The Origin of Anan’s Reputation as “the Best Listener”

The Spirit of Donation

Anan, who served Śākyamuni and took personal care of him for twenty-five years, is counted as one of the ten major disciples. He listened to many of Śākyamuni’s sermons up close and had an excellent grasp of the doctrine. That’s why he was praised as “the best listener.” How serious was Anan’s listening? One time he had a bad skin boil on his back. In accord with Śākyamuni Buddha’s direction, a surgeon removed the boil while Anan was focusing on Śākyamuni’s sermon. He was so focused on the words of Śākyamuni that he never felt it when the surgeon plunged the scalpel into his back.

Another time one disciple was so amazed by Anan’s memory in memorizing Śākyamuni’s sermons so accurately that he asked Śākyamuni the reason for Anan’s excellent memory. And the following is what Śākyamuni answered:

Once upon a time a disciple was training under the instruction of a very strict ascetic monk. If the desciple neglected any of his daily tasks, he was reprimanded harshly by his master.

The disciple had one more obligation. He had to walk around the village and ask for alms. That means food or money. This is how they maintained their livelihood.

One day the disciple was unable to receive any food at all and was reprimanded by his master monk harshly. While walking outside in tears, he met with a person of wealth. This person asked him if there was anything wrong with him, wondering why he was so devastated. Out of agony, the disciple confessed what had happened that day.

Hearing the whole story, this person of wealth felt sorry and consoled him. “All right, I will donate food to you and your master from tomorrow on. So put your heart at ease and devote yourself to your daily practice.” Surprised, the disciple rejoiced at his words. Accepting this offer, he and his master strived harder in their practices.

And then Śākyamuni Buddha went further, saying, “The master in this story is Joko Buddha and the disciple is me in my past life. And the very person of wealth who continuously offered donation is none other than Anan in his past life.”

After Śākyamuni passed away, five hundred excellent disciples of his assembled and embarked on the compilation of sutras. Because of his brilliant memory, Anan played a major role in this project and so his contribution was immeasurable.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #24 | 2013, The Origin of Anan’s Reputation as “the Best Listener”

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