Once Nigantha Nataputta, a spiritual teacher and leader of the Niganthas, hatched a plan to embarrass the Buddha. He said to Prince Abhaya, “Prince, I have a plan to make you famous far and wide as the man who showed that Gotama is a fraud. Go to him and ask, ‘Do Awakened Buddhas ever speak in ways that are rough or insulting?’
“If he says yes, then you can retort, ‘Then what makes you no different than anyone else! Anyone can speak roughly and insultingly!’
“But if he says no, then you can retort, ‘But didn’t you upset and insult Devadatta? Didn’t you say that he is headed for hell? Devadatta was extremely upset when you said these things. You are a hypocrite!’
“If you quiz him in this way, he will be tricked, he will be stuck with the dilemma. No matter how he answers, you will will the argument. It would be like he swallowed a nut with thorns on both sides. He wouldn’t be able to swallow it or vomit it up.”
So Prince Abhaya did just as he said. But when he got to the Buddha, he had second thoughts. He looked up at the sun and decided, “Now is not the time. I’ll try tomorrow. I will invite the Buddha for a meal and then try to embarrass him in my own home.” So he invited the Buddha for a meal and hurried away.
The next day, Prince Abhaya practiced what he would ask the Buddha again and again. He served the Buddha a fine meal, and then sat down to question him. Just as Nigantha Nataputta had told him, the Prince asked, “Do Awakened Buddhas ever speak in ways that are rough or insulting?”
The Buddha replied, “There is no simple yes or no answer to that question.”
“And just like that, the Niganthas are defeated! Yesterday, Nigantha Nataputta told me to trick you back asking you this question, but instantly you saw through the ruse.”
While he was talking, a toddler came and sat in the Prince’s lap. The Buddha said, “Prince, if this toddler put a stick or a rock in its mouth, what would you do?”
“I would take it out right away! If I couldn’t get it out easily, I would crook my finger and pull it out, even if I drew blood. It would be necessary to help him.”
“Just as you would do what you must to help that little boy, I would only speak in ways that are helpful. I would never lie, even if it might be helpful in the long run. I would never say anything that is not helpful, even if it would butter them up and make them happy. In that case I would just hold my tongue. Of course, if there is something to say that is true, helpful, and sweet to hear, I would tell them.
“But what about those things that are true and helpful, but are difficult to hear? I do my best to find the right time to share that with them.
-MN 58 Abhayarājakumāra Sutta
As he lay dying, the Buddha said to Ānanda, “When I am dead, some Buddhists may think, ‘We no longer have a teacher!’ But Ānanda, my teachings and my rules will be your teacher after I am gone. If the community of monks and nuns wants to get rid of my minor rules, you are free to do so.”
Then, the Buddha said to the entire group of monks, “Monks, if you have any last questions about my teaching, or about me, or about spiritual practice, now is the time to ask. Don’t regret not taking this final moment to ask!” But the monks were silent.
Again the Buddha said, “If you are too shy to ask, please ask another monk to ask for you.” Again, the monks were silent.
Again and again the Buddha asked if there were any last questions, but the monks said nothing.
Then the Buddha said, “All experiences are ultimately unsatisfactory. Don’t give up.” These were the last words spoken by the Buddha.
-DN 16 Mahāparinibbāna Sutta
Once, not long after the Buddha had died, Ānanda was living in the Bamboo Grove at Rājagaha. King Ajātasattu of Magadha was preparing for war against King Pajjota. One morning Ānanda went to Rājagaha to beg for food. Seeing that it was too early, he stopped by to see the brahmin Gopaka Moggallāna at his office. Gopaka Moggallāna warmly welcomed Ānanda to sit and talk. He asked Ānanda, “Are any of the remaining monks as accomplished as the Buddha?”
“No,” replied Ānanda, “even though there are many fully Liberated monks, none can say that they discovered the path on their own and taught it to others. Only the Buddha.”
At just that moment, the chief advisor to the king of Magahda, Vassakāra, came to Gopaka Moggallāna’s office for a visit. He chatted with the two of them, and told them he was in Rājagaha to supervise the war preparations. After a time he asked, “What were you two talking about when I interrupted?”
They told him about their conversation. Interested, Vassakāra asked, “Yes, who will take over as the new Buddha?”
Ānanda replied, “Nobody will take over. The Buddha was quite clear about that.”
“But surely,” Vassakāra continued, “there must be some monk recognized by the senior monks as being in charge!”
“No,” replied Ānanda simply.
“Then who keeps the peace? Who makes the decisions?”
“The Dhamma is our refuge.”
“I don’t understand.”
“General Vassakāra,” Ānanda patiently explained, “the Buddha has given us his teachings and has given us a set of rules called the Pātimokkha. Every two weeks all of the monks or nuns in an area gather on the Uposatha day to recite the full set of rules. Any monk or nun that remembers committing an offense during the past two weeks confesses and accepts the consequences. This is how we manage our affairs.”
“I see,” replied the General. “Well, are there any monks that you do especially respect?”
“Yes, absolutely,” said Ānanda. “There are ten things that we especially respect in a monk or nun:
One who strictly follows the rules of the Pātimokkha.
One who learns, remembers, and understands the Dhamma.
One who is content with little.
One who has mastered the jhanas.
One who has mastered the supernormal powers such as flying, walking on water, and walking through walls.
One who can hear sounds both near and far, on earth and divine.
One who deeply understands the minds of others.
One who remembers their past lives.
One who can see the past lives of others and can see where their actions will lead to their next life.
One who purified themselves to the point of Liberation.
“Anyone with these qualities is highly respected and trusted.”
Vassakāra said, “I can see how people like this would be respected. I remember once I went to visit the Buddha when he was staying in Vesālī. He was giving a talk about meditation. He was a great meditator, you know? In his talk he was praising every type of meditation.”
“No!” Ānanda replied, “The Buddha did not teach that every type of meditation was equally good. If one meditates with a mind full of desire for pleasure, they will not have good meditation. How can you understand the escape from lust with a mind full of lust? His meditation will be a mess. Likewise, a meditator with a mind of anger, laziness, restlessness, remorse, or doubt will not have a good meditation. Instead, the Buddha recommended practicing jhana.”
“Now I understand,” replied Vassakāra, “Thank you so much for you teaching, but we are busy, and now it is time for us to go.” So Vassakāra and Ānanda stood and left.
-MN 108 Gopakamoggallāna Sutta
I was a spoiled youth. My father had lotus ponds dug for me with lotuses of all colors. My clothes and sandalwood were imported from Kāsī. A servant held a white umbrella over my head day and night to keep from from heat or rain. I had three cottages: one for summer, one for winter, and one for the monsoon season. All through the rainy season I was entertained by female musicians. Even my servants ate meat and high quality rice.
And yet, in all this luxury, the thought occurred to me, “When one sees an old person, they are disgusted, but of course, all of us will grow old eventually. After seeing that my youth was no longer so intoxicating.”
Again I thought, “When one sees a sick person, they are appalled, but of course, all of us get sick from time to time. After realizing that my good health was no longer so enchanting.”
And again I thought, “When one sees a corpse, they are repulsed, but of course, all of us will eventually die. After understanding that I was no longer so attached to this life.”
-AN 3.4.39 Sukhumāla Sutta
After his Liberation, when he was staying on the banks of the Nerañjarā River near Uruvelā, the Buddha sat cross-legged for seven straight days, enjoying the bliss of freedom. He arose at midnight, and considered Dependent Arising. He understood:
When the cause ceases, the effect also ceases.
When there is no more ignorance, there are no more choices.
And when there are no more choices, there is no more consciousness.
And when there is no more consciousness, there is no more connection of mind to body.
And when there is no more connection of mind to body, there is no more of the six senses.
And when there is no more of the six senses, there is no more contact.
And when there is no more contact, there is no more feeling.
And when there is no more feeling, there is no more craving.
And when there is no more craving, there is no more grasping.
And when there is no more grasping, there is no more transmigration.
And when there is no more transmigration, there is no more rebirth
And when there is no more rebirth, there is no more old age, death, sorry, pain or whole lifetimes of suffering.
He thought of this little poem:
When a deeply committed meditator
Understands the underlying nature of the world
They know how to bring an end to things.
As the Buddha lay dying, he noticed that Ānanda, his beloved attendant, was gone. He asked one of the monks, “Where is Ānanda?”
He replied, “I saw Ānanda earlier leaning against a door and weeping. He was moaning, ‘My teacher, who loves me so much is dying! And here am I, not even Liberated, after spending so many years with him! There is so much for me still to do!”
The Buddha told him, “Go and tell Ānanda, ‘Friend, your Teacher is calling for you.’”
The monk went and brought Ānanda to the Buddha. Wiping away his tears, he bowed and sat down. The Buddha told him, “Ānanda, don’t be sad. Remember that I have always taught, from the very beginning, that everyone we love, everything we hold dear will eventually pass away. This body of mine will die like everything else.
“Ānanda, my friend,” he continued, “for all these years that we have been together, you have been devoted, kind, trustworthy, and generous. Now is the time to devote yourself to striving for Liberation.”
Turning to the crowd of monks gathered around, the Buddha said, “Monks, every Buddha of the past and every one one in the future will have an attendant and friend like Ānanda. Wise, intelligent, and always helpful. When anyone comes to see me, whether monks, nuns, or laypeople, they are always overjoyed with whatever Ānanda has to say.”
-DN 16 Mahāparinibbāna Sutta