An arahant. He was born at Anupiya in a family of the Mallas (Kusinārā, says the Apadāna). As a child of seven he saw the Buddha who was visiting in the Malla country, and he asked his grandmother (his mother having died at his birth) if he might join the Order under the Buddha. She brought him to the Buddha and the boy became an arahant in the Tonsure-hall. He returned with the Buddha to Rājagaha where, with the Buddha's sanction, and wishing to be of service to the Order, he took upon himself the task of appointing night's-lodgings to travelling monks and of directing them to meals. He performed his duties most diligently and with great intelligence, and his fame spread far and wide. Monks coming from afar, wishing to witness his skill, would deliberately arrive late and ask for lodgings in some place remote from Rājagaha; Dabba would "burst into flame" and walk ahead of them, with his finger burning to light them on the way. It was the sight of Dabba on one of these journeys which led to a slave-woman, Punnā, being visited by the Buddha, resulting in her becoming a Sotāpanna (DhA.iii.321ff).
It once happened that meals were allotted by Dabba to the Mettiya-Bhummajakā at the house of a rich man, who, discovering their identity, gave orders that they were to be fed anyhow. The Mettiya-Bhummajakā were greatly offended, and believing that Dabba had intended to slight them, induced one of their partisans, Mettiyā, to accuse Dabba of having seduced her. The charge was investigated, Mettiyā was expelled, and Dabba's fame increased (Thag.v.5; Vin.ii.74ff; iii.158f, 166f, iv.37f; Sp.iii.598f). The Mettiya-Bhummajakā persuaded the Licchavi, Vaddha, to make a similar charge against Dabba regarding his wife (Vin.ii.124f). The Tandulanāli Jātaka (J.i.123f ) mentions another dispute, where Lāludāyi charges Dabba with not performing his duties conscientiously. Thereupon Lāludāyi was appointed to the task, but proved a failure.
Dabba was given the rank of chief of those who appointed lodgings (senāsanapaññāpakānam) (A.i.24) and was given the upasampadā ordination when only seven years old. He was called Dabba because he was said to be born of his mother while she was being burnt in the funeral pyre; when the flames were extinguished, the child was found lying on one of the posts of the pyre (dabbatthambhe) (ThagA.i.41; AA.i.152f).
He was a setthiputta in Hamsavatī in the time of Padumuttara Buddha, and it was then that he conceived the desire for the rank of chief apportioner of lodgings. One hundred and three times he became king among devas and one hundred and five times king of men. In the time of Vipassī Buddha he spoke calumny about an arahant Thera, hence the conspiracy against him by the Mettiya-Bhummajakā. In the time of Kassapa Buddha he, with six others, went to the top of a hill, determined not to return till they had accomplished their purpose, but five of them died before this came to pass. The other four were Pukkusāti, Sabhiya, Bāhiya, and Kumārakassapa (DhA.ii.212; ThagA.i.44ff; Ap.ii.471f; UdA.81; Sp.ii.578f).
Dabba evidently died young. The Udana (Ud.viii.9; UdA.431f ) contains an account of his death. One day, returning from his alms rounds in Rājagaha, he saw that he had but a short while yet to live. He went, therefore, to the Buddha and, with his leave, showed various iddhi-powers and passed away.