The Travels of Fa-Hien
REMARKABLE DEATH OF ANANDA.
Four yojanas on from this place to the east brought the travellers to
the confluence of the five rivers.
When Ananda was going from
to Vaisali, wishing his pari-nirvana to take place (there),
the devas informed king Ajatasatru
of it, and the king immediately
pursued him, in his own grand carriage, with a body of soldiers, and
had reached the river. (On the other hand), the Lichchhavis of Vaisali
had heard that Amanda was coming (to their city), and they on their
part came to meet him. (In this way), they all arrived together at the
river, and Ananda considered that, if he went forward, king Ajatasatru
would be very angry, while, if he went back, the Lichchhavis would
resent his conduct. He thereupon in the very middle of the river burnt
his body in a fiery ecstasy of Samadhi,
and his pari-nirvana was
attained. He divided his body (also) into two, (leaving) the half of
it on each bank; so that each of the two kings got one half as a
(sacred) relic, and took it back (to his own capital), and there
raised a tope over it.
This spot does not appear to have been identified. It could not be
far from Patna.
Magadha was for some time the headquarters of Buddhism; the holy
land, covered with viharas; a fact perpetuated, as has been observed
in a previous note, in the name of the present Behar, the southern
portion of which corresponds to the ancient kingdom of Magadha.
In Singhalese, Ajasat. See the account of his conversion in M. B.,
pp. 321-326. He was the son of king Bimbisara, who was one of the
first royal converts to Buddhism. Ajasat murdered his father, or at
least wrought his death; and was at first opposed to Sakyamuni, and a
favourer of Devadatta. When converted, he became famous for his
liberality in almsgiving.
Eitel has a long article (pp. 114, 115) on the meaning of Samadhi,
which is one of the seven sections of wisdom (bodhyanga). Hardy
defines it as meaning "perfect tranquillity;" Turnour, as "meditative
abstraction;" Burnouf, as "self-control;" and Edkins, as "ecstatic
reverie." "Samadhi," says Eitel, "signifies the highest pitch of
abstract, ecstatic meditation; a state of absolute indifference to all
influences from within or without; a state of torpor of both the
material and spiritual forces of vitality; a sort of terrestrial
nirvana, consistently culminating in total destruction of life." He
then quotes apparently the language of the text, "He consumed his body
by Agni (the fire of) Samadhi," and says it is "a common expression
for the effects of such ecstatic, ultra-mystic self-annihilation." All
this is simply "a darkening of counsel by words without knowledge."
Some facts concerning the death of Ananda are hidden beneath the
darkness of the phraseology, which it is impossible for us to
ascertain. By or in Samadhi he burns his body in the very middle of
the river, and then he divides the relic of the burnt body into two
parts (for so evidently Fa-hien intended his narration to be taken),
and leaves one half on each bank. The account of Ananda's death in
Nien-ch'ang's "History of Buddha and the Patriarchs" is much more
extravagant. Crowds of men and devas are brought together to witness
it. The body is divided into four parts. One is conveyed to the
Tushita heaven; a second, to the palace of a certain Naga king; a
third is given to Ajatasatru; and the fourth to the Lichchhavis. What
it all really means I cannot tell.