Life of the Buddha

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(Part Two) 27. The Buddha’s Last Illness

The Buddha had not been staying very long at Beluva during the rainy season when he became sick. The severe sickness attacked him with violent and deadly pains. But, mindful and self-possessed, he bore them without complaint. And this thought came into his mind: “It would not be right for me to pass away without addressing the disciples, without taking leave of the order. Let me now by a strong effort of the will suppress this sickness.” He suppressed the sickness and it abated.

And when he began to recover, he went out of the monastery, and sat down on a seat spread out for him. The Venerable Ananda went to where the Buddha was, sat respectfully beside him, and said, “I have seen how the Blessed One suffered, and at that sight my body became weak as a creeper. Yet I had some little comfort in thinking that the Blessed one would not pass away until he had left some instructions for the order.”

“What more then, Ananda does the order expect from me?” said the Buddha. “Now, a Perfect One does not think that it is he who shall lead the order or that it is dependent upon him. Ananda, I am now grown old and full of years. My journey is drawing to its close. Therefore, Ananda, each of you should make the Dharma his island, and have no other as his refuge. And whoever after I am dead shall be an island unto themselves, who makes the Dharma their island, the Dharma their refuge, they will be the foremost amongst my monks.”

Though old and feeble, the Buddha continued to use every opportunity to teach the Dharma to his disciples. He also went on alms rounds when there were no private invitations from the villagers at Beluva.

One morning the Buddha robed himself early in the morning and, taking his bowl, went into Vesali for alms. When he returned from his alms round, he spoke to the Venerable Ananda: “Take a mat, Ananda, let us go to the Capala Shrine to pass the day.”

They sat down on a mat and the Buddha spoke about the pleasant surroundings in all the shrines in Vesali, and then addressed Venerable Ananda thus:

“When anyone has practiced and developed the Four Means of Accomplishment, he could, if he wished, live for a longer period. I have completely mastered the Four Means of Accomplishment, and if I so wish, I could live longer.”

Even though the Buddha gave a clear suggestion, Venerable Ananda could not understand its meaning and therefore ask the Buddha to live longer for the good, benefit, and happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world. At that time Venerable Ananda could not understand because his mind was confused.

The Buddha addressed him, saying, “You may leave me, Ananda, for a while.” So Ananda went and sat under a nearby tree.

The Buddha had appeared on earth to teach the seekers of Truth how to see things as they truly are and to show the path for deliverance from all the ills of life. The Buddha reflected about the long years of teaching he had performed to fulfil his mission. He felt that he had given all the necessary instructions to his followers, both monks and the lay followers. Not only were they following his teaching, they were also able to teach the teachings to others. He therefore decided not to live up to his full life span and announced to Venerable Ananda that he would pass away in three month’s time.

Only then Venerable Ananda remembered what the Buddha had said earlier and begged him to live for a longer period for the good and happiness for all.

“Enough, Ananda, do not beg me. The time for making such a request is now past. Let us now go to the Hall with the Pointed Roof in the Great Wood,” said the Buddha.

When they arrived at the Great Hall, he said, “Ananda, go and summon all the monks living in Vesali. Ask them to meet at the service hall.” When the monks had all come, he spoke to them, “Whatever truths I have taught you, study them and put them into practice, so that the holy life may last long for the good and benefit of the many.

“All component things must grow old and pass away. Work out your salvation with diligence. At the end of three months from this time, the Blessed One will pass away. My age is now full ripe; my life draws to its close. Be diligent, mindful and virtuous. Keep watch over your own hearts. Who lives out diligently the Dharma and Discipline will leave the round of rebirths and make an end of suffering.”

All the Buddha’s disciples were grieved to hear the sad announcement of his death in such a short time to come. All of them came forward to pay their last respects except one monk named Dhammarama. They did not know why he did not come and suspected him of not being loyal and dutiful to the Buddha.

This matter was reported to the Buddha, who summoned Dhammarama to his presence to explain his absence to all the other monks. He then replied that since the Buddha would be passing away in three month’s time, he thought that the best way of honouring the teacher was by attaining arahantship before his death.

“Excellent, excellent! He who loves me should follow the example of Dhammarama. He honours me most who practises my teaching best,” said the Buddha, in praise of this monk.

The Buddha decided to continue his last journey the next morning. His next destination was the little village of Pava.