One of the most eminent disciples of the Buddha, considered chief among expounders in full of the brief saying of the Buddha, (sankhittena bhāsitassa vitthārena attham vibhajantānam) (A.i.23). He was born at Ujjenī in the family of the chaplain of King Candappajjota, and was called Kaccāna both because of his golden colour and because Kaccāna was the name of his gotta. He studied the Vedas, and, on the death of his father, succeeded him as chaplain. With seven others he visited the Buddha, at the request of Candappajjota, to invite him to come to Ujjenī. Kaccāna and his friends listened to the Buddha's sermon, and having attained arahantship, joined the order. He then conveyed the king's invitation to the Buddha, who pointed out that it would now suffice if Kaccāna himself returned to Ujjenī.
Kaccāna accordingly set out for Ujjenī with his seven companions, accepting alms on the way at the house of a very poor girl of Telappanāli, who later became Candappajjota's queen. For details see Telappanāli.
Arrived in Ujjenī, Kaccāna lived in the royal park, where the king showed him all honour. He preached constantly to the people, and, attracted by his discourses, numerous persons joined the Order, so that the whole city was one blaze of orange robes. It is said that after having duly established the sāsana in Avantī, Kaccāna returned once more to the Buddha. (Thus, the explanation of the Madhupindika Sutta was given at Kapilavatthu). Candappajjota consulted him on various occasions, and among the verses attributed to him in the Theragāthā (Thag.vss.494 501), are several addressed to the king himself.
It was in the time of Padumuttara Buddha that Kaccāna had made his resolve to win the eminence he did, after listening to Padumuttara's praise of a monk, also named Kaccāna, for similar proficiency. Kaccāna was then a vijjādhara, and offered the Buddha three kanikāra flowers. So says the Apadāna ii.463, but ThagA. says he was a vijjādhara in the time of Sumedhā Buddha. In the time of Kassapa Buddha he was a householder of Benares, and offered a golden brick, worth one hundred thousand, to the cetiya which was being built over the Buddha's remains, and then made a vow that in future births his body should be golden (ThagA.i.483f.; AA.i.117f).
According to the Apadāna (Ap.ii.465), Kaccāna's father was called Tirītivaccha (or Tidivavaccha), and his mother Candapadumā. There is another account of Mahā Kaccāna in the Apadāna (A.i.84f), in which it is said that in the time of Padumuttara Buddha he built a yandhakuti named Paduma in the shape of a lotus and covered with lotus flowers, and that thirty kappas later he became king under the name of Pabhassara.
Three suttas are mentioned (AA.i.118) as having obtained for Kaccāna his title of eminence - the Madhupindika, the Kaccāyana and the Parāyana; several instances are given of people seeking Mahā Kaccāna's assistance, for a detailed explanation of something said in brief by the Buddha - e.g., Hāliddikāni, Kālī, Samiddhi, Uttara and Valliya (see also A.iii.314, 321; v. 225; M.iii.223). Among Kaccāna's pupils and followers and those who consulted him were Sonakutikanna, Isidatta, Avantiputta, Lohicca, Arāmadanda, and Kandarāyana.
In Avanti, Kaccāna is said to have stayed, not in the king's park, where he lived soon after his return from the Buddha, but chiefly in the Kuraraghara papātā (E.g., S.iii.9; A.v.46; Ud.v.6; Vin.i.194; DhA.iv.101) and in a hut in Makkarakata forest. S.iv.116; see also VvA.259, according to which he stayed near Potali.
Mention is also made of his staying at Varanā on the bank of Kaddamadaha (A.i.65); at the Gundāvana in Madhurā (A.i.67; M.ii.83); at Tapodā in Rājagaha (A.iii.192), in Soreyya (DhA.i.325; for a curious incident connected with Kaccāna's visit see Soreyya), and in Kosambī (PvA. 140). According to Dvy. (551, 585, 586) he also stayed in Roruka.
It is said (DhA.ii.176) that even when Kaccāna was living at Avanti, a long distance away, he went regularly to hear the Buddha preach, and when the chief theras took their places in the assembly, they always left room for him. On one such occasion Sakka showed him great honour, falling at his feet, and the Buddha explained that this was because Mahā Kaccāna kept his senses well guarded.
The Majjhima Commentary (MA.ii.854) records a curious story in reference to Kaccāna. Vassakāra, minister of Ajātasattu, saw Kaccāna descending Gijjhakūta and said he looked like a monkey. The Buddha read Vassakāra's thoughts, and warned him that after death he would be born as a monkey in Veluvana. He believed the Buddha, and made provision in Veluvana for his future comfort as monkey. And this be did indeed become, living in Veluvana and answering to the name of Vassakāra!
Kaccāna is identified with the charioteer in the Kurudhamma Jātaka (J.276), and with Devala in the Sarabhanga Jātaka (J.522).
According to tradition, Kaccāna was the author of the Nettippakarana, the Pāli grammar bearing his name, and of the Petakopadesa. It is probable that these works were the compilations of a school, which traced its descent to Mahā Kaccāna.
See also Madhura Sutta.