Kaundinya was born in a Brahmin family who was very prominent at his youth due to his mastery of the Vedas and was later appointed as the royal court scholar of King Suddhodana of the Sakyas in Kapilavasthu. There, Kaundinya was the only scholar who predicted upon the birth of Prince Siddhartha and also foretold that the prince would become an enlightened Buddha. He also vowed to become his disciple. Kaundinya and his four colleagues followed Siddhartha in his six years of ascetic practice. But Kaundinya abandoned him in disgust after Siddhartha gave up the practice of self-mortification. When Siddhartha was enlightened, he first provided his knowledge to Kaundinya's group. Kaundinya was first to comprehend the teaching and thus became the first Bhikku or Arahant.
Kaundinya was considered as the foremost of the first five disciples of Buddha, who then traveled around India to propagate the dharma. He converted many people to Buddhist religion. Among them was his nephew Punna, whom Buddha considered as the foremost preacher of the Dharma. In his final years, Kaundinya retreated to Himalayas and passed away before Buddha.
In many Buddhist scripts Kaundinya's previous reincarnations are described. These accounts show that he had vowed in previous existence to be the first to comprehend the 'dharma' when Buddha proclaimed it. The scripts also demanded that it was predetermined that Kaundinya would become the first arahant of Buddha in every birth.
Early Years of Kaundinya
Kaundinya was born before Siddhartha in a wealthy Brahmin family in the town named Donavatthu, located near Kapilavasthu. Kaundinya was known by his family name. At his youth he mastered the three Vedas and excelled in the science of physiognomy (lakana mata).
Kaundinya became a young Brahaman scholar in the kingdom of Sakyas in Kapilavasthu under the rule of Suddhodana. He was one among the group of scholars who were invited to the royal court to predict the life of the crown prince Siddhartha at his naming ceremony. Siddhartha was the first child born to Suddhodana and Mayadevi in their twenty years of marriage. All the other scholars raised two fingers and offered twofold prediction that Siddhartha would either become a Chakravarthy or the Supreme king or would become a spiritual leader after renouncing the material world. Kaundinya was the only one who explicitly predicted by raising one finger that Siddhartha would have enlightenment and become a buddha.
Kaundinya thereafter vowed that he would follow when Siddhartha became an ascetic after leaving the royal palace. In the meantime Suddhodana tried to dismiss Kaundinya's prediction because because he wanted his son to be the ruler and succeed him.Suddhodana made intricate arrangement to shield Siddhartha from all worldly suffering and pampered him with material luxury. Despite this Siddhartha met the old man, diseased man, corpse and a ascetic as foretold by the astrologers.
Renouncement and Arahanthood of Kaundinya
When Siddhartha was twenty nine years old, he left the palace to become an ascetic. Kaundinya along with other four scholars namely Bharika, Baspa, Mahanama and Asvajit followed him in his ascetic life with the approval of king Suddhodana. They were known as Pancavaggiya(group of five) or Pancaka Bhadravargiya(the group of five fortunate ones).
After Siddhartha had mastered all the teachings of Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, he left the gurus and started practicing self mortification along with Kaundinya and other four ascetics at Uruvilva. Kaundinya and his colleagues thought Siddhartha would attain enlightenment through self-mortification. But Siddhartha got no success in this way and after six years he rejected this way. Kaundinya and his colleagues were disappointed and moved away to Mrgadava (Isipatanna) near Varanasi to continue their practices.
After Siddhartha attained his enlightenment, he tried to find out his former teachers but found that they had died. Then Buddha decided to find Kaundinya and his colleagues to share his teachings but Kaundinya was skeptical of Gautama buddha as he abondoned the path of ascetism. But when they met Kaundinya realized his mistakes. Buddha preached him Dhammachakkapavattana Sutta, which contains four noble truths and noble eightfold path. Upon hearing this Kaundinya reached the Sotapanna state and attained Arahanthood. He was the first humanbeing who comprehended the teachings of Buddha.
After five days Kaundinya attained full arahantship when he heard Anattalakkhana Sutta regarding no-self or soul-lessness(Anatta). Kaundinya thus became the first arahant. When he realized arahanthood, Kaundinya wanted to have the permission to retire from the world, which was granted with the words "ehi bhikkhu'. Kaundinya thus became the first bhikkhu of the Buddhist Sangha. Later when Jetavana assembly occurred, Kaundinya was the foremost among the first bhikkus and disciples.
Kaundinya's Life after Enlightenment
Kaundinya and other monks travelled with Buddha by foot through the Gangetic plains for the propagation of dharma. Kaundinya assisted many followers to be converted, formost of which was his nephew Punna, born to his siter Mantani. This occurred while Buddha was at Rajagaha to teach king Bimbisara. In the meantime Kaundinya returned to his home town of Kapilavastu and ordained Punna. Punna attained arahantship and five hundred of his follower became monks. Punna was later acknowledged as the foremost of Buddha's disciples for his preaching skills.
Some of the Kaundinya's writings and discourse are mentioned in the Buddhist literature as one of the senior monks. A poem in Theragatha containing sixteen verses was attributed to him. The first one of this is the praise of the Saccas to Kaundinya when he preached them the four noble truths. Kaundinya is also acknowledged for his own struggle against the 'Mara'. Kaundinya was praised in Udana by the Buddha, who observed his deliverance from the craving.
After a period within this sangha, Kaundinya retired to the Himalayas for the last twelve years of his life. This is attributed to two reasons in Buddhist literature. Kaundinya considered his presence to be a source of inconvenience to Sariputta and Moggallana. Kaundinya was the seniormost member of the Sangha and led the monks on the alms-round . Kaundinya remained absent from the Dharma as Sariputta and Mogallana were not comfortable with him. Kaundinya spent his much time in religious practice.
Kaundinya retired to the banks of the Mandakini lake in the Chaddanta forest. Kaundinya only left once from his abode to bid bye to Gautama Buddha. Kaundinya kissed Buddha's feet and stroked them with his hands. He adviced his disciples not to mourn for him as he returned to the forest next morning. He was cremated on a large sandalwood pyre. The ashes were later brought to Veluvana and enshrined in a silver stupa.
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