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Final Teachings and Final Days of Buddha

The sixteenth of the thirty-four discourses (suttas) in the Collection of Long Discourses (Digha Nikaya), contains Buddha's last exhortations. The work is called Mahaparinibbana-suttanta in Pali, and Mahaparinirvana Sutra in Sanskrit. It gives a good general idea of Buddha's teaching. Buddha's personal servant, Ananda, plays a vital part in the discourse. In the following extracts very little is added and much is left out to make the most central ideas stand out.

In Magadha

Once the Happy One [Buddha] dwelt on the hill called Vultures' Peak. At that time the king of Magadha wanted to to go war against a neighbouring country, and asked his prime minister to go to Buddha and keep it well in mind any comment on that venture, for "Truth-arrivers do not speak falsely."

When the minister arrived there, Ananda was standing behind Buddha, fanning him, and Buddha thought:

  • the people of the neighbouring country have frequent and well attended spiritual gatherings;
  • assemble and disperse peacefully and attend to their affairs in concord;
  • show due respect, honor, esteem, and veneration towards their elders and think it worthwhile to listen to them;
  • refrain from abducting women and maidens of good families and from detaining them, [and so on]
so the growth of those people is to be expected, not their decline, he said, delineating seven conditions leading to (a nation's) welfare.

Then Buddha addressed the minister, "Do as now seems fit to you," and the man, approving of Buddha's words and delighted by them, rose from his seat and left.

General Conditions Conductive to Welfare

Later Buddha gathered an assembley of monks, took his appointed seat in the hall of audience, and addressed the bhikkhus thus:

"Here are conditions that lead to welfare. The growth of the bhikkhus is to be expected, not their decline, if they live according to these principles and proceed in accordance with the code of training (Vinaya) laid down; so long as they establish themselves in mindfulness. One may expect all right growth from it, hardly decline.

There can be all right growth and not decline so long as they are not fond of activities, talk, sleep, and company; so long as they do not harbor bad desires; have no bad friends, associates, or companions; and do not stop halfway on account of some trifling achievement.

Sevens

Seven Good Qualities: They shall have faith, moral shame and fear of misconduct, and be proficient in learning, resolute, mindful, and wise.

Seven Factors of Enlightenment: They are to cultivate the main factors of enlightenment: mindfulness, investigation into phenomena, energy, bliss, tranquillity, concentration, and equanimity.

Seven Perceptions: Listen and pay heed to what I shall say. The monks are to cultivate all right dispassion.

Councel to the Assembley

Buddha: "Monks are to attend to each other with loving-kindness in deed, word, and thought, both openly and in private.

Sharing goods with virtuous members, with their brethren, they train themselves, openly and in private, in spotless, liberating and pure rules of conduct, and favorable to concentration of mind; and in company with their brethren, preserve liberating and noble insight.

Counsel to the mendicant monks: Great is the gain of concentration when it is fully developed by virtuous conduct; great is the gain of wisdom when it is fully developed by concentration without taints."

Then Buddha went to Ambalatthika to stay in a king's rest house there. There he counseled the bhikkus similarly, and likewise in Nalanda, in the mango grove of Pavarika.

Sariputta's Misunderstood Roar

The Venerable Sariputta went to Buddha, respectfully greeted him and said Buddha was the greatest of all, past and future.

Buddha in reply, "How is this, Sariputta? Those Fully Enlightened Ones of the past - do you have direct personal knowledge of all of them, their virtue, their meditation, their wisdom, their abiding, and their emancipation?"

"Not so, Lord."

And those of the future - do you have direct personal knowledge of that as well?

"Not so."

"And do you have direct personal knowledge of my virtue, my meditation, my wisdom, my abiding, and my emancipation?"

"Not so, Lord."

"Then it is clear that you have no direct personal knowledge of the Arahats, the Fully Enlightened Ones of the past, the future, and the present. How then dare you set forth that there has not been, there will not be, nor is there now another recluse or brahman more exalted in Enlightenment than Buddha?"

In Nalanda too, in the mango grove of Pavarika, Buddha often gave counsel to the ascetic monks, and then he went to Pataligama where he visited their council hall on their request along with the company of bhikkhus, and they sat down.

Fruits of the Immoral and the Moral Life

Buddha addressed the devotees of Pataligama thus: "The immoral man, householders, by falling away from virtue, encounters five perils: great loss of wealth through heedlessness; an evil reputation; a timid and troubled demeanor in every society, be it that of nobles, brahmans, householders, or ascetics; death in bewilderment; and, at the breaking up of the body after death, rebirth in a realm of misery, in an unhappy state, in the nether world, in [a] hell.
      On the other hand five blessings accrue to the righteous man through his practice of virtue: great increase of wealth through his diligence; a favorable reputation; a confident deportment without timidity, in every society, be it that of nobles, brahmans, householders, or ascetics; a serene death; and, at the breaking up of the body after death, rebirth in a happy state, in a heavenly world."

After the meeting Buddha retired into privacy. Later he went to the neighbouring countries, was godly treated, and thanked with these stanzas:

Wherever he may dwell, the prudent man
Ministers to the chaste and virtuous;

He who enjoys the devas' grace,
And is loved by them, sees good fortune.

Buddha also said at the brink of the Ganges:

They who have bridged the vast ocean,
Leaving the lowlands far behind,
Are saved by unsurpassed wisdom,
While others still bind their frail rafts.

Next Buddha, Andanda, and a large community of bhikkhus.went to Kotigama, where Buddha said,

Through not seeing the Four Noble Truths,
Long was the weary path from birth to birth.

Then he went to Nadika with his company. At that place Ananda approached Buddha, greeted respectfully, sat down beside him and said: "Here in Nadika, the layman Sudatta and the laywoman Sujata and others have passed away. What is their destiny? Their future state?"
      Buddha told him, "The layman Sudatta has become a once-returner and has to come but once more to this world. The laywoman Sujata, Ananda, through the destruction of the three fetters has become a stream-enterer, bound for Enlightenment."

The Mirror of the Dharma

Buddha, "It is nothing strange that human beings should die. But if each time it happens you should come to the Tathagata and ask about them in this manner, indeed it would be troublesome to him. Therefore I will give you the teaching called the Mirror of the Dharma. Have faith thus:

"Buddha is Fully Enlightened, the Happy One, and the knower of the world. His Dharma teachings are essentially timeless and inviting investigation, leading to emancipation, to be comprehended by the wise, each for himself.

The order of disciples is to fare well, righteously, wisely, and dutifully - worthy of honor, of hospitality, of offerings, of veneration; that is the supreme field for meritorious deeds in the world."

Virtues dear to the Noble Ones, are liberating, praised by the wise, uninfluenced (by worldly concerns), and favours concentration of mind (including deep meditation).
      This, Ananda, is the teaching called the Mirror of the Dharma. Through it the worthy disciple may know how far he has come toward Enlightenment, roughly speaking."
      Then they went to Vesali, where they stayed in Ambapali's grove.

Mindfulness and Clear Comprehension

Buddha addressed the monks, saying: "Mindful should you dwell, clearly comprehending; I exhort you. How is a monk mindful? When he is clearly comprehending, aware of the [deep] mind in his mind [etc.], then is he said to be mindful.

Clear comprehension is had by being fully aware of his coming and going, his looking forward and his looking away, his bending and stretching, his eating and drinking, masticating and savoring, his defecating and urinating, his walking, standing, sitting, lying down, going to sleep or keeping awake, his speaking or being silent. Then is he said to have clear comprehension.

To repeat, mindful should you dwell, clearly comprehending; thus I exhort you."

Ambapali and the Licchavis

Ambapali the courtesan had choice food prepared in her park, and announced it to Buddha: "It is time, Lord; the meal is ready."

Ambapali herself attended on the community of bhikkhus headed by Buddha, and served them choice food. Then she took a low seat and said to Buddha, "I offer this park to the community of bhikkhus headed by Buddha."

Buddha accepted the park, and when he had stayed in Ambapali's grove as long as he pleased, he went to the village of Beluva. There he took up his abode along with a large community of bhikkhus.

Buddha's Deadly Sickness

When the rainy season came, Buddha got a severe illness. Sharp and deadly pains came on him. He endured them mindfully. Then it occurred to him:

"It would not be fitting if I came to my final passing away without addressing those who attended on me, without taking leave of the community of bhikkhus. Then let me suppress this illness by strength of will, resolve to maintain the life process, and live on."
      And Buddha lived on and his illness was allayed and asked Ananda:
      "What more does the community of bhikkhus expect from me, Ananda? I have set forth the Dharma without making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; nothing is held back. The Truth-arriver (Tathagatha) holds no idea that he should lead the community of bhikkhus, or that the community depends upon him.

And now I am frail, Ananda, old, aged, far gone in years. This is my eightieth year, and my life is spent. It is only when the Tathagata attains to and abides in the signless concentration of mind that his body is more comfortable.

Be islands to yourselves, refuges to yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dharma as your island, the Dharma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.
      When someone attentively - earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully - contemplates the body in the body, contemplates feelings in feelings, the mind in the mind, (and some other things), he is an island to himself, a refuge to himself, seeking no external refuge; having the Dharma as his island, the Dharma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge."

Buddha's Prompting

One day Buddha said to his attendant Ananda: "Take a mat, Ananda and let us spend the day at the Capala shrine."

Buddha went there and sat down on the seat prepared for him. He told Ananda:

"Whoever has developed, practiced, employed, strengthened, maintained, scrutinized, and brought to perfection the four constituents of psychic power may remain throughout a world-period or till the end of it if he desires. I (the Tathagata) have done so. Therefore I could, if desired, remain throughout a world-period or till the end of it."

Ananda was not able to grasp the subtle prompting by Buddha, and did not beseech: "May Buddha remain. May the Happy One remain throughout the world-period for the welfare and happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, well being, and happiness of gods and men!"

Also, when for a second and a third time Buddha repeated his words, Ananda remained silent. Then Buddha said to Ananda: "Go now, Ananda, and do as seems fit to you."
      And Ananda took his seat under a tree some distance away.

What Buddha Taught the Evil One

Buddha also taught the evil one on that occasion,

"True disciples are wise, well disciplined, apt and learned, preservers of Right Living according to the Great Dharma, abiding by appropriate conduct.

Having learned Buddha's word they are able to expound it, preach it, proclaim it, establish it, reveal it, explain it in detail, and make it clear.

When adverse opinions arise, they shall be able to refute them thoroughly and well, and to preach this convincing and liberating Dharma. It will be successful, prosperous, far-renowned, popular, and widespread, well proclaimed among gods and men. So do not trouble yourself, Evil One."

At that time Buddha dropped the will to live on. There came a tremendous earthquake, and thunder rolled across the heavens as he said,

With inward calm and joy I break
The cause of living further.

Gladdening

Ananda made his way to Buddha and commented, "The earth shakes mightily! Dreadful and astonishing the thunders roll across the heavens!"

Buddha said: "I recall how, before seating myself and starting conversations or discussions with many others, I made my appearance resemble that of the others, my voice resemble theirs. And so I taught them the Dharma, and roused, edified, and gladdened them. Then, having taught them the Dharma, I used to vanish straight away."

Eight fields of mastery - meditating on colours

"Now there are eight fields of mastery. 24.

"To perceive respectively small and large forms subjectively and keep aware that he perceives them, leads to the first two field of mastery. [Mod]. 24-25.

"While not looking at any physical forms and yet seeing them with one's mind as small, large, beautiful or ugly, takes you into mastering them through perceiving and (gradually) coming to know them (quite) as they are, takes you to next two fields of mastery. 26-27.

"By visualising blue forms and gradually getting aware that you perceive and know them, takes you to the fifth field of mastery. Doing just the same with yellow forms, leads to the sixth field of mastery, and to do it with red forms leads into the seventh mastery field of awareness and knowing. And to do it with white forms, ino the eighth field of mastery. 29-32.

"These, Ananda, are eight fields of mastery.

Eight Liberations - meditating deeper and deeper

"There are eight liberations I will talk of. 33.

"To perceive that you have a form once you have a form, is the first liberation. 34.

"To perceive forms that are outside you, while not being aware of your own form also, is is the second liberation. 35.

"Experiencing loveliness intently is the third liberation. 36.

"By completely transcending the perceptions of matter, by the disappearance of the perceptions of sense-reaction, and by giving no attention to diversity-perceptions, one becomes aware of, attains to, and abides in the inward sphere of vast space. This is the fourth liberation. 37.

"By transcending the inward sphere of vast space, one becomes aware of, attains to, and abides in the sphere of vast consciousness; this is the fifth liberation. 38.

"By transcending the sphere of vast consciousness, one becomes aware of, attains to, and abides in the sphere of nothing-much-ness; this is the sixth liberation. [The translation of the key concept of sunyata as nothingness is not good, as there is someone present to perceive it and speak of it too. Compare] 39.

"By transcending the inward sphere of sunyata, one attains to and abides in the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, and this is the seventh liberation. [It is dim there.] 40.

"By completey transcending the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, one attains to and abides in the cessation of perception and sensation, and this is the eighth liberation. [By ceased perception and sensation you really are someone apart. Also, the pinnacle of Samkhya yoga is called kaivalya, aloneness.] 41.

Mara's Former Temptation

"Soon after my supreme Enlightenment, when I dwelt at the foot of a goatherds' banyan-tree at Uruvela on the bank of the Neranjara River, Mara, the Evil One, approached me, saying: 'Now, blessed and happy one, utterly pass away! The time has come.' 42.

"I answered Evil Mara: 'Not until my bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen, have come to be true disciples wise, well disciplined, apt and learned, preservers of the Dharma, living according to the Dharma, abiding by appropriate conduct and, having learned the Master's word, are able to expound it, preach it, proclaim it, establish it, reveal it, explain it in detail, and make it clear; until, when adverse opinions arise, they shall be able to refute them thoroughly and well, and to preach this convincing and liberating Dharma. 43.

"'I shall not pass away for good, Evil One, until this holy life taught by me has become successful, prosperous, far-renowned, popular, and widespread, until it is well proclaimed among gods and men.' 44.

"Today again, Ananda, the Evil One approached me at the Capala shrine, saying: 'Now all these followers you named have come to be true disciples wise, well disciplined, apt and learned, preservers of the Dharma, living according to the Dharma, abiding in the appropriate conduct, and having learned the Master's word, are able to expound it, preach it, proclaim it, establish it, reveal it, explain it in detail, and make it clear; and when adverse opinions arise, they are now able to refute them thoroughly and well, and to preach this convincing and liberating Dharma. 45.

"'So now the holy life you have taught has become successful, prosperous, far-renowned, popular and widespread, and it is well proclaimed among gods and men. Therefore pass away for good, and utterly! The time has come.'

"And then, Ananda, I answered Evil Mara thus: 'Do not trouble yourself. Before long I will pass away for good - three months from now.' 46.

"And today at the Capala shrine, Ananda, I have renounced the will to live on. Said in other words, the Tathagata has renounced his will to live on." 47.

Ananda's Appeal

At these words Ananda said, "Please remain for a world-period for the welfare and happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, well being, and happiness of gods and men!" 48.

Buddha answered, "Enough, Ananda. Do not entreat me now when the time is past for such an entreaty." 49.

But for a second and a third time Ananda said, "O, remain, Happy One, for the welfare and happiness of the multitude and for the benefit, well being, and happiness of gods and men!" 50-51.

Buddha said: " Ananda, do you have faith in my Enlightenment?"

Ananda said yes.

"Then how can you persist against me even up to the third time?" 52.

Then Ananda said: "I heard and learned that from you yourself when you said to me: 'Whoever, Ananda, has developed, practiced, employed, strengthened, maintained, scrutinized, and brought to perfection the four constituents of psychic power, could remain throughout a world-period or until the end of it, if he so desired. I have done so and could therefore remain until the end of a world-period if I so desired.'" 53.

"And did you believe it, Ananda?"

"Yes, I did." 54.

"Then the fault is yours. You were unable to grasp the significant prompting given by me, and did not entreat me to remain then. If you had done so, I might have declined twice, but would have consented the third time."

"Later, at several more places I said the same words, that I could, if I so desired, remain throughout a world-period or until the end of it.' 55-57.

"But you were unable to grasp the plain suggestion, the significant prompting given, and did not entreat me to remain. If you had done so, I would have consented the third time you entreated.'

"Yet, Ananda, have I not taught that with what is dear and beloved outwardly there must be change, separation, and severance? That what is born is subject to decay?'

For things not to dissolve - there can be no such state of things. And now I have relinquished my will to live on. It has been spoken once for all: 'In three months I will utterly pass away.' And that a Tathagata [Thus-come, Truthland-arriver, etc.] should withdraw his words for the sake of living on - that cannot be." 58.

The Last Admonition

Now Buddha and Ananda went to the hall of the Gabled House in the Great Forest. There Buddha asked Ananda to og and gather in the audience hall all the bhikkhus who lived near Vesali. 59.

They arrived and saluted Buddha. 60.

Buddha took the seat prepared for him, and exhorted the bhikkhus: "You should thoroughly learn, cultivate, develop, and frequently practice these teachings that I have direct knowledge of and have made known to you - that the life of purity may be established and may long endure, for the welfare and happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, well being, and happiness of gods and men. 61.

"And what are these teachings? They are

  • the four foundations of mindfulness,
  • the four right efforts [Give up wrong and harmful thoughts, words, and deeds by self-schooling etc. Replace them by what would be healthy, good and useful to oneself and others in your thoughts, words, and deeds. Uphold good things, desires, and conditions and what is useful to good persons in general. Advance good and savoury skills and prevent what is unwholesome and bad, etc. [More],
  • the four constituents of psychic power,
  • the five faculties,
  • the five powers [self-reliance; indefatigableness; watchfulness; concentration; and self-control. These stem from the even higher (spiritual) (1) faithfulness; (2) activity; (3) thoughfulness; (4) attention; and (5) discretion. - Accordingly, self-control stems from subtle (fine) discretion of a sort; inward faithfulnes s brings on self-reliance; and concentration stems from spiritual attention, and so on. - More.],
  • the seven factors of enlightenment [purity; calmness; comprehension; bliss; wisdom; perfection; and enlightenment],
  • and the Noble Eightfold Path.

These are the teachings that I have direct knowledge of, and that I have made known to you, and that you should thoroughly learn, cultivate, develop, and frequently practice, that the life of purity may be established and may long endure, for the welfare and happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, well being, and happiness of gods and men." 62.

Buddha went on to say: "All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness. The time of my final passing is near. Three months from now the Tathagata will utterly pass away." 63.

The Happy Master spoke again:

"My years are now full ripe, the life span left is short.

Departing, I leave you, relying on myself alone.

Be earnest, then, bhikkhus, be mindful and of pure virtue!

With firm resolve, guard your own mind!
Who pursues the Dharma and the Discipline untiringly
Shall go beyond the round of births and make an end of suffering." 64.

[More is in store.]

Contents


From Buddha's final days and teachings, Mahaparinibbanasuttanta extracts, Buddhist lore, Literature  

The Mahaparinibbana Sutta is Sutta 16 in the Digha Nikaya. It is the longest sutta of the Pali Canon, and gives details of Gautama Buddha's passing. The Pali version is the oldest among the versions that has come down to us, and is of great historical and cultural value. It serves as a sourcebook for students. Other versions of the text exist in Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese.

Extracts from the Mahaparinibbanasuttanta (in Pali), aka Mahaparinirvana Sutra in the Mahayana tradition.

Rhys Davids, T. W., tr. Buddhist Suttas. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1881.

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