The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes The Buddha is afflicted with a Very Severe Illness contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as the Buddha Declared the Seven Factors of Non-Decline for Rulers. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

Part 17 - The Buddha is afflicted with a Very Severe Illness

After the Buddha had entered into the vassa period at Veluva village He was afflicted with a very severe illness that caused excessive pain near unto death. He bore the pain and neutralised it by remaining mindful with clear comprehension. (i.e. through Insight Knowledge that reflects on the impermanence, woefulness, and unsubstantiality of sensation.) It now occurred to Him: “It would not be proper for Me to pass away in the attainment of Nibbāna without letting the attendant bhikkhus know, without taking leave of the Order of Bhikkhus. It would be well for Me to keep off this ailment by effort of Insight meditation (vipassanā-bhāvanā), precursor to Fruition-Knowledge, and then by abiding in the life-maintaining phala-samāpatti (sustained absorption in Fruition Knowledge).” Accordingly, the Buddha kept off the ailment through effort of Insight meditation and by abiding in the life-maintaining phala-samāpatti. Then the Buddha’s illness faded.

(The continuous process of psycho-physical phenomena kept going by the force of kamma is called life maintaining effort (jīvita-saṅkhāra). The prolonging of this process of psycho-physical phenomena through phala-samāpatti is also called life maintaining effort (jīvita-saṅkhāra). This life maintaining process or effort is also lifesustaining process (āyu-saṅkhāra).

The arahatta-phala-samāpatti of the Buddha is of three kinds: Maggānantara, vaḷañjana, and āyusaṅkhāra (or āyupālaka).

Of those three,

i) the three impulsion thoughts that arise immediately consequent to the Buddha’s arahatta-magga thought process (the magga-impulsion thoughts having the character to fructify immediately, akālika) is called Maggānantara-phala-samāpatti.

ii) the sustained absorption that the Buddha may at any time later enter at will is called vaḷañjana phala-samāpatti. This is the enjoyment of the peace of Nibbāna. The Buddha entered into this kind of absorption at any possible odd moments, even while the audience expressing appreciation by saying, “sādhu, sādhu” during a discourse.

iii) the Insight meditation entered into by the Buddha at Veḷuva village as the preliminary effort to enter into the absorption of phala-samāpatti is the same as the contemplation that the Bodhisatta had practised on the threshold of Enlightenment under the Mahābodhi Tree. It consists in contemplating the three characteristics of physical and mental phenomena. Having first established in this Insight-meditation, the Buddha made a solemn wish that He be free from any ailment for ten months up to the full moon of Āsāḷhā (May). After that He entered upon arahatta-phala-samāpatti. This absorption of phala-samāpatti had the desired effect of the quelling of the severe illness and the freedom from all disease for ten whole months. Therefore this third type of phala-samāpatti is called life maintaining samāpatti. Details of the method of Insight-meditation preceding this phala-samāpatti, called, rūpa-sattaka and namāsattaka, may be gathered from Visuddhi-magga, Chapter XXII.

Of the above three kinds of phala-samāpatti, the first two, maggāntara and vaḷañjana are referred to as khanika-phala-samāpatti in the Commentaries and Sub-commentaries while the third is called jīvita-saṅkhāra or āyu-saṅkhāra phala-samāpatti.

The distinction between khanika-samāpatti and jīvita-saṅkhāra-samāpatti should be noted. Khanika-samāpatti is preceded by ordinary mode of entering into Insight-meditation whereas jīvita-saṅkhāra-samāpatti is preceded by a higher mode of Insight-meditation called rūpa-sattaka and nāma-sattaka, requiring greater effort. These two types of Insight meditation have, therefore, different effects on the phala-samāpatti that immediately follow them. The former can put off ailment only while the absorption lasts, just like a stone falling on a moss covered surface of water can clear away the moss while the impact of the stone lasts, but will let the moss gather together on the spot later. The latter can put off ailment for a desired period (here ten months), just like when a strong man were to descend the lake, clear away the moss from the desired area so that the moss is kept away for some considerable time.

The Buddha came out of His monastery soon after His recovery, and sat in the shade of the monastery on the seat prepared for Him. Then the Venerable Ānanda approached Him, paid his obeisance and, having seated at a suitable place, said:

“Venerable Sir, I see the Bhagavā now at ease. I find the Bhagavā now in good health. But, Venerable Sir, although I now see the Bhagavā like this, when the Bhagavā was ill, I felt heavy and stiff in my body. I could hardly distinguish between the directions. I became befuddled, unable to comprehend things such as the methods of steadfast mindfulness.

“However, I got a little comfort from the thought that the Bhagavā would not pass away so long as He had not left any instruction concerning the Order of Bhikkhus.”

Thereupon the Buddha explained His position as against the Order of Bhikkhus thus:

“Ānanda, what more could the Order of Bhikkhus expect from Me? For I have taught them without discriminating as the inner circle of disciples or outer circle of disciples. Ānanda, in the matter of the Teaching, I do not keep back anything as if it were some secret held in the closed fist of a (mean) teacher. Ānanda, if someone should desire that he alone should have sole control over the Order of Bhikkhus, or that the Order of Bhikkhus should rely on him alone, then it would be for such person to leave any instructions concerning the Order of Bhikkhus. But Ānanda, I have no desire that I alone should have sole control over the Order of Bhikkhus, or that the Order of Bhikkhus should rely on Me alone. Since I have no such desire, why should I leave any instruction concerning the Order of Bhikkhus?

“Ānanda, I am now grown old, far gone in years, and have arrived at the last stage of life. I am turning eighty years of age. And just as an old worn out cart is kept going by additional efforts and care so My body is kept going by the additional effort of the life maintaining phala-samāpatti. Ānanda, it is (only) when the Tathāgata remains abiding in arahatta-phala-samāpatti, unconcerned with material objects through the cessation of some (mundane) sensations, and through ceasing to attend to any signs of conditioned phenomena, that the Tathāgata’s body is at ease (lit, at greater ease)."

“Therefore, Ānanda, let yourselves be your own refuge; let yourselves, and not anyone else, be your refuge. Let the Dhamma be your firm ground, and let the Dhamma, and not anything else, be your refuge.

“Ānanda, how does a bhikkhu make himself his own refuge, make himself and not anyone else, his refuge? How does he make the Dhamma his firm ground, and make the Dhamma, and not anything else, his refuge?

“Ānanda, in this Teaching, a bhikkhu keeps his mind on the body with diligence, comprehension and mindfulness, steadfastly contemplating it as body, so as to keep away sense desire and distress that would otherwise arise in him. He keeps his mind on sensation with diligence, comprehension, and mindfulness, steadfastly contemplating it as sensation, so as to keep away sense desire and distress that would otherwise arise in him. He keeps his mind on the mind, so as to keep away sense desire and distress that would otherwise arise in him. He keeps his mind steadfastly contemplating it as mind, so as to keep away sense desire and distress that would otherwise arise in him. He keeps his mind on mind objects (dhamma), steadfastly contemplating them as mind objects so as to keep away sense desire and distress that would otherwise arise in him.

“Ānanda, thus a bhikkhu makes himself his own mainstay, makes himself, and not anyone else, his refuge. Thus he makes the Dhamma his firm ground, and makes the Dhamma, and not anything else, his refuge.

“Ānanda, those bhikkhus who, either now or after I have passed away, make themselves their own refuge, make themselves, and not anyone else, their refuge; who make the Dhamma their firm ground, and make the Dhamma, and not anything else, their refuge, all such bhikkhus are sure to attain to the highest state (i.e. arahatship) among all the bhikkhus who cherish the Threefold Training.”

Thus did the Buddha conclude the discourse culminating in arahatta-phala.

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