The Sattapanni Cave

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The Sattapanni Cave is a collection of three shallow fissures in a cliff near the top of one of Rajagaha's high hills. The cave got its name from a Seven Leaf Tree (Alstonia scholaris) that used to grow near its entrance.

This rocky and isolated place with its breathtaking view of the landscape below was the site for one of the pivotal events in Buddhist history. The Buddha stayed in the cave from time to time and it was sometimes used as a residence for newly arrived monks when no other dwelling could be found for them (Vinaya, I:159).

But the significance of the Sattapanni Cave lies in the fact that it was here that the First Buddhist council was convened in 483 BCE. Three months after the Buddha's final Nibbana, five hundred Arahants met here to recite the Dhamma and the Vinaya so that it could be passed on to future generations. It was Maha Kassapa who suggested that the council be held in the cave named Sattapanni on the northern slope of Mount Vaibhara, on a rocky-surfaced spot of ground shaded by diverse trees. (Mahavastu, I: 7ff.).

Rajagaha was probably selected as the site of the council as only a city of that size could provide enough alms-food for such a large number of monks. The Mahavamsa says that King Ajatasattu, in preparation for the council, had a splendid hall built by the side of the Vebhara Rock by the entrance of the Sattapanni Cave and it was like the assembly hall of the devas. When it was adorned in every way he caused precious carpets to be spread according to the number of monks. Maha Kassapa questioned Upali on the rules of monastic discipline and Ananda on the discourses, and when this was finished the whole assembly chanted the Dhamma and the discipline together. (Vinaya, V: 286).

Today the Sattapanni is a popular sight with tourists and pilgrims. Getting there requires a long but pleasant walk up Mount Vaibhara.

References

  • Middle Land Middle Way. Shravasti Dhammika, 1992.