Then, the World-Honoured One said to Manjusri: "Listen carefully, listen carefully! O good man! Since the day when I attained Buddhahood, I have lived for over 30 years in Rajagriha. At that time, I said to all the bhiksus: "Who of all those who are gathered here can uphold the 12 types of sutra of the Tathagata and attend to what one [i.e. the Buddha] may need to have and yet not lose his own profit?"
"At that time, Kaundinya was one of those in the congregation, and he came to me and said: "I can well uphold the 12 types of sutra, attend to all that there should be, and yet not lose what I may gain."
"I said: "O Kaundinya! You are already far advanced in age. You must use somebody else. How could you expect to serve me?"
"Then, Sariputra said: "I can certainly uphold all the words that the Buddha speaks, attend to what he needs to have, and I shall not lose whatever profit I may gain."
"I then said: "O Sariputra! You are already too old. Use somebody else. How can you wish to serve me?"
"Things proceeded thus with all 500 arhats. I did not accept [any of them]. Then, Maudgalyayana, being amongst their number, thought: "The Tathagata does not accept the attendance of the 500 arhats. Who might it be that the Buddha desires to have?" Thinking thus, he entered into dhyana and saw that the Tathagata's mind was set upon Ananda, just as when the sun first rises and shines upon a western wall. Having seen this, he got up from his dhyana seat [from his meditation posture] and said to Kaundinya: "O greatly virtuous one! I now see that the Tathagata desires to have Ananda attend him."
"Then Kaundinya, along with the 500 arhats, went to Ananda and said: "O Ananda! You should go and serve the Tathagata. Accept this!"
"Ananda said: "O all you virtuous ones! I cannot well serve the Tathagata. Why not? The Tathagata is austere, like the king of lions; he is like the dragon and fire. I am as yet defiled and weak. How can I truly serve him?" All the bhiksus said: "You must take our word and serve the Tathagata. You will be blessed with great benefit." This went on for a second and third time.
"Ananda said: "All you greatly virtuous ones! I also do not seek any great benefit. Truth to tell, I am not able to serve him."
"Then Maudgalyayana said again: "O Ananda! Do you not yet know?"
"Ananda said: "O great one! Please tell me of it."
"Maudgalyayana said: "The Tathagata desired to have one from among us priests. All the 500 arhats wanted to meet his wish. But the Tathagata would not have it. I then sat in dhyana and saw that the Tathagata wishes you to be the one. Why do you not desire to accept the post?"
"On hearing this, Ananda folded his hands, prostrated himself on the ground and said: "O greatly virtuous one! If this actually took place, I shall act as you wish and serve him, as long as the Tathagata will permit me three things."
"Maudgalyayana said: "What are the three things?"
"Ananda said: "First, that the Tathagata will allow me not to accept - should he wish to give it me - any used clothing; secondly, that the Tathagata will permit me not to follow him when he receives private invitations; and thirdly, that the Tathagata will allow me freedom of movement. If the Tathagata permits me these three things, I am ready to concede to the words of all you priests."
"Then Kaundinya and the 500 bhiksus came back to me and said: "We have persuaded Ananda to accept, but in connection with this he desires three things to be permitted. If you will allow them, he will follow the words of the priests [i.e. he will do as they have asked him]."
"O Manjusri! I then applauded Ananda and said: "Well said, well said, O bhiksu Ananda! You have Wisdom and seek to foreguard [i.e. guard against future contingencies]. Why so? For people might say that you serve the Tathagata on account of the clothing and food that you might gain. That is why he does not wish to receive the used clothing and why he does not wish to accompany me on the occasion of any private invitations which I may have to accept. O Kaundinya! Ananda has Wisdom. If he should be restrained by time [i.e. if he has a rigid and constricting timetable to follow], he would not have time to give benefit to the four classes of the Buddhist Sangha. That is why he desires that there should be no fixed time for his service.
"O Kaundinya! I accede to these three requests for the sake of Ananda."