Posted in Zen Buddhism

Life of the Buddha, Part 5 of 5

This 5-part series consists of Rev. Dr. Jăbō Prajñā’s lecture notes for a series of talks she is giving on Thursdays at Buddhamouse, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. For a more detailed biography of the Buddha, we recommend Buddha (Penguin Lives Biographies) by Karen Armstrong.

Amrapāli was an extremely beautiful courtesan. She gave everything she had to the Buddha – her mansion and her mango groves – and became a nun. According to some accounts, she was approached by some local Brahman who were jealous of the Buddha and were trying to discredit him. They got her to agree to say she slept with the Buddha. But before she could tell anyone, she was bitten by a cobra and died. This tale may relate to a different courtesan, and according to many sources, Amrapāli remained a nun all her life and became an Arhat.

Another attempt to discredit the Buddha occurred that same year. Some ascetics in the area of Śrāvastī got a wandering ascetic named Sundari to spy on the Buddha. After they were sure that many people had seen her coming and going to Jeta’s Grove, they hired her killed and buried in a ditch. Then they reported her missing. But the hired killers got drunk and bragged about the deed, clearing the Buddha of any suspicion.

The Buddha maintained mindfulness in every activity. He walked 15 to 20 miles per day, between his begging rounds and traveling to different towns and cities. The sangha followed this rhythm even at other monasteries.

The Buddha went against the caste system and taught everyone. In modern India. Buddhists lose their caste, are considered outside the caste system, and are therefor allowed to have any job.

The first teachings the Buddha gave were on giving and morality. Later, he taught the Four Noble Truths and Not-Self.

The Buddha’s cousin, Devadatta, attained supernatural powers and was liked by many, While meditating, he got the idea to take over the sangha. He teamed up with Ajatasatru, the son of King Bimbisara. Ajatasatru had taken over the kingdom by force, imprisoned his father, and starved him to death. He was now a powerful king.

Devadatta offered to take over the sangha, allowing the Buddha to rest. The Buddha declined, so Devadatta repeated the offer twice more, louder each time. Finally, the Buddha referred to Devadatta’s offer as “Something that tastes bad in the mouth, that one wants to spit out.” Devadatta was humiliated.

Later, at Vulture Peak, the Buddha was below the peak in the caves. Devadatta dropped a boulder on him. The boulder shattered and a piece hit the Buddha’s foot. Infectino set in, causing serious injury.

For his next attempt on the Buddha’s life, Devadatta got a war elephant, got it drunk, like it up at the Buddha, and released it. People ran away, but the Buddha walked on. Ananda threw himself in front of the Buddha, but the Buddha told him to move out of the way. The elephant stopped, took the dust from the Buddha’s feet, and put in on its head.

Devadatta claimed he was stricter than the Buddha:
1.     Only sleep in the forest
2.     Only accept alms
3.     Only wear rags
4.     Eat no fish or meat

He convinced 500 monks to leave with him. The Buddha was saddened by this and sent some monks, including Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana, to talk to those who had left.  Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana were able to get the other monks to come back with them to the sangha. Devadatta was again humiliated and realized he’d made a mistake. He decided to go to the Buddha to apologize, but on his way there, he got sick and died.

The Buddha’s health began to deteriorate when he reached his 70s. He had aches and pains, and Ananda massaged his back in the late afternoon sun. By his early 80s, he was in a lot of pain, but practiced equanimity. Ananda expected the Buddha to give a final teaching, but the Buddha said, “I’ve been teaching for 45 years. I’m not the sort of teacher who keeps the teachings in a closed fist.”

The Sangha headed north, resting for weeks at a time. They stopped in a mango grove at Pava owned by the blacksmith Chunda. Chunda invited them to dinner. The Buddha told Chunda not to give pork to the sangha, but he ate it when it was offered to him. The Buddha became very sick, bleeding from his bowels.

Knowing he was dying, the Buddha instructed Ananda to tell Chunda that giving a Buddha his last meal was an act of great merit. He said that their teacher would be the dharma, discipline, and practice.

Ananda went to a shed so the Buddha wouldn’t see him crying. The Buddha called him back and told him that he, Ananda, would get enlightenment soon.

The Buddha sent for the people of the village and performed an ordination. He asked for questions. There were none, which he took as a sign that his work was complete.

His last words were, “Truly monks, I declare to you, it is the nature of whatever if formed to dissolve. Attain perfection through diligence.” He went into meditation and from there, passed into the deathless state of Nirvana. The earth shook, just as it had at his birth and enlightenment. It was approximately 483 B.C.E.


Ven. Dr. Myodo Jabo (Sandy Gougis) is a Zen Master and Priest in the Five Mountain Zen Order. She began studying Theravâdin Buddhism in 1998, adding Zen in 2003, and Vajrayana Buddhism in 2008. She currently practices in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions. Her Zen teacher is Most Ven. Wonji Dharma of the Five Mountain Zen Order, and her Tibetan guru is Lama Tsultrim Allione of Tara Mandala. In her free time, Myodo enjoys painting, jewelry making, and other creative endeavors.

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