Buddha’s Last Words

At the age of 80 Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was offered a homeless monk’s charity meal, which consisted of a preparation of pig meat*, by a smith called Cunda, in Kushinagar (near Patna), India, which he took. After eating a portion of it he became very sick, and he realized that it was of deleterious quality. He stopped eating it and ordered the rest of it destroyed, so that others were not injured by it. He also ordered that no action be taken against Cunda, as he had offered the food with good intentions, and also as he was already wishing to leave the world of human beings. His impending death created a shock wave among his disciples and plunged them in deep gloom. They gathered around their leader to pay their last homage, in utter disbelief and speechlessness. Lord Buddha, in a way of pacifying, told them:

“Now then monks, I address you: subject to decomposition of compound things, strive with earnestness.”

These were Buddha’s last words.

What he meant was that human flesh being composed of chemicals, which sooner or later, must decompose according to the laws of nature, bringing the human life, as we know it in earthly form, to an end. But for this inevitable end, the purpose of life was to strive toward high-level goals with all the earnestness one could command.

Just before these last words, while he lay in a state of death, he was asked what should people believe in? He stated:

1. Be lamps to yourselves.
2. Be a refuge to yourselves.
3. Betake yourself to no external refuge.
4. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.
5. Remain strenuous, self-possessed, and mindful, having overcome
both the hunkering and the dejection common in the world.
6. Strive with earnestness.

What Buddha said was that one’s self was the temple of one’s life, the place where the light of life rested. One need not go anywhere but there for inspiration, courage, and guidance for the arduous journey of life. Going anywhere else for help was knocking on the wrong doors. One’s inner sanctum was the ultimate counselor, guide, arbiter, friend, and shrine. The journey of life through the world, by its very nature, was bound to invite both hunkering and dejection, but one could overcome them by ardor, confidence in oneself, and correct mentality.

These are the most uncommon words of spiritual enlightenment in the annals of the human history. They were spoken about 2,500 years ago. They are simple, without the common trappings of religious concepts and terminology.

Buddha died in 543 B.C.E. in Kushinagar (near Putna), India.

Buddha did not believe in a god. He thought that the seed of a mind was all that man’s life came with and all we could do to take life to its highest potential was to develop the mind to its transcendent universal level: selfless, compassionate, intelligent, pure. The instrument to accomplish that was meditation. Buddha gave the gift of meditation to the humankind. (The science and art of meditation may have existed before Buddha but apparently no one before him took it to such a high level as he did)

• It is not clear whether it was pig’s meat or food pigs ate or truffles.


Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal, (formerly in India), in 563 B.C.E., a prince, but he soon got tired of its trappings: wealth, palaces, servants, beautiful women, and political power. At the age of 29 he gave up all these, including his beautiful wife and 2 year old son, to find out the answer to the great riddle of what caused human suffering, after having established that human life was inevitably bonded with it. Initially, he believed that the way to find his answer he must go through the process of extreme asceticism, a practice well established by the prevailing Hinduism. After 6 years through extreme mortification, he realized he was on the wrong path, he will have to work with the human nature, rather than fight it. He now subjected himself to more meditation and less mortification. This new way was called The Middle Way, something in between extreme self-indulgence and extreme self-mortification. In the last phase of the new vision, he sat under a pipal tree (now called Bodhi Tree), in Bodh Gaya, India, meditating for 49 days, and then achieved the enlightenment he was seeking, called nirvana. He felt such a force in the achievement that he exulted that, “the holy life has been lived out to its conclusion,” and “what had to be done has been accomplished; there is nothing else to do.”

The year was 528 B.C.E. and he was 35 years old.

Henceforward, Siddhartha Gautama was called Gautama Buddha, or The Buddha.

His first sermon was given to 5 disciples, in Deer Park, near Sarnath, (which is near Varanasi), India. The sermon consisted of the exposition of his earlier realization that human life was inevitably bonded with suffering and his understanding of how to mitigate it. The sermon was broken into two parts: Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path. The former says that there are four truths of life: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the cessation of the suffering by achieving nirvana, and the path that lead to nirvana, which is described in Noble Eightfold Path. The latter describes the eight measures which will lead to nirvana, which are categorized as follows: the right understanding, the right intention, the right speech, the right action, the right livelihood, the right effort, the right mindfulness, and the right concentration. Buddha said that the cause of suffering was desire; not the desire to do the morally right things but the cravings that lead to lust, ego, power over human beings, etc. He claimed that he had extinguished the cravings, hatred, and ignorance to achieve nirvana. Nirvana (blowing out) did not mean snuffing out of the person but that of his egotism, cravings, hatred, greed, and delusions. After achieving nirvana, he said he had become a tathagata, that is “thus gone,” which meant that his egotism had been extinguished. To put it the other way, the “letting go” of the worldly-personality. He went on to preach for the next 45 years, leaving a household life to take a homeless life, that is, becoming a wandering, preaching mendicant.

After the word went around that there was a man who had achieved extraordinary spirituality, people flocked to him. They asked him, if he were a god, to which he would reply no; then they would ask him if he were an angel, to which he would reply no; a saint, he would say no; what was he then, he would say awake. His final name Buddha means a person who is awake, an enlightened person.

Buddha said one of the most stubbornly persistent and delusional concepts in the worldly-personality of man was the concept of self. He strongly stated that there was no self; it was one of the most erroneous and harmful concepts of common human life. The experience of human life did not need self. The sooner one got rid of it, the better it would be for the person. Other two important Buddhist concepts are: anatta (no soul) and anicca (impermanence of things).

Buddha said that The Four Noble Truths were not derived from any theory or rational intellect but were found by him by “direct experience”.

He was against the cult of personality and strongly fought the attention being paid to him. He said that he represented his Dhamma* and that the Dhamma was him. Buddha also said that he had not created anything new but he discovered an understanding to the suffering of life that existed a long time back, which had been forgotten. This was an expression of his extraordinary humility. He told his disciples that everything he taught them should not be taken for granted but tested by them before accepting it.

Buddha was one of the most original thinkers of the humankind. He used simple observations and common logic in his thinking, like that a modern thinker would use, to arrive at his diagnosis of the human problem of suffering and its solution of nirvana. He dispensed with the concept of god and other paraphernalia attached to common religions, and plumbed the basis of the human mind, arriving at an understanding that was brilliant, as well as simple. No other man in the human history has created a system of thought so original and revolutionary, which has amassed a following of 350 million people, even after its origination 2,500 years ago.

* The doctrines and practices of a religious system.

Note: The historical life of Buddha has many uncertainties in it.

Suffern, New York, 6.20. 2011 www.kaulscorner.com

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