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Jarā Suttaṃ

(Sn.158)

Aging

Introduction from the Commentary

Having spent the Rains at Sāvatthi, the Blessed One considered where to wander to tour the countryside. He set off, and in due course arrived at Sāketa, where he stayed in the Añjana forest grove. In the morning he went for alms accompanied by the Saṅgha. A certain wealthy brahmin was leaving Sāketa when he saw the Blessed One. On seeing him, deep affection arose as a father for his son. He wept tears of affection and embraced the Blessed One’s body, saying: “It has been such a long time since I have seen you, my son.” He invited the Blessed One and the Saṅgha for alms at his house. Taking the Blessed One’s almsbowl he went ahead and informed his wife: “Our son has come; prepare a seat for him.” She felt the affection of a mother for her son, and wept, embracing the feet of the Blessed One. They served the meal, and when the Blessed One taught them the Dhamma after the meal they both become Stream-winners. They invited the Blessed One to always accept alms at their house, but the Blessed One refused saying that it was not the custom of the Buddhas. However, he agreed to the Saṅgha taking their meals at their house having walked for alms elsewhere.

When the people started to speak of the brahmin and his wife as the mother and father of the Buddha, the Venerable Ānanda — knowing that his father was Suddhodana and his mother was Mahāmāyā — asked him about it. The Buddha explained that they had been his father and mother in 500 previous lives; his grandfather (cūḷapitā) and grandmother (cūḷamātā) in 500 previous lives; and his great grandfather (mahāpitā) and great grandmother (mahāmātā) in 500 previous lives. Thus they spoke with reference to their past affection for him.

Having stayed at Sāketa as long as he wished, the Blessed One continued his tour of the country and in due course returned to Sāvatthi. The brahmin and his wife continued to offer alms to the monks of Sāketa, and in due course attained the three higher paths before passing away as Arahants. The people of Sāketa prepared a funeral to honour their relatives.

Knowing that it would benefit the multitude, the Blessed One came to the cremation ground in Sāketa and spoke this verse to show that they were Arahants ¹ who were worthy of a cetiya.

“Those sages who are harmless, and are ever restrained in body,
go to the deathless state (nibbāna), whither gone they never grieve.” (Dhp v 225)

Then, having surveyed the assembly, he taught this discourse:

Translation

“Alas! This life is brief; within a hundred years one dies,
However, anyone who survives longer than that, surely dies of decay.

“People grieve for what they regard as ‘mine’, but nothing is permanent.
Understanding this, the wise should not live the household life.

“Whatever one grasps thinking, ‘This is mine,’ is abandoned at death.
Having seen this my wise followers do not regard things as ‘mine.’

“As a man awakened from a dream does not see what he dreamt of;  [159]
One does not see a loved one who has departed and passed away.

“Seen and heard are those who were known by their names here;
Yet only the name remains when a person has passed away.

“Grief, lamentation, and meanness are not abandoned by those greedy and attached.
Therefore, sages give up possessions, and wander seeing security therein.

“The monk who dwells withdrawn, devoted to a secluded seat.
They agree in saying that he will not be seen in another existence.

“The sage who is independent in every way, does not arouse affection nor antipathy.
So lamentation and avarice do not stain him as water does not stick to a lotus leaf.

“As a water drop does not stick to a lotus leaf or as a lotus is unstained by the water,
So the sage does not cling to anything — seen, heard, or cognised. [160]

“One who is cleansed seeks nothing that is seen, heard, or cognised.
He does not pray for purity from another as he is neither passionate nor dispassionate.”

1. There are not many cases of lay people attaining Arahantship. If they do, it is said that they either die or enter the Saṅgha within seven days. All Arahants are worthy of a cetiya, where devotees can be inspired by paying homage thinking, “Such and such a noble person who was cremated here, attained perfection.”