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Āḷāra Kālāma

One of the two teachers to whom Gotama, after his renunciation, first attached himself, the other being Udaka Rāmaputta. In the Milindapañha ¹ Āḷāra is mentioned as Gotama’s fourth teacher. The Therīgāthā Commentary ² says he went to Bhaggava before going to Āḷāra. The Mahāvastu ³ and the Lalita Vistaraya,⁴ give quite different accounts.

In the Ariyapariyesāna Sutta ⁵ the Buddha describes his visit to Āḷāra. Gotama quickly mastered his doctrine and was able to repeat it by heart; but feeling sure that Āḷāra not only knew the doctrine but had realised it, he approached him and questioned him about it. Āḷāra then proclaimed the state of nothingness (Ākiñcaññāyatana), and Gotama, putting forth energy and concentration greater than Āḷāra’s, made himself master of that state. Āḷāra recognised his pupil’s eminence and treated him as an equal, but Gotama, not having succeeded in his quest, took leave of Āḷāra to go elsewhere.⁶ When, after having practised austerities for six years, the Buddha attained Enlightenment and granted Sahampati’s request to teach the doctrine, it was of Āḷāra he thought first as being the fittest to hear the teaching. However, Āḷāra had died seven days earlier.⁷

The books mention little else about Āḷāra. The Mahā Parinibbāna sutta ⁸ mentions a Malla, Pukkusa, who says he had been Āḷāra’s disciple, but who, when he hears the Buddha’s discourse, confesses faith in the Buddha. Pukkusa describes Āḷāra to the Buddha as one who practised great concentration. Once Āḷāra was sitting in the open air and neither saw nor heard five hundred passing carts though he was awake and conscious.

As already stated above, the aim of Āḷāra’s practices is stated to have been the attainment of Akiñcaññayatana, the state of nothingness. Whether this statement is handed down with any real knowledge of the facts of his teaching, it is not now possible to say. Asvaghosa, in his Buddhacarita,⁹ puts into the mouth of Ārāda or Āḷāra, a brief account of his philosophy. It has some resemblance — though this is slight — to the Sāṅkhya philosophy, but in Āḷāra’s teaching some of the salient characteristics of the Sāṅkhya system are absent. In reply to Gotama’s questions about the religious life and the obtaining of final release, Āḷāra describes a system of spiritual development which is identical with the methods of the Buddhist monk up to the last attainment but one. The monk reaches the four jhānas and then attains successively to the states of space, infinity and nothingness. The last three stages are described in the terms of the first three of the four Attainments.¹⁰ According to Buddhaghosa,¹¹ Bharandu Kālāma was a disciple of Āḷāra at the same time as Gotama and is therefore described as the Buddha’s purāṇa-sabrahmacārī.¹² Buddhaghosa further tells us ¹³ that in Āḷāra Kālāma, Āḷāra was his personal name. He was so called because he was “long and tawny” (dīgha-piṅgala).

¹ Mil.p.236. ² ThigA.2. ³ Mtu.ii.117 f. ⁴ Lal.330 f.

⁵ M.i.163‑5; also 240 ff; ii.94 ff, 212 ff. ⁶ VibhA.432.

⁷ Vin.i.7. ⁸ D.ii.130; Vism.330. ⁹ xii.17 ff.

¹⁰ For a discussion on this see Thomas, op.cit., p.229‑30; see also MA.ii.881; VibhA.432.

¹¹ AA.i.458. ¹² A.i.277. ¹³ DA.ii.569.