Among the disciples of Buddha, Venerable Ananda had the most solemn looks and the best memory. Ananda joined the Sangha when he was a child. Growing up in the Sangha, Ananda was gentle and compassionate.
When Buddha’s aunt Mahaprajapati saw Buddha attained enlightenment, that some of the princes had taken refuge in Buddha and the king was dead, she wanted to leave home to be a bhikkhuni.
Mahaprajapati begged Buddha to permit her to stay in Buddha’s community but the Buddha refused. Mahaprajapati was not deterred. She gathered five hundred women of the Sakyan clan who had similar thoughts as her, shaved their hair and walked bare-footed for over two thousand miles and finally reached the monastery where Buddha stayed. Having stayed in the palace for so long and not used to walking such long distances, the women looked tired and haggard. They paced outside the monastery and dared not enter. Ananda happened to come out and when he saw Mahaprajapati and the other women wearing the robes of bhikkhunis, with dust and tears on their faces, he had a shock. He asked them, ” What is going on?”
Mahaprajapati replied, ” We leave our loved ones and relatives and walked all the way here to become bhikkhunis. If Buddha refuses us again, we shall die here and never return!”
Ananda was so touched by the words that he could not control his tears. He relayed the message to Buddha and begged Buddha to grant the women their wish.
Buddha, however, refused. Ananda pleaded with the Buddha again. Buddha was quiet for a while and finally agreed to Ananda’s request. Mahaprajapti and the other women were overjoyed with tears. Due to Ananda’s help, the bhikkhunis community was set up. Buddhist organisations nowadays allow women to leave home because of Ananda’s effort.
Ananda was young and handsome and this caused him some trouble. One day, he begged in Sravasti and on the way back he saw a well. A peasant girl Matanga was getting water from the well. Ananda was thirsty so he asked the girl to give him some water.
Matanga recognised that the young bhikkhu in front of her was Ananda. Very shyly she said, “Venerable! I am a lowly peasant who is not fit to offer you anything.” When Ananda heard this, he consoled her, “Young lady! I am a bhikkhu and I am equal towards the rich and poor!”
Matanga was deeply attracted by Ananda’s looks and his gentle speech. She even dreamed of marrying him. On the second day, she wore a new dress and had a new hairdo. She stood on the road waiting for Ananda. When she saw him, she followed him and refused to let him go. Ananda was nervous and helpless. He returned to the monastery and told the Buddha everything. The Buddha then told him to bring the girl to him.
When Matanga heard that the Buddha wanted to see her, she was shocked but in order to get Ananda, she picked up courage to see the Buddha. Upon seeing her, the Buddha said, “Ananda is a practising monk, to be his wife you need to leave home and be a bhikkhuni for a year, are you willing?”
In order to be Ananda’s wife, Matanga very happily shaved her hair to become a bhikkhuni. She listened to Buddha’s preachings very enthusiastically and practised according to Buddha’s guidance. Her desires and emotions calmed down after each passing day and in less than half a year, she realised that in the past, her pursuits for love was a shameful behaviour. She knelt in front of the Buddha and tearfully repented, ” Buddha! I am awake now, I will not be ignorant like I used to be. I am very grateful to you. In order to convert ignorant sentient beings like us, you have put in so much effort to think of various ways! From now on, I am going to be a bhikkhuni forever, follow Buddha’s footsteps to be a messenger of truth!”
Since the Buddha attained enlightenment, Sariputra, Mogallana, Kapala and some other monks had taken turns to serve the Buddha. A number of bhikkhus also volunteered to serve the Buddha but the Buddha rejected them and assigned them to preach in various places. Mogallana understood the Buddha’s feelings, so together with Sariputra, they persuaded Ananda, “Ananda! the Buddha’s intention is that you become his attendant. You are young, capable, intelligent and gentle, we hope you will agree.”
Initially, Ananda declined, giving the excuse of heavy responsibility. However, he finally agreed after much persuasion from Sariputra and Mogallana. But Ananda listed three conditions:
1. He will not wear Buddha’s clothing, whether new or old.
2. When devotees invite Buddha to receive offerings, he will not go along.
3. When it is not time to see Buddha, he will not see him. Other than these, he is willing to serve Buddha.
Mogallana and Sariputra related Ananda’s conditions to Buddha. Not only was Buddha not angry, instead he happily praised,
“Ananda is really a bhikkhu with character. He listed three conditions to avoid criticisms. He does not want others to criticise that he serve the Buddha only because of good clothes and food. He knows how to prevent these conditions…”
From then on, Ananda became the Buddha’s attendant. He was only twenty over years old. During his twenty-seven years with Buddha, he acted according to Buddha’s instructions and accompanied Buddha to preach at various places.
Forty-nine years after he attained enlightenment, Buddha entered Parinirvana (Final Nirvana) between two twin-trunked shala trees in Kushinagara.
After Buddha entered Parinirvana, Ananda hurried to Rajarha because of the First Council where disciples of Buddha would compile the sutras, containing Buddha’s sermons and the precepts for believers. Although Ananda had not attained enlightenment, nonetheless as one of Buddha’s greatest disciples, he felt he had the responsibility to help out.
When Ananda reached Rajarha, it was the eve of the Council. As the leader, Maha Kassapa chose five hundred bhikkhus to take part. All of them were Arahats who had attained enlightenment. As Ananda was unenlightened, he was not selected.
Actually, Maha Kassapa recognised Ananda’s strong point, especially his memory of the discourses given by the Buddha. However, in such an important matter, Maha Kassapa feared that to let the unenlightened Ananda participate might be a mistake. That was a great blow to Ananda, but he was not deterred. At night, he practised hard and meditated. At midnight, he eventually attained enlightenment. The next day, before the door was opened, he was already inside the hall. The bhikkhus stared at him surprisingly but nevertheless they welcome Ananda. Under the leadership of Maha Kassapa, Ananda was carried by the bhikkhus onto the lion’s seat and started to recite the Buddha’s Teachings from his memory.
The initial scriptures such as the four Agamas and the Dhammapada were recited by Ananda in the First Council.