Indian Philosophy – Buddha’s Long Discourses
The Long Discourses of the Buddha
The original Theravada Buddhists and later Mahayana Buddhists believe that the Buddha’s original teachings are collected in the Tripitaka (Three Baskets), the Pali Suttas (Sanskrit: Sutras), oral traditions that were written on palm-leaves between 500 and 100 BCE. The three baskets are three categories of texts, the Vinaya Pitaka, the rules for life in monasteries, the Sutta Pitaka, the Buddha’s philosophical lectures, and the Abhidhamma (Abhidharma in Sanskrit), analysis and interpretation of the teachings. Much of the Buddha’s core philosophical teachings are found in the long discourses of the second basket, the Digha Nikaya, consisting of 34 discourses. The first and second, along with several others, are the most popular, and contain several key points and metaphors that are used by many Buddhists and others inspired by Buddhist philosophy.
1 – The Brahmajala Sutta: The Supreme Net
Most if not all of the discourses begin with the words, Thus I have heard, describing an oral tradition of witness passed down. Thus, the text begins, Thus I have heard, the Buddha was traveling with 500 monks from town to town, and also followed by Suppiya, a teacher who criticizes the Buddha, and Brahmadatta, Suppiya’s student who praises the Buddha. It seems that positive and negative opinions and arguments about the Buddha follow him and his followers wherever they go.
They all stop for a night at a park with shade and water provided by royalty and guarded with a wall for travelers to rest along their way. In the morning, followers of the Buddha were talking about how wonderful it is for the Buddha to be aware of the varied opinions that follow him.
The Buddha hears them and says that they should not be angry with anyone who criticizes him, his teachings or his followers, as this will hold them back and prevent them from seeing if the criticism is right or wrong. Rather, they should explain what is wrong with the criticism. Similarly, they should not be pleased by those who give praise, as that will also hold them back. Rather, they should explain what is right with the praise.
The Buddha says that only foolish, worldly people praise him for abandoning violence, sex, lies, entertainment, luxury, property, and servants, for doing the right thing and saying the right thing at the right time and to the right extent. Only foolish, worldly people criticize his opponents, such as the Hindu Brahmins, for acting in ways that lead to addiction and destruction, speaking about useless things, claiming to know what others do not in debate, running errands for those in power or misleading others with expert advice and fortune telling.
Rather, there are other things that are hard to see and beyond ordinary thought that the wise can know that do deserve praise. Neither discipline nor reason can reveal these things. The particular knowledge that these practices reveal leads to further birth and death, but being unattached to this itself is to know true peace and freedom.
Each time the world is reborn, God (Brahma) becomes lonely and creates the other gods and beings. Later, those who seek wisdom beyond the home discover that things are impermanent, pleasure is addictive and logical reasoning gives stability to the ideas of the mind, and they split into those who believe that the self and world are permanent and those who do not (“Eternalists and Non-Eternalists”, also the “Infinitists and Finitists”).
Some argue that things are permanent, others that things are impermanent, others that things are both permanent one way but impermanent another, and others that things are neither in any particular way. (These are the Catuskoti of Nagarjuna.) Similarly there are those who debate whether we know what is good or bad, those who debate whether or not there is life after death in another world beyond this one, those who debate whether things happen by chance or necessity, and those who debate whether enlightenment and freedom are here now or somewhere else. These “wriggly eels” on each side evade questions in debate that they can’t answer.
Those who take one side against the other do not see the fear and chaos that makes them and the other cling to one side, nor do they see that clinging to one side will not bring them peace or safety, but merely trap them in a vast, intricate net, like a fish too large to swim between the knots. When anyone sees what is beyond all these sides, they see what only the wise can see, the supreme net of all possibly viewpoints and the superior victory over all battles.
2- The Samannaphala Sutta: The Fruits of Homeless Life
Buddha is staying in the royal doctor’s mango grove when King Ajatasattu, one of the first in history to use catapults in war, rides in on 500 elephants to ask questions and bring peace to his heart. The king fears a trap, as the hundreds of followers staying with the Buddha are completely silent as they approach, and does not know who the Buddha is apart from his followers.
The king asks Buddha what his followers make that can be seen, as all who work at something produce something. The Buddha asks the king if he has asked this question of other sages. The king says yes, of six, and he still has no peace. These six are known by Buddhists as the Six False Sages, who taught philosophies that were opposed to the Buddha’s at the time the Buddha was living and teaching. Thus the text serves to give a history of the particular positions that Buddhists were competing with for followers and arguing against in philosophical debates.
The first, Kassapa, told the king that nothing does anything, that no act is evil, and talked as if there is no difference between a breadfruit and a mango, so the king got up and left, not knowing if what he said was right or wrong.
The second, Gosala, said there is nothing in particular that can be done to change the pleasure and pain we are fated to live out, like letting a tossed ball of twine unwind.
The third, Kesakambala, said that there is no afterlife, the Brahmins don’t know what they are talking about, we consist of the four elements, with earth returning to earth, water to water, fire to fire, and air to air, so human survival is pointless.
The fifth, Nataputta, revered as the Jain tirthankara living at the time of the Buddha, said that moral restraint is self-control and perfection to the extent it is embodied.
The sixth, Belatthaputta said we cannot know or say there is or isn’t an afterlife, or if there is both or neither, and so we cannot know or say there are good or bad fruits of good or bad acts. The king left frustrated, confused by all but most by Belatthaputta, and wondered if anyone can say what the difference between a breadfruit and a mango is.
Buddha says he can show the king visible fruit of a life free of a home and possessions, and asks the king if he had a servant who became a monk, would he call him back to serve him? The king says no, he would honor him as worthy and not call him back from being a monk, and would instead support him and others living lives of restraint. Buddha says that this is the visible fruit of living the monk’s life, the difference in the king’s response to the servant devoting himself, showing the king and servant in a situation together, producing the difference.
The king asks for something else he can see, and Buddha asks the king if a householder, one who serves his own house rather than the king, should be called back to having a home after becoming a monk, and the king again says that someone who lives a life of restraint should be supported, not called back. Buddha says this is also visible fruit.
The king again asks for something else, and Buddha says that it happens that a buddha, an enlightened sage, arises and teaches servants and householders to live a life as free as air, both restrained and conquered on all possible sides, aware but free of the major signs and secondary qualities of all things, practicing patience and awareness in all things. Thus the sage, who serves everyone, the householder, who serves himself, and the servant, who serves another, are all visible fruit that follows from a life free of attachments.
Abandoning worry and concerns purifies the heart of doubt and fear, just as a prisoners feel free after prison, just as servants feel free when they are freed from service, just as wealthy merchants feel free when they reach the edge of the desert and find a village. The joy of freedom is the visible fruit of awareness, with joy filling the body and focusing the mind. Sages knead awareness into themselves like water into soap-powder until they are a single self-same mass of awareness drenched with joy.
Like snakes, sages shed themselves, pulling a new body out of the old, gaining extra-ordinary (supernatural) powers, hearing, seeing and feeling what others cannot. The wise use still minds as mirrors to examine themselves in ways stirred minds cannot, finding tiny spots here and there. The sage knows the narrow mind is narrow, the wide mind is wide, and the wide lies beyond the narrow, freedom beyond restraint.
King Ajatasattu rejoices and says he can now see, as if a lamp has been kindled or someone lost shown the way home. After he leaves, Buddha tells his followers that the king’s fate is already sealed for killing his own father to take over the throne, and that even though the king now sees that this was wrong, if he hadn’t killed his father he would have gained his freedom.
9 – The Potthapada Sutta: States of Consciousness
Thus was heard Buddha was staying in Savatthi with his wealthy follower Anathapindika, whose name means Gives-Charity-To-The-Poor, where he sought the wanderer Potthapada, Clay-Foot, at the debate hall in the park of Queen Mallika. Potthapada was sitting with 300 wanderers loudly debating in all sorts of unclear ways about kings, robbers, wars, beds, villages, cities, gossip at the well and the word on the street, and much of being and non-being, when he sees Buddha coming and tells his followers to be quiet, because Buddha likes it that way and if they are quiet he will want to talk to them. Potthapada thanks the revered sage for going so far out of his way to visit them, and clears him a seat, taking a low stool to the side for himself. Potthapada seems to mock Buddha’s restraint and clarity.
Buddha asks what they were talking about, and Potthapada says it is not important and will be easy to speak of later. Potthapada says those who debate in this hall talk about how higher consciousness and extinction of the self happen, but they disagree about whether perception, the self, powerful priests or the gods make it happen, so he asks Buddha: How does higher consciousness happen? Buddha says that perceptions are caused and training can cause them or prevent them. The wise model and embody this training of the mind and whole self to be tranquil and unified, remaining in delight and detachment while engaging with the world. The enlightened pass from one stage to the next while remaining fully at each stage, aware of each and then the next together as a unified whole. The one who sees and understands there is no need for self and other embraces and rids themselves of self and other.
Buddha asks what Potthapada thinks and whether he has heard of this before, and Potthapada says he hasn’t and asks if all this is one or many. Buddha says he teaches that it is both one and many, one as all and each as many. Potthapada asks if knowledge comes before or after perception, and Buddha says perception comes before knowledge. Potthapada asks if self and perception are two things or one thing, and Buddha asks Potthapada if he believes there is a self. Potthapada says he thinks there is a crude self made of the four elements, and Buddha says if so then perception and self would have to be two different things, as the material self remains much the same as it perceives very different things. Potthapada says he thinks the mind makes the self, including all the organs and parts together, and Buddha says that self and perception would still have to be different with such a view. Potthapada says he wants to know if self and perception are one and the same or two different things, and Buddha says it is difficult for different views to know if these are one or two things.
Potthapada says if those with different views from the Buddha, such as himself, have trouble with this, can Buddha say if the world is eternal or not? Buddha says he doesn’t say either way. Potthapada asks if the self and body are one and the same thing, and Buddha says he doesn’t say either way. Potthapada asks if the Buddha will exist after his death, and Buddha says he doesn’t say either way. Potthapada asks why the Buddha doesn’t say either way on these important questions, and Buddha says it is not helpful to people, does not lead to disenchantment, calm or enlightenment. Potthapada asks what the Buddha does say is the case, and Buddha says that this here is suffering, this is how it starts, this is how it stops, and this is the way out. Potthapada asks why tell people this, and Buddha says it is helpful.
Potthapada says so be it, and go do what you see needs doing, and Buddha leaves. The 300 wanderers mock Potthapada from all sides, saying he let Buddha off easy and they don’t understand a word of what Buddha was talking about, mocking Buddha saying “the world is eternal and NOT eternal!” Potthapada says he himself doesn’t know if the world is eternal or not, or whether the enlightened live after death, but Buddha teaches a practice that seems sound and grounded. Why should he not be free to approve? Later Potthapada goes with Citta, the son of an elephant trainer, to see Buddha and told him about the 300 wanderers.
Buddha says they are quite blind. Buddha tells Potthapada that Brahmins who say that after death there is complete happiness have never been completely happy anywhere, for any length of time, or know how anyone could be completely happy here. They are like a man who says he will love the most beautiful woman in the world, but when questioned has no idea what she might look like in the slightest, not the color of her hair nor her caste nor clan, which is stupid. Brahmins who say after death the self will be free from disease are like building a staircase for a palace without knowing which direction it will face or how tall it will be. Buddha tells Potthapada there are three kinds of self we gather, the material self, the mental self, and the formless self, perception itself, and there are ways of getting rid of all three. This is like not knowing which way the palace will face or how tall it will be, and building the staircase underneath the palace so it will reach it no matter how things are. This suggests we are also underneath and building upward to the formless.
Citta, the son of the elephant trainer, asks Buddha if the material self truly exists apart from the others, and Buddha says that when there is one there isn’t the others, much as Citta himself did exist in the past, but not truly and exclusively such that he isn’t also with them now, or that if he is with them now, he didn’t truly have a gathered self in the past. Each self is the true self at the time, as it is. Milk becomes curds, curds become butter, butter becomes ghee, and ghee becomes cream of ghee, but milk isn’t curds, or butter, or ghee. Buddha tells Citta that the sorts of selves are merely names, expressions and figures of speech commonly used in the world which the Buddha himself uses without misperceiving them. Potthapada rejoices and becomes a lay-follower, but Citta becomes a monk and goes on to become revered himself.
22 – The Mahasatipatthana Sutta – The Greater Base of Awareness
The Mahasatipatthana Sutta, the “great base/foundation/understanding of awareness/enlightenment/insight” is often considered the most important of Buddha’s discourses, and it is quite the catalog of basic Buddhist doctrines, including mindful breathing, the four noble truths, the five hindrances that hold us back, and several other numbered sets of things Buddha analyzes and finds are empty. One of the confusing things about studying early Indian Buddhism today is that Buddha not only talks a lot and does not simply remain silently seated, but has four of this, five of that and seven of these, and speaks as if this fully and completely understands matters. It is unclear how much Buddha taught there were specifically four noble truths and five hindrances, or how much early Indian Buddhists codified his teachings into these easy-to-remember mnemonic devices. Each dialogue begins with “thus I have heard”, and presumably that person heard someone else, who heard at least someone else say what the Buddha actually said.
Thus it was heard, and thus we read Buddha was staying in Kammasadhamma and told the monks there that there are four bases of awareness that allow us to realize freedom, awareness of the body, of feelings, of mind and of things. Using the body to be aware of the body is done by going into the forest, the root of a tree or an empty place, sitting cross-legged and mindfully breathing in and out, knowing that we are taking a long breath when we take a long breath and knowing we are taking a short breath when we are taking a short breath, much as a skilled chariot driver knows when and how to make both a long turn and a short turn around an obstacle. Buddha does not say when to take a long or a short breath, though there are many Buddhist techniques that later Buddhists recommend. Buddha does say to calm yourself as you breath in, and then calm yourself as you breath out, contemplating what arises and ceases inside and outside the body as the body.
Buddha says there are four postures, talking, standing, sitting and lying down, and we should train to maintain awareness of what bodily posture we are currently in. If this sounds silly, consider we can catch ourselves slouching and hurting ourselves sitting at a computer. We should be aware of moving forward or backward, of bending and stretching, of carrying the inner robe, the outer robe, and the bowl, of carrying our clothes and the objects we hold in our hands. Much like a small child, I myself often lose track of what I’m holding in my hands when I get distracted by other tasks, such that I am trying to do something with my fingers while still holding a hammer from the previous task.
Buddha says to be aware of chewing and savoring food, and taking a piss or giving a crap. The body is like a bag of various grains, here this organ and that, there this element or that, and the aware can examine the body with the body as awareness much like a butcher slaughtering a cow at a crossroads, with this part of the cow’s body this way and another part that way, with the body as place that awareness traverses. When we see bodies in graveyards, bloated and decaying, bitten and picked at by crows, vultures, dogs and jackals, or see a flesh-less, scattered skeleton, we should keep in mind that this and every other body has the same fate. This is awareness of body as body, the first base.
Getting to the second basis, we are aware of feeling as feeling itself, not just emotion but any sensation or perception as an experience we feel. When we feel feelings that are pleasant, painful, or neither pleasant nor painful we should feel them as they are and be aware of them as them, just as we should be aware that pleasant and painful feelings are physical or mental, affecting the body or the mind as the body or mind.
Awareness of mind as mind is the third basis of awareness, aware when we feel lust, hate and confusion, the three things Buddha is said to have experienced falling off and away in the state of enlightenment and freedom from attachments. We should be aware when our minds are weak, worried, or distracted, and when our minds and the minds of others are developed and undeveloped, surpassed and unsurpassed. While the Buddha is said to have an unsurpassed mind, which seems in tune with mind itself, he speaks as if anyone who is aware has the same unsurpassed mind that he has, and anyone who doesn’t has a mind that can be surpassed with the mind we all have deep down, which becomes entangled with lust, hate and confusion.
Fourth and finally, we are aware of things as things, of objects that exist for us being mental objects, conceptualized and individuated. Buddha says we should keep the five hindrances, the five mental objects of desire, hate, sloth, worry and doubt in mind, aware of how they arise, persist and dissipate in us as us. Similarly, we should keep the five aggregates (gatherings or piles) in mind as mental objects, aware as form, feeling, perception, conception and consciousness arise, persist and dissipate, as well as the six sense-bases of the eye, ear, nose, tongue and skin as well as the seven factors of enlightenment, with mindfulness leading to investigation leading to excitement leading to delight leading to tranquility leading to equanimity, total composure. On top of this, Buddha adds the four noble truths, that existence leads to desire, desire leads to suffering, but we can lead ourselves out of suffering and desire via the path to enlightenment.
Buddha says that anyone who practices these four foundations of mindfulness for a mere seven years will either become enlightened in this life or after this life, with no need to return and be reincarnated to become enlightened. He then whittles this down to anyone who practices this for five years, then a year, then three months, then a month, and finally to anyone who practices these four bases of awareness for a solid week. The Jains say Bahubali was the first to become fully enlightened and aware after standing for a year in the jungle, and Buddha says that sitting in a quiet place or doing much of anything else with total awareness for a week will leave you with a mind that cannot be surpassed by anyone.
24 – The Patika Sutta – The Full Plate & The Con-Artist
Thus we hear that Buddha was staying in the town of Anupiya and decided to visit the wanderer Bhaggava-gotta (whose name means Potter-Son, of the caste and clan that make pots). Like the wanderer Potthapada, Bhaggava gives Buddha a nice seat and sits to the side on a stool, and asks Buddha why the Vajji prince Sunakkhatta is no longer under his rule, which Sunakkhatta told him the other day. Perhaps Bhaggava is challenging Buddha, asking why his teaching wasn’t enough after giving him the chief teaching seat.
Buddha says that he told Sunakkhatta when he left that he never asked him to be under his rule, nor did he offer to be under it, and wonders what Sunakkhatta is leaving if neither said either. Sunakkhatta says Buddha hasn’t performed any miracles, and Buddha says he never offered to perform any, nor did he say that if he performs miracles he gets to rule over others. Rather, Buddha teaches others to destroy suffering, not believe in miracles or miracle-workers. Sunakkhatta says Buddha does not explain how the world began, and Buddha says he never offered this either.
Buddha tells Bhaggava that once he and Sunakkhatta met the dog-man Korakkhatta, a naked sage who would crawl on all fours, lay on the ground and eat food without using either tools or hands, only his mouth. Sunakkhatta thought that his is a real ascetic, devoted to the true life, but Buddha, seeing what Sunakkhatta silently thinks, says Korakkhatta will die in seven days of indigestion and then be born lowly as a hideous demon. Buddha might have thought the same of the Greek philosopher Diogenes the Cynic (“dog-like”) who lived in a tub outside the marketplace of Athens and taught others to live like a dog, once smashing his bowl after seeing a poor boy drink with his hands. Buddha carries a bowl and wears a robe, the two possessions of all Buddhist monks, and Korakkhatta doesn’t even use his hands to eat or drink.
Buddha says that if you ask Korakkhatta, he may very well know and embrace his fate, saying he has been born among hideous demons before. Sunakkhatta warns Korakkhatta that Buddha foresees his fate and counts the days, hoping Buddha is wrong, but Korakkhatta dies of indigestion on the seventh day, as forecast. Sunakkhatta went to the burial ground, struck Korakkhatta’s corpse, and asked if he knew his fate, and Korakkhatta sat up, said he did, and has been reborn a demon, and then keels over again. Sunakkhatta told Buddha what happened, and Buddha asks if he still hasn’t performed any miracles.
Buddha tells Bhaggava that another time the naked sage Kalaramutthaka lived by seven rules in Vaishali, the Vajji capital, living without clothes, sex, weak food or drink, or going past the great shrines to the north, south east and west of Vaishali. The first three and final four geographic prohibitions make seven rules. Kalaramutthaka does not consider going to far up or down. Sunakkhatta, a Vajji prince, asked Kalaramutthaka a question he couldn’t answer, which made him angry. Sunakkhatta feared angering the great sage, but Buddha told him that Kalaramutthaka would soon be clothed and married, living on weak food and drink, and would travel beyond each of the shrines, losing his reputation as a great sage, and this came to pass.
Buddha tells Bhaggava that another time there was a third naked sage living in the Vajji capital, where naked sages run hot and cold, called Patikaputta (Full-Dish), who announced to everyone at the great assembly that he and Buddha both claim to have wisdom, they should have a miracle-working contest and he will work twice as many miracles as Buddha does. If Buddha performs one miracle, he will perform two, if two, four and if four, eight. Sunakkhatta told Buddha what Patikaputta said, and Buddha said Patikaputta’s head will split open if he meets Buddha face to face without renouncing his words. Sunakkhatta again hopes Buddha is wrong, and that Patikaputta comes in a different form to prove Buddha wrong.
Buddha says he will go to see Patikaputta himself, and Sunakkhatta can warn him however he wants beforehand. Sunakkhatta stupidly tells everyone there will be a miracle battle between the two sages when they meet, so thousands go to the park where Patikaputta lives. Patikaputta freaks out, and flees to a tree grove where other wanderers stay. Someone comes to get him, but he continues to wiggle in his seat as if he is getting up but is too afraid to rise. A minister comes to get him, but he does not rise. His head doesn’t split open, but Buddha was right after all, that Patikaputta could not meet him face to face as he did not take back his words.
Jaliya, follower of Darupattika, the sage of the wooden bowl, came to see Patikaputta, and when he saw him wiggle and realized he was afraid Jaliya told him that a jackal once thought he could make the jungle his home after getting fat from the leftovers of a lion and thinking that he was the lion’s equal, but when the jackal tried to roar like a lion in the jungle everyone could hear the difference between his howl and the lion’s roar. Later Zen folks in China say when the lion roars, the jackals’ heads all split open.
Jaliya returns to Buddha and the great assembly, and Buddha says that even if the Vajji were to tie Patikaputta up and drag him with oxen, Patikaputta would break free to stay and sit where he is. Then, according to the text Buddha delighted everyone with a talk, and then burst into flames, rose into the sky seven palm trees high, and and fired a beam into the air another seven trees high that gave off a wonderful fragrance. Patikaputta could not be reached for comment or for twice the miracles.
Buddha tells Bhaggava that he knows the first beginnings of all things, and not only that, but what is more valuable than knowing the beginning of all things. Some priests and sages say that God (Brahma) created the world, but when Buddha asks how God comes about, before the world comes about, none of them know or can say. Buddha tells them that the world expands and contracts, and after the world contracts and expands again there will be others who are lonely and long for others, implying that this process has always been, and thus is the origin and continuation of all things, what was, is and will be, giving birth to itself in cycles.
Some priests and sages say that things were good in the beginning, but were corrupted by pleasure and fell from grace and paradise, but but when Buddha asks how paradise came about before the fall, none of them know or can say. Other priests and sages say that things were good, but corrupted by mind dividing things, but when Buddha asks how things were one and not many, none know or can say. Some say order arises from chance, but can’t say how chance came to be in the first place. Pleasure and envy, chance and order, arise in the world, and fall away, in all things, and that is how this began and continues to begin and happen. The text can be read as spirits, or mentalities, or entities of pleasure and pain arise and fall away in the world, in cycles, leading to cycles, inside and outside of us.
16 – The Mahaparinibbana Sutta – The Buddha’s Last Days
Thus heard, Buddha was staying on Vulture Peak when King Ajatasattu, whom the Buddha has already condemned to fall for his sins, sent his Brahmin chief-minister Vassakara to see if the Buddha approved of going to war with the Vajjians. The Vajji clan of eight tribes lived in Northeast India along the Ganges River, and are considered one of the first known republics in human history, with elected leaders drawn from those chosen from each clan and village to represent their part of the tribe and overall clan. Mahavira and Buddha are said to have visited the Vajji and their capital, three-walled city Vaishali.
Buddha asks his follower Ananda, who is fanning him, if the Vajjians meet together in assemblies to talk and live together in harmony as he has heard, and Ananda says they do. Buddha similarly has heard, and Ananda confirms, that the Vajjians don’t authorize what has been abolished, nor do they abolish what has been authorized by their elders, do not abduct wives and daughters, and revere the shrines properly. Buddha does not mention whether or not the Vajji abduct husbands and sons. Buddha tells Vassakara that he himself taught the Vajji these ways and that they will thrive if they continue to follow them. Vassakara says his king will clearly not conquer the Vajji by force, but can use propaganda to turn them against each other, and leaves happy.
Buddha summons the assembly of monks in the official assembly hall, as the followers now have orders and halls, and he tells them that they should follow the same seven things he taught the Vajjians to prosper as a community, to meet in assemblies, live in harmony, keep to the ways of the elders, refrain from sinful acts (symbolized by abducting women as target object of desire) and take care of their living practices, they will prosper as a community. Buddha says they should not delight in chattering, sleep too much, hang out with evil friends, investigate all things and improve their minds they will prosper. Living in balance brings concentration, concentration brings wisdom, and wisdom brings freedom in and for all things. Buddha traveled with many monks to several places where his followers were living, teaching them the same three-part sermon on balance, concentration and wisdom.
At Nalanda, Sariputta said that it is clear to him that no one will ever be more enlightened than the Buddha. Buddha says that if Sariputta has not had all the past and future Buddhas appear to him and tell him this, and if Buddha does not say it presently, Sariputta has spoken too boldly with the voice of a bull and the roar of a lion. Sariputta says that the minds of all Buddhas are not open to him, but he knows the drift of the teaching, and it is like a city with mighty walls and a single gate that is so well-guarded a cat can’t sneak in. There is only one entrance, and the Buddha has fully entered, as do all Buddhas.
In Pataligama, Buddha told the lay-followers who gathered to hear him that there are five evils householders such as themselves can suffer: losing their house, losing their reputation, speaking shyly in assemblies, dying confused, and going to a hell-world after death. There are also the five successes: keeping their house, gaining reputation, speaking confidently in assemblies, dying with wisdom and going to a paradise after death. Buddha talked into the night, delighting and inspiring the householders.
At the time Vassakara and others were building a fortress in Pataligama to fight the Vajjians, and Buddha tells Ananda that Buddhism will spread far and wide out of this central city, but it will be destroyed by fire, water and internal divisions. Buddha leaves Pataligama and crosses the Ganges River by vanishing and reappearing on the other side with his followers, as the banks are crowded with people seeking boats, rafts and building their own to cross. Buddha says people make a bridge or a boat when they want to cross the sea, a lake or a pond, but the wise have already crossed over and remain on the other side.
They journey to Kotigama, Nadika and Vesali, where Buddha teaches about balance, concentration and wisdom as he has. In Vesali, the famous courtesan Ambapali (a ganika, a cultured woman who entertains, like a Japanese geisha, whose name means Mango-Guardian) drove in her finest carriage to meet Buddha, listened with delight to him speak, and invited him to a meal in her home. The Licchavis, who dress in all blue, all white, all yellow, or all red, with makeup, also invite Buddha to a meal, but Buddha says Ambapali asked him first, angering the Licchavis, though Buddha gives them a lecture that delights them and they leave happy. Buddha is not seduced by Ambapali’s beauty, but Ambapali became a follower of the Buddha, but no nun.
Buddha, Ananda and followers stay in the village of Beluva for the monsoon rains, and Buddha becomes deathly sick, but realizes he should not die before attaining a final state of nirvana and then speaking to his followers, so he focuses his energy and gets well. Ananda tells him the next morning he was a wreck thinking about Buddha being sick, and Buddha says that he has taught them all he knows and should not have to continue to live to keep them on the path. Like an old cart held together by straps, Buddha says his body is just holding it together. Ananda and the others should live as islands unto themselves, with no refuge in anyone or anything other than the way, contemplating the unity of all things in all things. Those who live this way now and in the far future, seeking to learn, will reach higher than anyone else.
Buddha tells Ananda that when he achieved supreme enlightenment, Mara the Evil One came to him and said that he should attain final liberation and leave the world entirely, and he told Mara he would not attain final liberation until he had a trained following of monks and nuns to preserve and guard the teaching. Now that he has trained monks and nuns, who live and guard the teaching, and the teaching is well-known far and wide, Mara has returned to him and reminded him of his promise, and the time is at hand for Buddha to leave the world and attain final and total liberation in death. Ananda begs Buddha three times to remain in the world, but three times Buddha says it is not the right time.
They journey to Pava, where the smith Cunda serves Buddha and his followers a meal. The Buddha asks that he alone eat the truffles (or possibly pork, as delight-of-pig could mean either), asks that the leftovers be buried, and gets deathly sick. He crosses the river to stay in a grove of trees in Kusinara, tells Ananda he is tired and needs to lay down, and assumes the lion-posture, symbolic of his death in reclining statues. He says that Cunda will feel guilt for serving him truffles, but he should feel joy that this gave Buddha his final liberation. Ananda says that Buddha should not die in a miserable little jungle village in the middle of nowhere when he has countless followers who would give him a proper death and funeral. Buddha says that this town was once a rich capital city of a long-dead king, just as great cities enjoy today.
Buddha tells Ananda that the teaching will soon be their teacher, and that they can change minor rules after his death if they wish, and that at least one of the five hundred there is certain to achieve supreme liberation as he has. Buddha’s final words were, “Now, seekers of enlightenment, I say all determined things decay by nature, so strive on untiringly.” With that, Buddha passed completely away.