Mahāparinibbāna Sutta | Part 5


Mahāparinibbāna Sutta: The Great Passing

The Buddha's Last Days


5.1. The Lord said:

'Ānanda, let us cross the Hiraññavatī River and go to the Mallas' sāl-grove in the vicinity of Kusināra.'

'Very good, Lord', said Ānanda, and the Lord, with a large company of monks, crossed the river and went to the sāl-grove.

There the Lord said:

'Ānanda, prepare me a bed between these twin sāl-trees with my head to the north. I am tired and want to lie down.'

'Very good, Lord', said Ānanda, and did so.

Then the Lord lay down on his right side in the lion-posture, placing one foot on the other, mindful and clearly aware.

5.2. And those twin sāl-trees burst forth into an abundance of untimely blossoms, which fell upon the Tathāgata's body, sprinkling it and covering it in homage.

Divine coral-tree flowers fell from the sky, divine sandal-wood powder fell from the sky, sprinkling and covering the Tathāgata's body in homage.

Divine music and song sounded from the sky in homage to the Tathāgata.

5.3. - And the Lord said:

'Ānanda, these sāl-trees have burst forth into an abundance of untimely blossoms... Divine music and song sound from the sky in homage to the Tathāgata. Never before has the Tathāgata been so honoured, revered, esteemed, worshipped and adored.

And yet, Ānanda, whatever monk, nun, male or female lay-follower dwells practising the Dhamma properly, and perfectly fulfils the Dhamma-way, he or she honours the Tathāgata, reveres and esteems him and pays him the supreme homage.

Therefore, Ānanda, "We will dwell practising the Dhamma properly and perfectly fulfil the Dhamma-way" — this must be your watchword.'

5.4. Just then the Venerable Upavāṇa was standing in front of the Lord, fanning him. And the Lord told him to move:

'Move aside, monk, do not stand in front of me.'

And the Venerable Ānanda thought:

"This Venerable Upavāṇa has for long been the Lord's attendant, keeping close at hand, at his beck and call. And now in his last hour the Lord tells him to stand aside and not stand in front of him. Why ever does he do that?'

5.5. And he asked the Lord about this.

'Ānanda, the devas from ten world-spheres have gathered to see the Tathāgata.

For a distance of twelve yojanas around the Mallas' sāl-grove near Kusināra there is not a space you could touch with the point of a hair that is not filled with mighty devas, and they are grumbling:

"We have come a long way to see the Tathāgata. It is rare for a Tathāgata, a fully-enlightened Buddha, to arise in the world,

and tonight in the last watch the Tathāgata will attain final Nibbāna, and this mighty monk is standing in front of the Lord, preventing us from getting a last glimpse of the Tathāgata!"'

5.6. 'But, Lord, what kind of devas can the Lord perceive?'

'Ānanda, there are sky-devas whose minds are earth-bound, they are weeping and tearing their hair, raising their arms, throwing themselves down and twisting and turning, crying: "All too soon the Blessed Lord is passing away, all too soon the Well-Farer is passing away, all too soon the Eye of the World is disappearing!"

And there are earth-devas whose minds are earth-bound, who do likewise.

But those devas who are free from craving endure patiently, saying:

"All compounded things are impermanent — what is the use of this?"

5.7. 'Lord, formerly monks who had spent the Rains in various places used to come to see the Tathāgata, and we used to welcome them so that such well-trained monks might see you and pay their respects.

But with the Lord's passing, we shall no longer have a chance to do this.'

5.8. 'Ānanda, there are four places the sight of which should arouse emotion in the faithful. Which are they?

"Here the Tathāgata was born" is the first.
"Here the Tathāgata attained supreme enlightenment" is the second. "
Here the Tathāgata set in motion the Wheel of Dhamma" is the third.
"Here the Tathāgata attained the Nibbāna-element without remainder" is the fourth.

And, Ānanda, the faithful monks and nuns, male and female lay-followers will visit those places.

And any who die while making the pilgrimage to these shrines with a devout heart will, at the breaking-up of the body after death, be reborn in a heavenly world.

5.9. 'Lord, how should we act towards women?'
'Do not see them, Ānanda.'
'But if we see them, how should we behave, Lord?'
'Do not speak to them, Ānanda.'
'But if they speak to us, Lord, how should we behave?'
'Practise mindfulness, Ānanda.'

5.10. 'Lord, what shall we do with the Tathāgata's remains?'

'Do not worry yourselves about the funeral arrangements, Ānanda. You should strive for the highest goal, devote yourselves to the highest goal, and dwell with your minds tirelessly, zealously devoted to the highest goal.

There are wise Khattiyas, Brahmins and householders who are devoted to the Tathāgata: they will take care of the funeral.'

5.11. 'But, Lord, what are we to do with the Tathāgata's remains?'

'Ānanda, they should be dealt with like the remains of a wheel-turning monarch.'

'And how is that, Lord?'

'Ānanda, the remains of a wheel-turning monarch are wrapped in a new linen-cloth. This they wrap in teased cotton wool, and this in a new cloth.

Having done this five hundred times each, they enclose the king's body in an oil-vat of iron, which is covered with another iron pot.

Then having made a funeral-pyre of all manner of perfumes they cremate the king's body, and they raise a stupa at a crossroads.

That, Ānanda, is what they do with the remains of a wheel-turning monarch, and they should deal with the Tathāgata's body in the same way.

A stupa should be erected at the crossroads for the Tathāgata. And whoever lays wreaths or puts sweet perfumes and colours there with a devout heart, will reap benefit and happiness for a long time.

5.12. 'Ānanda, there are four persons worthy of a stupa. Who are they?

A Tathāgata, Arahant, fully-enlightened Buddha is one, a Pacceka Buddha is one, a disciple of the Tathāgata is one, and a wheel-turning monarch is one.

And why is each of these worthy of a stupa?

Because, Ānanda, at the thought:

"This is the stupa of a Tathāgata, of a Pacceka Buddha, of a disciple of the Tathāgata, of a wheel-turning monarch",

people's hearts are made peaceful, and then, at the breaking-up of me body after death they go to a good destiny and re-arise in a heavenly world. That is the reason, and those are the four who are worthy of a stupa.'

5.13. And the Venerable Ānanda went into his lodging and stood lamenting, leaning on the door-post:

'Alas, I am still a learner with much to do! And the Teacher is passing away, who was so compassionate to me!'

Then the Lord enquired of the monks where Ānanda was, and they told him. So he said to a certain monk:

'Go, monk, and say to Ānanda from me:

"Friend Ānanda, the Teacher summons you."'

'Very good, Lord', said the monk, and did so.

'Very good, friend', Ānanda replied to that monk, and he went to the Lord, saluted him and sat down to one side.

5.14. And the Lord said:

'Enough, Ānanda, do not weep and wail! Have I not already told you that all things that are pleasant and delightful are changeable, subject to separation and becoming other?

So how could it be, Ānanda — since whatever is born, become, compounded is subject to decay — how could it be that it should not pass away?

For a long time, Ānanda, you have been in the Tathāgata's presence, showing loving-kindness in act of body, speech and mind, beneficially, blessedly, whole-heartedly and unstintingly.

You have achieved much merit, Ānanda. Make the effort, and in a short time you will be free of the corruptions.'

5.15. Then the Lord addressed the monks:

'Monks, all those who were Arahant fully-enlightened Buddhas in the past have had just such a chief attendant as Ānanda, and so too will those Blessed Lords who come in the future.

Monks, Ānanda is wise. He knows when it is the right time for monks to come to see the Tathāgata, when it is the right time for nuns, for male lay-followers, for female lay-followers, for kings, for royal ministers, for leaders of other schools, and for their pupils.

5.16. 'Ānanda has four remarkable and wonderful qualities. What are they?

If a company of monks comes to see Ānanda, they are pleased at the sight of him, and when Ānanda talks Dhamma to them they are pleased, and when he is silent they are disappointed.

And so it is, too, with nuns, with male and female lay-followers.

And these four qualities apply to a wheel-turning monarch:

if he is visited by a company of Khattiyas, of Brahmins, of householders, or of ascetics, they are pleased at the sight of him and when he talks to them, and when he is silent they are disappointed. And so too it is with Ānanda.'

5.17. After this the Venerable Ānanda said:

'Lord, may the Blessed Lord not pass away in this miserable little town of wattle-and-daub, right in the jungle in the back of beyond!

Lord, there are other great cities such as Campā, Rājagaha, Sāvatthi, Sāketa, Kosambī or Varanasi. In those places there are wealthy Khattiyas, Brahmins and householders who are devoted to the Tathāgata, and they will provide for the Tathāgata's funeral in proper style.'

'Ānanda, don't call it a miserable little town of wattle-and- daub, right in the jungle in the back of beyond!

5.18. 'Once upon a time, Ānanda, King Mahāsudassana was a wheel-turning monarch, a rightful and righteous king, who had conquered the land in four directions and ensured the security of his realm, and who possessed the seven treasures.

And, Ānanda, this King Mahāsudassana had this very Kusināra, under the name of Kusāvati, for his capital. And it was twelve yojanas long from east to west, and seven yojanas wide from north to south.

Kusāvati was rich, prosperous and well-populated, crowded with people and well-stocked with food.

Just as the deva-city of Āḷakamandā is rich, prosperous and well-populated, crowded with yakkhas and well-stocked with food, so was the royal city of Kusāvati.

And the city of Kusāvati was never free of ten sounds by day or night:

the sound of elephants, horses, carriages, kettle-drums, side-drums, lutes, singing, cymbals and gongs, with cries of "Eat, drink and be merry!" as tenth.

5.19. 'And now, Ānanda, go to Kusināra and announce to the Mallas of Kusināra:

"Tonight, Vāseṭṭhas, in the last watch, the Tathāgata will attain final Nibbāna. Approach him, Vāseṭṭhas, approach him, lest later you should regret it, saying:

The Tathāgata passed away in our parish, and we did not take the opportunity to see him for the last time!'"'

'Very good, Lord', said Ānanda and, taking robe and bowl, he went with a companion to Kusināra.

5.20. Just then the Mallas of Kusināra were assembled in their meeting-hall on some business. And Ānanda came to them and delivered the Lord's words.

5.21. And when they heard Ānanda's words, the Mallas, with their sons, daughters-in-law and wives were struck with anguish and sorrow, their minds were overcome with grief so that they were all weeping and tearing their hair...

Then they all went to the sāl-grove where the Venerable Ānanda was.

5.22. And Ānanda thought:

'If I allow the Mallas of Kusināra to salute the Lord individually, the night will have passed before they have all paid homage. I had better let them pay homage family by family, saying:

"Lord, the Malla so-and-so with his children, his wife, his servants and his friends pays homage at the Lord's feet."

And so he presented them in that way, and thus allowed all the Mallas of Kusināra to pay homage to the Lord in the first watch.

5.23. And at that time a wanderer called Subhadda was in Kusināra, and he heard that the ascetic Gotama was to attain final Nibbāna in the final watch of that night.

He thought:

'I have heard from venerable wanderers, advanced in years, teachers of teachers, that a Tathāgata, a fully-enlightened Buddha, only rarely arises in the world. And tonight in the last watch the ascetic Gotama will attain final Nibbāna.

Now a doubt has arisen in my mind, and I feel sure that the ascetic Gotama can teach me a doctrine to dispel that doubt.'

5.24. So Subhadda went to the Mallas' sāl-grove, to where the Venerable Ānanda was, and told him what he had thought:

'Reverend Ānanda, may I be permitted to see the ascetic Gotama?'

But Ānanda replied:

'Enough, friend Subhadda, do not disturb the Tathāgata, the Lord is weary.'

And Subhadda made his request a second and a third time, but still Ānanda refused it.

5.25. But the Lord overheard this conversation between Ānanda and Subhadda, and he called to Ānanda:

'Enough, Ānanda, do not hinder Subhadda, let him see the Tathāgata.

For whatever Subhadda asks me he will ask in quest of enlightenment and not to annoy me, and what I say in reply to his questions he will quickly understand.'

Then Ānanda said: 'Go in, friend Subhadda, the Lord gives you leave.'

5.26. Then Subhadda approached the Lord, exchanged courtesies with him, and sat down to one side, saying:

'Venerable Gotama, all those ascetics and Brahmins who have orders and followings, who are teachers, well-known and famous as founders of schools, and popularly regarded as saints,

like Pūraṇa Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla, Ajita Kesakambalī, Pakudha Kaccāyana, Sanjaya Belaṭṭhaputta and the Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta —

have they all realised the truth as they all make out, or have none of them realised it, or have some realised it and some not?'

'Enough, Subhadda, never mind whether all, or none, or some of them have realised the truth. I will teach you Dhamma, Subhadda. Listen, pay close attention, and I will speak.'

'Yes, Lord', said Subhadda, and the Lord said:

5.27. 'In whatever Dhamma and discipline the Noble Eightfold Path is not found, no ascetic is found of the first, the second, the third or the fourth grade.

But such ascetics can be found, of the first, second, third and fourth grade in a Dhamma and discipline where the Noble Eightfold Path is found.

Now, Subhadda, in this Dhamma and discipline the Noble Eightfold Path is found, and in it are to be found ascetics of the first, second, third and fourth grade.

Those other schools are devoid of [true] ascetics; but if in this one the monks were to live the life to perfection, the world would not lack for Arahants.

Twenty-nine years of age I was
When I went forth to seek the Good.
Now over fifty years have passed
Since the day that I went forth
To roam the realm of wisdom's law
Outside of which no ascetic is
[First, second, third or fourth degree].
Other schools of such are bare,
But if here monks live perfectly,
The world won't lack for Arahants.'

5.28. At this the wanderer Subhadda said:

'Excellent, Lord, excellent! It is as if someone were to set up what had been knocked down, or to point out the way to one who had got lost, or to bring an oil lamp into a dark place, so that those with eyes could see what was there.

Just so the Blessed Lord has expounded the Dhamma in various ways.

And I, Lord, go for refuge to the Blessed Lord, the Dhamma and the Sangha. May I receive the going-forth in the Lord's presence! May I receive ordination!'

5.29. 'Subhadda, whoever, coming from another school, seeks the going-forth and ordination in this Dhamma and discipline, must wait four months on probation.

And at the end of four months, those monks who are established in mind may let him go forth and give him ordination to the status of a monk.

However, there can be a distinction of persons.'

'Lord, if those coming from other schools must wait four months on probation,... I will wait four years, and then let them give me the going-forth and the ordination!'

But the Lord said to Ānanda:

'Let Subhadda go forth!'

'Very good, Lord', said Ānanda.

5.30. And Subhadda said to the Venerable Ānanda:

'Friend Ānanda, it is a great gain for you all, it is very profitable for you, that you have obtained the consecration of discipleship in the Teacher's presence.'

Then Subhadda received the going-forth in the Lord's presence, and the ordination.

And from the moment of his ordination the Venerable Subhadda, alone, secluded, unwearying, zealous and resolute, in a short time attained to that for which young men of good family go forth from the household life into homelessness,

that unexcelled culmination of the holy life, having realised it here and now by his own insight, and dwelt therein:

'Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is nothing further here.'

And the Venerable Subhadda became another of the Arahants. He was the last personal disciple of the Lord.

[End of the fifth recitation-section (Hiraññavatī)]