Among thousands of Buddha’s disciples, Purna was well-known as, “pre-eminent in preaching.”Purna is the shorter term of “Purnamaitrayaniputra” which means boundless preaching and compassion.
Purna came from a rich and happy family. He was very much loved by his parents. However, Purna felt that all the love and wealth in this world were temporary so he bid farewell to his relatives and took refuge in the Buddha. He vowed to spread the truth to salvage sentient beings.
Not long after he became a monk, Purna became an Arahat which was the highest state among the disciples.
Once, Buddha talked to his disciples about causation. Purna stood up and walked towards Buddha. He paid homage to the Buddha and with devoted eyes, he stared at Buddha’s compassionate looks. He felt no words could express the meritorious virtues of the Buddha so he stroke his chest with his hands, hoping Buddha could understand his feelings.
Buddha understood Purna’s meaning and said, “Purna! You helped me spread the truth of the universe and convert sentient beings. Among the preachers, you are number one. You shall become a Buddha and your name will be Dharmaprabhasa Buddha.”
Buddha’s prophecy made Purna cry with joy. He paid respects to the Buddha again and returned to his seat.
Buddha’s prophecy had made the other bhikkhus very curious and surprised because Purna had only attained the state of arahat and not bodhi. Buddha knew they would think that way so he addressed the assembly, “Fellow bhikkhus!” Purna is good in preaching so he receives the Dharmaprabhasa. He is the best among the preachers. Not only did he assist me preach the Dharma, in his past lives, he supported and helped Buddha preached and was always praised the number one preacher. All of you must learn from him!”
Buddha’s compassion and impressive virtues touched all the kings in India and they took refuge in Buddha. The Kings ordered, “Any criminals willing to renounce the world and take refuge in Buddha will be released.” And so some people with bad moral characters mixed into the Sangha.
Purna warned these bhikkhus who were there in name only, “You cannot do things that are against the rules and precepts of the Buddha. We are lucky to have the Buddha as our teacher giving us an opportunity to repent. If you do things that damage our religion, not only will you harm others but also yourselves. I hope all of you practice seriously and obey the teachings of the Buddha.” The bhikkhus were touched upon hearing this.
Whatever Purna did, he was always thinking of the future of Buddhism. Buddha often praised Purna’s admonitory role in the Sangha.
Purna was very enthusiastic in his preaching. He was not afraid of difficulties when there were opportunities of spreading the bodhi seeds. Once, while he walked past a forest, he saw a few bhikkhus practising in solitude so he said, ” Fellow bhikkhus! We are Buddha’s missionaries and our responsibility is to convert sentient beings and not to stay away from them.”
When the bhikkhus saw it was Purna, they stood up to give their seats to Purna and said, “Honoured venerable! We went to various places to preach but people were stubborn and immersed in the five desires, they also kill to make sacrifices to god. We compassionately gave them our helping hands but they ignored us. In that case, let them do what they like, for one day when they have suffered enough, they will return.”
Purna knew they had met with difficulties in their missionaries and had lost the enthusiasm so he guided them, “I do not agree with your views. No doubt the work is tough but in order to repay our gratitude to Buddha, we should dispel all difficulties to accomplish our missions, if not we will be going against the wishes of the Buddha. Sentient beings are living in poverty, they are poor like beggars, how dare they not readily accept the wealth of the Buddha Dharma you give them? Our responsibility is to spread the Buddha Dharma and let all sentient beings share the Dharma joy.”
The bhikkhus were moved by Purna’s speech and continued their mission.
Because of Purna, many people had the opportunity of knowing the Buddha’s truth and compassion. Purna spread the the Buddha Dharma to many places and many people took refuge in the Buddha after being converted by him. What unique power did Purna posses? Nobody knew.
One day, a few bhikkhus asked Purna, “Venerable! Even if you preached in desolute land, the place will turn into a holy place. When your Dharma voice appears, the people will listen earnestly. Except for the Buddha, nobody can preach as well as you do. How do you have such ability?”
Purna answered modestly, “My success in preaching is due to Buddha’s help. Before I preach, I pray to the Buddha hoping He will give me power. The people are moved by the Buddha’s truth and not because of me.”
The bhikkhus admired his modestly and continued asking, “Venerable! You preached so frequently and even need to meditate but you didn’t eat nutritious food to strengthen your body, what is the power holding you?”
“Thank you for your concern. When I think of the Buddha’s sufferings, what I did is really insignificant. After my preaching, I will see the Buddha and listen to His advice. The Buddha’s Dharma speech is the best nutrients to me. I walk to various places but Buddha’s lights always protects me and His speech remains in my heart so I didn’t feel tired or tough. When I see people prostrate and pray to the Buddha. I am very moved, I pay homage to Buddha too, praying that Buddha will receive them, give them confidence and strength.”
Purna was busy with preaching. Except the basic necessities like clothes and almsbowl, he had no other possessions. One day, he met a relative from his hometown. After paying respects to Purna, the relative asked, “Venerable! Ever since you left home, you have never returned to visit your hometown, everybody missed you very much. You have no wealth at all, why are you wandering around? When will you return home?”
Purna answered, “I am busy with salvaging sentient beings from suffering to happiness. The four seas are my home and my relatives are everywhere. I am the disciple of the Buddha and I have the responsibility of propagating Buddha Dharma. Please say thank you on my behalf to relatives in my hometown for their concern towards me.”
“Venerable, I admired your selfless spirit for religion. When you return home, I will surely give you a very warm welcome. I hope you will bring the lights of Buddha into our hometown!”
“Thank you, it will be as your wish!”
After saying, Purna continued his journey sowing Buddha’s seeds.
Purna knew the purpose of preaching was to salvage sentient beings so the Dharma must suit them. To different people, he used different methods. For instance when he saw a doctor, he would ask, “A doctor can cure the illness of the body but can he cure greed, anger and ignorance of the mind?”
“Venerable, I can’t cure illness of the mind, can you?”
“Yes! The teachings of the Lord Buddha can cleanse the dirt of sentient beings. Precepts, concentration and wisdom can cure the illness of greed, anger and ignorance.”
When the person was a court official, he would ask, “Can you prevent people from committing crime?”
“Even laws of the country cannot prevent people from committing crimes.”
“Besides laws of the country, you need to receive and obey the Buddha Dharma, the Five Precepts and rules of Cause and Effect.”
Purna’s skilful tactics in preaching had convinced many people to take refuge in Buddha. Once he saw some farmers working in the field and asked, “Do you want to know the ways to plough for blessedness to increase your wisdom in life?”
“Yes, but how?” the farmer asked.
“Have confidence in the Triple Gem, respect the Sramana, care for the sick, do charity, filial to parents, help relatives and not killing, are ways of ploughing for blessedness.”
The farmers held their palms towards Purna. They were willing to accept his teachings.
Purna was quick-witted and flexible in his preaching so the Buddha’s teachings were widely accepted.
Purna determinedly tackled all difficulties. Regardless of the dangers and setbacks, he earnestly spread the Buddha’s teachings.
Once, Purna asked for Buddha’s permission to preach in Sudana but Buddha felt the place was undeveloped and the people were cruel and uncivilized so he advised Purna not to go.
However, Purna said, “Lord Buddha, you loved us with compassion for which I can find no words to express my gratitude. I am willing to give all of me to Dharma and to all sentient beings to repay my gratitude to Buddha. Sudana is an uncivilized country where no preachers have been, that is why I want to preach there. I beg you Lord Buddha to give me permission.”
The Buddha wanted to make use of the opportunity to teach his disciples to learn from Purna so He asked Purna, ” Well said, Purna. What if the people of Sudana refuse to accept your teachings and scold you instead?”
“That doesn’t matter because they are not that wilful.”
“What if they attack you with punches, stones and sticks?”
“That doesn’t matter as they did not injure me with knife.”
“What if they injure you with knife?”
“That doesn’t matter because they are still human enough as they did not kill me.”
“What if they kill you?”
“Then I must thank them in letting me enter Nirvana and allowing me to repay Buddha’s gratitude with my life and body.”
Buddha was overjoyed. He praised Purna in having reached the absolute perfect stage.
Purna left the Sangha and went to Sudana. Sudana was a poor country. People there lived in poverty.
Purna learned the native dialects and had no problems communicating with them. However the natives were still wary of him. Purna understood it was difficult to inspire the natives to believe in the Buddha Dharma in such backwards areas. It was no use telling them the truth. What was more important was to improve their living standards, so he started with treating the sick people there.
Besides, Purna taught them words, instructed them in the steps of farming and ways to keep the house. At night, he talked to the native about the Five Precepts and Law of Cause and Effect. The natives finally took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Purna had five hundred disciples there.
The Buddha said missionaries need to have the following ten virtues:-
1 Virtue of knowing the Dharma
2 Virtue of knowing how to preach
3 Virtue of fearlessness with the public
4 Virtue of debating
5 Virtue of tactful preaching
6 Virtue of obeying the Dharma
7 Virtue of possessing dignity
8 Virtue of zealous progress
9 Virtue of tirelessness
10 Virtue of power in success
Purna memorised these ten virtues. He preached throughout the ten years but was always present at Buddha’s birthday or when Buddha made speeches at important ceremonies.
Once, while the Buddha was giving a public discourse, Purna paid homage to the Buddha in the crowd. Buddha was filled with joy and said to him, “Purna, we missed you very much. How are you doing in Sudana? I know you can manage in Sudana because your preaching spirit and health are good and you have very firm faith in the Triple Gem. You are compassionate, steady, intelligent and healthy. You have good debating skills and a dignified appearance. Fellow bhikkhus! Among my disciples, Purna is the number one preacher, all of you should emulate him.”
Nobody knew when and where Purna entered Nirvana. We only knew that Purna always preached the Buddha Dharma and served the public.