The Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta is Sutta 16 in the Digha Nikaya, a scripture belonging the Sutta Pitaka of Theravada Buddhism. It concerns the end of Gautama Buddha's life - his parinibbana - and is the longest sutta of the Pāli Canon. Because of its attention to detail, it has been resorted to as the principal source of reference in most standard accounts of the Buddha's death.[full citation needed]
The sutta begins a few days before the rainy retreat when Vassakara, the minister, visited the Buddha in Rajgir on the initiative of Ajatashatru, a king of the Haryanka dynasty of Magadha. The narrative continues beyond the three months of the rainy retreat and records the Passing Away of the Buddha, the Cremation and the division of relics finally ending with the erection of eight cetiyas or monuments enshrining the relics of the Buddha. This shows the Indian origin of Buddhist funeral customs.
Metaphor of crossing to the other shore
In the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (1.33-34), the Buddha relates a story of using different means to cross a river:
1.33 And then the Lord came to the River Ganges. And just then, the river was so full that a crow could drink out of it. And some people were looking for a boat, and some were looking for a raft, and some were binding together a raft of reeds to get to the other side. But the Lord, as swiftly as a strong man might stretch out his flexed arm or flex it again, vanished from this side of the Ganges and reappeared with his order of monks on the other shore.
1.34 And the Lord saw those people who were looking for a boat, looking for a raft, and binding together a raft of reeds to get to the other side. And seeing their intentions, he uttered this verse on the spot:
There are of course numerous versions of the Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta. Among them, the Pali version is of an early date in respect of language and contents. The Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta is of utmost historical and cultural value and therefore it has become a sourcebook for students of Buddhism, Buddha biography and history of Buddhist thought and literature. Other versions of the text exist in Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese.
Date of Composition
On the basis of philological evidence, Indologist and Pali expert Oskar von Hinüber says that some of the Pali suttas have retained very archaic place-names, syntax, and historical data from close to the Buddha's lifetime, including Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta. Hinüber proposes a composition date of no later than 350-320 BCE for this text, which would allow for a "true historical memory" of the events approximately 60 years prior if the Short Chronology for the Buddha's lifetime is accepted (but also reminds that such a text was originally intended more as hagiography than as an exact historical record of events).
- Buddhism: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, Paul Williams, Published by Taylor & Francis, 2005. page 190
- Maurice Walshe (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, "[DN] 16: Mahāparinibbāna Sutta: The Great Passing, The Buddha's Last Days," pp. 238-239.
- In Buddhist countries throughout Southeast Asia and the Himalaya, the crow is sacred as it voices the sacred syllable "Ah". The crow drinks of the river which is a metaphor for the continuum of mind, the mindstream.
- Oskar von Hinüber "Hoary past and hazy memory. On the history of early Buddhist texts", in Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Volume 29, Number 2: 2006 (2008), pp.198-206
- see also: Michael Witzel, (2009), "Moving Targets? Texts, language, archaeology and history in the Late Vedic and early Buddhist periods." in Indo-Iranian Journal 52(2-3): 287-310.
- Buswell, Robert Jr; Lopez, Donald S. Jr., eds. (2013). "Mahāparinibbānasuttanta", in Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 502–504. ISBN 9780691157863.
- Rhys Davids, T. W. and C. A. F. trans. (1910). Dialogues of the Buddha, part II, Oxford University Press, pp. 78–191.
- von Hinüber, Oskar (2009). Cremated like a King: The Funeral of the Buddha within the Ancient Indian Cultural Context, Journal of the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies 13, 33-66
- Walshe, Maurice, trans. (1987). “Mahaparinibbana Sutta: The Great Passing.” In Thus Have I Heard: The Long Discourses of theBuddha. London: Wisdom Publications.
- "Maha-parinibbana Sutta," or PDF, translated from the Pali by Sister Vajira & Francis Story
- "Mahaparinibbana-sutta and Cullavagga," article by Louis Finot, published in the "Indian Historical Quarterly" (8:2, 1932 June 1, pp. 241–46), concerning the Mahaparinibbana Sutta and a related text.
- "Did Buddha die of mesenteric infarction?" by Ven. Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu, a Thai monk and former medical doctor, published in the "Bangkok Post" (2000 May 17).
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