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Ananda, Guardian of the Dharma

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Ananda, Guardian of the Dharma

Ananda was a first cousin of Gautama Buddha and is one of the ten principal disciples of the Buddha. It is believed that Ananda had the most retentive memory. Since the sutras of Sutta Pitaka that was shared during the First Buddhist council was from his recollection of the teaching of Buddha. Hence due to this reason, Ananda was considered as the Guardian of the Dharma.

As mentioned in the Buddhist tradition, every Buddha has two chief disciples along with one attendant. In case of Gautama Buddha, his chief disciples were Sariputta and Maudgalyayanaand his attendant was Ananda.

Nature of Ananda as mentioned in Pali Canon

Ananda was the first cousin of the Buddha. His mother was Mrigi as mentioned in Mahavastu. It is recorded that Ananda became the Buddha's personal attendant only in the twentieth year of the Buddha's ministry. As he became personal attendant, he accompanied the Buddha on most of his wanderings. He also took part in many of the recorded dialogues. He was the subject of the public speech delivered by the Buddha just before the Buddha's Parinirvana. Hence, we can assume that Ananda was the man who is kind, unselfish, popular and thoughtful toward others.

His generousness can also be known through the list of the disciples mentioned in the Anguttara Nikaya. In this list, Ananda is mentioned five times more often than any other disciples in different categories. It is also believed that the Buddha sometimes asked Anada to substitute for him as a teacher. But Ananda refused to state that he would not have presented the teachings in a similar manner.

Next generous work that Ananda did was the inclusion of women in the Sangha. It is recorded that upon request of Ananda to publicly recognize women as being equal to men in possessing the potential for awakening, the Buddha conceded and permitted the women to enter the Sangha. The first women to enter the sangha was his step-mother Mahapajapati. But the act was criticized following the parinirvana of the Buddha.

In contrast to major figures depicted in the Pali Canon, Ananda is presented as an imperfect, sympathetic figure. He mourns the deaths of both Sariputta and the Buddha. It is recorded in Theragatha that he experienced loneliness and isolation following the parinirvana of the Buddha.

As per Zen tradition, Ananda was considered to be the second Indian patriarch. He is often depicted with the Buddha alongside Mahakashyapa, the first Indian patriarch.

The First Council

Since Ananda was the attendant of the Buddha, he had played an important role in the first council. He was called upon to recite many of the discourses in the first Buddhist council. These recitations of the discourse later became the Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Canon.

Before the first Buddhist Council, it was suggested that Ananda should not be permitted to attend the Council because he was not yet an arahant. With desire within him, he focused all his efforts on the attainment of nirvana. He was able to reach the specified level of attainment before the council. Hence, he got the participation.

The Parinirvana of Ananda

Ananda attained parinirvana in mid-air over the river Ganga. His body was auto-cremated and his relics were divided into four portions for the people of Rajargrha, the people of Vaishali, the Nagas, and the Gods.

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