Crisis in Kosambi

79. Kosambi was a large city surrounded by huge walls and situated on the banks of the Yamuna River. Because it was at a junction of several highways, it had become a centre for trade and commerce. Three of the city’s most wealthy merchants, Ghosita, Kukkuta and Pavarika were also close friends, engaging in business deals together and having a common interest in religion. Ghosita had risen from humble origin to become treasurer to King Udena of Kosambi. His mother was a prostitute who had thrown him on a rubbish heap when he was born. A passer-by rescued the child and eventually he was taken in by the royal treasurer, who wanted another son. Named Ghosita, the boy grew and was treated as a member of the family. But after a few years, the treasurer’s wife gave birth to a son and suddenly Ghosita was not wanted any longer. The treasurer arranged to have a potter kill the boy and dispose of the body. Ghosita was sent to the potter carrying a message saying that he was the boy to be killed. On the way, he met his foster-brother and not wanting to go on what he thought was just an errand, he offered to play marbles with his foster-brother, the loser having to go to the potter. Ghosita won the game and the other boy took the letter and was killed. Sometime later, in another attempt to kill him, Ghosita was sent to one of the treasurer’s wealthy tax collectors in an outlying region, again with another letter saying that the boy should be killed. On the way Ghosita stopped for a meal in a rich man’s house and when the man’s daughter saw him, she immediately fell in love with him. As they talked, the girl asked to see the letter Ghosita was carrying and when she read it and explained its contents to him, Ghosita was shocked. They decided to write another letter saying that the tax collector should marry the boy and girl, build them a house to live in and look after them. They set out together with the letter and when they arrived, the tax collector read the letter and carried out its instructions. Ghosita and his young wife lived happily for several years and one day they heard that the treasurer was critically ill and likely to die. The young couple set out for Kosambi to visit the treasurer on his deathbed. When they entered the room, the treasurer saw them and with his dying breath said, “I will not let you inherit my wealth.” However, his words were not clear and everyone thought he had said: “I will let you inherit my wealth,” and so Ghosita got a part of the inheritance. With the money he received, he went into business and became very wealthy, and because of his skill with money, was eventually appointed treasurer.

80. Ghosita and his friends had heard about the Buddha and one day while in Savatthi on business, he went to meet the Buddha and invited him to come to Kosambi. Each of the three friends offered the Buddha a pleasure park which gradually grew into monasteries. Ghosita’s park, which was just inside the east gate of Kosambi, came to be known as Ghositarama and grew into a great centre for the study of Dharma.

81. The Buddha stayed in Kosambi on several occasions and delivered many discourses there. His most famous disciple there was the woman Khujjuttara. She was a slave working in King Udena’s harem, and as Queen Samavati and the other women were not allowed to leave the harem, one of her jobs was to run errands for the queen and the other women in the harem. One day, Khujjuttara went to the garden to buy flowers for the queen, as she usually did, and while there, she heard the Buddha teaching the Dharma, and understanding it so well she became a Stream-Winner. On returning to the harem, she told the queen about the Dharma and delighted by what she heard, the queen thereafter sent her regularly to hear the Buddha so she could repeat what she heard. In this manner, Khujjuttara became an expert in Dharma, in fact, the Buddha called her the most deeply learned of all his female lay disciples. All the discourses in the Itivuttaka, one of the most important books in the Tipitaka, were preserved by Khujjuttara and taught by her to the monks.

82. It was at Kosambi that the first serious crisis occurred in the Sangha. Two monks were living together in the same hut. The first of these monks was an expert in monastic discipline and was also conscientious and sincere. One day, this monk went to the toilet and when finished, failed to refill the water pot. His companion scolded him and accused him of breaking a rule. A bitter argument gradually developed, the second monk insisting that the first had broken a rule and the first insisting that he had not. [ N1 ] Eventually all the monks in Kosambi got involved, taking either one side or the other, and the whole community became “disputatious, quarrelsome and contentious, wounding each other with the weapon of the tongue.” [ N2 ] The Buddha tried again and again to bring about a reconciliation but when the monks curtly told him to mind his own business, he decided to show his disapproval of their unruly behaviour by walking out on them. He tidied up the room where he was staying, took his robe and bowl, and left for more congenial surroundings, saying as he left:
“He abused me, he hit me, He oppressed me, he robbed me.” Those who continue to hold such thoughts Never still their hatred.
“He abused me, he hit me, He oppressed me, he robbed me.” Those who do not hold such thoughts Soon still their hatred.
For in this world Hatred is never appeased by more hatred. It is love that conquers hatred. This is an eternal law. [ N3 ]
83. Not far from Kosambi was a park called the Eastern Bamboo Grove where a group of monks headed by Venerable Anuruddha stayed, and the Buddha decided to go there. When he arrived, the park keeper, not knowing who he was, refused to let him enter saying, “There are monks here who love silence. Please do not disturb them.” Anuruddha saw this and told the park keeper to relent and welcome the Buddha. It was immediately obvious to the Buddha that, in stark contrast to the monks at Kosambi, these monks were living together in harmony and were practising with diligence. The Buddha asked them how they were able to do this. Anuruddha answered:
“Concerning this I think: ‘Indeed, it is a gain for me, indeed it is good that I am living with such companions in the holy life.’ I practise bodily, verbal and mental acts of love towards them, both in public and in private. I think: ‘Why don’t I set aside my own wishes and acquiesce to their wishes,’ And then I act accordingly. Truly, we are different in body, but we are one in mind. This is how we are able to live together in friendliness and harmony, like milk and water mixed, looking on each other with the eye of affection.” He then went on to describe the consideration they showed towards each other in their daily life. “Whoever returns from going to the village for alms food gets the seats ready, sets out water for drinking and washing, and puts out the refuge bowl. Whoever returns from the village last eats what is left of the food, or if he does not want it, throws it away where there are no crops or throws it in water where there are no creatures. He puts away the seats, the water bowl and refuge bowl, and sweeps the dining hall. Whoever sees the bowl for drinking water, the bowl for washing water or the water bowl in the toilet empty, he fills it. If he cannot do this himself, by using hand signals he invites his companions to help him, but we do not for such a minor thing break into speech. And then, once every five nights, we sit down together and talk about the Dharma.” [ N4 ]
84. After staying at the Eastern Bamboo Grove for a while, the Buddha felt the need for a period of complete solitude and so he went to the forest near the village of Parileyya. The forest was a well-known haunt for wild animals and few people went there, and the Buddha was prepared to go without food in order to be completely alone for a while. He settled down at the foot of a beautiful sal tree and spent his time meditating. After a while, a huge bull elephant appeared and placed the water it was holding in its trunk in the Buddha’s bowl. A monkey also would pick fruit and each day bring it to the Buddha. With the help of these animals, he was able to spend time without having any contact with people. Like many people since, the Buddha felt that the beauty of the forest and the company of animals could be a welcome reprieve from the noise and bustle of society. [ N5 ]

85. After staying at Parileyya for some time the Buddha left, and not wanting to return to Kosambi, he went to Savatthi. Meanwhile, back in Kosambi, the lay people decided to withdraw their support from the monks, who started coming back from their alms rounds with their bowls empty. Gradually, they found less reason to carry on their dispute and as their tempers cooled down, they began to feel ashamed of themselves. Eventually, a delegation of monks went to Savatthi to see the Buddha to ask for his forgiveness, which he gave, thus bringing the Kosambi dispute to an end.