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Venerable, the Elder (Thera)

Sculpture of head of smiling monk with East Asian traits, part of limestone sculpture
Part of limestone sculpture, northern Xiangtangshan Caves, 550–77 CE
TitlePatriarch of the Dharma (Sanskrit traditions)
Other namesVidehamuni; Dhamma-bhaṇḍāgārika ('Treasurer of the Dhamma')
Born5th–4th century BCE
Died20 years after the Buddha's death
On the river Rohīni near Vesālī, or the Ganges
ParentsKing Śuklodana or King Amitodana; Queen Mrgī (Sanskrit traditions)
Known forBeing an attendant of the Buddha (aggupaṭṭhāyaka);[1] powers of memory; compassion to women
Other namesVidehamuni; Dhamma-bhaṇḍāgārika ('Treasurer of the Dhamma')
Senior posting
TeacherThe Buddha; Puṇṇa Māntāniputta
SuccessorMajjhantika or Sāṇavāsī
Initiation20th (Mūlasarvāstivāda) or 2nd (other traditions) year of the Buddha's ministry
Nigrodhārāma or Anupiya, Malla
by Daśabāla Kāśyapa or Belaṭṭhasīsa

Ānanda (5th–4th centuries BCE) was the primary attendant of the Buddha and one of his ten principal disciples. Among the Buddha's many disciples, Ānanda stood out for having the best memory. Most of the texts of the early Buddhist Sutta-Piṭaka (Pāli; Sanskrit: Sūtra-Piṭaka) are attributed to his recollection of the Buddha's teachings during the First Buddhist Council. For that reason, he is known as the Treasurer of the Dhamma, with Dhamma (Sanskrit: Dharma) referring to the Buddha's teaching. In Early Buddhist Texts, Ānanda is the first cousin of the Buddha. Although the early texts do not agree on many parts of Ananda's early life, they do agree that Ānanda is ordained as a monk and that Puṇṇa Mantāniputta (Sanskrit: Pūrṇa Maitrāyaṇīputra) becomes his teacher. Twenty years in the Buddha's ministry, Ānanda becomes the attendant of the Buddha, when the Buddha selects him for this task. Ānanda performs his duties with great devotion and care, and acts as an intermediary between the Buddha and the laypeople, as well as the saṅgha (Sanskrit: saṃgha, lit. 'monastic community'). He accompanies the Buddha for the rest of his life, acting not only as an assistant, but also a secretary and a mouthpiece.

Scholars are skeptical about the historicity of many events in Ānanda's life, especially the First Council, and consensus about this has yet to be established. A traditional account can be drawn from early texts, commentaries, and post-canonical chronicles. Ānanda has an important role in establishing the order of bhikkhunīs (Sanskrit: bhikṣuṇī, lit. 'nun'), when he requests the Buddha on behalf of the latter's foster-mother Mahāpajāpati Gotamī (Sanskrit: Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī) to allow her to be ordained. Ānanda also accompanies the Buddha in the last year of his life, and therefore is witness to many tenets and principles that the Buddha conveys before his death, including the well-known principle that the Buddhist community should take his teaching and discipline as their refuge, and that he will not appoint a new leader. The final period of the Buddha's life also shows that Ānanda is very much attached to the Buddha's person, and he sees the Buddha's passing with great sorrow.

Shortly after the Buddha's death, the First Council is convened, and Ānanda manages to attain enlightenment just before the council starts, which is a requirement. He has a historical role during the council as the living memory of the Buddha, reciting many of the Buddha's discourses and checking them for accuracy. During the same council, however, he is chastised by Mahākassapa (Sanskrit: Mahākāśyapa) and the rest of the saṅgha for allowing women to be ordained and failing to understand or respect the Buddha at several crucial moments. Ānanda continues to teach until the end of his life, passing on his spiritual heritage to his pupils Sāṇavāsī (Sanskrit: Śāṇakavāsī) and Majjhantika (Sanskrit: Madhyāntika), among others, who later assume a leading role in the Second and Third Councils. Ānanda dies 20 years after the Buddha, and stūpas (momuments) are erected at the river where he dies.

Ānanda is one of the most loved figures in Buddhism. Ānanda is known for his memory, erudition and compassion, and is often praised by the Buddha for these matters. He functions as a foil to the Buddha, however, in that he still has worldly attachments and is not yet enlightened, as opposed to the Buddha. In the Sanskrit textual traditions, Ānanda is considered the patriarch of the Dhamma, who stands in a spiritual lineage, receiving the teaching from Mahākassapa and passing them on to his own pupils. Ānanda has been honored by bhikkhunīs since early medieval times for his merits in establishing the nun's order. In recent times, the composer Richard Wagner and Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore were inspired by stories about Ānanda in their work.


The word ānanda means 'bliss, joy' in Pāli and in Sanskrit.[2][3] Pāli Commentaries explain that when Ānanda is born, his relatives are joyous about this, and he therefore is named that way. Texts from the Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition, however, state that since Ānanda is born on the day of the Buddha's enlightenment, there is great rejoicing in the city—hence the name.[1]


Previous lives[edit]

According to the texts, in a previous life, Ānanda makes an aspiration to become a Buddha's attendant. He makes this aspiration in the time of a previous Buddha called Padumuttara, many eons (Pali: kappa, Sanskrit: kalpa) before the present time. He meets the attendant of Padumuttara Buddha and aspires to be like him in a future life. After having done many good deeds, he makes his resolution known to the Padumuttara Buddha, who confirms that his wish will come true in a future life. After having been born and reborn through many lifetimes, and doing many good deeds, he is born as Ānanda in the present lifetime.[4]

Present life, beginning[edit]

Map of India with names of major areas
Map of India, c. 500 BCE

Ānanda is born in the same time period as the Buddha (formerly Prince Siddhattha), which scholars place at 5th–4th centuries BCE.[5] Tradition says that Ānanda is the first cousin of the Buddha,[6] his father being the brother of Suddhodana (Sanskrit: Śuddhodana), the Buddha's father.[7] In the Pāli and Mūlasarvāstivāda textual traditions, his father is Amitodana (Sanskrit: Amṛtodana), but the Mahāvastu states that his father is Śuklodana—both are brothers of Suddhodana.[1] The Mahāvastu also mentions that Ānanda's mother's name is Mṛgī (Sanskrit; 'little deer'; Pāli is unknown).[8][1] The Pāli tradition has it that Ānanda is born on the same day as Prince Siddhatta (Sanskrit: Siddhārtha),[8] but texts from the Mūlasarvāstivāda and subsequent Mahāyāna traditions state Ānanda is born at the same time the Buddha attains enlightenment (when Prince Siddhattha is 29 years old), and is therefore much younger than the Buddha.[9][1] The latter tradition is corroborated by several instances in the Early Buddhist Texts, in which Ānanda appears younger than the Buddha, such as the passage in which the Buddha explains to Ānanda how old age is affecting him in body and mind.[9] It is also corroborated by a verse in the Pāli text called Theragāthā, in which Ānanda states he was a "learner" for twenty-five years, after which he attended the Buddha for another twenty-five years.[1][10]

Following the Pāli, Mahīśasaka and Dharmaguptaka textual traditions, Ānanda becomes a monk in the second year of the Buddha's ministry, during the Buddha's visit to Kapilavatthu (Sanskrit: Kapilavastu). He is ordained by the Buddha himself, together with many other princes of the Buddha's clan (Pali: Sākiya, Sanskrit: Śākya),[8][9] in the mango grove called Anupiya, part of Malla territory.[1] According to a text from the Mahāsaṅghika tradition, King Suddhodana wants the Buddha to have more followers of the khattiya caste (Sanskrit: kṣatriyaḥ, lit. 'warrior-noble, member of the ruling class'), and less from the brahmin (priest) caste. He therefore orders that any khattiya who has a brother must follow the Buddha as a monk, or have his brother do so. Ānanda uses this opportunity with great joy, and asks his brother Devadatta to stay at home, so that he can leave it for the monkhood.[11] The later timeline from the Mūlasarvāstivāda texts and the Pāli Theragāthā, however, have Ānanda ordain much later, about twenty-five years before the Buddha's death—in other words, twenty years in the Buddha's ministry.[9][1] Some Sanskrit sources have him ordain even later.[12] The Mūlasarvāstivāda texts on monastic discipline (Pāli and Sanskrit: Vinaya) relate that soothsayers predict Ānanda will be the Buddha's attendant. In order to prevent Ānanda from leaving the palace to ordain, his father brings him to Vesālī (Sanskrit: Vaiśālī) during the Buddha's visit to Kapilavatthu, but the Buddha meets and teaches Ānanda later.[13] When Ānanda does become ordained, his father has him ordain in Kapilavatthu in the Nigrodhārāma monastery (Sanskrit: Niyagrodhārāma) with much ceremony, Ānanda's preceptor (Pali: upajjhāya; Sanskrit: upādhyāya) being a certain Daśabāla Kāśyapa. The Mahāvastu relates that Mṛgī is initially opposed to Ānanda joining the holy life, because his brother Devadatta has already ordained and left the palace. Ānanda responds to his mother's resistance by moving to Videha (Sanskrit: Vaideha) and lives there, taking a vow of silence. This leads him to gain the epithet Videhamuni (Sanskrit: Vaidehamuni), meaning 'the silent wise one from Videha'.[13]

According to the Pāli tradition, Ānanda's first teachers are Belaṭṭhasīsa and Puṇṇa Mantāniputta. It is Puṇṇa's teaching that leads Ānanda to attain the stage of sotāpanna (Sanskrit: śrotāpanna), an attainment preceding that of enlightenment. Ānanda later expresses his debt to Puṇṇa.[8][14] Another important figure in the life of Ānanda is Sāriputta (Sanskrit: Śāriputra), one of the Buddha's main disciples. Sāriputta often teaches Ānanda about the finer points of Buddhist doctrine;[15] they are in the habit of sharing things with one another, and their relationship is described as a good friendship.[16] In some Mūlasarvāstivāda texts, an attendant of Ānanda is also mentioned who helps encourage Ānanda when he is banned from the First Buddhist Council. He is a "Vajjiputta" (Sanskrit: Vṛjjiputra), i.e. someone who originates from the Vajji confederacy.[17] According to later texts, an enlightened monk called Vajjiputta (Sanskrit: Vajraputra) has an important role in Ānanda's life. He listens to a teaching of Ānanda and realizes that Ānanda is not enlightened yet. Vajjiputta encourages Ānanda to talk less to laypeople and to deepen his meditation practice by retreating in the forest, an advice that very much affects Ānanda.[18][19]

Attending the Buddha[edit]

Wooden sculpture of monk sitting in a mermaid pose, reclining
18th-century Burmese sculpture of Ānanda

In the first twenty years of the Buddha's ministry, the Buddha has several personal attendants.[8] However, after these twenty years, when the Buddha is aged 55,[20][note 1] the Buddha announces that he has need for a permanent attendant.[7] The Buddha has been growing older, and his previous attendants did not do their job very well.[8] Initially, several of the Buddha's foremost disciples respond to his request, but the Buddha does not accept them. All the while Ānanda remains quiet. When he is asked why, he says that the Buddha will know best who to choose, upon which the Buddha responds by choosing Ānanda.[note 2] Ānanda agrees to take on the position, on the condition that he does not receive any material benefits from the Buddha. Accepting such benefits would open him up to criticism that he chose the position because of ulterior motives. He also requests that the Buddha allows him to accept invitations on his behalf, allows him to ask questions about his doctrine, and repeats any teaching that has been taught in Ānanda's absence.[7][8] These requests would help people trust Ānanda and show that the Buddha was sympathetic to his attendant.[8] Furthermore, Ānanda considers these the real advantages of being an attendant, which is why he requests them.[2]

The Buddha agrees to Ānanda's conditions, and Ānanda becomes the Buddha's attendant, accompanying the Buddha on most of his wanderings. Ānanda takes care of the Buddha's daily practical needs, by doing things such as bringing water and cleaning the Buddha's dwelling place. He is depicted as observant and devoted, even guarding the Buddha's dwelling place at night.[8][2] Ānanda takes the part of interlocutor in many of the recorded dialogues.[21] He attends the Buddha for a total of 25 years,[6][8] a duty which entails much work.[22] His relationship with the Buddha is depicted as warm and trusting:[23][24] when the Buddha grows ill, Ānanda has a sympathetic illness;[8] when the Buddha grows older, Ānanda keeps taking care of him with devotion.[2]

Ānanda sometimes literally risks his life for his master. At one time, the rebellious monk Devadatta tries to kill the Buddha by having a drunk and wild elephant released in the Buddha's presence. Ānanda steps in front of the Buddha to protect him. When the Buddha tells him to move, he refuses, although normally he always obeys the Buddha.[8] Through a supernatural accomplishment (Pali: iddhi; Sanskrit: ṛiddhi) the Buddha then moves Ānanda aside and brings the elephant down, by touching it and speaking to it with loving-kindness.[25]

Ānanda often acts as an intermediary and secretary, passing on messages from the Buddha, informing the Buddha of news, invitations, or the needs of lay people, and advising lay people who want to provide gifts to the saṅgha.[8][26] At one time, Mahāpajāpatī, the Buddha's foster-mother, requests to offer robes for personal use for the Buddha. She says that even though she has raised the Buddha in his youth, she never gave anything in person to the young prince; she now wishes to do so. The Buddha initially insists that she give the robe to the community as a whole rather than to be attached to his person. However, Ānanda intercedes and mediates, arguing that the Buddha better accept the robe. Eventually the Buddha does, but not without pointing out to Ānanda that good deeds like giving should always be done for the sake of the action itself, not for the sake of the person.[27]

Sculpture of a monk with East Asian traits, holding an alms bowl.
Sculpture of Ānanda from Wat Khao Rup Chang, Songkhla, Thailand

The texts say that the Buddha sometimes asks Ānanda to substitute for him as teacher,[28][29] and is often praised by the Buddha for his teachings.[30] Ānanda is often given important teaching roles, such as regularly teaching Queen Mallikā, Queen Sāmāvatī, (Sanskrit: Śyāmāvatī) and other people from the ruling class.[31][32] Once Ānanda teaches a number of King Udena (Sanskrit: Udayana)'s concubines. They are so impressed by Ānanda's teaching, that they give him five hundred robes, which Ānanda accepts. Having heard about this, King Udena criticizes Ānanda for being greedy; Ānanda responds by explaining how every single robe is carefully used, reused and recycled by the monastic community, prompting the king to offer another five hundred robes.[33] Ānanda also has a role in the Buddha's visit to Vesālī. In this story, the Buddha teaches the well-known text Ratana Sutta to Ānanda, which Ānanda then recites in Vesālī, ridding the city from illness, drought and evil spirits in the process.[34] Another well-known passage in which the Buddha teaches Ānanda is the passage about spiritual friendship (Pali: kalyāṇamittata). In this passage, Ānanda states that spiritual friendship is half of the holy life; the Buddha corrects Ānanda, stating that such friendship is the entire holy life.[35][36] In summary, Ānanda works as an assistant, intermediary and a mouthpiece, helping the Buddha in many ways, and learning his teachings in the process.[37]

Resisting temptations[edit]

Ānanda is attractive in appearance.[8] A Pāli account relates that a bhikkhunī becomes enamored with Ānanda, and pretends to be ill to have Ānanda visit her. When she realizes the error of her ways, she confesses her mistakes to Ānanda.[38] Other accounts relate that a low-caste woman called Prakṛti falls in love with Ānanda, and persuades her mother Mātaṅgī to use a black magic spell to enchant him. This succeeds, and Ānanda is lured into her house, but comes to his senses and calls upon the help of the Buddha. The Buddha then teaches Prakṛti to reflect on the repulsive qualities of the human body, and eventually Prakṛti is ordained as a bhikkhunī, giving up her attachment for Ānanda.[39][40] In an East Asian version of the story in the Śūraṃgamasūtra, the Buddha sends Mañjuśrī to help Ānanda, who uses recitation to counter the magic charm. The Buddha then continues to teach Ānanda and other listeners about the Buddha nature.[41]

Establishing the nun's order[edit]

Colored limestone sculpture of monk holding unidentified object
8th-century Chinese limestone sculpture of Ānanda

In the role of mediator between the Buddha and the lay communities, Ānanda sometimes makes suggestions to the Buddha for amendments in the monastic discipline.[42] Most importantly, the early texts attribute the inclusion of women in the early saṅgha (monastic order) to Ānanda.[43] Fifteen years after the Buddha's enlightenment, his foster mother Mahāpajāpatī comes to see him to ask him to be ordained as the first Buddhist bhikkhunī. Initially, the Buddha refuses this. Five years later, Mahāpajāpatī comes to request the Buddha again, this time with a following of other Sākiya women, including the Buddha's former wife Yasodharā (Sanskrit: Yaśodarā). They have walked 500 kilometres (310 mi), look dirty, tired and depressed, and Ānanda feels pity for them. Ānanda therefore confirms with the Buddha whether women can become enlightened as well. Although the Buddha concedes this, he does not allow the Sākiya women to be ordained yet. Ānanda then discusses with the Buddha how Mahāpajāpatī took care of him during his childhood, after the death of his real mother.[44][45] Ānanda also mentions that previous Buddhas have also ordained bhikkhunīs.[46][47] In the end, the Buddha allows the Sākiya women to be ordained, being the start of the bhikkhunī order.[44] Ānanda has Mahāpajāpati ordained by her acceptance of a set of rules, set by the Buddha. These are known as the garudhamma, and they describe the subordinate relation of the bhikkhunī community to that of the bhikkhus or monks.[48][45] Asian religion scholar Reiko Ohnuma argues that the debt the Buddha had toward his foster-mother Mahāpajāpati may have been the main reason for his concessions with regard to the establishment of a bhikkhunī order.[49]

Many scholars interpret this account to mean that the Buddha is reluctant in allowing women to be ordained, and that Ānanda successfully persuaded the Buddha to change his mind. For example, Indologist and translator I.B. Horner wrote that "this is the only instance of his being over-persuaded in argument".[50] However, some scholars interpret the Buddha's initial refusal rather as a test of resolve, following a widespread pattern in the Pāli Canon and in monastic procedure of repeating a request three times before final acceptance.[51][52] Some also argue that the Buddha was believed by Buddhists to be omniscient, and therefore is unlikely to have been depicted as changing his mind. Other scholars argue that other passages in the texts indicate the Buddha intends all along to establish a bhikkhunī order.[50] Regardless, during the acceptance of women into the monastic order, the Buddha tells Ānanda that the Buddha's dispensation will last shorter because of this reason.[53][48] At the time, the Buddhist monastic order consisted of wandering celibate males, without many monastic institutions. Allowing women to join the Buddhist celibate life might have led to dissension, as well as temptation between the sexes.[54] The garudhamma, however, are meant to fix these problems, and prevent the dispensation from being curtailed.[55]

Taiwanese nun
The early texts attribute the inclusion of women in the early monastic order to Ānanda.

There are some chronological discrepancies in the traditional account of the setting up of the bhikkhunī order. According to the Pāli and Mahīśasaka textual traditions, the bhikkhunī order is set up five years after the Buddha's enlightenment, but Ānanda only becomes attendant twenty years after the Buddha's enlightenment.[51] Furthermore, Mahāpajāpati is the Buddha's foster mother, and must therefore be considerably older than him. However, after the bhikkhunī order is established, Mahāpajāpati still has many audiences with the Buddha, as reported in Pāli and Chinese Early Buddhist Texts. Because of this and other reasons, it could be inferred that establishment of the bhikkhunī order actually takes place early in the Buddha's ministry. If this is the case, Ānanda's role in establishing the order becomes less likely.[9] Some scholars therefore interpret the names in the account, such as Ānanda and Mahāpajāpati, as symbols, representing groups rather than specific individuals.[51]

According to the texts, Ānanda's role in founding the bhikkhunī order makes him popular with the bhikkhunī community. Ānanda often teaches bhikkhunīs,[2][56] often encourages women to ordain, and when he is criticized by the monk Mahākassapa, several bhikkhunīs try to defend him.[57][58] According to Indologist Oskar von Hinüber, Ānanda's pro-bhikkhunī attitude may well be the reason why there is frequent discussion between Ānanda and Mahākassapa, eventually leading Mahākasapa to charge Ānanda with several offenses during the First Buddhist Council. Hinüber further argues that the establishment of the bhikkhunī order may have well been initiated by Ānanda after the Buddha's death, and the introduction of Mahāpajāpati as the person requesting to do so is merely a literary device to connect the female ordination with the Buddha through his foster mother. Hinüber concludes this based on several patterns in the early texts, including the apparent distance between the Buddha and the bhikkhunī order, and the frequent discussions and differences of opinion that take place between Ānanda and Mahākassapa.[59] Some scholars have seen merits in von Hinüber's argument with regard to the pro- and anti-factions,[60][61] but as of 2017, no definitive evidence has been found for the theory of establishment after the Buddha's death.[62] Buddhist studies scholar Bhikkhu Anālayo has responded to most of Hinuber's arguments, writing: "Besides requiring too many assumptions, this hypothesis conflicts with nearly 'all the evidence preserved in the texts together'", arguing that it is monastic discipline that created a distance between the Buddha and the bhikkhunīs, and even so, there are many places in the early texts where the Buddha does address bhikkhunīs directly.[63]

The Buddha's death[edit]

Sculpture of the Buddha holding hand on head monk at the right side of the Buddha, the latter monk smiling
Sculpture at Vulture Peak, Rajgir, India, depicting the Buddha consoling Ānanda

Despite his long association with and close proximity to the Buddha, the texts describe that Ānanda has not become enlightened yet. Because of that a fellow monk Udāyī (Sanskrit: Udāyin) ridicules Ānanda for this. However, the Buddha reprimands Udāyī in response, adding that Ānanda will certainly be enlightened in this life.[64][note 3]

The Pāli Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta relates the last year-long trip the Buddha takes with Ānanda from Rājagaha (Sanskrit: Rājagṛha) to the small town of Kusināra (Sanskrit: Kuśingarī) before the Buddha dies there. Before reaching Kusināra, the Buddha spends the retreat during the monsoon (Pali: vassa, Sanskrit: varṣā) in Veḷugāma (Sanskrit: Veṇugrāmaka), getting out of the Vesālī area which suffers from famine.[65] Here the eighty-year old Buddha expresses his wish to speak to the saṅgha once more.[65] The Buddha has grown seriously ill in Vesālī, much to the concern of some of his disciples.[66] Ānanda understands that the Buddha wishes to leave final instructions before his death. The Buddha replies, however, that he has already taught everything needed, without withholding anything secret as a teacher with a "closed fist" would. He also impresses upon Ānanda that he does not think the saṅgha should be reliant too much on a leader, not even himself.[67][68] He then continues with the well-known statement to take his teaching as a refuge, and oneself as a refuge, without relying on any other refuge, also after the Buddha is gone.[69][70] Bareau argues that this is one of the most ancient parts of the text, found in slight variation in five early textual traditions:

"Moreover, this very beautiful episode, touching with nobility and psychological verisimilitude with regard to both Ānanda and the Buddha, seems to go back very far, at the time when the authors, like the other disciples, still considered the Blessed One [the Buddha] a man, an eminently respectable and undefiled master, to whom behavior and utterly human words were lent, so that one is even tempted to see there the memory of a real scene which Ānanda reportedly told to the Community in the months following the Parinirvāṇa [death]."[71]

The same text contains an account in which the Buddha, at numerous occasions, gives a hint that he could prolong his life to a full eon through a supernatural accomplishment, but this is a power that he must be asked to exercise.[72][note 4] Ānanda is distracted, however, and does not take the hint. Later, Ānanda does make the request, but the Buddha replies that it is already too late, as he will die soon.[70][74] Māra, the Buddhist personification of evil, has visited the Buddha, and the Buddha has decided to die after three months.[75] When Ānanda hears this, he weeps. The Buddha consoles him, however, pointing out that Ānanda has been a great attendant, being sensitive to the needs of different people.[2][9] If he is earnest in his efforts, he will attain enlightenment soon.[8] He then points out to Ānanda that all conditioned things are impermanent: all people must die.[76][77][note 5]

Metal relief
East Javanese relief depicting the Buddha in his final days, and Ānanda

In the final days of the Buddha's life, the Buddha travels to Kusināra.[78] The Buddha has Ānanda prepare a place for lying down between two sal trees, the same type of tree under which the mother of the Buddha gave birth.[79] The Buddha then has Ānanda invite the Malla clan from Kusināra to pay their final respects.[77][80] Having returned, Ānanda asks the Buddha what should be done with his body after his death, and he replies that it should be cremated, giving detailed instructions on how this should be done.[70] Since the Buddha prohibits Ānanda from being involved himself, but rather has him instruct the Mallas to perform the rituals, these instructions have by many scholars been interpreted as a prohibition in Buddhism that monastics should not be involved in funerals or worship of stūpas (structures with relics). Buddhist studies scholar Gregory Schopen has pointed out, however, that this prohibition only holds for Ānanda, and only with regard to the Buddha's funeral ceremony.[81][82] It has also been shown that the instructions on the funeral are quite late in origin, in both composition and insertion into the text, and are not found in parallel texts, apart from the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta.[83] Ānanda then continues by asking how devotees should honor the Buddha after his death. The Buddha responds by listing four important places in his life that people can pay their respects to, which later become the four main places of Buddhist pilgrimage.[84][67] Before the Buddha dies, Ānanda recommends the Buddha to move to a more meaningful city instead, but the Buddha points out that the town was once a great capital.[78] Ānanda then asks who will be next teacher after the Buddha is gone, but the Buddha replies that his teaching and discipline will be the teacher instead.[70] This means that decisions should be made by reaching consensus within the saṅgha,[46] and more generally, that now the time has come for the Buddhist monastics and devotees to take the Buddhist texts as authority, instead of the Buddha and his eminent disciples.[85]

The Buddha gives several instructions before his death, including a directive that his former charioteer Channa (Sanskrit: Chandaka) be shunned by his fellow monks, to humble his pride.[67] In his final moments, the Buddha asks if anyone has any questions he wishes to pose to him, as a final chance to allay any doubts. When no-one responds, Ānanda expresses joy that all of the Buddha's disciples present have attained a level beyond doubts about the Buddha's teaching. However, the Buddha points out that Ānanda speaks out of faith and not out of meditative insight—a final reproach.[86] He adds that, of all the five hundred monks that are surrounding him now, even the "latest" or "most backward" (Pali: pacchimaka) has attained the initial stage of sotapanna. Meant as an encouragement, the Buddha is referring to Ānanda.[87] During the Buddha's final Nirvana, Anuruddha is able to use his meditative powers to understand which stages the Buddha undergoes before he attains final Nirvana. However, Ānanda is unable to do so, indicating his lesser spiritual maturity.[88] After the Buddha's death, Ānanda recites several verses, expressing a sense of urgency (Pali: saṃvega), deeply moved by the events and their bearing: "Terrible was the quaking, men's hair stood on end, / When the all-accomplished Buddha passed away."[89]

Shortly after the council, Ānanda brings the message with regard to the Buddha's directive to Channa personally. Channa is humbled and changes his ways, attains enlightenment, and the penalty is withdrawn.[90][91] Ānanda travels to Sāvatthī (Sanskrit: Śrāvastī), where he is met with a sad populace, who he consoles with teachings on impermanence. After that, Ānanda goes to the quarters of the Buddha and goes through the motions of the routine he formerly performed when the Buddha was still alive, such as preparing water and cleaning the quarters. He then salutes and talks to the quarters as though the Buddha was still there. The Pāli commentaries state that Ānanda does this out of devotion, but also because he is "not yet free from the passions".[92]

The First Council[edit]

Stupa, located at present-day Rajgir, at that time called Rajagaha
According to the texts, the First Buddhist Council is held in Rājagaha.[93]


According to the texts, the First Buddhist Council is held in Rājagaha.[93] In the first vassa after the Buddha has died, the presiding monk Mahākassapa (Sanskrit: Mahākāśyapa) calls upon Ānanda to recite the discourses he has heard, as a representative on this council.[7][93][note 6] There is a rule issued that only enlightened disciples (arahants) are allowed to attend the council, to prevent mental afflictions from clouding the disciples' memories. Ānanda has, however, not attained enlightenment yet, in contrast with the rest of the council, consisting of 499 arahants.[95][96] Mahākassapa therefore does not allow Ānanda to attend yet. Although he knows that Ānanda's presence in the council is required, he does not want to be biased by allowing an exception to the rule.[17][97] The Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition adds that Mahākassapa initially allows Ānanda to join as a sort of servant assisting during the council, but then is forced to remove him when the disciple Anuruddha sees that Ānanda is not yet enlightened.[17]

Ānanda feels humiliated, but is prompted to focus his efforts to reach enlightenment before the council starts.[98][99] The Mūlasarvāstivāda texts add that he feels motivated when he remembers the Buddha's words to be his own refuge, and when he is consoled and advised by Anuruddha and Vajjiputta, the latter being his attendant.[17] On the night before the event, he tries hard to attain enlightenment. After a while, Ānanda takes a break and decides to lie down for a rest. He then attains enlightenment right there, right then, halfway between sitting and lying down. Thus, Ānanda is known as the disciple who attained awakening "in none of the four traditional poses" (walking, standing, sitting, or lying down).[100][101] The next morning, to prove his enlightenment, Ānanda performs a supernatural accomplishment by diving into the earth and appearing on his seat at the council (or, according to some sources, by flying through the air).[17] Scholars such as Buddhologist André Bareau and religion scholar Ellison Banks Findly have been skeptical about many details in this account, including the number of participants on the council, and the account of Ānanda's enlightenment just before the council.[102] Regardless, today, the story of Ānanda's struggle on the evening before the council is still told among Buddhists as a piece of advice in the practice of meditation: neither to give up, nor to interpret the practice too rigidly.[101]


The First Council begins when Ānanda is consulted to recite the discourses and to determine which are authentic and which are not.[103][104] Mahākassapa asks of each discourse that Ānanda lists where, when, and to whom it was given,[2][105] and at the end of this, the assembly agrees that Ānanda's memories and recitations are correct,[106] after which the discourse collection (Pali: Sutta Piṭaka, Sanskrit: Sūtra Piṭaka) is considered finalized and closed.[104] Ānanda therefore plays a crucial role in this council,[6] and texts claim he remembers 84,000 teaching topics, among which 82,000 taught by the Buddha and another 2,000 taught by disciples.[107][108][note 7] Many early Buddhist discourses start with the words "Thus have I heard" (Pali: Evaṃ me suttaṃ, Sanskrit: Evaṃ mayā śrutam), which according to most Buddhist traditions, are Ānanda's words,[109][note 8] indicating that he, as the person reporting the text (Sanskrit: saṃgītikāra), had first-hand experience and did not add anything to it.[111][112] Thus, the discourses Ānanda remembers later become the collection of discourses of the Canon,[7] and according to the Haimavāta, Dharmaguptaka and Sarvāstivāda textual traditions (and implicitly, post-canonical Pāli chronicles), the collection of Abhidhamma (Abhidhamma Piṭaka) as well.[107][94][113] Religious studies scholar Ronald Davidson notes, however, that this is not preceded by any account of Ānanda learning Abhidhamma.[114] According to some later Mahāyāna accounts, Ānanda also assists in reciting Mahāyāna texts, held in a different place in Rājagaha, but in the same time period.[115][116] The Pāli commentaries state that after the council, as the tasks for recitation and memorizing the texts are divided, Ānanda, and his pupils are given the task to remember the Digha Nikāya.[17][113]

The First Buddhist Council begins when Mahākassapa asks Ānanda to recite the discourses.


During the same council, Ānanda is charged for an offense by members of the saṅgha for having enabled women to join the monastic order.[117][103] Besides this, he is charged for having forgotten to request the Buddha to specify which offenses of monastic discipline could be disregarded;[note 9] for having stepped on the Buddha's robe; for having allowed women to honor the Buddha's body after his death, which was naked, and during which his body was sullied by their tears; and for having failed to ask the Buddha to continue to live on. Ānanda does not acknowledge these as offenses, but he concedes to do a formal confession anyway, "... in faith of the opinion of the venerable elder monks"[118][119]—Ānanda wants to prevent disruption in the saṅgha.[120] With regard to having women ordained, Ānanda answers that he worked hard for that because Mahāpajāpati was the Buddha's foster-mother who had long provided for him.[121] With regard to not requesting the Buddha to continue to live, many textual traditions have Ānanda respond by saying he was distracted by Māra,[122] though one early Chinese text has Ānanda reply he did not request the Buddha to prolong his life, for fear that this would interfere with the next Buddha Maitreya's ministry.[123]

According to the Pāli tradition, the charges are laid after Ānanda has become enlightened and done all the recitations; but the Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition has it that the charges are laid before Ānanda becomes enlightened and starts the recitations. In this version, when Ānanda hears that he is banned from the council, he objects that he has not done anything that goes against the teaching and discipline of the Buddha. Mahākassapa then lists seven charges to counter Ānanda's objection. The charges are similar to the five given in Pāli.[17] Other textual traditions list slightly different charges, amounting to a combined total of eleven charges, some of which are only mentioned in one or two textual traditions.[124] Considering that an enlightened disciple was seen to have overcome all faults, it seems more likely that the charges were laid before Ānanda's attainment than after.[123]

Indologists von Hinüber and Jean Przyluski argue that the account of Ānanda being charged with offenses during the council indicate tensions between competing early Buddhist schools, i.e. schools that emphasized the discourses (Pali: sutta, Sanskrit: sūtra) and schools that emphasized monastic discipline. These differences have affected the scriptures of each tradition: e.g. the Pāli and Mahīśāsaka textual traditions portray a Mahākassapa that is more critical of Ānanda than that the Sarvāstivāda tradition depicts them,[61][125] reflecting a preference for discipline above discourse on the part of the former traditions, and a preference for discourse for the latter.[126] Another example is the recitations during the First Council. The Pāli texts state that Upāli, the person who is responsible for the recitation of the monastic discipline, recites before Ānanda does: again, monastic discipline above discourse.[127] Analyzing six textual traditions of the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta extensively, Bareau distinguished two layers in the text, an older and a newer one, the former belonging to the compilers that emphasized discourse, the latter to the ones that emphasized discipline; the former emphasizing the figure of Ānanda, the latter Mahākassapa. He further argued that the passage on Māra obstructing the Buddha was inserted in the fourth century BCE, and that Ānanda was blamed for Māra's doing by inserting the passage of Ānanda's forgetfulness in the third century BCE. The passage in which the Buddha is ill and reminds Ānanda to be his own refuge, on the other hand, Bareau regarded as very ancient, pre-dating the passages blaming Māra and Ānanda.[128] In conclusion, Bareau, Przyluski and Horner argued that the offenses Ānanda are charged with are a later interpolation. Findly disagrees, however, because the account in the texts of monastic discipline fits in with the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta and with Ānanda's character as generally depicted in the texts.[129]


Tradition states that the First Council lasts for seven months.[107] Scholars doubt, however, whether the entire canon was really recited during the First Council,[130] because the early texts contain different accounts on important subjects such as meditation.[131] It may be, though, that early versions were recited of what is now known as the Vinaya-piṭaka and Sutta-piṭaka.[132] Nevertheless, many scholars, from the late 19th century onward, have considered the historicity of the First Council improbable. Some scholars, such as orientalists Louis de La Vallée-Poussin and D.P. Minayeff, thought there must have been assemblies after the Buddha's death, but considered only the main characters and some events before or after the First Council historical.[90][133] Other scholars, such as Bareau and Indologist Hermann Oldenberg, considered it likely that the account of the First Council was written after the Second Council, and based on that of the Second, since there were not any major problems to solve after the Buddha's death, or any other need to organize the First Council.[102][134] Much material in the accounts, and even more so in the more developed later accounts, deal with Ānanda as the unsullied intermediary who passes on the legitimate teaching of the Buddha.[135] On the other hand, archaeologist Louis Finot, Indologist E. E. Obermiller and to some extent Indologist Nalinaksha Dutt thought the account of the First Council was authentic, because of the correspondences between the Pāli texts and the Sanskrit traditions.[136]

Role and character[edit]

The attendant
"He served the Buddha following him everywhere like a shadow, bringing him tooth wood and water, washing his feet, rubbing his body, cleaning his cell and fulfilling all his duties with the greatest care. By day he was at hand forestalling the slightest wish of the Buddha. At night, staff and torch in hand, he went nine times round the Buddha's cell and never put them down lest he would fall asleep and fail to answer a call to the Buddha."

transl. by Ellison Banks Findly, Manorathapūranī[137]

Ānanda is recognized as one of the most important disciples of the Buddha.[138] In the lists of the disciples given in the Aṅguttara Nikāya[note 10] and Saṃyutta Nikāya, each of the disciples is declared to be foremost in some quality. Ānanda is mentioned more often than any other disciple: he is named foremost in conduct, in attention to others, in power of memory, in erudition and in resoluteness.[21][5][139] Ānanda is the subject of a sermon of praise delivered by the Buddha just before the Buddha's death, as described in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta:[note 11] it is a sermon about a man who is kindly, unselfish, popular, and thoughtful toward others.[21] In the texts he is depicted as compassionate in his relations with lay people, a compassion he learnt from the Buddha.[140] The Buddha relays that both monastics and lay people are pleased to see Ānanda, and are pleased to hear him recite and teach the Buddha's teaching.[141][142] Moreover, Ānanda is known for his organizational skills, assisting the Buddha with secretary-like duties.[143] In many ways, Ānanda does not only serve the personal needs of the Buddha, but also the needs of the still young, growing institute of the saṅgha.[144]

Moreover, because of his ability to remember many teachings of the Buddha, he is described as foremost in "having heard much" (Pali: bahussuta, Sanskrit: bahuśruta, pinyin: Duowen Diyi).[145][24] Ānanda is known for his exceptional memory,[9] which is essential in helping him to remember the Buddha's teachings. He also teaches other disciples to memorize Buddhist doctrine. For these reasons, Ānanda is known as the "Treasurer of the Dhamma" (Pali: Dhamma-bhaṇḍāgārika, Sanskrit: Dharma-bhaṇḍāgārika),[99][5] Dhamma (Sanskrit: Dharma) referring to the doctrine of the Buddha.[26] Being the person who has accompanied the Buddha throughout a great part of his life, Ānanda is in many ways the living memory of the Buddha, without which the saṅgha would be much worse off.[99] Besides his memory skills, Ānanda also stands out in that, as the Buddha's cousin, he dares to ask the Buddha direct questions. For example, after the death of Mahāvira and the depicted subsequent conflicts among the Jain community, Ānanda asks the Buddha how such problems could be prevented after the Buddha's death.[146][147][note 12] Findly argues that Ānanda's duty to memorize the Buddha's teachings accurately and without distortion, is "both a gift and a burden". Ānanda is able to remember many discourses verbatim, but this also goes hand-in-hand with a habit of not reflecting on those teachings, being afraid that reflection may distort the teachings as he heard them. Thus, judgment of Ānanda's character depends much on whether one judges his accomplishments as a monk or his accomplishments as an attendant and person memorizing the discourses.[149] At multiple occasions, Ānanda is warned by other disciples that he should spend less time on conversing to lay people, and more time on his own practice. Even though Ānanda regularly practices meditation for long hours, he is less experienced in meditative concentration than other leading disciples.[150]

Monk in forest rubbing in his eye.
East Javanese relief of Ānanda, depicted weeping

From a literary and pedagogical point of view, Ānanda often functions as a kind of foil in the texts, being an unenlightened disciple attending an enlightened Buddha.[151][152] Because the run-of the-mill person can identify with Ānanda, the Buddha can through Ānanda convey his teachings to the mass easily.[151][153] Ānanda's character is in many ways a contradiction to that of the Buddha: being unenlightened and someone who makes mistakes. At the same time, however, he is completely devoted to service to the Buddha.[154] The Buddha is depicted in the early texts as both a father and a teacher to Ānanda, stern but compassionate. Ānanda is very fond of and attached to the Buddha, willing to give his life for him.[24] He mourns the deaths of both Sāriputta, with whom he enjoyed a close friendship, and the Buddha: in both cases Ānanda is very shocked.[16] Ānanda's faith for the Buddha, however, constitutes more of a faith in others, especially the Buddha's person, as opposed to faith in the Buddha's teaching. This is a pattern which comes back in the accounts which lead to the offenses Ānanda is charged with during the First Council.[155] Moreover, Ānanda's weaknesses are that he is sometimes slow-witted and lacks mindfulness, which becomes noticeable because of his role as attendant to the Buddha: this involves minor matters like deportment, but also more important matters, such as ordaining a man with no future as a pupil, or disturbing the Buddha at the wrong time.[156] For example, one time Mahākassapa chastises Ānanda in strong words, criticizing the fact that Ānanda was travelling with a large following of young monks who appeared untrained and who had built up a bad reputation.[8] In another episode described in a Sarvāstivāda text, Ānanda is the only disciple who is willing to teach psychic powers to Devadatta, who later uses these in a failed attempt to destroy the Buddha. According to a Mahīśāsaka text, however, when Devadatta turns against the Buddha, Ānanda is not persuaded by him, and votes against him in a formal meeting.[157] Ānanda's late spiritual growth is much discussed in Buddhist texts, and the general conclusion is that Ānanda is slower than other disciples due to his worldly attachments and his attachment to the person of the Buddha, both of which are rooted in his mediating work between the Buddha and the lay communities.[158]

Passing on the teaching[edit]

After the Buddha's death, some sources say Ānanda stays mostly in the West of India, in the area of Kosambī (Sanskrit: Kausambī), where he teaches most of his pupils.[159][10] Other sources say he stays in the monastery at Veḷuvana (Sanskrit: Veṇuvana).[160] Several pupils of Ānanda became well-known in their own right. According to post-canonical Sanskrit sources such as the Divyavadāna and the Aśokavadāna, before the Buddha's death, the Buddha confides to Ānanda that his student Majjhantika (Sanskrit: Madhyāntika) will travel to Udyāna, Kashmir, to bring the teaching of the Buddha there.[161][162] Mahākassapa makes a prediction that later comes true that another of Ānanda's future pupils, Sāṇavāsī (Sanskrit: Śāṇakavāsī, Śāṇakavāsin or Śāṇāvasika), will make many gifts to the saṅgha at Mathurā, during a feast held from profits of successful business. After this event, Ānanda will successfully persuade Sāṇavāsī to become ordained and be his pupil.[163][164] Ānanda persuades Sāṇavāsī by pointing out that he has now made many material gifts, but has not given "the gift of the Dhamma". When asked for explanation, Ānanda explains that Sāṇavāsī will give the gift of Dhamma by becoming ordained as a monk, which is enough reason for Sāṇavāsī to make the decision to get ordained.[163]

Death and relics[edit]

Relief with monk meditating at the right, and on the left, half of a skeleton, a kneeling crowned figure and a second figure holding a parasol above the crowned figure
Partially recovered Indian bas-relief depicting the death of Ānanda. The traditional Buddhist accounts relate that he attained final Nirvana in mid-air above the river Rohīni, leaving relics for followers on both sides of the river.

Though no Early Buddhist Text provides a date for Ānanda's death, according to Faxian, Ānanda goes on to live a 120 years.[2] Following the later timeline, however, Ānanda may have lived to 75–85 years.[159] Buddhist studies scholar L. S. Cousins dated Ānanda's death twenty years after the Buddha's.[165]

Ānanda is teaching till the end of his life.[7] According to Mūlasarvāstivāda sources, Ānanda hears a young monk recite a verse incorrectly, and advises him. When the monk reports this to his teacher, the latter objects that "Ānanda has grown old and his memory is impaired ..." This prompts Ānanda to attain final Nirvana. He passes on the "custody of the [Buddha's] doctrine" to his pupil Sāṇavāsī and leaves for the river Ganges.[166][167] However, according to Pāli sources, when Ānanda is about to die, he decides to spend his final moments in Vesālī instead, and travels to the river Rohīni.[2] The Mūlasarvāstivāda version expands and says that before reaching the river, he meets with a seer called Majjhantika (following the prediction earlier) and five hundred of his followers, who convert to Buddhism.[4] Some sources add that Ānanda passes the Buddha's message on to him.[163] As Ānanda is crossing the river, he is followed by King Ajāsattu (Sanskrit: Ajātaśatrū), who wants to witness his death and is interested in his remains as relics.[4][2] Ānanda had once promised Ajāsattu that he would let him know when he would die, and now, after Ānanda has informed him, he follows him.[168] On the other side of the river, however, a group of Licchavis from Vesālī await him for the same reason. In the Pāli, the two parties are the Sākiyan and the Koliyan clans instead.[4][2] Ānanda realizes that his death on either side of the river could irritate one of the parties involved.[169] Through a supernatural accomplishment, he therefore surges into the air to levitate and meditate in mid-air, making his body go up in fire, with his relics landing on both banks of the river,[4][2] or in some versions of the account, splitting in four parts.[170] In this way, Ānanda has pleased all the parties involved.[4][2] In some other versions of the account, including the Mūlasarvāstivāda version, his death takes place on a barge in the middle of the river, however, instead of in mid-air. The remains are divided in two, following the wishes of Ānanda.[20][4]

Majjhantika later successfully carries out the mission following the Buddha's prediction.[161] The latter's pupil Upagupta is described to be the teacher of King Aśoka (3th century BCE). Together with four or five other pupils of Ānanda, Sāṇavāsī and Majjhantika form the majority of the Second Council,[171][10] with Majjhantika being Ānanda's last pupil.[172] Post-canonical Pāli sources add that Sāṇavāsī has a leading role in the Third Buddhist Council as well.[173] Although little is historically certain, Cousins thinks it is likely at least one of the leading figures on the Second Council was a pupil of Ānanda, as nearly all the textual traditions mention a connection with Ānanda.[165]

Ajāsattu is said to have built a stūpa on top of the Ānanda's relics, at the river Rohīni, or according to some sources, the Ganges; the Licchavis have also built a stūpa at their side of the river.[174] The Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang (602–64 CE) later visits stūpas on both sides of the river Rohīni.[5][20] Faxian also reports having visited stūpas dedicated to Ānanda at the river Rohīni,[175] but also in Mathurā.[176][169] Moreover, according to the Mūlasarvāstivāda version of the Saṃyukta Āgama, King Aśoka visits and makes the most lavish offerings he ever made to a stūpa.

"Who in the Norm is widely versed,
And bears its doctrines in his heart—
Of the great Master's treasure Ward—
An eye was he for all the world,
Ānanda, who is passed away."

transl. by C. A. F. Rhys Davids, Theragāthā[177]

He explains to his ministers that he does this because "[t]he body of the Tathāgata is the body of dharma(s), pure in nature. He [Ananda] was able to retain it/them all; for this reason the offerings [to him] surpass [all others]"—body of dharma here refers to the Buddha's teachings as a whole.[178]

In Early Buddhist Texts, Ānanda has reached final Nirvana and will no longer be reborn. But, in contrast with the early texts, according to the Mahāyāna Lotus Sūtra, Ānanda will be born as a Buddha in the future. He will accomplish this slower than the present Buddha, Gotama Buddha, has accomplished this, because Ānanda aspires to becoming a Buddha by applying "great learning". Because of this long trajectory and great efforts, however, his enlightenment will be extraordinary and with great splendor.[4]


Temple with Buddha image, flanked by Ānanda and Mahākassapa
In Mahāyāna iconography, Ānanda is often depicted flanking the Buddha at the right side, together with Mahākassapa at the left.

Ānanda is depicted as an eloquent speaker,[26] who often teaches about the self and about meditation.[179] There are numerous Buddhist texts attributed to Ānanda, including the Atthakanāgara Sutta, about meditation methods to attain Nirvana; a version of the Bhaddekaratta Sutta (Sanskrit: Bhadrakārātrī, pinyin: shanye), about living in the present moment;[180][181] the Sekha Sutta, about the higher training of a disciple of the Buddha; the Subha Suttanta, about the practices the Buddha inspired others to follow.[182] In the Gopaka-Mogallānasutta, a conversation takes place between Ānanda, the brahmin Gopaka-Mogallāna and the minister Vassakara, the latter being the highest official of the Magadha region.[183][184] During this conversation, which occurs shortly after the Buddha's death, Vassakara asks whether it is decided yet who will succeed the Buddha. Ānanda replies that no such successor has been appointed, but that the Buddhist community takes the Buddha's teaching and discipline as a refuge instead.[185][184] Furthermore, the saṅgha may not have the Buddha as a master anymore, but they will honor those monks who are virtuous and trustworthy.[184] Besides these suttas, a section of the Theragāthā is attributed to Ānanda.[186][5] Even in the texts attributed to the Buddha himself, Ānanda is sometimes depicted giving a name to a particular text, or suggesting a simile to the Buddha to use in his teachings.[8]

In East Asian Buddhism, Ānanda is considered on of the ten principal disciples.[187] In many Indian Sanskrit and East Asian texts, Ānanda is considered the second patriarch of the lineage which transmitted the teaching of the Buddha, with Mahākassapa being the first and Majjhantika[188] or Saṇavāsī[189] being the third. There is an account dating back from the Sarvāstivāda and Mūlasarvāstivāda textual traditions which states that before Mahākassapa dies, he bestows the Buddha's teaching on Ānanda as a formal passing on of authority, telling Ānanda to pass the teaching on to Ānanda's pupil Saṇavāsī.[190][191] Later, just before Ānanda dies, he does as Mahākassapa has told him to.[17] Buddhist Studies scholar Akira Hirakawa and Bibhuti Baruah have expressed skepticism about this teacher–student relationship, arguing that there was discord between the two, as indicated in the early texts.[159][10] Regardless, it is clear from the texts that a relationship of transmission of teachings is meant, as opposed to a upajjhāya–student relationship in a lineage of ordination: no source indicates Mahākassapa is Ānanda's upajjhāya.[192] Whatever the case, in Mahāyāna iconography, Ānanda is often depicted flanking the Buddha at the right side, together with Mahākassapa at the left.[193] In Theravāda iconography, however, Ānanda is usually not depicted in this manner,[194] and the motif of transmission of the Dhamma through a list of patriarchs is not found in Pāli sources.[175]

Painting with two monks, one with Central Asian traits, holding his index finger against his thumb; one with East Asian traits, holding his hands folded in front.
8th–9th century Chinese painting, depicting two monks dressed in robes made of pieces. Pāli tradition has it that Ānanda designed the Buddhist monk's robe, based on the structure of rice fields.

Because Ānanda was instrumental in founding the bhikkhunī community, he has been honored by bhikkhunīs for this throughout Buddhist history. The earliest traces of this can be found in the writings of the Chinese pilgrim monks Faxian and Xuan Zang,[57][9] who reported that bhikkhunīs made offerings to a stūpa in Ānanda's honor during celebrations and observance days. On a similar note, in 5th–6th-century China and 10th-century Japan, Buddhist texts were composed recommending women to uphold the semi-monastic eight precepts in honor and gratitude of Ānanda. In Japan, this was through the format of a penance ritual called keka (Chinese: 悔過). By the 13th century, a cult-like interest for Ānanda had developed in a number of convents, which included images, stūpas and ceremonies in his honor. Presently, opinions among scholars are divided as to whether Ānanda's cult among bhikkhunīs was an expression of their dependence on male monastic tradition, or the opposite, an expression of their legitimacy and independence.[195]

Pāli Vinaya texts attribute the design of the Buddhist monk's robe to Ānanda. As Buddhism prospers, more laypeople start to donate expensive cloth for robes, which puts the monks at risk for theft. To decrease its commercial value, monks therefore cut up the cloth offered, before they sow a robe from it. The Buddha asks Ānanda to think of a model for a Buddhist robe, made from small pieces of cloth. Ānanda designs a standard robe model, based on the rice fields of Magadha, which are divided in sections by banks of earth.[196][8] Another tradition that is connected to Ānanda is paritta recitation. Theravāda Buddhists explain that the custom of sprinkling water during paritta chanting originates in Ānanda's visit to Vesālī, when he recites the Ratana Sutta and sprinkles water from his alms bowl.[34][197] A third tradition sometimes attributed to Ānanda is the use of Bodhi trees in Buddhism. It is described in the text Kāliṅgabodhi Jātaka that Ānanda plants a Bodhi tree as a symbol of the Buddha's enlightenment, to give people the chance to pay their respects to the Buddha.[8][198] This tree and shrine came to be known as the Ānanda Bodhi Tree,[8] said to have grown from a seed from the original Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha is depicted to have attained enlightenment.[199] Many of this type of Bodhi Tree shrines in Southeast Asia were erected following this example.[198] Presently, the Ānanda Bodhi Tree is sometimes identified with a tree at the ruins of Jetavana, Sāvatthi, based on the records of the Chinese pilgrim Faxian (337–422 CE).[199]

In conclusion, Ānanda is one of the most loved figures in Buddhism. Although he is not as wise as some of the other main disciples, he is beloved because of his devotion to the Buddha and sincere efforts to understand and disseminate the Buddha's teachings.[2]

In art[edit]

Between 1856 and 1858 Richard Wagner wrote a draft for an opera libretto based on the legend about Ānanda and the low-caste girl Prakṛti. He left only a fragmentary prose sketch of a work to be called Die Sieger, but the topic inspired his later opera Parsifal.[200] Furthermore, the draft was used by composer Jonathan Harvey in his 2007 opera Wagner Dream.[201][202] In Wagner's version of the legend, which he based on orientalist Eugène Burnouf's translations, the magical spell of Prakṛti's mother does not work on Ānanda, and Prakṛti turns to the Buddha to explain her desires for Ānanda. The Buddha replies that a union between Prakṛti and Ānanda is possible, but Prakṛti must agree to the Buddha's conditions. Prakṛti agrees, and it is revealed that the Buddha means something else than she does: he asks Prakṛti to ordain as a bhikkhunī, and live the celibate life as a kind of sister to Ānanda. Although Prakṛti at first cries of misery, after the Buddha explains that her current situation is a result of karma from her previous life, she understands and rejoices in the life of a bhikkhunī.[203] Apart from the spiritual themes, Wagner also addresses the faults of the caste system by having the Buddha criticize it.[200]

Drawing from Schopenhauer's philosophy, Wagner contrasts desire-driven salvation and true spiritual salvation: by seeking deliverance through the person she loves, Prakṛti only affirms her will to live (German: Wille zum Leben), which is blocking her from attaining deliverance. By being ordained as a bhikkhunī she strives for her spiritual salvation instead. Thus, the early Buddhist account of Mahāpajāpati's ordination is replaced by that of Prakṛti. According to Wagner, by allowing Prakṛti to become ordained, the Buddha also completes his own aim in life: "[H]e regards his existence in the world, whose aim was to benefit all beings, as completed, since he had become able to offer deliverance—without mediation—also to woman."[204]

The same legend of Ānanda and Prakṛti was made into a short prose play by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, called Chandalika. Chandalika deals with the themes of spiritual conflict, caste and social equality, and contains a strong critique of Indian society. Just like in the traditional account, Prakṛti falls in love with Ānanda, after he gives her self-esteem by accepting a gift of water from her. Prakṛti's mother casts a spell to enchant Ānanda. In Tagore's play, however, Prakṛti later regrets what she has done and has the spell revoked.[205][206]


  1. ^ According to Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition, the Buddha is 50.[12]
  2. ^ According to the Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition, Ānanda is born at the same time the Buddha becomes enlightened, and is therefore younger than the other leading disciples. The reason that the other disciples are not chosen may be because they are too old for the task.[9]
  3. ^ AN 3.80
  4. ^ There was some debate between the early Buddhist schools as to what eon means in this context, some schools arguing it meant a full human lifespan, others that an enlightened being was capable of producing a "new life-span by the sole power of his meditation".[73]
  5. ^ According to John Powers, the Buddha only left Vesālī at this point, and not earlier.[74]
  6. ^ This is the most well-known version of the account. However, the texts of the Sarvāstivāda, Mūlasarvāstivāda, and Mahīśāsaka traditions relate that this was Añña Koṇḍañña (Sanskrit: Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya) instead, as Koṇḍañña was the most senior disciple.[94]
  7. ^ Other sources say he remembers 60,000 words and 15,000 stanzas,[107] or 10,000 words.[109]
  8. ^ Some Mahāyāna commentators hold that in some cases these are the words of a bodhisattva (someone striving to become a Buddha) like Mañjuśrī.[110]
  9. ^ The Buddha mentioned to Ānanda that "minor rules" could be abolished.[74]
  10. ^ Page i. xiv.
  11. ^ DN 16.
  12. ^ The Buddha responds with a discussion of the role of a teacher, a student and the teaching, and concludes that he has proclaimed his teaching well. He continues that disputes about monastic discipline are not so much a problem, but disputes about "the path and the way" are.[148]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Bigandet, Paul Ambrose (1858). The life or legend of Gaudama, the Budha of the Burmese, with annotations, Rangoon: Pegu Press vol. 1, vol. 2

External links[edit]

Buddhist titles
Preceded by
Chan and Zen lineages
(According to the Zen schools of China and Japan)
Succeeded by