The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes The Buddha renounces the Life-maintaining Mental Process 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 20 - The Buddha renounces the Life-maintaining Mental Process

Then the Buddha, while at Cāpāla shrine, decided mindfully and with deliberation to give up the life-maintaining mental process, i.e. not to resume the absorption of phala-samāpatti (at the end of three months). On the Buddha’s making that resolution, the great earth quaked with a hair-raising and gooseflesh-causing vehemence.

Then the Buddha, perceiving this phenomenal occurrence, uttered a joyous utterance in verse.

Tula matulañca sambhavaṃ
Bhava samṅkhāra mavasvaji muni
Ajjhattarato samāhito
Abhindi kavacamivatta sambhavaṃ

The Great Sage, having weighed the Infinite Nibbāna against the ephemeral nature of sentient existence, has cast off (by the Ariya Path) the resultantproducing volitions that cause fresh existence. With delight in Insightmeditation (reflecting on the three characteristics of the five aggregates) and with complete calm of mind, he has destroyed the tenacious defilements that enwrap Him like a tight coat of chain-mail.

The meaning of the verse is further expanded:

The Buddha gained the four ariya-maggas after cultivating meditation for calm and insight-meditation. As a brave warrior at the battlefield would cut loose, with his sharp sword, the tight coat of chain mail that he is wearing, so also the Buddha has completely destroyed the defilements with the four Path Knowledges. Just as when the tap-roots of a tree are cut off, the fruit-producing potential of the tree is terminated, the moment the defilements are destroyed, the potential for rebirth that has been cumulating from the beginningless saṃsāra is terminated in the mental makeup of the Buddha.

(Notes: In the statement, “The Bhagavā decided mindfully and with deliberation to give up the life-maintaining mental process,” ‘mindfully’ means the Buddha’s mind dwelled at all moments on the Four Foundations of Steadfast Mindfulness, namely, body, sensations, mind and mind objects. Reflecting wisely on these four Foundation, He recalled how He had borne the burden of the five aggregates over such a long, weary journey of saṃsāra, and that now he was free from the burden; and that to enable him to cast aside this burden, he had for over four asaṅkhyeyyas and a thousand aeons fulfilled the Perfections, the requisite infra structure for the Ariya Path. Now that he was established in the Path which he had long aspired after, he was able to dwell on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, having had penetrative insight into the loathsomeness, woefulness, impermanence and insubstantiality of conditioned phenomena.

With deliberation” means the Buddha pondered on the benefits He had brought for Himself and for others. For His own benefit, He had obtained His goal of Buddhahood at the foot of the Bodhi tree. As for the benefit for others He had, by His preaching the Dhamma, caused the multitudes to gain liberation from the round of dukkha. He would be bringing an end to that mission in the next three months (i.e. on the full moon of Āsāḷhā (May).

These thoughts which the Buddha considered led to the decision, by means of the Buddha-Knowledge, to give up the life-maintaining mental process.

In the expression “to give up the life-maintaining mental process,” ‘the life maintaining mental process’ (āyu-saṅkhāra), is a term capable of two meanings: the interaction of mind and matter kept going by the process that sustains life, conditioned by kamma, is one meaning. The āupālaka-phala-samāpatti that acts as a condition for prolonging life (as explained above, at p 309 of the Myanmar original text) is the other meaning.

To give up the life maintaining mental process” means the Buddha, was resolving that He would not re-enter into the phala-samāpatti after three months; he would do so only up to the full moon of Āsāḷhā. By that resolution, the Buddha, in effect, renounced the condition for prolonging his life beyond three months.

When the Buddha thus renounced the life-maintaining mental process, the great earth quaked in six different ways: (i) swaying from east to west, (ii) swaying from west to east, (iii) swaying from south to north, (iv) swaying from north to south, (v) heaving up, and (iv) dropping down. This phenomenon occurred throughout the ten thousand world-systems, causing people terror with gooseflesh appearing and body-hairs standing up on them.

When the Buddha had relinquished the life-maintaining mental process, He felt delightful satisfaction with the thought that the burden of the body, which He had been carrying over the long course of saṃsāra, was now to be laid aside in the next three months. Since the joy at this happy prospect was so intense that it could not be contained and (like a jar overfilled with oil) it found expression in the joyous utterance of the above stanza.

The fact that that stanza was the outcome of great joy makes it evident that in relinquishing the life-maintaining mental possess, the Buddha was not yielding to Māra out of fear. If it were so, how could such a joyous utterance come about? Only the happy prospect, foreseen by the Buddha-Knowledge, that three months hence He would be laying down the burden of the five aggregates and making an end of all dukkhas, brought forth that joyous utterance concerning his relinquishment.)

Then the Venerable Ānanda bethought himself: “O wonderful it is! O unprecedented it is! This hair-raising earthquake is monstrous indeed! It is really stupendous! And how rolling thunders echoed and re-echoed! What is the cause of great earthquakes? What conditions them?” He approached the Buddha, made his obeisance to Him, and sitting at a suitable place, addressed the Buddha thus: “O wonderful it is! O unprecedented it is! This hair raising earthquake is monstrous indeed! It is really stupendous! and how rolling thunders echoed and re-echoed! Venerable Sir, what is the cause of such great earthquakes? What conditions them?”

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