When Buddha announced that He would be entering Parinirvana after three months, everyone was very sad, Sariputra could not bear to see Buddha enter into the final Nirvana and he thought: “In the past, the chief disciples of all Buddhas entered Nirvana before their masters did. As a chief disciple of the Buddha, I should also enter Nirvana before Buddha.”So he asked the Buddha’s permission to enter Nirvana first. After some explanation, he finally got the Buddha’s consent and they prepared to return to his hometown to enter Nirvana.
Before Sariputra left, Buddha gathered all disciples to say farewell to him. Sariputra said to Buddha: “Lord Buddha! For the past forty years, I have been guided by your compassionate teachings, therefore I am able to understand the Truth and to attain enlightenment. No word can describe my happiness and gratitude. I am glad that I have been able to learn the Buddha Dharma which leads me to attain liberation from all sufferings and enter Nirvana. Before I leave, Buddha, please accept my reverence.” Sariputra prostrated himself in front of the Buddha. The atmosphere then was filled with solemnity and silence.
Buddha said: “Sariputra! I predict one day you will become a Buddha by the name of Pamaprabha. You will come to this world again to save all living beings and achieve the highest state of Buddhahood.”
After that everyone sent Sariputra off. Many of the monks were so sad that they could not help shedding tears.
Sariputra said to those who were sending him off, “The appearance of the Buddha in this world is as rare as the blooming of Udumbara tree which happens once in thousands and millions of years. Our human body is hard to come by. So is the Buddha Dharma. But in this present life, we not only become monks but also personally listen to Buddha’s teachings, which is very rare indeed. I hope all of you practise Dharma diligently so to achieve Nirvana.”
Knowing that this was Sariputra’s last discourse, everyone was very sad and asked, “Venerable sir, you are the chief disciple of the Buddha and elder of all the monks. The propagation and development of the Buddha Dharma in future still needs you. Why would you want to enter Nirvana so soon?”
Sariputra replied, “Don’t be sad. Has the Buddha not always told us this is an impermanent world? Death is a fact of life. I hope you can continue on in your Dharma practice, until you are free from all sufferings. I also hope you strive to spread the Dharma and work for the well being of the people. In future, as long as beings wished to be free of suffering and attain the final happiness of Nirvana, they will come forward to prolong the wisdom-life of the Buddhas.”
Everybody was very touched by what Sariputra had said. After bidding farewell, Sariputra, together with Kunti (his devoted disciple), began his journey home. Seeing him off, the monks shed tears of sorrow as they knew they would never be able to see Sariputra again.
Disquieting thoughts surged in Sariputra’s mind when he was on his way home. But he felt that brightness was just before him.
When Sariputra reached his home, his mother was so glad that tears started to roll down her face, simply because her son had not been home for a long time. However, his mother and family were very shocked to learn that Sariputra had returned home for the purpose of entering Nirvana. So Sariputra said, “Don’t worry. This is different from the normal death. I accept and practise the teachings of my master, Buddha and have already attained liberation. As a matter of fact, nobody in this world can escape death. I an indeed fortunate to be able to enter the state of Nirvana with a clear mind. You ought to be happy for me.”
The news that Sariputra had returned to enter Nirvana quickly spread through the village. Though it was in the middle of the night, villagers who had taken refuge in the Buddha before, and even King Ajatasatru from Rajagrha and his ministers, had gathered at Sariputra’s house, all wishing to pay their respect to the Venerable and listen to his last teachings. They waited quietly outside Sariputra’s room until the next morning when Kunti informed them that Sariputra wanted to see them. They then happily gathered in Sariputra’s room.
Sariputra said to the crowd, “For the past forty years, I have been following the teachings of my master, Lord Buddha, and have either preached at various places or learned the Dharma under the Buddha’s guidance. I feel very much indebted to my great teacher, Lord Buddha. Though I feel ashamed for not being able to fully comprehend. His profound teachings, I do understand Buddha’s compassion towards all living beings. I practise His teachings diligently and have also attained enlightenment. I hope you can understand that it is a rare opportunity to meet the Buddha. Therefore, you should learn and practise His teachings accordingly. Sariputra went into deep meditation and then entered the bliss of Nirvana.
After Sariputra had entered Nirvana for seven days, Kunti cremated his body and brought his relics to the Buddha.
Then Buddha took the relics of Sariputra from Kunti and said to all monks, “Bhikkhus! This is Sariputra whose wisdom is profound and great. He realised the Truth and practised Dharma accordingly. He also strived to propagate the Dharma for the sake of the people. He had already attained liberation from all sufferings. Just look, Bhikkhus! This is the relics of a Buddha’s son!”
With great respect, all the monks prostrated themselves before the relics of Sariputra.