Life of the Buddha

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(Part Two) 29. The Buddha's Last Meal

When the Buddha and his disciples arrived at Pava, the son of the village goldsmith, whose name was Cunda, invited the party to a meal called sukaramaddava, or “boar’s delight”. Some scholars believe it was a special delicious dish of mushrooms, while others believe it to be a dish of wild boar’s flesh.

The Buddha advised Cunda to serve him only with the sukaramaddava that he had prepared. The other food that Cunda had prepared could be served to the other monks. After the meals were served Buddha told Cunda, “Cunda, if any sukaramaddava is left over, bury it in a hole. I do not see anyone in the world other than the Blessed One who could digest the food if he ate it.”

“So be it, Lord,” Cunda replied, and buried the leftovers in the ground. He went to the Buddha and, after paying homage to him, sat down at one side. Then the Buddha taught him the Dharma. The Buddha also praised Cunda for the meal that had refreshed and strengthened him after his journey. But soon after this, the Buddha suffered from an attack of the dysentery he had been suffering from earlier and sharp pains came upon him. By an effort of will he was able to bear the pain. Though extremely weak the Buddha decided to continue on immediately to Kusinaga, a little more than six miles away. After a painful struggle, he reached a grove of sala trees just outside the town.

The Buddha took his last bath in the Kakuttha river. After resting a while, he said, “Now it may happen that some people may make Cunda regret having given me the meal that made me sick. Ananda, if this should happen, you should tell Cunda that you have heard directly from the Buddha that it was a gain for him. Tell him that two offerings to the Buddha are of equal gain; the offering of food just before his supreme enlightenment and the offering of food just before he passes away. This is the final birth of the Buddha.”

Then he said, “Ananda, please make a couch ready for me with its head to the North between two big sala trees. I am tired and I want to lie down.”

Now, on that occasion, those two sala trees were covered with blossoms through the influence of the devas, though it was not the season. They scattered and sprinkled the Buddha with the falling blossoms, as though out of respect for him. Then the Buddha said to Venerable Ananda, “Ananda, the two big sala trees are scattering flowers on me as though they are paying their respects to me. But this is not how I should be respected and honoured. Rather, it is the monks or nuns, or the men or woman lay followers, who live according to my teaching, that should respect and honour me.”

A little while later it was noticed that Venerable Ananda was nowhere to be seen. He had gone inside a hut and stood leaning against the door bar, weeping. He thought: “Alas! I remain still but a learner, one who has yet to work out his own perfection. And the Master is about to pass away from me — he who is so kind!”

And the Buddha, sending for Ananda, said to him, “Enough now, Ananda! Do not sorrow and cry. Have I not already repeatedly told you that there is separation and parting from all that is dear and beloved? How is it possible that anything that has been born, has had a beginning, should not again die? Such a thing is not possible.

“Ananda, you have served me with your acts of loving-kindness, helpfully, gladly, sincerely, and so too in your words and your thoughts. You have gained merit, Ananda. Keep on trying and you will soon be free of all your human weaknesses. In a very short time you too will become an arahant.

“Now you can go, Ananda. But go into Kusinaga and tell all the people that tonight, in the last watch of the night, the Buddha will pass away into nirvana. Come and see the Buddha before he passes away.”

So Venerable Ananda, taking with him another monk, did as the Buddha bid him and went to Kusinaga to tell the people. When they heard the news, they were much grieved. And all the people of Kusinaga, men, women and children came to the two big sala trees to bid a last farewell to the Buddha. Family by family, they bowed low down before him and so bade him farewell.

There are four places for faithful followers to see their inspiration. These are four holy places made sacred by their association with the Buddha. They are:

1. The Buddha’s birth place (Lumbini)
2. The place where the Buddha attained enlightenment (Bodh Gaya)
3. The place where the Buddha gave his first teachings and set in motion the Wheel of the Dharma or Truth (Sarnath)
4. The place where the Buddha attained parinibbana, or final liberation (Kusinaga).