The Life & Teaching of the Buddha (Part 2)
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The Spread of the Dhamma

Thereafter the Buddha spent the vassa at the Deer Park at Isipatana, sacred this day to over 600 million of the human race. During these three months of "rains" fifty others headed by Yasa, a young man of wealth, joined the Order. Now the Buddha had sixty disciples, all arahats who had realized the Dhamma and were fully competent to teach others. When the rainy season ended, the Master addressed his immediate disciples in these words:

"Released am I, monks, from all ties whether human or divine. You also are delivered from all fetters whether human or divine. Go now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the gain, welfare, and happiness of gods and men. Let not two of you proceed in the same direction. Proclaim the Dhamma that is excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, and excellent in the end, possessed of meaning and the letter and utterly perfect. Proclaim the life of purity, the holy life consummate and pure. There are beings with little dust in their eyes who will be lost through not hearing the Dhamma, there are beings who will understand the Dhamma. I also shall go to Uruvelâ, to Senânigama, to teach the Dhamma."

Thus did the Buddha commence his sublime mission, which lasted to the end of his life. With his disciples he walked the highways and byways of India enfolding all within the aura of his boundless compassion and wisdom. Though the Order of Monks began its career with sixty bhikkhus, it expanded soon into thousands, and, as a result of the increasing number of monks, many monasteries came into being. In later times monastic Indian universities like Nâlandâ, Vikramasilâ, Jagaddalâ, Vikramapuri, and Odantapuri, became cultural centres which gradually influenced the whole of Asia and through it the mental life of humankind.

After a successful ministry of forty-five years the Buddha passed away at the age of eighty at the twin Sâla Trees of the Mallas at Kusinârâ (in modern Uttara Pradesh about 120 miles northeast of Benâres).

The Buddha’s Ministry

During his long ministry of forty-five years the Buddha walked widely throughout the northern districts of India. But during the rains retreat (vassa), he generally stayed in one place. Here follows a brief sketch of his retreats gathered from the texts:

1st year: Vârânasi. After the first proclamation of the Dhamma on the full moon day of July, the Buddha spent the first vassa at Isipatana, Vârânasi.

The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years: Râjagaha (in the Bamboo Grove, Veluvana). It was during the third year that Sudatta, a householder of Sâvatthi known for his bounty as Anâthapindika, "the feeder of the forlorn," having heard that a Buddha had come into being, went in search of him, listened to him, and having gained confidence (saddhâ) in the Teacher, the Teaching, and the Taught (the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha), attained the first stage of sainthood (sotâpatti). He was renowned as the chief supporter (dâyaka) of the Master. Anâthapindika had built the famous Jetavana monastery at Sâvatthi, known today as Sahet-mahet, and offered it to the Buddha and his disciples. The ruins of this monastery are still to be seen.

5th year: Vesâli. The Buddha kept retreat in the Pinnacled Hall (kûtâgârasâlâ). It was at this time that King Suddhodana fell ill. The Master visited him and preached the Dhamma, hearing which the king attained perfect sanctity (arahatta), and after enjoying the bliss of emancipation for seven days, passed away. The Order of Nuns was also founded during this time.

6th year: Mankula Hill. Here the Buddha performed the "Twin Wonder" (yamaka pâtihâriya). He did the same for the first time at Kapilavatthu to overcome the pride of the Sakyas, his relatives.

7th year: Tâvatimsa (the Heaven of the Thirty-three). Here the Buddha preached the Abhidhamma or the Higher Doctrine to the deities (devâs) headed by his mother Mahâmâyâ, who had passed away seven days after the birth of Prince Siddhartha, and was reborn as a deva in the Tâvatimsa.

8th year: Bhesakalâ Forest (near Sumsumâragiri). It was here that Nakulapitâ and his wife, a genial couple, came to see the Buddha, told him about their very happy married life, and expressed the wish that they might continue to live together both here and hereafter. These two were placed by the Buddha as chiefs of those that win confidence.

9th year: Kosambi,at the Ghosita Monastery.

10th year: Pârileyyakka Forest. It was in the tenth year that, at Kosambi, a dispute arose between two parties of monks owing to a trivial offence committed by a monk. As they could not be reconciled, and as they did not pay heed to his exhortation, the Buddha retired to the forest. At the end of the vassa, their dispute settled, the monks came to Sâvatthi and begged pardon of the Buddha.

11th year: Village of Ekanâla (in the Magadha country). It was here that the Buddha met the brahmin farmer Kasibhâradvâja who spoke to the Buddha somewhat discourteously. The Buddha, however, answered his questions with his characteristic sobriety. Bhâradvâja became an ardent follower of the Buddha. It was on this occasion that the very interesting discourse, Kasibhâradvâja Sutta (Sutta-nipâta), was delivered. (Read The Book of Protection by this author)

12th year: Verañja. The introduction of the Vinaya is attributed to the twelfth year. It was also during this retreat that the brahmin Verañja came to see the Buddha, asked a series of questions on Buddhist practices, and being satisfied with the answers, became a follower of the Blessed One. He invited the Master and the Sangha to spend the rainy season (vassa) at his village Verañja. At that time there was a famine. The Buddha and his disciples had to be satisfied with very coarse food supplied by horse merchants. As it was the custom of the Buddha to take leave of the inviter before setting out on his journeying, he saw the brahmin at the end of the vassa. The latter admitted that though he had invited the Buddha and his disciples to spend the retreat at Verañja, he had failed in his duties towards them during the entire season owing to his being taxed with household duties. However, the next day he offered food and gifts of robes to the Buddha and the Sangha.

13th year: Câliya Rock (near the city of Câlika). During this time the elder Meghiya was his personal attendant. The elder being attracted by a beautiful mango grove near a river asked the Buddha for permission to go there for meditation. Though the Buddha asked him to wait till another monk came, he repeated the request. The Buddha granted him permission. The elder went, but to his great surprise he was oppressed by thoughts of sense pleasures, ill will, and harm, and returned disappointed. Thereupon the Buddha said: "Meghiya, for the deliverance of the mind of the immature, five things are conducive to their maturing: (1) a good friend; (2) virtuous behaviour guided by the essential precepts for training; (3) good counsel tending to dispassion, calm, cessation, enlightenment and Nibbâna; (4) the effort to abandon evil thoughts, and (5) acquiring of wisdom that discerns the rise and fall of things."

14th year: Jetavana monastery, Sâvatthi. During this time the Venerable Râhula, who was still a novice (sâmanera), received higher ordination (upasampadâ). According to the Vinaya, higher ordination is not conferred before the age of twenty; Ven. Râhula had then reached that age.

15th year: Kapilavatthu (the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha). It was in this year that the death occurred of King Suppabuddha, the father of Yasodharâ.

16th year: City of Âlavi: During this year Âlavaka, the demon who devoured human flesh, was tamed by the Buddha. He became a follower of the Buddha. For Âlavaka’s questions and the Master’s answers read the Âlavaka Sutta, in the Sutta-nipâta. (See The Book of Protection, by this author.)

17th year: Râjagaha, at Veluvana Monastery. During this time a well-known courtesan, Sirimâ, sister of Jivaka the physician, died. The Buddha attended the funeral, and asked the king to inform the people to buy the dead body,the body that attracted so many when she was alive. No one cared to have it even without paying a price. On that occasion, addressing the crowd, the Buddha said in verse:

"Behold this painted image, a body full of wounds,
heaped up (with bones), diseased,
the object of thought of many, in which
there is neither permanence nor stability."

Dhammapada, 147

18th year: Câliya Rock. During this time a young weaver’s daughter met the Buddha and listened to his discourse on mindfulness of death (maranânussati). On another occasion she answered correctly all the four questions put to her by the Master, because she often pondered over the words of the Buddha. Her answers were philosophical, and the congregations who had not given a thought to the Buddha word, could not grasp the meaning of her answers. The Buddha, however, praised her and addressed them in verse thus:

"Blind is this world;
few here clearly see.
Like a bird that escapes from the net,
only a few go to a good state of existence."

Dhammapada, 174

She heard the Dhamma and attained the first stage of sanctity (sotâpatti). But unfortunately she died an untimely death. (For a detailed account of this interesting story, and the questions and answers, see the Commentary on the Dhammapada, Vol. III, p.170, or Burlingame, Buddhist Legends, Part 3, p.14.)

19th year: Câliya Rock.

20th year: Râjagaha, at Veluvana Monastery.

From the 21st year till the 43rd year: Sâvatthi.

Of these twenty-four vassas, eighteen were spent at Jetavana Monastery, the rest at Pubbârâma. Anâthapindika and Visâkhâ were the chief supporters.

44th year: Beluva (a small village, probably situated near Vesâli), where the Buddha suppressed, by force of will, a grave illness.

In the 45th year of his Enlightenment, the Buddha passed away at Kusinârâ in the month of May (vesâkha) before the commencement of the rains.

During the first twenty years of the Buddha’s life, the bhikkhus Nâgasamâla, Nâgita, Upavâna, Sunakkhatta, Sâgata, Râdha, and Meghiya, and the novice (sâmanera) Cunda attended upon him, though not regularly. However, after the twentieth year, the Buddha wished to have a regular attendant. Thereon all the great eighty arahats, like Sâriputta and Moggallâna, expressed their willingness to attend upon their Master. But this did not meet with his approval. Perhaps the Buddha thought that these arahats could be of greater service to humanity.

Then the elders requested Ânanda Thera, who had kept silent all this while, to beg of the Master to be his attendant. Ânanda Thera’s answer is interesting. He said, "If the Master is willing to have me as his attendant, he will speak." Then the Buddha said: "Ânanda, let not others persuade you. You on your own may attend upon me."

Buddhahood and Arahatship

Perfect Enlightenment, the discovery and realization of the Four Noble Truths (Buddhahood), is not the prerogative of a single being chosen by divine providence, nor is it a unique and unrepeatable event in human history. It is an achievement open to anyone who earnestly strives for perfect purity and wisdom, and with inflexible will cultivates thepârami, the perfections which are the requisites of Buddhahood, and the Noble Eightfold Path. There have been Buddhas in the dim past and there will be Buddhas in the future when necessity arises and conditions are favourable. But we need not think of that distant future; now, in our present days, the "doors to the Deathless" are still wide open. Those who enter through them, reaching perfect sanctity or arahatship, the final liberation from suffering (Nibbâna), have been solemnly declared by the Buddha to be his equals as far as the emancipation from defilements and ultimate deliverance is concerned:

"Victors like me are they, indeed,
They who have won defilements’ end."

The Buddha, however, also made clear to his disciples the difference between a Fully Enlightened One and the arahats, the accomplished saints:

"The Tathâgata, O disciples, while being an arahat, is Fully Enlightened. It is he who proclaims a path not proclaimed before; he is the knower of a path, who understands a path, who is skilled in a path. And now his disciples are wayfarers who follow in his footsteps. That, disciples, is the distinction, the specific feature which distinguishes the Tathâgata, who being an arahat, is Fully Enlightened, from the disciple who is freed by insight."

Salient Features of the Dhamma

There are no dark corners of ignorance, no cobwebs of mystery, no smoky chambers of secrecy; there are no "secret doctrines," no hidden dogmas in the teaching of the Buddha, which is open as daylight and as clear as crystal. "The doctrine and discipline proclaimed by the Buddha shine when open and not when covered, even as the sun and moon shine when open and not when covered" (A.I,283).

The Master disapproved of those who professed to have "secret doctrines," saying, "Secrecy is the hallmark of false doctrines." Addressing the disciple Ânanda, the Master said: "I have taught the Dhamma, Ânanda, without making any distinction between exoteric and esoteric doctrine; for in respect of the truths, Ânanda, the Tathâgata has no such thing as the closed fist of a teacher who hides some essential knowledge from the pupil."

A Buddha is an extreme rarity, but is no freak in human history. He would not preserve his supreme knowledge for himself alone. Such an idea would be completely ridiculous and abhorrent from the Buddhist point of view, and to the Buddha such a wish is utterly inconceivable. Driven by universal love and compassion, the Buddha expounded his teaching without keeping back anything that was essential for man’s deliverance from the shackles of samsâra, repeated wandering.

The Buddha’s teaching from beginning to end is open to all those who have eyes to see and a mind to understand. Buddhism was never forced upon anyone at the point of the gun or the bayonet. Conversion by compulsion was unknown among Buddhists and repugnant to the Buddha.

Of the Buddha’s creed of compassion, H. Fielding Hall writes in The Soul of a People: "There can never be a war of Buddhism. No ravished country has ever borne witness to the prowess of the followers of the Buddha; no murdered men have poured out their blood on their hearth-stones, killed in his name; no ruined women have cursed his name to high heaven. He and his faith are clean of the stain of blood. He was the preacher of the Great Peace, of love of charity, of compassion, and so clear is his teaching that it can never be misunderstood."

When communicating the Dhamma to his disciples, the Master made no distinctions whatsoever among them; for there were no specially chosen favourite disciples. Among his disciples, all those who were arahats, who were passion-free and had shed the fetters binding to renewed existence, had equally perfected themselves in purity. But there were some outstanding ones who were skilled in different branches of knowledge and practice, and because of their mental endowments, they gained positions of distinction; but special favours were never granted to anyone by the Master. Upâli, for instance, who came from a barber’s family, was made the chief in matters of discipline (vinaya) in preference to many arahats who belonged to the class of the nobles and warriors (kshatriya). Såriputta and Moggallâna, brahmins by birth, because of their longstanding aspirations in former lives, became the chief disciples of the Buddha. The former excelled in wisdom (pañña) and the latter in supernormal powers (iddhi).

The Buddha never wished to extract from his disciples blind and submissive faith in him or his teachings. He always insisted on discriminative examination and intelligent inquiry. In no uncertain terms he urged critical investigation when he addressed the inquiring Kâlâmas in a discourse that has been rightly called the first charter of free thought:

"Come, Kâlâmas. Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by reflection on reasons, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think, ‘The ascetic is our teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are unwholesome, these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practised, lead to harm and suffering,’ then you should abandon them. And when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are wholesome, these things are blameless; these things are praised by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practised, lead to welfare and happiness,’ then you should engage in them."

To take anything on trust is not in the spirit of Buddhism, so we find this dialogue between the Master and the disciples: "If now, knowing this and preserving this, would you say: ‘We honour our Master and through respect for him we respect what he teaches’?" - "No, Lord." - "That which you affirm, O disciples, is it not only that which you yourselves have recognized, seen, and grasped?" -"Yes, Lord."

The Buddha faced facts and refused to acknowledge or yield to anything that did not accord with truth. He does not want us to recognize anything indiscriminately and without reason. He wants us to comprehend things as they really are, to put forth the necessary effort and work out our own deliverance with mindfulness.

"You should make the effort
The Tathâgatas point out the way."
"Bestir yourselves, rise up,
And yield your hearts unto the Buddha’s teaching.
Shake off the armies of the king of death,
As does the elephant a reed-thatched shed."

The Buddha, for the first time in the world’s history, taught that deliverance should be sought independent of a saviour, be he human or divine.

The idea that another raises a man from lower to higher levels of life, and ultimately rescues him, tends to make man indolent and weak, supine and foolish. This kind of belief degrades a man and smothers every spark of dignity from his moral being.

The Enlightened One exhorts his followers to acquire self-reliance. Others may lend us a helping hand indirectly, but deliverance from suffering must be wrought out and fashioned by each one for himself upon the anvil of his own actions.

True Purification

In the understanding of things, neither belief nor fear plays any role in Buddhist thought. The truth of the Dhamma can be grasped only through insight, never through blind faith, or through fear of some known or unknown being.

Not only did the Buddha discourage blind belief and fear of an omnipotent God as unsuitable approaches for understanding the truth, but he also denounced adherence to unprofitable rites and rituals, because the mere abandoning of outward things, such as fasting, bathing in rivers, animal sacrifice, and similar acts, does not tend to purify a man or make a man holy and noble.

We find this dialogue between the Buddha and the brahmin Sundarika Bhâradvâja: Once the Buddha, addressing the monks, explained in detail how a seeker of deliverance should train himself, and further added that a person whose mind is free from taints, whose life of purity is perfected, and the task done, could be called one who bathes inwardly.

Then Bhâradvâja, seated near the Buddha, heard these words and asked him:

"Does the Venerable Gotama go to bathe in the river Bâhuka?"
"Brahmin, what good is the river Bâhuka? What can the river Bâhuka do?"
"Indeed, Venerable Gotama, the river Bâhuka is believed by many to be holy. Many people have their evil deeds (pâpa) washed away in the river Bâhuka."

Then the Buddha made him understand that bathing in rivers would not cleanse a man of his dirt of evil, and instructed him thus:

"Bathe just here (in this Doctrine and Discipline, Dhamma-vinaya), brahmin, give security to all beings. If you do not speak falsehood, or kill or steal, if you are confident, and are not mean, what does it avail you to go to Gayâ (the name of a river in India during the time of the Buddha)? Your well at home is also a Gayâ."

Women in Buddhism

Generally speaking, during the time of the Buddha, owing to brahminical influence, women were not given much recognition. Sometimes they were held in contempt and in servility to man. It was the Buddha who raised the status of women and there were cases of women showing erudition in matters of philosophy. In his large-heartedness and magnanimity he always treated women with consideration and civility, and pointed out to them, too, the path to peace, purity, and sanctity. Said the Blessed One: "A mother is the friend at one’s home. A wife is the highest friend of the husband."

The Buddha did not reject the invitation for a meal though Ambapâli was of bad repute. Whatever food she offered he accepted, and in return, gave her the Dhammadâna, the gift of truth. She was immediately convinced by the teaching and leaving aside her frivolous lay life, she entered the Order of Nuns. Ardent and strenuous in her religious practices, she then became an arahat.

Kisâgotami was another woman to whom the Buddha gave the assistance of his great compassion. Her story is one of the most touching tales recorded in our books. Many more are the instances where the Buddha helped and consoled women who suffered from the vicissitudes of life.

Equanimity and Self-composure

Amid all the vicissitudes of life,gain and loss, repute and ill-repute, praise and censure, pain and happiness, the Buddha never wavered. He was firm as a solid rock. Touched by happiness or by pain he showed neither elation nor depression. He never encouraged wrangling and animosity. Addressing the monks he once said: "I do not quarrel with the world, monks. It is the world that quarrels with me. An exponent of the Dhamma does not quarrel with anyone in the world."

He admonished his disciples in these words:

"Monks, if others were to speak ill of me or ill of the Dhamma or ill of the Sangha (the Order), you should not on that account entertain thoughts of enmity and spite, and be worried. If, monks, you are angry and displeased with them, it will not only impede your mental development but you will also fail to judge how far that speech is right or wrong. You should unravel what is untrue and make it all clear. Also, monks, if others speak highly of me, highly of the Dhamma and the Sangha, you need not on that account be elated; for that too will mar your inner development. You should acknowledge what is right and show the truth of what has been said."

There never was an occasion when the Buddha manifested unfriendliness towards anyone,even to his opponents and enemies. There were those who opposed him and his doctrine, yet the Buddha never regarded them as enemies. When others reproached him in strong terms, the Buddha neither manifested anger nor aversion nor uttered an unkind word, but said:

"As an elephant in the battlefield endures the arrows shot from a bow, even so will I endure abuse and unfriendly expressions of others."

The Last Days

The Mahâ Parinibbâna Sutta, the discourse on the passing away of the Blessed One, records in moving detail all the events that occurred during the last months and days of the Buddha’s life.

The Blessed One had now reached the ripe age of eighty; his two chief disciples, Sâriputta and Mahâ Moggallâna, had passed away three months earlier. Pajâpati Gotami, Yasodharâ, and Râhula were also no more. The Buddha was now at Vesâli, and the rainy season having come, he went together with a great company of monks to Beluva to spend the rains there. There a severe sickness fell upon him, causing him much pain and agony, but the Blessed One, mindful and self-possessed, bore it patiently. He was on the verge of death; but he felt he should not pass away without taking leave of the Order. So with a great effort of will he suppressed that illness and kept his hold on life. His sickness gradually abated, and when quite recovered he called the Venerable Ânanda, his personal attendant, and addressing him said:

"Ânanda, I am now grown old and full of years, my journey is drawing to a close. I have reached my sum of days, I am turning eighty years of age; and just as a worn-out cart, Ânanda, can only with much additional care be made to move along, so the body of the Tathågata can only be kept going with much infusion of will-power. It is only when the Tathâgata, ceasing to attend to any outward thing and to experience any worldly sensation, attains to the signless (animitta) concentration of mind, and dwells in it,it is only then that the body of the Tathâgata is at ease.

"Therefore, Ânanda, be islands unto yourselves. Be your own refuge. Have recourse to none else for refuge. Hold fast to the Dhamma as an island. Hold fast to the Dhamma as a refuge. Resort to no other refuge. Whosoever, Ânanda, either now or after I am gone, shall be islands unto themselves, refuges unto themselves, shall seek no external refuge,it is they, Ânanda, among my disciples who shall reach the very topmost height! But they must be keen to progress."

From Beluva the Buddha journeyed to the Mahâvana, and there calling up an assembly of all the monks residing in the neighbourhood of Vesâli, addressed them saying: "Disciples, the Dhamma realized by me, I have made known to you. Make yourselves masters of the Dhamma, practise it, meditate upon it, and spread it abroad: out of pity for the world, for the good and the gain and welfare of gods and men."

The Buddha concluded his exhortation by saying:

"My age is now full ripe, my life draws to its close;
I leave you, I depart, relying on myself alone!
Be earnest then, O disciples, holy, full of thought!
Be steadfast in resolve! Keep watch o’er your own hearts!
Who wearies not but holds fast to this Truth and Law
Shall cross this sea of life, shall make an end of grief."

Worn out with sickness, with feeble limbs, the Blessed One now journeyed on with much difficulty, followed by the Venerable Ânanda and a great company of monks. Even in this last, long, wearisome journey of his, the Buddha never failed in his attention to others. He instructed Cunda, the smith, who offered him his last meal. Then on the way, he stopped for Pukkusa, a disciple of Âlâra Kâlâma, replied to all his questions, and so instructed him that Pukkusa offered himself as a follower of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.

The Blessed One now reached the Sâla Grove of the Mallas at Kusinârâ,the journey’s end. Knowing that here would be his last resting place, he told the Venerable Ânanda: "I am weary, Ânanda, and would lie down. Spread over for me the couch with its head to the north between the twin såla trees."

He then lay down on his right side, composed and mindful, with one leg resting on the other. Speaking now to the Venerable Ânanda, the Blessed One said:

"They who fulfil the greater and lesser duties, they who are correct in life, walking according to the precepts,it is they who rightly honour, reverence, and venerate the Tathâgata, the Perfect One, with the worthiest homage. Therefore, Ânanda, be steady in the fulfilment of the greater and the lesser duties, and be correct in life, walking according to the precepts. Thus, Ânanda, should you train yourselves."

The Last Convert

At that time, a wandering ascetic named Subhadda, who was at Kusinârâ, heard the news of the Blessed One’s approaching death; and in order to clear up certain doubts that troubled his mind, he hurried to the Sâla Grove to speak to the Buddha. The Venerable Ânanda, however, did not wish the Buddha to be disturbed in his last moments, and though Subhadda made several appeals, access to the Master was refused. The Blessed One overheard the conversation. He knew at once that Subhadda was making his investigations with a genuine desire for knowledge; and knowing that Subhadda was capable of quickly grasping the answers, he desired that Subhadda be allowed to see him.

Subhadda’s uncertainty was whether the leaders of the other schools of thought such as Pûrana Kassapa, Nigantha Nâtaputta, and others had attained a true understanding. The Blessed One then spoke:

"In whatsoever Doctrine and Discipline (dhamma-vinaya), Subhadda, the Noble Eightfold Path is not found, neither in it is there found a man of true saintliness of the first, or of the second, or of the third, or of the fourth degree. And in whatsoever Doctrine and Discipline, Subhadda, the Noble Eightfold Path is found, in it is found the man of true saintliness of the first, and the second, and the third, and the fourth degree. Now, in this Doctrine and Discipline, Subhadda, is found the Noble Eightfold Path, and in it too are found the men of true saintliness of all the four degrees. Void are the systems of other teachers, void of true saints. And in this one, Subhadda, may the brethren live the life that is right, so that the world be not bereft of arahats."

Hearing the words of the Blessed One, Subhadda gained confidence, and took refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. Furthermore, he desired to be admitted into the Order, and the Buddha requested the Venerable Ânanda to receive him. Subhadda thus became the last convert and the last disciple of the Blessed One, and before long by his strenuous effort he attained the final stage of arahatship.

The Last Scene

Now the Blessed One, addressing the Venerable Ânanda, said:

"I have taught the Dhamma, Ânanda, without making any distinction between exoteric and esoteric doctrine, for in respect of the truth, Ânanda, the Tathâgata has no such thing as the ‘closed fist’ of a teacher who hides some essential knowledge from the pupil.

"It may be, Ânanda, that in some of you the thought may arise, ‘The word of the Master is ended. We have no teacher any more.’ But it is not thus, Ânanda, that you should think.

"The Doctrine and the Discipline which I have set forth and laid down for you,let them, after I am gone, be your teacher. It may be, monks, that there may be doubts in the minds of some brethren as to the Buddha, or the Dhamma, or the Sangha, or the path (magga) or method (patipadâ). Inquire, monks, freely. Do not have to reproach yourselves afterwards with the thought: ‘Our teacher was face to face with us, and we could not bring ourselves to inquire of the Exalted One when we were face to face with him.’ "

When the Buddha had thus spoken the monks were silent.

A second and a third time the Blessed One repeated these words to the monks, and yet the monks were silent. And the Venerable Ânanda said to the Blessed One: "How wonderful a thing is it, Lord, how marvellous! Truly, I believe that in this whole assembly of the monks there is not one who has any doubt or misgivings as to the Buddha or the Dhamma or the Sangha, or the path or the method."

The Blessed One confirmed the words of the Venerable Ânanda, adding that in the whole assembly even the most backward one was assured of final deliverance. And after a short while the Master made his final exhortation to those who wished to follow his teaching now and in the future:

"Behold now, O monks, I exhort you: impermanent are all compounded things. Work out your deliverance with mindfulness (vayadhammâ samkhârâ, appamâdena sampâdetha)."

These were the last words of the Buddha.

Then the Master entered into those nine successive stages of meditative absorption (jhâna) which are of increasing sublimity: first the four fine-material absorptions (rûpa-jhâna), then the four immaterial absorptions (arûpa-jhâna), and finally the state where perceptions and sensations entirely cease (sañña-vedayita-nirodha). Then he returned through all these stages to the first fine-material absorption and rose again to the fourth one. Immediately after having re-entered this stage (which has been described as having "purity of mindfulness due to equanimity"), the Buddha passed away (parinibbâyi). He realized Nibbâna that is free from any substratum of further becoming (parinibbâna).

In the Mahâ Parinibbâna Sutta are recorded, in moving detail, all the events that occurred during the last months and days of the Master’s life.

In the annals of history, no man is recorded as having so consecrated himself to the welfare of all beings, irrespective of caste, class, creed, or sex, as the Supreme Buddha. From the hour of his enlightenment to the end of his life, he strove tirelessly and unostentatiously to elevate humanity regardless of the fatigue involved and oblivious to the many obstacles and handicaps that hampered his way. He never relaxed in his exertion for the common weal and was never subjected to moral or spiritual fatigue. Though physically he was not always fit, mentally he was ever vigilant and energetic.

Therefore it is said:

"Ah, wonderful is the Conqueror,
who e’er untiring strives,
for the blessings of all beings,
for the comfort of all lives."

Though twenty-five centuries have gone since the passing away of the Buddha, his message of love and wisdom still exists in its purity, decisively influencing the destinies of humanity. Forests of flowers are daily offered at his shrines and countless millions of lips daily repeat the formula: Buddham saranam gacchâmi, "I take refuge in the Buddha." His greatness yet glows today like a sun that blots out lesser lights, and his Dhamma yet beckons the weary pilgrim to Nibbâna’s security and peace.


Last Updated on Sunday, 18 March 2012 20:50
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