The Buddha’s Last Words

Do you know the Buddha’s last words? Seems like something important for a Buddhist to know. The Buddha’s last words as recorded in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (DN 16) go like this: “Anda dāni, bhikkhave, āmantayāmi vo, vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā.”

Or according to Ānandajoti Bhikkhu: “Come now, monks, for I tell you all conditioned things are subject to decay, strive on with heedfulness!”

According to Sister Vajira & Francis Story: “Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!”

And Ven. Thanissaro: “Now, then, monks, I exhort you: All fabrications are subject to decay. Bring about completion by being heedful.”

The reason you probably don’t know those quotes is because all of these translations are weird and difficult. “All fabrications are subject to decay”? Please. I sympathize very much with these translators, though. These are very difficult passages to render. The part basically affirms that core Buddhist teaching of impermanence. All things fall apart. So why the strange language? Well, technically all things but one fall apart. All things but nibbana itself. Everything is built of something else. When the causes and conditions change, the result changes. A roof is not a roof. It is four triangles of wood held up by four pillars. When a pillar falls, there is no more roof. When a heart stops beating, there is no more living being. But nibbana simply is. There is no cause.

The second phrase is just as powerful. There is a meme in modern Buddhism that we should have goals, shouldn’t have expectations, don’t need to follow a path to anywhere. Just be. This is a lovely thought, but it certainly isn’t what the Buddha taught. I think this teaching comes out of meditation retreats. Lay people come for a 10 day retreat straight from a stressful job and want to squeeze as much out of it as possible. But it rarely works that way. Liberation is based on a complete, lifetime to commitment to practice. So teachers emphasize the aspect of patience. “Don’t expect anything (in this retreat)!” is a message sometimes learned too well. When the Buddha was speaking to monks and nuns, men and women who devoted their entire lives to practice, he expected them to strive for the goal of the holy life with every fiber of their being.

All things fall apart, so strive on!

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