The Buddha’s Passing

by Ryuei Michael McCormick

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The End of the Shakyas

 

As a relatively young man of 35, the Buddha claimedthat he had awakened to the truth and thus freed himself of the sufferings ofold age, sickness, and death. The 80th year of the Buddha’s life,however, was filled with pain and tragedy, culminating in the Buddha’s owndeath. Was the Buddha wrong or deluded? Or did his awakening and liberationmean something other than a literal conquest of the inevitable sufferings ofold age, sickness, death, and other natural and man-made calamities? This isthe question to bear in mind in recounting the many trials and tragedies theBuddha met with as his life drew to a close.

 

The treachery of the Buddha’s cousin Devadatta andthe palace coup in which the Buddha’s friend and supporter King Bimbisara wascruelly starved to death by his own son, Ajatashatru, has been told in aprevious article. In the last year of the Buddha’s life, another coup occurredin Shravasti, the capital of Koshala, when Prince Virudhaka took the thronefrom his father King Prasenajit. The traditional accounts of what led to thisevent and what followed after is a story full of the worst aspects of humannature: pride, bigotry, paranoia, treachery, and bloody vendettas, all leadingup to an act of genocide that even the Buddha found himself unable to prevent.

 

The story really begins during the early years of theBuddha’s teaching in Shravasti. As has been told before, the people ofShravasti were not immediately receptive to the Buddha’s teachings. Many ofthem were already partisans for one or another of the so-called six unorthodoxteachers who had rejected the authority of the Vedas and were teaching theirown philosophies and methods for attaining liberation. Aside from KingPrasenajit and Queen Mallika, there were many at the palace that only saw theBuddha as a rival to their own favored teacher and so were less than welcoming.For this reason, the Buddha and his disciples chose not to dine at the palacewhere they were not welcome, but would accept invitations to eat in the home ofthe wealthy merchant Sudatta or Visakha, the wife of the wealthy merchantMigara. At one time, King Prasenajit asked the Buddha what the best food tooffer would be. The Buddha responded that food offered in friendship was best.The king’s ministers, however, misinterpreted this to mean friendship such asone has with one’s family and clan. Hoping to make the palace seem morehospitable to the Buddha and the Sangha, King Prasenajit decided that he wouldtry to become an in-law of the Buddha by asking the neighboring Shakya clan tosend him one of their princesses to become his queen-consort. Since the Shakyaswere also believed to be from an ancient lineage of nobles, this would have theadded benefit of increasing King Prasenajit’s prestige and increasing tiesbetween his kingdom and theirs. The irony of this is that Shakyamuni Buddha hadlong ago renounced all family ties when he left the palace to seekenlightenment.

 

The Shakyas, however, were too proud and fierce to permitone of their daughters to marry the “lowly” king of Koshala. They could not,however, openly defy King Prasenajit because Koshala was a much larger and morepowerful kingdom that could easily crush them. So a Shakya noble named Mahanamaproposed that his beautiful 16-year-old daughter, Vasabhakattiya, be sent. Thegirl’s mother was one of Mahanama’s slaves, a woman by the name of Nagamunda.Is it possible that Nagamunda was a member of the Nagas, a tribe of aborigineswho even today live in northeastern India? In any case, Vasabhakattiya wasregarded as no better than a slave herself, and slaves were not permitted toeven eat out of the same dishes as the Shakya nobles. The Koshalan emissaryknew this, and so Mahanama arranged to make it seem as though he and hisslave-daughter were eating from the same bowl by inviting her to dine with himin the presence of the emissary. Then, at the last moment, he arranged to becalled away so that he would not have to eat anymore from the bowl out of whichhis Vasabhakattiya had eaten. The emissary did not catch on to the ruse andbelieved that the girl was in fact a Shakya princess. Though they regarded heras no more than chattel, the Shakyas saw her off with the ceremony due one oftheir actual princesses. When she arrived in Shravasti she was anointed the newqueen-consort in a lavish ceremony. She soon became the king’s favorite amonghis many queens, and all the more when she gave birth to Virudhaka, the crownprince.

 

As Prince Virudhaka grew up he began to realize thathis grandparents on his mother’s side in Kapilavastu never acknowledged him orsent him toys or other presents the way the maternal grandparents of the otherprinces did. His mother refused to speak of them and simply told him that theywere too far away to send presents. When Prince Virudhaka was 16 he insisted onvisiting his grandparents and other relatives in Kapilavastu and would not bedissuaded. Vasabhakattiya sent a messenger ahead of the prince begging herformer masters not to reveal the truth of Prince Virudhaka’s ancestry. Fortheir part, the Shakyas were willing to cover up the truth, but not willing tohave their children tainted by the presence of a slave’s son who mistakenlybelieved he was their equal. They sent their princes off into the countrysidewhere they would be out of the way. Prince Virudhaka stayed at a rest housethat was prepared for him and was able to meet his grandfather Mahanama. He wastreated in a civil fashion, if rather coolly. It all fell apart when Prince Virudhakaleft, for one of his entourage forgot his spear and ran back to the rest housefor it. There the soldier saw the Shakya slaves cleaning all the furnishingsthat Prince Virudhaka had used. He asked them about it and found out thatPrince Virudhaka was considered an outcaste because his mother was in actualitya slave and not a princess. When this was reported back to Prince Virudhaka hewas enraged. Even worse, when King Prasenajit found out, in order to protecthimself from scandal, he had to strip Virudhaka and his mother of all rank andrelegate them to the slave quarters. Shortly thereafter, however, the Buddhaspoke to King Prasenajit. He acknowledged that the Shakyas had behaved wronglyand then convinced King Prasenajit that what he had done to Prince Virudhakaand his mother was unnecessary. It was how one lived and acted that shoulddetermine one’s status and not accident of birth. Vasabhakattiya had beenanointed a queen and had lived up to the part, and Virudhaka was the son of aking and had been raised to be the designated heir. King Prasenajit heeded theBuddha’s advice and restored Vasabhakattiya as his queen and Virudhaka as thecrown prince. Prince Virdudhaka would never forget this humiliation however. Hedetermined to avenge himself against the Shakyas, going so far as to hire abrahmin to remind him of the following vow three times a day: “When I becomeking I will see to it that the Shakya’s homes are washed again - in their ownblood!”

 

Many years later, another tragic palace intrigueoccured in Shravasti. Some time after Queen Mallika passed away, KingPrasenajit was disconsolate and was unable to concentrate on affairs of state.Corrupt ministers took advantage of this situation to enrich their friends andthemselves, but the king’s commander-in-chief, Bandhula, attempted to institutereforms. Bandhula was a man of integrity and a lay follower of the Buddha. Hetried to put an end to bribery and restore impartiality and justice to thecourts. The corrupt ministers then slandered Bandhula to the king. KingPrasenajit came to believe that Bandhula was plotting to overthrow him. SinceBandhula was so popular with the people, he could not publicly arrest andexecute him without risking a rebellion. Instead, he arranged for mercenaries toattack the frontiers of Koshala so that he could order Bandhula and histhirty-two sons to march out and subdue them. While Bandhula searched for theraiders, assassins planted in the army by the corrupt ministers killed him andall his sons and brought their heads back to the king. The reaction ofBandhula’s widow, Mallika, as well as the widows of his sons, was to reproachthe king in stoic silence. King Prasenajit was perhaps a foolish ruler, but hewas not entirely unjust. He questioned Mallika and learned that Bandhula hadbeen falsely accused. Filled with remorse he begged for the forgiveness ofMallika and the other widows. Mallika forgave him and she and the other widowsreturned to their parents’ homes in peace. King Prasenajit then appointed Bandhula’snephew, Digha Karayana, the new commander-in-chief. Unfortunately for KingPrasenajit, Digha Karayana had not forgiven him but bore a deep grudge. Heconstantly found fault with the king and looked for opportunities to avenge hisfamily thinking, “This king murdered my uncle and cousins!”

 

Digha Karayana’s chance came one day when KingPrasenajit decided to visit the Buddha, who was staying in a small Shakyanvillage. The king, like the Buddha, was now 80 years old. He was old and lonelyand full of regrets, so he often sought out the Buddha’s consolation. Leavinghis carriage behind he walked into the park where the Buddha was staying.Before entering the Buddha’s dwelling place he left his royal insignia withDigha Karayana who was to remain outside with the royal guard. The insigniaconsisted of his shoes, parasol, fan, turban, and sword. Digha Karayana wasbeset by both temptation and paranoid fears. He was tempted to seize the royalinsignia and overthrow the king in favor of Prince Virdudhaka. At the same timehe feared that even as he waited outside the king and the Buddha might bescheming against him just as the king and his ministers had schemed against hisuncle. Digha Karayana felt that he had no choice, and that in any case this wasthe opportunity to avenge his uncle and cousins that he had been looking for.He gathered up the royal guards and left with the chariots, leaving only asingle servant woman behind. He brought the royal insignia to Prince Virudhakaand demanded that he take the throne. Prince Virudhaka may still have harboredresentment against his father for having been temporarily sent to the slavequarters along with his mother before the Buddha intervened. He may also havebeen concerned that Digha Karyana could just as easily have put him to deathand become king himself. In any case, he accepted the royal insignia and becamethe new king of Koshala. In the meantime, King Prasenajit discovered that hehad been abandoned. With the serving woman, who was quite devoted to him, hewalked to Rajagriha to seek out the help of his nephew King Ajatashatru. Thetwo had become friends since their last battle when King Prasenajit hadcaptured King Ajatashatru and then allowed him to return home in peace.Unfortunately for him the city’s gates were already closed for the night, andthe ragged old king bereft of his insignia was not able to convince the guardsto let him through. He stayed in an inn outside the walls, but the toll of thelong journey on foot without provisions had been too great for the old king andhe passed away in the night. The next day King Ajatashatru learned what hadhappened from the grieving servant woman, but there was nothing more he coulddo other than recognize King Virudhaka as the new ruler of Koshala.

 

King Virudhaka was now able to move against theShakya clan. He gathered his army and marched on Kapilavastu. The Buddha,however, had gone ahead of the army and was waiting for them at the outskirtsof the city sitting beneath a dead tree. King Virudhaka saw the Buddha sittingthere and asked him why he did not sit under the shade of the trees in theNyagrodha Park. The Buddha said, “It is one’s own relations who provide thecoolest shade.” King Virudhaka understood that the Buddha was asking him tospare his kinsmen. Out of deference to the Buddha, King Virudhaka took his armyback to Shravasti. King Virudhaka may also have felt a sense of gratitude tothe Buddha for helping him when King Prasenajit had sent he and his mother tothe slave quarters. The brahmin, however, continued to remind King Virudhaka ofhis vow to bathe Kapilavastu in the blood of the Shakyas and so after awhile heset out with his army again. Again the Buddha intervened and the army returnedto Shravasti. And then a third time this happened. But on the fourth occasionwhen King Virudhaka and his army set out the Buddha stayed at the Jeta GroveMonastery. He realized that in remonstrating with the king on the previousthree occasions he had done all he could but that King Virudhaka’s grudge wouldnot abate. The Shakyas were doomed as the results of their previous deceptionagainst Prasenajit and rejection of Virudhaka. The seeds of hatred they hadsowed on the basis of their overbearing pride in their lineage were coming tofruition. King Virudhaka razed Kapilavastu and massacred the Shakyas, though afew escaped to build a new city in a different location afterwards.

 

Upon returning to Shravasti, King Virudhaka soughtout his brother Prince Jeta. As a lay follower of the Buddha, Prince Jeta refusedto participate in the destruction of the Shakyas; instead, he stayed behind inthe palace seeking out women and music as a diversion. Angered by Prince Jeta’sdefiance, King Virudhaka killed him. So ended the lives of the Buddha’s clanand his last royal patron in Shravasti. Seven days later, while encamped on ariverbank, King Virudhaka and his army were swept away by a flash flood.

 

The Seven Things That PreventDecline

 

At that time, King Ajatashatru had begun making hisown plans for the military conquest of the Vriji Federation. Trusting in theBuddha’s judgment, King Ajatashatru sent his minister Varshakara to VulturePeak near the city of Rajagriha in order to seek out the Buddha’s advice inthis matter. The Buddha informed Varshakara that the last time he had been inthe city of Vaishali he had taught the Vrijis seven principles that would leadto prosperity and prevent decline if followed. For the benefit of Varshakara,the Buddha asked his attendant Ananda if the Vrijis had continued to followthese principles. Ananda confirmed that they were and so the Buddha stated:

 

1. As long as the Vrijis hold regular and frequentassemblies, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

 

2. As long as the Vrijis meet in harmony, break up inharmony, and carry on their business in harmony, they may be expected toprosper and not decline.

 

3. As long as the Vrijis do not authorize what hasnot been authorized already, and do not abolish what has been authorized, butproceed according to what has been authorized by their ancient traditions, theymay be expected to prosper and not decline.

 

4. As long as the Vrijis honor, respect, revere andsalute the elders among them, and consider them worth listening to, they may beexpected to prosper and not decline.

 

5. As long as the Vrijis do not forcibly abductothers’ wives and daughters and compel them to live with them, they may beexpected to prosper and not decline.

 

6. As long as the Vrijis honor, respect, revere andsalute the Vriji shrines at home and abroad, not withdrawing the proper supportmade and given before, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

 

7. As long as the Vrijis ensure that proper provisionis made for the safety of the arhats, so that such arhats may come in future tolive there, and those already there may dwell in comfort, they may be expectedto prosper and not decline. (Adapted from Long Discourses of the Buddha, pp. 321-232)

 

These principles are very conservative in nature andpoint to a very stable, traditional, and law abiding society. Basically, aslong as the tribes of the Vriji Federation stick together and cooperate interms of agreed upon values, traditions, and reverence for the wise they willnot be vulnerable to the depredations of their neighbors, including the ambitiousKing Ajatashatru of Magadha. Unfortunately for the Vrijis, while Varshakara sawthat it would not be advisable to march against them at that time, he saw howthey might be made vulnerable in the future if they could be undermined fromwithin.

 

At this, Varshakara replied: “Reverend Gautama, ifthe Vrijis keep to even one of these principles, they may be expected toprosper and not decline – far less all seven. Certainly the Vrijians will neverbe conquered by King Ajatashatru by force of arms, but only by means ofpropaganda and setting them against one another. And now Reverend Gautama, mayI depart? I am busy and have much to do.” “Brahmin, do as you think fit.” ThenVarshakara, rejoicing and delighted at the Lord’s words, rose from his seat anddeparted. (Ibid, p. 232)

 

If the Buddha was disappointed that his attempt todissuade the Magadhans from war backfired, or was at least pleased to havebought the Vrijians a temporary reprieve the sutras do not say. It may be thatthe Buddha knew that the Magadhan conquest of the Vrijis was inevitable andthat he simply reported honestly what he knew of the situation. While theBuddha always seemed to do what he could to convince people to stop killing andto avoid war, he also remained strictly apolitical and never chose sides. Healso never tried to use his spiritual authority to tell kings and brahmins whatto do. He simply taught the Dharma and left it to the conscience of his layfollowers to decide how to act, saying, “do as you think fit,” before theydeparted.

 

In any case, the Buddha asked Ananda to gather themonks in the assembly hall so that he could teach them a version of the sevenprinciples adapted to the monastic Sangha so that they too would prosper andnot decline, even after the passing of the Buddha.

 

1. As long as the monks hold regular and frequentassemblies, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

 

2. As long as they meet in harmony, break up inharmony, and carry on their business in harmony, they may be expected to prosperand not decline.

 

3. As long as they do not authorize what has not beenauthorized already, and do not abolish what has been authorized, but proceedaccording to what has been authorized by the rules of training, they may beexpected to prosper and not decline.

 

4. As long as they honor, respect, revere and salutethe elders of long standing who are long ordained, fathers and leaders of theorder, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

 

5. As long as they do not fall prey to desires thatarise in them and lead to rebirth, they may be expected to prosper and notdecline.

 

6. As long as they are devoted to forest-lodgings,they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

 

7. As long as they preserve their personalmindfulness, so that in future the good among their companions will come tothem, and those who have already come will feel at ease with them, they may beexpected to prosper and not decline.

 

As long as the monks hold to these seven things andare seen to do so, they may be expected to prosper and not decline. (Ibid, p.233)

 

Modern Buddhists, particularly those without amonastic Sangha, might wonder if these principles have any relevance. Perhapsif “monk” is understood to mean whoever is designated as the senior teachers,leaders, or facilitators then it can be seen to have some relevance. It shouldnot be too much to expect that the designated clergy or leaders of the Sanghashould meet frequently and conduct their business harmoniously and inaccordance with whatever rules they have established and not arbitrarily oraccording to personal whims. They should honor those who are senior and havemore practical experience and training, though wisdom should be given moreweight than mere seniority. Those entrusted with teaching or leadershippositions should also be able to demonstrate at least a modicum of emotionaland social maturity and a sense of responsibility. While people may no longerlive in forest hermitages, those who are teachers should live frugally andavail themselves of opportunities to deepen their practice rather than livingin luxury and indulging in worldly pursuits. Finally, those entrusted to beteachers or leaders should be self-aware and even self-transcending, because ifthose who lead or teach the Sangha have nothing to recommend them or to showfor their practice, than the Sangha will eventually fall apart. Of course theseprinciples could be extended to include the Sangha as a whole, both leaders orministers and the other members or laity.

 

The Buddha then taught the monks four more sets ofseven things to keep in mind:

 

I will tell you another seven things conducive towelfare… As long as monks do not rejoice, delight and become absorbed in works,… in chattering, … in sleeping, … in company, … in evil desires, … in mixingand associating with evil friends, … as long as they do not rest content withpartial achievements… ; as long as the monks hold to these seven things and areseen to do so, they may be expected to prosper and not decline. (Ibid, p. 233)

 

This set of seven points to concentration on thepractice of meditation and contemplation of the Buddha Dharma. It is a warningto not allow one’s practice to decline due to unnecessary busy work (let alonesecular pursuits for worldly gain), or socializing (esp. with “bad company”),or sleeping, or self-indulgence, or complacence. This can easily be applied tonon-monastic practitioners.

 

I will tell you another seven things conducive towelfare… As long as monks continue with faith, with modesty, with fear of doingwrong, with learning, with aroused vigor, with established mindfulness, withwisdom, they may be expected to prosper and not decline. (Ibid, p. 233)

 

This set of seven is straightforward and also easilyapplicable to non-monastic practitioners. Though perhaps it needs to be pointedout that “faith” does not mean “blind belief” in some creed or dogma. It refersto trust and confidence in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and one’s own abilityto practice and realize awakening for oneself.

 

I will tell you another seven things… As long asmonks develop the enlightenment-factors of mindfulness, of investigation ofphenomena, of energy, of rapture, of tranquility, of concentration, ofequanimity, they may be expected to prosper and not decline. (Ibid, p. 233)

 

This set lists the seven factors of enlightenmentthat describe the different elements of insight meditation. They are animportant part of the thirty-seven requisites for enlightenment that arediscussed in more detail in another article.

 

I will tell you another seven things… As long asmonks develop the perception of impermanence, of non-self, of impurity, ofdanger, of overcoming, of dispassion, of cessation, they may be expected toprosper and not decline. (Ibid, pp. 233-234)

 

This set of seven refers to the result of practice,whereby practitioners sees the true nature of all things that arise due tocauses and conditions and thereby gains freedom.  They see that all things are impermanent, do not have anyfixed or independent self-nature, and are therefore not able to provide purehappiness without many drawbacks not the least of which is the aforementionedfact of impermanence. Seeing the danger in becoming attached to things thepractitioners are able to overcome their selfish and deluded craving, theybecome dispassionate, and realize the cessation of suffering.

 

Finally the Buddha taught the monks six principlesconducive to communal living:

 

As long as monks both in public and in private showloving-kindness to their fellows in acts of (1) body, (2) speech, and (3)thought, (4) share with their virtuous fellows whatever they receive as arightful gift, including the contents of their alms-bowls, which they do notkeep to themselves, (5) keep consistently, unbroken and unaltered those rules ofconduct that are spotless, leading to liberation, praised by the wise,unstained and conducive to concentration, and persist therein with theirfellows both in public and in private, (6) continue in that noble view thatleads to liberation, to the utter destruction of suffering, remaining in suchawareness with their fellows both in public and in private… As long as monkshold these six things and are seen to do so, they may be expected to prosperand not decline. (Ibid, p. 234)

 

Those are pretty straightforward and require nofurther comment.

 

The Buddha then ended this discourse to the monks atVulture Peak with what is called a “comprehensive discourse” that is areiteration of the threefold training of morality, concentration, and wisdom:

 

This is morality, this is concentration, this iswisdom. Concentration, when imbued with morality, brings great fruit andprofit. Wisdom, when imbued with concentration, brings great fruit and profit.The mind imbued with wisdom becomes completely free from the corruptions, thatis, from the corruption of sensuality, of becoming, of false views and ofignorance. (Ibid, p. 234)

 

This comprehensive discourse shows how each part ofthe threefold training is the basis for the next, culminating in freedom fromsuffering. The threefold training is itself a summary of the eightfold pathwherein morality encompasses right speech, right action, and right livelihood;concentration encompasses right effort, right mindfulness, and rightconcentration; and wisdom encompasses right view and right intention. Thecomprehensive discourse, given as a summary of the Buddha’s teachings onpractice, was repeated again and again by the Buddha as he toured thecountryside for the last time. It was this practice that he wised to reiterateand underscore as his life drew to a close.

 

Shariputra’s Lion’s Roar ofCertainty

 

After teaching the comprehensive discourse atRajagriha, the Buddha went to Ambalatthika and taught it at the royal parkthere. After that he traveled to Nalanda and taught it at the Pavarika’s mangogrove. In future ages, Nalanda would become the location of a large Buddhistmonastery and university. While staying there, Shariputra came to praise theBuddha.

 

Then the Venerable Shariputra came to see the Lord,saluted him, sat down to one side, and said: “It is clear to me, Lord, thatthere never has been, will be or is now another ascetic or brahmin who isbetter or more enlightened than the Lord.” (Ibid, p. 234-235)

 

The Buddha was not one to accept such flattery unlessthere was a real basis for it. He asked Shariputra how he could be so certainof this.

 

“You have spoken boldly with a bull’s voice,Shariputra, you have roared the lion’s roar of certainty! How is this? Have allthe arhat buddhas of the past appeared to you, and were the minds of all thoselords open to you, so as to say: ‘These lords were of such virtue, such wastheir teaching, such their wisdom, such their way, such their liberation?’”“No, Lord” (Ibid, 235)

 

The Buddha then inquired as to whether Shariputra couldeven claim that he knew any of the future buddhas or even if he could claim toreally know fully these qualities of himself, the present Buddha. In each case,Shariputra admitted that he could not claim that. The Buddha then points outthat it seems as though Shariputra has no basis of comparison for claiming thatno one could surpass Shakyamuni Buddha.

 

“So, Shariputra, you do not have knowledge of theminds of the buddhas of the past, the future, or the present. Thus, Shariputra,have you not spoken boldly with a bull’s voice and roared the lion’s roar ofcertainty with your declaration?” (Ibid, p. 235)

 

Shariputra’s reply explains not only what allbuddha’s have in common, but it also serves as a brief summary of Buddhistpractice and the way to liberation:

 

“Lord, the minds of the arhat buddhas of the past,future, and present are not open to me. But I know the drift of the Dharma.Lord, it is as if there were a royal frontier city, with almighty bastions anda mighty encircling wall in which was a single gate, at which was a gatekeeper,wise, skilled and clever, who kept out strangers and let in those he knew. Andhe, constantly patrolling and following along a path, might not see the jointsand clefts in the bastion, even such as a cat might creep through. But whateverlarger creatures entered or left the city, must all go through this very gate.And it seems to me, Lord, that the drift of the Dharma is the same. All thosearhat buddhas of the past attained to supreme enlightenment by abandoning thefive hindrances, defilements of mind that weaken the understanding, havingfirmly established the four foundations of mindfulness in their minds, andrealized the seven factors of enlightenment as they really are. All the arhatbuddhas of the future will do likewise, and you, Lord, who are now the Arhat,fully enlightened Buddha, have done the same.” (Ibid, p. 235)

 

Here, Shariputra has provided a summary of thepractices that are necessary if one is to attain enlightenment. In brief,Shariputra has described the cultivation of concentration and insight. In thebeginning the practitioner must focus and calm the mind so that it maytemporarily overcome the five hindrances of sensual desire, ill will, dullness& drowsiness, restlessness & remorse, and doubt. A common anduniversally recommended focus would be the breath, but there were others thatin later tradition would include 40 different subjects for meditation, thoughall of these could be categorized as one or another of the four foundations ofmindfulness. The four foundations mindfulness are comprised of keeping in mind,or paying careful attention to, the body, feelings, mind, and mental-objects ofboth oneself and others in a state of clear awareness without any attachment oraversion. Mindfulness of the body includes mindfulness of the breath, of one’sphysical actions, of the composition of the body, and of the decomposition ofthe body after death. Feelings refer to mental and physical feelings of pain,pleasure, or neutral feelings. Mind refers to one’s mental state, whether it isfocused or unfocused, happy or sad, greedy or content, angry or peaceful, andso on. Mental-objects refers to various Buddhist concepts and teachings inorder to better understand life and how it works including the five hindrances,the five aggregates, the six senses and their respective objects, the sevenfactors of enlightenment, and the four noble truths. With mindfulness as thestarting point, one is then able to cultivate the rest of the seven factors ofenlightenment: investigation of dharmas (phenomena), energy, rapture,tranquility, concentration, and equanimity. In such a state of clear awarenessand equanimity the practitioner of concentration and insight is able to seethings as they really are, become free of craving and ignorance, and passthrough the one gateway to enlightenment.

 

The Buddha apparently approved of Shariputra’sstatement for he made no further comment. He then stayed for a time at Nalandaand taught the monks the comprehensive discourse.

 

Pataligama

 

The Buddha’s next stop was the village of Pataligama,where the lay followers there greeted the Buddha and invited him to stay attheir rest house. On the first night the Buddha taught the lay followers theimportance of morality. Presumably this refers to the ten courses of wholesomeconduct. The one following the ten courses of wholesome conduct will abstainfrom 1) taking life, 2) taking what is not given, 3) sexual misconduct, 4)false speech, 5) malicious speech, 6) harsh speech, 7: idle chatter, 8)covetousness, 9) ill will, and 10) false views.

 

“Householders, there are these five perils to one ofbad morality, of failure in morality. What are they? In the first place, hesuffers great loss of property through neglecting his affairs. In the secondplace, he gets a bad reputation for immorality and misconduct. In the thirdplace, whatever assembly he approaches, whether of kshatriyas, brahmins,householders or ascetics, he does so diffidently and shyly. In the fourthplace, he dies confused. In the fifth place, after death, at the breaking-up ofthe body, he arises in an evil state, a bad fate, in suffering and hell. Theseare the five perils to one of bad morality.

 

“And, householders, there are these five advantagesto one of good morality and of success in morality. What are they? In the firstplace, through careful attention to his affairs he gains more wealth. In thesecond place, he gets a good reputation for morality and good conduct. In thethird place, whatever assembly he approaches, whether of kshatriyas, brahmins,householders or ascetics, he does so with confidence and assurance. In thefourth place, he dies unconfused. In the fifth place, after death, at thebreaking-up of the body, he arises in a good place, a heavenly world. These arethe five advantages to one of good morality, and of success in morality.”(Ibid, pp. 236-237)

 

At the time of the Buddha’s visit to Pataligama, KingAjatashatru’s ministers, Varshakara and Sunidha, were also there building afortress as a preparation for war between their kingdom of Magadha and theVrijis. With his divine eye the Buddha observed that the gods themselves weretaking up residence there. He told Ananda that someday the small village ofPataligama would become the capital city of a great empire and its name wouldbe Patalitputra. The Buddha also predicted that the city would face danger fromfire, flood, and internal feuding. In time, King Ajatashatru would move thecapital of Magadha from Rajagriha to Pataliputra. Pataliputra would thereafterbecome the capital of the Maurya dynasty from 317 BC.E. – 180 C.E. and theGupta dynasty 320 – 570 C.E. It is currently known as the city of Patna, thecapital of the Indian state of Bihar.

 

The next morning, at their invitation, the Buddha andthe Sangha ate with Varshakara and Sunidha. When they left the city, theministers named the gate by which they left the Gautama Gate, and the ford bywhich they crossed the River Ganges the Gautama Ford. According to thetraditional account however, the Buddha and his disciples did not cross over inthe conventional way. Instead they bypassed all the small rafts that were beingused to take people across and simply appeared miraculously on the other side.The Buddha then observed the people who were busily waiting for rafts, ormaking rafts and said: “When they want to cross the sea, the lake or pond,people make a bridge or raft – the wise have crossed already.” (Ibid, p. 239)This is a dramatization of the analogy of crossing over from this shore ofbirth and death to the other shore of enlightenment.

 

The Mirror of Dharma

 

At Kotigama the Buddha taught his monks theimportance of the four noble truths:

 

“Monks, it is through not understanding, notpenetrating the four noble truths that I as well as you have for a long timerun on and gone round the cycle of birth and death. What are they? By notunderstanding the noble truth of suffering we have fared on, by notunderstanding the noble truth of the origin of suffering, of the cessation ofsuffering, and of the path leading to the cessation of suffering we have faredon round the cycle of birth and death. And by the understanding, thepenetration of the same noble truth of suffering, of the origin of suffering,of the cessation of suffering and of the path leading to the cessation ofsuffering, the craving for becoming has been cut off, the support of becominghas been destroyed, there is no more re-becoming.”

 

Then the Lord, having said this, the Well-Farerhaving spoken, the Teacher said:

 

               “Notseeing the four noble truths as they are.

               Havinglong traversed the round from life to life,

               Thesebeing seen, becoming’s supports pulled up,

               Sorrow’sroot cut off, rebirth is done.”

               (Ibid,p. 239)

 

Over the course of his stay at Kotigama the Buddhathen taught the comprehensive discourse that pertains to the practice of thenoble truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering once one hasrealized the import of the first three truths: that all conditioned things aresuffering or will lead to suffering, that suffering arises because of cravingbased on ignorance, and that it is possible to bring this craving and thesuffering it creates to an end. As the Buddha says, it is through notunderstanding these four noble truths that beings are propelled by their ignoranceinto suffering again and again, moment after moment, lifetime after lifetime.All the Buddha’s teachings of fifty years begin and end with these four nobletruths.

 

After teaching the monks at Kotigama the Buddha movedon to Nadika where he stayed at a monastery called the Brick House. Whilethere, several of the Buddha’s followers died, both monastics and householders.Ananda insisted on inquiring of the Buddha the post-mortem destiny of each one.The Buddha informed him of the spiritual attainments of each. Some had cut offthe fetters of the false view that there is a substantial self, debilitatingdoubt, and wrong grasp of rules and observances and thereby becomestream-enterers who would no longer fall into the lower paths but would at mostbe reborn seven more times as either a human being or a heavenly being in theheavens of the realm of desire before finally attaining nirvana. Some hadweakened the fetters of sensual desire and ill will and thereby becameonce-returners who would be reborn one more time as either a human being or aheavenly being in the heavens of the realm of desire before attaining nirvana.Some had completely cut off sensual desire and ill will and thereby becamenon-returners who would be reborn in the heavens known as the Pure Abodes andthere attain nirvana. Some had gone on to cut off the five higher fetters ofdesire for form realm existence, desire for formless realm existence, conceit,restlessness, and ignorance and thereby become arhats who had attained nirvanaand would not be reborn. After many such inquiries the Buddha said to Ananda:

 

“Ananda, it is not remarkable that that which hascome to be as a man should die. But that you should come to the Tathagata toask the fate of each of those who have died, that is a weariness to him.Therefore, Ananda, I will teach you a way of knowing Dharma, called the Mirrorof Dharma, whereby the noble disciple, if he so wishes, can discern himself: ‘Ihave destroyed hell, animal-rebirth, the realm of ghosts, all downfall, evil fatesand sorry states. I am a stream-enterer, incapable of falling into states ofwoe, certain of attaining nirvana.’” (Ibid, p. 241)

 

The Buddha realized that this curiosity about theafterlives of other people was really a concern for one’s own fate by way ofcomparison. So the Buddha provided a method by which one can evaluate one’s ownprogress on the path at least as far as attaining the stream-entry. Why onlystream-entry? Stream-entry is actually a very crucial milestone of Buddhistpractice. Upon attaining stream-entry one ceases to be an ordinary foolishperson who is as likely to be reborn as a hell-dweller, hungry ghost, or animalas a human or deity (or fighting demon). A stream-enterer is a member of thenoble Sangha, though they may be either a monastic or a householder. The nobleSangha is composed of the stream-enterers, once-returners, non-returners, andarhats who are fully living the Dharma and breaking through the fetters thatbring about repeated rebirth. A stream-enterer is no longer in danger of anyunfortunate rebirth and their doubts have been replaced by confidence anddetermination. Such a person no longer worries about the afterlife but insteadcultivates practice here and now and will certainly attain total liberationwithin at most seven lifetimes as mentioned above. Before attainingstream-entry, one is liable to be filled with doubts and lapses in conduct andspiritual practice, one’s efforts will be uneven and retrogression is always apossibility. Stream-entry changes all this. The stream-enterer has seen for himor herself at least a glimpse of the unconditioned, or nirvana, and with thattaste they become certain of the path and of their own capability, and fromthen on their course is set. But how can one know for sure that one has becomea stream-enterer? One answer might be that if you have to ask, then you aren’tone yet. But with the Mirror of Dharma the Buddha sets forth a set of criteriathat might prove more helpful in evaluating one’s own progress:

 

“And what is this Mirror of Dharma by which he canknow this? Here Ananda, this noble disciple is possessed of unwaveringconfidence in the Buddha, thus: ‘This Blessed Lord is an Arhat, a fullyenlightened Buddha, endowed with wisdom and conduct, the Well-Farer, Knower of worlds,incomparable Trainer of men to be tamed, Teacher of gods and humans,enlightened and blessed.’ He is possessed of unwavering faith in the Dharma,thus: ‘Well-proclaimed by the Lord is the Dharma, visible here and now,timeless, inviting inspection, leading onward, to be comprehended by the wiseeach one for himself.’ He is possessed of unwavering confidence in the Sangha,thus: ‘Well-directed is the Sangha of the Lord’s disciples, of upright conduct,on the right path, on the perfect path; that is to say the four pairs ofpersons, the eight kinds of humans. The Sangha of the Lord’s disciples isworthy of offerings, worthy of hospitality, worthy of gifts, worthy ofveneration, an unsurpassed field of merit in the world.’ And he is possessed ofmorality dear to the noble ones, unbroken, without defect, unspotted, withoutinconsistency, liberating, uncorrupted, and conducive to concentration.” (Ibid,p. 241)

 

The Mirror of Dharma consists of four parts. Thefirst three consist of unwavering confidence, or faith, in the three treasures:the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The stream-enterer has total faith inthe Buddha, that he is indeed the one who has awoken to the truth and can teachnot only human beings but even the gods themselves how to transcend suffering.The stream-enterer has total faith in the Dharma as the teaching that, iffollowed, will enable one to awaken just as the Buddha did and thus transcendsuffering. The stream-enterer has total faith in the Sangha, as that communityof beings who are truly putting into practice the Dharma, transcendingsuffering, and enabling others to do so as well. Here the Sangha is describednot in terms of the monastics, but as the community of the four pairs or eightkinds of persons. The four pairs or eight persons refer to those on the pathsto and on the stages of stream-entry, once-returning, non-returning, andarhatship. These eight kinds of people can be either householders or monasticswith the exception of the arhats. Arhats are either already monastics, or uponbecoming arhats they will either immediately renounce the household life orpass away that very day. The reason is that an arhat will no longer allowhimself or herself to be bound by worldly life. This total faith in Buddha,Dharma, and Sangha also means that a stream-enterer no longer has any doubtsabout the truth of the Buddha Dharma or its efficacy if they should put it intopractice. Because of this confidence they no longer entertain false ideas abouta fixed unchanging self because they come to see for themselves the no-selfnature of all things that the Buddha taught; nor do they cling to the idea thatmere external observance of rules or rituals can lead to awakening. Thestream-enterer, then has placed their faith in the teachings of the Buddha andhas overcome doubt, false views, and superstition.

 

The fourth criterion is that the stream-entererobserves at the very least the five major precepts. They will no longer engagein killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, falsehood, or the use of intoxicants.They may still have sensual craving, ill will, and other unwholesome thoughtsand feelings but they will no longer give in to them. Their faith in theBuddha, Dharma, and Sangha includes a faith in the workings of cause andeffect, and this means that they will not act in ways that they know will bringonly short term gains at best but will most certainly bring long termsuffering. Furthermore, because of their spiritual convictions they will nolonger act in ways that would compromise their values and integrity. Theirhorror at the thought of returning to the paths of suffering, and theirspiritual aspiration to attain liberation combine to produce in them anunshakeable integrity. This impeccable character then becomes the solidfoundation for the cultivation of concentration and ultimately wisdom. 

 

The person who can honestly look within themselvesand proclaim that their faith in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha is not justtentative or a matter of untested belief or intellectual speculation but ratheris a conviction to act upon in every aspect of life and who furthermore canclaim that their observance of the five major precepts is without fault mayjustifiably claim to have attained stream-entry. Though they firmly believe inthe law of cause and effect and will endeavor to live in accord with it, such aperson no longer needs to fear what the afterlife may hold for them; and thoughthey may still hope for a heavenly rebirth, their greater aspiration will be todeepen their practice so that they may fully awaken to the unconditioned andattain liberation from birth and death.

 

Amrapali’s Mango Grove

 

The Buddha and his Sangha then traveled to Vaishali,the capital of the Licchavis, a tribe that was part of the Vriji Federationthat King Ajatashatru was so intent on conquering. There the Buddha stayed inthe mango grove belonging to the famed and beautiful courtesan Amrapali.Amrapali was no ordinary courtesan. She was in fact the nagarvadhu or “bride of the city.” The story is that a gardenerfound her abandoned in the mango grove and raised her as his own daughter. Hername, Amrapali, in fact means “mango guardian.” As a young woman she was sobeautiful that the Licchavi princes began fighting each other for her hand inmarriage. Finally, to preserve the peace, it was decided that she would becomethe “bride of the city.” This position was something like a combination ofhigh-class courtesan and unofficial queen. She became the mistress of theLicchavi princes and of the neighboring royalty who would come to Vaishali justto see her. She became quite wealthy as a result, and was known for her charityand good counsel. King Bimbisara fell in love with her and they even had achild together named Vimala Kaundinya. When Vimala Kaundinya grew up he becamea Buddhist monk and attained arhatship. So when Amrapali heard that her son’steacher, the Buddha, was staying at her mango grove, she took her best carriageand drove out to meet him.

 

In the meantime, the Buddha impressed upon the monksthe importance of being mindful and clearly aware in all their activities:

 

“Monks, a monk should be mindful and clearly aware,this is our charge to you!

 

“And how is a monk mindful? Here, a monk abidescontemplating the body as body, earnestly, clearly aware, mindful and havingput away all hankering and fretting for the world, and likewise with regard tofeelings, mind, and mind-objects. That is how a monk is mindful.

 

“And how is a monk clearly aware? Here, a monk, whengoing forward or backward, is aware of what he is doing; in looking forward orback he is aware of what he is doing; in bending and stretching he is aware ofwhat he is doing; in carrying his inner and outer robe and bowl he is aware ofwhat he is doing; in eating, drinking, chewing, and savoring he is aware ofwhat he is doing; in passing excrement or urine he is aware of what he isdoing; in walking, standing, sitting or lying down, in keeping awake, inspeaking or in staying silent, he is aware of what he is doing. That is how amonk is clearly aware. A monk should be mindful and clearly aware, this is ourcharge to you!” (Ibid, p. 242)

 

When Amrapali arrived she greeted the Buddha with allproper courtesies and sat down to hear the Buddha’s teaching. She was soinspired and uplifted by the Buddha’s talk that she invited the Buddha and hisSangha to eat their meal at her place the next morning. The Buddha consented bysilence and Amrapali took her leave. She was in such haste to get home and makepreparations that she almost ran into the Licchavi princes in their chariots,all dressed in red, white, blue, and yellow with make-up to match. They were ontheir way to pay respects to the Buddha.

 

And Amrapali met the young Licchavis axle to axle,wheel to wheel, yoke to yoke. And they said to her: “Amrapali, why do you driveup against us like that?” “Because, young sirs, the Blessed Lord has beeninvited by me for a meal with his order of monks.”

 

“Amrapali, give up this meal for a hundred thousandpieces!” “Young sirs, if you were to given me all Vaishali with its revenues Iwould not give up such an important meal.”

 

Then the Licchavis snapped their fingers, saying:“We’ve been beaten by the magngo-woman, we’ve been cheated by the mango-woman!”And they set out for Amrapali’s grove.

 

And the Lord, having seen the Licchavis on from afar,said: “Monks, any of you who have not seen the thirty-three gods, just look atthis troop of Licchavis! Take a good look at them, and you will get an idea ofthe thirty-three gods.” (Ibid, p. 243)

 

The Licchavis then greeted the Buddha and listened tohis teaching. They too were inspired and uplifted. They attempted to invite theBuddha to eat with them the next morning, but the Buddha informed them that hehad already accepted Amrapali’s invitation. Again the Licchavis snapped theirfingers and bemoaned the fact that Amrapali had beaten them. It seems, however,that all of this was done in the spirit of playful rivalry.

 

The next day, the Buddha and the Sangha ate theirmeal at the home of Amrapali. When the meal was over Amrapali donated her mangogrove to the Sangha. The Buddha then gave her further instruction in theDharma. While staying at Amrapali’s grove the Buddha continued to teach thecomprehensive discourse to the monks on morality, concentration, and wisdom.Some time later, Amrapali received further instruction in the Dharma from herson Vimala Kaundinya and she then retired and became a nun. Throughcontemplating the loss of her beauty in old age, as well all the fame, wealthand prestige it had brought, she realized that all phenomena are marked byimpermanence, suffering, and no-self. In this way she also became an arhat andrealized the true happiness of nirvana.

 

Being Your Own Refuge

 

The Buddha and his Sangha then went to the littlevillage of Beluva. The Buddha sent the monks back to Vaishali for the rainyseason retreat, but he himself stayed in Beluva with Ananda.

 

And during the rains the Lord was attacked by asevere sickness, with sharp pains as if he were about to die. But he endured allthis mindfully, clearly aware and without complaining. He thought: “It is notfitting that I should attain final nirvana without addressing my followers andtaking leave of the order of monks. I must hold this disease in check by energyand apply myself to the force of life.” He did so, and the disease abated.(Ibid, p. 244)

 

According to Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu, the Buddha’sillness was a symptom of a very serious condition known as mesentericinfarction, which is a condition brought on by old age in which the artery thatsupplies blood to the small intestines is blocked. This causes an infarction organgrene of the intestinal wall or mesentery. The condition is fatal ifuntreated, and one of the symptoms would be severe abdominal pains or angina.These and other symptoms indicative of mesenteric infarction will appear laterin the narrative of the Buddha’s passing.

 

The lesson here is that the Buddha was beyondsuffering, but not beyond the painful physical ailments that come with old ageand disease and eventually lead to death. He felt the physical pain, in fact hewas mindful and clearly aware of it, but he did not compound that pain with theemotional reaction of suffering. For this reason he was able to endure itwithout complaint, and in fact determined to live longer for the sake of hisdisciples. The Buddha no longer worried about a “self” that could be affectedby the vicissitudes of birth and death, even though the processes we call birthand death continued on, as it always had, without such a self. Superficially,the Buddha was afflicted with a fatal illness, but on a deeper level the Buddhais forever untouched by birth and death because the Buddha does not cling to oridentify with conditioned phenomena. Ananda, however, was not an arhat, not enlightenedor liberated, and therefore was quite shaken by the Buddha’s illness.

 

Then the Lord, having recovered from his sickness, assoon as he felt better, went outside and sat on a prepared seat in front of hisdwelling. Then the Venerable Ananda came to him, saluted him, sat down to oneside and said: “Lord, I have seen the Lord in comfort, and I have seen theLord’s patient enduring. And, Lord, my body was like a drunkard’s. I lost mybearings and things were unclear to me because of the Lord’s sickness. The onlything that was some comfort to me was the thought: ‘The Lord will not attainfinal nirvana until he has made some statement about the order of monks.’”

 

“But, Ananda, what does the order of monks expect ofme? I have taught the Dharma, Ananda, making no ‘inner’ and ‘outer’: TheTathagata has no ‘teacher’s fist’ in respect of doctrines. If there is anyonewho thinks: ‘I shall take charge of the order’, or ‘The order should refer tome’, let him make some statement about the order, but the Tathagata does notthink in such terms. So why should the Tathagata make a statement about theorder?” (Ibid, pp. 244-245)

 

Here the Buddha informs Ananda that there are noesoteric teachings, he has held nothing back. There are no further instructionsand in fact no designated successors to lead the Sangha. Indeed, all along theBuddha has been reiterating and reviewing the same basic teachings again andagain in the form of the comprehensive discourse. The Buddha points out that inthe near future the Sangha will have to get along without him and each personwill have to be their own refuge by putting the Dharma into practice. He evenjokingly refers to himself as like an old cart that is falling apart. His onlyrelief from physical pain is to enter the meditative absorption that transcends“signs” or the particulars of worldly sensations. The Buddha counsels Anandathat soon he and the others will have to take all responsibility for their ownpractice and enlightenment.

 

“Ananda, I am now old, worn out, venerable, one whohas traversed life’s path, I have reached the term of life, which is eighty.Just as an old cart is made to go by being held together with straps, so theTathagata’s body is kept going by being strapped up. It is only when theTathagata withdraws his attention from outward signs, and by the cessation ofcertain feelings, enters into signless concentration of mind that his bodyknows comfort.

 

“Therefore, Ananda, you should live as islands untoyourselves, being your own refuge, with no one else as your refuge, with theDharma as an island, with the Dharma as your refuge, with no other refuge. Andhow does a monk live as an island unto himself, … with no other refuge? Here,Ananda, a monk abides contemplating the body as body, earnestly, clearly away,mindful and having put away all hankering and fretting for the world, andlikewise with regard to feelings, mind, and mind-objects. That, Ananda, is howa monk lives as an island unto himself, … with no other refuge. And those whonow in my time or afterwards live thus, they will become the highest, if theyare desirous of learning.” (Ibid, p. 245)

 

The English writer John Donne (1572-1631) said, “noman is an island.” By this, he meant that none of us are really isolated fromone another. And of course the three treasures that all Buddhists take refugein is the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and not just oneself or the Dharma alone.The Buddha is not teaching people to isolate themselves, nor is he teaching arugged individualism. He is pointing to the fact that no one can do thepractice for us; we must directly realize the Dharma within our own livesthrough our own practice. Here the practice is defined in terms of the fourfoundations of mindfulness. If we cannot do that, then the example of the Buddhawill be meaningless for us, and all the help the Sangha can provide us will bein vain. It all comes down to our own effort to personally realize that our ownlife is not an isolated self but the Dharma itself that is beyond thedistinctions of self and other.

 

According to the commentaries, though not the canon,the Buddha and his Sangha then made one last journey to the Jeta GroveMonastery in Shravasti. On a previous visit late in the Buddha’s life, hischief supporter in Shravasti, Sudatta, passed away. It was Sudatta, who hadfirst invited Shakyamuni Buddha to Shravasti, and it was he who bought thegrounds from Prince Jeta and donated them to the Sangha. As Sudatta lay on hisdeathbed he called for Shariputra to visit him. Shariputra taught him a profounddiscourse on non-clinging. He taught Sudatta that one should not cling to thesenses, or their objects, or the contacts, feelings, and consciousness derivedfrom the meeting of senses and their objects. One should not cling to any ofthe five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, mental formations, orconsciousness, nor the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, not evento the four attainments of the formless realms of space, consciousness,nothingness, or neither perception nor non-perception. In short, liberation isfound through not clinging to anything at all. Sudatta was very impressed andasked Shariputra why he had never heard such a discourse before. Shariputratold him that such teachings were usually reserved only for the monastics.Sudatta then implored Shariputra to make the teaching available to householdersas well, since some of them might understand. Sudatta died shortly afterwardsand was reborn in the Tushita Heaven, so he was either a stream-enterer or aonce-returner since he had taken rebirth in one of the heavens of the realm ofdesire.

 

At the time of this last visit in the last year ofthe Buddha’s life, the Buddha’s son Rahula and the Buddha’s first discipleAjnata Kaundinya had already passed away. The Buddha’s foster-mother and aunt,Mahaprajapati, and his wife, Yashodhara, had also passed away by that time. Allhad become arhats in the course of their practice. Reflecting on this,Shariputra realized that it was the way of things for a Buddha’s chiefdisciples to pass away before the Buddha, and that in fact his own life wasdrawing to a close. Shariputra decided that he would return to his mother’shome in the village of Nalaka where he had grown up. He wished to do thisbecause his three brothers and three sisters had all become monastics and thenin the course of their practice arhats. But his mother, Rupashari, had not yettaken refuge in the three treasures. He hoped that in dying peacefully inaccord with the Dharma he could inspire his mother to do so and at least attainstream-entry and escape the lower paths of rebirth. In this he hoped to repayhis mother for all she had done for him in giving birth to him and raising him.Shariputra then took his final leave fro the Buddha, first apologizing foranything he had done to displease him. The Buddha told him that never had hedone anything displeasing, but granted his forgiveness anyway. Then, with acompany of 500 monks who were his own students, Shariputra returned to hishome. On his deathbed he was visited in turn by the four heavenly kings, Indra,and Brahma. His mother witnessed this, and as a worshipper of Brahma was quiteawed and amazed that Brahma himself was paying his respects to her son. Sherealized that if Shariputra commanded that kind of respect, then how much morerespect worthy was his teacher the Buddha. Rupashari at last took refuge in theBuddha, Dharma, and Sangha and her faith in the Buddha was such that sheattained stream-entry. His mother’s spiritual liberation secured, Shariputrathen called in his companions and apologized to them for anything he had doneto displease. The monks protested that he had not done anything to displeasethem and that in fact it was Shariputra who should forgive them for anythingthey had done to displease him. Shariputra then entered into all the deepstates of dhyana or meditative absorption, moving on from there into the fourattainments of space, consciousness, nothingness, and the realm of neitherperception nor yet non-perception. He then moved shifted his consciousness backdown to the first dhyana and then back up to the fourth and from that pointentered into parinirvana, going beyond all suffering and pain forever.

 

 Shariputra’s younger brother Chunda then returned to the JetaGrove Monastery with Shariputra’s robe and bowl to report what had happened.Ananda greeted him and together they went to inform the Buddha.

 

Then the Venerable Ananda and the novice Chundaapproached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, and sat down to one side. TheVenerable Ananda then said to the Blessed One: “This novice Chunda, venerablesir, says that the Venerable Shariputra has attained final nirvana, and this ishis bowl and robe. Venerable sir, since I heard that the Venerable Shariputrahas attained final nirvana, my body seems as if it has been drugged, I havebecome disoriented, the teachings are no longer clear to me.”

 

“Why, Ananda, when Shariputra attained final nirvana,did he take away your aggregate of virtue, or your aggregate of concentration,or your aggregate of wisdom, or your aggregate of liberation, or your aggregateof the knowledge and vision of liberation?”

 

“No he did not, venerable sir. But for me theVenerable Shariputra was an advisor and counselor, one who instructed,exhorted, inspired, and gladdened me. He was untiring in teaching the Dharma;he was helpful to his brothers in the holy life. We recollect the nourishmentof Dharma, the wealth of Dharma, the help of Dharma given by the VenerableShariputra.”

 

“But have I not already declared, Ananda, that wemust be parted, separated, and severed from all who are dear and agreeable tous? How, Ananda, is it to be obtained here: ‘May what is born, come to be,conditioned, and subject to disintegration not disintegrate!’? That isimpossible. It is just as if the largest branch would break off a great treestanding possessed of heartwood: so too, Ananda, in the great order of monkspossessed of heartwood, Shariputra has attained final nirvana. Now, Ananda, isit to be obtained here: ‘May what is born, come to be, conditioned, and subjectto disintegration not disintegrate!’? That is impossible.

 

“Therefore, Ananda, dwell with yourselves as your ownisland, with yourselves as your own refuge, with no other refuge; dwell withthe Dharma as your island, with the Dharma as your refuge, with no other refuge… Those monks, Ananda, either now or after I am gone, who dwell with themselvesas their own island, with themselves as their own refuge, with no other refuge;who dwell with the Dharma as their island, with the Dharma as their refuge,with no other refuge – it is these monks, Ananda, who will be for me thetopmost of those keen on the training.” (Connected Discourses, pp. 1643-1644)

 

Maudgalyayana, the Buddha’s other chief disciple, andShariputra’s lifelong friend, met his own end two weeks later. But his deathwas not as peaceful, even though he too had long since become an arhat. As anarhat, he would never again be reborn in the six paths of the hell-dwellers,hungry-ghosts, animals, fighting demons, humans, or heavenly beings. He nolonger set in motion the karmic activity that would bind him to the world,because as with all arhats his every action was selfless and complete in thatmoment without any residue of clinging or aversion that would lead to futureeffects. However, even arhats could only mitigate and not completely eradicatethe ripening of past karma. The arhats simply had to mindfully and patientlyendure the effects of those causes they were responsible for prior to attainingenlightenment. In this case, in a past life the man who would becomeMaudgalyayana and his wife of that lifetime grew tired of caring for his agedand blind parents. To get rid of them, he took them into the forest, faked anattack by bandits, beat them with a stick and then left them to die. For thisdeed he was reborn in hell, but even after that time in hell there was still akarmic seed left from that act of heartless violence. It came to fruitionthrough the jealousy of a band of naked ascetics, who blamed Maudgalyayana forstealing their supporters away with his miraculous powers. In order to get ridof Maudgalyayana they hired a band of robbers to kill him. Maudgalyayana usedhis miraculous powers to evade them for almost a week, not out of fear but outof compassion for the robbers, who would fall into hell for killing an arhat.On the seventh day, however, his powers failed him due to the ripening of hispast misdeed and the bandits caught up with him and beat him to death withtheir staffs until they had broken every bone in his body. Maudgalyayana’s lastact was to use his miraculous powers to appear before the Buddha to tell himwhat had happened and to announce that he was now entering parinirvana. In thisway, Maudgalyayana also made the final journey, so to speak, beyond allsuffering and pain. 

 

Some time after leaving Shravasti for the last time,while on the banks of the Ganges River, the Buddha spoke to Sangha in referenceto the parinirvana of his two chief disciples:

 

“Monks, this assembly appears to be empty now thatShariputra and Maudgalyayana have attained final nirvana. This assembly was notempty for me earlier, and I had no concern for whatever quarter Shariputra andMaudgalyayana were dwelling in.

 

“The arhats, the perfectly enlightened ones, whoarose in the past also had just such a supreme pair of disciples as I had inShariputra and Maudgalyayana. The arhats, the perfectly enlightened ones, whowill arise in the future will also have just such a supreme pair of disciplesas I had in Shariputra and Maudgalyayana.

 

“It is wonderful, monks, on the part of thedisciples, it is amazing on the part of the disciples, that they will act inaccordance with the teacher’s instructions and comply with his admonitions,that they will be dear and agreeable to the four assemblies, that they will berevered and esteemed by them. It is wonderful, monks, on the part of theTathagata, it is amazing on the part of the Tathagata, that when such a pair ofdisciples has attained final nirvana, there is no sorrow or lamentation in theTathagata.

 

“How, monks, is it to be obtained here: ‘May what isborn, come to be, conditioned, and subject to disintegration notdisintegrate!’? That is impossible. It is just as if the largest branches wouldbreak off a great tree standing possessed of heartwood: so too, monks, in thegreat order of monks standing possessed of heartwood, Shariputra andMaudgalyayana have attained final nirvana. How, monks, is it to be obtainedhere: ‘May what is born, come to be, conditioned, and subject to disintegrationnot disintegrate!’? That is impossible.

 

“Therefore, monks, dwell with yourselves as your ownisland, with yourselves as your own refuge, with no other refuge; dwell withthe Dharma as your island, with the Dharma as your refuge, with no other refuge… Those monks, either now or after I am gone, who dwell with themselves astheir own island, with themselves as their own refuge, with no other refuge;who dwell with the Dharma as their island, with the Dharma as their refuge,with no other refuge – it is these monks who will be for me the topmost ofthose keen on the training.” (Ibid, pp. 1644-1645)

 

Again and again, whether in reference to his owndeathly illness or the deaths of the monks he had relied upon to assist him inguiding and leading the Sangha, the Buddha reminded his disciples that suchpartings were only to be expected as the natural course of life, and that onemust rely upon one’s own efforts to attain liberation. After these events, theBuddha and Sangha returned to Vaishali.

 

The Buddha Renounces the LifePrinciple

 

The Buddha and Ananda then made their way to theCapala Shrine. There the Buddha remarked upon the beauty of Vaishali and thevarious shrines including the Capala Shrine. He then made a curious statementthat anyone, such as the Tathagata himself, who developed the four ways topower consisting of the concentration of desire, energy, consciousness, andinvestigation, could use that power to live for a kalpa, a kalpa meaning eithera century or a period of time as long as 16 million years or more. The Buddhahad made this statement at other times and places, and on this occasion as onthe previous ones he repeated it three times. This was intended as a hint toAnanda that he should request the Buddha to prolong his lifespan for the fullkalpa for the sake of all beings. But on none of these occasions did Ananda tothink to make such a request. This was due to his mind being possessed by Mara.What this means is not made clear, though perhaps it indicates that Ananda wastoo preoccupied with his own worries and concerns or that he had come to takethe Buddha’s presence for granted, though the latter seems unlikely consideringhow distraught he became over the Buddha’s illness during the last rainsretreat. In any case, Ananda took his leave.

 

Soon after Ananda had left, Mara the Evil One came tothe Lord, stood to one side and said: “Lord, may the Blessed Lord now attainfinal nirvana, may the Well Farer now attain final nirvana. Now is the time forthe Blessed Lord’s final nirvana. Because the Blessed Lord has said this: ‘EvilOne, I will not take final nirvana till I have monks and disciples who areaccomplished, trained, skilled, learned, knowers of the Dharma, trained inconformity with the Dharma, correctly trained and walking in the way of theDharma, who will pass on what they have gained from their Teacher, teach it,declare it, establish it, expound it, analyze it, make it clear; till theyshall be able by means of the Dharma to refute false teachings that havearisen, and teach the Dharma of wondrous effect.’” (Long Discourses, pp.246-247)

 

The Buddha had also previously refused to take finalnirvana until his nuns, laymen, and laywomen had all been similarlyaccomplished and competent to pass on the Dharma, refute error, and teach theDharma of wondrous effect. In summary the Buddha said:

 

“Evil One, I will not take final nirvana till thisholy life has been successfully established and flourishes, is widespread, wellknown far and wide, well proclaimed among people everywhere.” (Ibid, p. 247)

 

Mara insisted that all this had come about and so theBuddha could now attain final nirvana. Mara’s hope was that the damage theBuddha’s Dharma had done to Mara’s domain could be minimized with his earlydeparture from this world, and that in the Buddha’s absence he could set towork undermining the Sangha until the Dharma had also been corrupted or betteryet forgotten.

 

At this the Lord said to Mara: “You need not worry,Evil One. The Tathagata’s final passing will not be long delayed. Three monthsfrom now, the Tathagata will take final nirvana.”


So the Lord, at the Capala Shrine, mindfully and in full awareness renouncedthe life principle, and when this occurred there was a great earthquake,terrible, hair-raising and accompanied by thunder. And when the Lord saw thishe uttered the verse:

 

“Gross or fine, things become the sage abjured.

Calm, composed, he burst becoming’s shell.”

(Ibid, p. 247)

 

When Ananda expressed his amazement, the Buddhaexplained eight different causes or occasions for such an earthquake. Theseeight are:

 

1. The movements of the elements that make up thenatural world.

2. The spiritual powers of sages or gods.

3. When the bodhisattva in his last rebirth entersinto his mother’s womb.

4. When the bodhisattva in his last rebirth is born.

5. When the Buddha attains enlightenment.

6. When the Buddha sets in motion the Wheel of theDharma.

7. When the Buddha renounces the life principle.

8. When the Buddha passes away, attaining finalnirvana.

 

The Buddha then taught Ananda many other things butended his discourse by recounting to him his conversation with Mara andinforming him that the Buddha’s final nirvana was at hand.

 

At this the Venerable Ananda said: “Lord, may theblessed Lord stay for a kalpa, may the Well Farer stay for a kalpa for thebenefit and happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, forthe benefit and happiness of gods and humans!” “Enough, Ananda! Do not beg theTathagata, it is not the right time for that!”

 

And a second and a third time the Venerable Anandamade the same request.

 

“Ananda, have you faith in the Tathagata’senlightenment?” “Yes, Lord.”

 

“Then why do you bother the Tathagata with yourrequest up to three times?”

 

“But Lord, I have heard from the Lord’s own lips, Ihave understood from the Lord’s own lips: ‘Whoever has developed the four waysto power … could undoubtedly live for a kalpa, or for the remainder of one.’”

 

“Have you faith, Ananda?” “Yes, Lord.”

 

“Then, Ananda, yours is the fault, yours is thefailure that, having been given such a broad hint, such a clear sign by theTathagata you did not understand and did not beg the Tathagata to stay for akalp … If, Ananda, you had begged him, the Tathagata would have twice refusedyou, but the third time he would have consented. Therefore, Ananda, yours isthe fault, yours is the failure.” (Ibid, pp. 251-252)

 

All of this seems a bit contrived. Ananda’s requestssound like a liturgical formula wherein one requests three times that the Buddharemain in the world. Such a request shows that one does not take the Buddha forgranted and that one wishes the Buddha to remain in the world for the sake ofall beings. On the other hand, it also expresses the inability of Ananda toaccept the Buddha’s imminent death. The Buddha addresses this denial next.

 

“Ananda, have I not told you before: All those thingsthat are dear and pleasant to us must suffer change, separation and alteration?So how could this be possible? Whatever is born, become, compounded, is liableto decay – that it should not decay is impossible. And that has been renounced,given up, rejected, abandoned, forsaken: the Tathagata has renounced the lifeprinciple. The Tathagata has said once for all: ‘The Tathagata’s final passingwill not be long delayed. Three months from now the Tathagata will take finalnirvana.’ That the Tathagata should withdraw such a declaration in order tolive on is not possible. Now come, Ananda, we will go to the Gabled Hall in theGreat Forest.” “Very good, Lord.” (Ibid, pp. 252-253)

 

In this way, the Buddha impressed upon Ananda theinevitability of change, separation, even death. At the same time, involuntarily renouncing the life principle, the Buddha is portrayed as being incontrol of the forces of life and death. He is not the helpless victim of thecycle of birth and death, but is consciously living in accord with the cycle.He accepted death by renouncing the life principle as he had earlier renouncedlife in the palace, this time he would attain parinirvana or “final nirvana” and exemplify how an awakened onepasses away for the sake of his disciples and lay followers.

 

At the Gabled Hall of the Great Forest Monastery nearVaishali the Buddha had Ananda gather the monks living there together so thathe could announce to them his impending death, and impress upon them a summaryof Buddhist practice in terms of the 37 requisites of enlightenment, explainedin detail in a previous article, so that the Dharma would continue on after hispassing.

 

Then the Lord entered the assembly hall and sat downon the prepared seat. Then he said to the monks: “Monks, for this reason thosematters which I have discovered and proclaimed should be thoroughly learnt byyou, practiced, developed and cultivated, so that this holy life may endure fora long time, that it may be for the benefit and happiness of the multitude, outof compassion for the world, for the benefit and happiness of gods and humans.And what are these matters … They are: The four foundations of mindfulness, thefour right efforts, the four ways to power, the five faculties, the fivepowers, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the noble eightfold path.

 

Then the Lord said to the monks: “And now, monks, Ideclare to you – all conditioned things are of a nature to decay – strive onuntiringly. The Tathagata’s final passing will not be long delayed. Threemonths from now the Tathagata will take his final nirvana.”

 

Thus the Lord spoke. The Well Farer having thusspoken, the Teacher said this:

 

“Ripe I am in years. My life span’s determined.

Now I go from you, having made myself my refuge.

Monks, be untiring, mindful, disciplined,

Guarding your minds with well collected thought.

He who, tireless, keeps to law and discipline,

Leaving birth behind will put an end to woe.” (Ibid,pp. 253-254)

 

This was, in essence the Buddha’s last will andtestament. The statement, “all conditioned things are of a nature to decay –strive on untiringly,” will be repeated again by the Buddha on his deathbed.They were in fact his last words and final exhortation to his monks and otherdisciples and followers to not cling to anything, even to him, but to put histeachings into practice and realize the truth of them directly for themselves.

 

Four Criteria to Determine theWord of the Buddha

 

The Buddha then took his leave of Vaishali, butoutside the city he looked back and said, “Ananda, this is the last time theTathagata will look upon Vaishali.” (Ibid, p. 254) It is worth noting that eventhough the Buddha had long ago extinguished all attachment and aversion, hestill cared enough to take the time to appreciate the beauty of the variousshrines and to remark upon his last ever sight of Vaishali. The Buddha was freeof afflictive emotional states and deluded views, but he was still a deeplycaring and sensitive person.

 

The Buddha then traveled to a series of villages, andat each village he gathered the monks there together and taught them theimportance of the threefold training of morality, concentration, and wisdom forescaping the cycle of birth and death. This was followed by the comprehensivediscourse that he had taught at Vulture Peak and many other places just beforehis last rainy season retreat. The first part of the discourse is as follows:

 

And there the Lord addressed the monks: “It is,monks, through not understanding, not penetrating four things that I as well asyou have for a long time fared on round the cycle of rebirths. What are thesefour? Through not understanding the noble morality, through not understandingthe noble concentration, through not understanding the noble wisdom, throughnot understanding the noble liberation, I as well as you have for a long timefared on round the cycle of rebirths. And it is by understanding andpenetrating the noble morality, the noble concentration, the noble wisdom, andthe noble liberation that the craving for becoming has been cut off, thetendency towards becoming has been exhausted, and there will be no morerebirth.”

 

Thus the Lord spoke. The Well Farer having thusspoken, the Teacher said this:

 

“Morality, concentration, wisdom and final release,

These glorious things Gautama came to know.

The Dharma he’d discerned he taught to his monks:

He whose vision ended woe to nirvana’s gone.”

(Ibid. pp. 254-255)

 

On one occasion the Buddha taught the monks adiscourse concerning four criteria whereby after the Buddha’s passing theycould determine whether any teaching they might hear really represents theDharma and the discipline (by which is meant the monastic code) taught by theBuddha.

 

At Bhoganagara the Lord stayed at the Ananda Shrine.And here he said to the monks: “Monks, I will teach you four criteria. Listen,pay close attention, and I will speak.” “Yes, Lord,” replied the monks.

 

“Suppose a monk were to say: ‘Friends, I heard andreceived this from the Lord’s own lips: this is the Dharma, this is thediscipline, this is the Master’s teaching”, then, monks, you should neitherapprove nor disapprove his words. Then, without approving or disapproving, hiswords and expressions should be carefully noted and compared with the sutrasand reviewed in the light of the discipline. If they, on such comparison andreview, are found not to conform to the sutras or the discipline, theconclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is not the word of the Buddha, it has beenwrongly understood by this monk”, and the matter is to be rejected. But whereon such comparison and review they are found to conform to the sutras or thediscipline, the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is the word of the Buddha,it has been rightly understood by this monk.” This is the first criteria.(Ibid, p. 255)

 

The second, third, and fourth criteria are similarexcept that they apply not to a monk claiming to expound the Buddha’s teachingbut to a community of elders and distinguished teachers, a group of elders, ora single elder respectively. In each case, people are not to just takesomeone’s word for anything, but without any argumentation they should justcompare what is taught to the sutras and discipline to see if in fact it isconsistent with what the Buddha taught.

 

It is curious that the Buddha would tell his monks torefer to the sutras when in fact the sutras would not be written down untilseveral hundred years after the Buddha’s death. However, “sutras” do not justrefer to the written texts. The word actually means “discourse” or “thread ofdiscourse” and refers to the discourses which many monks, most especially theVenerable Ananda, were memorizing as the Buddha taught them to pass on forposterity.

 

Another thing to note here is that for a teaching tobe considered the “Buddha’s word” it must conform to the sutras and discipline,but the Buddha did not require that it be a verbatim citation. What isimportant is that a teaching claimed to be the “Buddha’s word” express the sameprinciples and spirit taught in those discourses that the Buddha did deliverpersonally.

 

The Buddha’s Last Meal

 

The next stop on the Buddha’s final journey was themango grove belonging to Chunda the smith near the village of Pava. It wasthere that Chunda served the Buddha his last meal. This meal included somethingcalled sukara-maddava, which canbe translated as either “soft pork” or as “pig’s delight.” No one knows forsure what this was. It might have been pork, because the Buddha allowedmonastics to accept meat as long as it was not seen, heard, nor suspected thatan animal had been killed for their sake. On the other hand, it might have beena type of mushroom that pig’s also liked to eat. In any case, the Buddha triedsome of this and sensed that something was wrong.

 

Then the Lord said toChunda: “Whatever is left over of the “pig’s delight” you should bury in a pit,because, Chunda, I can see none in this world with its gods, devils, andBrahmas, in this generation with its ascetics and brahmins, its princes andpeople who, if they were to eat it, could thoroughly digest it except theTathagata.” (Ibid, pp. 256-257)

 

The grim irony here is that this would be theBuddha’s last meal, and as we shall see even he was not able to digest it. Ithas long been thought that the Buddha was a victim of food poisoning. Ifsakara-maddava was pork, then the pork was bad; if it was a mushroom dish, thenpoison mushrooms had been served by mistake. However, Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhuhas argued that it was not food poisoning after all, but rather a conditionknown as mesenteric infarction that was what killed the Buddha. As mentionedbefore, this is a condition brought on by old age in which the artery thatsupplies blood to the small intestines is blocked. This causes an infarction organgrene of the intestinal wall or mesentery. Mesenteric infarction is fatal ifuntreated by surgery. The Buddha’s severe abdominal pains or angina during therainy season retreat in Beluva signaled the onset of this condition. During hismeal at the home of Chunda the Buddha suffered a second angina attack and atfirst thought the sukara-maddava was responsible. Food poisoning, however,would not be felt until at least a couple of hours after the meal and notimmediately. After the meal was finished the Buddha gave a Dharma talk to hishost and then took his leave. That is when other more severe symptoms occurred,and the Buddha realized that this was no mere food poisoning.

 

After having eaten the meal provided by Chunda, theLord was attacked by a severe sickness with bloody diarrhea, and with sharppains as if he were about to die. But he endured all this mindfully and clearlyaware, and without complaint. Then the Lord said: “Ananda, let us go to Kushinagara.”“Very good, Lord,” said Ananda.

 

Then turning aside from the road, the Lord went tothe foot of a tree and said: “Come Ananda, fold a robe in four for me: I amtired and want to sit down.” “Very good, Lord,” said Ananda, and did so.

 

Then the Lord sat down on the prepared seat and said:“Ananda, bring me some water: I am thirsty and want to drink.” Ananda replied:“Lord, five hundred carts have passed this way. The water is churned up bytheir wheels and is not good. It is dirty and disturbed. But, Lord, the RiverKakuttha nearby has clean water, pleasant, cool, pure, with beautiful banks,delightful. There the Lord shall drink the water and cool his limbs.”

 

A second time the Lord said: “Ananda, bring me somewater…” And Ananda replied as before.

 

A third time the Lord said: “Ananda, bring me somewater: I am thirsty and want to drink.” “Very good, Lord,” said Ananda and,taking his bowl, he went to the stream. And that stream whose water had beenchurned up by the wheels and was not good, dirty and disturbed, as Anandaapproached it began to flow pure, bright, and unsullied.

 

And the Venerable Ananda thought: “Wonderful,marvelous are the Tathagata’s great and mighty powers! This water was churnedup by wheels…, and at my approach it flows pure, bright, and unsullied!” Hetook water in his bowl, brought it to the Lord and told him of his thought,saying: “May the Lord drink the water, may the Well Farer drink!” And the Lorddrank the water. (Ibid, pp. 257-258)

 

So here we have threesymptoms in immediate succession: bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and shock fromblood loss that prevented the Buddha from continuing on to the river wherethere was cleaner water. Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu points out that these symptomswould be consistent not with food poisoning but with mesenteric infarction.

 

One might also read this story about the purificationof the water in a more metaphorical way. The muddy churned up stream could becompared to the ways the stream of our consciousness is usually churned up andmuddy. Ananda looks forward to arriving at purity in another place and time,and does not have the confidence or patience to take the water from the streamat hand, in other words to find purity within his own consciousness. Ananda isnot yet an arhat. So for him, the purity of his own consciousness is notsomething he has awakened to. The Buddha, however, keeps directing Ananda backto the stream at hand, and of course the stream eventually does clear up. IfAnanda had sat by the stream long enough without interfering, clearly observingand mindful, he would have witnessed its growing calmness and clarity. As itis, Ananda attributed the stream’s purity to the Buddha’s miraculous power. Butit is not the Buddha as an outside entity, it is the miraculous power ofBuddhist practice that enables us to sit still with our minds until thechurning of consciousness subsides and peace and clarity are restored. 

 

At that time, Pukkusa the Malla, a former student ofthe late meditation teacher Alara Kalama, happened upon the Buddha and Ananda.After a conversation in which Pukkusa was duly impressed by the Buddha’sability to transcend all noise and distractions through meditative absorptionhe offered golden robes to the Buddha and Ananda.

 

Soon after Pukkusa had gone, Ananda, having arrangedone set of the golden robes on the body of the Lord, observed that against theLord’s body it appeared dulled. And he said: “It is wonderful, Lord, it ismarvelous how clear and bright the Lord’s skin appears! It looks even brighterthan the golden robes in which it is clothed.” “Just so, Ananda. There are twooccasions on which the Tathagata’s skin appears especially clear and bright.Which are they? One is the night in which the Tathagata gains supremeenlightenment; the other is the night when he attains the nirvana withoutremainder at his final passing. On these two occasions the Tathagata’s skinappears especially clean and bright.

 

“Tonight, Ananda, in the last watch, in the sal groveof the Mallas near Kushinagara, between two sal trees, the Tathagata’s finalpassing will take place. And now, Ananda, let us go to the River Kakuttha.”“Very good, Lord,” said Ananda.

 

Then the Lord went with a large number of monks tothe River Kakuttaha. He entered the water, bathed and drank, and, emerging,went to the mango grove, where he said to the Venerable Chundaka: “ComeChundaka, fold a robe in four for me. I am tired and want to lie down.” “Verygood, Lord,” said Chundaka, and did so.

 

Then the Lord adopted the lion posture, lying on hisright side, placing one foot on the other, mindfully and with clear awarenessbearing in mind the time of awakening. And the Venerable Chundaka sat down infront of the Lord. (Ibid, pp. 260-261)

 

Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu points out that the Buddhawould not have been in any state to walk, and that most likely the monks had tocarry him until he finally arrived in Kushinagara. That he needed to lie downand to be covered with a folded robe would make sense, considering that theBuddha was in shock from loss of blood due to internal bleeding and would mostlikely have felt very cold. Despite is great physical distress however, theBuddha remained mindful and clearly aware and as noted above, did not complain.The Buddha faced his death with great peace of mind, dignity, and acceptance.In fact, as we shall see, he showed great concern for the people around himright until the very end. How the Buddha faced his own death is in itself agreat inspiration.

 

One of the people theBuddha was concerned about was Chunda, who had served the Buddha his last meal.The Buddha knew that the sukara-maddava could not be at fault for hiscondition, and even if it had been there would have been no reason to blameChunda. Rather than blame, Chunda should be honored for having been able toserve the Buddha’s last meal. Though on his deathbed and in great pain, theBuddha instructed Ananda regarding Chunda, so that the smith would not blamehimself for the Buddha’s death.

 

Then the Lord, said to theVenerable Ananda: “It might happen, Ananda, that Chunda the smith should feelremorse, thinking: ‘It is your fault, friend Chunda, it is by your misdeed thatthe Tathagata gained final nirvana after taking his last meal from you!’ ButChunda’s remorse should be expelled in this way: ‘That is your merit, Chunda,that is your good deed, that the Tathagata gained final nirvana after takinghis last meal from you! For, friend Chunda, I have heard and understood fromthe Lord’s own lips that these two alms offerings are of very great fruit, ofvery great result, more fruitful and advantageous than any other. Which two?The one is the alms offering after eating which the Tathagata attains supremeenlightenment, the other that after which he attains the nirvana withoutremainder at his final passing. These two alms offerings are more fruitful andprofitable than all others. Chunda’s deed is conducive to long life, to goodlooks, to happiness, to fame, to heaven and to lordship.” In this way, Ananda,Chunda’s remorse is to be expelled.” (Ibid, p. 261)

 

The Final Nirvana Under the Sal Trees

 

After resting in the mango grove by the RiverKakuttha, the Buddha was ready to move on to Kushinagara, though most likely hehad to be carried on a stretcher. Kushinagara was not a large town, but thereit would be more likely that the Buddha could get more adequate care. Manyheavenly signs like music and flowers falling from the sky heralded hisarrival. This prompted the Buddha to instruct Ananda on how the Buddha wishedto be honored after his passing.

 

The Lord said: “Ananda, let us cross the HiranyavataiRiver and go to the Mallas’ sal grove in the vicinity of Kushinagara.” “Verygood, Lord”, said Ananda, and the Lord with a large company of monks, crossedthe river and went to the sal grove. There the Lord said, “Ananda, prepare me abed between these twin sal trees with my head to the north. I am tired and wantto lie down.” “Very good, Lord”, said Ananda, and did so. Then the Lord laydown on his right side in the lion posture, placing one foot on the other,mindful and clearly aware.

 

And those twin sal trees burst forth into anabundance of untimely blossoms, which fell upon the Tathagata’s body,sprinkling it and covering it in homage. Divine coral tree flowers fell fromthe sky, divine sandal wood powder fell from the sky, sprinkling and coveringthe Tathagata’s body in homage. Divine music and song sounded from the sky inhomage to the Tathagata.

 

And the Lord said, “Ananda, these sal trees haveburst forth into an abundance of untimely blossoms…Divine music and song soundfrom the sky in homage to the Tathagata. Never before has the Tathagata been sohonored, revered, esteemed, worshipped and adored. And yet, Ananda, whatevermonk, nun, male or female lay follower dwells practicing the Dharma properly,and perfectly fulfills the Dharma way, he or she honors the Tathagata, reveresand esteems him and pays him the supreme homage. Therefore, Ananda, “We willdwell practicing the Dharma properly and perfectly fulfill the Dharma way” –this must be your watchword.” (Ibid, p. 262)

 

While the Buddha lay in bed, a monk named Upavana wasfanning him. The Buddha asked Upavana to stand aside, and in response toAnanda’s question about this explained that the whole area was filled with godswho wished to see the Buddha’s final nirvana. Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu points outthat the Buddha was feeling a chill from blood loss and shock, and so wouldhave hardly needed anyone to fan him. In any case, the Buddha described thesegods to Ananda in order to contrast the great anguish of those who clung to theperson of the Buddha from those who had fully realized the Buddha’s teachings.

 

“Ananda, there are sky gods whose minds are earthbound, they are weeping and tearing their hair, raising their arms, throwingthemselves down and twisting and turning, crying: ‘All too soon the BlessedLord is passing away, all too soon the Well Farer is passing away, all too soonthe Eye of the World is disappearing!’ And there are earth gods whose minds areearth bound, who do likewise. But those gods who are free from craving endurepatiently, saying: ‘All compounded things are impermanent – what is the use ofthis?’” (Ibid, p. 263)

 

Ananda then asked the Buddha what the monks should dowhen they could no longer gain merit or inspiration from visiting the Buddhaand paying respects to him in person after his death. The Buddha told him thatthe monks, nuns, male and female lay followers could all gain merit andinspiration from visiting the Lumbini Garden where the Buddha was born,Bodhgaya where he attained enlightenment, the Deer Park in Varanasi where hefirst set in motion the Wheel of the Dharma, and Kushinagara where the Buddhaentered final nirvana. He added that, “any who die while making the pilgrimageto these shrines with a devout heart, will, at the breaking up of the bodyafter death, be reborn in a heavenly world.” (Ibid, p. 264)

 

Ananda also asked the Buddha what should be done withthe Buddha’s remains, but the Buddha told him not to be concerned about this.

 

“Do not worry yourselves about the funeralarrangements, Ananda. You should strive for the highest goal, devote yourselvesto the highest goal, and dwell with your minds tirelessly, zealously devoted tothe highest goal. There are wise kshatriyas, Brahmins, and householders who aredevoted to the Tathgata: they will take care of the funeral arrangements.”(Ibid, p. 264)

 

Ananda persisted, and so the Buddha instructed Anandaon the proper way to conduct the cremation and subsequent building of a stupa,just as would happen upon the death of a wheel turning king, who were legendaryemperors who brought peace and justice to the world. The Buddha specified thatsuch stupas should be made for Buddhas, privately-awakened ones(pratyeka-buddhas), the voice-hearer disciples of the Buddhas (shravakas), andwheel turning kings who were all worthy of them. Those who visited such stupaswould gain a peaceful heart and a heavenly rebirth. Here then, is seed for theveneration of stupas that would become the mainstay of lay practice, and evenmany monastics, after the Buddha’s passing.

 

Ananda also asked the Buddha how they should regardwomen. Presumably by this he is asking for a clarification on how monks shouldconduct themselves towards nuns and lay women. This would have been of particularconcern to Ananda, who was instrumental in convincing the Buddha to allow forthe establishment of the nun’s order, and who afterwards taught the Dharma tothe nuns and was quite popular with them. Naturally, Ananda’s affection for thenuns and their affection for him were viewed askance by many monks and layfollowers.

 

“Lord, how should we act towards women?” “Do not seethem, Ananda.” “But if we see them, how should we behave, Lord?” “Do not speakto them, Ananda” “But if they speak to us, Lord, how should we behave?”“Practice mindfulness, Ananda.” (Ibid, p. 264)

 

It must be borne in mind that the Buddha’sinstruction here is for the monks. Buddhist monks are to refrain from allsexual relations, and in order to keep the trust of the community upon whomthey depended for alms they had to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Sothe Buddha is basically telling Ananda that it would be best for the monks ifthey avoided temptation. Ananda, however, is persistent, because he knew thatboth nuns and laywomen would seek out the monks for instruction in the Dharma,and that it would be both discourteous and lacking in compassion to turn awayfrom them. The Buddha knew that this was what Ananda was concerned about, andso told him that monks approached by women should maintain their mindfulnessand not give in to untoward affection or lust. They should regard women asfellow sentient beings and teach the Dharma or otherwise conduct whateverbusiness is necessary without ulterior motives but with kindness andcompassion, dignity and respect.

 

After questioning the Buddha about these things,Ananda went to his own lodging and was overcome with sadness. Thereupon theBuddha called him back to console him and encourage him to make efforts toovercome all sorrow by attaining enlightenment for himself.

 

And the Venerable Ananda went into his lodging andstood lamenting, leaning on the doorpost. “Alas, I am still a learner with muchto do! And the Teacher is passing away, who was so compassionate to me!”

 

Then the Lord inquired of the monks where Ananda was,and they told him. So he said to a certain monk: “Go, monk, and say to Anandafrom me: ‘Friend Ananda, the Teacher summons you.’” “Very good, Lord”, said themonk and did so. “Very good, friend”, Ananda replied to the monk, and he wentto the Lord, saluted him, and sat down to one side.

 

“And the Lord said: “Enough, Ananda, do not weep andwail! Have I not already told you that all things that are pleasant anddelightful are changeable, subject to separation and becoming other? So howcould it be, Ananda – since whatever is born, become, compounded is subject todecay – how could it be that it should not pass away? For a long time, Ananda,you have been in the Tathagata’s presence, showing loving-kindness in act ofbody, speech, and mind, beneficially, blessedly, wholeheartedly andunstintingly. You have achieved much merit, Ananda. Make the effort, and in ashort time you will be free of the corruptions.” (Ibid, p. 265)

 

Then the Buddha addressed the gathered monks andpraised Ananda. He told them that all buddhas had such a wise chief attendant.Ananda knew the right time to allow people to see and question the Buddha,whether monks, nuns, householders, kings, royal ministers, or even the leadersof other schools and their pupils. He also pointed out that all those who sawAnanda and heard the Dharma from him invariably went away pleased.  In fact, they were disappointed if theycould not hear the Dharma from him.

 

After these words of consolation and praise, Anandabegged the Buddha not to “pass away in this miserable little town of wattle anddaub, right in the jungle in the middle of nowhere,” (Ibid, p. 266) but insteadto hold on until they could reach a larger town or city like Rajagriha orShravasti. The Buddha however, informed Ananda that in many ages pastKushinagara had actually been the prosperous capital city of a wheel turningking. This was the Buddha’s way of pointing out that even though we may notrecognize it, every place is a place of great significance with its own storiesand inestimable value.

 

The Buddha then sent Ananda with a companion intotown to inform the Mallas who lived there that the Buddha would pass away thatvery night. When they heard this, the Mallas were in great distress and all ofthem came to the sal grove to pay their respects. Ananda saw that there was notime for all of them to do so individually, so he had them come to honor theBuddha family by family.

 

While the Mallas were paying their respects to theBuddha, a wandering ascetic named Subhadra heard that the Buddha was to attainfinal nirvana that very night. Knowing that it is hard to meet one such as theBuddha, Subhadra hurried to see him in order to resolve his doubts about thespiritual life.

 

So Subhadra went to the Mallas’ sal grove, to wherethe Venerable Ananda was, and told him what he had thought: “Reverend Ananda,may I be permitted to see the ascetic Gautama?” But Ananda replied: “Enough,friend Subhadra, do not disturb the Tathagata, the Lord is weary.” And Subhadramade his request a second and a third time, but still Ananda refused it.

 

But the Lord overheard this conversation betweenAnanda and Subhadra, and he called to Ananda: “Enough, Ananda, do not hinderSubhadra, let him see the Tathagata. For whatever Subhadra asks me he will askin quest of enlightenment and not to annoy me, and what I say in reply to hisquestions he will quickly understand.” Then Ananda said: “Go in, friendSubhadra, the Lord gives you leave.”

 

Then Subhadra approached the Lord, exchangedcourtesies with him, and sat down to one side, saying: “Venerable Gautama, allthose ascetics and brahmins who have orders and followings, who are teachers,well known and famous as founders of schools, and popularly regarded as saints,like Purana Kashyapa, Maskarin Goshali, Ajita Keshakambala, Kakuda Katyayana,Samjayin Vairatiputra, and Nigrantha Jnatiputra – have they all realized thetruth as they all make out, or have none of them realized it, or have some ofthem realized it and some not?” (Ibid, pp. 267-268)

 

What Subhadra asks in regard to the six teachers ofnon-Vedic doctrines in the Buddha’s time is the same question that many peoplenow wonder about contemporary religions and philosophies. Who is correct? Areall of them, only some of them, or none of them correct? And more importantly,which path leads its adherents away from suffering to true everlastinghappiness? Some people believe that the Buddha taught that all paths aredifferent approaches to the same truth. But this is not actually what theBuddha taught. His actual answer was much more unequivocal and demanding:

 

“Enough, Subhadra, never mind whether all, or none,or some of them have realized the truth. I will teach you Dharma, Subhadra.Listen, pay close attention, and I will speak.” “Yes, Lord”, said Subhadra andthe Lord said:

 

“In whatever Dharma and discipline the nobleeightfold path is not found, no ascetic is found of the first, the second, thethird or the fourth grade. But such ascetics can be found, of the first,second, third, and fourth grade in a Dharma and discipline where the nobleeightfold path is found. Now, Subhadra, in this Dharma and discipline the nobleeightfold path is found, and in it are to be found ascetics of the first,second, third, and fourth grade. Those other schools are devoid of [true]ascetics; but if in this one the monks were to live the life to perfection, theworld would not lack arhats.” (Ibid, p. 268)

 

At first the Buddha sets aside the claims and counterclaims of his contemporaries in order to focus positively on the Dharma itself.The Buddha points out that in order to become an ascetic of one of the fourgrades, one must follow the noble eightfold path: right view, right intention,right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness,and right concentration. The ascetics of the four grades are thestream-enterers who will attain nirvana within seven lifetimes within the realmof desire, the once-returners who will attain it within one more lifetime withinthe realm of desire, the non-returners who will be reborn in the pure abodes ofthe realm of form and there attain nirvana if they do not do it within thepresent lifetime, and the arhats who attain nirvana in their present lifetime.Without following the eightfold path, one cannot attain nirvana, true freedomfrom the sufferings of birth and death. Apparently Subhadra accepts thispremise. Therefore, none of the Buddha’s contemporaries were teaching thecorrect path because none of them were teaching the noble eightfold path.

 

Is this a sectarian claim on the part of the Buddha,that only his teaching is correct and leads to liberation? Perhaps, or perhapsthe noble eightfold path could be viewed as a universal principle like gravity.The Buddha did not invent it; rather, he discovered or awakened to the factthat attaining liberation from suffering involves the practice and fulfillmentof the noble eightfold path. The noble eightfold path is not just the teachingof the Buddha for Buddhists, but a nonsectarian description of enlightenedconduct that transcends the proprietary concerns of any tribe, nation, or sect.The Buddha was the first to teach it so clearly and concisely in our presenthuman history, but there have been other buddhas in other times and places whohave awakened and taught it to others, and in times when there were no buddhasthere were privately-awakened ones who discovered it on their own though theydid not teach it or establish a community to uphold it and pass it on toothers. Many of the elements of the noble eightfold path may in fact be foundin other religions and philosophies, though perhaps not all, or not as deeply,or mixed in with extraneous ideas and beliefs that obscure it. Right view, inparticular, is something that is usually not found as the Buddha taught it. TheBuddha present the noble eightfold path here, however, not as something thatonly the Buddha or Buddhists can teach, but rather as an objective criteria bywhich to measure any spiritual path. Those who are in accord with it willattain liberation, those who don’t, will not. It is not even a question ofbeing a Buddhist or not.

 

Subhadra seems to realize that the Buddha has notchosen sides in the ongoing philosophical debates of that time, nor has he madeany egoistic claims or entered into any metaphysical speculations or made anyappeals to blind faith. Rather, the Buddha has presented a reliable andpractical guide to liberation that can be put into practice in order to realizethe truth of it for oneself. Subhadra is suitably impressed and requests tobecome a monk right there and then. In fact, he uses the formula that signalsthe insight associated with stream-entry.

 

At this the wanderer Subhadra said: “Excellent, Lord,excellent! It is as if someone were to set up what had been knocked down, or topoint out the way to one who had got lost, or to bring an oil lamp into a darkplace, so that those with eyes could see what was there. Just so the BlessedLord has expounded the Dharma in various ways. And I, Lord, go for refuge tothe Blessed Lord, the Dharma, and the Sangha. May I receive the going forth inthe Lord’s presence! May I receive ordination!” (Ibid, pp. 268-269)

 

The Buddha points out that it is their custom thatthose who wish to become members of the monastic Sangha who are coming fromother schools of thought must first go through a four month probation. However,in Subhadra’s case, the probationary period is waived, though Subhadra statesthat he wished to become a monk even if he had to wait four years. Subhadra isthen given the “going forth” ceremony of a novice and immediately afterordained as a monk and through diligent practice he later attained nirvana.

 

Then Subhadra received the going forth in the Lord’spresence, and the ordination. And from the moment of his ordination theVenerable Subhadra, alone, secluded, unwearying, zealous and resolute, in ashort time attained to that for which young men of good family go forth fromthe household life into homelessness, that unexcelled culmination of the holylife, having realized it here and now by his own insight, and dwelt therein:“Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has beendone, there is nothing further here.” And the Venerable Subhadra became anotherof the arhats. He was the last personal disciple of the Lord. (Ibid, p. 269)

 

The Buddha then gave a series of final instructionsto Ananda and the monks gathered with him.

 

And the Lord said to Ananda: “Ananda, it may be thatyou will think: ‘The Teacher’s instruction has ceased, now we have no teacher!’It should not be seen like this, Ananda, for what I have taught and explainedto you as Dharma and discipline will, at my passing, be your teacher.” (Ibid,pp. 269-270)

 

Once more, the Buddha emphasizes that the Dharma andthe discipline that he has taught should guide the Sangha after his finalnirvana. There will be no designated heirs or successors to his leadership ofthe Sangha.

 

“And whereas the monks are in the habit of addressingone another as ‘friend’, this custom is to be abrogated after my passing.Senior monks should address more junior monks by their name, their clan, or as‘friend’, whereas more junior monks are to address their seniors either as‘Lord’ or as ‘Venerable Sir’.” (Ibid, p. 270)

 

While the Buddha was alive, all of the monks wereequally juniors who could all look to the Buddha as their instructor andprimary exemplar. Now they will only have each other, so the elders will haveto instruct the juniors and set an example for them. The juniors, in turn, mustnow show proper respect for the elders and look to them for guidance.

 

“If they wish, the order may abolish the minor rulesafter my passing.” (Ibid, p. 270)

 

Unfortunately, neither Ananda nor any of the othermonks present thought to ask for clarification about what could be consideredthe minor rules. As a result the first counsel of monks after the Buddha’sfinal nirvana left all of the monastic precepts in place. This statement,however, shows that the Buddha did not intend for Buddhism to become a rigid,narrow, inflexible, and petty monasticism. Buddhism was not supposed to be areligion of rules and regulations but of spiritual awakening. In fact, theBuddha did not even set forth any precepts until the misbehavior of some of themonks and nuns made it necessary to clarify what is and is not proper conductfor monastics. Each precept was given in response to specific situations andcircumstance for the sake of training and guidance for those who had notmatured enough to know for themselves what enlightened or even wholesomeconduct consisted of. The precepts also facilitated harmony within the monasticSangha and between the monastics and their lay supporters. The Buddha knew thatthe precepts needed to change and perhaps even undergo revision; and that manyof the minor rules, perhaps those governing etiquette for instance, would needto change as customs changed over time or as Buddhism entered into differentlands. Even during the lifetime of the Buddha he found that some rules neededto be relaxed or changed as situations arose that had not been taken intoaccount when a given precept was first declared. For instance, for the sake ofthose in outlying regions where it was colder and the ground more rough, theBuddha allowed the monks and nuns to wear shoes and an extra robe, and to bathemore often in accordance with the local customs. The precepts, to fulfill theirintended purpose of illuminating enlightened conduct, needed to be able to suitthe time and place.

 

“After my passing, the monk Chandaka is to receivethe Brahma-penalty.” “But, Lord, what is the Brahma-penalty?” “Whatever themonk Chandaka wants or says, he is not to be to spoken to, admonished orinstructed by the monks.” (Ibid, p. 270)

 

Chandaka was the retainer who accompanied Siddharthaon the night that he left the palace to begin his quest for enlightenment.Chandaka eventually became a monk after the Buddha returned to Kapilavastu.Unfortunately he did not practice diligently and in fact became haughty and incorrigible.He presumed upon his former acquaintance with the Buddha when he was stillPrince Siddhartha and refused to accept correction from any monk other than theBuddha himself. For this reason, the Buddha instructed Ananda that he beostracized after the Buddha’s death. If Chandaka refused to respect or listento the other monks, then there was no reason that they should listen to him. Nodoubt as the Buddha had foreseen, when Chandaka found out that the Buddha hadinstructed the other monks to shun him he was very shocked. With great remorsehe reflected upon his conduct, repented, and then dedicated himself topractice. In time he became an arhat and was reinstated into the Sangha byAnanda.

 

Then the Lord addressed the monks, saying: “It may bemonks, that some monk has doubts or uncertainty about the Buddha, the Dharma,the Sangha, or about the path to practice. Ask, monks! Do not afterwards feelremorse thinking: ‘The Teacher was there before us, and we failed to ask theLord face to face!’” At these words the monks were silent. The Lord repeatedhis words a second and a third time, and still the monks were silent. Then theLord said: “Perhaps, monks, you do not ask out of respect for the Teacher. Thenmonks, let one friend tell it to another.” But still the monks were silent.

 

And the Venerable Ananda said: “It is wonderful,Lord, it is marvelous! I clearly perceive that in this assembly there is notone monk who has doubts or uncertainty…” “You, Ananda, speak from faith. Butthe Tathagata knows that in this assembly there is not one monk who has doubtsor uncertainly about the Buddha, Dharma, or the Sangha or about the path or thepractice. Ananda, the least one of these five hundred monks is astream-enterer, incapable of falling into states of woe, certain of nirvana.”

 

“Then the Lord said to the monks: “Now, monks, Ideclare to you: all conditioned things are of a nature to decay – strive onuntiringly.” These were the Tathagata’s last words. (Ibid, p. 270)

 

The Buddha then entered into all the deep states ofdhyana or meditative absorption, moving on from there into the four attainmentsof space, consciousness, nothingness, and the realm of neither perception noryet non-perception. He then shifted his consciousness back down to the firstdhyana and then back up to the fourth and from that point entered intoparinirvana, or final nirvana, going beyond all suffering and pain forever. Aniruddha,who was able to use his supernatural perception to follow the Buddha’s mentalstates until the moment of his parinirvana, reported this to Ananda. TheBuddha’s final passing was heralded by “a great earthquake, terrible andhair-raising, accompanied by thunder” (Ibid, p. 271)

 

Brahma, the god who had first requested that theBuddha teacher the Dharma after his enlightenment offered the following verse:

 

“All beings in the world, all bodies must break up:

Even the Teacher, peerless in the human world,

The mighty Lord and perfect Buddha’s passed away.”

(Ibid, p. 271)

 

The god Indra, chief of the 33 gods at the top of Mt.Sumeru offered this verse:

 

“Impermanent are compounded things, prone to rise andfall,

Having risen, they’re destroyed, their passing truestbliss.”

(Ibid, p. 271)

 

Aniruddha offered this verse:

 

“No breathing in and out – just with steadfast heart

The Sage who’s free from lust has passed away topeace.

With mind unshaken he endured all pains:

By nirvana the Illumined’s mind is freed.”

(Ibid, p. 271)

 

Ananda offered this verse:

 

Terrible was the quaking, men’s hair stood on end,

When the all accomplished Buddha passed away.”

(Ibid, p. 272)

 

The reaction of the enlightened and the non-enlightenedmonks to the Buddha’s death and Aniruddha’s attempts to console the latter aredescribed as follows:

 

And those monks who had not yet overcome theirpassion wept and tore their hair, raising their arms, throwing themselves downand twisting and turning, crying: “All too soon the Blessed Lord has passedaway, all too soon the Well Farer has passed away, all too soon the Eye of theWorld has disappeared!” But those monks who were free from craving enduredmindfully and clearly aware, saying: “All compounded things are impermanent –what is the use of this?”

 

Then the Venerable Aniruddha said: “Friends, enoughof your weeping and wailing! Has not the Lord already told you that all thingsthat are pleasant and delightful are changeable, subject to separation and tobecoming other? So why all this, friends? Whatever is born, become, compoundedis subject to decay, it cannot be that it does not decay. The gods, friends,are grumbling.” (Ibid, p. 272)

 

Aniruddha then described how the enlightened andnon-enlightened gods were acting in the same way, and how the enlightened godswere giving the same advice to the unenlightened gods. This was, of course, thesame advice that the Buddha had given to Ananda earlier. Even the Buddhahimself is not to be an object of clinging.

 

The Buddha’s Funeral

 

Ananda and Aniruddha spent the night discussing theDharma, and then Aniruddha sent Ananda to the Mallas to inform them that theBuddha had died. The Mallas were distraught, but eventually they gatheredtogether in the sal grove to pay their respects to the Buddha with perfume,incense, dancing and music. In fact they set up tents and kept putting off thecremation until a full week of dancing and singing in honor of the Buddha hadgone by.

 

At the end of the week they prepared the body andafter some deliberation decided to carry it to the north of Kushinagara, thengoing in through the north gate they processed to the middle of the town andthen out through the east gate. Ananda then instructed the Mallas in what todo, just as the Buddha had told him. First they wrapped the body in linen, andthen wrapped it again in teased cotton wool, and then in a new cloth. This wasrepeated 500 times. Then they placed the body in an iron vat that was thencovered with an iron pot. They then prepared to cremate the body on a scentedfuneral pyre.

 

As this was being done, Mahakashyapa was traveling toKushinagara with a large company of 500 monks. On the road a wandering asceticinformed them that the Buddha had passed away. As before, the unenlightenedmonks were distraught and Mahakashyapa consoled them just as Aniruddha hadconsoled the monks at Kushinagara. One unenlightened monk named Subhadra (notthe same Subhadra as the Buddha’s last disciple) did not need to be consoled.

 

And sitting in the group was one Subhadra who hadgone forth late in life, and he said to those monks: “Enough, friends, do notweep and wail! We are well rid of the Great Ascetic. We were always bothered byhis saying: ‘It is fitting for you to do this, it is not fitting for you to dothat!’ Now we can do what we like, and not do what we don’t like!” (Ibid, p.274)

 

One has to wonder why someone like Subhadra wouldhave even joined the Sangha in the first place with an attitude like that. Itis curious that there is no record of Mahakashyapa rebuking Subhadra for sayingthis, though it has been pointed out that one of the reasons Mahakashyapaconvened the first council of 500 arhats after the Buddha’s passing was toensure that such licentiousness would not prevail, and that instead theBuddha’s Dharma and discipline, recited by Ananda and Upali respectively, wouldbe preserved just as he had taught it.

 

Back in Kushinagara the Mallas discovered that theywere unable to light the funeral pyre. Aniruddha informed them that the godswere preventing them from doing so until Mahakashyapa arrived. WhenMahakashyapa did arrive he circumambulated the funeral pyre three times, thenhe uncovered the Buddha’s feet and paid homage with full prostrations. Whenthis was done the pyre ignited by itself. Once the body was cremated and thefires had burned out, the Mallas honored the relics for another week with moremusic, singing, dancing, and the offering of incense and garlands.

 

Once the word got out that the Buddha had passed awayand that his relics were in Kushinagara, the surrounding kingdoms all laidclaim to the relics. King Ajatashatru of Magadha, the Licchavis, the Shakyas(whose survivors had built a new Kapilavastu), the Bulayas of Allakappa, theKoliyas of Ramagama, the brahmin of Vethadipa, and the the Mallas of Pava alldemanded the relics.

 

On hearing all this, the Mallas of Kushinagaraaddressed the crowd saying: “The Lord passed away in our district. We will notgive away any share of the Lord’s remains.” At this time the brahmin Donaaddressed the crowd in this verse:

 

“Listen, lords, to my proposal.

Forbearance is the Buddha’s teaching.

It is not right that strife should come

From sharing out the best of men’s remains.

Let’s all be joined in harmony and peace,

In friendship sharing out portions eight:

Let stupas far and wide be put up,

That all may see – and gain in faith!”

(Ibid, p. 276)

 

Then Dona divided the remains of the Buddha. Dona keptthe urn for himself. A little later the Moriyas of Pipphalavana requestedremains so that they too could build a stupa, but the remains had already beendivided. Instead they had to be content with the embers from the fire. Theneach of those who had received relics and also Dona and the Moriyas built astupa so that there were ten in all. These would become centers of pilgrimagewhere people could come and honor the Buddha and take faith in the fact that aBuddha had come and taught the Dharma and established the Sangha so that itwould be possible for all people thereafter to join the Sangha, practice theDharma, and attain the enlightenment of the Buddha.

 

Sources

 

Mettanando,Bhikkhu. “Did Buddha Die of Mesenteric Infarction?”http://www.lankalibrary.com/Bud/buddha_death.htm (web site). Accessed March 27,2007.

 

Nanamoli,Bhikkhu, The Life of the Buddha.Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1992.

 

NumataCenter for Buddhist Translation and Research Editorial Staff. Buddha-Dharma:The Way to Enlightenment (Revised Second Edition). Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translationand Research, 2003.

 

Schumann,H.W. The Historical Buddha: The Times, Life and Teachings of the Founder ofBuddhism. New York: Arkana, 1989.

 

Thomas,Edward J. The Life of Buddha: As Legend and History. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000.

 

Walshe,Maurice, trans. The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of theDigha Nikaya. Boston, WisdomPublications, 1995.

 

 

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick, 2007.

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