Life of the Buddha

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(Part Two) 28. The Last Days of the Buddha

After his 55th year, many incidents in the life of the Buddha were recorded without an exact indication of the year in which they happened. However, the incidents occurring in his eightieth year were dated and recorded in the Maha Parinibbana Sutta.

When the Buddha reached his eightieth year, he felt that his days in this world were coming to an end. Although he had suffered the sicknesses and effects of old age like any other man, he was different from ordinary men. With his mental powers, developed through advanced mental training, he was able to overcome certain painful feelings of the body. His mind was always sparkling like a radiant diamond, even though his body was beginning to weaken.

In this last year of his life, he decided to spend his last days in the peaceful and simple surroundings of Kusinaga, a small village in northern India. He preferred to leave behind him the large and prosperous cities such as Rajagaha and Savatthi with their crowds, their merchants and kings.

The starting point of his journey to the country was Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha. He journeyed on foot, accompanied by Venerable Ananda and many disciples. It was a long journey and the party travelled through many cities and villages on their way. By this time, Venerable Rahula and Yasodhara had already passed away, and so had the Buddha’s two chief disciples, Venerable Moggallana and Venerable Sariputta.

During the journey, the Buddha’s thoughts turned to the welfare of the order of monks. Many of his teachings were concerned with advising on how the monks should behave to ensure that the order would carry on after his death. He reminded his disciples to practice all the truths that he had taught them.

One teaching he gave reminded the disciples to practise the seven factors of enlightenment. Another teaching was on the four ways to check whether a teaching was a true teaching of the Buddha or not, by comparing it with the
Vinaya (the disciplinary rules for the order) and the suttas (discourses of the Buddha).

There was one teaching which the Buddha gave again and again during the many stops on his last journey. It was a sermon on the fruits of following the three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path — morality, concentration and wisdom — which would help his disciples put an end to all sufferings.