Bakula or Bakkula – Milinda Panha


The Questions of King Milinda

translated by T. W. Rhys Davids

Part II of II

Volume XXXVI of “The Sacred Books of the East”




 ‘Venerable Nâgasena, it was said by the Blessed One:

“A Brahman am I, O brethren, devoted to self-sacrifice 1, pure-handed at every time; this body that I bear with me is my last, I am the supreme Healer and Physician 2.”

‘But on the other hand the Blessed One said:

“The chief, O brethren, among those who are disciples of mine, in the matter of bodily health, is Bakkula .”

‘Now it is well known that diseases arose several times in the body of the Blessed One. So that if, Nâgasena, the Tathâgata was supreme, then the statement he made about Bakkula’s bodily health must be wrong. But if the Elder named Bakkula was really chief among those who were healthy, then that statement which I first quoted must be wrong. This too is a double-edged problem, now put to you, which you have to solve.’

‘Both the quotations you have made, O king, are correct. But what the Blessed One said about Bakkula was said of those disciples who had learnt by heart the sacred words, and studied them, and handed down the tradition, which in reference to the characteristics (each of them in some one point) had in addition to those which were found in him himself . For there were certain of the disciples of the Blessed One, O king, who were “meditators on foot,” spending a whole day and night in walking up and down in meditation. But the Blessed One was in the habit of spending the day and night in meditation, not only walking up and down but also sitting and lying down. So such, O king, of the disciples as were “meditators on foot ” surpassed him in that particular. And there were certain of the disciples of the Blessed One, O king, who were “eaters at one sitting,” who would not, even to save their lives, take more than one meal a day. But the Blessed One was in the habit of taking a second, or even a third. So such, O king, of the disciples as were “eaters at one sitting” surpassed him in that particular. And in a similar way, O king, a number of different things have been told, each one of one or other of the disciples. But the Blessed One, O king, surpassed them all in respect of uprightness, and of power of meditation, and of wisdom, and of emancipation, and of that insight which arises out of the knowledge of emancipation, and in all that lies within the scope of a Buddha. It was with reference to that, O king, that he said: “A Brahman am I, O brethren, devoted to self-sacrifice, pure-handed at every time; this body that I bear with me is my last, I am the supreme Healer and Physician.”

‘Now one man, O king, may be of good birth, and another may be wealthy, and another full of wisdom, and another well educated, and another brave, and another adroit; but a king, surpassing all these, is reckoned supreme. just in that way, O king, is the Blessed One the highest, the most worthy of respect, the best of all beings. And in so far as the venerable Bakkula was healthy in body, that was by reason of an aspiration (he had formed in a previous birth)  For, O king, when Anoma-dassî, the Blessed One, was afflicted with a disease, with wind in his stomach, and again when Vipassî, the Blessed One, and sixty-eight thousand of his disciples, were afflicted with a disease, with greenness of blood , he, being at those times an ascetic, had cured that disease with various medicines, and attained (thereby) to such healthiness of body (in this life) that it was said of him:

“The chief, O brethren, among those who are disciples of mine, in the matter of bodily health, is Bakkula.”

‘But the Blessed One, O king, whether he be suffering, or not suffering from disease; whether he have taken, or not taken, upon himself the observance of special vows ,–there is no being like unto the Blessed One. For this, O king, has been said by the Blessed One, the god of gods, in the most excellent Samyutta Nikâya

“Whatsoever beings, O brethren, there may be whether without feet, or bipeds, or four-footed things, whether with a body, or without a body, whether conscious or unconscious, or neither conscious nor not–the Tathâgata is acknowledged to be the chief of all, the Arahat, the Buddha Supreme.”‘

‘Very good, Nâgasena! That is so, and I accept it as you say .’


[Here ends the problem as to the superiority of Bakkula to the Buddha.]

Footnote to fifth chapter

Tina-pupphaka-roga. There is a flower called tina-puppha, and this may be a skin disease named after it. But pupphaka at Gâtaka III, 541, means blood, and the disease may p. 11 be so called because the blood was turned by it to the colour of grass (tina). Hînati-kumburê (who gives these legends of the previous births of Bakkula at much greater length, adding others from the time of the Buddhas Padumuttara and Kassapa, and giving the story also of his present birth) says that the disease arose from contact with wind which had been poisoned through blowing over a Upas tree (p. 296 of the Simhalese version). But he does not explain the name of the disease, which occurs only here.

In his present birth Bakkula is said to have been born at Kosâmbî, in a wealthy family. His mother, understanding that to bathe a new-born child in the Jumna would ensure him a long life, took him down to the river. Whilst he was there being bathed, a huge fish swallowed him. But the fish, caught at Benares, was sold to a wealthy but childless man there, and on being cut open, the babe was found in it unhurt.

The mother hearing the news of this marvel, went in great state and with haste to Benares and claimed the child. Thereupon an interesting lawsuit arose, and the king of Benares, thinking it unjust to deprive the purchaser of a fish of anything inside it, and also unjust to deprive a mother of her child, decided that the child belonged equally to both. So he became the heir of both families, and was therefore called Bak-kula, ‘the two-family-one’ (Bak = Ba = Dvâ). On the real derivation of Bakkula, see Dr. Morris in the ‘Journal of the Pâli Text Society,’ 1886, pp. 94-99. We need not quarrel with a false etymology which shows us so clearly the origin of the legend. Then Bakkula enjoys great prosperity in the orthodox three palaces, and at eighty years of age, being still in vigorous health, enters the Order.

Close Encounter with a Squirrel

This morning the wife was discussing when we lived at Squirrel Lodge. I then went for a walk over to plug hole corner by the pond. I was standing there in deep silence looking to see if the Coypu had moved the stick which I has laid on its trail when I heard a rustle in a tree in the swamp. I looked up and then remained motionless. A red squirrel proceeded to come into view at about eye level in a tree. It descended down to the floor and came through the fence in my direction. When it was about two metres away, it stopped, and we looked eye to eye for a couple of seconds.

It then proceeded to walk very close to me, about 1 metre away and then it walked in a relaxed manner up one of the riverside oaks.  I turned my head to look. It must have sensed my movement. It stopped, and we examined each other for a couple of seconds. It then went off round the back of the oak.

It was exhilarating. A truly great way to start the day.

Spooky action at a distance?

So, I have been led back to the suttas of the Pali canon. I have five here printed out on my desk. They each have something along the lines of “At one time Buddha was dwelling at Rājagaha { Rajgir }, staying in the Bamboo Grove at the Squirrels’ Feeding Place.”

And one has “At one time, when the Buddha had recently passed away, the venerable Bakkula was living at Rājagaha, staying in the Bamboo Grove at the Squirrels’ Feeding Place.”

So Bakkula stayed on at the Bamboo Grove after the death of Buddha.

I had a dream pointing at Bakula. For a while I considered booking a holiday to Rajgir it is around here that many of the exploits of Buddha are mentioned as having occurred.

I had the crazy idea of visiting because if, and it is a very if, I am a reincarnation then there is a historical record of a place where I once used to hang-out. The loose idea was that it might stimulate some memory restoration.

Google maps reveals plenty of temples and things to do. The famous Vulture Peak is nearby.

That is all by the by, it was very special to have a close encounter of the squirrel kind with a young looking red squirrel…