Among thousands of Buddha's disciples, Purna was well-known as, "pre-eminent in preaching." Purna is the shorter term of "Purnamaitrayaniputra" which means boundless preaching and compassion.
Purna came from a rich and happy family. He was very much loved by his parents. However, Purna felt that all the love and wealth in this world were temporary so he bid farewell to his relatives and took refuge in the Buddha. He vowed to spread the truth to salvage sentient beings.
To Widely Spread the Buddha Dharma
Purna was very enthusiastic in his preaching. He was not afraid of difficulties when there were opportunities of spreading the Dharma. Once, while he walked past a forest, he saw a few bhikkhus practising alone so he said, " Fellow bhikkhus! We are the Buddha's missionaries and our responsibility is to help sentient beings and not to stay away from them."
The bhikkhus said, "Honoured venerable! We went to various places to preach but people were stubborn and immersed in the five desires, they also kill to make sacrifices to god. We compassionately gave them our helping hands but they ignored us. In that case, let them do what they like, for one day when they have suffered enough, they will return."
Purna knew they had met with difficulties in their missionary work and had lost the enthusiasm so he guided them, " I do not agree with your views. No doubt the work is tough but in order to repay our gratitude to Buddha, we should overcome all difficulties to accomplish our missions, if not we will be going against the wishes of Buddha. Sentient beings are living in poverty, they are poor like beggars. Our responsibility is to spread Buddha Dharma and let all sentient beings share the Dharma joy."
The bhikkhus were moved by Purna's speech and continued their mission.
Way of Preaching
Purna knew the purpose of preaching was to help sentient beings so the Dharma must suit them. To different people, he used different methods. For instance when he saw a doctor, he would ask, " A doctor can cure the illness of the body but can he cure greed, anger and ignorance of the mind?"
"Venerable, I can't cure illness of the mind, can you?"
"Yes! The teachings of the Buddha can cleanse the dirt of sentient beings. Precepts, concentration and wisdom can cure the illness of greed, anger and ignorance."
When the person was a court official, he would ask, "Can you prevent people from committing crime?"
"Even laws of the country cannot prevent people from committing crimes."
"Besides laws of the country, you need to receive and follow the Buddha Dharma, Five Precepts and understand the rules of Cause and Effect."
Purna's skilful tactics in preaching had convinced many people to take refuge in Buddha. Once he saw some farmers working in the field and asked, "Do you want to know the ways to plough for blessedness to increase your wisdom in life?"
"Yes, but how?" the farmer asked.
"Have confidence in the Buddha Dharma, the Triple Gem, respect the Sangha, care for the sick, do charity, be filial to parents, help relatives and not killing - these are ways of ploughing for blessedness."
The farmers held their palms towards Purna. They were willing to accept his teachings.
Purna was quick-witted and flexible in his preaching so Buddha's teachings were widely accepted.
Spirit of Preaching
Purna tackled all difficulties with determination. Irregardless of the dangers and setbacks, he earnestly spread Buddha's teachings.
Once, Purna asked for Buddha's permission to preach in Sudana but the Buddha felt the place was undeveloped and the people were cruel and uncivilized so he advised Purna not to go.
However, Purna said, "Lord Buddha, you loved us with compassion for which I can find no words to express my gratitude. I am willing to give all of me to Dharma and to all sentient beings to repay my gratitude to Buddha. Sudana is an uncivilized country where no preachers have been, that is why I want to preach there. I beg Buddha to give me permission."
Buddha wanted to make use of the opportunity to teach his disciples to learn from Purna so He asked Purna, " Well said, Purna. What if the people of Sudana refuse to accept your teachings and scold you instead?"
"That doesn't matter because they are not that wilful."
"What if they attack you with punches, stones and sticks?"
"That doesn't matter as they did not injure me with a knife."
"What if they injure you with a knife?"
"That doesn't matter because they are still human enough as they did not kill me."
"What if they kill you?"
"Then I must thank them in letting me enter nirvana and allowing me to repay Buddha's gratitude with my life and body."
Buddha was overjoyed. He praised Purna in having reached the absolute perfect stage.
Preaching in Sudana
Purna left the Sangha and went to Sudana. Sudana was a poor country. People there lived in poverty.
Purna learned the native dialects and had no problems communicating with them. However the natives were still wary of him. Purna understood it was difficult to inspire the natives to practice the Buddha Dharma in such backwards areas. It was no use telling them the truth. What was more important was to improve their living standards, so he started with treating the sick people there.
Besides, Purna taught them words, instructed them in the steps of farming and ways to keep the house. At night, he talked to the native about the Five Precepts, and the Law of Cause and Effect. The natives finally took refuge in the Buddha. Purna had five hundred disciples there.
Once, while the Buddha was giving a public discourse, Purna paid homage to the Buddha in the crowd. Buddha was filled with joy and said to him, "Purna, we missed you very much. How are you doing in Sudana? I know you can manage in Sudana because your preaching spirit and health are good and you have very firm faith in the Triple Gem. You are compassionate, steady, intelligent and healthy. You have good debating skills and a dignified appearance. Fellow bhikkhus! Among my disciples, Purna is the number one preacher, all of you should learn from him."
Nobody knew when and where Purna entered Nirvana. We only knew that Purna always preached the Buddha Dharma and served the public.