Today is the day that Buddhists around the world mark the death of the historical Buddha, a moment called his parinirvana. Thanks to Rev. Danny Fisher for the reminder. on the BBC page about this day, they remark that
The day is used as an opportunity to reflect on the fact of one’s own future death, and on friends or relations who have recently passed away. The idea that all things are transient is central to Buddhist teaching. Loss and impermanence are things to be accepted rather than causes of grief.
Having just last week lost a woman from my family that I have routinely described as the living hearth of my extended family, I will certainly be meditating on her passing, and impermanence. I miss you, Aunt Jackie.
Now, a word about the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the Buddhist text which describes the days leading up to the Buddha’s final nirvana:
The Mahaparinibbana sutta is the locus classicus for discussions of funerary ritual, relics, and post-mortem attitudes toward the dead. Toward the end, the Buddha gives directions for his funeral (which is expertly analyzed by John Strong in his excellent book Relics of the Buddha as a rejection of kingly, brahmanical authority and prestige), and the division of the Buddha post-cremation relics.
What is rarely noted about the text however, is the way in which the entire sutta is framed by war. At the beginning, patricide king Ajatasattu (“He who is without enemies,” largely because he seems to have murdered them all) asks the Buddha for advice on how to conquer a neighboring republic. The Buddha advises the king that as long as Ajattasattu’s neighbors continue to practice the community teachings of the Buddha – which are explicitly non-religious, and not even terribly ‘Buddhist’, but generally just good advice – he will be unable to conquer them. The king decides to go after them anyway, and begins preparations for war. Continue reading