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How did Gautam Buddha die?

The Buddha’s vow was to make all people perfectly equal to him, not just a mediocre copy.

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Buddha’s death created a lot of controversies, the drama that might have escorted the polemics after the Buddha’s death. Mahā-Kassapa appears as an interesting and very human character. He complains very directly about what he perceives to be wrong and corrupt within the religion. There are also hints that there was real tension between Kashyapa and a man he notoriously disliked: Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin. As the Australian monk Venerable Sujato points out, despite differing emphases in the Pali texts (Samyutta-Nikaya 16.10–11) and the Chinese agama (Taisho 15.1.10–11), we can tell from both that Kashyapa felt that Ananda was too young to enjoy the privilege of being the main preserver of oral memory after One’s Parinirvana.

Ananda was Buddha’s associate and very close aid, he realised if the Buddha’s two choices for inheriting his Order were dead, excluded from power, or somehow absent, then Ananda should have been a candidate for the leadership succession or at least a kingmaker, with his authorization exercising real power. However, there is so much criticism against Ananda preserved in the canon that it is suspicious and seems to serve as justification for why Ananda did not enjoy more influence after the Buddha’s Parinirvana. The hints are enticing, but we simply don’t know for certain what happened. Unfortunately, this conspiracy theory can be neither proved nor disproved.

Although the Mahaparinibbana Sutta seems to deliberately hide something, we cannot know for certain what is being hidden or why. So, after all this suspense and the certainty that something happened, we do not even know if we have a real conspiracy to show for it. Some scholars believe that Buddha was killed because he was with the upright truth and that bothered some entities whose castles were built on lies.

If we think rationally, Buddha was a human being, and human beings appear to be born and die. It is actually an amazing fact that every human has died, and all the people alive today will die someday. There is no escaping the death of the body and this is a great teaching in itself, so perhaps one could say, Buddha died to show there is no exclusion to the truth of death. However, there is another answer to this question if we think about it in terms of the Buddha’s role in society. If he had gone on living forever, people would have become completely dependent on him as some kind of God-like guru and they would have neglected to take responsibility for their own lives. In dying, the Buddha was in effect passing on the baton to the sangha.

The Buddha’s vow was to make all people perfectly equal to him, not just a mediocre copy. We attain illumination by drawing on our own resources, not by waiting for someone to hand them to us. The parable of the physician in the Lifespan chapter of the Lotus Sutra explains how, by disappearing, the Buddha causes the disciple to seek the Way. Budha lived for 84 years and he was already dying. He found death coming on, and he asked, “Spread for me something under this tree, for I think the end is near.” And he was there under the tree, and he laid himself down; he could not sit up any more. And the first thing he did, he said: “Go to that Chanda and tell him that he has been one of my greatest supporters; for his meal, I am going to Nirvâna.

 And then several men came to be instructed, and a disciple said, “Do not go near now, the Master is passing away”. And as soon as he heard it, the Lord said, “Let them come in”. And somebody else came and the disciples would not let them enter. Again, they came, and then the dying Lord said: “And O, thou Ananda, I am passing away. Weep not for me. Think not for me. I am gone. Work out meticulously your own salvation. Each one of you is just what I am. I am nothing but one of you. What I am today is what I made myself. Do you struggle and make yourselves what I am. . . .”

The death of the Buddha has been depicted widely in Buddhist iconography. The Buddha is generally shown with a serene or smiling expression, lying on his right side and resting his head on his right hand. The dates of Buddha’s life traditionally are given as 566-486 BC. Buddha died from an illness, the nature of which remains unsettled. The present paper examines a variety of sources and concludes that it was tainted pork that led to his demise. He succumbed to the disease pig-bel; necrotizing enteritis caused by the toxins of Clostridium perfringens infection. Cunda Kammāraputta was a smith who gave Gautama Buddha his last meal as an offering while he visited his mango grove in Pāvā on his way to Kuśīnagara. Shortly after having Cunda’s meal, the Buddha suffered from fatal dysentery. The condition could have been Clostridial necrotizing enteritis due to a high protein (meat) diet, which is provided as bhikkha as a mark of respect for high-ranking Bhikkus in Theravada.

Although Buddhism has no taboo about eating or not eating pork. Before entering the parinirvāṇa, the Buddha told Ānanda to visit Cunda and tell him that his meal had nothing to do with his getting ill, and therefore should feel no blame nor remorse; on the contrary, offering the Tathāgata his last meal before passing away was of equal gain as of offering him his first meal before attaining Buddhahood, and thus he should feel rejoice.

It is very much evident that the Buddha did not die of food poisoning. Someone poisoned his food. Prince Vijaya was living in the same region as Buddha and he is known for his violent deeds. Lord Buddha was fully against violence and was a great supporter of people, especially the poor. Buddha had many followers and of course, Buddha and Vijaya could have come across conflicts due to their opposite nature. The public won’t fight without any support from a great leader. They had Buddha’s support so they were able to voice their against Vijaya. This could have created problems in Vijaya’s kingdom. It could have led Vijaya to add poison to Buddha’s food to put an end to his misery. His father came to know what had happened. To avoid any issues, he might have expelled Vijaya and his 700 followers from India to save the kingdom and his son’s life and closed Buddha’s chapter as a natural death.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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