The fifth of the Pańcavaggiya monks. When the Buddha preached the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, he was the last in whom dawned the eye of Truth, and the Buddha had to discourse to him and to Mahánáma while their three colleagues went for alms (Vin.i.13. He became a sotápanna on the fourth day of the quarter, AA.i.84). He became an arahant, together with the others, at the preaching of the Anattalakkhana Sutta (Vin.i.14; J.i.82).
He was responsible for the conversion of Sáriputta and Moggallána. Sáriputta, in the course of his wanderings in search of Eternal Truth, saw Assaji begging for alms in Rájagaha, and being pleased with his demeanour, followed him till he had finished his round. Finding a suitable opportunity, Sáriputta asked Assaji about his teacher and the doctrines he followed. Assaji was at first reluctant to preach to him, because, as he said, he was but young in the Order. But Sáriputta urged him to say what he knew, and the stanza which Assaji uttered then, has, ever since, been famous, as representing the keynote of the Buddha's teaching:
"ye dhammá hetuppabhavá tesam hetum Tathágato áha tesań ca yo nirodho, evamvádí Mahásamano."
Sáriputta immediately understood and hurried to give the glad tidings to Moggallána that he had succeeded in his quest. Vin.i.39ff.; the incident is related in the DhA (i.75ff.) with slight variations as to detail.
Sáriputta held Assaji in the highest veneration, and we are told that from the day of this first meeting, in whatever quarter he heard that Assaji was staying, in that direction he would extend his clasped hands in an attitude of reverent supplication, and in that direction he would turn his head when he lay down to sleep (DhA.iv.150-1).
One day when Assaji was going about in Vesáli for alms, the Nigantha Saccaka, who was wandering about in search of disputants to conquer, saw him, and questioned him regarding the Buddha's teaching because he was a well-known disciple (ńátańńatara-sávaka). Assaji gave him a summary of the doctrine contained in the Anattalakkhana Sutta. Feeling sure that he could refute these views attributed to the Buddha, Saccaka went with a large concourse of Licchavis to the Buddha and questioned him. This was the occasion for the preaching of the Cula-Saccaka Sutta (M.i.227ff). The Commentary (MA.i.452) tells us that Assaji decided on this method of exposition because he did not wish to leave Saccaka any loophole for contentious questioning.
The Samyutta Nikáya (S.iii.124ff) records a visit paid by the Buddha to Assaji as he lay grievously sick in Kassapáráma near Rájagaha. He tells the Buddha that he cannot enter into jhána because of his difficulty in breathing and that he cannot win balance of mind. The Buddha encourages him and asks him to dwell on thoughts of impermanence and non-self.
2. Assaji.-One of the leaders of the Assaji-Punabbasuká (q.v.), the other being Punabbasu. He was one of the Chabbaggiyá, the others being Mettiya, Bhummajaka, Panduka and Lohitaka. J.ii.387; MA.ii.668.
Assaji Sutta.-Records the incident, mentioned above, of the Buddha's visit to Assaji (1).