Last Days of the Buddha

The Sermon on the Welfare of a Nation

After having attained the supreme Enlightenment, the Buddha went from place to place, tirelessly spreading the Teaching until He reached eighty years of age.

One day, while the Buddha was at Rajagriha, a minister approached Him for an opinion about a plan to conquer a neighbouring state. Instead of giving a direct answer, the Buddha spoke about the seven conditions conducive to the growth of a nation’s welfare. He said that people should assemble in harmony, discuss their national affairs together, follow the established laws and not change them unreasonably. In addition, they should honour their parents, teachers and elders, lead a moral life, respect their religion, and follow the advice of the wise and the virtuous. As long as people followed this advice, their nation would prosper. Satisfied with the answer, the minister left, promising to convey the Buddha’s reply to his king.

The Sermon on Morality

From Rajagriha, the Buddha set out northwards with a large community of disciples. One day, they arrived at a village where the Buddha delivered a sermon on morality. In this sermon, the Buddha said, “The immoral man will meet five dangers: he will lose his wealth through not practising good conduct, acquire a bad name, feel ashamed of himself and be afraid to mix freely with others, he will not die peacefully, and will suffer in the next life. A moral man will acquire five blessings: he will increase his wealth through diligence, have a good reputation, always be confident of himself, die peacefully, and be happy in the next life.”

The Buddha’s Illness

From that village, the Buddha proceeded by stages to Vaishali. Since it was the beginning of the rainy season, He decided to spend the retreat in the neighbourhood. It was during this time that the Buddha became severely ill. Ananda, who had been His faithful attendant for the past twenty-five years, wept for he thought the Buddha was dying. But by strength of will, the Buddha recovered from His illness. However, Ananda was still worried about the Buddha’s health and asked Him for some last instructions for the Order.

The Buddha replied, “What more does the Order expect from me, Ananda? I have already taught the doctrine. There is nothing in the Teaching that I have kept hidden from you. Now, I am old and feeble. This is my eightieth year and my life is spent.”

He added, “Ananda, each of you be your own lamp. Look to no one to bring you light. He who is his own lamp after I have left the world will show that he has understood the meaning of my words. He will be my true disciple. He will know the right way to live.”

Soon after, the Buddha decided to talk to His disciples about the time when He would pass away. He asked Ananda to assemble all the disciples who were in the neighbourhood of Vaishali. In their presence, He declared, “The time of my Final Nirvana is near. Three months from now, I will pass away. Be earnest, be mindful and be of pure virtue. With determination, guard your own mind. Whoever untiringly follows the Teaching shall end rebirth and suffering.

“You should respect each other and avoid quarrels. You should not be like water and oil, repelling each other, but you should be like milk and water mixed together.”

The Last Meal

From Vaishali, the Buddha continued His journey to Pava. There, a blacksmith called Chunda, out of devotion, offered Him a meal. Soon after, the Buddha became very ill, but He bore the pains resolutely and remained calm.

Thinking that Chunda might be blamed for causing His illness, the Buddha explained,“There are two offerings of food which excel other offerings. The first is the offering just before the Enlightenment, and the other is the one just before Final Nirvana. Chunda has gained merit through this deed and should not feel sorry.”

The Buddha added that generosity increases one’s merit, self- control frees one from anger and virtue prevents evil. One who removes greed, anger and delusion is at peace.

The Last Scene

Then the Buddha set out for the Sala grove at Kushinagara with a large community of His disciples. They crossed a river and finally arrived at their destination. There, between two large Sala trees, Ananda prepared a couch on which the Buddha rested. He laid on His right side with His head towards the north.

At that moment, the two Sala trees burst into full bloom, though it was not the flowering season. When the blossoms rained upon his body, the Buddha said, “This is not the best way to honour me. Whoever follows the Teaching and lives virtuously honours me best.”

Four Places of Pilgrimage

As it was the practice of the disciples to visit the Buddha after the rainy season retreat, Ananda asked Him what should be done after His Final Nirvana. In reply, the Buddha mentioned four places a devoted follower could visit to respect Him. They are Lumbini, Bodhgaya, the Deer Park at Varanasi and Kushinagara.

The Last Convert
On hearing that the Buddha was going to pass away in their neighbourhood, the people of Kushinagara went in groups to see Him out of respect. Among them was a wandering ascetic named Subhadra who approached Ananda and asked to be allowed to see the Buddha. However, Ananda refused because he did not wish the Buddha to be disturbed as He was very ill. Subhadra repeated his request three times but without success.

The Buddha overheard their conversation and instructed Ananda to allow Sudhadra to see Him as he was sincere in seeking the Truth and would understand His Teaching. The question which Subhadra put to the Buddha was whether all ascetics and priests who were leaders of large followings, were enlightened. The Budhha replied that in whatever teaching and discipline where the Noble Eightfold Path is found, there Enlightenment is found. On hearing this, Subhadra requested to be admitted into the Order. Thus, he became the last disciple to be ordained by the Buddha himself.

The Final Advice

Before entering Final Nirvana, the Buddha said to Ananda, “Some may think that when I am no more with you, you will have no teacher. But that is not so, Ananda. The Teaching and Discipline shall be your guide when I am gone.”

The Buddha then address His disciples,“If any of you have doubts concerning the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, then ask me now so that you will have no cause for regrets later on.”

Though the Buddha repeated this thrice, all His disciples remained silent. After some time, Ananda said,“I am confident that everyone in this assembly has no doubts concerning the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha!”

The Buddha replied, “Ananda, you spoke out of faith, but I know for certain that among this community of monks, there is not one who is in doubt.”

Finally, the Buddha spoke His last words, “O Disciples, subject to change are all things; strive on with diligence.” Then He entered Final Nirvana.

Homage to the Remains

The people of Kushinagara first honoured the body of the Buddha and then carried it to the east of the town for cremation. Many kings who heard about the Buddha’s Final Nirvana send messengers to ask for a portion of the relics left after the cremation. The people of Kushinagara refused to part with any, and a conflict arose. Fortunately, a priest came forward and reminded them that as the Buddha had taught tolerance, it would be improper to quarrel over the possession of His remains. He suggested that the relics be divided into eight portions to be shared equally among the claimants. His suggestion was accepted and the relics were distributed accordingly. The claimants brought back their share of the relics to their respective countries and kept them in stupas so that people could pay respect to the Buddha and have faith in His Teaching.

At Rajagriha, the Buddha spoke about the conditions that lead to the welfare of a nation. On the way to Vaishali, He delivered a sermon on the advantages of a moral life. At Vaishali, the Buddha informed the Order that He would enter Final Nirvana three months later. After taking a meal from Chunda, the Buddha became seriously ill. However, he proceeded to Kushinagara, where He advised His followers to rely upon His Teaching and Discipline and to strive diligently to end suffering. After the Buddha had entered Final Nirvana, His remains were divided among the eight nations of northern India.

Title: Buddhism for Beginners
By: Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery
Chapter 28 | Page 135 to 141
ISBN 978-981-08-3641-2