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The Story of Uggasena

While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (348) of this book, concerning Uggasena, a rich man’s son who fell in love with a dancer.

Once, a wandering theatrical troupe consisting of five hundred dancers and some acrobats came to Rajagaha and performed on the grounds of the palace of King Bimbisara for seven days. There, a young dancer who was the daughter of an acrobat sang and danced on top of a long bamboo pole. Uggasena, the young son of a rich man, fell desperately in love with this dancer and his parents could not stop him from marrying her. He married the young dancer and followed the troupe. As he was not a dancer nor an acrobat, he was not of much use to the party. So, as the party moved from place to place, he had to help carry boxes, drive the carts, etc.

Over time, a son was born to Uggasena and his wife, the dancer. To this child, the dancer would often sing a song that ran thus: “O you, son of the man who keeps watch over the carts; the man who carries boxes and bundles! O, you, son of the ignorant one who can do nothing!” Uggasena heard the song; he knew that his wife was referring to him and he was very much hurt and depressed. So he went to his father-in-law, the acrobat, and requested him to teach him acrobatics. After a year’s training, Uggasena became a skillful acrobat.

Then, Uggasena went back to Rajagaha, and it was proclaimed that Uggasena would publicly demonstrate his skill in seven days. On the seventh day, a long pole was put up and Uggasena stood on top of it. At a signal given from below, he somersaulted seven times on the pole. At about this time, the Buddha saw Uggasena in his vision and knew that the time was ripe for Uggasena to attain arahatship. So, he entered Rajagaha and willed that the audience should turn their attention to him instead of applauding Uggasena for his acrobatic feats. When Uggasena saw that he was being neglected and ignored, he just sat on top of the pole, feeling very discontented and depressed. The Buddha then addressed Uggasena, “Uggasena, a wise man should abandon all attachment to the khandha aggregates and strive to gain liberation from the round of rebirths.”

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:Verse 348

“Muñca pure muñca pacchato,

Majjhe muñca bhavassa pāragū;

Sabbattha vimuttamānaso,

Na punaṁ jātijaraṁ upehisi.”

“Let go of the present, having gone beyond rebirth.

With your heart freed in every respect,

Let go of the past, let go of the future,

You’ll not come again to rebirth and old age.”

At the end of the discourse, Uggasena, who was still on top of the pole, attained Arahatship. He came down and was soon admitted to the Order by the Buddha.

  • I shared this story because Venerable Uggasena is one of the very few people who have become an arahant while being a layman. To my knowledge, there are only a few other people who have reached the arahant stage while being lays, such as Arahant Santati, Arahant Suddhodana (Father of Lord Gautama), Arahant Yasa, and Arahant Kema Theri. Out of these, Arahant Yasa, Uggasena, and Khema (the first among the Bhikkuni in wisdom) are the only ones who have joined the order of Bhikkhus or Bhikkunis. Arahant Suddhodana and Santati attained parinibbānna as laymen. I noticed that each of them became arahant following a speech or a short verse. This shows that they are either the first type of person or the second type and that their paramis were extremely developed. See 4 types of learners
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