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We provide access to over 300 transcripts by Sangharakshita!
Eric, FBA Team
Ratnavyuha, Auckland, NZ
Suriyavamsa, Glasgow, UK
Samudradaka, FBA Team
Padmatara, San Francisco, USA
Candradasa, FBA Team
Padmavajri, East Sussex
Viriyalila, FBA Team
... surprised when they realized from their master's severely
weakened condition that it was in Kushinara that his life was to end. Ananda expressed their
Let not the Exalted One die in this little wattle-and-daub town, in this town in the midst of
the jungle, in this branch township. For, lord, there are other great cities, such as Champa,
Rajagriha, Shravasti, Shaketa, Kaushambi and Banaras. Let the Exalted One die in one of
them. There there are many wealthy nobles and heads of houses, believers in the Tathagata,
who will pay due honour to the remains of the Tathagata.-
Perhaps Ananda really did feel such dismay at the prospect of the Buddha's life ending in
Kushinara and of the cremation of his remains having to be carried out in so remote a spot.
Perhaps Buddhists of a later age were embarrassed by, or at least surprised at, the lowliness
of the place where, as a matter of historical fact, the death of the Buddha had occurred. The
word which is used here to describe Kushinara as a town 'in the midst of the jungle'
(ujjangala) may mean what in India would be called a 'jungly' place: that is, as the
commentator Buddhaghosa understood it, a lawless, heathen, pagan sort of place; or it may
mean simply a barren, waste place. In either case, Ananda's objection seems to indicate that
the appropriate place for the Buddha to end his life would be a great city, an urbane and
civilized place, the kind of place with which he was most properly associated.”
S: Hmm. Do you think that's correct?
: It's not what he says.
S: It's not quite what he says, is it? He is concerned about the remains of the Tathagata
being honoured, and if there weren't many people in this out of the way jungle place, well
obviously, from Ananda's point of view, that couldn't be done very properly. So again, it
seems to be a question of the number of people, rather than the urban environment as such.
Anyway, let's go on and finish this section.
Text“An attempt to remove the objection and the embarrassment is made by the insertion at
this point in the narrative of a tale of the ancient splendours of Kushinara in some former age
when it was the capital city of a great emperor, Maha Sudassana. In those days the royal city,
Kushavasti (as it was then known), 'was mighty and prosperous and full of people, crowded
with men and provided with all things for food'. This description of the former glories of
Kushinara is elsewhere expanded into a full-length discourse, contained in a separate Sutta,
called the Maha Sudassana Sutta, and it is found also as a jataka story. The account of the
city which is given in these longer versions is highly idealistic; even if no such city ever quite
existed in Indian history, the description allows us to see what was obviously the Buddhist
notion of an ideal city, and to this aspect of the matter we shall return later on.”
S: Yes. According to the text of the Mahaparinibbana sutta, the Buddha consoles Ananda,
and he says that `Well, now, this place may be a barren jungly sort of place but in a remote
period of the past there was a magnificent city here. So don't be so upset.' So what do you
think the Buddha is, perhaps, really trying to say here?
Lokamitra: Teaching of impermanence.
S: Teaching of impermanence, but even more than that.
: The great of today will decay.
S: Yes. Even supposing he had died in a great city, would that great city have been there
forever? Would it continue there forever? No, one day that great city would be laid waste. So
what is the wasteland of today is the great city of tomorrow. What is the great city of today?
It was the wasteland of yesterday. What was the great city of yesterday? It is the wasteland of
today. These are all very relative matters. What does it really matter where you die, whether
in a city or whether in a jungly place. Maybe this is what the Buddha was getting at, if in
fact he did console Ananda, as it were, by pointing out that there had been a great city on that
spot in the past. Maybe it's a subtle hint, as it were, it's a bit ironical or - all right, if he
consoles Ananda by saying `Never mind, this may be a jungly place now, but it was a great
city in the past', he's also saying, `Well, even supposing I was to die in a great city in the
present, well, will it be a great city in the future? Maybe in the future it will be a waste,
jungly place just like this one. So what does it matter where I die?
All right, let's go on to the 'Urbanity of the Buddha'.
Text“THE URBANITY OF THE BUDDHA
Whether appropriately or inappropriately, then, it was in this little town in the jungle that the
Buddha's life ended. There his body was cremated, and the relics were divided, a portion
being given to each of eight legitimate claimants: the king of Magadha, the people of
Vaishali, the people of Kapilavastu, the people of Kushinara, three other tribes, and a
brahman named Vethadipaka.”
S: Well, for what it's worth you notice only one king gets a share. Go on.
Text “In each of the respective towns or cities to which the relics were taken a memorial
cairn was built. Over the vessel in which the remains had been collected another cairn was
built, and yet another over the remaining embers. According to the tradition, therefore, ten
stupas, or places where the Buddha was remembered and honoured, came into being
immediately after his death. Some of these were in great cities - Rajagriha, Vaishali, and
Kapilavastu - and so the dishonour which Ananda felt was incurred in the Buddha's life
ending outside a great city, where no worthy memorial could be maintained, was removed.”
Vessantara: So why this brahman named Vethadipaka?
S: I don't know where he gets that name from. I don't think it occurs in the Pali. A brahman
I know is mentioned who asked for a share just because he is a Brahman, and apparently, he
is given a share. All right, go on then.
Text “This brief survey of the pattern of the Buddha's life, the milieu from which he came,
and the characteristic features of his public activities, shows that the setting of his life, from
the first to the last days, was predominantly urban. It was a life spent in great centres where
people came together to trade and to deliberate, to study and to practise their special crafts
and industries, to discuss and to be entertained, to seek justice, to make money, or to find the
truth. The appeal of his doctrines was primarily to men of an urban background. Among the
things which, tradition suggests, might be said in praise of him was that he abstained from
'village ways' (gamadhamma), a term which could also be translated 'vile conduct'. T. W.
Rhys Davids suggests that the phrase means 'the practice of country folk ... the opposite of
pori, urbane' Later in the same passage it is said, in fact, that the words of the Buddha are
'pleasant to the ear, reaching to the heart, urbane (pori)'. The point here seems to be that the
Buddha's urbanity of speech was consistent with the rational quality of the ideas which he
S: Do you think this is correct - `that it was a life spent in great centres where people came
together to trade and to deliberate'? It's quite a bit of an overstatement. It's true he spent
quite a bit of his time in the urban areas. Not usually right in the urban areas, but just outside,
and within easy reach of them, accessible to people living in those urban areas; but he also
spent quite a lot of his time walking from place to place. Perhaps that's another point that we
ought to recollect. It's true that the Buddha spent twenty-five rainy seasons in Shravasti, but
the rainy season only lasted for three to four months. What was he doing the rest of the time?
He was walking from place to place, which meant mainly passing his time in the villages and
forests. So Trevor Ling doesn't seem to have taken this into consideration, does he?
Perhaps - I don't know whether this is actually so - but it may well be that the Buddha spent
the rainy (sic) season going from place to place with his followers, and visiting mainly
villages and small townships, jungles and caves and so on, and tended to spend the rainy
season in the urban areas. You could say that, perhaps. ...