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Ven Ananda

Ananda: Guardian of the Dhamma

Ānanda (Sk. & Pl.) listened to the Buddha’s teachings the most among the disciples. Ananda means great delight. He came to earth from Tusita and was born on the same day as the Bodhisatta, his father being Amitodana the Sákiyan, brother of Suddhodana. Mahánáma and Anuruddha were therefore his brothers (or probably step-brothers). According to the Mtu.iii.176, Ánanda was the son of Suklodana and the brother of Devadatta and Upadhána. His mother was Mrgí.

Ánanda entered the Order in the second year of the Buddha’s ministry, together with other Sákiyan princes, such as Bhaddiya, Anuruddha, Bhagu, Kimbila and Devadatta, and was ordained by the Buddha himself (Vin.ii.182), his upajjháya being Belatthasísa (ThagA.i.68; also DA.ii.418ff.; Vin.i.202; iv. 86). Soon after, he heard a discourse by Punna Mantániputta and became a Sotápanna. In S.iii.105 Ánanda acknowledges his indebtedness to Punna and gives an account of Punna’s sermon to him.

After he became a monk, he took care of the Buddha for 25 years, until the Buddha died. During the first twenty years after the Enlightenment, the Buddha did not have the same personal attendants all the time. From time to time various monks looked after him, among them being Nágasamála, Nágita, Upavána, Sunakkhatta, the novice Cunda, Ságata, Rádha and Meghiya. We are told that the Buddha was not particularly pleased with any of them. At the end of twenty years, at an assembly of the monks, the Buddha declared that he was advanced in years and desired to have somebody as his permanent body-servant, one who would respect his wishes in every way. The Buddha says that sometimes his attendants would not obey him, and on certain occasions had dropped his bowl and robe and gone away, leaving him.

All the great disciples offered their services, but were rejected by the Buddha. Ánanda alone was left; he sat in silence. When asked why he did not offer himself, his reply was that the Buddha knew best whom to choose. When the Buddha signified that he desired to have Ánanda, the latter agreed to accept the post on certain conditions. The Buddha was never to give him any choice food or garment (*) gotten by him, nor appoint for him a separate “fragrant cell” (residence), nor include him in the invitations accepted by the Buddha. For, he said, if the Buddha did any of these things, some would say that Ánanda’s services to the Buddha were done in order to get clothes, good fare and lodging and be included in the invitations. Further he was to be allowed to accept invitations on behalf of the Buddha; to bring to the Buddha those who came to see him from afar; to place before the Buddha all his perplexities, and the Buddha was to repeat to him any doctrine taught in his absence. If these concessions were not granted, he said, some would ask where was the advantage of such service. Only if these privileges were allowed him would people trust him and realise that the Buddha had real regard for him. The Buddha agreed to the conditions.

Thenceforth, for twenty-five years (Thag.v.1039), Ánanda waited upon the Buddha, following him like a shadow, bringing him water and toothpick, washing his feet, accompanying him everywhere, sweeping his cell and so forth. By day he was always at hand, forestalling the Master’s slightest wish; at night, stout staff and large torch in hand, he would go nine times round the Buddha’s Gandha-kuti in order to keep awake, in case he were needed, and also to prevent the Buddha’s sleep from being disturbed.

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. The Convocation should be held to systematise the Buddha’s teachings, five hundred monks were chosen as delegates, among them, Ánanda. He was, however, the only non-arahant (sekha) among them, and he had been enjoined by his colleagues to put forth great effort and repair this disqualification. At length, when the convocation assembled, a vacant seat had to be left for him. It had not been until late the previous night that, after a final supreme effort, he had attained the goal. He had been occupied in consoling the laity after the Buddha’s death and had had no time for practising meditation. In the end it was a devatá in the woodland grove in Kosala, where he was staying, who pointed out the urgency of the matter (S.i.199-200); but see ThagA.i.237, where the credit for this is given to a Vajjiputta thera.

It is said that he won sixfold abhiññá when he was just lying down to sleep, his head hardly on the pillow, his feet hardly off the ground. He is therefore described as having become an arahant in none of the four postures. When he appeared in the convocation, Mahá Kassapa welcomed him warmly and shouted three times for joy. According to the Majjhimabhánaká, says Buddhaghosa, Ánanda appeared on his seat while the others looked on, having come through the earth; according to others he came through the air. According to ThagA.ii.130, it was a Brahmá of the Suddhávása who announced Ánanda’s attainment of arahantship to his colleagues at the Convocation.

In the convocation, Ánanda was appointed to answer Mahá Kassapa’s questions, and to co-operate with him in rehearsing the Dhamma (as opposed to the Vinaya).

Ánanda came to be known as Dhammabhandágárika, owing to his skill in remembering the word of the Buddha; it is said that he could remember everything spoken by the Buddha, from one to sixty thousand words in the right order; and without missing one single syllable (ThagA.ii.134).

After him (Maha-Kassapa), 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.

When Ananda reached one hundred and twenty years, he felt that his death was near. He went from Rajagaha on a journey to Vesali, just as his master had done.

When Ánanda was on his way from Magadha to Vesáli, there to die, Ajátasattu heard that he was coming, and, with his retinue, followed him up to the Rohini River. The chiefs of Vesali also heard the news and went out to meet him, and both parties reached the river banks. Ánanda, not wishing to incur the displeasure of either party, entered into the state of tejokasina in the middle of the river and his body went up in flames. His remains were divided into two portions, one for each party, and they built cetiyas for their enshrinement.

Bibliography:

  • Great Disciples of the Buddha, Their Lives Their Works Their Legacy, Nyanaponika Thera and Hellmuth Hecker, edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications, 2003, ISBN 0-86171-381-8, chapter 4
  • Buddhism A to Z, Ronald B Epstein, Buddhist Text Translation Society, 2003, ISBN 0-88139-353-3, pages 4 – 6

Websites:
1. Ananda – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
2. Ananda: The Guardian of the Dhamma
3. Ánanda
4. Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha – 02a
5. Ánanda
6. Wh273 — Ananda, The Guardian of the Dhamma — Plain text

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