The Last Scene
Now the Blessed One, addressing the Venerable Ânanda, said:
“I have taught the Dhamma, Ânanda, without making any distinction between exoteric and esoteric doctrine, for in respect of the truth, Ânanda, the Tathâgata has no such thing as the ‘closed fist’ of a teacher who hides some essential knowledge from the pupil.
“It may be, Ânanda, that in some of you the thought may arise, ‘The word of the Master is ended. We have no teacher any more.’ But it is not thus, Ânanda, that you should think.
“The Doctrine and the Discipline which I have set forth and laid down for you,let them, after I am gone, be your teacher. It may be, monks, that there may be doubts in the minds of some brethren as to the Buddha, or the Dhamma, or the Sangha, or the path (magga) or method (patipadâ). Inquire, monks, freely. Do not have to reproach yourselves afterwards with the thought: ‘Our teacher was face to face with us, and we could not bring ourselves to inquire of the Exalted One when we were face to face with him.’ “
When the Buddha had thus spoken the monks were silent.
A second and a third time the Blessed One repeated these words to the monks, and yet the monks were silent. And the Venerable Ânanda said to the Blessed One: “How wonderful a thing is it, Lord, how marvellous! Truly, I believe that in this whole assembly of the monks there is not one who has any doubt or misgivings as to the Buddha or the Dhamma or the Sangha, or the path or the method.”
The Blessed One confirmed the words of the Venerable Ânanda, adding that in the whole assembly even the most backward one was assured of final deliverance. And after a short while the Master made his final exhortation to those who wished to follow his teaching now and in the future:
“Behold now, O monks, I exhort you: impermanent are all compounded things. Work out your deliverance with mindfulness (vayadhammâ samkhârâ, appamâdena sampâdetha).”n59
These were the last words of the Buddha.
Then the Master entered into those nine successive stages of meditative absorption (jhâna) which are of increasing sublimity: first the four fine-material absorptions (rûpa-jhâna), then the four immaterial absorptions (arûpa-jhâna), and finally the state where perceptions and sensations entirely cease (sañña-vedayita-nirodha). Then he returned through all these stages to the first fine-material absorption and rose again to the fourth one. Immediately after having re-entered this stage (which has been described as having “purity of mindfulness due to equanimity”), the Buddha passed away (parinibbâyi). He realized Nibbâna that is free from any substratum of further becoming (parinibbâna).n60
In the Mahâ Parinibbâna Sutta are recorded, in moving detail, all the events that occurred during the last months and days of the Master’s life.
In the annals of history, no man is recorded as having so consecrated himself to the welfare of all beings, irrespective of caste, class, creed, or sex, as the Supreme Buddha. From the hour of his enlightenment to the end of his life, he strove tirelessly and unostentatiously to elevate humanity regardless of the fatigue involved and oblivious to the many obstacles and handicaps that hampered his way. He never relaxed in his exertion for the common weal and was never subjected to moral or spiritual fatigue. Though physically he was not always fit, mentally he was ever vigilant and energetic.
Therefore it is said:
“Ah, wonderful is the Conqueror,
who e’er untiring strives,
for the blessings of all beings,
for the comfort of all lives.”
Though twenty-five centuries have gone since the passing away of the Buddha, his message of love and wisdom still exists in its purity, decisively influencing the destinies of humanity. Forests of flowers are daily offered at his shrines and countless millions of lips daily repeat the formula: Buddham saranam gacchâmi, “I take refuge in the Buddha.” His greatness yet glows today like a sun that blots out lesser lights, and his Dhamma yet beckons the weary pilgrim to Nibbâna’s security and peace.