Just before the demise of the Master
by Bhikkhu T. Seelananda, Paramita International Buddhist Centre, Kadugannawa.

The Master Gotama, the Buddha crossed the river Hiranyavati together with a large company of monks and went to the Sala-grove of Mallas in the vicinity of Kusinara (India). There addressing his faithful attendant the Ven. Ananda he said "Ananda prepare me a bed between these twin Sala-trees with my head to the North. I am tired and want to lie down" "very good, Sire" said the Ven. Ananda and did so. Then the Buddha lay down on his right side in the lion-posture (simhaseyya), placing one feet on the other, with mindful and clearly aware.
The Sala-trees burst forth into an abundance of untimely blossoms, which fell upon the Buddha's body-sprinkling it and covering it in homage. The divine coral-tree flowers fell from the sky and sprinkling and covering the Buddha's body in homage. Divine music and song sounded from the sky in homage to the Buddha. The Buddha said "Ananda never before has the Tathagata been so honoured, revered, esteemed, worshipped and adored. And yet, Ananda whatever monk, nun, male or female, lay follower dwells practising the Dhamma properly and perfectly fulfils the Dhamma - way, he or she honours the Tathagata revers and esteems him and pays him the supreme homage. Therefore Ananda "we will dwell practising the Dhamma properly and perfectly fulfil the Dhamma way"- this must be your watchword".
At this moment, the Ven. Upavana was standing in front of the Buddha, fanning him. The Devas from ten world -spheres gathered to see the Buddha saying " We have come a long way to see the Tathagata. It is rare for a Tathagata, a fully- enlightened Buddha, to arise in the world, and to night in the last watch the Tathagata will attain final Nibbana and all too soon the Blessed One is passing away, all too soon the well-farer is passing away, all too soon the Eye of the world is disappearing".
By this time, the Ven Ananda who was lamenting leaning on the door post, went into his lodging and started weeping "Alas, I am still a learner with much to do! and the Teacher is passing away, who was so compassionate to me". Then the Buddha inquired about him and knew that he was weeping there. So the Buddha asked a certain monk to summon him. When he came to the presence of the Buddha the Buddha said "Enough, Ananda, do not weep and wail!. Have I not already told you that all things that are pleasant and delightful are changeable, subject to separation and becoming other? So how could it be, Ananda - since whatever is born, become compounded is subject to decay ,how could it be that it should not pass away? For a long time, Ananda you have been in the Tathagata's presence, showing loving kindness in act of body speech and mind, beneficially, blessedly, wholeheartedly and unstintingly. You have achieved much merit, Ananda. Make the effort, and in a short time you will be free from cankers."Thousands of Mallas from the city of Kusinara, together with their sons, daughters-in-law and wives and all were struck with anguish and sorrow and their minds were overcome with grief, on hearing the Buddha's passing away to night at their city and came to see the Buddha. They were all weeping and tearing their hair.
In a short while, a Wanderer called Subhadda went to the Ven. Ananda and asked " Reverend Ananda, may I be permitted to see the Ascetic Gotama?. But the Ven. Ananda said " Enough ,friend Subhadda, do not disturb the Buddha, he is weary" Subhadda made his request a second time and a third time, but still the Ven. Ananada refused it. But the Buddha overheard this conversation between them and called to Ananda and asked to permit Subhadda to come in. Approaching the Buddha and exchanging courtesies with him he sat down and asked "Venerable Gotama, all those ascetics and Brahmins who have orders and followings, who are teachers, well-known and famous as founders of schools, and popularly regarded as saints, like Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala.... have they all realized the truth as they all make out, or have none of them realized it, or have some of them realized it and some not?" "Enough Subhadda never mind whether all, or none, or some of them have realized the truth. I will teach you Dhamma, Subhadda. Listen, pay close attention, and I will speak". Thus the Buddha admonishing him said.
"In whatever Dhamma and discipline the Noble Eight-fold Path is not found, no ascetic is found of the first, the second, the third or the fourth grade. But such ascetics can be found, of the first, second, third, and fourth grade in a Dhamma and discipline (Dhammavinaya) where the Noble Eightfold Path is found. Now Subhadda, in this Dhamma and discipline (Dhammavinaya) the Noble Eight-fold path is found and in it are to be found ascetics of the first, second, third and fourth grade. Those other schools are devoid of true ascetics; but if in this one the monks were to live the life to perfection, the world would not lack for Arahants."
In the end of the admonition of the Buddha, the wanderer Subhadda went for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Then he received the going forth in the presence of the Buddha and finally he became one of the Arahants in the dispensation.
The Buddha then addressing the monks said " It may be monks, that some monks have doubts or uncertainty about the path or the practice. Ask, monks!. Do not afterwards feel remorse, thinking ' The teacher was there before us, and we failed to ask the Buddha face to face'. At these words the monks were silent. The Buddha repeated his words a second and a third time and still the monks were silent. Then he said perhaps, monks, you do not ask out of respect for the teacher. Then monks let one friend tell it to another. But still they were silent. And then the Ven. Ananda said " It is wonderful, Lord, it is marvelous! I clearly perceive that in this assembly there is not one monk who has doubts or uncertainty". The Buddha said "You Ananda ,speak from faith. But the Tathagata knows that in this assembly there is not one monk who has doubts or uncertainty about the Buddha ,the Dhamma or the Sangha or about the Path or the practice.
Again in his last utterance, the Buddha addressed the monks and said " Now monks, I declare to you; all conditioned things are of a nature to decay. Strive on untiringly (Handa'dani bhikkhave amantayami vo vayadhamma sankhara appamadena sampadetha). With these last words of the Buddha, he entered the first Jhana. And leaving that he entered the second, the third, the fourth Jhana. Then leaving the fourth Jhana he entered the sphere of infinite space, then the sphere of infinite consciousness, then the sphere of Nothingness, then the sphere of Neither-perception-Nor non-perception, and leaving that he attained the cessation of Feeling and perception. Then the Ven. Ananda said to the Ven. Anuruddha: Ven. Anuruddha the Buddha has passed away. "No" friend Ananda, the Buddha has not passed away, he has attained the cessation of Feeling and perception. Then the Buddha, leaving the attainment of the cessation of Feeling and perception, entered the sphere of Neither-perception - Nor non-perception, from that he entered the sphere of nothingness, the sphere of infinite consciousness the sphere of infinite space. From the sphere of infinite space he entered the fourth Jhana, from there the third, the second and the first Jhana. Leaving the first Jhana he entered the second, the third, the fourth Jhana. And leaving the fourth Jhana, the Buddha, the Exalted One passed away into Parinibbana.
Let us all try to understand the last words of the Buddha.