In Buddhist tradition, each Buddha is accompanied by an attendant. Sakyamuni Buddha had two principal disciples in Sariputt and Maudgalyayan, and Ananda was his close attendant. Of all the major disciples of Buddha, Ananda was the only one who had not attained enlightenment during his lifetime. He was still a “Sthavir” while others were already considered “Arhats”, those who have attained “Sambodhi”. Affection was the thread of bonding between Buddha and Ananda.
In “Anguttar Nikay” of “Sutta Pitak”, there is a detailed chronology of Buddha’s disciples. Name of Ananda surface five times in it, more than anyone else. Even in Buddha’s own discourses Ananda is a constant presence, he kept addressing him. Ananda would bask in Buddha’s glory, aflame with his affection.
For his impeccable memory, erudition and inclusive nature, Ananda was considered first among equals in the Buddha’s Sangha. Some 84000 Buddha Sutras were at the tip of his tongue. In 487 BC, after the Nirvana of Buddha, first “Dhamm Sangeeti” (conference for religion) was held in Rajgriha (present day Rajgir in Bihar).
Mahakashyapa presided over the conference, but it was Ananda who confirmed the authenticity of Buddhist utterances. He was almost always by the side of Buddha. He would look after him, taking care of his routines. In Kushinara, where Buddha attained Nirvana, it was Ananda himself who helped setting his bed of eternal slumber, facing northern star.
Often one gets the feeling that Ananda was the final attachment of Buddha. He was his disciple, his close friend. In the realm of history, who had been more detached than Buddha and at the same time who was more full of compassion than Buddha too? Ananda’s was a tender heart. It was him who successfully persuaded Buddha to allow the entry of women in Sangha.
Only after his insistence Buddha agreed and Mahaprajapati Gautami became first Bhikkhuni to enter the Sangha. Buddha has once said about Ananda that even if he dies before attaining enlightenment, his sheer purity of heart will see him finding a place as most noble of all gods. After Buddha’s “Mahaparinirvana”, Ananda was inconsolable.
He simply burst out in tears. Buddha taught detachment all his life with Ananda by his side, and yet Ananda was apparently untouched by teachings of his own master. In “Theri Gatha” there is a vivid description of Ananda’a mourning. During Rajgriha conference even this was suggested that Ananda should not be allowed to take part in it, since he was not yet enlightened. Only then, after Buddha’s Nirvana, he endeavoured rigorously to attain enlightenment just before the conference and earned his right to take part in it.
Buddha’s Sangha was a grand scheme to attain Sambodhi, the ultimate salvation. Only Ananda was odd one out there. Only he was there out of attachment instead of detachment. He desired not liberation from worldly life, contrary he was deeply indebted to it, since it gave him the privilege to be Buddha’s close attendant. Buddha and Ananda had an intriguing bonding, which went a long way back. Both were born same day, in the same Sakya dynasty, from the same Tusit loka.
For a good part of a quarter century Ananda lived like Buddha’s shadow, religiously serving him. Buddha would teach noble truths and Ananda would look after him with almost feminine love and care. In that grand institution of “Vairagya”, it was a marvelous bonding of love, affection and fraternity.Ananda outlived Buddha by 40 years. He anonymously perished, as dusk falls over the horizon after a blazing sunset.