Thursday, October 08, 2009

Passing Away

What follows is an account of the death of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gotama, as reconstructed from scriptural sources by the historian H.W. Schumann:

In Pava (probably modern Fazilnagar, 16 km south-east of Kasia), the Master and his group were invited to a meal for the following day by the smith Cunda. In order to put something special before the venerable guest, Cunda had, among other dishes, prepared sukara-maddava. What exactly this was still remains uncertain. Some writers think it was pork, others think of tender bamboo-shoots such as grow near a pig-sty, others again some kind of fungus, possibly truffles. But, whatever it may have been, the Buddha viewed this food with suspicion, and asked Cunda not to offer it to the other monks. He himself, however, partook of it, in order not to disappoint the well-meaning smith.

This concern for the donor was a mistake. The Buddha became sick with dysentery, and suffered from painful attacks of colic. Weak and exhausted as he was, he still left Pava behind and headed for Kusinara [Kusinagara]. ... [T]he little group continued its march and reached the river Kakuttha, where the master drank, bathed and rested at the other bank where the novice Cundaka had spread out his outer robe on the ground under the mango trees. Cundaka's presence recalled the smith Cunda to the Buddha, in whose house he had suffered the food-poisoning, and he impressed on Ananda that the Order should not reproach the smith, whose intentions had been of the best. As soon as he had regained a little strength, the journey continued. The exhausted Teacher waded the Hirannavati ... with his monks, and reached Kusinara, the second capital of the Mallas, which he knew from previous visits.

As he declared that he was tired and must lie down, Ananda prepared a resting-place for him under the sala trees in the Upavattana wood at the southern edge of town. ... Lying on his right side, perhaps contracted with pain, he tried to rest. ...

He now no longer doubted that from this place in the sala grove near Kusinara he would not rise again. Clear-headedly, he instructed Ananda about what was to be done with his body. The monks were not to concern themselves with his funeral, but only strive for their own liberation. There were plenty of people who had faith in the Tathagata, and they would do all that was necessary. Weeping, Ananda went aside and gave way to grief: 'Alas, I am still only a learner, I still have much to do (in working on myself), and now the Master who took pity on me is about to enter Parinibbana!'

When the Buddha noticed that his faithful servant was not there, he sent for him and comforted him:

'Enough, Ananda, do not weep and wail! Have I not always told you that we must part with all things that are dear and pleasant to us, that we must say farewell to them, that nothing can remain eternally as it is? That something that is born, become, conditioned (by the kamma of previous existences, and therefore, is) destined to perish -- that such a thing should not pass away, that cannot be. For a long time, Ananda, you have been in the Tathagata's presence and have with patient kindness looked after my wellbeing. You have gained much merit in that. Make the effort and you will soon destroy the influences!'

... [N]umerous citizens of the town made their way to the sala grove to see the venerable head of the Order, of whom they had heard such wonderful things for the last forty-five years. Ananda did everything he could to prevent the exhausted old man from being disturbed. ...

To prevent any monk from laying claim to the leadership of the Sangha, was so important to Gotama that, shortly before his death, he once again stressed the guiding function of the Dhamma for the Order:

'Ananda, it might be that some of you think: "The Master's instruction has vanished, now we have no Master!" It should not be seen like this, Ananda. What I have taught and explained to you as Dhamma and Discipline (vinaya) will, at my passing, be your Master.'

... The night was far advanced, and it was quiet between the trees when the dying teacher addressed the bhikkhus [monks] once more:

'Now, monks, I declare to you: all elements of personality (sankhara) are subject to decay. Strive on untiringly!'

These were the Buddha's last words. Thereafter he fell into a coma, which Anuruddha declared to the monks was a meditational state, and, without recovering consciousness, the eighty-year-old teacher passed into Parinibbana, the state of liberation from suffering after abandoning the body. The majority of historians of India date this event at 483 B.C.

This was about 2,492 years ago.

No comments: