From the Digha-Nikaya

Readings in Buddhist Philosophy 6
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
The Buddha proposed to travel onward to the city of Kusinara and stay in the grove of sala trees nearby. His disciples were alarmed that he might die in so insignificant a place, but the Buddha recalled the past glories of the city.

Ananda
Ananda was a cousin of Buddha and was his personal attendant in the last 25 years of his life. He heard and memorized all the discourses of the Buddha during that time and later recited the Sutras at the First Council. Some scholars attribute to him a major influence on the development of early Buddhist philosophy.


Death and Last Instructions of the Buddha

Depiction of the Amaravati Stupa. Madras. amaravati1.jpg (41831 bytes)

 …Then the Blessed One addressed the monks.—

" Where, O monks, is Ananda? "

"Reverend Sir, the venerable Ananda has entered the monastery, and leaning against the bolt of the door, he weeps, saying, 'Behold, I am but a learner, and not yet perfect, and my Teacher is on the point of passing into Nirvana, he who was so compassionate to me.'"

Then the Blessed One addressed a certain monk, saying,—

"Go, O monk, and say to the venerable Ananda from me, 'The Teacher calls you, brother Ananda."'

…Ananda … drew near to where The Blessed One was; and having drawn near and greeted The Blessed One, he sat down respectfully at one side. And the venerable Ananda being seated respectfully at one side, The Blessed One spoke to him as follows:—

"Enough, Ananda, do not grieve, nor weep. Have I not already told you, Ananda, that it is in the very nature of all things near and dear unto us that we must divide ourselves from them, leave them, sever ourselves from them? How is it possible, Ananda, that whatever has been born, has come into being, is organized and perishable, should not perish? That condition is not possible. For a long time, Ananda, have you waited on the Tathagata with a kind, devoted, cheerful, single-hearted, unstinted service of body, with a kind, devoted, cheerful, single-hearted, unstinted service of voice, with a kind, devoted, cheerful, single-hearted, unstinted service of mind. You have acquired much merit, Ananda; exert yourself, and soon will you be free from all depravity."

'Go thou, Ananda, and enter the city Kusinara, and announce to the Kusinara-Mallas:—

"Tonight, O you Vasetthas, in the last watch, the Tathagata will pass into Nirvana. Be favorable, be favorable, O you Vasetthas, and suffer not that afterwards you feel remorse, saying, 'The Tathagata passed into Nirvana while in our borders, but we did not avail ourselves of the opportunity of being present at the last moments of the Tathagata.'"

…The Mallas, on hearing the speech of the venerable Ananda, and their children and their daughters-in-law and their wives were grieved and sorrowful and overwhelmed with anguish of mind, and some let fly their hair and cried aloud, and stretched out their arms and cried aloud, and fell headlong to the ground and rolled to and fro, saying, "All too soon will The Blessed One pass into Nirvana; all too soon will The Happy One pass into Nirvana; all too soon will The Light of the World vanish from sight." Then the Mallas and their children and their daughters-in-law and their wives, being grieved and sorrowful and overwhelmed with anguish of mind, drew near to the sala-tree grove Upavattana of the Mallas, and to where the venerable Ananda was.

Now at that time Subhadda, a wandering ascetic, was dwelling at Kusinara. And Subhadda, the wandering ascetic, heard the report:—

"Tonight, in the last watch, the monk Gautama will pass into Nirvana."

Then it occurred to Subhadda, the wandering ascetic, as follows:—

"I have heard wandering ascetics, that were old men, advanced in years, teaches, and teachers' teachers, declare, 'But seldom, and on rare occasions, does a Tathagata, a saint, and Supreme Buddha arise in the world.' And tonight, in the last watch, the monk Gautama will pass into Nirvana. And a certain question has arisen in my mind, and I am persuaded of the monk Gautama that he can so teach me the Doctrine that I shall be relieved of this my doubt."

Then Subhadda, the wandering ascetic, drew near to the sala-tree grove Upavattana of the Dallas, and to where the venerable Ananda was, and having drawn near, he spoke to the venerable Ananda as follows:—

"Ananda, I have heard wandering ascetics, that were old men, advanced in years, teaches, and teachers' teachers, declare, 'But seldom, and on rare occasions, does a Tathagata, a saint, and Supreme Buddha arise in the world.' And tonight, in the last watch, the monk Gautama will pass into Nirvana. And a certain doubt has arisen in my mind, and I am persuaded of the monk Gautama that he can so teach me the Doctrine that I shall be relieved of this my doubt. Let me, then, Ananda, have an opportunity of seeing the monk Gautama."

When Subhadda, the wandering ascetic, had so spoken, the venerable Ananda spoke to him as follows:—

"Enough of that, brother Subhadda; trouble not the Tathagata. The Blessed One is weary."

[Subhadda persisted a second and a third time, and was refused by Ananda each time.] … Now the Blessed One chanced to hear the conversation between the venerable Ananda and the wandering ascetic Subhadda. And The Blessed One called to the venerable Ananda:—

" Enough, Ananda; hinder not Subhadda. Let Subhadda, Ananda, have an opportunity of beholding the Tathagata. Whatever Subhadda shall ask of me, he will ask for the sake of information, and not for the sake of troubling me, and he will quickly understand my answers to his questions."

Then the venerable Ananda spoke to Subhadda, the wandering ascetic, as follows:—

"You may come, brother Subhadda; The Blessed One grants you an audience."

Then Subhadda, the wandering ascetic, drew near to where The Blessed One was; and having drawn near, he exchanged greetings with The Blessed One; and having passed with him the greetings of friendship and civility, he sat down respectfully at one side. And seated respectfully at one side, Subhadda, the wandering ascetic, spoke to The Blessed One as follows:—

"Gautama, all those monks and Brahmans who possess a large following and crowds of hearers and disciples, and who are distinguished, renowned leaders of sects, and highly esteemed by the multitudes,—to writ, Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambali, Pakudha Kaccayana, Sanjaya Belatthiputta, Nigantha Nathaputta,—have they all done as they maintain, discovered the truth, or have they not? or have some of them done so, and others not? "

"Enough, O Subhadda! let us leave the question, 'Have they all done as they maintain, discovered the truth, or have they not? or have some of them done so, and others not?' The Doctrine will I teach you, Subhadda. Listen to me, and pay strict attention, and I will speak."

" Yes, Reverend Sir," said Subhadda, the wandering ascetic, to The Blessed One in assent. And The Blessed One spoke as follows:—

"Subhadda, in whatever doctrine and discipline the noble eightfold path is not found, therein also is not found the monk of the first degree, nor the monk of the second degree, nor the monk of the third degree, nor the monk of the fourth degree; and in whatever doctrine and discipline, O Subhadda, the noble eightfold path is found, therein also are found the monk of the first degree, and the monk of the second degree, and the monk of the third degree, and the monk of the fourth degree. Now in this Doctrine and Discipline, O Subhadda, the noble eightfold path is found: and therein alone, O Subhadda, are found the monk of the first degree, and the monk of the second degree, and the monk of the third degree, and the monk of the fourth degree. Destitute of true monks are all other creeds. But let these my monks, O Subhadda, live rightly, and the world will not be destitute of saints.

What time my age was twenty-nine,
Subhadda, I left the world to seek the highest good.
Now fifty years and more have passed, Subhadda,
Since I renounced the world and lived ascetic
Within the Doctrine's pale, that rule of conduct
Outside of which no genuine monk exists,

nor the monk of the second degree, nor the monk of the third degree, nor the monk of the fourth degree. Destitute of monks are all other creeds. But let these my monks, O Subhadda, live rightly, and the world will not be destitute of saints."

When The Blessed One had thus spoken, Subhadda, the wandering ascetic, spoke to him as follows:—

"O wonderful is it, Reverend Sir! O wonderful is it, Reverend Sir! It is as if, Reverend Sir, one were to set up that which was overturned, or were to disclose that which was hidden, or were to point out the way to a lost traveler, or were to carry a lamp into a dark place that they who had eyes might see forms. Even so has The Blessed One expounded the Doctrine in many different ways. Reverend Sir, I betake myself to The Blessed One for refuge, to the Doctrine, and to the Congregation of the monks. Suffer me to retire from the world under The Blessed One; suffer me to receive ordination."

"Subhadda, any one who aforetime has been an adherent of another sect and afterwards desires to retire from the world and receive ordination under this Doctrine and Discipline, must first spend four months on probation; and after the lapse of four months, strenuous-minded monks receive him into the Order and confer on him the monkly ordination. Nevertheless, in this matter of probation I recognize a difference in persons."

"Reverend Sir, if all they who aforetime have been adherents of other sects and afterwards desire to retire from the world and receive ordination under this Doctrine and Discipline, must first spend four months on probation, and after the lapse of four months strenuous-minded monks receive them into the Order, and confer on them the monkly ordination, then am I ready to spend four years on probation, and after the lapse of four years, let strenuous-minded monks receive me into the Order and confer on me the monkly ordination."

Then The Blessed One said to the venerable Ananda,

"Well, then, Ananda, receive Subhadda into the Order."

 

Then The Blessed One addressed the venerable Ananda:—

"It may be, Ananda, that some of you will think, ' The word of The Teacher is a thing of the past; we have now no Teacher.' But that, Ananda, is not the correct view. The Doctrine and Discipline, Ananda, which I have taught and enjoined upon you is to be your teacher when I am gone. But whereas now, Ananda, all the monks address each other with the title of 'brother,' not so must they address each other after I am gone. A senior monk, Ananda, is to address a junior monk either by his given name, or by his family name, or by the title of 'brother;' a junior monk is to address a senior monk with the title 'reverend sir,' or 'venerable.' If the Order, Ananda, wish to do so, after I am gone they may abrogate all the lesser and minor precepts. On Channa, Ananda, after I am gone, the higher penalty is to be inflicted."

"Reverend Sir, what is this higher penalty?"

"Let Channa, Ananda, say what he likes, he is not to be spoken to nor admonished nor instructed by the monks."

Then The Blessed One addressed the monks:—

"It may be, O monks, that some monk has a doubt or perplexity respecting either The Buddha or the Doctrine or the Order or the Path or the course of conduct. Ask any questions, O monks, and suffer not that afterwards you feel remorse, saying, 'Our Teacher was present with us, but we failed to ask him all our questions."'

When he had so spoken, the monks remained silent.

And a second time The Blessed One, and a third time The Blessed One addressed the monks:—…

And a third time the monks remained silent.

Then The Blessed One addressed the monks:—

"It may be, O monks, that it is out of respect to The Teacher that you ask no questions. Then let each one speak to his friend."

And when he had thus spoken, the monks remained silent.

 Then the venerable Ananda spoke to The Blessed One as follows:—

"It is wonderful, Reverend Sir! It is marvelous, Reverend Sir! Reverend Sir, I have faith to believe that in this congregation of monks not a single monk has a doubt or perplexity respecting either The Buddha or the Doctrine or the Order or the Path or the course of conduct."

"With you, Ananda, it is a matter of faith, when you say that; but with the Tathagata, Ananda, it is a matter of knowledge that in this congregation of monks not a single monk has a doubt or perplexity respecting either The Buddha or the Doctrine or the Order or the Path or the course of conduct. For of all these five hundred monks, Ananda, the most backward one has become converted, and is not liable to pass into a lower state of existence, but is destined necessarily to attain supreme wisdom."

Then The Blessed One addressed the monks:—

"And now, O monks, I take my leave of you; all composite things are transitory; strive onward diligently."

And this was the last word of the Tathagata.

Thereupon The Blessed One entered the first stage of meditation, and rising from the first stage of meditation, he entered the second stage of meditation; and rising from the second stage of meditation, he entered the third stage of meditation; and rising from the third stage of meditation, he entered the fourth stage of meditation, and rising from the fourth stage of meditation, he entered the realm of the infinity of space; and rising from the realm of the infinity of space, he entered the realm of the infinity of consciousness; and rising from the realm of the infinity of consciousness, he entered the realm of nothingness; and rising from the realm of nothingness, he entered the realm of neither perception nor yet non-perception; and rising from the realm of neither perception nor yet non-perception, he arrived at the cessation of perception and sensation.

Thereupon the venerable Ananda spoke to the venerable Anuruddha as follows:—

"Reverend Anuruddha, The Blessed One has passed into Nirvana."

"Nay, brother Ananda, The Blessed One has not passed into Nirvana; he has arrived at the cessation of perception and sensation."

Thereupon The Blessed One rising from the cessation of his perception and sensation, entered the realm of neither perception nor yet non-perception; and rising from the realm of neither perception nor yet non-perception, he entered the realm of nothingness; and rising from the realm of nothingness, he entered the realm of the infinity of consciousness; and rising from the realm of the infinity of consciousness, he entered the realm of the infinity of space; and rising from the realm of the infinity of space, he entered the fourth stage of meditation; and rising from the fourth stage of meditation, he entered the third stage of meditation; and rising from the third stage of meditation, he entered the second stage of meditation; and rising from the second stage of meditation, he entered the first stage of meditation; and rising from the first stage of meditation, he entered the second stage of meditation; and rising from the second stage of meditation, he entered the third stage of meditation; and rising from the third stage of meditation, he entered the fourth stage of meditation; and rising from the fourth stage of meditation, immediately The Blessed One passed into Nirvana.

 

These passages are adapted from Henry Clarke Warren, Buddhism in Translation, and E. H. Brewster, Life of Gotama the Buddha.

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John Knoblock
Last revised 12/02/04