Mahāparinibbāna Sutta | Part 6

Mahāparinibbāna Sutta: The Great Passing

The Buddha's Last Days

PART VI

6.1. And the Lord said to Ānanda:

'Ānanda, it may be that you will think:

"The Teacher's instruction has ceased, now we have no teacher!"

It should not be seen like this, Ānanda, for what I have taught and explained to you as Dhamma and discipline will, at my passing, be your teacher.

6.2. 'And whereas the monks are in the habit of addressing one another as "friend", this custom is to be abrogated after my passing.

Senior monks shall address more junior monks by their name, their clan or as "friend", whereas more junior monks are to address their seniors either as "Lord" or as "Venerable Sir".

6.3. 'If they wish, the order may abolish the minor rules after my passing.

6.4. 'After my passing, the monk Channa is to receive the Brahma-penalty.'

'But, Lord, what is the Brahma-penalty?'

'Whatever the monk Channa wants or says, he is not to be spoken to, admonished or instructed by the monks.'

6.5. Then the Lord addressed the monks, saying:

'It may be, monks, that some monk has doubts or uncertainty about the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, or about the path or the practice.

Ask, monks! Do not afterwards feel remorse, thinking:

"The Teacher was there before us, and we failed to ask the Lord face to face!"

At these words the monks were silent. The Lord repeated his words a second and a third time, and still the monks were silent.

Then the Lord said:

'Perhaps, monks, you do not ask out of respect for the Teacher. Then, monks, let one friend tell it to another.'

But still they were silent.

6.6. And the Venerable Ānanda said:

'It is wonderful, Lord, it is marvellous! I clearly perceive that in this assembly there is not one monk who has doubts or uncertainty...'

'You, Ānanda, speak from faith. But the Tathāgata knows that in this assembly there is not one monk who has doubts or uncertainty about the Buddha, the Dhamma or the Sangha or about the path or the practice.

Ānanda, the least one of these five hundred monks is a Stream-Winner, incapable of falling into states of woe, certain of Nibbāna.'

6.7. Then the Lord said to the monks:

'Now, monks, I declare to you: all conditioned things are of a nature to decay — strive on untiringly.'

These were the Tathāgata's last words.

6.8. Then the Lord entered the first dhyāna. And leaving that he entered the second, the third, the fourth dhyāna.

Then leaving the fourth dhyāna he entered the Sphere of Infinite Space, then the Sphere of Infinite Consciousness, then the Sphere of No- Thingness, then the Sphere of Neither-Perception-Nor-Non- Perception,

and leaving that he attained the Cessation of Feeling and Perception.

Then the Venerable Ānanda said to the Venerable Anuruddha:

'Venerable Anuruddha, the Lord has passed away.'

'No, friend Ānanda, the Lord has not passed away, he has attained the Cessation of Feeling and Perception.'

6.9. Then the Lord, leaving the attainment of the Cessation of Feeling and Perception, entered the Sphere of Neither-Perception-Nor-Non-Perception, from that he entered the Sphere of No-Thingness, the Sphere of Infinite Consciousness, the Sphere of Infinite Space.

From the Sphere of Infinite Space he entered the fourth dhyāna, from there the third, the second and the first dhyāna.

Leaving the first dhyāna, he entered the second, the third, the fourth dhyāna. And, leaving the fourth dhyāna, the Lord finally passed away.

6.10. And at the Blessed Lord's final passing there was a great earthquake, terrible and hair-raising, accompanied by thunder. And Brahmā Sahampati uttered this verse:

'All beings in the world, all bodies must break up:
Even the Teacher, peerless in the human world,
The mighty Lord and perfect Buddha's passed away.'

And Sakka, ruler of the devas, uttered this verse:

'Impermanent are compounded things, prone to rise and fall,
Having risen, they're destroyed, their passing truest bliss.'

And the Venerable Anuruddha uttered this verse:

'No breathing in and out - just with steadfast heart
The Sage who's free from lust has passed away to peace.
With mind unshaken he endured all pains:
By Nibbāna the Illumined's mind is freed.'

And the Venerable Ānanda uttered this verse:

Terrible was the quaking, men's hair stood on end,
When the all-accomplished Buddha passed away.'

And those monks who had not yet overcome their passions wept and tore their hair, raising their arms, throwing themselves down and twisting and turning, crying:

'All too soon the Blessed Lord has passed away, all too soon the Well- Farer has passed away, all too soon the Eye of the World has disappeared!'

But those monks who were free from craving endured mindfully and clearly aware, saying:

'All compounded things are impermanent — what is the use of this?'

6.11. Then the Venerable Anuruddha said:

'Friends, enough of your weeping and wailing! Has not the Lord already told you that all things that are pleasant and delightful are change-able, subject to separation and to becoming other?

So why all this, friends? Whatever is born, become, compounded is subject to decay, it cannot be that it does not decay. The devas, friends, are grumbling.'

'Venerable Anuruddha, what kind of devas are you aware of?'

'Friend Ānanda, there are sky-devas whose minds are earth-bound they are weeping and tearing their hair.. .And there are earth-devas whose minds are earth-bound, they do likewise.

But those devas who are free from craving endure patiently, saying:

"All compounded things are impermanent. What is the use of this?"'

6.12. Then the Venerable Anuruddha and the Venerable Ānanda spent the rest of the night in conversation on Dhamma.

And the Venerable Anuruddha said:

'Now go, friend Ānanda, to Kusināra and announce to the Mallas:

"Vāseṭṭhas, the Lord has passed away. Now is the time to do as you think fit."

"Yes, Lord", said Ānanda, and having dressed in the morning and taken his robe and bowl, he went with a companion to Kusināra.

At that time the Mallas of Kusināra were assembled in their meeting-hall on some business. And the Venerable Ānanda came to them and delivered the Venerable Anuruddha's message.

And when they heard the Venerable Ānanda's words, the Mallas...were struck with anguish and sorrow, their minds were overcome with grief so that they were all tearing their hair...

6.13. Then the Mallas ordered their men to bring perfume and wreaths, and gather all the musicians together.

And with the perfumes and wreaths, and all the musicians, and with five hundred sets of garments they went to the sāl-grove where the Lord's body was lying.

And there they honoured, paid respects, worshipped and adored the Lord's body with dance and song and music, with garlands and scents, making awnings and circular tents in order to spend the day there.

And they thought:

'It is too late to cremate the Lord's body today. We shall do so tomorrow.'

And so, paying homage in the same way, they waited for a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth day.

6.14. And on the seventh day the Mallas of Kusināra thought:

'We have paid sufficient honour with song and dance... to the Lord's body, now we shall burn his body after carrying him out by the south gate.'

Then eight Malla chiefs, having washed their heads and put on new clothes, declared:

'Now we will lift up the Lord's body', but found they were unable to do so.

So they went to the Venerable Anuruddha and told him what had happened:

'Why can't we lift up the Lord's body?'

'Vāseṭṭhas, your intention is one thing, but the intention of the devas is another.'

6.15. 'Lord, what is the intention of the devas?'

'Vāseṭṭhas, your intention is, having paid homage to the Lord's body with dance and song..., to burn his body after carrying him out by the south gate.

But the devas' intention is, having paid homage to the Lord's body with heavenly dance and song..., to carry him to the north of the city, bring him in through the north gate and bear him through the middle of the city and out through the eastern gate to the Mallas' shrine of Makuṭa- Bandhana, and there to burn the body.'

'Lord, if that is the devas' intention, so be it!'

6.16. At that time even the sewers and rubbish-heaps of Kusināra were covered knee-high with coral-tree flowers. And the devas as well as the Mallas of Kusināra honoured the Lord's body with divine and human dancing, song...;

and they carried the body to the north of the city, brought it in through the north gate, through the middle of the city and out through the eastern gate to the Mallas' shrine of Makuṭa- Bandhana, where they set the body down.

6.17. Then they asked the Venerable Ānanda:

'Lord, how should we deal with the body of the Tathāgata?'

'Vāseṭṭhas, you should deal with the Tathāgata's body as you would that of a wheel-turning monarch.'

'And how do they deal with that, Lord?'

'Vāseṭṭhas, the remains are wrapped in a new linen-cloth. This they wrap in teased cotton-wool...; then having made a funeral-pyre of all manner of perfumes, they cremate the king's body and they raise a stupa at a cross roads…’

6.18. Then the Mallas ordered their men to bring their teased cotton-wool. And they dealt with the Tathāgata's body accordingly. . .

6.19. Now just then the Venerable Kassapa the Great was travelling along the main road from Pāvā to Kusināra with a large company of about five hundred monks. And leaving the road, the Venerable Kassapa the Great sat down under a tree.

And a certain Ājīvika chanced to be coming along the main road towards Pāvā, and he had picked a coral-tree flower in Kusināra.

The Venerable Kassapa saw him coming from afar, and said to him:

'Friend, do you know our Teacher?'

'Yes, friend, I do. The ascetic Gotama passed away a week ago. I picked this coral-tree flower there.'

And those monks who had not yet overcome their passions wept and tore their hair... But those monks who were free from craving endured mindfully and clearly aware, saying:

'All compounded things are impermanent — what is the use of this?'

6.20. And sitting in the group was one Subhadda, who had gone forth late in life, and he said to those monks:

'Enough, friends, do not weep and wail! We are well rid of the Great Ascetic. We were always bothered by his saying:

"It is fitting for you to do this, it is not fitting for you to do that!"

Now we can do what we like, and not do what we don't like!'

But the Venerable Kassapa the Great said to the monks:

'Friends, enough of your weeping and wailing! Has not the Lord already told you that all things that are pleasant and delightful are changeable, subject to separation and becoming other?

So why all this, friends? Whatever is born, become, compounded is subject to decay, it cannot be that it does not decay.'

6.21. Meanwhile four Malla chiefs, having washed their heads and put on new clothes, said:

'We will light the Lord's funeral pyre', but they were unable to do so.

They went to the Venerable Anuruddha and asked him why this was.

'Vāseṭṭhas, your intention is one thing, but that of the devas is another.'

'Well, Lord, what is the intention of the devas?'

'Vāseṭṭhas, the devas' intention is this:

"The Venerable Kassapa the Great is coming along the main road from Pāvā to Kusināra with a large company of five hundred monks. The Lord's funeral pyre will not be lit until the Venerable Kassapa the Great has paid homage with his head to the Lord's feet.'

'Lord, if that is the devas' intention, so be it!'

6.22. Then the Venerable Kassapa the Great went to the Mallas' shrine at Makuṭa-Bandhana to the Lord's funeral pyre and, covering one shoulder with his robe,

joined his hands in salutation, circumambulated the pyre three times and, uncovering the Lord's feet, paid homage with his head to them, and the five hundred monks did likewise.

And when this was done, the Lord's funeral pyre ignited of itself.

6.23. And when the Lord's body was burnt, what had been skin, under-skin, flesh, sinew, or joint-fluid, all that vanished and not even ashes or dust remained, only the bones remained.

Just as when butter or oil is burnt, no ashes or dust remain, so it was with the Lord's body..., only the bones were left.

And all the five hundred garments, even the inner-most and the outermost cloth, were burnt up.

And when the Lord's body was burnt up, a shower of water from the sky, and another which burst forth from the sāl-trees extinguished the funeral pyre. And the Mallas of Kusināra poured perfumed water over it for the same purpose.

Then the Mallas honoured the relics for a week in their assembly hall, having made a lattice-work of spears and an encircling wall of bows, with dancing, singing, garlands and music.

6.24. And King Ajātasattu Vedehiputta of Magadha heard that the Lord had passed away at Kusināra. And he sent a message to the Mallas of Kusināra:

'The Lord was a Khattiya and I am a Khattiya. I am worthy to receive a share of the Lord's remains. I will make a great stupa for them.'

The Licchavis of Vesālī heard, and they sent a message:

'The Lord was a Khattiya and we are Khattiyas. We are worthy to receive a share of the Lord's remains, and we will make a great stupa for them.'

The Sakyas of Kapilavatthu heard, and they sent a message:

'The Lord was the chief of our clan. We are worthy to receive a share of the Lord's remains, and we will make a great stupa for them.'

'The Bulayas of Allakappa and the Koliyas of Rāmagāma replied similarly.

The Brahmin of Veṭhadīpa heard, and he sent a message: 'The Lord was a Khattiya, I am a Brahmin...', and the Mallas of Pāvā sent a message: 'The Lord was a Khattiya, we are Khattiyas. We are worthy to receive a share of the Lord's remains, and we will make a great stupa for them.'

6.25. On hearing all this, the Mallas of Kusināra addressed the crowd, saying:

'The Lord passed away in our parish. We will not give away any share of the Lord's remains.'

At this the Brahmin Dona addressed the crowd in this verse:

'Listen, lords, to my proposal.
Forbearance is the Buddha's teaching.
It is not right that strife should come
From sharing out the best of men's remains.
Let's all be joined in harmony and peace,
In friendship sharing out portions eight:
Let stupas far and wide be put up,
That all may see — and gain in faith!'

'Well then, Brahmin, you divide up the remains of the Lord in the best and fairest way!'

'Very good, friends', said Dona. And he made a good and fair division into eight portions, and then said to the assembly:

'Gentlemen, please give me the urn, and I will erect a great stupa for it.'

So they gave Dona the urn.

6.26. Now the Moriyas of Pipphalavana heard of the Lord's passing, and they sent a message:

'The Lord was a Khattiya and we are Khattiyas. We are worthy to receive a portion of the Lord's remains, and we will make a great stupa for them.'

'There is not a portion of the Lord's remains left, they have all been divided up. So you must take the embers.' And so they took the embers.

6.27. Then King Ajātasattu of Magadha built a great stupa for the Lord's relics at Rājagaha. The Licchavis of Vesālī built one at Vesālī, the Sakyans of Kapilavatthu built one at Kapilavatthu,

the Bulayas of Allakappa built one at Allakappa, the Koliyas of Rāmagāma built one at Rāmagāma, the Brahmin of Veṭhadīpa built one at Veṭhadīpa, the Mallas of Pāvā built one at Pāvā,

the Mallas of Kusināra built a great stupa for the Lord's relics at Kusināra, the Brahmin Dona built a great stupa for the urn, and the Moriyas of Pipphalavana built a great stupa for the embers at Pipphalavana.

Thus, eight stupas were built for the relics, a ninth for the urn, and a tenth for the embers.

That is how it was in the old days.

6.28. Eight portions of relics there were of him,
The All-Seeing One. Of these, seven remained
In Jambudvīpa with honour.
The eighth In Rāmagāma's kept by nāgā kings.
One tooth the Thirty Gods have kept,
Kalinga's kings have one, the nāgas too.
They shed their glory o'er the fruitful earth.
Thus the Seer's honoured by the honoured.
Gods and nagas, kings, the noblest men
Clasp their hands in homage, for hard it is
To find another such for countless aeons.