‘FLESH AND BLOOD’ EMBODIMENT OF DHARMA AND ‘TREASURY OF MUCH LISTENING’: ANANDA (ALL-JOYFUL) BUDDHA’S BEST AND MAIN ATTENDANT. An Introduction to the life-story of Ananda and his eight special qualities by 17th Karmapa (Day 7, August 2022)

“Through the full twenty-five years,
My dharma practice improved.
I never felt worldly cravings
And realized the nature of true Dharma.”

—Ānanda’s verse on being Buddha’s attendant from “Verses of the Elders” (Theraghātā)

“4. Even though Ananda was my attendant, and had not abandoned all the afflictions of desire, while accompanying me to royal palaces and the abodes of high-caste queens, and seeing excellent and beautiful women, goddesses and naga maidens and so on, he never felt any desire or lust.”

“5. Since becoming my servant, Ananda memorized the twelve different types of sutras that I taught, even if he had heard them merely once; he did not forget even one word, and thus never needed to ask any questions about it.”

—Shakyamuni Buddha citing special qualities of Ānanda

“From one perspective, everyone says that the lamas and tulkus are not working well and from one aspect, it is true. Another way of thinking about it is that one cannot completely blame all the lamas. The attendants also bear some responsibility. There needs to be an attendant with a broad view, someone who listens and understands them a lot. Otherwise, if the people around the lama pick an attendant who has real pure intention and is a good person, yet is also small-minded, and limited and narrow in their thinking, then it creates a lot of problems for the lama.”

–17th Karmapa on the importance of having an attendant with qualities  like Ananda

On Day Seven of the Summer Teachings (video here), the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje continued his explanation of the main disciples of the Buddha, with an introduction to Ānanda, cousin of the Buddha (whose fathers were half-brothers), who also was personally asked by the Buddha to be his attendant and who served him for twenty-five years. To whom Buddha praised as the ‘flesh and blood’ embodiment of the Dharma, as well as the ‘Treasury of Much Listening’.

The teaching can be divided into these sections:

  1. ANANDA’S NAME, BIRTHDAY AND REGAL BACKGROUND
  2. THE SHAKYA LINEAGE
  3. HOW ANANDA PRACTICED DHARMA
    • How he went forth as a monk and trained in Dharma
    • How he practiced while he was Buddha’s attendant
  4. ANANDA’S FAME AND RENOWN
    • a ‘flesh and blood’ embodiment of Dharma
    • a person without enemies
    • a Treasury of listening to many teachings
      • Eight Inconceivable Qualities of Ananda as told by Buddha
  5. ANANDA AS THE BUDDHA’S ATTENDANT
    • The eight conditions for being the Buddha’s attendant.
    • Accompanying Buddha like the shadow of a body.
    • Being like a bridge between the public and Buddha
    • A loving mind willing to sacrifice his life.

The 17th Karmapa after going into some detail about Ananda’s family background and relatives, then described some of the extraordinary qualities of Ānanda (as stated by the Buddha), such as the eight strict conditions Ananda requested before accepting the role of Buddha’s attendant and how he was willing to sacrifice his life for the Buddha. In addition, he was very caring and concerned about people in difficult circumstances, particularly female members of the Buddhist sangha, which ended up causing him lots of difficulties and problems too. That topic was continued the following day (Day 8) when the Karmapa explained the formation of the Bhikshuni sangha and Ānanda’s role in it.

That Ānanda had no enemies (even though the Buddha did) reminded me of this verse from Shantideva’s Chapter Eight, Way of the Bodhisattva:

22. If sentient beings of different dispositions have not been satisfied even by the Victors themselves, then how could they be satisfied with an ignorant person like myself?

What is clear is that Ānanda was extraordinary not only for not having any people who disliked him, but for his humility, concern for women and total devotion and respect for the Buddha.

Music? You Are So Beautiful by Joe Cocker and I Would Die For U by Prince.

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 19th September 2022.

 

‘ORIGINS OF SECRET MANTRA’

17th KARMAPA TEACHING – TRANSCRIPT (DAY SEVEN)

“Today is the seventh day of the summer teachings.  Before I start the teaching, I heard that the Coronavirus epidemic is spreading in the regions of Tibet, the Tibetan autonomous region, as well as all of the areas in Qinghai and Sichuan, where there are large Tibetan populations. This is of course, something that I have been very concerned about. It is really important to think about that. Although the epidemic has been very well controlled in China as a whole, it is now spreading in the Tibetan regions. This epidemic is something that we need to be very careful about personally, but as Tibetans, who are Buddhists and go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, it is important not to be afraid but to take refuge in and supplicate the gurus and yidams as well as the Dharma protectors, recite mantras of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and deities, recite praises to Tara, supplications to Guru Padmasambhava and in particular recite the dharanis of Mārīcī, and Parṇaśavarī which will bring great benefit. Yet, what is most important, is to increase one’s mental strength and enthusiasm.  The Tibetans do have a lot of difficulties in terms of going back and forth and traveling. The main thing is that we need to increase our own internal mental strength, resilience and our own enthusiasm that is what is most important.  For my own part, I make the aspiration that all of the people who are in the Tibetan regions may be healthy and happy. I would like to ask all of you to please make similar prayers.

Now for today’s teaching. The other day, I spoke about the topic of Mahakashyapa and I taught his life-story in brief. There is a lot more to say from one perspective, but not a whole lot of time. The other point is that before I can actually teach it, I have to either gather and collate all of these stories, and that is difficult. So, if I get an opportunity in future years, I might speak about that.  Now, I have been speaking about the topic of the first council, and one of the most important people in the first council was Ānanda. So, I would like to give you an introduction to Ananda.

1. ANANDA – HIS NAME, BIRTHDAY AND REGAL BACKGROUND

His name in Sanskrit is Ānanda (Tib: Kung Gawo (kun dga’ bo), which means ‘all-joy’ or ‘joy for all’. Here’s a picture of a statue of him that was taken in the Dunhuang caves. The Buddha had many different students, but among all of the many different students, the one who really` stood out and was unique in many different ways was Ānanda.

So, I have divided this introduction to Ananda into several different topics. Ananda stood out among all the Buddha’s many students. One reason why Ānanda stands out is that at least according to the oral tradition of the Theravada tradition, both Ānanda and the Buddha were born on the same day and they were both born into the Śakya clan. Ananda’s father Amṛtodana and the Buddha’s father Śuddhodana were brothers or half-brothers.  I don’t know whether they had the same mother but they had the same father, at the very least they were half-brothers. So, Ananda and the Buddha were like cousins on their father’s side. According to the Theravada tradition, the Buddha and Ānanda grew up together in the town of Kapilavastu. Amṛtodana was also the father of Aniruddha (Pāli: Anuruddha), the greatest of those with the divine eye, though it remains unclear whether he and Ananda were full or half-brothers. We don’t know whether they had the same mother but they had the same father. So according to the way it’s taught in the Theravada tradition, Ānanda was the brother of Aniruddha.

The Buddha said that there are the eight of his greatest students, sometimes they say eight, sometimes they say ten. In any case, among them, the one who is said to be greatest of those with the divine eye was Aniruddha. So that’s how it’s described in the Theravada tradition.

Illustration painted by Chandra Man Maskey showing the Buddha’s father Śuddhodana, from the book Sugata Saurabha written by Chittadhar Hridaya and published in 1949.

When Ānanda was born, the King Śuddhodana was delighted, and all the courtiers had a feast, which is why he received his name, “Joy to all”. He was Devadatta’s younger brother and his face was like a stainless full moon, and his eyes were like blue utpala flowers. He went forth at the age of eight and took full ordination through a four-part action with a request through the proper ordination ritual. Among all the Buddha’s students, Ānanda was the greatest and the most learned in the Dharma. He served the Buddha as his attendant for more than twenty years. He memorized all the Dharma teachings that the Buddha taught and thus was like a treasury of the Dharma.

According to the Vinaya Vastu from the Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition,  the Buddha awoke to enlightenment at the age of 35. On that same day, Ānanda and the Buddha’s son Rāhula were both born at the same time.  It was a day of great happiness. The reason for that joy was because during the six years in which the Buddha practiced asceticism, people in Kapilavastu believed that the Buddha had passed away while practicing austerities, which caused everyone in Kapilavastu a lot of sorrow and pain. Then they heard that the Buddha had not died but had, in fact, achieved enlightenment, so everyone was joyful. At that same time, they were all rejoicing, Ānanda was born and for this reason was named Ananda, “Joy to all” or “All joy”.

When the Buddha returned to his homeland of Kapilavastu six years after his awakening. At the time when he returned, Ananda was six years old, and he went forth at that age. Daśabala Kāśyapa gave him vows and fully ordained him.  We need to investigate and do research as to whether or not he was the same person as Mahakāśyapa. At the age of sixty, Ānanda was made the Buddha’s attendant and served him for twenty years until Buddha passed away at the age of eighty. This is in accordance with the account in the Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition.

2. THE SHAKYA FAMILY LINEAGE

In order to give you a clearer picture of this, I thought I should show a table or a diagram. Otherwise, if I only say it orally, then it’s something that you can’t really catch on to easily.

Now I’m going to speak about the Śakya family line. There are somewhat different ways the Śakya family line is described in the different sutras and treatises. For example, during the sixth century, Buddhism had not yet spread to Tibet, but it was a time when Buddhism had spread to China. At this time, there was an Indian master Jñānagupta (闍那崛多 or 志德; Shénàjuéduō or Zhì Dé)  who translated the “Aggañña Sutta”, or “Sutra on Going Forth”, into Chinese in the 6th century.

That Sutra says that the Shakya king Siṃhahanu had four sons and one daughter. The oldest son was Śuddhodana. The second son was Śuklodana, the third called Droṇodana, the fourth Amṛtodana, and his daughter was named Amṛtā. In turn, their offspring can be listed as follows:

  • Śuddhodana fathered Sidhārtha and Ānanda. Sidhārtha fathered Rāhula.
  • Śuklodana fathered Tiṣya and Bhadraka.
  • Droṇodana.
  • Amṛtodana fathered Ānanda and Devadatta.
  • Amṛtā.

According to the “Abhiniṣkramaṇa Sūtra” translated by the same Master Jñānagupta, we find the following presentation:

  • Śuddhodana fathered Sidhārtha and Ānanda. Sidhārtha fathered Rāhula.
  • Śuklodana fathered Tiṣya and Bhadraka.
  • Droṇodana fathered Devadatta and Ānanda.
  • Amṛtodana fathered Anirudha and Mahānāman.
  • Amṛtarasa fathered Tiṣya.

In the “Chapter of the Schism” from the “Vinaya Vastu” translated into Tibetan in the 8th century by the Tibetan translator Kawa Paltsek (སྐ་བ་དཔལ་བརྩེགས་) [1], King Siṃhahanu had four sons: Śuddhodana, Śuklodana, Droṇodana, and Amṛtodana and their respective offsprings were:

  • Śuddhodana fathered Sidhārtha and Ānanda. Sidhārtha had Rāhula.
  • Śuklodana fathered Tiṣya and Bhadraka.
  • Droṇodana fathered Mahānāman and Aniruddha.
  • Amṛtodana fathered Ānanda and Devadatta.

So that is the most well-known account in Tibetan.

According to many Chinese sources including the “Śakya Family Line” written during the Tang dynasty:

  • Śuddhodana fathered Sidhārtha and Nanda. Sidhārtha fathered Rāhula.
  • Śuklodana fathered Ānanda and Devadatta
  • Droṇodana fathered Mahānāman and Aniruddha
  • Amṛtodana fathered Tiṣya and Bhadraka

 When we look at the descriptions of the Śakya family line, they all agree that the Buddha and Ānanda’s father was Śuddhodana and that the Buddha’s son was Rahula, but they disagree as to whether Ananda’s father was Śuklodana, Amṛtodana, or Droṇodana.

Except for the Theravada, all other traditions say that Devadatta and Ānanda had the same father, but there are differences regarding who was elder or younger.

Continuing with the introduction of Ānanda, it is of course good to know that there are many differences and explanations. We generally don’t know whether what we say in Tibetan accords is what’s said in other Buddhist traditions.

3. HOW ANANDA PRACTICED DHARMA

I have written down several different sections in this introduction of Ananda.

  1. The way Ananda practiced dharma. This has two points:
    • The first is how he went forth and was trained in the Dharma.
    • The second is how he practiced while he was Buddha’s attendant.
  2. The fame of Ananda. This has three sections, which I will come to in order:
    • a living embodiment of Dharma
    • a person without enemies
    • a Treasury of having listened to many teachings
How he went forth as a monk and trained in Dharma

According to the Theravada tradition, when Ananda reached the age of 37, he entered the sangha together with his half-brother Aniruddha, Devadatta, and many other high-status people of the Śakya clan. The Khenpo, who gave him the full ordination, was the Arhat Belaṭṭhasīsa (Pāli), I do not remember his name in Tibetan. As Ananda was very diligent, he reached the result of stream-entry during his first rains retreat.  So, basically, in that same year, he achieved the result of stream entry in the first summer after he went forth.

Later, when Ananda was teaching the bhikshus, he told them that Puṇṇa Mantāniputta (Pali; Skt. Pūrṇa Maitrayāṇīputra) (who was perhaps a Khenpo) had been very helpful for him in his practice. Puṇṇa taught the Dharma to new bhikshus and particularly was an expert who gave profound explanations of the relationship between the five aggregates and the self and how the self is established on the basis of the five aggregates. Because of listening to Puṇṇa’s teachings, Ananda’s understanding of the impermanence, suffering, and selflessness of the five aggregates deepened. Ultimately, his prajñā, or wisdom, was fully ripened and he achieved the result of stream-entry.

Ānanda himself was from a very rich, royal family, but he still he went forth and became a monk. He found it very pleasing and was satisified living a monastic life. He recognized that being able to embark on the path to liberation and go forth was extremely fortunate and thought of this as a really great fortune for himself. In his very first year that he lived the Bhiskhu lifestyle, he had a really great interest and enthusiasm for the different methods for taming his being. So he had no difficulty with the monastic lifestyle after he was ordained.

How he practiced while he was Buddha’s attendant

Ānanda was later made the Buddha’s attendant. When Ānanda was the Buddha’s attendant on the one hand, he served the Buddha as attendant but he also continued to practice as he had before. He did not put any take any break from his efforts at practicing the true dharma. It is possible  that at that point, when he was given that title of ‘attendant’ he might not have taken interest in practice anymore, but that did not happen. He wrote some verses about this and they are recorded in Pali. To translate them roughly:

Through the full twenty-five years,
My dharma practice improved.
I never felt worldly cravings
And realized the nature of true Dharma. (Thag. 1039-1040)

For the full twenty-five years,
My Dharma practice improved.
I never felt any worldly aversion
And realized the nature of true Dharma.

So, these are the verses he taught. What they show is that during the time he served the Buddha (for 25 years), he was still someone on the path of learning, he was not an individual that achieved Arhatship. But he was someone whose practice continually improved, because he put effort into his practice continuously, his practice did improve.

He says that he never felt any desire anger. This shows there was a profound connection between him and the Buddha. That even though he had great faith and dedication, he did not feel that there was something special about it in terms of his practice, or that would make it easy for him to achieve liberation. Instead, he practiced and made efforts to achieve liberation, as if he was an ordinary monk.

Someone who knows how to think like this is worthy of being the Buddha’s attendant. When you’re made the Buddha’s attendant, you might think, “Oh, I’m really something, I’m so extremely fortunate. I don’t really need to practice much.” right? On the one hand, you don’t have time to practice and the other hand, you think you are very lucky. When you have that type of pride, then it’s possible that you wouldn’t practice the Dharma as diligently as you had before. That did not happen with Ananda.

4. ANANDA’S FAME AND RENOWN

Head of Ānanda, once part of a limestone sculpture from the northern Xiangtangshan Caves. Northern Qi dynasty, 550–577 CE.

There are three sections in this:

  • a ‘flesh and blood’ embodiment of Dharma
  • a person without enemies
  • a Treasury of having listened to many teachings
The ‘flesh and blood’ of Dharma

So, the Tibetan here, I have translated this as flesh and blood of Dharma which means “a living embodiment of the Dharma”.  Ananda had many great qualities, all of which would be too difficult to cover. I would like to point out just a few of them. The first, is that Ananda can be considered a living embodiment of the Dharma. He had a very high level of understanding of the Dharma; so even the Buddha said that Ananda was like the living Dharma, or the Dharma in flesh and blood.

On one occasion, a lay student asked the Buddha, “After I have prostrated to the Buddha and Sangha, how should I prostrate to the Dharma?” The reason he asked that question was because, at that time, the Dharma had not been written down there was no object to prostrate to. These days, when you talk about prostrating to the Dharma, we put a volume of texts in front of like a support for our focus. At that time, there was no support for the Dharma, no representation of the Dharma. So the Buddha said, “Child of noble family, if you wish to prostrate to the true Dharma, you should prostrate to the treasury of true Dharma, Ananda.” Because of Buddha’s instruction, the lay student invited Ananda and made offerings to him, including a valuable piece of cloth and extensive meal for him. Ananda then offered the cloth to noble Shariputra, to whom he was very close, and Shariputra offered it to the Buddha, as he was the supreme field of merit. So if is offered to him the merit is greater. This shows how Ananda was the living representative of the Dharma.

On another occasion, Ananda asked the Buddha a question and then went outside. After he had left, the Buddha commented, “Ananda may only be a learner (i.e. not yet an arhat), but if you look for someone with as much prajñā as him, it wouldn’t be easy.” So it was very clear that the Buddha held Ananda in very high regard indeed.

A person without enemies

The second quality of Ananda is that he was a person without enemies.  Generally, in the world, when people are in a famous it naturally happens that they have more people who are jealous or resentful of them and this could have been a reason for people becoming jealous or resentful of him. But in actuality, Ananda had no such enemies, which is unique and special. Even the Buddha himself had enemies who intentionally tried to harm and create obstacles for him, such as Devadatta. So, Ananda had a situation that did not even happen for the Buddha. Did this happen because of luck or coincidence? No, it did not. It was probably related to events from his previous lives, his actions in the previous lives that made it so that he would not have any enemies. Also, he had very clear intentions about what he was doing from the moment he entered the gate of the Dharma.  He was not like us who do not really know what we are doing and so on. We are not even sure if or when we have entered the Dharma.  Ananda was not like that, he had a clear intention from the start.

Due to this, his renown and fame did not affect him in any way, or make him feel proud or arrogant. Not only that, Ananda also remembered that it was because of the kindness of the true Dharma that he had these excellent qualities. It was only because of the Dharma’s ‘kindness’. He also was mindful that generally, people with no pride or arrogance and good intentions naturally have fewer enemies and people who resent or feel envious of them.

According to the Theravada tradition, Aniruddha was his half-brother, they had the same father, and he had severed all ties to society and spent his whole time practicing and resting in deep Jnana meditation. So, he did not go out much or was sociable. Thus, it was not surprising that he did not have any enemies. However, Ananda’s situation was not like that. He had to remain in the middle between the Buddha and the Buddha’s students. He had to meet many people who came to see the Buddha and so there may have been many small-minded people who were problematic, or malicious or with adverse feelings who might have made difficulties for Ananda. It would not have been easy for him. So, for him to have no particular enemies or adversaries was a unique and special quality of Ananda’s.

A ‘Treasury of Much Listening’
Sui dynasty Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra housed in the w:Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King

What does this mean a ‘treasury of much listening’? In the “Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra”, the Buddha said that Ananda had eight inconceivable qualities and also that he was a ‘treasury of much listening’. It may seem strange, to quote from the Mahayana Sutras when discussing the First Council [which predates them] and may seem disconnected and unrelated to that. However, this teaching is not like a class where a teacher is teaching his students history in school. On the one hand it is to understand the history, but also it is to understand how the followers of the Buddha practiced and studied the Dharma. It is good to understand that and what is important help our own minds. Thus, I think that there is a real point to teaching what is said in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra.

The Eight Inconceivable Qualities

So, when Buddha was speaking about Ananda’s qualities, he said that:

1. Even though Ananda had spent twenty years serving me (the Buddha) as my attendant, he never followed me upon an invitation as a guest, or tried to look impressive.”

 So usually when people invite the Buddha to these events they imagine that Ananda would go along too and try to look impressive as he went there, but he never did that. So when the Buddha was invited to events and meals and so forth, Ananda did not follow him.

2. Since being my attendant until now, Ananda never desired to have my old robes.”

So Ananda never desired to possess and use Buddha’s robes as if they were his own.

3. Since being my attendant, Ananda never came to see me at an inappropriate time, and was always aware when the time was appropriate.”

He never came at an unsuitable time. As Ananda was Buddha’s attendant he was really familiar with him and could go in and see him at any time, but he didn’t do that.

“4. Since being my attendant, even though Ananda –  had not abandoned all the afflictions of desire, while accompanying me to royal palaces and the abodes of high-caste queens, and seeing excellent and beautiful women, goddesses and naga maidens and so on, he never felt any desire or lust.”

“5. Since being my attendant, Ananda memorized the twelve different types of sutras that I taught, even if he had heard them merely once; he did not forget even one word, and thus never needed to ask any questions about it.   This quality is like pouring all the water from one jug into another without spilling anything.  Or copying files from a pen drive onto a computer without missing anything.”

This is an important quality.   So, whatever the Buddha would say Ananda would then be able to memorize it all without missing even a single word. He never even asked once about this during the whole time he spent as Buddha’s attendant.

“6. Since being my attendant, even though Ananda had not attained the primordial awareness wisdom paramita of being able to know others’ minds, he nevertheless always knew when the Tathāgata was in samadhi and which type of samadhi I was abiding in.”

There are many different types of Samadhi yet Ananda always knew which one the Buddha was resting within.

7. “Since being my attendant, even though Ananda had not achieved the wisdom of aspirations, even without clairvoyance, he nevertheless had been able to perceive which sentient beings would, if they came into the Tathāgata’s presence, achieve the results of spiritual practice immediately, later, or whether they would achieve a divine or human body.”

“8. Since being my attendant, Ananda understood everything the Tathāgata thought and said.”

This means that Ananda understood exactly whatever the Buddha was thinking, even if the Buddha did not say it, he would immediately know what the Buddha’s thoughts and intentions were.

So, these are the eight qualities of Ananda. These are qualities that not only the Buddha has, but also the Buddha’s attendant needs to have. For that reason, the Buddha said that Ananda has these eight conceivable qualities and thus, the victor Ananda is known as the “Treasury of much listening”. So, like the teachers, the attendants needs to have qualities.

Narrow-minded attendants, even if having good intentions, can cause a teacher much stress and pressure
17th Karmapa at Tsurphu Monastery. Photo by Art Perry.

“In other words, when one is choosing an attendant for a teacher it can be difficult, right? You try to judge well, and choose the best attendant, but if we don’t really know how to choose an attendant, then it is difficult.  For example, sometimes it is said is that when tulku teachers are young, they need to have older attendants and someone who has really pure intention. However, sometimes what happens, is they choose someone who is a bit small-minded. They have pure altruistic intention but sometimes they are also very narrow-minded and because they are too small-minded, then it is difficult. The reason is that the lama has vast thinking that is different than ordinary people, it is wide and deep. So, they cannot see what they really would like to do. If they can’t see that, because they are too narrow, limited, and small-minded, then the attendant will say “Oh it is not okay to do this, and you have to do this, this will happen if you do that.” If the attendant is always saying things like that, it is like putting the teacher into a pressure cooker. When you put them in the pressure cooker, then it is like you can’t do anything because you are under so much pressure and then, one day the pressure cooker is going to explode. The pressure cooker will just burst.

From one perspective, everyone says that the lamas and tulkus are not working well and from one aspect, it is true. Another way of thinking about it is that one cannot completely blame all the lamas and tulkus. The attendants also bear some responsibility. There needs to be an attendant with a broad view, someone who has heard and understands a lot.  Otherwise, if the people around the lama pick an attendant who has real pure intention and is a good person, yet is also small-minded, and limited and narrow in their thinking, then it creates a lot of problems for the lama.”That is another thing we need to consider.

5. ANANDA AS THE BUDDHA’S ATTENDANT

Continuing with the introduction to Ananda. The third point is his being the attendant of the Buddha. I have divided this section into four parts:

  1. The eight conditions for being the Buddha’s attendant.
  2. Accompanying him like the shadow of a body.
  3. Being like a bridge between the public and Buddha
  4. A loving mind willing to sacrifice himself.
3.1 The eight conditions for being the Buddha’s attendant. 

Now of the all the different things that we know about Ananda, we all know that he was the attendant. However, the Buddha had many different attendants. Ananda’s main distinction is that the Buddha praised him as being the best among his many attendants.

Yet, merely saying that he was the Buddha’s “attendant” or “servant” does not suffice to describe the special qualities as to how he attended and served the Buddha. Ananda was more than an attendant, he was also his secretary, helper and as we say in our Tibetan society, he was an administrator. He was the person who did everything, what could be called a ‘jack of all trades’, the person who can do everything and anything. No matter what is required, the person who says: “I can do it.”

Normally, when we say ‘attendant’, we immediately think of a servant, someone of lower status.  That is the feeling one would normally have. So, what do we mean when we say that Ananda was the Buddha’s attendant? Basically, what it means is Ananda was the person who administered all the Buddha’s internal and external affairs. He was the person who oversaw them and took care of them all. He offered his opinions with pure intentions to the Buddha. Now, these are not clearly recorded. So, Ananda was much more than an ’attendant’.

In particular, there are many situations that show how the Buddha and Ananda’s mind and thinking were very close, but there’s a danger that we will no longer see them and they will be invisible to us. Thus, it is not alright to think that Ananda was merely Buddha’s attendant, someone who washed his feet and served him. Of course, he was an attendant. However, he was not just the Buddha’s attendant, he also had many other different qualities in the way he was the Buddha’s helper, chancellor and administrator, the Buddha’s personal secretary. He had these many different qualities.

According to the Theravada tradition, it is said the Buddha and Ananda were born on the same day. So when they both got to the age of around 52, the Buddha convened a meeting of all the Bhikshus and what he announced at this meeting was:

“During the last 20 years, as I’ve guided the Sangha, I’ve had many different attendants. However, there has not yet been someone really worthy of it or right for doing it. All my previous attendants, were a little bit too headstrong, and there were some difficulties. Now, I’ve reached the age of 52 and I’m getting older. So, I need an attendant who in whom I can have confidence and whom I can rely upon.”

 When the Buddha said this, there were many students around, and most of them said ‘I will do it or he can do it.” However, the Buddha did not agree to any of them. So Shariputra and Maudgalyana also said,”I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” But the Buddha did not accept any of them. So, then these older bhikshus all thought to themselves they thought that in terms of the one who knows how to think and who was modest, and who would be best and so the elder Bhukshus all expressed this hope to Ananda and asked him that to be the Buddha’s attendant.

Basically, before Ananda had been the Buddha’s attendant, there were many different attendants. But there was no particular person who was continually the Buddha’s attendant. When the Buddha was going on alms rounds, the Buddhists would take the Bhikshus on turns to serve him, and they would carry his robes and, and his alms bowl. There were many monks who had served him in that regard. Even though there were many Bhikshus who did serve him in this way, there probably was not anyone who turned out really well. Many of them just did not really listen to everything the Buddha said.

For example, once there was a bhikshu called Nagasamala who was helping the Buddha. One day they came to an intersection on the road. The Buddha said “we cannot go this further, we need to go another way around, we can’t just go straight down this road.”  The attendant didn’t listen to what the Buddha was saying. He just went down the road that he wanted to go and when he was going down that road, he met some bandits who beat him up, and stole his alms bowl and robes, but also took the robes and bowl of Buddha. So that is one story in the Theravada tradition.

 Likewise, we also have a story about the Bhikshu called Gelong Legpe Karma in Tibetan. This is recorded in the Tibetan tradition in the Mahaparanirvana Sutra.  One might not think that it is really there in the Vinaya scriptures, but he is mentioned in some Chinese sutras and in Tibetan texts. Also, in the Theravada Sutra tradition the Gelong Legpe Karma is there. 57:04 he was someone who had served the Buddha and his name is Shunarakshita in Sanskrit.

Anyway, at that time, when they were asking who would be the Buddha’s attendant and everyone said, “I’ll do it, or they’ll do it”. However, Ananda did not say anything. Then the Buddha said: ” why is it that you haven’t said anything?” Then, Ananda said:

 “The Buddha knows clearly who would be appropriate as an attendant. And it should also be someone the Buddha has confidence in right. For myself, I would like to be the Buddha’s attendant, I would like to serve the Buddha. But I didn’t say anything at that time. Because the main thing is you have to look at what the Buddha thinks, what the Buddha wants, and if I say, ‘I’ll do it and you’ll do it’ it doesn’t make any difference. The main thing is that the Buddha knows in his mind, who is worthy of being his attendant and that person himself knew the Buddha should decide they are the right person. So other than that, I have nothing to say.”

Afterwards, the Buddha said: “the one who is worthy and appropriate of being my attendant is Ananda.” When the Buddha said these words, then actually ordinary people would be really happy about this. Since that means that all of the Buddha’s best students had been trying to get it, saying they will do it but they got this great opportunity.

 The Eight Conditions Ananda requested for being the Buddha’s attendant

However, even though Ananda had gotten such an opportunity, he did not think that he was someone special and have any pride about it. Not only did he feel no pride he said: “if I’m going to the Buddha’s attendant, then I need to have eight conditions for being the attendant. If the Buddha accepts them all, then I will be his attendant.

According to the Theravada tradition, Ananda said there are eight conditions or eight hopes that he had before he was willing to be the Buddha’s attendant. If the Buddha accepted these eight conditions, then he would be able to serve as the Buddha is attended. Now, Ananda’s conditions were what I would like to show you next.

The eight conditions for being an attendant (1)

Among the eight conditions, the first are conditions about things he requested to not be permitted.

a. The Buddha should not give his robes to Ananda.

b. The Buddha should not share food he had been offered with Ananda.

c. Ananda should not be given lodgings that had been offered to the Buddha.

d. When the Buddha was invited by an individual (for example to teach Dharma or receive offerings), Ananda should not be brought along in the retinue.

This is mainly referring to times when the Buddha would be invited as a guest and large meals are being offered to the Buddha.

So, these were four things Ananda requested not be allowed to happen.

The eight conditions for being an attendant (2)

The next four are conditions that would be allowed.

e. If Ananda was invited somewhere, then Buddha had to agree to it, and be allowed to go along with Ananda too. So, whenever Ananda was invited anywhere, the Buddha had to agree to it.

f. If a traveller arrived from far away, Ananda could welcome them and have the authority to arrange an audience with the Buddha.

g. If Ananda had any questions or doubts about the true Dharma, he could ask the Buddha at any time.

So, there was no division into suitable and unsuitable times to ask the Buddha, and he requested the opportunity to ask Buddha at any time.

h. If the Buddha taught Dharma when Ananda was absent, he would repeat it to Ananda.

These are these four requests about things that were permitted. So, the eight conditions for him to be the Buddha’s attendant.

So, it is possible we might think about these. When everyone was asking to be the Buddha’s attendant, instead of saying, “Oh, certainly, I will do it.”  Instead, Ananda spelt out certain conditions about what could and could not happen.  We might think it is kind of disrespectful to make such conditions. However, Ananda had reasons why he made these conditions and requests.   Ananda said the reason for the first four conditions was that people might say that he had become the Buddha’s attendant to be close to him, receive offerings and in order to accumulate things. So, he requested them in order they did not think that. The last four requests were because people might think that while he served the Buddha, he took no interest in practicing the Dharma.  There was a danger that people might think this.

That is according to the Theravada tradition. in our Mūlasarvāstivādin tradition, whether in the Vinaya or the middle-length discourse of the Chinese scriptures, it is said that Ananda set out three conditions.  First, Ananda requested the Buddha not to give him his old robes; secondly, Ananda asked not to be taken along when the Buddha was invited by someone to receive offerings; and thirdly, Ananda wished to be able see the Buddha at any time.   So, at that time, he made three requests.

This is a little bit different than the Theravada tradition, although the meaning comes to the same thing. It is just a difference in the number of requests. In any case, understanding that Ananda’s eight conditions accorded with the Dharma, the Buddha accepted them all. From then on, Ananda was responsible for attending to the Buddha, and he continued to serve the Buddha for twenty-five years (according to the Theravada tradition).

3.2 Accompanying Buddha like his shadow
English translation of the “Verses of the Elders” by Bhikku Mahinda

The next topic is accompanying the Buddha like a shadow.  In the text the “Verses of the Elders” (Theraghātā) of the Theravada school, there are three stanzas by Ananda. In these three verses, he speaks briefly of how he served as the Buddha’s attendant for one third of the Buddha’s life. To give a general and rough translation:

“I, Ananda, have served the Buddha for twenty-five years, and while I served the Buddha, I have had respectful and loving intentions, actions, and speech. I have accompanied him as inseparable as a shadow and a body.

As the Buddha was the greatest being in the world, it was very hard to find someone with good understanding and discernment to serve him. Thinking about the situation in Tibet, His Holiness went on, there have been many lamas who were great scholars and protectors, but very few who have been able to understand them and serve them in the way they want.

When we look at this the Buddha was such a great being, like the greatest being in the world. To be able to have someone who understood what they wanted as an attendant or a servant is very difficult and rare to find.

 If we think about it in Tibet, there are many lamas who have been great scholars and protectors but very few and rare who have been able to understand and serve the lamas in the way they want. Ananda could understand what the Buddha intended and became like a good, close friend of the Buddha. He served the Buddha with genuine care for a very long time. For example, in the mornings, Ananda would first go out and fetch water. It is not like there were taps the way we can just turn on the water, they had to go out and carry the water so the Buddha could wash his face.

Then, in the Indian tradition, they did not have toothbrushes, they had tooth sticks that you chew on that they would offer the Buddha so he could brush his teeth.  Likewise, Ananda would prepare his seat, wash his feet, massage his back, fan him when it was hot, clean and tidy his residence, sew his robes, and so forth. I saw this in a text, but I don’t remember if it was in Tibetan or Chinese texts. I have looked at so many texts and sometimes I can’t really remember exactly. Anyway, what it says is that Ananda was a really good tailor and he could sew really well. So the Buddha had him make the Bhikshu’s robes and also most of the Buddha’s robes were stitched by Ananda. At night, he would sleep nearby the Buddha because if the Buddha called him then he could get up immediately.

16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje

The 16th Karmapa had an attendant or chamberlain. I cannot remember his name.  When the 16th Karmapa was in his bed, he would lie down without loosening his belt at night. When the 16th Karmapa said: “Hey!”, the attendant would just get up immediately.  Some of the older monks told me about this.

 Similarly, Ananda slept nearby the Buddha and whenever the Buddha called him, he would get up immediately. Also, Ananda would escort the Buddha to the temple and meetings of the sangha and look to see if anything had been left behind, such as a robe and look for it. When the Buddha summoned the sangha, Ananda was the one who would make the announcements; sometimes, he would even have to call the bhikshus at midnight.    So whether it was night or say, whatever the Buddha wanted, Ananda was ready and willing to do it.When the Buddha was ill, Ananda was responsible for giving him his medicine. One time, the sangha neglected to take care of a severely ill bhikshu and he was left behind. The Buddha and Ananda knew about this went together to bathe the patient and carry him to a resting place (Sokhang), or a spa. A place where you get massages and bodywork and so on.

 In brief, Ananda spent every day doing many internal and external tasks the Buddha requested, like a foreign or internal affairs minister. In any case, he was like a good mother or wife in the way he served the Buddha. In worldly terms, the Buddha was his elder paternal cousin and in Dharma terms, his guru. So, he always served and attended him well. That is another quality of Ananda. 

3.3 How he was like a bridge between the Buddha and the public

There were several thousand Bhikshus and Ananda was the person who would make smooth connections between the Buddha and them. Likewise, many non-Buddhists came to meet the Buddha and Ananda was the person who arranged the connections between the Buddha and these people. So, he was like a good personal secretary or helper.

Also, when there were difficulties that happened, Ananda was the one who helped. For example,  Ananda, Shariputra, and Maudgalyayana tried to sort out the many different problems that arose from conflicts within the sangha. For example, when there was a dispute amongst the bhikshus in Kauśāmbī. Also, when Devadatta created a dispute that led to the schism within the sangha and most of the bhikshus started following Devadatta, Ananda, Shariputra, and Maudgalyayana tried many different ways to resolve these disputes.

Ananda was also the main person who clarified others’ doubts and questions and maintained order through stable rules. The one who primarily did this was Ananda. Generally, when he was in the Sangha, he was always impartial, like an uninterested, or unbiased observer, he did not take any one side. Likewise, when Bhikshus would come to see the Buddha, he is the one who arranged the audiences. He also disseminated the Buddha’s instructions to the bhikshus.

In any case, Ananda had great responsibilities. He was the person who developed the relationships between the Buddha and his Bhikshus, he was like the bridge between the Buddha and the public. No matter who had a request, he tried to fulfill it. He never tried to create barriers or stop anything. So, this is another thing that shows how Ananda served the Buddha well.

3.4 Willing to sacrifice his life out of love and concern
Buddha taming the wild elephant, from which Ananda had risked his life to protect Buddha.

The next point is how Ananda had the loving mind of being willing to sacrifice himself. Ananda really loved the Buddha and was willing to sacrifice his life for him. For example, when Devadatta loosed a wild (or mad) elephant on the Buddha in order to kill him, Ananda stood in front of the Buddha without any regard for his own life or limb and did what he could to prevent the Buddha from being killed or hurt, even at the cost of his own life. At that point, Ananda thought that it was going to cost his own life but that he had to do something that would protect the Buddha’s life. The Buddha said three times to Ananda ” Do not do that because you will get yourself killed. Don’t do that.” However, Ananda did not listen.  Only after the Buddha had tamed the elephant with his miraculous powers did Ananda stop trying to sacrifice himself.

Because of how he acted then, Ananda’s fame grew even greater than before, and he gained a great reputation as a great disciple and so on.  The Buddha told the bhikshus that Ananda had protected the Buddha’s life four times in previous lives. This shows the character and qualities that Ananda had, but also how the connection between the Buddha and Ananda was far-reaching, over many lifetimes and aeons.

Ananda’s Attitude toward Women

The next topic is Ananda’s attitude towards women. Today I will not say much about this. Ananda had a particular connection with women. For example, when women were ordained, for instance, Ananda supported them. He also played a crucial and influential role in the formation of the bhikshuni sangha. Also, as Ananda was naturally very loving, compassionate and caring, he was greatly concerned about anyone, no matter who it was, especially those who were in difficult circumstances. However, this care and concern for women and Bhikshunis also brought him a lot of difficulties and problems.

ENDNOTES

[1] Kawa Paltsek was one of the twenty-five disciples of Guru Rinpoche. He was born in Kawa in Phenpo Valley. He was ordained by the great abbot Shantarakshita and became one of the greatest Tibetan translators. With panditas such as Jñanagarbha and Vidyakarasimha, he translated the prajnaparamita and other mahayana sutras and Haribhadra’s major commentary on the Abhisamayalankara known as Sphutartha. He collaborated with Vidyakaraprabha in translating treatises on Madhyamika and logic; and with Jinamitra, he translated Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakosha and commentary. Together with Sarvajñadeva, he was the first to translate the Bodhicharyavatara into Tibetan. He also translated many tantras later collected in the Nyingma Gyübum.Along with Chokro Lüi Gyaltsen, he was sent to India by king Trisong Detsen to invite Vimalamitra to Tibet. He later received the Vima Nyingtik teachings from Vimalamitra in Samyé.

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