horizontal rule


Previous The Birth of the Buddha

The Birth of the Buddha

9. Subjugation of the Mad Elephant

Toward the end of his life the Buddha was aging and weary. His influence over the Sangha was waning accordingly. The monk Devadatta, his cousin, watched the Buddha's aging carefully, and decided to take over the control of the Order as his successor. Devadatta had the courage not to pursue his aim solely by intrigue, but to proclaim it openly. Once, when the Buddha was preaching before a large congregation, Devadatta got up and said to the Buddha: "Lord, you are now old, worn-out, an aged man, you have lived your allotted span and are at the end of your existence. Lord, may you be content to live in this world henceforth unburdened. Hand over the Order to me- I will lead the Sangha!" The Buddha declined, but Devadatta repeated his plea three times. This stirred the Buddha to a rebuke: "I would not even hand over the Order to Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, still less to you, Devadatta!" By his sharp reaction, the Buddha had made Devadatta his enemy.

Devadatta, who was humiliated in public, planned a series of intrigues to kill the Buddha. The third attempt on the Buddha's life took place within the city of Rajagraha. Devadatta bribed with promises certain mahouts to let the working elephant Nalagiri loose against the Buddha.

As (Figure 12-under construction) illustrates, the mighty bull-elephant, which had already killed one person, stormed through the streets on the exact path along which the Buddha was coming on his alms-round. Throwing away a person with his trunk, the brute elephant rushed at the yellow-robed Buddha who, unafraid, radiated loving-kindness towards him. Then came the miracle! Suddenly the raging elephant became calm and peaceful, and knelt before the Buddha, who lifted his right hand and patted the animal's forehead. This is the well-known story of the Buddha's subjugation of a mad elephant in Rajagraha.

10. The Great Passing

There is a majestic and poignant account of the Buddha's last days preserved in the ancient canon under the title of "the great discourse of the final passing." As the old canon describes, at age 80 the Buddha was weary and not in a good condition:

I am now grown old, and full of years; my journey is done and I have reached my sum of days; I am turning eighty years of age. And just as a worn out cart is kept going with the help of repairs, so it seems is the Tathagata's body kept going with repairs.

With an untiring zeal for teaching, however, the Buddha decided to embark on another long preaching journey. After passing through a number of villages, the Buddha proceeded to a place called Pava where he and his disciples were invited to dinner by a lowly blacksmith, Chunda. After the meal, however, the Buddha, who was already in a weakened condition, became seriously ill. In spite of the sever pains, the Buddha insisted upon continuing his preaching tour, and soon ended up in a small village called Kushinagara. By this time the Buddha was too exhausted to go on and wanted to lie down. The monk Ananda prepared a resting-place for him between two blossoming sala trees. Then Ananda, who was struck by grief, lent against a door and wept. Then the Buddha asked for him:

Enough, Ananda, do not sorrow, do not lament. Have I not formerly explained that it is the nature of things that we must be divided, separated, and parted from all that is beloved and dear? How could it be, Ananda, that what has been born and come into being, that what is compounded and subject to decay, should not decay? It is not possible. (Gethin, p. 26)
The Buddha told Anana to make his impending death known to the people in Kushinagara so that they could prepare his funeral. At that time, a wandering ascetic named Subhadda came to see the Buddha but was sent away by Ananda who tried to prevent the exhausted old master from being disturbed. But the Buddha, who overheard the conversation, asked the ascetic to approach his side and, after answering his questions on the Law, accepted him into the Order. Thereby Subhadda became the last person to be accepted to the Order in the Buddha's lifetime. And then the Buddha gave the surrounding monks a last opportunity to question him about the Law:
Ask, monks, lest you afterwards feel remorse, thinking: "We sat face to face with the Master, and yet we failed to ask him personally."
The Buddha asked three times but the monks remained silent. Then the Buddha gave them one more chance: if they did not dare to speak out of respect for him, they should ask through a fellow-monk. Again the monks remained silent. There was no unclearness anywhere. The night was far advanced, and it was quiet between the trees when the dying teacher gave the monks his last words:
Now, monks, I declare to you: all elements of personality are subject to decay. Strive on untiringly!

The Birth of the Buddha figure 1 Next