By Venerable Piyadassi Thera
The Mahâ Parinibbâna Sutta, n57 the discourse on the passing away of the Blessed One, records in moving detail all the events that occurred during the last months and days of the Buddha’s life.
The Blessed One had now reached the ripe age of eighty; his two chief disciples, Sâriputta and Mahâ Moggallâna, had passed away three months earlier. Pajâpati Gotami, Yasodharâ, and Râhula were also no more. The Buddha was now at Vesâli, and the rainy season having come, he went together with a great company of monks to Beluva to spend the rains there. There a severe sickness fell upon him, causing him much pain and agony, but the Blessed One, mindful and self-possessed, bore it patiently. He was on the verge of death; but he felt he should not pass away without taking leave of the Order. So with a great effort of will he suppressed that illness and kept his hold on life. His sickness gradually abated, and when quite recovered he called the Venerable Ânanda, his personal attendant, and addressing him said:
“Ânanda, I am now grown old and full of years, my journey is drawing to a close. I have reached my sum of days, I am turning eighty years of age; and just as a worn-out cart, Ânanda, can only with much additional care be made to move along, so the body of the Tathågata can only be kept going with much infusion of will-power. It is only when the Tathâgata, ceasing to attend to any outward thing and to experience any worldly sensation, attains to the signless (animitta) concentration of mind, and dwells in it,it is only then that the body of the Tathâgata is at ease.
“Therefore, Ânanda, be islands unto yourselves. Be your own refuge. Have recourse to none else for refuge. Hold fast to the Dhamma as an island. Hold fast to the Dhamma as a refuge. Resort to no other refuge. Whosoever, Ânanda, either now or after I am gone, shall be islands unto themselves, refuges unto themselves, shall seek no external refuge,it is they, Ânanda, among my disciples who shall reach the very topmost height! But they must be keen to progress.”
From Beluva the Buddha journeyed to the Mahâvana, and there calling up an assembly of all the monks residing in the neighbourhood of Vesâli, addressed them saying: “Disciples, the Dhamma realized by me, I have made known to you. Make yourselves masters of the Dhamma, practise it, meditate upon it, and spread it abroad: out of pity for the world, for the good and the gain and welfare of gods and men.”
The Buddha concluded his exhortation by saying:
“My age is now full ripe, my life draws to its close;
I leave you, I depart, relying on myself alone!
Be earnest then, O disciples, holy, full of thought!
Be steadfast in resolve! Keep watch o’er your own hearts!
Who wearies not but holds fast to this Truth and Law
Shall cross this sea of life, shall make an end of grief.”
Worn out with sickness, with feeble limbs, the Blessed One now journeyed on with much difficulty, followed by the Venerable Ânanda and a great company of monks. Even in this last, long, wearisome journey of his, the Buddha never failed in his attention to others. He instructed Cunda, the smith, who offered him his last meal. Then on the way, he stopped for Pukkusa, a disciple of Âlâra Kâlâma, replied to all his questions, and so instructed him that Pukkusa offered himself as a follower of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.
The Blessed One now reached the Sâla Grove of the Mallas at Kusinârâ,the journey’s end. Knowing that here would be his last resting place, he told the Venerable Ânanda: “I am weary, Ânanda, and would lie down. Spread over for me the couch with its head to the north between the twin såla trees.”
He then lay down on his right side, composed and mindful, with one leg resting on the other. Speaking now to the Venerable Ânanda, the Blessed One said:
“They who fulfil the greater and lesser duties, they who are correct in life, walking according to the precepts,it is they who rightly honour, reverence, and venerate the Tathâgata, the Perfect One, with the worthiest homage. Therefore, Ânanda, be steady in the fulfilment of the greater and the lesser duties, and be correct in life, walking according to the precepts. Thus, Ânanda, should you train yourselves.”