Sariputra was born in a village in Magadha in southern India. When his mother conceived him, she had extraordinary wisdom, which was believed to be influenced by the baby in her womb.
At the age of eight, Sariputra was able to understand all the books he read. Once, a wealthy man held a banquet to entertain the king, the princes, ministers and scholars. The eight-year-old Sariputra was also one of the invited guests. He impressed everyone at the banquet with his eloquent speech and great wisdom. The king was so pleased that he awarded a village to Sariputra.
When Sariputra was twenty years old, he left his home and began to search for the Truth. He became a disciple of a scholar, and Mogallana was his best classmate. Both of them later decided to leave their teacher as they felt that he could not satisfy their quest for knowledge. Sariputra and Mogallana both thought that they had great wisdom and no one could qualify to be their teacher.
Encounter with Assaji
One day, while walking on the street, Sariputra chanced to see Venerable Assaji, one of Buddha’s first five disciples. Assaji’s impressive and dignified manner attracted Sariputra’s attention. Sariputra approached Assaji and asked his name, who his teacher was and what his teacher taught.
Venerable Assaji replied, “My name is Assaji and my teacher is Sakyamuni Buddha. He always teaches us that ‘ all things arise and fall according to causes and conditions’, and he also says that ‘ all things are impermanent and will finally extinguish’.”
Having heard the words of Venerable Assaji, Sariputra suddenly saw the light and all his doubts about the universe were dismissed. He decided to pay a visit to the Buddha.
The happy Sariputra returned home and told Mogallana about his encounter that day. Mogallana was moved to tears, for at last they had found a true teacher. The next day, together with their two hundred students, they went to Venuvana (Bamboo-grove) and became Buddha’s disciples.
Sariputra's Past Life : Giving Of His Eyes
About sixty aeons ago, Sariputra vowed to practise the Way of the Bodhisattva and offer alms to the needy. He was willing to give away all his property, even his body and life.
One day, a deva disguised himself as a young man to test Sariputra’s determination. He cried sadly when he saw Sariputra walking towards him. Sariputra approached him and asked what had happened. “My mother is suffering from an incurable disease and the doctor said that in order to cure her disease, an eyeball of a monk is needed to decoct medicinal herbs. But where can I find a monk’s eyeball?” replied the young man who was still crying sadly.
Sariputra thought since he himself was a monk, why not offer one of his eyeballs to the young man? Besides, he would still be able to see with the other eye. Therefore, despite the pain, Sariputra dug out his left eyeball and gave it to the young man. However, the young man exclaimed: “Oh no! The physician said that only the right eyeball can cure my mother.”
Sariputra was very shocked to hear that, but he only blamed himself for not asking the young man before digging out his eyeball. Determined to help the young man, Sariputra bravely dug out his right eyeball. Without thanking Sariputra, the young man took the eyeball and smelled it. Then he threw it on the ground and scolded Sariputra: “Your eyeball is very smelly! How can it be used to decoct medicinal herbs for my mother? “After that, he even trampled on the eyeball.
Though Sariputra could not see, he could still hear. He then thought, “It is difficult to save all beings and be a bodhisattva. I think I’d better concentrate on the practice of self-salvation!”
Just then many devas appeared in the sky. They said to Sariputra, “Don’t be dejected. What has just happened is only our arrangement to test your determination to become a bodhisattva. You should bravely progress on.”
Upon hearing that, Sariputra resumed his compassion to save others. For the next sixty aeons, he never stopped his spiritual practices. During the lifetime when he met Buddha, he was able to achieved final enlightenment.
Sariputra's Humility (1)
Among all His disciples, the Buddha trusted Sariputra the most. When His son, Rahula, joined the Sangha, Buddha asked Sariputra to be Rahula’s teacher.
One day, Rahula followed Sariputra to beg for food and returned to the monastery with a sulky look. When the Buddha asked him why he was unhappy, the young Rahula replied resentfully, “Buddha! When we are out to beg for food, the devotees always give food to the elder monks and to the younger monks like us, they usually offer food with no nutritious value. But everyone needs food to maintain his health. And our elders never take care of us when they receive the good food.”
The Buddha knew very well that nutritious food was necessary to maintain health, and a healthy body was very important to monks for if they were weak, they would not be able to concentrate on their meditation practice. However, Buddha lectured Rahula for being too concerned about food when he should pay his attention to his practice. After Rahula had left, Sariputra was called to see the Buddha. “Sariputra, do you know that you have eaten “unclean” food today?” asked the Buddha.
Sariputra quickly threw up the food taken on that day and said: “Lord Buddha, ever since I became you disciple, I have always been following the rules of going for alms food set by you and never dare to accept any “unclean” food.”
The Buddha then explained, “Sariputra, I know you have been observing the rules accordingly but one cannot just mind his own business in the Sangha. Rules should be fair to everyone and benefits should be equally distributed. It is the responsibility of the elders to take good care of the younger monks, even when begging for food.”
Sariputra was not angry at all after hearing that. Instead, he gratefully accepted the teachings of the Buddha.
Sariputra's Humility (2)
Sariputra had always been enthusiastic in Dharma propagation and he was never fussy about personal comforts.
Once, the Buddha and His disciples returned to the monastery after they had been out giving teachings. However,a group of six corrupt monks arrived at the Jetavana before the others and occupied the best seats and beds, and even Sariputra’s room.
Sariputra’s later returned and saw his room being occupied by others. He had no choice but to spend the night meditating under a tree.
When the Buddha realized what had happened the next morning, He called the monks together and said, “Bhikkhus! You should respect the elders of the Dharma, then you will be praised by others in this life and be born in the upper realms in future lives. Bhikkhus! You should respect, serve and make offerings to the elders. Therefore, the elders deserve priority regarding seats and beds, as well as food and drinks.” On hearing this, Sariputra was appreciative of the Buddha understanding.