After the Buddha
By Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammanada - From the book "What Buddhist Believe"
The Following Sections are Covered in this Document
Contents Section
Does the Buddha Exist after His Death? 1
A Successor to the Buddha 2
The Future Buddha 3
The question ‘Does the Buddha exist after His death or not', is not a new question. The same question was put to the Buddha during His lifetime.

WHEN a group of ascetics asked the same question to certain disciples of the Buddha, they could not get a satisfactory answer from them. Anuradha, a disciple, approached the Buddha and reported to Him about their conversation. Considering the understanding capacity of the questioners, the Buddha usually observed silence at such questions. However in this instance, the Buddha explained to Anuradha in the following manner:

‘O Anuradha, what do you think, is the form (rupa) permanent or impermanent?'
‘Impermanent, Sir.'
‘Is that which is impermanent, painful or pleasant?'
‘Painful, Sir.'
‘Is it proper to regard that which is impermanent, painful and subject to change as: ‘This is mine; this is I, this is my soul or permanent substance?'
‘It is not proper, Sir.'
‘Is feeling permanent or impermanent?'
‘Impermanent, Sir.'
‘Is that which is impermanent, painful or pleasant?'
‘Painful, Sir.'
‘Is it proper to regard that which is impermanent, painful and subject to change as ‘This is mine, this is I, this is my soul'?'
‘It is not proper, Sir.'
‘Are perception, formative tendencies and consciousness, per­manent or impermanent?'
‘Impermanent, Sir.'
‘Is that which is impermanent, painful or pleasant?'
‘Painful, Sir.'
‘Is it proper to regard that which is impermanent, painful and subject to change as: ‘This is mine, this is I, this is my soul'?'
‘It is not proper, Sir.'
‘Therefore whatever form, feeling, perception, formative tenden­cies, consciousness which have been, will be and is now connected with oneself, or with others, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near; all forms, feelings, perceptions, formative tendencies and consciousness should be considered by right knowledge in this way: ‘This is not mine; this is not I; this is not my soul.' Having seen thus, a noble, learned disciple becomes disenchanted with the form, feel­ing, perception, formative tendencies and consciousness. Becoming disenchanted, he controls his passion and subsequently discards them.'
‘Being free from passion he becomes emancipated and insight arises in him: ‘I am emancipated.' He realizes: ‘Birth is destroyed, I have lived the holy life and done what had to be done. There is no more birth for me.'
‘What do you think, Anuradha, do you regard the form as a Tathagata?'
‘No, Sir.'
‘O Anuradha, what is your view, do you see a Tathagata in the form?'
‘No, Sir.'
‘Do you see a Tathagata apart from form?'
‘No, Sir.'
‘Do you see a Tathagata in feeling, perception, formative tenden­cies, and consciousness?'
‘No, Sir.'
O Anuradha, what do you think, do you regard that which is without form, feeling, perception, formative tendencies and con­sciousness as a Tathagata?'
No, Sir.'
Now, Anuradha, since a Tathagata is not to be found in this very life, (because physical body is not Tathagata)* is it proper for you to say: ‘This noble and supreme one has pointed out and ex­plained these four propositions:
A Tathagata exists after death;
A Tathagata does not exist after death;
A Tathagata exists and yet does not exist after death;
A Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death?'
‘No Sir.'
Well and good, Anuradha. Formerly and now also I expound and point out only the truth of Suffering and the cessation of Suffering.' (ANURADHA SUTTA – SAMYUTTA NIKAYA )

The above dialogue between the Buddha and Anuradha may not be satisfactory to many, since it does not satisfy the inquiring mind of the people looking for answers from a materialist point of view. Absolute Truth (the Dharma) is such that it does not give satisfaction to the emotion and intellect. Truth happens to be the most difficult thing for people to comprehend. It can only be fully comprehended by Insight which transcends logic. Buddhahood is the embodiment of all the great virtues and supreme enlighten­ment. That is why Buddhas who could enlighten others are very rare in this world.

* See the section entitled ‘Trikaya – The Three Bodies of The Buddha', in the "Life and Nature of Buddha" section.

Buddhahood is the highest of all achievements.

MANY people ask why the Buddha did not appoint a successor. But can any one appoint another to take the place of the Supreme Enlightened One? Attaining Buddhahood is the highest of all achievements that only one who has gained supreme wisdom can reach. To attain this highest position, one must excel in every endeavour such as self-training, self-discipline, moral background, supreme knowledge, and extraordinary compassion towards every living being. Therefore, a person must make the effort to be prepared in order to attain Buddhahood. For example, a doctor cannot appoint even his own son as a doctor unless the son has qualified himself professionally. A lawyer cannot appoint another person as a lawyer unless that person obtains the necessary qualifications. A scientist cannot appoint another person as a scientist unless that person possesses the knowledge of a scientist. If He had done so, the successor, lacking the supreme qualities of Buddhahood, would have misused His authority or distorted the teaching. According to the Buddha each individual must develop understanding and insight by him or herself by using the Teachings as a guide ( ehi passiko ). A “successor” of the Buddha would only have created an organised religion or church with dogmas and commands and blind faith. We only have to study world history to see the kind of abuse that can take place when authority is placed in the hands of spiritually undeveloped persons. Therefore, the Buddha did not appoint a successor.

Authority over a religion must be exercised by a person or per­sons possessing a clear mind, proper understanding, perfection and leading a holy life. Authority should not be exercised by worldly-minded people who have become slaves to sensual pleasures or who crave for worldly material gain or power. Otherwise the sacredness and truth in a religion could be abused.

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‘I am not the first Buddha to come upon this earth; nor shall I be the last. Previously, there were many Buddhas who appeared in this world. In due time, another Buddha will arise in this world, within this world cycle.'

WHEN the Buddha was about to pass away, Venerable Ananda and many other disciples wept. The Buddha said, ‘Enough, Ananda. Do not allow yourself to be troubled. Do not weep. Have I not already told you that it is in the very nature of things that they must pass away. We must be separated from all that is near and dear to us. The foolish person conceives his idea of Self; the wise man sees there is no ground on which to build the Self. Thus the wise man has a right conception of the world. He will realise that all component things will be dissolved again; but the Truth will always remain.'

The Buddha continued: ‘Why should I preserve this body when the body of the excellent law will endure? I am resolved. I have accomplished my purpose and have attended to the work set by me. Ananda, for a long time you have been very near to me in thoughts, words and acts of much love beyond all measure. You have done well, Ananda. Be earnest in effort and you too will soon be free from bondages! You will be free from sensuality, from delusion, and from ignorance.' Suppressing his tears, Ananda said to the Buddha, ‘Who shall teach us when You are gone?' And the Buddha advised him to regard His Teaching as the Master.

The Buddha continued again: ‘I am not the first Buddha to come upon earth; nor shall I be the last.* In due time, another Buddha will arise in this world, a Holy One, a Supremely Enlight­ened One, endowed with wisdom, in conduct auspicious, knowing the universe, an incomparable leader of men, a master of devas and men. He will reveal to you the same Eternal Truths which I have taught you. He will proclaim a religious life, wholly perfect and pure; such as I now proclaim.'

‘How shall we know him?', asked Ananda. The Buddha replied, ‘He will be known as Maitreya which means kindness or friendli­ness.'

Buddhists believe that those people who at present are doing meritorious deeds by leading a religious life will have a chance to be reborn as human beings in the time of Maitreya Buddha and will obtain Nirvana identical with that of Gautama Buddha. In this way they will find salvation through the guidance of His Teaching. His Teaching will become a hope of the remote future for every­body. However, according to the Buddha devout religious people can gain this Nirvanic bliss at any time if they really work for it irrespective of whether a Buddha appears or not.

‘As long as my disciples lead a pure religious life, so long will the world never become empty of Arahantas.'


* In BUDDHA VAMSA , 28 names of the pervious Buddhas are mentioned, including Gautama the Buddha.

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Timeless Truth of the Buddha - Next
Buddhist Teachings After The Buddha