Venerable Ananda (Buddha's loyal attendant and disciple)
Ananda was foremost in 5 qualities: Wide learning, good behaviour, retentive memory, resoluteness and personal attention to the Buddha. One of Buddha’s principal disciples, known as “beloved disciple” and devoted companion.
Ananda was born on the same day as the Buddha. His father was King Amitodana, the younger brother of King Suddhodana and his mother was Kisa Gotami. He was a first cousin of the Buddha. Ananda was said to be one of the seven who was born on the same day as the Buddha (Khantaka, the horse; Channa, his charioteer; Yasodhara, his wife; Kaludayi, his minister; Bodhi tree; 4 urns of treasure). As his birth brought happiness to his kinsfolk, he was named Ananda.
Ananda was handsome, pleasing to the eye and very learned. During the 2nd year of the Buddha’s ministry, Ananda with 5 other Sakyan princes (Devadatta, Bhaddiya, Anuruddha, Bhagu, Kimbila) and the barber, Upali joined the Order at Anupiya Mango Grove in the Malla Country. Soon after, he heard a discourse by Punna Mantaniputta and became a stream winner.
Buddha’s personal attendant
For the first twenty years of His life, the Buddha had no personal attendant. The few temporary attendants were not very dutiful. Some chose to go where they please. Some even dropped His alms bowl or robe on the ground. In the 20th year, when he was fifty- five, Buddha made known to his disciples that he would like to have a permanent attendant. The Bhikkhus offered their services but they were not suitable except Ananda.
He agreed to become Buddha’s attendant on the following 8 conditions: 1. He was not to receive any robes given to the Buddha. 2. He was not to have alms given to the Buddha. 3. He was not to dwell in the Buddha’s cell. 4. He was not to be included should Buddha receive a personal invitation to a meal. 5. He would act as a secretary to make appointment. 6. He would bring visitors from afar to see the Buddha. 7. He could approach the Buddha to clear his doubts. 8. Buddha would repeat any teaching that was given in Ananda’s absence.
Ananda attended to the Buddha for twenty- five years. He fulfilled all his duties with the greatest care. He would give up his life to protect the Buddha. When he saw the intoxicated elephant, Nalagiri charging at the Buddha, he quickly stood in front of the Buddha. Ananda would also bring news to Buddha, e.g. that of Nigantha Nataputta’s death and Devadatta’s decision to hold a separate uposatha.
Establishment of the Bhikkhuni’s order
According to Vinaya Pitaka, Ananda was instrumental in the establishment of the Bhikkhuni’s order. Buddha had rejected Mahapajapati Gotami’s request for admission into the order thrice and also Ananda’s initial request. He then asked Buddha whether females were capable of attaining the different stages of Sainthood. Buddha’s answer was affirmative and the ladies entered the sangha on agreeing to abide by the 8 strict conditions.
Ananda was a regular preacher to the nuns. He was also in charge of sending preachers to the nuns. The Chinese pilgrim, Hsuan Tsang who came to India in the 7th century AD noticed that the nuns worshiped Ananda as their patron saint.
Ananda was a popular preacher among laywomen as well. He was offered 500 upper robes after he gave a discourse to the women of King Udena’s household.
People who wanted to see the Buddha first went to Ananda. Sometimes he arranged for Buddha to preach to laity and even heretics whom he thought needed the Buddha’s advice. Lay devotees often sought out Ananda in arranging a meal for the Buddha.
Bodhi tree at Jetavana
Millionaire Ananthapindika requested Venerable Ananda that there should be an object of worship of the Buddha during his absence from Savatthi. Venerable Ananda then asked the Buddha who suggested the Bodhi tree. Ven. Maha Moggallana took a sapling from the Bodhi tree at Bodhi Gaya. The sapling was planted with a grand ceremony at Jetavana.
Attainment of Arahantship
When Buddha lay dying in the sala grove of the Malla, Ananda burst into tears. The Buddha reminded him of the doctrine on impermanence of all component things.
After Buddha’s mahaparinibbana, Ananda grieved for the Buddha. Then, he resolved to strive for Arahantship so that he could participate in the First Buddhist Council. One day before the council, he attained arahantship in a posture that was neither standing, sitting, lying nor walking. It was a posture that was when he was about to lie down.
First Buddhist Council
On attaining arahantship, Ananda was able to participate in the First Buddhist Council. Due to his close association with the Buddha, Buddha’s agreement to repeat all discourses given in Ananda’s absence, and his extensive retentive memory, he was an expert in the teachings of the Buddha. Ananda was known as the treasurer of the Dhamma (Dhamma Bhandagarika). He was responsible for most of the discourses in the Sutta Pitaka which begins with “Evam me sutam….” (Thus have I heard…..)
During the first Buddhist council, charges made against Venerable Ananda 1. Did not formulate lesser and minor precepts 2. Tread on the garment of the Buddha 3. Permitted women to salute first the body of the Buddha 4. Forgot to request Buddha to live long 5. Pleaded for admission of women into the order 6 Failed to supply drinking water to the Buddha though asked for thrice.
These charges were probably later inserts as Buddha was known to be magnanimous and he wouldn't be so petty over such small matters.
Ananda was given the duty to inform Channa (Buddha's charioteer) that the highest penalty of Brahma Danda was imposed upon him for his bad behaviour. He had slighted every monk and was arrogant to the extreme. The penalty imposed was complete social boycott. When the punishment was announced to Channa, he was seized with profound repentance and grief. He practiced and attained Arahantship. The punishment ceased to be effective.
Ananda lived to be 120 years old. His last act just before his parinibbana was to convert a seer who came with 500 followers. He was Madhyantika who later converted Kashmir to Buddhism. The Pali Canon made no mention of Ananda’s death. According to Fa Hien who recorded an old tradition that just before his death, he floated above the River Rohini. He went into fire meditation and his body was consumed in flames and his remains fell equally on either side for King Ajatasattu and the Licchavis of Vesali. They enshrined the relics in stupas in their respective countries. Hsuan Tsang recorded that he saw both these stupas.
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