Death of Lord Buddha: Was He Poisoned?

 “Enough now, Ananda! Do not sorrow and cry. Have I not already repeatedly told you that there is separation and parting from all that is dear and beloved? How is it possible that anything that has been born, has had a beginning, should not again die? Such a thing is not possible.

After his 55th year, many incidents in the life of the Buddha were recorded without an exact indication of the year in which they happened. However, the incidents occurring in his eightieth year were dated and recorded in the Maha Parinibbana Sutta.

When the Buddha reached his eightieth year, he felt that his days in this world were coming to an end. Although he had suffered the sicknesses and effects of old age like any other man, he was different from ordinary men. With his mental powers, developed through advanced mental training, he was able to overcome certain painful feelings of the body. His mind was always sparkling like a radiant diamond, even though his body was beginning to weaken.

In this last year of his life, he decided to spend his last days in the peaceful and simple surroundings of Kusinaga, a small village in northern India. He preferred to leave behind him the large and prosperous cities such as Rajagaha and Savatthi with their crowds, their merchants and kings.

The starting point of his journey to the country was Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha. He journeyed on foot, accompanied by Venerable Ananda and many disciples. It was a long journey and the party travelled through many cities and villages on their way. By this time, Venerable Rahula and Yasodhara had already passed away, and so had the Buddha’s two chief disciples, Venerable Moggallana and Venerable Sariputta.

During the journey, the Buddha’s thoughts turned to the welfare of the order of monks. Many of his teachings were concerned with advising on how the monks should behave to ensure that the order would carry on after his death. He reminded his disciples to practice all the truths that he had taught them.

One teaching he gave reminded the disciples to practise the seven factors of enlightenment. Another teaching was on the four ways to check whether a teaching was a true teaching of the Buddha or not, by comparing it with the Vinaya (the disciplinary rules for the order) and the suttas (discourses of the Buddha).

There was one teaching which the Buddha gave again and again during the many stops on his last journey. It was a sermon on the fruits of following the three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path — morality, concentration and wisdom — which would help his disciples put an end to all sufferings.

When the Buddha and his disciples arrived at Pava, the son of the village goldsmith, whose name was Cunda, invited the party to a meal called sukaramaddava, or “boar’s delight”. Some scholars believe it was a special delicious dish of mushrooms, while others believe it to be a dish of wild boar’s flesh.

The Buddha advised Cunda to serve him only with the sukaramaddava that he had prepared. The other food that Cunda had prepared could be served to the other monks. After the meals were served Buddha told Cunda, “Cunda, if any sukaramaddava is left over, bury it in a hole. I do not see anyone in the world other than the Blessed One who could digest the food if he ate it.”

“So be it, Lord,” Cunda replied, and buried the leftovers in the ground. He went to the Buddha and, after paying homage to him, sat down at one side. Then the Buddha taught him the Dharma. The Buddha also praised Cunda for the meal that had refreshed and strengthened him after his journey. But soon after this, the Buddha suffered from an attack of the dysentery he had been suffering from earlier and sharp pains came upon him. By an effort of will he was able to bear the pain. Though extremely weak the Buddha decided to continue on immediately to Kusinaga, a little more than six miles away. After a painful struggle, he reached a grove of sala trees just outside the town.

The Buddha took his last bath in the Kakuttha river. After resting a while, he said, “Now it may happen that some people may make Cunda regret having given me the meal that made me sick. Ananda, if this should happen, you should tell Cunda that you have heard directly from the Buddha that it was a gain for him. Tell him that two offerings to the Buddha are of equal gain; the offering of food just before his supreme enlightenment and the offering of food just before he passes away. This is the final birth of the Buddha.”

Then he said, “Ananda, please make a couch ready for me with its head to the North between two big sala trees. I am tired and I want to lie down.”

Now, on that occasion, those two sala trees were covered with blossoms through the influence of the devas, though it was not the season. They scattered and sprinkled the Buddha with the falling blossoms, as though out of respect for him. Then the Buddha said to Venerable Ananda, “Ananda, the two big sala trees are scattering flowers on me as though they are paying their respects to me. But this is not how I should be respected and honoured. Rather, it is the monks or nuns, or the men or woman lay followers, who live according to my teaching, that should respect and honour me.”

A little while later it was noticed that Venerable Ananda was nowhere to be seen. He had gone inside a hut and stood leaning against the door bar, weeping. He thought: “Alas! I remain still but a learner, one who has yet to work out his own perfection. And the Master is about to pass away from me — he who is so kind!”

And the Buddha, sending for Ananda, said to him, “Enough now, Ananda! Do not sorrow and cry. Have I not already repeatedly told you that there is separation and parting from all that is dear and beloved? How is it possible that anything that has been born, has had a beginning, should not again die? Such a thing is not possible.

“Ananda, you have served me with your acts of loving-kindness, helpfully, gladly, sincerely, and so too in your words and your thoughts. You have gained merit, Ananda. Keep on trying and you will soon be free of all your human weaknesses. In a very short time you too will become an arahant.

“Now you can go, Ananda. But go into Kusinaga and tell all the people that tonight, in the last watch of the night, the Buddha will pass away into nirvana. Come and see the Buddha before he passes away.”

So Venerable Ananda, taking with him another monk, did as the Buddha bid him and went to Kusinaga to tell the people. When they heard the news, they were much grieved. And all the people of Kusinaga, men, women and children came to the two big sala trees to bid a last farewell to the Buddha. Family by family, they bowed low down before him and so bade him farewell.