Puṇṇa Mantāniputta was born in the Sunāparanta country in the town of Suppāraka, now identified with Sopara on the coast north of Mumbai. He travelled with a caravan of merchants all the way to Savatthi, heard the Buddha teach and became a monk.
He proved himself to be intelligent and conscientious and after finishing his training told the Buddha he wished to return to his homeland to spread the Dhamma. The Buddha said to him: ‘The people of Sunāparanta are fierce and rough. What will you do if they abuse or threaten you?’ Puṇṇa replied: ‘I will think how kind they are in that they do not hit me.’ ‘What if they do hit you?’ ‘I will think how kind they are in that they do not throw stones at me.’ ‘What if they do throw stones at you?’ ‘I will think how kind they are that they do not beat me with sticks.’ ‘And if they do beat you with sticks?’ ‘I will think how kind they are that they do not stab me.’ ‘And if they do stab you?’ ‘I will think how kind they are that they do not kill me?’ ‘What will you think if the people of Sunāparanta do kill you?’ ‘If I am killed I will recall that some of the Lord’s disciples, disgusted with their bodies, killed themselves and here am I about to be killed without wanting it.’ ‘Excellent Puṇṇa, excellent! With such self-discipline and calm you will be able to live amongst the people of Sunāparanta. Go and do what you think is best’ (MIII,267-9). Puṇṇa eventually made his way back to his homeland and within a few months had converted a thousand people and become enlightened himself.
Puṇṇa stands as an excellent example of a monk with a mission and a desire to serve others. He had self-discipline and calm (damupasama), courage (dhiti) and determination (adhiṭṭhāna) and most of all, a passion for the Dhamma (dhammakāma). The Buddha said that those who succeed do so because of their passion for the Dhamma (dhammakāmo bhavaṃ hoti, Sn,92). In later centuries, inspired by Puṇṇa’s example, Indian monks risked danger and hardship to spread the Dhamma to the furthermost reaches of Asia.