Bakula (Skt.; Tib. Bakula; Wyl. ba ku la) — one of the Sixteen Arhats. Born 70 years before the Buddha, Bakula was first an accomplished scholar and then lived as a wandering ascetic. One day, seated high on a mountain he saw the Buddha passing on the road below. Afraid he would not be able to catch up with him by following the road he jumped directly from the mountain-side, but was spared from injury by the power of the Buddha. He requested ordination and joined the Sangha. After studying and practising he became an arhat.
Together with 900 arhats, Bakula dwells on the northern continent (Uttarakuru) in a mountain cave. He holds a wealth-bestowing mongoose that has the power to grant the requisites for understanding all of the Buddha’s teachings—refinement of the five senses, the ability to attain the six paramitas, understand shunyata and manifest love and compassion for all beings.
- Crystal Mirror, volume VI, Dharma Publishing 1984
At the time of the Gotama Buddha, in the city of Kosabhe, there lived a wealthy, high-caste merchant and his wife. After some time the wife conceived and the couple was blessed with a beautiful baby son on whom they lavished all their love and affection. As they lived close to the river Yamuna, the baby was taken to the river by his nurse for his daily bath.
The river Yamuna was a deep, wide river with shallow banks and swiftly-flowing water. The nurse was bathing the young baby when she was terrified by a large fish that was swimming towards her. In her haste to get out of the water she lost the baby. Wading into the river she tried to swim after the precious child. The current, however, was swift. She watched in horror as the child was taken further and further from her reach, towards the large fish.
Many miles down the river was a fishing village. The men who fished in the Yamuna river were excited, for their nets had drawn a very large fish. Hauling in their nets with difficulty, they took the large fish which was thrashing about to the home of the wealthiest resident, who had a large household with many servants. Knowing that only the rich could afford such a large fish they sold it to the merchant, who had no children. The fish was taken to the kitchen, but the cook was reluctant to cut the unusually large and beautiful fish. Deciding to serve it whole, he carefully opened it by inserting his knife along its side. The cook was greatly surprised to find a young baby, still alive, in the stomach of the fish. Running to his mistress, he handed the beautiful baby to her. The woman, who had no children, was filled with joy at the sight of the baby, and decided to bring him up as her own.
The unusual story of the child’s beginning soon spread throughout the village. Many came to see the beautiful baby who was regarded as a miracle child. Before long the news spread upriver to the grieving parents who were still in deep sorrow due to the loss of their son. Suspecting that it could be their child, they visited the fishing village to examine the baby. Recognizing the baby as her own, the birth mother asked for the custody of her child. However, the new mother, who had brought up the child with love, was too attached to the baby to part with it. Unable to settle the dispute on their own, the two families took their grievance to the king. The king heard both sides of the story and gave both families joint custody of the child, who was renamed Bakkula meaning ‘two castes’. Bakkula had the unique privilege of claiming lineage from two very wealthy, high-caste Brahmin families. He grew up in the midst of extreme luxury and love from both sets of parents. He had the best available education and took turns living with both sets of parents. As he came of age his parents arranged a marriage to a beautiful girl.
The aspiration made many eons ago had to be fulfilled. As he grew older Bakkula was inspired by the teachings of the Gotama Buddha. He decided to join the Buddha’s Noble Order. Eight days later he attained the supreme bliss of Nibbana.
The monks soon noticed a strange phenomenon regarding Bakkula. Not only was he as knowledgeable as any physician, he was also exceptionally healthy, never succumbing to sickness despite the fact that he often tended the sick monks. Bakkula was also well- known for his remarkable memory. Similarly to the chief disciples of the Buddha, Sariputta and Moggallana and his former wife, Yasodara, Bakkula could recall his past births over infinite periods of time.
The Buddha appointed Bakkula as the monk foremost in good health and longevity. Bakkula entered the noble order at the age of eighty and led the life of a householder for eighty years and the life of a monk for 80 years. To understand the cause of his remarkable memory and his longevity one needs to go back many, many years into the past.
One hundred thousand world cycles and one infinite period ago, a Supreme Buddha named Anomadassi reigned over India. Having realized the timeless Four Noble Truths and the Doctrine of Dependent Origination, the Anomadassi Buddha, together with His Chief Disciples, Nisabha and Anoma, taught the Buddha Dhamma for the benefit of mankind and gods. The Anomadassi Buddha, who was travelling through villages and cities preaching the Dhamma, was in a monastery in a beautiful grove of flowering trees near a huge rock formation known as Sobitha when he was stricken with grave illness. Enduring His pain and discomfort with the strength of His mind, the Anomadassi Buddha continued His noble mission of helping mankind eradicate all suffering by showing them the path to emancipation.
At this time a young man who was skilled in his studies, not content with his education, turned to searching for truth. Giving up his household life he took to the life of an ascetic. Before long he attained the mental ecstasies (Jhana). Inspired by the teachings of the Anomadassi Buddha, he entered the Noble Order. However, despite his effort he did not attain enlightenment. Seeing the Buddha Anomadassi and diagnosing His illness, the young monk requested permission to treat His ailment. He then combed the area, obtained the necessary herbs and roots, and prepared the medicine required for treatment. Offering the medicine to the Anomadassi Buddha with devotion and compassion, he tended to the Buddha’s needs and restored Him back to health. He then aspired for long life and good health in all his future births in samsara (cycle of birth and death). Realizing that he required more effort and meritorious deeds to attain emancipation, he continued to perform meritorious deeds.
The Anomadassi Buddha looked into the future and prophesied that the young monk would be reborn in the Brahma realms for many world cycles, after which he would return to the human world as a royal monarch. He would then enjoy the comforts of a royal monarch for many births. Throughout his birth in the celestial and human realms he would be blessed with long life and exceptionally good health.
Bakkula’s next documented birth is during the reign of the Padumuttara Buddha. He was inspired by a monk on whom the Padumuttara Buddha had conferred the title of monk foremost in long life and good health. He performed many meritorious deeds and aspired to be foremost in long life and good health under a future Buddha. The Padumuttara Buddha prophesied that many eons into the future there would reign a Supreme Buddha of the Sakyan clan by the name of Gotama. At this time, Bakkula would be born into a wealthy Brahmin family, attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana, and be declared the monk foremost in good health and longevity.
The next documented birth story is at the time of the Vipassi Buddha, when Bakkula was born in the city of Bandumatti. On completing his education he decided to join the Noble Order. Before long he attained the mental ecstasies. During this time a contagious desease spread among the Vipassi Buddha’s Noble Order. By using his supernormal powers Bakkula gathered the herbs and roots required and prepared the medicine that cured the Sangha. He then renewed his aspiration. At death he was reborn in the Brahma realms and had the opportunity to enjoy celestial bliss for a long period of time.
The next documented birth story is at the time of the Kassapa Buddha. After seeing a derelict monastery he repaired it and offered it to the Sangha. Taking refuge in the Kassapa Buddha he continued his efforts at emancipation. At death he was reborn in the heavens.
As prophesied, the aspiration made at the time of the Padumuttara Buddha was fulfilled during the reign of the Gotama Buddha. Bakkula, with his remarkable memory and the experience gained by attending the First Sangha Council was invaluable in teaching and assisting the Sangha in preserving the Word of the Buddha.