The image of a Reclining Buddha that I use in my Forum Profile has great significance in Buddhism. The image is not of the Buddha sleeping, but of him lying on his death-bed just before his final passing away (parinibbāna). For most people, the last hours of a beloved parent is a moment of great sadness, and the dying person may be greatly distressed too, fearful of what might lie ahead, or grief at separation from loved ones. However, in the case of the Buddha, it was the moment of his final victory over Māra. On the eve of his Enlightenment, he gained personal realisation of the truth and liberation from suffering, but his duty was not yet complete. He had to strive and face adversity for forty-five more years in order to propagate and establish his teaching.
During his last Rains Retreat (August to October) the Buddha was visited by Māra urging him to pass away as he had already accomplished his task of establishing the monastic communities of monks and nuns, and his teaching would therefore be continued after his demise. The Buddha told Māra to wait, and declared that three months from that time he would attain the final nibbāna. This event recorded in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta is significant, because it would put the date of the Buddha’s demise sometime in January, not in May when the Buddha’s final demise is usually commemorated in most Buddhist traditions.
In Theravāda countries, the anniversary of this great event passes by unnoticed in January. The full-moon day this year is 12th January.
The photograph in my profile is, I think, taken of the “Nine-storey Buddha” in Rangoon, which is a huge reclining Buddha not far from the Mahāsi meditation centre. There is an older and more famous statue in Pegu, called the “Shwethalyaung Piya.”
If there is one thing that I cannot stand, it’s intolerance. Many countries are populated by people from a wide range of ethnic origins, speaking different languages, and holding divergent views on religion and ethics. Diversity is not a new phenomenon, and intolerance is not a new human trait. The caste system existed during the time of the Buddha, and it still exists now. Barbaric practices and punishments existed then, and they still exist today in many places.
Buddhists are supposed to be tolerant, but there’s a lot of Islamophobia and prejudice among some Buddhists. Burmese soldiers are rarely pious Buddhists, but they are only able to slaughter innocent Moslems or Christians because they are ignorant of the Buddha’s teaching, and urged on by a climate of fear, hatred, and intolerance.
Tolerance should not be confused with some kind of bleeding-heart liberalism that is afraid to criticise what is blameworthy. When a country’s leaders are intolerant and stir up racial tensions, it’s disastrous for the entire nation. No one needs to tolerate what they find agreeable and supportive to their own views. It is when others hold obnoxious views that tolerance is required.
I think that most people are wasting their lives with sensual indulgence, politics, war-mongering, or other worthless pursuits, but that’s their choice. If I don’t approve of what they doing, I can do whatever I think is worthwhile and beneficial to myself and others. If others ask, ”What should I do?“ I can advise them to meditate, study the Buddha’s teaching, etc., which will be for their long-term welfare. If they don’t ask, it is nothing that I need to worry about. I can give my opinion, even unasked, but that is rarely effective.
The Salla Sutta is found in the Suttanipāta. The Buddha taught the Salla Sutta for the benefit of a certain householder whose son had died. Unable to abandon his grief, the householder had not eaten for seven days.
It is not as well known as other discourses in the same collection, but it deserves to be taught more often. When affected by grief, sorrow, and despair due to loss of loved ones, or change of circumstances, there is no more effective method for the removal of grief than acceptance of the way things are.
The Pāḷi word “Salla” means an arrow or dart. Grief is self-inflicted — no one is immune from aging, disease, and death. If you understand the truth of suffering fully, you can just let go, and pull out the arrow of sorrow, grief, and despair at once.