What We Know About What Happened After Gotama’s Death

| August 21, 2014 | 8 Comments

One might wonder what happened to the Order of Monks and Nuns shortly after Gotama’s death.  There are some strong indications about what happened at Access to Insight entitled Ananda: The Guardian of the Dhamma.  I have taken the liberty to quote only parts of the entire article for the purpose of keeping those most relevant to the title of the post.  You will see that a Brahmin named Maha Kassapa assumed the leadership of the Order and how it was accomplished.  This knowledge provides a clue about the future of the Order and what “caused” the scholarly Abhidhamma to arise.  That “cause” conditioned what later came to be called Buddhism.  Early on, Gotama’s teachings were changed so that only the well educated would be the leaders while laypersons would be the followers.  Does this sound like a familiar story?

My next post will be about the Brahmin Maha (The Great) Kassapa.


The Guardian of the Dhamma

Hellmuth Hecker

1. Ananda’s Personal Path

Under the guidance of this holy one, Ananda was introduced into the monk’s discipline.

He was a willing and diligent pupil and was able to attain the fruit of stream-entry already during his first rains retreat (Cv VII.1). Later Ananda told his fellow monks, that the venerable Punna Mantaniputta had been of great help to him during his learning period. He had taught Dhamma to the new monks and had explained to them that the “I am” conceit does not arise without a cause — namely, it is brought about through form, feeling, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. For a better understanding of this, the venerable Punna had given a fitting analogy:

If somebody should want to see his reflection or image, he could do so only through a cause, namely a mirror or a clear body of water. In the same way do the five aggregates reflect the image of “I am.” As long as one depends on them and is supported by them, so long will an “I” be reflected. Only when one does not rely on them any longer, will the image of “I” disappear.

SN 22.83

Ananda thought about this analogy again and again and ever more deeply, until he penetrated the suffering, impermanence and no-self aspects of the five aggregates, and no longer relied upon them as his support. He then began to reap the benefits of monkhood, beginning with the fruit of stream-entry.

Ananda was always well content with his life as a monk. He understood the blessings of renunciation and had entered upon the Path, which is a joy to tread if one can cross the stream in company with like-minded friends. During the first years of his life as a monk, Ananda was fully occupied with the purification of his own mind; he blended easily into the Sangha and slowly developed more and more resilience and mental strength.

When the Buddha and Ananda were both 55 years of age, the Buddha called a meeting of the monks and declared: “In my 20 years as a monk, as Father of the Sangha, I have had many different attendants, but none of them has really filled the post perfectly, as again and again some willfulness has become apparent. Now I am 55 years old and it is necessary for me to have a trustworthy and reliable attendant.” At once all the noble disciples offered their services. But the Buddha did not accept them. Then the great monks looked at Ananda, who had held back modestly, and asked him to come forward voluntarily.

Due to his impeccable behavior as a monk, he seemed predestined for the post. When he was asked why he was the only one who had not offered his services, he replied that the Buddha knew best who was suitable as his attendant. He had so much confidence in the Blessed One, that it did not occur to him to express his own wishes, although he would have liked to become the attendant of the Buddha.

Then the Buddha declared that Ananda would be pleasing to him and that he wanted him as his attendant. Ananda was in no way proud that the Master had preferred him to his greatest disciples, but instead asked a favor of having eight conditions fulfilled.

First of all, the Master should never pass a gift of robes on to him; second, he should never give him any almsfood, which he himself had received; third, having received a dwelling place he should never give it to him; fourth, never to include him in any personal invitation (such as an occasion for teaching Dhamma when a meal would be offered).

Besides these four negative conditions, he also had four positive wishes, namely: if he was invited to a meal, he asked for the right to transfer this invitation to the Buddha; if people came from outlying areas, he asked for the privilege to lead them to the Buddha; if he had any doubts or inquiries about the Dhamma, he asked for the right to present these to the Buddha at any time; and if the Buddha gave a discourse during his absence, he asked for the privilege to have the Buddha repeat it to him privately.

He explained his reasons for these requests in this way: if he did not pose the first four conditions, then people could say that he had accepted the post of attendant only because of material gain. But if he did not express the other four conditions, then it could rightly be said that he fulfilled the duties of his post without being mindful of his own advancement on the Noble Path.

The Buddha granted him these very reasonable requests, which were quite in accordance with the teaching. From then on Ananda was the constant companion, attendant and helper of the Blessed One for twenty-five years. In those twenty-five years of his fame, he continued with the same incessant striving for purification as in the first eighteen years of his monkhood as an unknown disciple. He said of himself:

Through a full 25 years
As long as I have been in higher training 
I have never had a thought of lust:
See, how powerfully the Dhamma works.

Thag 17.3 (v. 1039)

(The subsequent verse expresses the same about thoughts of hate.)

The twenty-five years mentioned in this verse refer to the period during which he was the Buddha’s attendant, and not to the whole of his life as a monk. During this period, though he was still a “learner,” “one in the higher training,” no thoughts of lust or hate arose in him; the implication being that his close connection with the Buddha and his devotion to him gave no room for these.

Only such a man could fill the post of a constant companion for the Buddha. Added to that were Ananda’s special positive qualities. How Ananda attained arahantship and survived the Buddha will be related in due course.


2. Ananda’s Renown

Ananda’s praise has been voiced on many occasions in the Pali Canon. The greatest recognition for a monk would surely have been when the Buddha asked him to substitute for him as a teacher and then later confirmed that he, himself, would not have presented the teachings in any other way. This praise was given by the Exalted One to Sariputta (another famous disciple) and to Ananda.

A similarly high esteem is shown in the fact that monks to whom the Buddha had given a short discourse would ask an experienced monk to explain the teaching more fully. The venerable Maha Kaccana was a master in this, and so were Sariputta and Ananda (AN 10.115).

Besides the equal status Ananda had in these respects with Sariputta, the disciple who was most similar to the Master, there were occasions when the Buddha specially praised Ananda. He said, for instance, to the monks, that King Pasenadi, to whom Ananda had given a discourse, was very blessed because he had been given the boon of the sight and company of Ananda (MN 88). Further: just as the multitude of aristocrats, brahmans, ordinary folk and ascetics found joy in seeing a world ruler, equally joyful were the monks, nuns, and male and female disciples about Ananda. “If a party of these goes to Ananda to see him, his presence alone gives them joy. When he speaks Dhamma to them, there will be joy for them because of his words. And they are still not satisfied when Ananda reverts to silence” (DN 16).

In answer to the question of a lay disciple how he could honor the Dhamma, after having honored the Buddha and Sangha, the Buddha’s reply was the third praise (of Ananda): “If you, householder, wish to honor the Dhamma, go and honor Ananda, the Guardian of the Dhamma”; whereupon the lay disciple invited Ananda to a meal and gave him a gift of valuable cloth. But Ananda turned it over to Sariputta, because he had the greatest mastery of the Teaching; Sariputta, however, gave it to the Buddha, because he alone was the cause of all bliss (J 296). Another time the Master praised him thus: after Ananda had answered a question of the Buddha and had left, the Buddha said to the other monks:

One on the path of higher training is Ananda, and it is not easy to find one who equals him fully in experience.

AN 3.78

A layman who had been following another teaching was converted to the Dhamma after a talk with Ananda. At the end he exulted how amazing it had been that Ananda had neither elevated his own teaching into the heavens nor dragged the other into the dirt. “Totally straightforward was the exposition of the Dhamma, the inner meaning was explained and he, himself, was not carried away” (AN 3.72).  A second time he was praised by King Pasenadi, after having given a good explanation to the crown prince of Kosala. “Truly, he looks like Ananda,” because the word means esteemed, loveable, agreeable. And King Pasenadi said that Ananda’s words had been well-founded (MN 90).

Ananda was so much taken up by subordinating his entire life to the Dhamma, that fame could not touch him and make him proud. He knew that all that was good in him was due to the influence of the Teaching. When seen in this way, there can be no pride. One who cannot be proud, has no enemies, and such a one does not meet with envy. If someone turns inward completely and keeps away from any social contact, as Ananda’s brother Anuruddha did, then it is easy to be without enemies. But if someone like Ananda, who had daily contact with a large number of people with regard to diverse matters, lives without enemies, without rivals, without conflict and tensions, it borders on a miracle. This quality is truly a measure of Ananda’s uniqueness.

Although Ananda did experience justified criticism and was occasionally admonished, that was something entirely different. A friendly reminder, a warning or even a substantial reproach to change one’s behavior are aids towards more intense purification. Such criticism, if taken to heart, leads to more inner clarity and higher esteem by others.

The instances in which Ananda was admonished mostly referred to points of social behavior, points of the Vinaya (the monk’s discipline); hardly ever to points of self-purification and were never related to his understanding of the Dhamma. The instances were as follows.

Once, when the Buddha was suffering from wind in the stomach, Ananda cooked a rice gruel for him, which had helped the Enlightened One when he had previous complaints of this sort. The Buddha admonished him thus: “It is not the proper way for ascetics, it is not proper monk’s behavior, to prepare meals in the house.” After the incident it was decreed an offense for a monk to cook for himself (Mv VI.17). Ananda adhered to this rule from then on, with full insight into its necessity as a part of true homelessness.

Once Ananda went on alms-round without his double robe. Fellow monks drew his attention to the rule established by the Buddha, that a monk should always wear his three robes when going to the village. Ananda agreed wholeheartedly and explained that he had simply forgotten it. Since this and the former case concerned a simple disciplinary rule, the matter was thereby settled (Mv VIII.23). That someone like Ananda, who had a most extraordinary memory, could also forget something, was due to the fact that even a stream-winner is not yet perfect. The Buddha, however, required of the monks that they pay diligent attention to the small, everyday things of a monk’s life, and that they base their higher spiritual exertions on the foundation of the discipline. This served to eliminate purely intellectual understanding and conceit.

A different kind of criticism was leveled at Ananda in two instances by the venerable Maha Kassapa. Thirty disciples of Ananda had left the Sangha. Kassapa reproached Ananda that he had not guarded the young men sufficiently. He had gone on walking tours with them, without their having the senses well restrained, without having learned to be moderate in eating, and not having trained themselves in wakefulness. Therefore he was a “destroyer of corn, “a spoiler of the families.  His followers crumbled away. “This youngster is still uncontrolled.” So did the venerable Maha Kassapa reprove him (SN 16.11).

To this rather strong reproach, Ananda only replied that the gray hair had grown on his head in the service of the Sangha and yet Kassapa still called him a “youngster.” It may be that in this instance Ananda had overrated his own strength and underrated the worldliness of his pupils. Ananda did not argue about the objective justification of the censure for his failure. After all he was not yet an arahant and was still subject to some defilements. He only objected to the generalization implied by the criticism. One may, however, assume that a saint, an arahant, like Kassapa, would have known which form of criticism would be most helpful to Ananda.

The second incident with Kassapa had a different background. Ananda had asked Kassapa to accompany him to a nunnery and to teach there. After initial hesitation, Kassapa had agreed. After the discourse was over, a headstrong nun accused Kassapa that only he had been talking and had not let the wise Ananda utter a single word. It was, she said, as if the needle salesman had tried to sell his wares in the presence of the needle manufacturer.  Ananda begged Kassapa to forgive her. But Kassapa replied that Ananda should show restraint, lest an inquiry into his behavior should be initiated (SN 16.10). This was meant by Kassapa to be a reproach that Ananda had been overzealous in his teaching, and had overlooked the danger of personal attachment. This criticism also will have benefited Ananda in the future. In any case, Kassapa blamed Ananda in both instances because of his love for him; there was always an excellent relationship between these two monks.  Editors note:  I don’t THINK soooo…

3. Ananda as the Buddha’s Attendant

One of the virtues of Ananda, which established his fame, was his conduct as the Buddha’s attendant. The Buddha said of him, that he was the best of all attendants, was the foremost of all those monks who had ever filled this post (AN 1.19).

The term “attendant” is actually not comprehensive enough. There is hardly an English word, which can do full justice to his position. If we were to choose designations such as “secretary” or “adjunct,” then we would not express the most intimate aspects of his attendance, extending to many little items of personal assistance given to the Master. If we called him a “servant,” then we would omit the organizational and directing aspects, which manifested on many occasions. And if we looked for examples in the world’s literature of a confidante of a great man, who accompanied him constantly, we would not find his likeness.

This loving attention for 25 years consisted of the following services: Ananda brought water for washing to the Buddha and tooth-wood, he arranged his seat, washed his feet, massaged his back, fanned him for coolness, swept his cell, and mended his robes. He slept nearby at night to be always on hand. He accompanied him on his rounds through the monastery (Mv VIII.16) and after meetings he checked to see whether any monk had left anything behind. He carried the Buddha’s messages (Cv V.20) and called the monks together, even sometimes at midnight (J 148). When the Buddha was sick, he obtained medicine for him. Once when monks neglected a very sick fellow monk, the Buddha and Ananda washed him and together carried him to a resting-place (Mv VIII.26). In this way Ananda performed the many daily tasks and cared for the physical well-being of his enlightened cousin like a good mother or a caring wife.

But above all, he also had the duties of a good secretary, namely the smooth communication between the thousands of monks and the Master. Together with Sariputta and Moggallana he tried to sort out, and attend to, the manifold problems of human relationships turning up in a community.

In a case of dispute of the monks of Kosambi, (AN 4.249) and in the case of a schism in the Sangha through Devadatta (Ud 5.8 and Cv VII). Ananda played an important role in clarifying and keeping order. Often he was the go-between for the monks, getting an audience with the Master for them, or he brought the Buddha’s words to members of other sects. He refused no one and felt himself to be a bridge rather than a barrier.

4. Ananda as the Guardian of the Dhamma

Amongst the distinctions which gave Ananda a special place amongst the Buddha’s disciples, one of the most noteworthy was that he was the only monk who was not yet an arahant amongst those whom the Buddha called pre-eminent in specific abilities. This means that he had qualities which equaled those of the arahants. While others were mentioned only because of one superior quality, (except two monks who possessed two such qualities) Ananda was the one amongst the seventy-five pre-eminent disciples who excelled in five abilities.

He was pre-eminent among those who had heard much (of the Buddha’s words), who had a good retentive memory, who mastered the sequential order (or what was remembered), who were energetic and among those who attended (on the Master) (AN 1.19).

Upon close examination, one can see that these five qualities belong to the vast complex of virtues which give sati (Pali for mindfulness) its strength and power. The quality of mindfulness is power of the mind, power of memory, mastery over recollections and ideas. It is the faculty to use the tool of the mind at any time at will and not be driven by it. In short, mindfulness is circumspection and orderliness, self-restraint, control, self-discipline. In a narrower sense, sati or mindfulness is the ability to remember. Ananda had this ability to a phenomenal degree. He could immediately remember everything, even if he had heard it only once. He could repeat discourses of the Buddha flawlessly up to 60,000 words, without leaving out a single syllable. He was able to recite 15,000 four-line stanzas of the Buddha. It may sound like a miracle to us to be able to accomplish such a feat. But the miracle is solely that we encumber our minds with a hundred-thousand useless things, which hinder us from becoming master over our memory. The Buddha said once that the only reason why one forgets anything is the presence of one of the five hindrances (AN 5.193). Because Ananda was one in the higher training, he was able to let go of these hindrances at will (if any were still present in him at all) and so could concentrate completely on what he heard.

Because he did not want anything for himself, he absorbed the discourses without resistance or distortion, arranged them properly, knew what belonged together, recognized within different expressions the common denominator, and like a faithful and skilled registrar, could find his way around in his own mind.

This is the quality of “having heard much.” He who has heard much in this sense, has discarded willfulness from his own mind and has become a vessel of truth. He has heard much truth and that means that he has erased all untruth in himself. Such a one is “born from the mouth” of the teacher, is truly trained, because he let himself be shaped by the teaching of the Exalted One.

Hence he who has heard much is the one who is most humble and a most sincere champion of truth. Everything good which he carries in his mind and upon which he acts, he does not ascribe to his own ability, but to the Dhamma, which he has heard from his teacher. Such a person is truly humble.e

This could rightly be said of Ananda. When he came to the Buddha he was still ignorant, thinking in a wrong way. Each teaching of the Awakened One forced him to correct his outlook. Constantly losing his old concepts, he totally yielded to the truth.

This quality of listening well and training the mind is named as the first of the five specific abilities of Ananda and it is recorded that all of his disciples, too, were well versed in this respect (SN 14.5). But the Buddha said it would not be easy to find one who equaled Ananda in this (AN 3.78). The question as to which monk lent radiance to the Gosinga Forest was answered by Ananda in this way:

The monk who has heard much, is guardian of the word, treasurer of the teaching, and of what is good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end, and transmits word by word and in the right way the completely purified life of the homeless ones: all this he knows, remembers, ably explains, keeps in his heart and understands completely. He discourses on Dhamma to the four kinds of listeners, in completeness, in part and in the right context to bring them to final eradication of desires.

— MN 32

The second quality is the retention in mind and making use of the discourses heard, and their application to one’s own self-inquiry.

For the third quality (in Pali gatimanta) widely differing renderings have been given by translators. According to the ancient commentary, it refers to Ananda’s capacity to perceive in his mind the internal connection and coherence of a discourse. This he was able to do by understanding well the meaning and significance of the teaching concerned, with all its implications. Hence, even when his recitation was interrupted by a question, he was able to resume the recital where he had left off.

The fourth quality was his energy, his unflagging dedication to his task in studying, memorizing and reciting the Buddha’s words and in personally attending on the Master.

The fifth and last quality was that of a perfect attendant, which was described earlier.

If one looks at these five qualities, one receives a vivid picture of Ananda. The central quality, however, is that of a guardian of the Dhamma, which can also be seen in the following chapters.

Because of his key position among the Buddha’s entourage of monks, Ananda was naturally the focus of much attention, and he had to deal with a very large number of people. To all those who came into contact with him, he was a model in his blameless conduct, in his untiring solicitude for the Master and for the community of monks, in his unperturbable friendliness, his patience and his readiness to help. Some potential conflicts did not even arise in his presence, and those which did arise became mitigated and resolved through his influence. Ananda, as a man without enemies, had a strong and deep impact upon others through his exemplary conduct as well as through his instructions. His image, as the Buddha’s faithful companion, left particularly strong traces in the minds of his contemporaries.

Ananda was always master of a situation, and like a king, he had a sovereign comprehension of affairs. Therefore, thanks to his circumspection, he could handle and organize whatever occurred in the daily life of the Buddha and the community. Through the extraordinary power of his memory, he was able to learn from his experiences and never repeat the same mistakes, as most people are liable to do again and again, due to their weak memory. Hence, he could remember people well, though he may have met them only once, and he could, therefore, deal with them suitably, without leaving the impression that he “manipulated” them. His circumspection accorded with the facts of a situation so naturally that all reasonable people could only agree with him.

5. Ananda’s Attitude Toward Women

Both brothers, Anuruddha and Ananda, were no longer in need of female companionship, in any way or form, because of their inner detachment from worldliness and their strong spirit of renunciation. To both, however, the other sex presented a challenge in different ways.

If one has much contact with people, one has to take the difference of the sexes into account. With Ananda this showed as special care and effort to look after all four kinds of disciples, not only monks and laymen, but also nuns and laywomen. Without Ananda there would have been only three kinds of disciples, because it was he who was instrumental in the founding of the nun’s order. This happened as follows (AN 8.51; Cv X.1):

When many nobles of the Sakya clan had become monks, their wives, sisters, and daughters also had the wish to live a life of purification under the Awakened One. A large number of Sakya ladies, under the guidance of the Buddha’s stepmother, Maha-Pajapati, followed the Exalted One and tried in vain to gain permission to establish an order of nuns. Ananda saw the Buddha’s step-mother with swollen feet, covered with dust, eyes full of tears at the gate of the monastery of Vesali. When he asked her compassionately for the reason of her sorrow, she replied that the Master had three times rejected her request for the establishment of an order of nuns.

Ananda decided out of compassion to intercede himself. He went to the Master, but his request was also denied three times. Then he asked: “Is a woman able to gain the fruit of stream-entry, once-returning, non-returning, and arahantship, if she leaves the household life and enters into homelessness and follows the teaching and discipline of the Exalted One?”

The Buddha affirmed this. Thereupon Ananda rephrased his request:

If a woman is able to do this, Master — and moreover Maha-Pajapati Gotami has rendered great service to the Master: she is his aunt, his governess and nurse, nourished the Exalted One with her own milk after his mother died — therefore it would be well if the Blessed One would allow women to leave home for the homeless life, to follow the teaching and discipline of the Master.

Ananda here brought two arguments to bear. First the fact that a woman in the Order could gain the highest fruit, become a saint, an arahant in this very life, which goal can be attained only very rarely in the household life. Second, he brought up the very personal element of gratitude for the particularly meritorious services of Maha-Pajapati for the Buddha, which would be a good reason for him to help his step-mother now to gain final liberation. In response to these arguments the Buddha agreed to the establishment of an order of nuns, provided certain cautions and rules were followed.

One might gain the impression from this account, that it needed Ananda’s intense and clever arguments to change the Buddha’s mind. But an awakened one’s mind cannot be changed, because he is always in touch with absolute reality. What happened here was solely the same event, which all Buddhas encounter, because all of them have established an order of nuns. The whole incident was not meant to prevent the founding of the female branch of the Order, but only to strengthen by that hesitation the message that this brought great dangers with it. For this reason, the Buddha stipulated eight conditions, which were so selected that only the best women would agree to abide by them. They also served to bring about a separation of the sexes in the Order in the best possible manner. In spite of this, the Exalted One declared that because of the founding of the Order of Nuns the dispensation would last only five hundred instead of a thousand years.

Following the Buddha’s proclamation of the rules and regulations for nuns, Ananda asked him about the qualities a monk should have to be a teacher of nuns. The Buddha did not reply that he had to be an arahant, a saint, but indicated eight practical and concrete qualities, which also someone like Ananda, who was not yet an arahant, could possess. These eight qualities were: the teacher of nuns must be virtuous; second, have comprehensive knowledge of the Dhamma; third he must be well acquainted with the Vinaya, especially the rules for nuns; fourth, he must be a good speaker with a pleasant and fluent delivery, faultless in pronunciation, and intelligibly convey the meaning; fifth, he should be able to teach Dhamma to the nuns in an elevating, stimulating, and encouraging way; sixth, he must always be welcome to the nuns and liked by them — that is, they must be able to respect and esteem him not only when he praises them but especially when there is an occasion for reproach; seventh, he must never have committed sexual misconduct with a nun; eighth, he must have been a fully ordained Buddhist monk for at least 20 years (AN 8.52).

Since Ananda had been instrumental in the founding of the Order of Nuns, he now also wanted to help them to advance on the Noble Path. This brought about some difficulties for him. There were two occasions in which nuns stood up for him without justification against Kassapa (SN 16.10-11). One of them has been mentioned in Section 2, “Ananda’s Renown.” Both nuns left the Order; they showed thereby that they were no longer able to sustain the necessary impersonal and purely spiritual relationship with their teacher, AnandaEditor’s note:  They may have left because of Kassapa.  He seems to look down on women.

Even more extreme was the case of the nun in Kosambi, whose name is not known. She sent a messenger to Ananda, asking him to visit her, as she was sick. In reality she had fallen in love with Ananda and wanted to seduce him. Ananda mastered the situation with complete aplomb. In his sermon to her he explained that this body had arisen because of nutrition, craving and pride. But one could use these three as means for purification. Supported by nutrition, one could transcend nutrition. Supported by craving, one could transcend craving. Supported by pride, one could transcend pride. The monk took in such nutriment as would enable him to lead the holy life. He sublimated his craving and was supported by his longing for holiness. And pride spurred him on to reach that which others had already attained, namely the realization of Dhamma in himself. In this way he could, in due course, transcend nutrition, craving and pride. But there was a fourth cause for the arising of the body, namely sexual intercourse, but this was an entirely different matter. This had been called the destruction of the bridge to Nibbana by the Blessed One. In no way could its sublimation be used as a path to holiness.

Thereupon the nun got up from the bed, prostrated before Ananda, confessed her offense and asked for forgiveness. Ananda accepted the confession and declared that in the Order it was an advantage to confess one’s faults and to restrain oneself thereafter (AN 4.159). This incident is an excellent example of Ananda’s great skill to give a suitable Dhamma discourse on the spur of the moment, to find the right word at the right time.

Another incident happened with regard to the wives of King Pasenadi. They had pondered over three things: seldom does a Buddha appear in the world, seldom is one reborn as a human being and seldom is one healthy in mind and body. Yet in spite of the existence of these favorable conditions, they could not go to the monastery and hear the Dhamma.

As the king’s women they were confined to the harem like birds in a cage, and that was really a disaster for them. They went to the king and asked him to request the Buddha to send a monk to the palace to teach them the Dhamma. The king promised. The lay disciple praised by the Buddha — a non-returner — declined to do it, because it was a monk’s duty. Thereupon the king asked his wives which monk would be most acceptable to them They discussed it among themselves and unanimously requested the king that he should ask Ananda, the guardian of the Dhamma, to come and teach them. The Blessed One complied with the request presented to him by the king and from then on Ananda taught Dhamma to the women.

One day during this period one of the crown jewels was stolen. Everything was searched and the women felt very troubled because of the unrest occasioned thereby. Because of this they were not as attentive and eager to learn as usual. Ananda asked them for the reason and when he heard it, out of compassion he went to the king and advised him. In order to make an end to the anxiety and unrest he told the king to summon everyone who could possibly be the thief and to give them an opportunity to return the jewel unobtrusively. He should have a tent erected in the courtyard of the palace, put a large pot of water inside and have everyone enter alone. So it was done, and the jewel thief, alone in the tent, let the jewel drop into the pot. Thereby the king regained his property, the thief went unpunished, and peace reigned once again in the palace. This incident increased Ananda’s popularity even more and thereby the popularity of the Sakya monks. The monks also praised Ananda, that he had restored peace through gentle means (J 92).

Shortly before the Buddha died, Ananda asked him a question concerning women: “How shall we relate to women, Master?” — “Do not look at them.” — “But if one sees one, Master?” — “Do not address her.” — “But if one talks to us?” — “Keep mindfulness and self-control.” (DN 16).

This question was posed by Ananda in view of the imminent death of the Buddha, just before the preparations for the funeral. This problem must therefore have been an important one for him. For himself he did not need an admonition to practice self-control; sensual desire had been overcome by him for 25 years. But during the years he had seen how the problem of the relationship between the sexes again and again stirred the emotions.

The question may have been asked by him for this reason, but also on account of the warning of the Buddha that the Order was endangered through the foundation of the Nun’s Order and its lifespan shortened. He wanted to give his contemporaries and his successors a last word of the Buddha on this topic.

6. Ananda and His Fellow Monks

Of all the monks, Sariputta was Ananda’s closest friend. There does not seem to have been a close relationship between Ananda and his brother Anuruddha, because the latter preferred solitude, while Ananda was fond of people. Sariputta was the disciple who most resembled the Master, and with whom he could talk in the same way as with the Buddha. It is remarkable that of all the monks only Sariputta and Ananda received an honorary title from the Buddha: Sariputta was called the Commander-in-Chief of the Dhamma (dhamma-senapati) and Ananda its Guardian. One can see their complementary roles in this. Sariputta, the lion, was the active teacher; Ananda more the preserver and treasurer. In certain aspects, Ananda’s methods resembled more those of Maha-Moggallana, whose inclinations were also motherly and preserving.

Ananda and Sariputta often worked together, twice visited the sick Anathapindika (MN 153; SN 55.26) together, dealt with the dispute of the monks of Kosambi (AN 4.221), and had many Dhamma discussions with each other. When Ananda received the message one day that Sariputta had died, he was deeply affected:

All the quarters are bedimmed
And the Dhamma is not clear to me,
Indeed my noble friend has gone
And all about seems dark.

Thag 17.3 (v. 1034)

He felt physically quite wretched and even the Dhamma was not alive in him at that moment, such was the impact of the death message. Then the Buddha afforded him great consolation. He asked Ananda to reflect whether Sariputta had taken with him virtue or meditation, wisdom, liberation, or the purity of liberation? Ananda had to agree that these, the only important aspects, had not changed. But, he added, Sariputta had been such a helpful companion and friend for him and others. Again the Buddha directed the conversation onto a higher level by reminding Ananda of what he, the Buddha, had always taught: that nothing that has arisen can remain forever. The death of Sariputta was, for the other disciples, like cutting off the main branch of a large tree. But that should only be another reason for relying on oneself, on no one else, and be one’s own light and refuge (SN 7.13).

Many discussions which Ananda had with other monks are also recorded. Only a few can be related here.

One day the Venerable Vangisa accompanied Ananda on his alms round. On the way Vangisa was overcome by dissatisfaction,[31] the most dangerous illness of ascetics. His heart was flooded by sensual desire. All of a sudden a monk’s life seemed senseless and a waste to him, but house and family life attractive and wholesome. The Venerable Vangisa asked Ananda for help. When Ananda became aware of what was going on in his companion, he spoke to him in verse, because Vangisa, the poet in the Sangha, had voiced his request also in verse. Ananda said:

Since your perception is distorted,
Your heart with passion is aflame.
The marks of beauty should you shun,
Bound up with lustful longing and desire.

Your mind, one-pointed and collected,
In seeing foulness should be cultivated.
With mindfulness directed on the body,
Dwell often in disgust concerning it.

Thag 21 (vv. 1224-25)

Ananda showed him that he constantly refueled sensual desire because his perception was not controlled, and so he became captivated by feminine charm. When the feeling of deprivation became too strong it would manifest as weariness of mind and dissatisfaction, as a kind of aversion towards the ascetic life. Therefore Vangisa had to contemplate soberly those things which seemed beautiful and desirable; then he would understand that the body was not beautiful. This would be wholesome practice.

The monk Channa was plagued with doubts about the Dhamma. He understood that the five aggregates are impermanent, but he was afraid of Nibbana, thought it to be the destruction of the ego. So he came for advice to Ananda. Ananda consoled him: he would understand the teaching, he was already beginning to break through the hard shell. Channa was delighted and listened with undivided attention to Ananda’s exposition of the Buddha’s discourse on being and not-being (SN 12.15). Thereupon Channa exclaimed how wonderful it was to have such wise brothers as teachers. Now he was firm in the Dhamma again (SN 22.90).

10. After the Death of the Buddha

Ananda said in verse about himself

The friend has passed away,
The Master, too, has gone.
There is no friendship now that equals this:
The mindfulness directed bodywards.

The old ones now have passed away,
The new ones do not please me much, 
Today alone I meditate
Like a bird gone to its nest.

Thag 17.3 (vv. 1035-36)

After the funeral ceremonies were over, Ananda saw only one duty left to him, namely to attain to total liberation as prophesied to him by the Buddha. Kassapa advised him to live in the forest in the province of the Kosala, which was near the Mallas and the Sakyans. When it became known that the Buddha’s cousin was living in solitude in the forest nearby, he was inundated with visitors. The lay disciples wanted to be consoled about the death of the Buddha and also about the death of Sariputta and Moggallana, as well as the death of their just and beloved King Pasenadi. All four had died within the year. Day and night, in the village and in the forest, Ananda had to console the lay disciples and was never alone. Thereupon a deity who lived in the forest appeared to him. He was concerned about Ananda’s spiritual progress and advised him as follows:

Now that you're sat at the foot of a tree
And in your heart, Nibbana you've placed,
Meditate, Gotama, do not be negligent,
what has this hurly-burly to do with you?

The venerable Ananda, exhorted by the deity, was stirred again to a sense of urgency (SN 9.5).

In the meantime the venerable Maha-Kassapa had decided to call a council of monks together to strengthen the Teaching and the Discipline. Because of unsafe conditions in the country of Kosala, the council was to take place in Rajagaha under the protection of King Ajatasattu. All living arahants, almost five hundred, were to take part and, in addition, Ananda, the only one who was a non-arahant. Ananda knew most of the discourses of the Buddha and therefore was indispensable to the council.

When the date set for the council came closer, Anuruddha suggested that his brother Ananda should only be admitted if he had overcome the last taints and had become an arahant. He knew the power of such an incentive. When Ananda heard this, he decided to employ every bit of strength and ability he possessed to realize Nibbana. He practiced the four foundations of mindfulness, a way which came most natural to him according to his tendencies. In the early hours of the morning, when he wanted to rest after his exertion, he knew without a doubt the he had attained release from all passions. The next day the council began. A place had been kept for him. Ananda appeared through the air through supernatural power and sat down at his place. When Anuruddha and Kassapa became aware that he had become an arahant, they expressed their brotherly joy with him and opened the council, which took place during the rains retreat. Other monks could not come to Rajagaha at this time.

During the council, Kassapa questioned the Keeper of the discipline, Upali, about each rule and its origin, so that the Vinaya was laid down first. The next item on the agenda was the Doctrine. Kassapa asked Ananda first about the longest discourses, then about the middle-length ones, and then the other collections.

After the recitation of the Dhamma and Discipline, Ananda mentioned those matters which the Buddha had left as a legacy with him to settle. He told the assembly that the Master had allowed the lesser rules to be abolished. The holy monks could not agree what was meant by “lesser rules.” Thereupon Kassapa suggested: the lay people would say that the monks had become slothful after the death of the Master, if now they abolished rules. Since it was not known which rules were meant, it would be best not to abolish any of them. In that case one would be sure not to act against the Master’s wishes. And so it was done.

The elder monks present said it had been a breach of the training rules that Ananda had not asked which rules were meant, and he should confess this as a wrongdoing. Second, he was accused of having sewn a robe for the Exalted One, after having stepped on it. He replied that nothing had been further from his mind than disrespect for the Blessed One. Nevertheless, if the venerable ones considered it a wrongdoing, he would acknowledge it as such. Third, he was criticized for the fact that he had allowed women to salute the remains of the Blessed One first. He replied that at the time of the funeral arrangements, he had thought it would not be an unsuitable time for them (that is, too late) and therefore he had allowed them to pay their homage first. But here too he would accept their verdict. The fourth accusation which the monks leveled at Ananda, referred to the time when he had neglected to beg the Blessed One to remain for an aeon. Ananda defended himself by saying he had been possessed by Mara at the time, and therefore had not been responsible for his actions — how could he have otherwise failed to make this request? Ananda’s behavior in the face of these accusations was exemplary: he submitted to the judgment of the other holy ones, although he, himself, could not see any wrongdoing, a fact which he did not fail to mention.


After the death of the Buddha, the venerable Maha-Kassapa, as the most respected disciple, had taken over the guidance of the Order. He had however not the status of being a “refuge” as the Buddha had been, nor was he his deputy. He was simply the foremost of the monks with the ten higher qualities.  He was, so to say, the symbol for the observance of Dhamma and Discipline.

Everyone turned to him for all questions regarding the Order. In this way he became the Elder of the Sangha. After him Ananda became the second leading elder, the second most venerated holy one, who was designated to look after the Order. After he had already been a monk for over forty years, he survived the Buddha another forty. And after having been the personal attendant of the Buddha for twenty-five years, he became the foremost of the holy ones for a similar length of time. At the time of the second council (another assembly of arahants), one hundred years after the final Nibbana of the Buddha, a personal disciple of Ananda was still alive. He was a very old monk by name of Sabbakami, who — it was said — had been in the Order for one hundred and twenty years (Cv XII).


Category: Articles

Ron Stillman

About the Author ()

Ron Stillman is retired. He first learned about Buddhism while hearing the audio of Goenka's "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana" on a local radio station in 1999. Shortly thereafter, he participated in a 10-day Goenka retreat and attended a Theravada sangha and retreats in California until 2002 whereupon he moved to New Mexico and participated in a local Theravada sangha and retreats. Some years ago, he decided to follow a secular Mindfulness and secular Dependent Arising path. "Faith without experience (works) is dead"

Comments (8)

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  1. Qianxi Qianxi says:

    Very interesting, thanks.

    It’s probably worth noting that the text you are quoting was composed by the German scholar Hellmuth Hecker (1923-) and translated into English by Ayya Khema (1923 – 1997). Both born in Germany in the same year, but Khema (then known as Ilse Kussel) left Germany when she was 15 because her family was Jewish.

    “…This knowledge provides a clue about the future of the Order and what “caused” the scholarly Abhidhamma to arise.”
    There’s a recent book on this available free online: Bhikkhu Anālayo, The Dawn of Abhidharma, (Hamburg Buddhist Studies 2), Hamburg: Hamburg University Press
    (Coincidentally Hellmuth Hecker was born in Hamburg, and studied and taught there).

    I’m not sure that the development of Abhidharma needs an explanation in terms of personalities or decisive moments. It seems to me the natural result of cultural accretion. All major religions developed a similarly obscure scholarly culture, each one expressed differently according to the resources of each tradition.

    Nevertheless, Ananda and Mahakasapa are very vivid archetypes. I do believe that such figures help us think about the Buddhist tradition in ways that would not be possible in plain discursive language.

  2. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Ron, thanks for this contribution! I have always been fascinated with the tales of the conflict between Ananda and Kasapa. In particular is the Kasapa Samyta in the Samyuta Nikaya. The first part is a collection of suttas that all depict Gotama as saying that Kasapa’s enlightenment is equivalent to his own. Then come the two suttas depicting Kasapa’s abuse of Ananda after he was defended by the nuns. It’s hard not to see the collection as propaganda composed for the purpose of shoring up Kasapa’s authority as head of the sangha. This would indicate that canonical suttas were composed after Gotama’s death with the express purpose of pushing a political agenda. If this was possible, that would call into question whether any of the suttas in SN are reliable reports of Gotama’s teachings or activities.

  3. Ron Stillman Ron Stillman says:

    Mark, I understand what you’re saying and it’s very important to consider it, imho.

    • Ron Stillman Ron Stillman says:

      I had another thought. While we may call into question the suttas in SN, I believe we must be careful and consider there are perhaps “hidden” suttas that support Gotama’s teaching. A knee jerk reaction might be to not consider any of the suttas worth reading in SN.

      • Mark Knickelbine says:

        I don’t think they are not worth reading, but we have to read them, like all the suttas, with a clear understanding of what they are and are not. They are the oldest extant collection of Buddhist texts and reveal what was produced by the sangha in its early centuries. As such, they reverberate with the echoes of what an historical Gotama did and said. For all these reasons we should read them and think about the ideas they present. They are not, however, “the words of the Buddha”, at least not in the sense of being consistent and reliable representations of what an historical Gotama did and said. So the practice, either of historians or doctrinal apologists, of using one text to explicate another, especially in an effort to tease out a unified, consistent message where none appears to exist, is a dubious game, since we have little assurance that the authors had the same views or lived in the same time and place, to say nothing of whether they actually thought they were reporting what they heard Gotama say.

  4. Mark Knickelbine says:

    By the way, the line from Ananda’s verse, here translated as “The new ones do not please me much,” Batchelor translates as “These new men please me not at all.” He thinks the verse may be authentic, since there would be absolutely no other reason for the tradition to save something like this except it was one of the Dharma Guardian’s last compositions.

  5. Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

    This was a very interesting read. Thank you so much for posting this!

  6. Carl H Carl H says:

    Thanks Ron for the interesting piece. One thing I noticed was that Ananda was the younger cousin of Siddhartha Gotoma, and not the same age. I have read that he was the same age as Rahula, not the Buddha. Unfortunately, the piece was couched in the same fantastic presentation as many of the early texts, but filtering that out, there was a wealth of information there.

    There is an informative analysis of “The Dispensation & the Position of Women” in a book called “Mission Accomplished” by Ven. Pategama Gnanarama Ph.D. It’s a look at the Mahaparinibbana Sutta and chapter 7 is devoted to the issue of the nuns. It’s available as a pdf here: http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/mission-accomplished.pdf

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