After a long and fruitful life, the Buddha is now 80. For 50 years after his Enlightenment, he has been walking the hot, dusty roads of Northeastern India with just a robe and bowl, tirelessly and selflessly teaching and inspiring. He knows death is approaching. This is the background to the Maha-Paranibbana Sutta, the original account of the Buddha’s last months. It is extremely moving because it is so personal, detailed and vivid.
Though exhausted and ill, he continues to explain and advise, reviewing his 'dhamma', his teachings, to ensure that although he will no longer be around, future generations will benefit from his experience. Attended faithfully by his long-term companion - his cousin, Ananda - the Buddha treads the final dusty road to Kusinara where, 'lying down on his right side between two sal trees', he prepares to leave the world and attain his 'paranibbana', the final extinction.
This Sutta - perhaps the most famous in the Pali Canon - has an immediacy which far belies its age of 2,500 years. We are placed in the political context of the time, with intrigue and threats; we are faced - as were the monks and lay-followers of the time - with the inevitability of the Buddha’s death; we see how different individuals respond to the event. But above all we are moved by the continuing compassion, underpinned always with clarity and perception, of the Buddha himself as he prepares to depart - and even on his deathbed, wracked by pains, he finds the energy to teach for the last time.
The Maha-Paranibbana Sutta is Sutta 16 in the Digha Nikaya.
Translation: Sister Vajira and Francis Story.
The Final Count Down . . .
Why I like the Maha-Paranibbàna Sutta is that it captures in a summary format the entire teachings found throughout the discourses. The Buddha himself recites in numbered lists the spiritual qualities and attainments he wishes his disciples to master; and in these last few months of his life, the Buddha, knowing of his imminent death, is seen encouraging disciples in various townships with renewed urgency. So this sutra gives an overview of the masters teachings in his own words during his final march. A sense of urgency and a feeling of a “final countdown has begun” evokes throughout the audio book. The voice and style of the narrator is very fitting given the context of an aged Buddha. The narration evokes feelings of pure reverence and develops an urgency to act on Buddha’s last utterance: “All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive on with earnestness!” Audible has totally changed the way I consume books. Now I manage to read and finish more books than ever before. The daily traffic is not a grunge anymore. I use that time effectively to listen to audiobooks I’ve always dreamt of reading. Many thanks to the creators of audible and its publishers.