The Story of Suppiya and Suppiyaa: Generous Supporters of the Buddha and his Disciples

Venue: TIMS

Let us recall last week’s talk. The suffering endured by Suppavasa and Sivali as a result of seven years of pregnancy and seven days of difficult delivery was ended by just an utterance by the Buddha wishing Suppavasa a safe delivery of a healthy baby. This ‘miracle’ can have two explanations.

One explanation is that the moment of utterance by the Buddha and the moment of the delivery occurred simultaneously with the expiration of the bad kamma of mother and son.

The other explanation is that the the Buddha exercised his psychic power. So today I shall tell you the story of a couple, Suppiya and his wife Suppiyaa, as another example of the Buddha’s psychic power.

Sup means ‘very’ while piya means ‘lovable’. Both were qualified to be known as dayakas (givers) and karakas (doers). Both were also sanghupatthaka—supporters of the Sangha. This means that they generously gave material requisites as well as physical effort to support the Buddha and his disciples. The couple would go from vihara to vihara and from kuti to kuti to find out what the monks lacked and what medicine was required if a monk was sick. No wonder they were named Suppiya—Very Lovable!

One day the Buddha and his disciples were in Deer Park (Migadaya), Isipatana, the monastery in Varanasi where he gave his first sermon. The couple as usual made the rounds of the kutis in the monastery. One of the monks told the couple that he needed some essence of meat as he was weak after having taken a laxative.

As it so happened, that day was Maghata Day, a day of observance of non-killing. Suppiyaa was now in a quandary. She thought, “If the bhikkhu does not get his nourishment, then he will get sick, maybe even die. That’s bad kamma for me.” She then cut off a piece of flesh from her thigh and gave the flesh to her servant to cook and offer to the bhikkhu. She instructed her to tell anyone who asked of her that she was sick.

When her husband returned and questioned her about her wound, she told him what had happened. The husband rejoiced in the fact that his wife had such great faith to give of her own flesh. He then invited the Buddha and the Sangha to his house for dana the following day. When the Buddha arrived in the couple’s house, he asked about Suppiyaa’s whereabouts. On being told by Suppiya that she was sick and therefore could not come out, the Buddha asked him to carry her out. He did as he was told and carried his wife out; whereupon on seeing the Buddha, her wound was healed, leaving no scar. This is an example of the Buddha’s psychic power.

However, the story does not end here. The Buddha went back to the monastery and asked the bhikkhu who had taken the food offered by Suppiyaa whether or not he realised he had consumed human flesh. He then told his disciples that in future, if they were unsure as to what they had been offered, they had to ask. Following this, he spoke of the ten types of meat that bhikkhus should not consume, namely those of

1. human beings
2. dogs
3. snakes
4. lions
5. tigers
6. panthers
7. taraccha (a wild animal)
8. bears
9. elephants
10. horses.

To consume human flesh is a grave offence. The meat of dogs and snakes should not be eaten because it is disgusting. A naga king told the Buddha that people should not eat snake meat because other snakes that did not believe in the Buddha’s teaching might come to disturb those who had eaten their kind. For the same reason, the meat of wild animals such as lions, tigers, panthers, taracchas and bears should not be eaten.
Finally, because elephants and horses were part of the regalia of the kings of that time, their meat should not be eaten.

The Buddha did not forbid the eating of pork, but a psychic who is able to perceive auras once said that the aura of a pork eater is similar to that of a cancer patient.

I had some interesting experiences while I was in Myanmar. The rural folks there were very poor and some of them would come to help around my forest hermitage after which I would share my pindapata food with them. There was one who was particularly poor and fed himself and his family with whatever he could hunt or gather in the forest. He also offered me food when I stood in front of his shack during pindacara. At times when I saw food that I was not sure of, I asked to find out what it was. I did not know if he purposely hunted to offer to me. It was a difficult situation though. If I asked, then he might feel affronted. If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t feel at ease eating the food.

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