Moggallana, together with Sariputta, led Sanjaya's "two hundred and fifty followers to become disciples of Shakyamuni. Moggallana and Sariputta were known as the pillars of the Sangha. Just as Sariputta was foremost in wisdom, so was Moggallana foremost in supernatural powers, manifestations of which are described in various scriptures. The best-known episode relating to his supernatural powers has to do with his mother's deliverance from hell.
Having acquired complete freedom in supernatural powers while studying and training under Shakyamuni at the Jetavana Monastery, Moggallana decided to use his powers to discover where his deceased mother had been reborn and to try to recompense her for her care in bringing him up.
After many inquiries he finally learned that she was suffering in the hell of hungry demons. Upon learning this, Moggallana immediately used his supernatural powers to send her a bowl of food. She was overjoyed, but as soon as she tried to put the food into her mouth it burst into flames, causing her even greater pain than before.
Grieved by her plight, Moggallana asked Shakyamuni to save his mother. Shakyamuni replied, “Your power alone cannot atone for her sins. You must make offerings to all the monks and ask them to pray for her. Then their prayers will free your mother from the hell of hungry demons." Moggallana did as he was instructed, and the merit he obtained by making offerings to all the monks delivered his mother from hell.
In those days, people who devoted their lives to religion undertook extremely strict training to attain a state of mental and spiritual unification and concentration. Having attained this state a person became an arahant capable of doing wonderful things.
For instance, arahants were endowed with highly sensitive faculties enabling them to see things ordinary people could not see, hear things they could not hear, read their minds, know their pasts, and act with perfect freedom. Though apparently miraculous, these powers were actually attained as a consequence of long training and discipline.
Sariputta was able to go directly to the heart of matters as a result of his great intellect. Moggallana, meanwhile, attained his extraordinary powers of perception through unrelenting will and vigorous effort. In comparison with Sariputta, a man of intellect, Moggallana was a man of practical action. The discipline to which he subjected himself after he and Sariputta became followers of Shakyamuni is said to have been astounding.
The village of Kolita, where Moggallana was born, was near Rajagaha and adjacent to the
village of Nalaka, Sariputta’s birthplace. As described in the story of Sariputta, Moggallana and Sariputta had been close friends since childhood aid respected each other deeply. Moggallana's family for generations Brahman instructors to kings, lived in a mansion that is said to have been comparable in size to the royal palace in Rajagaha.
After discussions with Sariputta, Moggallana decided to abandon secular life for the life of religion. At first his distinguished family objected fiercely, since the outstanding abilities that even in early childhood had won Moggallana renown in neighboring villages had given his family great hopes for him.
Nonetheless, his parents knew their son well and were aware of his unusual strength of will and depth of thought; they realized that he must have given the matter profound consideration and that his decision was firm.
After finally persuading his parents, Moggallana, together with Sariputta, became a follower of Sanjaya the skeptic. Later the two men chose Shakyamuni as their teacher and joined the Sangha.
Moggallana left the Bamboo Grove Monastery outside Raiagaha, where Shakyamuni was staying at the time, and went to nearby Vulture Peak, where he sat in a cave and submitted himself to the strictest discipline in order to attain the state of concentration in which neither perception nor thought occurs.
During this course of training Moggallana refused to allow himself to sleep or even to rest. When he became discouraged, Shakyamuni, who was actually at the Bamboo Grove Monastery, would appear before him to encourage him to persevere.
On one occasion Mogallana went to a certain village to meditate but was so weary that he soon fell asleep. Shakyamuni appeared before him and said, "Moggallana, do not covet sleep. Recite the Dharma. Transmit the Dharma to other people.
He who would expound the Dharma must abandon, eliminate and destroy using his own strength." No doubt Moggallana's great desire for enlightenment conveyed itself to Shakyamuni, who was some distance away, and caused him to appear before his disciple. When Moggallana's discipline finally brought him enlightenment, he is reported to have said, "I have been enlightened because of my master's teachings and encouragement. I have, therefore, been born of my master."
Because of his devotion to Shakyamuni, Moggallana must have been able to see his gentle face and hear his voice all the time he was meditating to attain spiritual unification. Even after that training for enlightenment had ended, he was still able to make contact with Shakyamuni no matter what distance separated them. Shakyamuni once went to the Jetavana Monastery, leaving Moggallana and Sariputta behind at the Bamboo Grove Monastery.
One day while Shakyamuni was away Moggallana turned to Sariputta and said he had just spoken with Shakyamuni. In amazement Sariputta said, "How could you have spoken with him when he is far away, beyond rivers and mountains, at the Jetavana Monastery?" Moggallana replied, "It is not that I have used my supernatural powers to go to his side or that he has used his to come to me. But with my supernatural powers of sight and hearing, I spoke to him and he replied, expounding diligence to me."
Hearing this, Sariputta said in praise, "My friend, all of us who seek the Way must respect you, be close to you, and make all efforts to become like you, as the small stone nearby resembles the great mountains of the Himalayas."
Moggallana was equally generous in praising his friend Sariputta. On one occasion, having heard Sariputta eloquently expound the four ways to liberation, Moggallana exclaimed in admiration, "Friend, your teachings are like food to the hungry and water to the thirsty."
These two men, born in neighboring villages, followed the same teacher and, each regarding the other as a mirror of himself, strove to perfect their own innate characteristics. Realizing their effort, Shakyamuni praised them to the other monks: "Sariputta is like the mother who gives birth in that he awakens in the mind the desire to seek the Way. Moggallana is like the mother who rears the child in that he cultivates the mind to go on seeking the Way.
All monks who discipline themselves should take these two men as examples and strive to emulate them in perfecting themselves." The other monks loved Sariputta for his compassionate concern for them and revered Moggallana for protecting them from the criticisms of other religious groups and for keeping a watchful eye on Shakyamuni's lay disciples.
As the years passed, the number of people professing faith in Shakyamuni's teachings increased. They included wealthy people in many lands and even Pasenadi, king of Kosala, and Bimbisara, king of Magadha. But the increasing prosperity of the Sangha also drew envy and ill will from followers of other religions. Moggallana, who had always openly ex-pounded the teachings of Shakyamumi and opposed other beliefs, was often the object of persecution.
On one occasion members of a rival religious group plotted to disgrace Moggallana by having a prostitute named Uppalavanna seduce him. Uppalavanna had been through two unhappy marriages through no fault of her own. With his supernatural powers Moggallana perceived her desperation and led her to faith in the Buddha's teachings.
In the end though, Moggal1ana was killed by his persecutors. Religious rivals hired ruffians to attack him as he meditated in the mountains. According to the scriptures, though stoned, until his bones were broken, he nonetheless managed to return to the Bamboo Grove Monastery, where he declared, "I can no longer tolerate this pain and will now enter nirvana." With these words he died.
Shakyamuni who had already announced the imminence of his own entrance into nirvana, must have grieved greatly at the death of Moggallana. Just as great, if not greater, must have been the grief of Sariputta at the loss of the irreplaceable friend with whom he had sought the Way and with whom he had vowed to serve Shakyamuni.
For him Moggallana's death must have been like his own. And indeed it was not long afterward that Sariputta, having obtained the permission of his master Shakyamuni, entered nirvana himself.