Among the disciples of Buddha, his cousin and attendant Ananda played a very important role and was considered as the Guardian of the Dhamma as he had a very retentive memory and most of the sutras in Sutta Pitaka was due to his recollections of the Buddha’s teachings. He was extremely devoted to him and accompanied him on most of his wanderings.
Birth and Early Life
Ananda was born from the Tusita heaven around the same time as Gautam Buddha and their fathers were brothers, hence Ananda was Buddha’s cousin. He had three brothers and one sister. He joined monkhood later on in life under the Venerable Belatthassa an Arahant in the Sangha. He was fully occupied with the purification of his own mind and developed more mental strength and resilience and blended easily into the Sangha. After many years, the Buddha selected him as his attendant and he served in this position as helper and constant companion for twenty five years till the passing away of the Buddha.
He subordinated his entire life to the Dhamma but remained untouched by the fame and renown it brought him. Any good that was in him was attributed by him to the teachings and the close proximity of the Buddha, such was his humility and simplicity. He would always accept any criticism directed towards him in a constructive manner and would try to follow up and curb the tendency which he was blamed for to the best of his ability. He served the Buddha as a servant, friend, helper, secretary etc and tried to smoothen communication between the Master and thousands of his followers. Along with Sariputra and Moggallana he tried to attend to and sort out the manifold problems of the monks, laymen and their relationships specially of those disciples who were living together in a community. He was the bridge between the Master and his disciples and never tried to put up barriers between them. He combined maternal and paternal qualities and was a solicitious monk.
His exceptional mind
Ananda had a phenomenal mind. He could remember every discourse of the Buddha even if he heard it just once and repeat upto 60000 words without any mistake. He never wanted anything for himself and as he had discarded wilfulness from his mind and had become a vessel of truth, his mind became a powerhouse of retention. His energy and unflagging dedication to the task of attending to the Buddha to even his smallest needs and studying, reciting and memorising the Master’s words became his key goal in life so much so that his own personal salvation was put aside for a while. Due to his closeness to the Buddha, he was always the focus of much attention and his exemplary conduct and his untiring solicitude to the Master and his Sangha left strong traces in the minds of the other disciples.
He was instrumental in the founding of the nun’s order. He interceded with the Buddha and prevailed upon women entering a life of ascetism. He helped them to advance on the Noble Path. His inner detachment from worldliness, his strong spirit of renunciation and his extremely virtuous character led him to being selected by the Buddha to teach Dhamma to the women.
Ananda and the other Monks
Ananda was very close to Sariputra and both of them tended to the sick and with compassion and humility helped the other monks in times of distress and grief. The death of Sariputra affected him badly inspite of being dispassionate and spiritually exalted. It was the Buddha who comforted him and awakened him to the illusory and transient nature of the world and human relationships. When the other monks were plagued with doubts and desires Ananda helped them to overcome their problems.
The whole of the Pali Canon actually are conversations or dialogues between Ananda and the Buddha. These dialogues were really either to help Ananda understand a particular doctrine or indirect instructions to the other monks. For example, once Ananda observed a beautiful white chariot of a King passing by and asked the Buddha what was the best chariot according to Dhamma. The Buddha explained symbolically in detail that the vehicle to Nirvana was-the horses of faith and wisdom, the brake of moral values, the reins of the intellect, the charioteer of mindfulness, the accessories of virtue, the axle of Jnana, the wheels of energy, the balance of equanimity, the chassis of renunciation, the weapons of love, solitude and harmlessness and the armour of patience.
Ananda appeared in a number of Jataka tales when the Buddha took the form of a Bodhisattva.
Ananda’s role during Buddha’s final Nirvana
Ananda played a leading role in the last events in the life of the Buddha. The Maha Parinibbana Sutta gives the discourse on the Buddha’s passing away and his ultimate entrance to Final liberation. After his grief at the passing away of his beloved master, Ananda realised that it was now time for him to concentrate on achieving his own liberation as urged by the Buddha.
After the passing away of the Buddha, the monks all convened the First Council to discuss the ways and means to preserve the Master’s teachings. Ananda’s memory of the discourses was the only source of information but he had not yet realised enlightenment. This posed a huge problem before the monks. Ananda realised this and began deep spiritual practices. He attained enlightenment with the Buddha’s grace the evening before the council was to begin and his teachings were thus recorded for posterity.
Death of Ananda
He lived upto a ripe old age and in the 5th century Fa Hein the Chinese pilgrim found his remains preserved in a Stupa and guarded by a Buddhist nun.
Ananda’s life was a model of the path of service and devotion. Buddha considered him to be his loyal helper and Ananda took loving care of him for more than twenty five years. His life was an exemplary life of service to the Guru and he was an embodiment of love, patience and compassion. His name will always be remembered with reverence and devotion in the annals of Buddhist History.