Citta the preacher

06 Sep

Among the followers of the Buddha there were many lay disciples , the householders, who excelled in the understanding of the Dhamma and in preaching the Dhamma . The foremost among them was Citta .He was the model that the Buddha urged others to emulate .He was the foremost disciple in expounding the Dhamma.On one occasion, the Buddha said to the monks: “Should a devoted mother wish to encourage her beloved only son in a proper way she should say to him: ‘Try to become like the disciple Citta “

A wealthy merchant who owned the hamlet of Macchikāsanda near the city of Savatthi celebrated the birth of a son by covering the village streets with flowers of various hues. The streets at once looked colorful and picturesque . The baby boy was hence promptly named Cittagahapati . His family and friends called him , for short , Citta . Because of his birth in Macchikāsanda , he also acquired the name Macchikásandika. The boy grew up to be a bright and an articulate young man . Besides his family trade Citta acted as the Treasurer of the City Council of Savatthi, where he now lived. He also owned a tributary village called Migapattaka . He had a resort in the grove Ambarukkhavana, in his native village of Macchikāsanda .

Once when the monk the Elder Mahānāma visited Macchikāsanda, Citta, pleased with his demeanor, invited him , for a meal at the Ambarukkhavana grove .Citta was so impressed with the discourse delivered by the monk that at its conclusion he dedicated the Ambarukkhavana grove to the Sangha . Later he built a splendid monastery there for the use of monks . The monastery came to be celebrated as the Ambātakārāma; and was the residence of a large numbers of monks . Discussions often took place there between Cittagahapati and the resident Bhikkhus . Among eminent Elders who visited the Ambātakārāma were Isidatta of Avanti , Mahaka of magical powers ,Kāmabhū ,Godatta and the Elder Lakuntaka Bhaddiya who lived there in solitude and in meditation . A monk named Sudhamma was another permanent resident of the Ambātakārāma .

Citta , by diligence and dedication , not only grasped the heart of the Dhamma but also became quite an adept in explaining the Dhamma. The Buddha considered Citta the most learned and lucid of all the lay Dharma teachers. The Buddha recognized Citta as the foremost in expounding the Dhamma .He held up Citta as a model for others to follow. The Tipitaka contains discourses preached to and by Citta . The sixty-first section in Tipitaka , Citta Samyutta Nikáya is named after him and contains a record of his discussions . In the Samyutta Nikaya there are two sutras wherein he discussed Dhamma with the monks. They indicate his profound grasp of the subtle aspects of the Dhamma.

The first documented teaching by Citta relates to a discussion that a group of monks were having at the Ambātakārāma monastery . The discussion was about whether it is the sense objects that fetter the mind ; or whether it is the sense organs that cause the fetters or whether fetters and sense objects are one and the same. Citta joined the discussion and explained by using a simile .“ Suppose a black ox and a white ox were tied together with a yoke or rope. Now , would it be right to say that the black ox was the fetter of the white ox or that the white ox was the fetter of the black ox?” he explained “Certainly not; The black ox is not the fetter of the white ox nor is the white ox the fetter of the black ox. They are both fettered by the yoke or rope. Similarly, the eye is not the fetter of visual objects nor are visual objects the fetter of the eye .The sense faculties do not bind the external objects. Instead, they are bound or yoked by craving.”. The monks were delighted by Citta’s lucid explanation .

On another occasion, the monk Kamabhu, perplexed by one of the Buddha’s sayings, asked Citta if he could explain what it meant. The saying was:

Pure-limbed, white-canopied, one-wheeled,
The chariot rolls on.
Look at he who is coming,
He is a faultless stream-cutter, he is boundless.

Citta explained the verse with understanding and insight. He said: “‘Pure-limbed’ means virtue, ‘white-canopied’ means freedom, ‘one wheeled’ means mindfulness, ‘rolls on’ means coming and going. ‘Chariot’ means the body, ‘he who is coming’ means the enlightened one, ‘stream’ means craving, ‘faultless’, ‘stream-cutter’ and ‘boundless’ all mean one who has destroyed the defilements.” Citta’s ability to give a spiritual interpretation to what appeared to be merely a beautiful verse surprised and delighted Kamabhu .

The laymen and Bhikkhus respected Citta as a great teacher. Citta used his knowledge to help both believers and non-believers.

It appears that Citta did not formally join the Order though he had encouraged many of his friends to do so. That might have been because of his certain commitments in his personal life as a householder.

Citta’s visit to the Buddha at the Jetavana monastery is recorded in the Canon. It is said , Citta loaded five hundred carts with food and other offerings for the Buddha and his disciples visited Savatthi, accompanied by three thousand followers. They traveled at the rate of one yojana a day and reached Savatthi at the end of a month. Then Citta went ahead with five hundred of his companions to the Jetavana monastery and fell at the feet of the Buddha. Citta stayed at the monastery for one whole month offering alms-food to the Buddha and the bhikkhus ; and also feeding his own party of three thousand. All this time, his stock of food and other offerings. were being replenished. The Buddha preached to him the Salāyatana-vibhatti.

The Salāyatana-vibhatti Sutta is a series of definitions of the

six internal senses,
* six external sense objects,
* six groups of consciousness,
* six groups of contacts,
* eighteen mental researches,
* thirty six tracks for creatures,
* six satisfactions to the banished,
* three bases of mindfulness, and
* the supreme trainer of the human heart. 

On the eve of his return journey, Citta put all the things he had brought with him in the rooms of the monastery as offerings to the Buddha .The Buddha said, “Ananda, this disciple is fully endowed with faith and generosity; he is also virtuous and his reputation spreads far and wide. Such a one is sure to be revered and showered with riches wherever he goes.”

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

He who is full of faith and virtue, who also possesses fame and fortune, is held in reverence wherever he goes.

The Dhammapada Atthakatha says that once Citta made offerings to some monks and one of the monks was rather rude. He was therefore rebuked by Citta . The monk complained to the Buddha against Citta but Buddha rebuked him and asked him to apologize to Citta (the monk became an arahant eventually).

The Buddha uttered the following Verses to the monks :

The fool will desire undue reputation, precedence among monks,
authority in the monasteries, honor among families.

Let both laymen and monks think, “by myself was this done;
in every work, great or small, let them refer to me.”
Such is the ambition of the fool; his desires and pride increase.

Asantam bhavanamiccheyya / purekkharanca bhikkhusu / avasesu ca issariyam / pujam parakulesu ca.

Mameva kata mannantu / gihi pabbajita ubho / mamevativasa assu/ kiccakiccesu kismici / iti balassa sankappo/ iccha mano ca vaddhati

When Citta lay ill just before his death, he did not wish for heaven because he did not aspire to anything so impermanent. True to his calling he gave his last advice to those gathered around his death bed. Citta requested them to have trust and confidence in the Buddha and the Dhamma ; and to remain unswervingly generous to the Sangha.

Citta was an ideal lay disciple , an ideal preacher and an ideal son.


Should a devoted mother wish to encourage her beloved only son in a proper way she should say to him:

‘Try to become like the disciple Citta




Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism


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5 responses to “Citta the preacher

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 6:39 am

    srinivas: the argument as to who fetters whom in a relationship depends upon who considers himself fettered. it is really a state of mind the facts as citta says might be dfferent: some people might feel the yoke some people who believe on the karmic way of life will not.

    Giridhar Gopal

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 6:41 am

      dear shri gopal,

      thank you . that was a very interesting comment.

      as compared to the western identification of five. in buddhism there are six internal sense bases . traditionally both in hinduism and its extensions such as buddhism , mind too is one of the senses .the senses are paired with the respective sense organs :

      * eye and visible objects
      * ear and sound
      * nose and odor
      * tongue and taste
      * body and touch
      * mind and mental objects

      perhaps that was why citta chose the analogy of a pair of yoked oxen. the basic idea is that the senses or the sense organs by themselves are not the cause of the problem .the problem (dukkha) arises when they are tied up with craving , which is a state of consciousness.; and in a way a state of mind as you said and as we understand that term. the karmic way that you mentioned is again a condition of consciousness ,in buddhism.

      the term used for craving is tanha which literarily means thirst ; and is sometimes used as a technical term . craving, according to buddhist thought is a kind of desire in which one falsely superimposes agreeable qualities upon an object, cognitively screens out its disagreeable qualities, and then desires the object as a true source of pleasure and well-being .the problem is not that we desire, but rather that we desire unsatisfactory (dukkha) things; none of these objects are actual sources of genuine well-being. when we have right effort, when we desire that which yields satisfaction, then tanha is not the obstacle to enlightenment but the vehicle for its realization.

      the buddha states that one abandons the fetters “when one knows and sees … as impermanent” the six sense organs, objects, sense-consciousness, contact and sensations ” and when one knows and sees … as oneself” . the cessation of suffering comes from the quenching of tanha, which is not the destruction of tanha as much as the natural cessation of it through the true and real satisfaction.

      similar thoughts come through the upanishads and its later texts .for instance, anugita a text which predates the buddha by a couple of centuries discusses the four-fold relation of the sense objects , the sense organs , the sensations and the one who enjoys the sensations, by employing its own idioms and its unique paradigm .it calls the process as chaturhotra, the four-sarifices. the nose, and the tongue, and the eye, and the skin, and the ear; and the mind and the understanding, these seven, acquire the knowledge about the qualities of the sense objects. the smell, taste, color, sound, and touch as the fifth, the object of the mental operation and the understanding, these seven, lead to action. he, who smells, eats, and sees, and so on is the agent. it is from these seven the self is to be emancipated. the instrument, the action, the agent, and emancipation are the four hotris by whom this universe is enveloped.

      it then elaborates it into seven and then on to ten processes; and says the ten organs are the offers; the ten objects of senses are the offerings. they are offered into ten fires. the mind is the ladle. the self within the body the upholder of the frame, is the gârhapatya fire; and into this the offering is thrown.

      the self asks for everything knowable in the universe as its offering. this is the internal yajna. this yajna is going on daily in this body and it is going on everywhere in the world, outside and inside.

      the fire in these passages stands for self. one has to get rid of all notions of conflicts and dualities of existence and non –existence, by offering them into the fire of self. that is the yajna leading to the final emancipation.


      i think , both in upanishads and in the buddha’s thoughts the cessation of desires comes from not by its negation or destruction but through its true and real satisfaction.

      as regards karmic way that you mentioned ,buddhism places it in context as in the following chain.

      * ignorance is the condition for karmic activity;
      * karmic activity is the condition for consciousness;
      * consciousness is the condition for the name and form;
      * name and form is the condition for the six sense organs;
      * six sense organs are the condition for contact;
      * contact is the condition for feeling;
      * feeling is the condition for emotional love/craving;
      * emotional love/craving is the condition for grasping
      * grasping is the condition for existing;
      * existing is the condition for birth;
      * birth is the condition for old age and death;
      * old age and death is the condition for ignorance; and so on.

      in regard to craving etc. in the context of the present-day thinking, you might perhaps be interested in checkering a stanford conference that explored scientific and buddhist definitions of craving and suffering.


      • sreenivasaraos

        March 21, 2015 at 6:44 am

        reenivas: thank you for this erudite reply. i absorbed some of it. the idea of cessation of tanha appears to be a kind of condition of the realized soul. most of us particularly the so called moral ones are constantly fighting to control desires. as age overcomes us these desires do not cease but they become less urgent but other tanhas take over: those of the mind. old age does help, but this grasping at straws is a constant condition for most of us. i have met probably people that i can count out of one hand that have overcome or rather quenched their tanha’s

        Giridhar Gopal

  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 6:44 am

    what are the modern names of the places mentioned in this story?

    Padma Raghavan

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 6:44 am

      dear padma raghavan ,

      as far as i know , the following is the position.


      savatthi (shravasti in sanskrit) was a city of ancient india, located on the banks of the river aciravati (now called the rapti river). it was the capital city of the kingdom of kosala, and one of the six great indian cities during the lifetime of the buddha .it was important both as a prosperous trading centre and as a religious place.

      the buddha passed the greater part of his monastic life in savatthi. his first visit there was at the invitation of anathapindika. the main monasteries in savatthi were the jetavana and the pubbarama. the former was built by anathapindika and the latter by vishakha . it is said that of the twenty five rainy seasons he spent in savatthi , nineteen of them were in jetavana and six in the pubbarama. for this reason savatthi, jetavana and pubbarama figure prominently in the buddhist lore.

      as to how the pubbarama monastery came into being , please see vishakha the fair maiden.

      the remains of savatthi and jetavana located near the rapti river in the fertile gangetic plains, are in the present day’s gonda district of uttar pradesh.


      macchikasanda located thirty yojanas from savatthi , was the town of citta .it belonged to the kingdom of kasi (kashi). its ambatakavana monastery donated by citta where a number of monks resided was a well-known centre of learning in the days of the buddha.

      it is said that citta and his party of five hundred loaded carts and three thousand followers took thirty days to reach jetavana monastery in savatthi ( where the buddha then lived ), traveling one yojana per day.

      the ruins of macchikasanda are no longer visible.


      a yojana is a measure of distance used in ancient india. the exact equivalent measurement is disputed .it is generally accepted that a yojana measured between 8-10 miles .

      macchikasanda might have therefore been about 250 miles away from the city of savatthi .


      thanks for asking



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