Maha Parinibbana Sutta Digha Nikaya 16

Translated and commented by Ajahn Ṭhānissaro

Introduction by Ajahn Thanissaro

Nibbāna originally was the Pali word for the extinguishing of a fire. The Buddha employed it as one of the names of the goal he taught, in light of the way in which the processes of fire were viewed at his time: A burning fire was seen as clinging to its fuel in a state of hot agitation. When going out, it let go of its fuel and reached a state of freedom, cooling, and peace.

The sutta narrates the events of the year leading up to the Buddha’s parinibbāna and the weeks immediately following it. In a few instances, most notably the events right before the Buddha’s passing, the narrative gives a fairly realistic blow-by-blow account of random incidents, but the main body of the sutta shows signs of having been consciously selected and shaped. We know from other passages in the Canon that not all the major events of this period were included here. Ven. Sāriputta, for instance, appears in Part I of the sutta, but SN 47:13 tells us that he died before the Buddha did, and that the Buddha was at Sāvatthī when he received the news, yet neither event is included in this narrative. At the same time, the style of the narrative follows many of the conventions of literary prose and poetry in ancient India, aimed at producing an astounding rasa, or emotional savor.

Toward this end, the sutta narrates many of the Buddha’s own instructions for how to maintain the life of the Dhamma and Saṅgha for a long time. As the sutta opens, he provides several lists of instructions for how the Saṅgha is to stay harmonious. Instead of appointing an individual as his successor, he identifies the Dhamma and Vinaya he has taught and expounded as his successor, at the same time establishing standards for how the Dhamma and Vinaya are to be known: citing the Wings to awakening as his most central teachings, and insisting that any teachings claimed to be his should be judged, not on the authority of the person making the report, but on the consistency of those teachings with teachings already known to be standard.

For individuals, the Buddha stresses the need to take the Dhamma as their refuge by internalizing the Dhamma in such a way—through the four establishings of mindfulness—that they can take refuge in themselves. He also supplies a “Dhamma-mirror” so that they can judge the extent to which they have succeeded in providing themselves with this refuge.

The pursuit of the common and the individual good overlap in that when individual monks practice rightly, the world will not be empty of arahants.

Highlights

Then the Blessed One, getting up from his seat, went to the assembly hall and, on arrival, sat down on the seat laid out. Having sat down, he addressed the monks:

“Monks, I will teach you the seven conditions that lead to no decline. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said:

  1. “Monks, as long as the monks meet often, meet a great deal, their growth can be expected, not their decline.
  2. “As long as the monks meet in harmony, adjourn from their meetings in harmony, and conduct Saṅgha business in harmony, their growth can be expected, not their decline.
  3. “As long as the monks neither decree what has been undecreed nor repeal what has been decreed, but conduct themselves, having undertaken the training rules as they have been decreed, their growth can be expected, not their decline.
  4. “As long as the monks honour, respect, venerate, and do homage to the elder monks—those with seniority who have long been ordained, the fathers of the Saṅgha, leaders of the Saṅgha—regarding them as worth listening to, their growth can be expected, not their decline.
  5. “As long as the monks do not come under the sway of any arisen craving that leads to further-becoming, their growth can be expected, not their decline.
  6. “As long as the monks see their own benefit in wilderness dwellings, their growth can be expected, not their decline.
  7. “And as long as the monks each keep firmly in mind: ‘If there are any well-behaved companions in the holy life who have yet to come, may they come; and may the well-behaved companions in the holy life who have come live in comfort,’ their growth can be expected, not their decline.

“As long as these seven conditions endure among the monks, and as long as the monks remain steadfast in these seven conditions, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline.” -(Bhikkhu-aparihāniya Sutta  (AN 7:21))


“Monks, I will teach you seven further conditions that lead to no decline. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said:

  1. “Monks, as long as the monks are not infatuated with (construction) work, do not delight in construction work, and are not committed to infatuation with construction work, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline.
  2. “As long as the monks are not infatuated with gossip…
  3. “As long as the monks are not infatuated with sleeping…
  4. “As long as the monks are not infatuated with entanglement…
  5. “As long as the monks are not infatuated with evil ambition and have not come under the sway of evil ambitions, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline.
  6. “As long as the monks do not have evil friends, evil companions, and evil comrades, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline.
  7. “And as long as the monks do not stop half-way with lower distinctions & achievements, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline. -(Mahā Sāropama Sutta  (MN 29))

“As long as these seven conditions endure among the monks, and as long as the monks remain steadfast in these seven conditions, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline.”

“Monks, I will teach you seven further conditions that lead to no decline. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said:

  1. “Monks, as long as the monks have conviction…
  2. shame…
  3. compunction…
  4. learning…
  5. aroused persistence…
  6. established mindfulness…
  7. discernment, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline. -(Sekha-paṭipadā Sutta  (MN 53))

“As long as these seven conditions endure among the monks, and as long as the monks remain steadfast in these seven conditions, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline.”

“Monks, I will teach you seven further conditions that lead to no decline. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said:

7 Factors of Awakening

  1. “Monks, as long as the monks develop mindfulness (sati) as a factor for awakening…
  2. analysis of qualities (dhammavicaya) as a factor for awakening…
  3. persistence (vīriya) as a factor for awakening…
  4. rapture (pīti) as a factor for awakening…
  5. calm (passaddhi) as a factor for awakening…
  6. concentration (samādhi) as a factor for awakening…
  7. equanimity (upekkhā) as a factor for awakening, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline. -(Āhāra Sutta  (SN 46:51))

“As long as these seven conditions endure among the monks, and as long as the monks remain steadfast in these seven conditions, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline

“Monks, I will teach you seven further conditions that lead to no decline. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said:

  1. “Monks, as long as the monks develop the perception of inconstancy…
  2. the perception of not-self…
  3. the perception of unattractiveness…
  4. the perception of drawbacks…
  5. the perception of abandoning…
  6. the perception of dispassion…
  7. the perception of cessation, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline. -(Girimānanda Sutta  (AN 10:60))

“As long as these seven conditions endure among the monks, and as long as the monks remain steadfast in these seven conditions, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline.”

“Monks, I will teach you six further conditions that lead to no decline. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said:

  1. “As long as the monks are set on bodily acts of good will with regard to their companions in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline.
  2. “As long as the monks are set on verbal acts of good will with regard to their companions in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs…
  3. “As long as the monks are set on mental acts of good will with regard to their companions in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs…
  4. “As long as the monks, whatever righteous gains they may obtain in a righteous way—even if only the alms in their bowls—do not consume them alone, but consume them after sharing them in common with their virtuous companions in the holy life…
  5. “As long as the monks—with reference to the virtues that are untorn, unbroken, unspotted, unsplattered, liberating, praised by the observant, ungrasped at, leading to concentration—dwell with their virtue in tune with that of their companions in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs…
  6. “And as long as the monks—with reference to the view that is noble, leading outward, that leads those who act in accordance with it to the right ending of suffering & stress—dwell with their view in tune with those of their companions in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline.

“As long as these six conditions endure among the monks, and as long as the monks remain steadfast in these six conditions, the monks’ growth can be expected, not their decline.” -(Sārāṇīya Sutta  (AN 6:12))

While staying there near Rājagaha on Vulture Peak Mountain, the Blessed One often gave this Dhamma talk to the monks: “Such is virtue, such is concentration, such is discernment. Concentration nurtured with virtue is of great fruit, great reward. Discernment nurtured with concentration is of great fruit, great reward. The mind nurtured with discernment is rightly released from the effluents, i.e., the effluent of sensuality, the effluent of becoming, the effluent of ignorance.”


In the same way, I understand this by inference from the teaching:
‘All the perfected ones, fully awakened Buddhas—whether past, future, or present—
give up the five hindrances, corruptions of the heart that weaken wisdom. Their mind is firmly established in the four kinds of mindfulness meditation. They correctly develop the seven awakening factors. And they wake up to the supreme perfect awakening.’  -translated by Bhante Sujato

Lay followers of Pāṭali Village …

“Householders, there are these five rewards coming from a virtuous person’s consummation in virtue. Which five?

“There is the case where a virtuous person, consummate in virtue, by reason of heedfulness acquires a great mass of wealth. This is the first reward coming from a virtuous person’s consummation in virtue.

“And further, the fine reputation of the virtuous person, consummate in virtue, gets spread about. This is the second reward coming from a virtuous person’s consummation in virtue.

“And further, whatever assembly the virtuous person, consummate in virtue, approaches—whether of noble warriors, brahmans, householders, or contemplatives—he/she does so with confidence & unabashed. This is the third reward coming from a virtuous person’s consummation in virtue.

“And further, the virtuous person, consummate in virtue, dies unconfused. This is the fourth reward coming from a virtuous person’s consummation in virtue.

“And further, the virtuous person, consummate in virtue—on the break-up of the body, after death—reappears in a good destination, a heavenly world. This is the fifth reward coming from a virtuous person’s consummation in virtue.

“These, householders, are the five rewards coming from a virtuous person’s consummation in virtue.”

Then the Blessed One—having instructed, urged, roused, & encouraged the lay followers of Pāṭali Village for a large part of the night with Dhamma talk—dismissed them, saying, “The night is far gone, householders. Do what you think it is now time to do.”

Responding, “As you say, lord,” to the Blessed One, the lay followers of Pāṭali Village got up from their seats and, bowing down to him and circumambulating him, left. Then the Blessed One, not long after they had left, entered an empty building.


… the Blessed One, together with a large Saṅgha of monks, went to Koṭi Village. There he stayed near Koṭi Village.

And there he addressed the monks: “It’s through not awakening to or penetrating four noble truths, monks, that we have transmigrated and wandered on for such a long time, you & I. Which four?

“It’s through not awakening to or penetrating the noble truth of stress that we have transmigrated and wandered on for such a long time, you & I. It’s through not awakening to or penetrating the noble truth of the origination of stress… It’s through not awakening to or penetrating the noble truth of the cessation of stress… It’s through not awakening to or penetrating the noble truth of the path of practice leading to cessation of stress that we have transmigrated and wandered on for such a long time, you & I.

“(But now,) this noble truth of stress has been awakened to & penetrated, the noble truth of the origination of stress has been awakened to & penetrated, the noble truth of the cessation of stress has been awakened to & penetrated, the noble truth of the path of practice leading to cessation of stress has been awakened to & penetrated. Craving for becoming has been crushed; the guide to becoming [i.e., clinging] is ended. There now is no further-becoming.”

That is what the Blessed One said. Having said it, the Teacher, the One Well-Gone, said further:

From lack of vision of the four noble truths, we have wandered a long time, simply in these births & those.

These are now seen, the guide to becoming is removed, crushed is the root of suffering & stress.

There is now no further-becoming

“And what is the Dhamma-mirror Dhamma-discourse, endowed with which a disciple of the noble ones, if he/she so desires, may predict for him or herself: ‘Hell is ended for me; animal wombs are ended; the state of the hungry ghosts is ended; planes of deprivation, the bad destinations, the lower realms are ended! I am a stream-winner, never again destined for the lower realms, certain, headed for self-awakening’?

“There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones is endowed with verified confidence in the Awakened One: ‘Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy & rightly self-awakened, consummate in clear-knowing & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the cosmos, unexcelled trainer of people fit to be tamed, teacher of devas & human beings, awakened, blessed.’

“He/she is endowed with verified confidence in the Dhamma: ‘The Dhamma is well taught by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be experienced by the observant for themselves.’

“He/she is endowed with verified confidence in the Saṅgha: ‘The Saṅgha of the Blessed One’s disciples who have practiced well… who have practiced straight-forwardly… who have practiced methodically… who have practiced masterfully—in other words, the four types of noble disciples when taken as pairs, the eight when taken as individual types

The four pairs are (1) the person on the path to stream entry, the person experiencing the fruit of stream entry; (2) the person on the path to once-returning, the person experiencing the fruit of once-returning; (3) the person on the path to non-returning, the person experiencing the fruit of non-returning; (4) the person on the path to arahantship, the person experiencing the fruit of arahantship. The eight individuals are the eight types forming these four pairs.

—they are the Saṅgha of the Blessed One’s disciples: deserving of gifts, deserving of hospitality, deserving of offerings, deserving of respect, the incomparable field of merit for the world.’”

“He/she is endowed with virtues that are appealing to the noble ones: untorn, unbroken, unspotted, unsplattered, liberating, praised by the observant, ungrasped at, leading to concentration.

“This, Ānanda, is the Dhamma-mirror Dhamma-discourse, endowed with which a disciple of the noble ones, if he/she so desires, may predict for him or herself: ‘Hell is ended for me; animal wombs are ended; the state of the hungry ghosts is ended; planes of deprivation, the bad destinations, the lower realms are ended! I am a stream-winner, never again destined for the lower realms, certain, headed for self-awakening!’” -(Kosambiyā Sutta (MN 48))

While staying there near Nādikā in the Brick House, the Blessed One often gave this Dhamma talk to the monks: “Such is virtue, such is concentration, such is discernment. Concentration nurtured with virtue is of great fruit, great reward. Discernment nurtured with concentration is of great fruit, great reward. The mind nurtured with discernment is rightly released from effluents, i.e., the effluent of sensuality, the effluent of becoming, the effluent of ignorance.”




to be continued …



posted by: Terence Seow