Parinirvana: How the Historical Buddha Entered Nirvana
The Last Days of the Buddha
This abridged account of the historical Buddha’s passing and entry into Nirvana is taken primarily from the Maha-parinibbana Sutta, translated from the Pali by Sister Vajira & Francis Story. Other sources consulted are Buddha by Karen Armstrong (Penguin, 2001) and Old Path White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax Press, 1991).
Forty-five years had passed since the Lord Buddha’s enlightenment,
and the Blessed One was 80 years old. He and his monks were staying in
the village of Beluvagamaka (or Beluva), which was near the present-day
city of Basrah, Bihar state, northeast India. It was the time of the
monsoon rains retreat,when the Buddha and his disciples stopped traveling.
Like an Old Cart
One day the Buddha asked the monks to leave and find other places to
stay during the monsoon. He would remain in Beluvagamaka with only his
cousin and companion, Ananda.
After the monks had left, Ananda could see that his master was ill. The
Blessed One, in great pain, found comfort only in deep meditation. But
with the strength of will, he overcame his illness.
Ananda was relieved but shaken. When I saw the Blessed One’s sickness my own body became weak, he said. Everything
became dim to me, and my senses failed. Ye I still had some comfort in
the thought that the Blessed One would not come to his final passing
away until he had given some last instructions to his monks.
The Lord Buddha responded, What more does the community of monks
expect from me, Ananda? I have taught the dharma openly and completely. I
have held nothing back, and have nothing more to add to the teachings. A
person who thought the sangha depended on him for leadership might have
something to say. But, Ananda, the Tathagata has no such idea, that the sangha depends on him. So what instructions should he give?
Now I am frail, Ananda, old, aged, far gone in years. This is my
eightieth year, and my life is spent. My body is like an old cart,
barely held together.
Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto
yourselves, seeking no other refuge; with the Dharma as your island, the
Dharma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.
At the Capala Shrine
Soon after he had recovered from his illness, the Lord Buddha
suggested he and Ananda spend the day at a shrine, called the Capala
Shrine. As the two elderly men sat together, the Buddha remarked upon
the beauty of the scenery all around. The Blessed One continued, Whosoever,
Ananda, has perfected psychic power could, if he so desired, remain in
this place throughout a world-period or until the end of it. The
Tathagata, Ananda, has done so. Therefore the Tathagata could remain
throughout a world-period or until the end of it.
The Buddha repeated this suggestion three times. Ananda, possibly not understanding, said nothing.
Then came Mara, the evil one, who 45 years earlier had tried to tempt the Buddha away from enlightenment. You have accomplished what you set out to do, Mara said. Give up this life and enter Parinirvana [complete Nirvana] now.
The Buddha Relinquishes His Will to Live
Do not trouble yourself, Evil One, the Buddha replied. In three months I will pass away and enter Nirvana.
Then the Blessed One, clearly and mindfully, renounced his will to
live on. The earth itself responded with an earthquake. The Buddha told
the shaken Ananda about his decision to make his final entry into
Nirvana in three months. Ananda objected, and the Buddha replied that
Ananda should have made his objections known earlier, and requested the
Tathagata remain throughout a world-period or until the end of it.
For the next three months, the Buddha and Ananda traveled and spoke
to groups of monks. One evening he and several of the monks stayed in
the home of Cunda, the son of a goldsmith. Cunda invited the Blessed One
to dine in his home, and he gave the Buddha a dish called sukaramaddava.
This means “pigs’ soft food.” No one today is certain what this means.
It may have been a pork dish, or it may have been a dish of something
pigs like to eat, like truffle mushrooms.
Whatever was in the sukaramaddava, the Buddha insisted that
he would be the only one to eat from that dish. When he had finished,
the Buddha told Cunda to bury what was left so that no one else would
That night, the Buddha suffered terrible pain and dysentery. But the
next day he insisted in traveling on to Kushinagar, located in what is
now the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. On the way, he told
Ananda not to blame Cunda for his death.
The Buddha and his monks came to a grove of sal trees in Kushinagar.
The Buddha asked Ananda to prepare a couch between to trees, with its
head to the north. I am weary and want to lie down, he said.
When the couch was ready, the Buddha lay down on his right side, one
foot upon the other, with his head supported by his right hand. Then the
sal trees bloomed, although it was not their season, pale yellow petals
rained down on the Buddha.
The Buddha spoke for a time to his monks. At one point Ananda left
the grove to lean against a door post and weep. The Buddha sent a monk
to find Ananda and bring him back. Then the Blessed One said to Ananda, Enough,
Ananda! Do not grieve! Have I not taught from the very beginning that
with all that is dear and beloved there must be change and separation?
All that is born, comes into being, is compounded, and is subject to
decay. How can one say: “May it not come to dissolution”? This cannot
Ananda, you have served the Tathagata with loving-kindness in
deed, word, and thought; graciously, pleasantly, wholeheartedly. Now you
should strive to liberate yourself. The Blessed One then praised Ananda in front of the other assembled monks.
The Buddha spoke further, advising the monks to keep the rules of the
order of monks. Then he asked three times if any among them had any
questions. Do not be given to remorse later on with the thought:
“The Master was with us face to face, yet face to face we failed to ask
him.” But no one spoke. The Buddha assured all of the monks they would realize enlightenment.
Then he said, All compounded things are subject to decay. Strive with diligence. Then, serenely, he passed into Parinirvana.
ABHIDHAMMATTHA - SANGAHA
A manual of ABHIDHAMMA-
The Original Words of the Buddha-
Edited in the original Pali Text with English Translation and Explanatory
by Nārada Thera, Vājirārāma, Colombo
CHAPTER I - Different Types of
- Introductory Verse
- Subject - Matter (Abhidhammatthā)
- The Four Classes of Consciousness (catubbidha-cittāni)
- Immoral Consciousness (akusala cittāni)
- (18 Types Of Rootless Consciousness)
- “Beautiful” Consciousness Of The Sensuous Sphere - 24
- (Form-Sphere Consciousness - 15)
- (Formless-Sphere Consciousness - 12)
- (Supra Mundane Consciousness - 4)
- (121 Types of Consciousness)
- CHAPTER II - Mental States (cetasika)
- 52 Kinds of Mental States
- Different Combinations of Mental States
- Immoral Mental States
- (Beautiful Mental States)
- Contents of Different Types of Consciousness
- Supra mundane Consciousness
- (Sublime Consciousness)
- Sense-Sphere Beautiful Consciousness
- Immoral Consciousness
- Rootless Consciousness
- CHAPTER III - Miscellaneous Section
- (i. Summary of Feeling)
- (ii. Summary of Roots)
- (iii. Summary of Functions)
- (iv. Summary of Doors)
- (v. Summary of Objects)
- (vi. Summary of Bases)
- CHAPTER IV - Analysis of Thought-Processes
- Five Sense-Door Thought-process
- Mind-door Thought-Process
- Appanā Thought-Process
- The Procedure of Retention
- Procedure of Javana (13)
- Classification of Individuals
- Section on Planes
- Diagram IX
- CHAPTER V - PROCESS-FREED SECTION
- Summary of Rebirth Procedure
- i. Four Planes of Life
- ii. Fourfold Rebirth
- iii. Fourfold Kamma (29)
- iv . Procedure with Regard to Decease and Rebirth
- v. The Stream of Consciousness
- CHAPTER VI - ANALYSIS OF MATTER
- Analysis of Matter
- Classification of Matter
- The Arising of Material Phenomena (52)
- Grouping of Material Qualities (57)
- Arising of Material Phenomena (58)
- Nibbāna (59)
- Diagram XIII
- CHAPTER VII - Abhidhamma Categories
- Introductory verse
- (Immoral Categories)
- Diagram XIV
- Mixed Categories
- Factors of Enlightenment (28)
- A Synthesis of ‘the Whole’ (36)
- CHAPTER VIII - The Compendium Of Relations
- Introductory verse
- The Law of Dependent Arising
- The Law of Casual Relations
- CHAPTER IX - Mental Culture
- Introductory verse
- (Compendium of Calm)
- Suitability of Subjects for different Temperaments
- Stages of Mental Culture
- Signs of Mental Culture
- Rūpa Jhāna
- Arūpa Jhāna (22)
- Supernormal Knowledge (23)
- Different Kind of Purity
- The Path of Purification
Abhidhamma, as the term implies, is the Higher Teaching of the Buddha. It
expounds the quintessence of His profound doctrine.
The Dhamma, embodied in the Sutta Pitaka, is the conventional teaching
(vohāra desanā), and the Abhidhamma is the ultimate teaching (paramattha
In the Abhidhamma both mind and matter, which constitute this complex
machinery of man, are microscopically analyzed. Chief events connected with the
process of birth and death are explained in detail. Intricate points of the
Dhamma are clarified. The Path of Emancipation is set forth in clear terms.
Modern Psychology, limited as it is comes within the scope of Abhidhamma
inasmuch as it deals with the mind, with thoughts, thought-processes, and mental
states but it does not admit of a psyche or a soul. Buddhism teaches a
psychology without a psyche.
If one were to read the Abhidhamma as a modern textbook on psychology, one
would be disappointed. No attempt has here been made to solve all the problems
that confront a modern psychologist.
Consciousness is defined. Thoughts are analyzed and classified chiefly from
an ethical standpoint. All mental states are enumerated. The composition of each
type of consciousness is set forth in detail. The description of
thought-processes that arise through the five sense-doors and the mind-door is
extremely interesting. Such a clear exposition of thought-processes cannot be
found in any other psychological treatise.
Bhavanga and Javana thought-moments, which are explained only
in the Abhidhamma, and which have no parallel in modern psychology, are of
special interest to a research student in psychology.
That consciousness flows like a stream, a view propounded by some modern
psychologists like William James, becomes extremely clear to one who understands
the Abhidhamma. It must be added that an Abhidhamma student can fully comprehend
(No-soul) doctrine, the crux of Buddhism, which is important both from a
philosophical and an ethical standpoint.
The advent of death, process of rebirth in various planes without anything to
pass from one life to another, the evidently verifiable doctrine of Kamma and
Rebirth are fully explained.
Giving a wealth of details about mind, Abhidhamma discusses the second factor
of man-matter or rūpa. Fundamental units of matter, material forces,
properties of matter, source of matter, relationship of mind and matter, are
In the Abhidhammattha Sangaha there is a brief exposition of the Law of
Dependent Origination, followed by a descriptive account of the Causal Relations
that finds no parallel in any other philosophy.
A physicist should not delve into Abhidhamma to get a thorough knowledge of
It should be made clear that Abhidhamma does not attempt to give a
systematized knowledge of mind and matter. It investigates these two composite
factors of so-called being to help the understanding of things as they truly
are. A philosophy has been developed on these lines. Based on that philosophy,
an ethical system has been evolved to realize the ultimate goal, Nibbāna.
As Mrs. Rhys Davids rightly says, Abhidhamma deals with “(1) What we find (a)
within us (b) around us and of (2) what we aspire to find.”
In Abhidhamma all irrelevant problems that interest students and scholars,
but having no relation to one’s Deliverance, are deliberately set aside.
The Abhidhammattha Sangaha, the authorship of which is attributed to
venerable Anuruddha Thera, an Indian monk of Kanjevaram (Kāñcipura), gives an
epitome of the entire Abhidhamma Pitaka. It is still the most fitting
introduction to Abhidhamma. By mastering this book, a general knowledge of
Abhidhamma may easily be acquired.
To be a master of Abhidhamma all the seven books, together with commentaries
and sub-commentaries, have to be read and re-read patiently and critically.
Abhidhamma is not a subject of fleeting interest designed for the superficial
To the wise truth-seekers, Abhidhamma is an indispensable guide and an
intellectual treat. Here there is food for thought to original thinkers and to
earnest students who wish to increase their wisdom and lead an ideal Buddhist
However, to the superficial, Abhidhamma must appear as dry as dust.
It may be questioned, “Is Abhidhamma absolutely essential to realize Nibbāna,
the summum bonum of Buddhism, or even to comprehend things as they truly are?”
Undoubtedly Abhidhamma is extremely helpful to comprehend fully the word of
the Buddha and realize Nibbāna, as it presents a key to open the door of
reality. It deals with realities and a practical way of noble living, based on
the experience of those who have understood and realized. Without a knowledge of
the Abhidhamma one at times’ finds it difficult to understand the real
significance of some profound teachings of the Buddha. To develop Insight
(vipassanā) Abhidhamma is certainly very useful.
But one cannot positively assert that Abhidhamma is absolutely necessary to
gain one’s Deliverance.
Understanding or realization is purely personal (sanditthika).
The four Noble Truths that form the foundation of the Buddha’s teaching are
dependent on this one fathom body. The Dhamma is not apart from oneself. Look
within, Seek thyself. Lo, the truth will unfold itself.
Did not sorrow-afflicted Patācārā, who lost her dear and near ones, realize
Nibbāna; reflecting on the disappearance of water that washed her feet?
Did not Cūlapanthaka, who could not memorize a verse even for four months,
attain Arahantship by comprehending the impermanent nature of a clean
handkerchief that he was handling, gazing at the sun?
Did not Upatissa, later venerable Sāriputta Thera, realize Nibbāna, on
hearing half a stanza relating to cause and effect?
To some a fallen withered leaf alone was sufficient to attain Pacceka Buddha
It was mindfulness on respiration (ānāpāna-sati) that acted as the
basis for the Bodhisatta to attain Buddha hood.
To profound thinkers, a slight indication is sufficient to discover great
According to some scholars, Abhidhamma is not a teaching of the Buddha, but
is a later elaboration of scholastic monks.
Tradition, however, attributes the nucleus of the Abhidhamma to the Buddha
Commentators state that the Buddha, as a mark of gratitude to His mother who
was born in a celestial plane, preached the Abhidhamma to His mother Deva and
others continuously for three months. The principal topics (mātikā) of
the advanced teaching such as moral states (kusalā dhammā), immoral
states (akusalā dhammā) and indeterminate states (abyākatā dhammā),
etc., were taught by the Buddha to venerable Sāriputta Thera, who subsequently
elaborated them in the six books (Kathāvatthu being excluded) that comprise the
Whoever the great author or authors of the Abhidhamma may have been, it has
to be admitted that he or they had intellectual genius comparable only to that
of the Buddha. This is evident from the intricate and subtle Patthāna Pakarana
which minutely describes the various causal relations.
It is very difficult to suggest an appropriate English equivalent for
There are many technical terms, too, in Abhidhamma which cannot be rendered
into English so as to convey their exact connotation. Some English equivalents
such as consciousness, will, volition, intellect, perception are used in a
specific sense in Western Philosophy. Readers should try to understand in what
sense these technical terms are employed in Abhidhamma. To avoid any
misunderstanding, due to preconceived views, Pāli words, though at times
cumbersome to those not acquainted with the language, have judiciously been
retained wherever the English renderings seem to be inadequate. To convey the
correct meaning implied by the Pāli terms, the etymology has been given in many
At times Pāli technical terms have been used in preference to English
renderings so that the reader may be acquainted with them and not get confused
with English terminology.
Sometimes readers will come across unusual words such as corruption,
defilement, volitional activities, functional, resultants, and so forth, which
are of great significance from an Abhidhamma standpoint. Their exact meaning
should be clearly understood.
In preparing this translation, Buddhist Psychology by Mrs. Rhys Davids and
the Compendium of Philosophy (Abhidhammattha Sangaha) by Mr. Shwe Zan Aung
proved extremely helpful to me. Liberty has been taken to quote them wherever
necessary with due acknowledgment.
My grateful thanks are due to the Kandy Buddhist Publication Society for the
printing of this fourth revised volume, to the printers for expediting the
printing, to Miss Rañjani Goonatilaka for correcting the proofs, and to Ven.
Bhikkhu Bodhi for his useful suggestions.
Above all I have to thank Mr. Lankatilaka, a most distinguished artist of Sri
Lanka, for his beautiful and symbolical dust jacket design.
- (letter of Narada)
- (Title 1 of first edition)
- (Title 2 of first edition)