The Last Days of the Buddha

Jenny Roberts writes about the story of the Buddha’s passing as told in the Maha Parinibbana Sutta of the Pali Canon. The fifteenth of February was Parinirvana Day, an important festival when Buddhists everywhere celebrate the death of the Buddha. And to mark the occasion there were special pujas all over the Triratna worldwide sangha – including at Leeds (and at Tiratanaloka where I happened to be at the time.) This isn’t, as some might assume, a time for sadness. On the contrary it is a day of great celebration, for it marks the occasion when the Buddha’s Enlightenment found its full fruition. According to Vishvapani, who wrote Gautama Buddha, Parinirvana means complete or final Enlightenment  or, perhaps better, Final Nirvana. Yet grief was present at the time, particularly among his Sangha, for whom it was the greatest experience in their history. And in some ways, to hear the story of the Buddha’s last days, is also to remember Ananda, his faithful attendant who memorised all of his teachings. The two men had shared their lives for twenty-five years and would have understood each other instinctively. And here, in this sutta, without intending it, Ananda with his constant queries, worries, and amazements, becomes a central figure beside the Buddha himself. According to the Maha Parinibbana Sutta, Sakyamuni was eighty years old when he became ill and announced that his Parinibbana would occur in just three months. It was a time of political unrest, with the very real prospect of war, when the Buddha set off on a final journey across Northern India. “Now I am frail, Ananda, old, aged,... Read more

An Eccentric Buddhist from the 17th Century 

Sangharakshita considered 17th century monk Ekaku Hakuin – one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism – to be one of his most important teachers. Mandy takes a closer look at this interesting, eccentric and artistic figure to see how he influences our practices today. Two main schools of Zen exist in Japan: Rinzai and Soto. The main difference between Rinzai and Soto is that Rinzai practitioners regard enlightenment as something that comes suddenly. Soto (which coined our practice of ‘just sitting’) sees enlightenment as a gradual dawning. Hakuin revived the Rinzai school, which had gradually declined since its beginnings in the 9th century. Hakuin became a Buddhist monk when he was very young. He’d attended a terrifying lecture by a Nichiren monk about the Eight Hot Hells and decided that becoming a monk was the only way to escape them. When he was nineteen, however, he read the story of a Chinese Ch’an master’s brutal murder by bandits and was very upset to realise that even a great monk couldn’t be saved from a bloody death in this life. So he gave up the monastic life. Not wanting to return home in shame, he travelled around Japan studying literature and poetry. But while studying with the poet-monk Bao, he had an experience that put him back on course. Struck by piles of books put out in the temple courtyard, books from many differing schools of Buddhism, he prayed to the gods of the Dharma to help him choose a path. Then he picked a book at random. It was a collection of Zen stories, and he dedicated himself... Read more