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Subhuti

By Gaurav Manandhar at
Subhuti

Subhuti

Subhuti was one of the Ten Great Disciples of Gautam Buddha. Literally, the word "Subhuti" means good existence in Prakrit and Pali. Sometimes, he is referred to as "Elder Subhuti" with the respect by other fellow monks and the people. The famous statues of Subhuti can be found in the Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India where the Buddha achieved his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.

Brief History of Subhuti

Subhuti was the son of Sumanasetthi. His younger brother was Anathapindika. He heard the teaching of Buddha only on the day of the dedication of Jetavana. He then studied Buddhism and got ordination. It is recorded that he mastered the two categories of Vinaya rules. For most of the years, he lived in the forest. There, he gained insight and attained Arahantship on the basis of Metta-jhana. He delivered the discourse without distinction and limitation. Therefore, he was declared chief of people living in remote and in peace, and also of those who were worthy of gifts. It is believed that when he went for the alms, he would develop Metta jhana at each door. Therefore, every gifts and present were of the highest merit.

During his travel, he happens to visit Rajagaha where he met King Bimbisara. Later after communication with Subhuti, king Bimbisara promised to build a dwelling place for him. However, the king was not able to maintain his promise. So, Subhuti meditated in the open air. It is believed that when he was meditating in the open air, there was no rainfall. This made a problem in Rajagaha. When King Bimbisara knew about this, he felt guilty and built a leaf hut for him. When Subhuti entered the hut and seated on the bed of hay with crossed leg, then the rain began to fall.

Subhuti as recognized In different branches of Buddhism

As mentioned in Theravada Buddhism, Subhuti is a well-known arahant and disciple of Buddha. He is believed to be the most worthy of gifts due to his practice of absorption on loving-kindness before receiving alms.

In Mahayana traditions, Subhuti is best known as the disciple of Buddha with whom he disseminated the Diamond Sutra (Skt. Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra), an important teaching within the Prajnaparamita genre. The Diamond Sutra along with the Heart Sutra (Skt. Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya), is one of the most well-known sutras among both the practitioners and non-practitioners of Buddhism. It is also learned that Subhuti is also responsible for much of the exposition in earlier Prajnaparamita Sutras. Likewise, in Chapter 6 (Bestowal of Prophecy) of Lotus Sutra (Skt. Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra), it is mentioned that the Buddha bestows prophecies of enlightenment on Subhūti, along with other disciples such as Mahākāśyapa, Mahākātyāyana, and Mahāmaudgalyāyana.

In Zen traditions, Subhuti appeared in several koans. One of these Koans is-

One day, in a mood of sublime emptiness, Subhuti was resting underneath a tree when flowers began to fall about him. "We are praising you for your discourse on emptiness," the gods whispered to Subhuti. "But I have not spoken of emptiness," replied Subhuti. "You have not spoken of emptiness, we have not heard emptiness," responded the gods. "This is the true emptiness." The blossoms showered upon Subhuti as rain.

It is believed that the lineage of Panchen Lamas starts with Subhuti. This lineage was considered to be four Indian and three Tibetan incarnations of Amitabha Buddha before Khedrup Gelek Pelzang. Pelzang is recognized as the first Panchen Lama.

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