The Buddha in Old Age

The Buddha grew to be an old man.  He was roughly 80 years old when he attained final Nibbāna.

Ānanda, his faithful servant, was more than just an attendant who made sure the Buddha’s practical needs were met. He was a loving caretaker of the Blessed One too.

Here is a lovingly complicated passage that stirs me every time I read it. It recounts an episode between the Buddha and Ānanda towards the end of the Buddha’s life. I will recopy it here, letting it speak for itself:

Once when the Blessed One was living at Sāvatthī in the Eastern Monastery, the Palace of Migāra’s Mother, he had arisen from retreat in the evening and was sitting warming his back in the rays of the setting sun. The venerable Ānanda went up to him and paid homage. While he was rubbing the Blessed One’s limbs he said: “It is wonderful, Lord, it is marvelous! Now the color of the Blessed One’s skin is no more clear and bright; all his limbs are flaccid and wrinkled, his body is bent forward, and there seems a change in the sense faculties of his eyes, ears, nose, tongue and bodily sensations.”

“So it is, Ānanda, so it is. Youth has to age, health has to sicken, life has to die. Now the color of my skin is no more clear and bright; all my limbs are flaccid and wrinkled, my body is bent forward, and there seems a change in the sense faculties of my eyes, ears, nose, tongue and bodily sensation.”

So the Blessed One said. When the Sublime One had said this, the Master said further:

Shame on you, sordid Age!
Maker of ugliness.
Age has now trampled down
The form that once had grace.
To live a hundred years
Is not to cheat Decay
That gives quarter to none
And tramples down all things.

(Note: This passage can be found in Bhikkhu Nānamoli’s The Life of the Buddha, page 274. I was inspired to return to this passage after reading a moving post at Somewhere in Dhamma.  Thank you for reminding me of this episode and for relating your year’s lessons!)

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2 thoughts on “The Buddha in Old Age”

  1. Well, that last verse is a bit puzzling, isn’t it?

    “Shame on you, sordid Age!” What’s that about?

    Does age “trample down” our lives? We simply grow old, decay, and fall apart – quickly or slowly, but inevitably.

    1. Hello! That last verse is puzzling, indeed. I hesitated to include it, but it adds yet another dimension to this passage and to our interpretion and understanding of the Buddha. I am left with the same question: What’s that about?

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