Kaccana's Conversion to the Dhamma
In his last existence, when the Buddha Gotama appeared in the world, Kaccana was born as the son of the chaplain (purohita) in the city of Ujjeni, the capital of Avanti, to the southwest of the Middle Country. His father's personal name was Tiritivaccha, his mother's Candima, and they were of the Kaccayana clan, one of the oldest and most highly respected lines of brahmans. Since he was born with a golden colored body, his parents exclaimed that he had brought his name along with him at birth, and they named him "Kañcana," which means "golden." As a brahman and the son of the court chaplain, when Kañcana grew up he studied the Three Vedas, the traditional sacred scriptures of the brahmans, and after his father's death he succeeded him in the position of court chaplain.
The king of Avanti at the time that Kaccana became chaplain was Candappajjota, Pajjota the Violent. He was known by this epithet because of his explosive and unpredictable temper. When King Candappajjota heard that the Buddha had arisen in the world, he assembled his ministers and asked those who were so capable to go and invite the Blessed One to visit Ujjeni. The ministers all agreed that the only one who was truly capable of bringing the Buddha to Avanti was the chaplain Kaccana. The king therefore assigned him to go on this mission, but Kaccana laid down a condition before he would accede to the king's request: he would go only if he would be permitted to become a monk after meeting the Enlightened One. The king, ready to accept any condition in exchange for a meeting with the Tathagata, gave his consent.
Kaccana set out accompanied by seven other courtiers. When they met the Master, he taught them the Dhamma, and at the end of the discourse Kaccana and his seven companions all attained arahantship together with the four analytical knowledges (patisambhida-ñana). The Buddha granted them ordination simply by welcoming them into the Sangha with the words, "Come, bhikkhus."
The new bhikkhu, now the Venerable Maha Kaccana, then began to praise the splendors of Ujjeni to the Buddha. The Master realized that his new disciple wanted him to travel to his native land, but he replied that it would be sufficient for Kaccana to go himself, as he was already capable of teaching the Dhamma and of inspiring confidence in King Candappajjota.
In the course of their return journey the party of monks arrived at a town named Telapanali, where they stopped to gather alms. In that town lived two maidens, merchants' daughters of different families. One girl was beautiful, with lovely long hair, but both her parents had expired and she lived in poverty, looked after by her governess. The other girl was wealthy, but was afflicted with an illness that had caused her to lose her hair. Repeatedly she had tried to persuade the poor girl to sell her hair so she could make a wig but the poor girl had consistently refused.
Now, when the poor girl saw the Venerable Maha Kaccana and his fellow monks walking for alms, their bowls as empty as if they had just been washed, she felt a sudden surge of faith and devotion arise in her towards the elder, and she decided to offer alms to the party of bhikkhus. However, as she had no wealth, the only way she could obtain money to buy provisions was to sell her hair to the rich girl. This time, as the hair came to the rich girl already cut, she paid only eight coins for it. With these eight coins the poor girl had almsfood prepared for the eight bhikkhus, using one coin for each portion. After she had presented the alms, as an immediate fruit of the meritorious deed, her full head of hair instantly grew back to its original length.
When the Venerable Maha Kaccana arrived back in Ujjeni, he reported this incident to King Candappajjota. The king had the girl conveyed to his palace and at once appointed her his chief queen. From that time onwards the king greatly honored Maha Kaccana. Many people of Ujjeni who heard the elder preach gained faith in the Dhamma and went forth under him as monks. Thus the entire city became (in the words of the commentary) "a single blaze of saffron robes, a blowing back and forth of the banner of sages." The queen, who was exceedingly devoted to the elder, built for him a dwelling in the Golden Grove Park.
So says the Anguttara Commentary, but the Pali canon itself suggests that the Sangha was not as well established in Avanti as the commentator would lead us to believe. This fact can be discerned from a story involving the Venerable Maha Kaccana that is reported in the Mahavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka.
When this story unfolds, the elder was dwelling in Avanti at his favorite residence, the Osprey's Haunt on Precipice Mountain. A lay disciple of his named Sona Kutikanna came to him and expressed the wish to go forth under him as a monk. But Kaccana, seeing perhaps that the householder was not yet ready to take such a big step, discouraged him with the words: "Difficult, Sona, is it to sleep alone, to eat one meal a day, and to observe celibacy for as long as life lasts. While remaining a householder, you should apply yourself to the Buddha's teaching, and at the proper times you may sleep alone, eat one meal a day, and observe celibacy."
With these words Sona's enthusiasm for ordination subsided. Some time later, however, the urge was rekindled, and he approached the Venerable Maha Kaccana with the same request. A second time the elder discouraged him, and a second time Sona's desire for ordination abated. When Sona approached him for the third time and asked for ordination, Maha Kaccana gave him the "going forth" (pabbajja), that is, the initial ordination as a novice (samanera).
During the Buddha's time it seems to have been customary to grant mature men, already endowed with faith in the Dhamma and well acquainted with its tenets, both ordinations in immediate succession. The novice ordination would be given first, and then right afterwards the ceremony of higher ordination (upasampada) would be performed, making the postulation a bhikkhu, a full member of the Sangha. But at the time that the above incident took place Avanti was short of monks, being a region quite far from the Buddha's own missionary rounds and from the other centers of Buddhist activity. According to the disciplinary regulations that were still in effect, the higher ordination had to be performed by a chapter of at least ten bhikkhus (dasavagga-bhikkhusangha). But such was the situation in Avanti that the Venerable Maha Kaccana could not easily find even nine other bhikkhus to confer the higher ordination on Sona. It was only three years later that the elder could, with trouble and difficulty, convene an assembly of ten bhikkhus from different places in the region to give Sona the higher ordination.
When the Venerable Sona had completed his first rains retreat as a bhikkhu, the wish arose in him to pay a visit to the Buddha. He had heard many times the highest praise of the Blessed One, his lord and refuge, yet he had never seen the Master face to face, and now the desire to do so had become irresistible. He went to his preceptor to ask for his permission to make the long journey to Savatthi, where the Buddha was residing. Not only did the Venerable Maha Kaccana applaud his disciple's desire to see the Buddha, but he asked Sona to convey to the Lord an appeal that certain monastic regulations be relaxed to suit the different social and geographical conditions that prevailed in Avanti and in other border regions.
When the Venerable Sona came to the Buddha and explained his preceptor's request, the Master readily agreed. First, to determine what districts should count as border regions, the Buddha defined the boundaries of the Middle Country, wherein the original regulations were to remain binding. Then he announced the revised versions of the rules that would apply in the border regions, though not in the Middle Country. These revised rules are the following: (1) The higher ordination would not require ten bhikkhus but could now be given by a chapter of five, one of whom must be a master of the Vinaya, the monastic discipline. (2) Monks are allowed to use sandals with thick linings, as the ground in those regions is rough and hard on the feet. (3) Monks are permitted to bathe frequently, as the people of Avanti attach great importance to bathing. (4) Sheepskins and goatskins, etc., could be used as coverlets. (5) Robes could be accepted on behalf of a monk who has left the district, and the ten days' period during which (under the rule) an extra robe could be kept would begin only when the robe actually reaches his hands.