Last Journey Of The Buddha
For 45 years, the Buddha taught the world. The area where he traveled to teach people, covers the Northern part of India. At that time, it covered 8 kingdoms; Sakka, Kosala, Vajji, Angga, Magatha, Kasi, Vangsa and Avanti. All these kingdoms are in the Northern, Northeastern and Central part of India. Now, on the map of India, where the Buddha wandered, is in Southern Nepal, Pihara State, Uttara State and Mattayama State.
When the Buddha was eighty years old, he was staying in Vesali, Vajji kingdom. Throughout 3 months (Vassa), he, with his monks, traveled to Kusinara, Malla city. It is very far for a journey on foot. Nowadays many temples and stupas have been found along the way from Vesali to Kusinara. One stupa, Kesariya, was found by Sir Alexander Canningham, an English archeologist. The history is written that the Buddha gave his alms-bowl to villagers as gift and after he passed away. A stupa, or monument, was constructed and his alms-bowl put inside.
On the way, in Buddhist history, when the Buddha made a trip to Kusinara, he took a rest at the mango orchard of Mr. Junda. There Junda offered food to the Buddha and the Buddha got food poisoning. He felt sick, but he still carried on his trip. He took a rest again near the Hiranyavadi River. He asked his attendant, Ananda, to fetch him some water. After that he crossed the river to Kusinara and took a rest again at the Sala Park. Kings, and people who had heard that the Buddha had taken a rest at the park, came to pay respect to him and it is really the last respect.
At the big assembly, the Buddha gave his last teaching; he said, “Behold monks, now I would like to admonish all of you; all conditioned things are subject to impermanence, you must live a careful life”.
It is such a great teaching; because if people live a careless life, they are in danger, as any trouble can happen to them, anywhere and at any time. Careless people will leave a gap for unwholesomeness, but careful people will not. That’s why the Buddha always reminded his disciples, “Time passes by, what are you doing now?” With this reflection, people can realise what they are doing here now, and they can decrease bad actions, but increase good actions.
Carefulness or mindfulness, the Buddha mentioned in his last word. It can help us to see what is really happening to us now, so that we are not deluded. When we are careful, we can react to things properly and know what should be done first, and what should be done later in life. We can leave unnecessary things behind, and can change ourselves for the better. Perfection is the ultimate aim of the Buddhist, so we should remind ourselves again and again, so that we won’t forget the aim of living a life of carefulness or mindfulness. It will lead us to having a happy life.
Kusinara is a small city and what does it look like now, after the Buddha passed away over 2500 years ago. It is said that many people tried to dig out some stupas, looking for treasures, so some stupas were ruined or destroyed. When Vahrlal Nehru was a prime minister, he reconstructed stupas and public utilities for the Buddhists and tourists who made pilgrimages to the passing away place of the Buddha.
Now there are many international Buddhist temples established in Kusinara. In the morning and evening, there are Gongs hit, and chanting. That means that though Buddhism disappeared from India about 700 years ago, now Buddhism has come back to its mother land. The Thai temple, Kusinara Chalermraja, is one of the Buddhist temples in Kusinara. This is a great gift from Thailand to India; it is like a big expression of thanks that India spread Buddhism to Thailand.
The Thai temple in Kusinara was founded in 1994 and has done its duty; teaching Buddhism to those who want to understand, helping people, Buddhist pilgrims especially, also local people, there is a clinic and volunteer doctors to aid them. One of the doctors said, “There are many patients every day; they are poor, I notice they come for treatment on Buddhist day, because then it is a free service, even normally, the fee is very cheap, 8 Rupees for treatment. The temple is not only a refuge for spiritual things but also physical ones”.
The journey of the Buddha from enlightenment to his passing away benefited the world; not only Indian people, but also the whole world. This journey the Buddha chose by himself, for the rest of the world. At the end of his journey, Ananda, his attendant, asked the Buddha, who was going to carry on his journey. The Buddha said, “Ananda, no I don’t particularly appoint anyone, but all of you can carry on this journey and Dhamma and Vinaya (the code of monastic discipline) will be Sangha’s (Buddhist followers) teacher and guide, in the near and far future”.
At that time, there was no written language to record the Dhamma and Vinaya, but they memorized them and it is believed that the memorization is very accurate. Therefore, it has become a tradition, for Buddhist monks, that they have to memorize the Buddha’s Dhamma and Vinaya.
Why was there a Buddhist council? This must be because there was a lot of the Buddha’s Dhamma as he had taught the world for a long time,-45 years. For the first time, his disciples wanted to collect, and form the Buddha’s Dhamma into groups, so that it was easy for the next generation. The first council met three months performed after the Buddha had passed away. Maha Kassapa, who was the most senior monk at that time, led the Sangha meeting to form Dhamma into three groups; Sutta (Dhamma), Vinaya (the code of monastic discipline) and Abhidhamma (the higher doctrine). At the first council, King Ajatasattu, the king of Magatha and all the monks, who were present at the council, were enlightened ones; they revised, formed the Dhamma into groups and memorized all the Buddha’s Dhamma. The first council is regarded as the perfect council and collection of the Buddha’s Dhamma.
The first council marked the great transition and movement of Buddha’s Dhamma after, the first time, the Buddha had decided to teach the world, after his enlightenment. The Buddhist monks still carried on their learning, and practising and the teaching of those who were interested in Buddhism. That was until the second council which took place in Vesali, a capital of Vajji. Vajji is one of eight kingdoms where the Buddha’s relic was put in the stupa, now the Buddha’s entire relic has been moved to the museum. But the stupas are still places of respect. Vesali is a very big city; there are many ruins and old palaces, for instance, the Palace of Lijchavi dynasty was buried under the ground. And there are pillars of Emperor Asoka on which were written down the Buddhist history; some are still in a good shapes.
The 2nd council took place in Vesali, Vajji, about 100 years after the first one and King Kalasoka was a supportor. The cause of the 2nd council was that it was stated that the Sangha was in disorder; some monks had broken the code of monastic discipline and some had asked to change the code for their own sake. Even after the 2nd council was finished, some felt uncomfortable with the Dhamma and Vinaya so they formed their own council. This is the real cause of the division of the two traditions; Theravada and Mahayana. This can refer to the conversation between the Buddha and Kimpila Bhikkhu in Pacaka Nipata Anguttara Nikaya:
Kimpila: Lord Buddha, what is the cause which makes your Dhamma disappear?
The Buddha: Behold Kimpila, the real cause is when my own followers do not respect me (a teacher), my teachings (Dhamma) and one another (Sangha) and they do not learn and practise my teachings with respect and sincerity.
Later on, in Emperor Asoka’s period, there was another big transition and movement, when Emperor Asoka supported the 3rd council at Asoka temple, that was about 150 years after the 2nd one. This time, there were two obvious traditions; Theravada and Mahayana, with many of their own sub-traditions. Emperor Asoka had a deep faith in Buddhism, he had many Buddhist temples and stupas founded, and patronized all Buddhist monks. This was the cause of the Sangha’s disorder. Because there were many fake monks who wanted to live an easy life, or they were looking for a fortune. But they did not learn and practise Buddhism. This council was led by Moggalibutta Thera with 1000 scholar monks who perfected Buddhism in ways both theoretical and practical. This was obvious evidence that the Buddhist scriptures were written down.
These are some parts of the Buddha’s journey; his life-journey, both mental and physical ended completely. What we can learn from his last journey in his last words, which he gave to the world, is that Dhamma and Vinaya are going to be his representative, and that all Buddhists can learn and put them into practice. This means that we must give more importance to Dhamma and Vinaya than to a person and ritual. This is what the Buddha wants his followers, in the next generation, to realise. Do we realise this?