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