He was the son of Sumanasetthī and the younger brother of Anāthapindika. On the day of the dedication of Jetavana, he heard the Buddha preach and left the world. After ordination he mastered the two categories (of Vinaya rules), and, after obtaining a subject for meditation, lived in the forest. There he developed insight, and attained arahantship on the basis of mettā-jhāna. Teaching the Dhamma without distinction or limitation, he was declared chief of those who lived remote and in peace (aranavihārinam aggo), and of those who were worthy of gifts (dakkhineyyānam) (A.i.24; cf. Ud.vi.7, where the Buddha commends his proficiency in meditation). It is said that when he went begging for alms he would develop mettā-jhāna at each door, hence every gift made to him was of the highest merit. In the course of his travels he came to Rājagaha, and Bimbisāra promised to build him a dwelling-place. But the king forgot his promise, and Subhūti meditated in the open air. There was no rain, and, discovering the cause, the king had a leaf hut built for him. As soon as Subhūti entered the hut and seated himself cross legged on the bed of hay, rain began to fall.

In the time of Padumuttara Buddha he belonged to a rich family and was called Nanda. Later he left the world and lived the hermit's life, at the head of forty four thousand others. The Buddha visited Nanda's hermitage and accepted from him a gift of fruit and flowers. He asked one of his monks, proficient in mettā and eminent in receiving gifts, to preach the anumodanā. At the end of the sermon all the other hermits became arahants, but Nanda's attention was fixed on the majesty of the preaching monk, and he did not reach any attainment. Later, discovering the qualities in which the preacher had attained eminence, Nanda resolved that he too would reach similar eminence. AA.i.124f.; ThagA.i.17ff.; UdA.348f; see also Ap.i.67f., where Nanda is called Kosiya.

Verses attributed to him are included in the Theragāthā (vs.1) and also in the Milinda-Pañha (pp.356,391). See also Subhūti Sutta.

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