It is a really interesting sutta. And it doesn’t tell us much about how to interpret the information, other than that some people at some point found it inspiring.
My personal method of interpreting suttas is to give the Buddha and arahants the benefit of the doubt, and try to find the most charitable meaning. So I would have to have an iron-clad reason to show that an arahant had unwholesome intentions behind an action. For me, this prevents missing something beneficial.
In my reading of the suttas, I would never say “just past karma.” After all, having done meritorious deeds in the past is the highest blessing. The Buddha saw fit to declare him as foremost in good health. So it hardly seems out of place. The Buddha praised good health in general as a factor in Dhamma practice.
I can turn this on it’s head and say that for some monks it is irresponsible for them to ordain others. For example, if they know they don’t posses the disposition to train others, or if they choose a lifestyle that is not conducive to training others. It may very well have been an act of compassion not to ordain others.
I can’t say exactly how things were at that time, but now in Sri Lanka, one gains a bit of power and prestige from ordaining monks. Having “a following” has probably always been a thing. Not ordaining others is one way to avoid this.
You can hardly blame Ven. Bakkula for this. The only evidence we have is that he allowed others in the monastery allow him to attain parinibbana. Otherwise we don’t have a single case of self promotion. In fact, the qualities in this list seem to show the opposite. And I don’t recall him even being a named presence in other suttas.
It’s true that we can easily find a negative interpretation for any of these qualities. However, I don’t think that is an appropriate way to understand the lives of arahants. For me, I’m happy to simply not know why something would be considered praiseworthy in this case, rather than to come to a negative interpretation.
At the same time, someone should not use this sutta to justify their own misguided ascetic practices.
Is there any evidence for this? That this one sutta could somehow cause the downfall of Theravada in India seems far fetched.
This seems highly unlikely. Nakedness is forbidden by the Vinaya.