The Buddha attaining Nirvana (‘Parinirvana’ in Sanskrit, which means the ‘final Nirvana’; or in English, ‘death’) has contrasting versions.
However, in retracing the majestic and moving account of his final days, versions have compromised on the fact that he was eighty years old at the time of his death. While the time of Buddha’s passing is 486 BCE according to Theravada record, it is dated at 383 BCE according to Mahayana record; nevertheless, both versions maintain that he was eighty years old.
The Buddha is said to have fallen ill during one of his preaching tours after having dinner in the house of Chunda, a blacksmith, at a place called Pava. Though ‘food poisoning’ was the cause, some versions say that he either had a mushroom delicacy or pork, while some say that he either had ‘Sukara-maddavam’ (which either meant a ‘hog’s flesh’ or hog’s root; this term is still contested by scholars).
In spite of this, the Buddha’s preaching tour continued until he halted at a place called Kushinagara, unable to go further due to the persisting illness. Sensing his impending death, he is said to have instructed Ananda to prepare a resting-place for him between two blossoming ‘Sal’ trees. Before breathing his last, the Buddha is said these words to Ananda:
Do not lament. Have I not often told you that it is in the very nature of things that we must eventually be parted from all that is near and dear to us? For how, Ananda, can it be otherwise? Be an island to yourself; See truth as an island. Since everything born is subject to decay, how can it be otherwise then that a being should pass away? It is not possible! For long, you, Ananda, have been very near to me by acts of devotion, faithfulness and affectionate, ever loyal beyond all reckoning.
When dying, teacher gave the monks his last words:
Now, monks, I declare to you: all elements of personality are subject to decay. Strive on diligently!
Buddhist believe that at the time of the Buddha’s death, the ‘Sal’ trees burst into full bloom although it was out of season, and the flowers decked the body of Buddha out of reverence; divine coral tree flowers, and divine sandalwood powders fell from above on Buddha’s body out of reverence. The Buddha’s body was cremated and his relics were preserved in stupas.
A wandering ascetic named Subhadda, who came to see the Buddha at his death-bed is considered to be the last person to be inducted into the Buddhist Order during the Buddha’s lifetime.
Buddhists consider the death of the Buddha as the ultimate attainment of Nirvana, the release from the cycle of death and rebirth of someone who has attained complete awakening.
Today, Parinirvana (also known as Nirvana day) is celebrated by the Mahayana Buddhists to mark the death of the Buddha, and his attainment of freedom from physical existence and its sufferings.