The unenlightened monk disciples, hearing of the Buddha's passing away, break out crying
The picture we see here is of a scene just after the Buddha's passing away, when Maha Kassapa was journeying to attend on the Buddha. Before the Buddha's passing away, the many monks who had gone out to spread the Buddha's teaching in different states and cities, hearing that the Buddha was to pass away at Kusinara, made their different ways toward that city. Those who were nearby arrived in time to see the Buddha, but those who were farther away didn't get there in time.
Venerable Maha Kassapa was a senior monk who the Buddha had once praised very highly as being of equal honor in some respects to himself. He was journeying together with many hundreds of monks. Arriving at Pava the sun was extremely hot, so he led the monks to rest for a time under the shade of some trees. Just then, Maha Kassapa saw an ascetic of another sect walking towards them from the direction of Kusinara. In his hand was a mandarava flower. Maha Kassapa asked him for news of the Buddha. The ascetic informed them that the Samana Gotama had passed away seven days before, and he held up the mandarava flower to show them, saying he had picked it up from the place where the Buddha had passed away. According to legend, the mandarava flower is a flower from heaven which only flowers and blossoms at times when portentous things are happening in the world.
At that moment, two responses arose among the monks who were traveling with Maha Kassapa. Some of the monks, those who had attained Arahatship, were silent, reflecting that the Buddha had passed away. The rest of the monks, who were unenlightened, could not contain themselves, some of them crying, some of them exclaiming out loud, some of them throwing up their arms and wailing, some of them throwing themselves down onto the ground and writhing about. The Mahaparinibbana Sutta records that the way those monks writhed about on the ground was like one who had just had both legs cut off.
But there was one monk, by name of Subhadda (not the Subhadda who was the Buddha's last direct disciple), who had ordained late in life, who went up to those stricken monks and tried to comfort them, saying, "Sirs, sirs, why do you wail? The Buddha has passed away, that is a very good thing. When the Buddha was alive we couldn't do what we wanted to do, everything was an offense (apatti). Now we are better off. The Buddha's passing away is a blessing."
Seeing this, Venerable Maha Kassapa could not help feeling heavy-hearted, knowing that the Buddha had only just passed away seven days ago, but already "thorns" had arisen in the religion. Then he led the monks onward to usinara in order to get there in time to pay tribute to the Buddha's body.
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