The Discourse about the Great Emancipation

[The Sixth Chapter for Recitation]

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[43: The Story concerning Mahākassapa] cf. Pañcasatikakkhandhakaṁ, opening (Cullavagga, 11).01

Now at that time venerable Mahākassapa was travelling along the highway from Pāvā to Kusinārā, together with a great Community of monks, around five-hundred monks. Then venerable Mahākassapa, after descending from the path, sat down at the root of a certain tree.

Now at that time a certain Ājīvaka Sometimes translated as naked ascetic. The Ājīvakas were followers of Makkhali Gosāla, and held that there was no result of action (akriyavāda).02 while holding a Mandārava flower Mandārava flowers were believed to grow in the Tusita heaven and only fall on special occasions.03 from Kusinārā was travelling along the highway to Pāvā.

Venerable Mahākassapa saw that Ājīvaka approaching from afar, and after seeing (him), he said this to that Ājīvaka: “Do you know our Teacher, friend?”

“Certainly, friend, I know. Today is seven days since the Final Emancipation of the ascetic Gotama, therefore I am holding this Mandārava flower.”

Then those monks there who were not free from passion, some, throwing up their arms, were weeping, falling down (as though) cut down, rolling backwards and forwards as though with their feet cut off, they were crying: ‘Too quickly the Gracious One has attained Final Emancipation, too quickly the Fortunate One has attained Final Emancipation, too quickly the Visionary in the world has disappeared!’

But those monks who were free from passion, mindfully, with full awareness, endured, (thinking): “Impermanent are (all) processes, how can it be otherwise?”

* * *

Now at that time one who had gone forth in old age, named Subhadda was sitting in that group. This is a different Subaddha than the one mentioned earlier.04 Then Subhadda, who had gone forth in old age, said this to those monks: “Enough, friends, do not grieve, do not lament, we are now freed from that troublesome Great Ascetic, (saying): ‘This is allowable for you, this is not allowable for you.’ But now we will do whatever we wish, and we will not do whatever we do not wish.” The Commentary relates a long story here telling how Subhadda after ordaining had once prepared a meal for the Buddha and the Community, but had been rebuked by the Buddha for breaking Vinaya rules in its preparation. He thereafter held a grudge against the Buddha and against the Vinaya.05

Then venerable Mahākassapa addressed the monks, (saying): Note that here Ven. Mahākassapa does not answer what was said by Subhadda at all, but instead exhorts the monks. One can't help feeling that the narrative has been poorly stiched together here. In the Vinaya account of this story Cullavagga 11, beginning), Subhadda's outburst comes after Ven. Mahākassapa's exhortation, which is much more fitting.06 “Enough, friends, do not grieve, do not lament, were you not warned by the Gracious One, friends, when he declared this: ‘There is alteration in, separation from, and changeability in all that is dear and appealing.’ How can it be otherwise, friends, for that which is obtained, born, become, in process, subject to dissolution? It is not possible (to say) this: ‘It should not dissolve’.

Now at that time four leaders of the Mallas, having washed their heads and put on clean clothes, (said): “Let us burn the Gracious One's funeral pyre,” but they were not able to burn (it). Then the Mallas of Kusinārā said this to venerable Anuruddha: “What is the reason, venerable Anuruddha, what is the cause, why four leaders of the Mallas, having washed their heads and put on clean clothes, (and saying): ‘Let us burn the Gracious One's funeral pyre,’ are not able to burn (it)?”

“The Divinities The Commentary says these Divinities were Ven. Mahākassapa's supporters, like Sakka. See Ud. 1-6 and 3-7 for instances of the Divinities waiting on Ven. Mahākassapa.07 have another intention, Vāseṭṭhas.”

“But what is the Divinities' intention, reverend Sir?”

“The Divinities' intention, Vāseṭṭhas, (is): ‘The venerable Mahākassapa is travelling along the highway from Pāvā to Kusinārā together with a great Community of monks, around five-hundred monks, the Gracious One's funeral pyre will not burn while venerable Mahākassapa has not worshipped the Gracious One's feet with his head.’ ”

“Let us do according to the Divinities' intention, reverend Sir.”

Then venerable Mahākassapa approached Kusinārā, and the Mallas' Shrine called the Bonded Coronet, and the Gracious One's funeral pyre, and after approaching and arranging his robe on one shoulder, extending (his hands) in respectful salutation, and circumambulating the funeral pyre three times, and uncovering the feet he worshipped the Gracious One's feet with his head. The Commentary takes this a bit more literally than necessary, and says that Ven. Mahākassapa attained fourth jhāna and made a determination that the Buddha's feet should break through their five hundred layers of wrapping, before he worshipped them.08

Also five-hundred monks, after arranging their robes on one shoulder, extending (their hands) in respectful salutation, and circumambulating the funeral pyre three times, worshipped the Gracious One's feet with their heads. After (the Gracious One's feet) had been worshipped by venerable Mahākassapa and by five-hundred monks the funeral pyre caught fire by itself.

Now while the Gracious One's body was burning, of the outer skin, the inner skin, the flesh, the sinews, the synovial fluid, neither charcoal was evident, nor was ash of the body left over. Just as while ghee or oil is burning there is no charcoal and no ash evident, so when the Gracious One's body was burning, of the outer skin, the inner skin, the flesh, the sinews, the synovial fluid, neither charcoal was evident, nor was ash of the body left over. Only two of those five-hundred pairs of clothes were not consumed, that on the inside and that on the outside.

When the Gracious One's body was burnt a shower of water appeared in the sky, and the Gracious One's funeral pyre was extinguished. Also after water rose from a well, The Commentary first says the water came from the Sāla trees, which is hard to understand, but in the same comment continues: samantā pathaviṁ bhinditvā pi naṅgalasīsamattā udakavaṭṭi phalikavaṭaṁsakasadisā uggantvā citakam-eva gaṇhanti; having broken through the earth all round like the head of a plough, a jet of water, like a crystal crown, having risen caught hold of the pyre. This makes me think that the water may have come from a well (lit: [water]-hall), and I translate it as such. However, I have not found the expression used in this way elsewhere, so the meaning remains doubtful.09 the Gracious One's funeral pyre was extinguished. Also the Mallas from Kusinārā extinguished the Gracious One's funeral pyre with all types of fragrant water. These lines seem to record three disparate accounts of how the pyre was eventually extinguished.10

Then the Mallas of Kusinārā, after making an enclosure of spears in the Council Hall, Comm: tattha sattipañjaraṁ katvā ti sattihatthehi purisehi parikkhipāpetvā; here after making an enclosure of spears means having made an enclosure of people with spears in their hands.11 and surrounding the Gracious One's bodily relics with bows, honoured, respected, revered, and worshipped (it) with dance, song, music, garlands, and perfumes.