then gave him a special exercise, but neither could he achieve this, and, from lack of food, he suffered from cramp. The Buddha visited him and uttered a verse to encourage him. Vakkali spoke four verses (Thag.350‑4) in reply, and, conjuring up insight, won Arahantship. Later, in the assembly of the monks, the Buddha declared him foremost among those of implicit faith (saddhādhimuttānaṃ) (cp. A.i.25; also Dvy.49 and VibhA.276; Vism.i.129). In the Pārāyanavagga (SN. vs. 1146) the Buddha is represented as holding Vakkali up to Piṅgiya as an example of one who won emancipation through faith.
The Saṃyutta account (S.iii.119 ﬀ; SA.ii.229) gives more details and differs in some respects from the above. There, Vakkali fell ill while on his way to visit the Buddha at Rājagaha, and was carried in a litter to a potter’s shed in Rājagaha. There, at his request, the Buddha visited him and comforted him. He questioned Vakkali, who assured him that he had no cause to reprove himself with regard to morality (sīlato); his only worry was that he had not been able to see the Buddha earlier. The Buddha told him that seeing the Dhamma was equivalent to seeing him, and because Vakkali had realised the Dhamma, there would be no hereafter for him. After the Buddha had left, Vakkali asked his attendants to take him to Kāḷasilā on Isigili. The Buddha was on Gijjhakūṭa and was told by two devas that Vakkali was about to “obtain release.” The Buddha sent word to him: “Fear not, Vakkali, your dying will not be evil.” Vakkali rose from his bed to receive the Buddha’s message, and sending word to the Buddha that he had no desire or love for the body or the other aggregates, he drew a knife and killed himself. The Buddha went to see his body, and declared that he had obtained nibbāna and that Māra’s attempt to find the consciousness of Vakkali would prove useless.
The Commentary adds that Vakkali was conceited and blind to his remaining faults. He thought he was an Arahant who had destroyed the corruptions (khīṇāsava), and that he might rid himself of bodily pains by death. However, the stab with the knife caused him such pain that at the moment of dying he realised that he was still a worldling (puthujjana), and, putting forth great effort, attained Arahantship.
His resolve to become chief among those of implicit faith (saddhādhimutta) had been made in the time of Padumuttara Buddha, when he saw a monk also named Vakkali similarly honoured by the Buddha. Ap.ii.465 f; AA.i.140.