An eminent lay disciple of the Buddha declared foremost among those who gather a following by means of the four bases of sympathy (catūhi vatthūhi parisam sanganhantānam) (A.i.26). He was the son of the, king of Alavī (hence his name Alavaka), and the Buddha saved him from being eaten by the Yakkha Alavaka. He was given the name of Hatthaka because he was handed to the Buddha by the Yakkha, after the latter's conversion, and by the Buddha to the king's messengers. He was thus "handed" from one to another (hatthato hattham gatattā) (AA.i.212; SNA.i.240).
When he grew up Hatthaka heard the Buddha preach, and, in due course, became an Anāgāmī. He was always accompanied by five hundred lay disciples, and was one of seven laymen who had such a following (SA.iii.223). The books record several conversations between the Buddha and Hatthaka. He once saw the Buddha at Gomagga in Simsapavana, near Alavi, and asked him if he were one of those who lived happily. The Buddha said he was always happy in any circumstances (A.i.136f). On another occasion the Buddha asked Hatthaka how he could command the allegiance of such a large company. "By the four bases of sympathy," he answered,
And when Hatthaka had gone, the Buddha praised him for his eminence, in that he possessed eight marvellous qualities:
Together with Citta-gahapati, Hatthaka is often held up as an example to be copied by others. (E.g., at S.ii.235; A.i.88; ii.164; iii.451, etc.).
After death, Hatthaka was born in Avihā, there to pass away entirely. From there he once visited the Buddha and tried to stand in his presence, but collapsed and could not remain upright. The Buddha then asked him to create a gross body form, and when he did this he was able to stand. He told the Buddha that he was constantly surrounded by devas wishing to learn the Dhamma from him, and confessed that he had died regretting three things -
In the Buddhavamsa (Bu.xxvi.19), Citta and Hatthakālavaka are mentioned as the chief lay patrons (aggupatthākā) of Gotama Buddha.