Anathapindika ("feeder of the orphans or helpless") was the chief lay disciple of the Buddha. His given name was Sudatta. He was extremely wealthy and a patron of the Buddha. He gave Jeta Park to the Buddha having purchased it from Prince Jeta. He honored the Buddha with laying out 1.8 million gold pieces in the grove. Anathapindika upon death entered Tusita heaven, or the heaven of the Bodhisattvas. Anathapindika was known as the "foremost disciple in generosity" as well as character.
A banker (setthi) of Savatthi who became famous because of his unparalleled generosity to the Buddha. His first meeting with the Buddha was during the first year after the Enlightenment, in Rājagaha (the story is given in Vin.ii.154ff; SA.i.240ff, etc.), whither Anāthapindika had come on business.
His wife was the sister of the setthi of Rajagaha, and when he arrived he found the setthi preparing a meal for the Buddha and his monks on so splendid a scale that he thought that a wedding was in progress or that the king had been invited. On learning the truth he became eager to visit the Buddha, and did so very early the next morning (Vin.ii.155-6). He was so excited by the thought of the visit that he got up three times during the night. When, at last, he started for Sītavana, the road was quite dark, but a friendly Yakkha, Sīvaka, sped him on with words of encouragement. By force of his piety the darkness vanished.
The Buddha was staying in the Sītavana, and when Anāthapindika reached there spirits opened the door for him. He found the Buddha walking up and down, meditating in the cool air of the early dawn. The Buddha greeted him and talked to him on various aspects of his teaching. Anāthapindika was immediately converted and became a Sotāpanna. He invited the Buddha to a meal the next day, providing everything himself, although the setthi, the Mayor of Rājagaha and King Bimbisāra asked to be allowed to help. After the meal, which he served to the Buddha with his own hand, he invited the Buddha to spend the rainy season at Sāvatthi, and the Buddha accepted, saying "the Tathāgatas, o householder, take pleasure in solitude." "I understand, o Blessed One, I understand," was the reply.
When Anāthapindika had finished his business at Rājagaha he set out towards Sāvatthi, giving orders along the way to his friends and acquaintances to prepare dwellings, parks, rest-houses and gifts all along the road to Sāvatthi in preparation for the Buddha's visit. He had many friends and acquaintances and he was Ādeyyavaco (his word was held to be of weight), loc. cit., p.158. But see J. i.92, where it is said that Anāthapindika bore all the expenses of these preparations. Vihāras were built costing l,000 pieces each, a yojana apart from each other.
Understanding the request implied in the Buddha's words when he accepted the invitation, Anāthapindika looked out for a quiet spot near Sāvatthi where the Buddha and the monks might dwell, and his eye fell on the park of Jetakumāra. He bought the park at great expense and erected therein the famous Jetavanārāma. As a result of this and of his numerous other benefactions in the cause of the Sāsana, Anāthapindika came to be recognised as the chief of alms-givers (A.i.25).
Anāthapindika's personal name was Sudatta, but he was always called Anāthapindika (AA.i.208; MA.i.50) (feeder of the destitute) because of his munificence; he was, however, very pleased when the Buddha addressed him by his own name (Vin.ii.156). He spent eighteen crores on the purchase of Jetavana and a like sum on the construction of the vihāra; another eighteen crores were spent in the festival of dedication. He fed one hundred monks in his house daily in addition to meals provided for guests, people of the village, invalids, etc. Five hundred seats were always ready in his house for any guests who might come (AA.i.208-9. He fed 1,000 monks daily says DhA.i.128; but see J. iii.119, where a monk, who had come from far away and had missed the meal hour, had to starve.)
Anāthapindika's father was the setthi Sumana (AA. loc. cit). The name of Anāthapindika's brother was Subhūti.
Anāthapindika married a woman called Puññalakkhanā (J.ii.410; J. iii.435, who was the sister of the setthi of Rājagaha. SA.i.240). He had a son Kāla and three daughters, Mahā-Subhaddā, Cūla-Subhaddā and Sumanā. (Besides Kāla, Anāthapindika had another son, who joined the Order under Subhūti Thera; AA.ii.865). Mention is also made of a daughter-in law, Sujātā by name, daughter of Dhanañjaya and the youngest sister of Visākhā. She was very haughty and ill-treated the servants (J.ii.347).
The son, in spite of his father's efforts, showed no piety until he was finally bribed to go to the vihāra and listen to the Buddha's preaching. The daughters, on the other hand, were most dutiful and helped their father in ministering to the monks. The two elder ones attained to the First Fruit of the Path, married, and went to live with the families of their husbands. Sumanā obtained the Second Fruit of the Path, but remained unmarried. Overwhelmed with disappointment because of her failure in finding a husband, she refused to eat and died and was reborn in Tusita (DhA.i.128f).
The Bhadraghata Jātaka (J.ii.431) tells us of a nephew of Anāthapindika who squandered his inheritance of forty crores. His uncle gave him first one thousand and then another five hundred with which to trade. This also he squandered. Anāthapindika then gave him two garments. On applying for further help the man was taken by the neck and pushed out of doors. A little later he was found dead by a side wall.
The books also mention a girl, Punnā, who was a slave in Anāthapindika's household. On one occasion when the Buddha was starting on one of his periodical tours from Jetavana, the king, Anāthapindika, and other eminent patrons failed to stop him; Punnā, however, succeeded, and in recognition of this service Anāthapindika adopted her as his daughter (MA.i.347-8). On uposatha days his whole household kept the fast; on all occasions they kept the pañcasīla inviolate (J.iii.257).
A story is told of one of his labourers who had forgotten the day and gone to work; but remembering later, he insisted on keeping the fast and died of starvation. He was reborn as a deva (MA.i.540-1).
Anāthapindika had a business village in Kāsi and the superintendent of the village had orders to feed any monks who came there (Vin.iv.162f). One of his servants bore the inauspicious name of Kālakanni (curse); he and the banker had been playmates as children, and Kālakanni, having fallen on evil days, entered the banker's service. The latter's friends protested against his having a man with so unfortunate a name in his household, but he refused to listen to them. One day when Anāthapindika was away from home on business, burglars came to rob his house, but Kālakanni with great presence of mind drove them away (J.i.364f).
A similar story is related of another friend of his who was also in his service (J.i.441).
All his servants, however, were not so intelligent. A slave woman of his, seeing that a fly had settled on her mother, hit her with a pestle in order to drive it away, and killed her (J.i.248f).
A slave girl of his borrowed an ornament from his wife and went with her companions to the pleasure garden. There she became friendly with a man who evidently desired to rob her of her ornaments. On discovering his intentions, she pushed him into a well and killed him with a stone (J.iii.435).
The story of Anāthapindika's cowherd, Nanda, is given elsewhere.
All the banker's friends were not virtuous; one of them kept a tavern (J.i.251). As a result of Anāthapindika's selfless generosity he was gradually reduced to poverty. But he continued his gifts even when he had only bird-seed and sour gruel. The devata who dwelt over his gate appeared before him one night and warned him of his approaching penury; it is said that every time the Buddha or his monks came to the house she had to leave her abode over the gate and that this was inconvenient to her and caused her to be jealous. Anāthapindika paid no attention to her warnings and asked her to leave the house. She left with her children, but could find no other lodging and sought counsel from various gods, including Sakka. Sakka advised her to recover for Anāthapindika the eighteen crores that debtors owed him, another eighteen that lay in the bottom of the sea, and yet eighteen more lying unclaimed. She did so and was readmitted (DhA.iii.10ff; J. i.227ff).
Anāthapindika went regularly to see the Buddha twice a day, sometimes with many friends (J.i.95ff.; he went three times says J. i.226), and always taking with him alms for the young novices. But we are told that he never asked a question of the Buddha lest he should weary him. He did not wish the Buddha to feel obliged to preach to him in return for his munificence (DhA.i.3). But the Buddha of his own accord preached to him on various occasions; several such sermons are mentioned in the Anguttara Nikāya:
- on the importance of having a well-guarded mind like a well-protected gable in a house (A.i.261f);
- on the benefits the recipient of food obtains (life, beauty, happiness, strength);
on the four obligations that make up the pious householder's path of duty (gihisāmikiccāni - waiting on the Order with robes, food, lodgings, medical requirements. Referred to also in S. v.387, where Anāthapindika expresses his satisfaction that he had never failed in these obligations);
- on the four conditions of success that are hard to win (wealth gotten by lawful means, good report, longevity, happy rebirth);
- on the four kinds of happiness which a householder should seek (ownership, wealth, debtless ness, blamelessness) (these various tetrads are given in A.ii.64ff).
- on the five kinds of enjoyment which result from wealth rightfully obtained (enjoyment - experienced by oneself and by one's friends and relations, security in times of need, ability to pay taxes and to spend on one's religion, the giving of alms to bring about a happy rebirth, A.iii.45-6);
- the five things which are very desirable but difficult to obtain (long life, beauty, happiness, glory, good condition of rebirths, A.iii.47-8);
the five sinful acts that justify a man's being called wicked (hurting of life, etc. A.iii.204);
- the inadvisability of being satisfied with providing requisites for monks without asking oneself if one also experiences the joy that is born of ease of mind (evidently a gentle warning to Anāthapindika, A.iii.206-7).
- The Buddha preached the Velāma Sutta to encourage Anāthapindika when he had been reduced to poverty and felt disappointed that he could no longer provide luxuries for the monks (A.iv.392ff).
On another occasion the Buddha tells Anāthapindika that the Sotāpanna is a happy man because he is free from various fears: fear of being born in hell, among beasts, in the realm of Peta or in some other unhappy state; he is assured of reaching Enlightenment (A.iv.405f, also S. v.387f).
Elsewhere the Buddha tells Anāthapindika that it is not every rich man who knows how to indulge in the pleasures of sense legitimately and profitably (A.v.177ff).
There is, however, at least one sutta preached as a result of a question put by Anāthapindika himself regarding gifts and those who are worthy to receive them (A.i.62-3); and we also find him consulting the Buddha regarding the marriage of his daughter, Cola Subhaddā (DhA.iii.466).
Anāthapindika died before the Buddha. As he lay grievously ill he sent a special message to Sāriputta asking him to come (again, probably, because he did not want to trouble the Buddha). Sāriputta went with Ananda and preached to him the Anāthapindikovāda Sutta (M.iii.258f.; see also S. v.380-7, which contain accounts of incidents connected with this visit). His pains left him as he concentrated his mind on the virtuous life he had led and the many acts of piety he had done. Later he fed the Elders with food from his own cooking-pot, but quite soon afterwards he died and was born in the Tusita heaven. That same night he visited the Buddha at Jetavana and uttered a song of praise of Jetavana and of Sāriputta who lived there, admonishing others to follow the Buddha's teaching. In heaven he will live as long as Visākhā and Sakka (DA.iii.740).
Various incidents connected with Anāthapindika are to be found in the Jātakas. On one occasion his services were requisitioned to hold an inquiry on a bhikkhuni who had become pregnant (J.i.148).
Once when the Buddha went on tour from Jetavana, Anāthapindika was perturbed because there was no one left for him to worship; at the Buddha's suggestion, an offshoot from the Bodhi tree at Gaya was planted at the entrance to Jetavana (J.iv.229).
Once a brahmin, hearing of Anāthapindika's luck, comes to him in order to find out where this luck lay so that he may obtain it. The brahmin discovered that it lay in the comb of a white cock belonging to Anāthapindika; he asks for the cock and it is given to him, but the luck flies away elsewhere, settling first in a pillow, then in a jewel, a club, and, finally, in the head of Anāthapindika's wife. The brahmin's desire is thus frustrated (J.ii.410f).
On two occasions he was waylaid by rogues. Once they tried to make him drink drugged toddy. He was at first shocked by their impertinence, but, later, wishing to reform them, frightened them away (J.i.268).
On the other occasion, the robbers lay in wait for him as he returned from one of his villages; by hurrying back he escaped them (J.ii.413). Whenever Anāthapindika visited the Buddha, he was in the habit of relating to the Buddha various things which had come under his notice, and the Buddha would relate to him stories from the past containing similar incidents. Among the Jātakas so preached are: Apannaka, Khadirahgāra, Rohinī, Vārunī, Punnapāti, Kālakanni, Akataññū, Verī, Kusanāli, Siri, Bhadraghata, Visayha, Hiri, Sirikālakannī and Sulasā.
Anāthapindika was not only a shrewd business man but also a keen debater. The Anguttara Nikāya (A.v.185-9) records a visit he paid to the Paribbājakas when he could think of nothing better to do. A lively debate ensues regarding their views and the views of the Buddha as expounded by Anāthapindika. The latter silences his opponents. When the incident is reported to the Buddha, he speaks in high praise of Anāthapindika and expresses his admiration of the way in which he handled the discussion.
During the time of Padumattara Buddha Anāthapindika had been a householder of Hamsavatī. One day he heard the Buddha speak of a lay-disciple of his as being the chief of alms-givers. The householder resolved to be so designated himself in some future life and did many good deeds to that end. His wish was fulfilled in this present life. Anāthapindika is sometimes referred to as Mahā Anāthapindika to distinguish him from Cūla Anāthapindika.