a Saal forest in Kushinagar the Buddha died and attained mahaparinirvana
at the age of 80.
of the places of pilgrimage is Kushinagar, where Shakyamuni entered
mahaparinirvana. This was the furthest he had reached on his final
journey, which retraced much of the road he had walked when many
years before he had left Kapilavastu. When he reached his eighty-first
year, Buddha gave his last major teaching - the subject was the
thirty-seven wings of enlightenment - and left Vulture's Peak
with Ananda to journey north. After sleeping at Nalanda he crossed
the Ganges for the last time at the place where Patna now stands
and came to the village of Beluva. Here the Buddha was taken ill,
but he suppressed the sickness and continued to Vaisali. This
was a city where Shakyamuni had often stayed in the beautiful
parks that had been offered to him. It was also the principal
location of the third turning of the wheel of Dharma.
staying at Vaisali, Buddha thrice mentioned to Ananda a buddha's
ability to remain alive until the end of the aeon. Failing to
understand the significance of this Ananda said nothing and went
to meditate nearby. Shakyamuni then rejected prolonging his own
life-span. When Ananda learned of this later he implored the Buddha
to live longer but he was refused, for his request had come too
to Pava, the blacksmith's son Kunda offered him a meal which included
meat. It is said that all the buddhas of this world eat a meal
containing meat on the eve of their passing away. Buddha accepted,
but directed that no one else should partake of the food. Later
it was learned that the meat was bad. He told Ananda that the
merit created by offering an enlightened one his last meal is
equal to that of offering food to him just prior to his enlightenment.
Pava and Kushinagar the Buddha rested near a village through which
a caravan had just passed. The owner of the caravan, a Malla nobleman,
came and talked to the Buddha. Deeply moved by Shakyamuni's teachings,
he offered the Buddha two pieces of shining gold cloth. However,
their lustre was completely outshone by Shakyamuni's radiance.
It is said that a buddha's complexion becomes prodigiously brilliant
on both the eve of his enlightenment and the eve of his decease.
next day, when they arrived at the banks of the Hiranyavati river
south of Kushinagar, the Buddha suggested that they should go
to the caravan leader's sala grove. There, between two pairs of
unusually tall trees, Shakyamuni lay down on his right side in
the lion posture with his head to the north. Ananda asked if Rajgir
or Shravasti, both great cities, would perhaps be more fitting
places for his passing. The Buddha replied that in an earlier
life as a bodhisattva king this had been Kushavati his capital,
and at that time there had been no fairer nor more glorious city.
noblemen of Kushinagar, informed of the Buddha's impending death,
came to pay him respect. Among them was Subhadra, an 120-year-old
brahmin who was much respected, but whom Ananda had turned away
from the monkhood three times. However, the Buddha called the
brahmin to his side, answered his questions concerning the six
erroneous doctrines, and revealed to him the truth of the buddhist
teaching. Subhadra asked to join the Sangha and was thus the last
monk to be ordained by Shakyamuni. Subhadra then sat nearby in
meditation, swiftly attained arhantship and entered parinirvana
shortly before Shakyamuni.
the third watch of the night approached, the Buddha asked his disciples
thrice if there were any remaining perplexities concerning the doctrine
or the discipline. Receiving silence, he gave them the famous exhortation:
"Impermanence is inherent in all things. Work out your own
salvation with diligence." Then, passing through the meditative
absorptions, Shakyamuni Buddha entered mahaparinirvana. The earth
shook, stars shot from the heavens, the sky in the ten directions
burst forth in flames and the air was filled with celestial music.
The master's body was washed and robed once more, then wrapped in
a thousand shrouds and placed in a casket of precious substances.
seven days, offerings were made by gods and men, after which,
amidst flowers and incense, the casket was carried to the place
of cremation in great procession. Some legends say that the Mallas
offered their cremation hall for the purpose. A pyre of sweetly
scented wood and fragrant oils had been built but, as had been
foretold, it would not burn until Mahakashyapa arrived. When the
great disciple eventually arrived, made prostrations and paid
his respects, the pyre burst into flames spontaneously.
the cremation had been completed the ashes were examined for
relics. Only a skull bone, teeth and the inner and outer shrouds
remained. The Mallas of Kushinagar first thought themselves
most fortunate to have received all the relics of the Buddha's
body. However, representatives of the other eight countries
that constituted ancient India also came forth to claim them.
To avert a conflict, the brahmin Drona suggested an equal, eightfold
division of the relics between them. Some accounts state that
in fact Shakyamuni's remains were first divided into three portions
- one each for the gods, nagas and men - and that the portion
given to humans was then subdivided into eight. The eight peoples
each took their share to their own countries and the eight great
stupas were built over them. In time these relics were again
subdivided after Ashoka had decided to build 84,000 stupas.
Today they are contained in various stupas scattered across
later times Fa Hien found monasteries at Kushinagar, but when Hsuan
Chwang came, the site was almost deserted. Hsuan Chwang did see
an Ashoka stupa marking Kunda's house, the site of Buddha's last
meal. Commemorating the mahaparinirvana was a large brick temple
containing a recumbent statue of Buddha. Beside this was a partly
ruined Ashoka stupa and a pillar with an inscription describing
the event. Two more stupas commemorated former lives of the Buddha
at the place. Both Chinese pilgrims mention a stupa where Shakyamuni's
protector Vajrapani threw down his sceptre in dismay after Buddha's
death, and some distance away a stupa at the place of cremation
and another built by Ashoka where the relics were divided.
was rediscovered and identified before the end of the last century.
Excavations have revealed that a monastic tradition flourished
here for a long time. The remains of ten different monasteries
dating from the fourth to the eleventh centuries have been found.
Most of these ruins are now enclosed in a park, in the midst of
which stands a modern shrine housing a large recumbent figure
of the Buddha. This statue was originally made in Mathura and
installed at Kushinagar by the monk Haribhadra during the reign
of King Kumaragupta (415-56 CE), the alleged founder of Nalanda
Monastery. When discovered late in the last century the statue
was broken but it has now been restored. Behind this shrine is
a large stupa dating from the Gupta age. This was restored early
in this century by the Burmese. Not far away a small temple built
on the Buddha's last resting place in front of the sala grove
has also been restored. Some distance east a large stupa, now
called Ramabhar, remains at the place of the cremation.
one side of the park a former Chinese temple has been reopened
as an international meditation centre. Next to it stands a large
Burmese temple. On the south side of the park is a small Tibetan
monastery with stupas in the Tibetan style beside it. Thus also
at Kushinagar one can see dharmic activities alive even today.