|The Martyrdom of Maha-Moggallana|
Maudgalyayana (Pali: Moggallāna; Chinese 目連 Mulian; Japanese 目犍連 Mokuren), Vietnamese Mục-kiền-liên, also known as Mahamaudgalyayana or Mahamoggallāna, was one of the Buddha Shakyamuni's closest disciples. A contemporary of famous arhats such as Subhuti, Sariputra, and Mahakasyapa, he is considered the second of the two foremost disciples of the Buddha, together with Sariputta.
Moggallana was most accomplished of all the Buddha's disciples in the various supernormal powers that could be developed through meditation. These abilities included being able to use mind-reading for such things as detecting lies from truths, transporting himself from his body into the various realms of existence, and speaking with ghosts and gods. He was also able to do things like walking through walls, walking on water, flying through the air, and moving with a speed comparable to the speed of light.
Varying accounts in the Pali Canon show Maudgalyayana speaking with the deceased in order to explain to them their horrific conditions and give them an understanding of their own suffering, so that they may be released from it or come to terms with it. Moggallana was able to use his powers of mind-reading in order to give good and fitting advice to his students, so they could attain results quickly.
Death: the arhat's karma
Maudgalyayana's demise came when he was traveling in Magadha. Some accounts put forth that religious cultists stoned him to death, others say it was robbers. The general consensus is that he was killed in a brutal fashion. When asked why Maudgalyayana had not protected himself, and why a great arahant would suffer such a death, the Buddha said that because Maugalyayana had contracted such karma in a previous life (he had murdered his parents in a previous life—considered as one of the five deadly acts), he had no escape from reaping the consequences and had accepted the results. Further, the Buddha stated that even supernormal powers will be of little or no use to oneself in avoiding their karma, especially when it is so heavy.
Moggallana in the Mahayana sutras
The Ullambana Sutra is the main Mahayana Sutra in which Maudgalyayana is mentioned. The sutra covers the topic of filial piety, and was a discourse given to Maudgalyayana by the Sakyamuni Buddha. Of particular popularity in Japan, Ullambana is the foundation for Obon, which has striking similarities to Confucian and Neo-Confucian ideals in that it deals with ancestor worship. It is for this reason that Ullambana is often subject to criticism, and has often been called inauthentic because its Confucian leanings are often at odds with other Buddhist teachings.
- Life of Maha-Moggallana by Hellmuth Hecker
- Entry on Maha Moggallana in the Buddhist Dictionary of Pali Proper Names