King of Magadha and patron of the Buddha.
He ascended the throne at the age of fifteen and reigned in Rájagaha for fifty two years. The Buddha was five years older than Bimbisára, and it was not until fifteen years after his accession that Bimbisára 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. Bimbisára's father was called Bháti (MT.137; Dpv.iii.52); according to Tibetan sources (Rockhill, op. cit., 16) he was called Mahápaduma and his Mother Bimbí.
But according to the Pabbajá Sutta (SN.vs.405ff.; also J.i.66 and DhA.i.85; also Rockhill, p. 27) the first meeting between the Buddha and Bimbisára took place in Rájagaha 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, Bimbisára followed him and offered him a place in his court. This the Buddha refused, revealing his identity. The Commentary adds (SNA.ii.386) that Bimbisára wished him success in his quest and asked him to visit first Rájagaha as soon as he had attained Enlightenment. It was in fulfilment of this promise that the Buddha visited Rájagaha immediately after his conversion of the Tebhátika Jatilá. He stayed at the Supatittha cetiya in Latthivanuyyána, whither Bimbisára, accompanied by twelve nahutas of householders, went to pay to him his respects. The Buddha preached to them, and eleven nahutas, with Bimbisára at their head, became sotápannas. On the following day the Buddha and hiss large retinue of monks accepted the hospitality of Bimbisára. 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, Bimbisára 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 Devánampiyatissa's gift of the Mahámeghavana to Mahinda (Mhv.xv.17). The gift of Veluvana was one of the incidents sculptured in the Relic chamber of the Mahá Thúpa (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 sopátatti, 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 Sotápanna after listening to the Mahá-Nárada Játaka.
From this moment up till the time of his death, a period of thirty seven years, Bimbisára 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).
Bimbisára's chief queen was Kosaladeví (q.v.), daughter of Mahákosala and sister of Pasenadi. On the day of her marriage she received, as part of her dowry, a village in Kási, for her bath money. Her son was Ajátasattu (also J.iii.121). Bimbisára had other wives as well; Khemá, who, at first, would not even visit the Buddha till enticed by Bimbisára's descriptions of the beauties of Veluvana; and the courtesan Padumavatí, who was brought from Ujjení, with the help of a Yakkha, so that Rájagaha might not lack a Nagarasobhiní. Both these later became nuns. Padumavatí's son was Abhaya. Bimbisára had another son by Ambapálí, known as Vimala Kondańńa, and two others, by different wives, known as Sílava and Jayasena. A daughter, Cundi, is also mentioned.
Bimbisára'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 Ajátasattu, that he would bring about the death of his father, for which reason his mother had wished to bring about an abortion. But Bimbisára would not hear of this, and when the boy was born, treated him with the greatest affection (for details see Ajátasattu). 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, Bimbisára's patronage of the Buddha being the greatest obstacle in the path of Devadatta. The plot was discovered, and Bimbisára's ministers advised him to kill Ajátasattu, Devadatta and their associates. But Bimbisára sent for Ajátasattu and, on hearing that he desired power, abdicated in his favour. Devadatta chided Ajátasattu for a fool. "You are like a man who puts a skin over a drum in which is a rat," and he urged on Ajátasattu the need for the destruction of Bimbisára.
But no weapon could injure Bimbisára (probably because he was a Sotápanna, 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 (tápanageha) with orders that none but the mother of Ajátasattu 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 (molí), 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 Bimbisára 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. Ajátasattu, 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 Bimbisára 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, Bimbisára died, and was reborn in the Cátummahárájika 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 Ajátasattu on the day of Bimbisára'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 Ajátasattu and Pasenadi, as mentioned elsewhere (J.ii.237, 403).
The books contain no mention of any special sermons preached by the Buddha to Bimbisára 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, Bimbisára 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 Bimbisára 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 Anáthapindika, 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, gáma, Vin.i.179).
It is said that he once visited four monks - Godhika, Subáhu, Valliya and Uttiya - and invited them to spend the rainy season at Rájagaha. 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 Árámikagáma or Pilindagáma (Vin.i.207f.).
Bimbisára's affection for the Buddha was unbounded. When the Licchavis sent Maháli, who was a member of Bimbisára's retinue, to beg the Buddha to visit Vesáli, Bimbisára did not himself try to persuade the Buddha to do so, but when the Buddha agreed to go he repaired the whole road from Rájagaha 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 Rájagaha with similar pomp and ceremony (DhA.iii.438 ff).
Great cordiality existed between Bimbisára and Pasenadi. They were connected by marriage, each having married a sister of the other. Pasenadi once visited Bimbisára in order to obtain from him a person of unbounded wealth (amitabhoga) for his kingdom. Bimbisára had five such - Jotiya, Jatila, Mendaka, Punnaka and Kákavaliya; but Pasenadi had none. The request was granted, and Mendaka's son, Dhanańjaya, was sent back to Kosala with Pasenadi (DhA.i.385f.; AA.i.220). Some of these were richer than Bimbisára - 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).
Bimbisára also maintained friendly relations with other kings, such as Pukkasáti, king of Takkasilá, Candappajjota, king of Ujjení, to whom he sent his own physician Jívaka to tend in his illness - and Rudráyana of Roruka (Dvy.545).
Among the ministers and personal retinue of Bimbisára 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 Jívaka. 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. Jívaka 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 Dhammadinná wished to leave the world, Bimbisára gave her, at her husband's request, a golden palanquin and allowed her to go round the city in procession (MA.i.516).
Bimbisára is generally referred to as Seniya Bimbisára. The Commentaries explain Seniya as meaning "possessed of a large following" or as "belonging to the Seniyagotta," and Bimbisára as meaning "of a golden colour," bimbí meaning gold (e.g., UdA.104). According to Tibetan sources, Bimbí 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, Bimbisára, 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, Bimbisára 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 kahápana in use in Rájagaha during Bimbisára'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).
Bimbisára 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 Sakadágámí, and this wish may have been fulfilled.