The Buddha’s Final Meal

In the time of the Buddha, there was a blacksmith named Cunda.  Blacksmiths had low social status, but Cunda was hard-working and intelligent, and so he prospered and owned a beautiful mango grove.  On one occasion, the Buddha visited Cunda’s village and chose to stay in his mango grove.  At that time in India, the sons of wealthy and important families, like the Buddha’s Sakya clan, would not normally interact with common workers like blacksmiths, so Cunda was delighted that the Buddha would honor him by staying in his grove.

Cunda delighted in the Dharma taught by the Buddha and invited the Buddha and his Sangha to partake in a special meal at his home.  The Buddha indicated his acceptance of the invitation by remaining silent, so Cunda proceeded to prepare a scrumptious feast, including a variety of foods with good textures, well-cooked soft foods, and a dish made with a special kind of mushroom.

When the mushroom dish was served, the Buddha immediately claimed it for himself and instructed Cunda to serve the remaining dishes to the other monks.  After eating his fill of the mushroom dish, he told Cunda to bury what remained of it in the ground, saying, “This food can only be eaten by one who has mastered the Dharma and attained awakening.”

Departing from the Cunda’s village after the meal the Buddha told his disciple and personal attendant Ananda that they would travel to Kushinagara.  Along the way, the Buddha fell ill, such that he required frequent stops to rest and repeatedly asked for water to drink.  After arriving at Kushinagara, the Buddha lied down between two Sala trees, with his head to the north facing west, and passed into parinirvana, the end of all karmic bonds that held the Buddha in this world, where suffering and delusion abound.

Before passing into parinirvana, the Buddha instructed Ananda to convey the following message to Cunda: “People might say to you, ‘After eating the food you offered the Buddha became sick and died, so there is no merit generated by your gift.’  Do not let anyone tell you that there was no good merit from your gift.  There are two gifts of food that are particularly meritorious: The gift of food given just before the Buddha attains awakening, and the gift of food given just before the Buddha attains parinirvana.” 

Eating the mushroom dish prepared by Cunda, the Buddha possessed knowledge of the fact that it would make him sick.  That is why he declared that it should only be eaten by one who has mastered the Dharma.  The enlightened Buddha could eat the dish and become ill without holding grudges.  Even in the midst of great suffering, the mind of the Buddha is free of bitterness or resentment.  In the calm mind of the Buddha, we see the true power of the Dharma.  The Dharma does not magically prevent illness.  Rather it guides us to live with a clear mind, so that we can face the suffering and difficulty we will inevitably encounter in life without bitterness or resentment.

To recite the Nembutsu in the words “Namo Amida Butsu” is to recall the Buddha’s great compassion moment to moment in our own lives and take the Buddha’s calm and peaceful mind as the touchstone for our own lives.  The Buddha does not get lost in greed; he accepts the result of causes and conditions without wishing for things to be other than they are.  The Buddha does not get lost in anger; he does not blame or bear resentment against Cunda.  The Buddha does not get lost in ignorance; he gratefully accepts Dana from Cunda; without prejudice toward Cunda’s low social status.  The Buddha shines the light of wisdom on even the most difficult situations in life, shows us the way to live with great compassion free from blame or anger.

Namo Amida Butsu