The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes The Buddha looked back like a Noble Tusker 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 27 - The Buddha looked back like a Noble Tusker

Then the Buddha, rearranging His robes in the morning, He took His alms-bowl and great robe and entered the city of Vesālī for the alms-round. After the alms-round, after having had His meal, He left the place of His meal. On leaving the place, He turned around and looked back towards Vesālī, like a tusker looking back. Then He said to Venerable Ānanda, “Ānanda, this will be the last time the Tathāgata looks on Vesālī. Come, Ānanda, let us go to Bhaṇḍa village.”

“Very well, Venerable Sir,” assented Ānanda.

(In this matter, the statement about the Buddha “turning around to look back” would need some comment. The Buddha’s anatomy is unique among human beings. Ordinary people have bones joined together by touching at the ends (i.e., end to end). Paccekabuddhas have bones joined by hooks formed at the end of each bone (i.e., hook to hook). The Buddha’s bone structure is a set of chain-links (i.e., ring to ring). With the exception of the arms, which consist of twelve big joints and fingers and toes with smaller joints, all other bones are joined as chain-links. That is why the Buddha is endowed with the physical might equal to the strength of ten thousand million tuskers or that of a hundred thousand million men of ordinary strength.

The bone structure being of chain-links, the Buddha’s neck cannot turn back by itself alone. Therefore, when the Buddha wants to look back, He has to turn back the whole body, as an elephant does.)

Although it was the Buddha’s intention to turn around to look back, due to the intervention of (the guardian spirit of) the great earth, that act was not actually carried out. For the great earth, as if unable to bear the sight of the Supreme Being turning around, rotated itself so that the Buddha stood with His person facing Vesālī. The great earth intervened as if it were saying: “O Great Lord, Your fulfilling of the Perfections has been unique. So why should there be the need for the Bhagavā to trouble Himself to turn around physically just to look back as with other ordinary people?” In any case, the expression that “the Bhagavā turned around to look back like a tusker” was used with reference to the Buddha’s intention to do so.

It might be asked: “Why was Vesālī alone being mentioned as the place the Bhagavā has His last look at, and not other places, such as Sāvatthi, Rājagaha, Nāḷanda, Pāṭali village, Koṭi village, Nātika village that He had made His last visit? Did the Bhagavā not look back on those places as well?”

The answer is, No. If the Buddha were to look back on these various places, the uniqueness of the occasion would be lost.

There is also another reason: Vesālī was a doomed city. It was going to be destroyed after three year from the Buddha’s last visit there. The Buddha saw that if He made a turning around to look back like a noble tusker (on Vesālī), that place would be commemorated by the Licchavī princes, “The Noble Tuskers-Turning-Around Shrine” which would bring great benefits to them for a long time. That was the object of the Buddha’s decision to turn around to look back on Vesālī.

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