King of Magadha and patron of the Buddha.
He ascended the throne at the age of fifteen and reigned in Rājagaha for fifty two years. The Buddha was five years older than Bimbisāra, and it was not until fifteen years after his accession that Bimbisāra heard the Buddha preach and was converted by him. It is said (Mhv.ii.25ff.; Dpv.iii.50ff ) that the two were friends in their youth owing to the friendship which existed between their fathers. Bimbisāra's father was called Bhāti (MT.137; Dpv.iii.52); according to Tibetan sources (Rockhill, op. cit., 16) he was called Mahāpaduma and his Mother Bimbī.
But according to the Pabbajā Sutta (SN.vs.405ff.; also J.i.66 and DhA.i.85; also Rockhill, p. 27) the first meeting between the Buddha and Bimbisāra took place in Rājagaha under the Pandavapabbata, only after the Buddha's Renunciation. The king, seeing the young ascetic pass below the palace windows, sent messengers after him. On learning, that he was resting after his meal, Bimbisāra followed him and offered him a place in his court. This the Buddha refused, revealing his identity. The Commentary adds (SNA.ii.386) that Bimbisāra wished him success in his quest and asked him to visit first Rājagaha as soon as he had attained Enlightenment. It was in fulfilment of this promise that the Buddha visited Rājagaha immediately after his conversion of the Tebhātika Jatilā. He stayed at the Supatittha cetiya in Latthivanuyyāna, whither Bimbisāra, accompanied by twelve nahutas of householders, went to pay to him his respects. The Buddha preached to them, and eleven nahutas, with Bimbisāra at their head, became sotāpannas. On the following day the Buddha and hiss large retinue of monks accepted the hospitality of Bimbisāra. Sakka, in the guise of a young man, preceded them to the palace, singing songs of glory of the Buddha. At the conclusion of the meal, Bimbisāra poured water from a golden jar on the Buddha's hand and dedicated Veluvana for the use of him and of his monks (Vin.i.35ff).
It was this gift of Veluvana, which formed the model for Devānampiyatissa's gift of the Mahāmeghavana to Mahinda (Mhv.xv.17). The gift of Veluvana was one of the incidents sculptured in the Relic chamber of the Mahā Thūpa (Mhv.xxx.80). It may have been in Veluvana that the king built for the monks a storeyed house, fully plastered (Vin.ii.154). With the attainment of sopātatti, the king declared that all the five ambitions of his life had been fulfilled: that he might become king, that the Buddha might visit his realm, that he might wait on the Buddha, that the Buddha might teach him the doctrine, that he might understand it (Vin.i.36). According to BuA. (p. 18f.) the king became a Sotāpanna after listening to the Mahā-Nārada Jātaka.
From this moment up till the time of his death, a period of thirty seven years, Bimbisāra did all in his power to help on the new religion and to further its growth. He set an example to his subjects in the practice of the precepts by taking the uposatha vows on six days, of each month (PvA.209).
Bimbisāra's chief queen was Kosaladevī (q.v.), daughter of Mahākosala and sister of Pasenadi. On the day of her marriage she received, as part of her dowry, a village in Kāsi, for her bath money. Her son was Ajātasattu (also J.iii.121). Bimbisāra had other wives as well; Khemā, who, at first, would not even visit the Buddha till enticed by Bimbisāra's descriptions of the beauties of Veluvana; and the courtesan Padumavatī, who was brought from Ujjenī, with the help of a Yakkha, so that Rājagaha might not lack a Nagarasobhinī. Both these later became nuns. Padumavatī's son was Abhaya. Bimbisāra had another son by Ambapālī, known as Vimala Kondañña, and two others, by different wives, known as Sīlava and Jayasena. A daughter, Cundi, is also mentioned.
Bimbisāra's death, according to the Commentaries, was a sad one (E.g., DA.i.135 ff.; see also Vin.ii.190f). Soothsayers had predicted, before the birth of Ajātasattu, that he would bring about the death of his father, for which reason his mother had wished to bring about an abortion. But Bimbisāra would not hear of this, and when the boy was born, treated him with the greatest affection (for details see Ajātasattu). When the prince came of age, Devadatta, by an exhibition of his iddhi-power, won him over to his side and persuaded him to encompass the death of his father, Bimbisāra's patronage of the Buddha being the greatest obstacle in the path of Devadatta. The plot was discovered, and Bimbisāra's ministers advised him to kill Ajātasattu, Devadatta and their associates. But Bimbisāra sent for Ajātasattu and, on hearing that he desired power, abdicated in his favour. Devadatta chided Ajātasattu for a fool. "You are like a man who puts a skin over a drum in which is a rat," and he urged on Ajātasattu the need for the destruction of Bimbisāra.
But no weapon could injure Bimbisāra (probably because he was a Sotāpanna, he also had the power of judging the status of anyone by his voice – e.g., in the case of Kumbhaghosa, DhA.i.233), it was therefore decided that he should be starved to death, and with this end in view he was imprisoned in a hot house (tāpanageha) with orders that none but the mother of Ajātasattu should visit him. On her visits she took with her a golden vessel filled with food which she concealed in her clothes. When this was discovered she took food in her head dress (molī), and, later, she was obliged to take what food she could conceal in her footgear. But all these ways were discovered, and then the queen visited Bimbisāra after having bathed in scented water and smeared her person with catumadhura (the four kinds of sweets). The king licked her person and that was his only sustenance. In the end the visits of the queen were forbidden; but the king continued to live by walking about his cell meditating. Ajātasattu, hearing of this, sent barbers to cut open his feet, fill the wounds with salt and vinegar, and burn them with coals. It is said that when the barbers appeared Bimbisāra thought his son had relented and had sent them to shave him and cut his hair. But on learning their real purpose, he showed not the least resentment and let them do their work, much against their will. (In a previous birth he had walked about in the courtyard of a cetiya with shoes on, hence this punishment!) Soon after, Bimbisāra died, and was reborn in the Cātummahārājika world as a Yakkha named Janavasabbha, in the retinue of Vessavana. The Janavasabha Sutta records an account of a visit paid by Janavasabha to the Buddha some time after.
A son was born to Ajātasattu on the day of Bimbisāra's death. The joy be experienced at the birth of his son made him realize something of the affection his own father must have felt for him, and he questioned his mother. She told him stories of his childhood, and he repented, rather belatedly, of his folly and cruelty. Soon after, his mother died of grief, and her death gave rise to the protracted war between Ajātasattu and Pasenadi, as mentioned elsewhere (J.ii.237, 403).
The books contain no mention of any special sermons preached by the Buddha to Bimbisāra nor of any questions asked by him of the Buddha.
When he heard that the Buddha intended to perform a miracle, although he had ordered his disciples to refrain from doing so, Bimbisāra had doubts about the propriety of this and questioned the Buddha who set his doubts at rest (DhA.iii.204; J.iii.263f.). It was also at the request of Bimbisāra that the Buddha established the custom of the monks assembling on the first, eighth, fourteenth and fifteenth days of each month (Vin.i.101f.).
Perhaps, like Anāthapindika, his equal in devotion to the Buddha, he refrained from giving the Buddha extra trouble, or perhaps the affairs of his kingdom, which was three hundred leagues in extent, did not permit him enough leisure for frequent visits to the Buddha. (DhA.iii.205; the kingdom included eighty thousand villages, gāma, Vin.i.179).
It is said that he once visited four monks - Godhika, Subāhu, Valliya and Uttiya - and invited them to spend the rainy season at Rājagaha. He built for them four huts, but forgot to have them roofed, with the result that the gods withheld the rains until the king remembered the omission (ThagA.i.125). He similarly forgot his promise to give Pilindavaccha a park keeper, if the Buddha would sanction such a gift. Five hundred days later he remembered his promise and to make amends, gave five hundred park keepers with a special village for their residence, called ārāmikagāma or Pilindagāma (Vin.i.207f.).
Bimbisāra's affection for the Buddha was unbounded. When the Licchavis sent Mahāli, who was a member of Bimbisāra's retinue, to beg the Buddha to visit Vesāli, Bimbisāra did not himself try to persuade the Buddha to do so, but when the Buddha agreed to go he repaired the whole road from Rājagaha to the Ganges - a distance of five leagues - for the Buddha to walk upon; he erected a rest house at the end of each league, and spread flowers of five different colours knee deep along the whole way. Two parasols were provided for the Buddha and one for each monk. The king himself accompanied the Buddha in order to look after him, offering him flowers and perfume and all requisites throughout the journey, which lasted five days. Arrived at the river, he fastened two boats together decked with flowers and jewels and followed the Buddha's boat into the water up to his neck. When the Buddha had gone, the king set up an encampment on the river bank, awaiting his return; he then escorted him back to Rājagaha with similar pomp and ceremony (DhA.iii.438 ff).
Great cordiality existed between Bimbisāra and Pasenadi. They were connected by marriage, each having married a sister of the other. Pasenadi once visited Bimbisāra in order to obtain from him a person of unbounded wealth (amitabhoga) for his kingdom. Bimbisāra had five such - Jotiya, Jatila, Mendaka, Punnaka and Kākavaliya; but Pasenadi had none. The request was granted, and Mendaka's son, Dhanañjaya, was sent back to Kosala with Pasenadi (DhA.i.385f.; AA.i.220). Some of these were richer than Bimbisāra - e.g., Jotiya (q.v.), whose house was built entirely of jewels while the king's palace was of wood; but the king showed no jealousy (DhA.iv.211).
Bimbisāra also maintained friendly relations with other kings, such as Pukkasāti, king of Takkasilā, Candappajjota, king of Ujjenī, to whom he sent his own physician Jīvaka to tend in his illness - and Rudrāyana of Roruka (Dvy.545).
Among the ministers and personal retinue of Bimbisāra are mentioned Sona-Kolvisa, the flower gatherer Sumana who supplied the king with eight measures of jasmine flowers, the minister Koliya, the treasurer Kumbbaghosaka and his physician Jīvaka. The last named was discovered for him by the prince Abhaya when he was suffering from a fistula. The king's garments were stained with blood and his queens mocked him. Jīvaka cured the king with one single anointing; the king offered him the ornaments of the five hundred women of the palace, and when he refused to take these, he was appointed physician to the king, the women of the seraglio and the fraternity of monks under the Buddha (Vin.i.272f).
When Dhammadinnā wished to leave the world, Bimbisāra gave her, at her husband's request, a golden palanquin and allowed her to go round the city in procession (MA.i.516).
Bimbisāra is generally referred to as Seniya Bimbisāra. The Commentaries explain Seniya as meaning "possessed of a large following" or as "belonging to the Seniyagotta," and Bimbisāra as meaning "of a golden colour," bimbī meaning gold (e.g., UdA.104). According to Tibetan sources, Bimbī was the name of his mother, and from this his own name was derived; but another reason was that he was radiant like the morning sun (Rockhill 16, See also MA.i.292).
In the time of Phussa Buddha, when the Buddha's three step brothers, sons of King Jayasena, obtained their father's leave to entertain the Buddha for three months, Bimbisāra, then head of a certain district, looked after all the arrangements. His associates in this task were born as petas, and he gave alms to the Buddha in their name in order to relieve their sufferings.
See Tirokudda Sutta, also PvA.21ff.; for his intercession on behalf of another pets. see PvA.89.
During his lifetime, Bimbisāra was considered the happiest of men, but the Buddha declared (e.g., M.i.95) that he himself was far happier than the king.
The kahāpana in use in Rājagaha during Bimbisāra's time was the standard of money adopted by the Buddha in the formation of those rules into which the matter of money entered (Sp.ii.297).
Bimbisāra had a white banner and one of his epithets was Pandaraketu (Thag.vs.64; ThagA.i.147). Nothing is said about his future destiny, but he is represented in the Janavasabha Sutta (D.ii.206) as expressing the wish to become a Sakadāgāmī, and this wish may have been fulfilled.