The fifth of the Pañcavaggiya 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 Mahānāma while their three colleagues went for alms (Vin.i.13. He became a sotāpanna 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 Sāriputta and Moggallāna. Sāriputta, in the course of his wanderings in search of Eternal Truth, saw Assaji begging for alms in Rājagaha, and being pleased with his demeanour, followed him till he had finished his round. Finding a suitable opportunity, Sāriputta 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 Sāriputta 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 dhammā hetuppabhavā tesam hetum Tathāgato āha tesañ ca yo nirodho, evamvādī Mahāsamano."
Sāriputta immediately understood and hurried to give the glad tidings to Moggallāna 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.
Sāriputta 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 Vesāli 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 (ñātaññatara-sāvaka). 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 Nikāya (S.iii.124ff) records a visit paid by the Buddha to Assaji as he lay grievously sick in Kassapārāma near Rājagaha. He tells the Buddha that he cannot enter into jhāna 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-Punabbasukā, the other being Punabbasu. He was one of the Chabbaggiyā, 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). S.iii.124-6.