One of the foremost disciples of the Buddha, ranked foremost among masters of logical analysis (patisambhidappattānam) (A.i.24; Dpv.iv.5; v. 9). He was born into a very wealthy brahmin family of Sāvatthi, his father being Assalāyana and his mother Candavatī.
He gained great proficiency in the Vedas and, after hearing the Buddha preach (to his father, says the Apadāna account), entered the Order and, engaging in meditation, soon became an arahant.
He was extremely skilled in knowledge of the Patisambhidā, on which were based all his questions to the Buddha and his own colleagues.
In the time of Padumuttara Buddha he was a rich householder, and, hearing the Buddha praise a monk as foremost among those skilled in the Patisambhidā, he wished for similar eminence for himself in the future. To this end he visited the Buddha and his monks and entertained them for seven days, giving them three robes each at the conclusion of his almsgiving. Owing to the skill showed by him in the Mahā Veddha Sutta, the Buddha declared him foremost among those skilled in the Patisambhidā (Thag.vs.2; ThagA.i.29ff.; AA.i.159; Ap.ii.479; also Avadānas ii.195).
Several instances are given of discussions between Kotthita and other eminent theras - e.g., the Nalakalāpiya Sutta on kamma (S.ii.112f), the Sīla Sutta on religious discipline (S.iii.165ff), three suttas on samudaya-dhamma (the nature of arising), two on assāda (satisfaction) (S.iii.172-7), two on samudaya (arising) (S.iii.173) and three on avijjā and vijjā (S.iii.17). Another similar sutta is on sense and sense objects (S.iv.162-5), and there is a series of suttas on matters not revealed by the Buddha (avyākatāni). S.iv.384-91; Mrs. Rhys Davids suggests (KS.i.79i n.1) that all these suttas were compiled rather as "lessons" to be learnt than as genuine inquiries by Kotthita. The pre eminent monks were "playing" at teacher and pupil in order to aid Kotthita to win proficiency as a teacher. Another such "lesson" is given at A.iv.382ff., as to the motives guiding those who live the brahmacariya life.
All these suttas took the form of discussions with Sāriputta, in which Mahā Kotthita is the questioner and Sāriputta the instructor.
One sutta (S.iv.145 7) records a "lesson" given by the Buddha to Kotthita on conceptions of anicca, dukkha and anattā. The Anguttara Nikāya (see the Kāyasakkhi Sutta, A.i.118f) records a discussion at Jetavana between Savittha, Kotthita and Sāriputta, as to who is best: one who has testified to the truth with body, one who has won view, or one released by faith. Another discussion (A.ii.161f) takes place between Sāriputta and Kotthita as to whether anything continues to exist after the ending of the six spheres of contact (Nibbāna). Once there was a dispute between Kotthita and Citta Hatthisāriputta; Citta was constantly interrupting the elder monks who were gathered at Isipatana for the discussion of the Abhidhamma, and was asked by Kotthita to abide his time and not interrupt. Citta's friends protested that Citta was well qualified to take part in the discussion; but Kotthita declared that, far from being wise enough, Citta would, not long after, renounce the Order. And so it happened (A.iii.392ff).
Sāriputta evidently had a great regard for Kotthita; the Theragāthā (Thag.vss.1006 8; ThagA.ii.117) contains three stanzas in which Sāriputta proclaims his excellence.