From New World Encyclopedia

Part of a series on
Dharma wheel.svg

History of Buddhism

Timeline of Buddhism
Buddhist councils


Four Noble Truths
Noble Eightfold Path
Buddhist Precepts
Nirvana · Three Jewels

Key Concepts

Three marks of existence
Skandha · Cosmology
Saṃsāra · Rebirth · Dharma
Dependent Origination · Karma

Major Figures

Gautama Buddha
Disciples · Later Buddhists

Practices and Attainment

Buddhahood · Bodhisattva
Four Stages of Enlightenment
Paramitas · Meditation · Laity


Southeast Asia · East Asia
India · Sri Lanka · Tibet
Bhutan · Western Countries


Theravāda · Mahāyāna
Vajrayāna · Early schools
Pre-sectarian Buddhism


Pali Canon · Mahayana Sutras
Tibetan Canon

Comparative Studies
Culture · List of topics

Kaundinya (Sanskrit:कौण्डिन्य, Kaundinya, Pali:Kondañña) also known as Ajnata Kaundinya (Sanskrit:अज्ञात कौण्डिन्य, Ajnata Kaundinya, Pali:Añña Kondañña) was a Buddhist bhikkhu in the sangha of Gautama Buddha and the first to become an arahant. He lived during sixth century B.C.E. in what we now call Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, India.

Kaundinya came from the Brahmin caste, the first who came to prominence as a youth due to his mastery of the vedas, later receiving an appointment as a royal court scholar of King Suddhodana of the Sakyas in Kapilavastu. Among all the scholars there, Kaundinya alone unequivocally predicted upon the birth of Prince Siddhartha that the prince would become an enlightened Buddha, and vowed to become his disciple. Kaundinya and four colleagues followed Siddhartha in six years of ascetic practice, but abandoned him in disgust after Siddhartha gave up the practice of self mortification. Upon enlightenment, Siddhartha gave his first dharma talk to Kaundinya's group. Kaundinya stood out as the first to comprehend the teaching and thus became the first bhikkhu and arahant.

Kaundinya had been regarded as the foremost of the five initial disciples of the Buddha, later traveling around India spreading the dharma. His nephew Punna, whom the Buddha acknowledged as the foremost preacher of the dharma, numbered among his notable converts. In his final years, he retreated to the Himalayas and predeceased the Buddha.

Kaundinya's previous reincarnations have been described in many accounts in Buddhist literature. Those accounts show that he had vowed in previous existences to be the first to comprehend the dharma when proclaimed by an enlightened Buddha. They also document that the seeds of his relationship with Gautama Buddha as the first arahant had been sown in previous existences when they had crossed paths.

Early years

Kaundinya, born before Siddhartha into a wealthy Brahmin family in a town named in Donavatthu, near Kapilavastu, had been known by his family name. When growing up, he mastered the three Vedas at a young age and excelled in the science of physiognomy (lakhana-manta).[1]

Kaundinya became a young Brahmin scholar in Kapilavastu in the Sakya kingdom of King Suddhodana. He had been one among the group of scholars the royal court invited to predict the destiny of Crown Prince Siddhartha at his naming ceremony. Siddhartha had been the first child born to Suddhodana and Queen Maya in twenty years of marriage and much interest surrounded the infant from royal society and the public alike. All the other scholars raised two fingers and offered a twofold prediction: That Siddhartha would either become a Chakravarti (supreme king) or would renounce the world and become a supreme religious leader. Kaundinya, alone, explicitly predicted that Siddhartha would renounce the world to become a Buddha, raising one finger and stating his prediction.[2]

Kaundinya thereafter vowed that he would follow when Siddhartha became an ascetic to learn from the future Buddha's findings.[1] In the meantime, Suddhodana attempted to foil Kaundinya's prediction because he wanted his son to succeed him in ruling and expanding the kingdom. Suddhodana made intricate arrangements to shield Siddhartha from all worldly suffering to steer his mind away from spiritual matters, pampering him with all the material luxury and sense pleasures that he could find. Siddhartha finally persuaded his father to allow him out of the palace to meet his subjects. Suddhodana agreed, but attempted to present a sanitized image of human existence by ordering beggars, old people and sick people kept from the streets. Despite that, Siddhartha saw the four sights which prompted him to reevaluate his view of the world.[3]

Renouncement and Arahanthood

When 29, Siddhartha renounced the world to become an ascetic. Kaundinya, along with Bharika (Bhaddiya), Baspa (Wappa), Mahanama and Asvajit (Assaji), (variously described as four of the other scholars who had read Siddhartha's future, or the sons of those scholars) followed him into the ascetic life, with the approval of Suddhodarna who worried about Siddhartha's safety. They became known as the Pancavaggiya (The group of Five) or Pancaka Bhadravargiya (The Group of Five Fortunate Ones).[1] After Siddhartha had mastered all the teachings of Arada Kalama (Alara Kalama) and then Udraka Ramaputra (Uddaka Ramaputta), he left and began practicing self mortification along with Kaundinya and his four colleagues at Uruvilva (Uruvela). Kaundinya and his colleagues attended to Siddhartha in the hope that he would become enlightened through self mortification. Those involved self-deprivation of food and water, and exposing themselves to the elements to near-death for six years, at which point Siddhartha rejected self-mortification. Kaundinya and his colleagues became disillusioned, believing Siddhartha to have become a glutton and moved away to Mrgadava (Isipatana), near Varanasi to continue their practices.[1]

After Siddhartha became the enlightened Gautama Buddha, he sought to find his former teachers Arada Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra to teach them. Realizing that they had died, the Buddha decided to find Kaundinya and his colleagues to share his teachings. Kaundinya and his companions felt skeptical of Gautama Buddha after his abandonment of asceticism, and initially refused to acknowledge his presence, except to offer a seat on the ground. He soon won over the ascetics when they sensed that the Buddha had changed since they left him. Gautama Buddha preached the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Pali; Skt., Dharmacakra Pravartana Sutra), which deals with the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the core pillars of Buddhist teaching regarding the intrinsic suffering of existence and how to deal with it. Kaundinya reached the Sotapatti stage of arahanthood upon hearing this, becoming the first human to comprehend the teachings.[4] The Buddha acknowledged that by remarking "annasi vata bho Kondanno (meaning "you have realised, Kondanna"). Five days later, hearing the subsequent Anattalakkhana Sutta regarding no-self or soul-lessness (Anatta), Kaundinya gained full arahantship. Kaundinya thus became first arahant.[1] Having realized arahanthood, he requested the Buddha for permission to retire from the world, which Buddha granted with the words "ehi bhikkhu." Kaundinya thus became the first bhikkhu (monk) in the Buddhist clergy, known as the sangha. Later, the assembly at Jetavana declared him the foremost among the first bhikkhus and the disciples of long standing.[1]

After enlightenment

Following the formation of the sangha, Kaundinya and the other monks traveled with the Buddha by foot through the Gangetic plains area of what is now Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to spread the dharma. Kaundinya helped to convert many followers to the Buddha, the foremost being his nephew Punna, born to his sister Mantani. That occurred while the Buddha resided at Rajagaha, where he had immediately gone after forming the sangha to honor his promise to show his teachings to King Bimbisara. In the meantime, Kaundinya returned to his home town of Kapilavastu and ordained Punna. Punna attained arahantship and had 500 of his clansmen become monks. The Buddha later acknowledged Punna as the foremost of the disciples in preaching skills.[5]

As one of the senior monks of Gautama Buddha, some of Kaundinya's writings and discourses to other monks have been recorded in the literature. A poem consisting of sixteen verses in the Theragatha has been attributed to him. Saccahas been reputed to have recited the first of those in praise of Kaundinya, after Kaundinya had preached the Four Noble Truths to Sacca. In other verses, Kaundinya admonishes monks who had fallen into ways contrary to Buddhist teaching. Kaundinya also acknowledged his own struggles against Mara, the demon who attempted to prevent the enlightenment of the Buddha. The Buddha praised Kaundinya in the Udana, observing his deliverance from the destructiveness of craving.[1]

After a period within the sangha, Kaundinya retired to the Himalayas for the last twelve years of his life, attributed to two reasons in Buddhist literature. First, Kaundinya considered his presence a source of inconvenience for Sariputra and Moggallana, the two chief disciples of The Buddha. As the senior most member of the sangha, Kaundinya lead the monks on the alms-round, but during dharma talks, the two chief disciples sat on either side of the Buddha and Kaundinya behind them. The two chief disciples felt uncomfortable sitting in front of Kaundinya, so he decided to solve the problem by absenting himself. The other reason for Kaundinya's leave has attributed to the desire to spend more quiet time in religious practice, rendered difficult due to the attention that the sangha gained from the public.[1]

According to the Samyutta Nikaya, Kaundinya retired to the banks of the Mandakini Lake in the Chaddanta forest, said to be the abode of the paccekabuddhas. Legend states that the 8000 elephants in the forest took turns to catering for his needs. Kaundinya only left once, to farewell Gautama Buddha. Kaundinya kissed the Buddha's feet and stroked them with his hands. He advised his disciples refrain mourning for him before returning to the forest to pass away the following morning. Cremated on a large sandalwood pyre constructed with the help of the elephants, Anuruddha, one of the ten chief disciples and five hundred other monks, presided over the ceremony. Fellow monks took his ashes to Veluvana, where they enshrined them in a silver stupa.[1]

Previous and future reincarnations

In line with the Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation, Buddhist texts describe the previous existences of Kaundinya. They repeatedly show a theme of Kaundinya having displayed religious inclinations in previous incarnations, many of which involve experiences with previous incarnations of the Buddha and his other leading disciplines. The doctrine of previous incarnations represents a common theme among the leading disciples, all of whom had many encounters with the future Gautama Buddha in previous lives, and consistent with the Buddhist concepts of cause and effect and karma. In Pali language Theravada literature, records portray Kaundinya as striving for enlightenment in the time of Padumuttara Buddha, the 13th Buddha. The son of a wealthy householder at Hamsavati, Kaundinya saw the monk who had been the first disciple of Padmuttara Buddha. Kaundinya's previous reincarnation bestowed on the Buddha and the sangha and wished that he would be the first disciple of a future Buddha. Padumuttara prophesied the fulfillment of that in the era of Gautama Buddha, 1000 aeons into the future. After the passing of Padmuttara Buddha, Kaundinya constructed a jeweled chamber inside the cetiya in which he stored the relics and also made an offering of jewel festoons. The Apadana offers a variant on that reincarnation. It states that Kaundinya had been the first person to offer a meal to Padumuttara and became a deva in the Tusita world. It further says and that during the time of Vipassi Buddha, Kaundinya lived as a householder named Mahakala who offered the Buddha the first fruits of his field in their nine stages of production. The Mahavastu gives another account explaining the origin of Kaundinya's vow to attain arahanthood in his final reincarnation. That account asserts that he worked as a potter at Rajagaha in a previous existence. A Paccekabuddha who suffered from biliousness sought shelter in the potter's hut and experienced a miraculous cure. In time, several more Paccekabuddhas came to visit the hut to inquire about their colleagues health status. The potter asked which of them had realized the dharma first, to which the patient answered in the affirmative. Thereupon the potter made his vow.[1]

Despite the differences in the accounts, all of them agree on his words when announcing his vow:

By the merit I have acquired by doing this service of attending on you, may I be the first of all to realize the dharma when proclaimed by an Exalted One. May I not crave for gain and honor. May I wish only for a solitary bed and begging bowl. May I lay aside my body among the cascades and forest glades, dying all alone.[1]

Pali literature notes numerous previous reincarnations in which Kaundinya and Gautama Buddha crossed paths. The Mahavastu cites a previous birth in which Kaundinya had been a seafaring merchant who had lost all his wealth after a mid-ocean shipwreck. Kaundinya then went in search of the king of Kosala, who had a widely known reputation for philanthropy. The Kosalan monarch had left his kingdom and surrendered his kingdom to the neighboring Kasi king. The king of Kosala had done so to avert bloodshed, since the Kasi king had threatened to invade. Nevertheless, the Kasi king wanted to capture the Kosalan king and decreed a large reward for it. The Kosalan king (a previous reincarnation of Gautama Buddha) tied himself and asked the merchant to deliver him to Kasi so that the merchant would no longer be in poverty. When the Kasi king heard this, he withdrew his army and restored the Kosalan monarchy. The Kosalan king subsequently bestowed wealth on the merchant. Gautama Buddha cited that occurrence to illustrate how the ties between living beings extended into their previous existences. In another reincarnation described in the Mahavastu, Kaundinya and his four colleagues who became the first bhikkhus worked as seafaring merchants under the command of the future Gautama Buddha. The future Buddha sacrificed himself to save them from an ocean death. The Divyavadana describes two further reincarnations of Kaundinya. In one he lived as a bird named Uccangama. In another, he had been a tigress and Gautama Buddha another tiger. The future Buddha sacrificed his own life by offering himself as meat to the hungry tigress so that it would refrain from eating its own cubs.[1]

The "Five Hundred Disciples" (eighth) chapter of the Mahayana Lotus Sutra predicts that in the future he will become a Buddha named Universal Brightness.[6]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 G. P. Malasekera, Encyclopaedia of Buddhism (Government of Ceylon, 1961), 669-698.
  2. Narada, A Manual of Buddhism (Buddha Educational Foundation, 1992, ISBN 967-9920-58-5), 12.
  3. Narada, 20-25.
  4. Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion (SN 56.11) (1993). Retrieved July 17, 2007.
  5. G. P. Malasekera, Punna Buddhist Dictionary of Pali Proper Names. Pali Text Society. Retrieved July 18, 1007.
  6. Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism: Ajnata Kaundinya Soka Gakkai International USA. Retrieved November 28, 2006.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Hunt, Ernest Shinkaku. Short Talks on Buddhism. Honolulu, Hawaii: Soto Zen Temple, 1962. OCLC 70478085.
  • Kauṇḍinya. Monastic Buddhism Among the Khamtis of Arunachal. New Delhi, India: National Pub. House, 1986. OCLC 14379072.
  • Sebastian, J Jayakiran. 1998. "The Baptism of Death: Reading, Today, the Life and Death of Lakshmi Kaundinya." Journal of Dharma. 23, no. 1: 113. OCLC 88058266.
  • Śrīrāmacandruḍu, Pullela. Kauṇḍinyaśikṣā. Haidarābād, Āṃ. Pra: Saṃskr̥tapariṣat, Usmāniyāviśvavidyālayaḥ, 1980. OCLC 13613681.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.