Emptiness: The Most Misunderstood Word in Buddhism

“Emptiness” is a central teaching of all Buddhism, but its true meaning is often misunderstood. If we are ever to embrace Buddhism properly into the West, we need to be clear about emptiness, since a wrong understanding of its meaning can be confusing, even harmful. The third century Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna taught, “Emptiness wrongly grasped is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end.” In other words, we will be bitten!
Emptiness is not complete nothingness; it doesn’t mean that nothing exists at all. This would be a nihilistic view contrary to common sense. What it does mean is that things do not exist the way our grasping self supposes they do. In his book on the Heart Sutra the Dalai Lama calls emptiness “the true nature of things and events,” but in the same passage he warns us “to avoid the misapprehension that emptiness is an absolute reality or an independent truth.” In other words, emptiness is not some kind of heaven or separate realm apart from this world and its woes.

The Heart Sutra says, “all phenomena in their own-being are empty.” It doesn’t say “all phenomena are empty.” This distinction is vital. “Own-being” means separate independent existence. The passage means that nothing we see or hear (or are) stands alone; everything is a tentative expression of one seamless, ever-changing landscape. So though no individual person or thing has any permanent, fixed identity, everything taken together is what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing.” This term embraces the positive aspect of emptiness as it is lived and acted by a person of wisdom — with its sense of connection, compassion and love. Think of the Dalai Lama himself and the kind of person he is — generous, humble, smiling and laughing — and we can see that a mere intellectual reading of emptiness fails to get at its practical joyous quality in spiritual life. So emptiness has two aspects, one negative and the other quite positive.
Ari Goldfield, a Buddhist teacher at Wisdom Sun and translator of Stars of Wisdom , summarizes these two aspects as follows:
The first meaning of emptiness is called “emptiness of essence,” which means that phenomena [that we experience] have no inherent nature by themselves.” The second is called “emptiness in the context of Buddha Nature,” which sees emptiness as endowed with qualities of awakened mind like wisdom, bliss, compassion, clarity, and courage. Ultimate reality is the union of both emptinesses.
With all of this in mind, I would like to highlight three common misunderstandings of emptiness: emotional, ethical and meditative.
When we say “I feel empty,” we mean we are feeling sad or depressed. Emotionally speaking, “emptiness” is not a happy word in English, and no matter how often we remind ourselves that Buddhist emptiness does not mean loneliness or separateness, that emotional undertow remains. At various times I have looked for a substitute translation for the Sanskrit sunyata — I have tried “fullness,” “spaciousness,” “connectedness,” and “boundlessness” — but as Ari Goldfield points out, “emptiness” is the most exact translation. “Emptiness” is also the term that my own teacher Shunryu Suzuki used, though he usually added context. Once, speaking of emptiness he said, “I do not mean voidness. There is something, but that something is something which is always prepared for taking some particular form.” Another time, speaking of the feeling tone of emptiness, he said, “Emptiness is like being at your mother’s bosom and she will take care of you.”
Some Buddhist students rationalize or excuse bad behavior of their teacher by asserting that through his understanding of emptiness the teacher is exempt from the usual rules of conduct. One student said, “Roshi lives in the absolute so his behavior can’t be judged by ordinary standards.” While it is true that Buddhist teachers sometimes use unusual methods to awaken their students, their motivation must come from compassion, not selfishness. No behavior that causes harm is acceptable for a Buddhist practitioner, teacher or otherwise.
Some Buddhist students think that a meditative state without thought or activity is the realization of emptiness. While such a state is well described in Buddhist meditation texts, it is treated like all mental states — temporary and not ultimately conducive to liberation. Actually emptiness is not a state of mind at all; it is, as the Dalai Lama says, simply “the true nature of things and events.” This includes the mind. Whether the mind of the meditator is full of thoughts or empty of them, this true nature holds.
Finally, since emptiness seems so difficult to understand, why did the Buddha teach it at all? It is because of his profound insight into why we suffer. Ultimately we suffer because we grasp after things thinking they are fixed, substantial, real and capable of being possessed by ego. It is only when we can see through this illusion and open ourselves, in Ari Goldfield’s words, “to the reality of flux and fluidity that is ultimately ungraspable and inconceivable” that we can relax into clarity, compassion and courage. That lofty goal is what makes the effort to understand emptiness so worthwhile.

10 Most Common Habits that Damage Your Kidneys

Kidneys are one of the most important organs in the human body – they detoxify the blood and flush out waste materials through the urine, essentially acting as the body’s filter for toxins. They are also responsible for eliminating excess water from the body or retaining it when required. Kidneys regulate the levels of minerals such as potassium and calcium in the body,and there’s more: they also regulate your blood pressure and produce important hormones, besides producing red blood cells which carry oxygen to the body tissues.
As you can see, the kidneys are responsible for different functions so it’s crucial we keep them running properly. The usual symptoms of kidney problems are change in the quality and color of your urine, vomiting, dizziness, nausea, breathing problems, anemia, fatigue, feeling cold all of the time, sudden pain, itchy skin, etc.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should visit a doctor in order to prevent kidney disease. Kidney problems and damage are caused by different factors, but the following 10 are considered the most common:
  1. Delaying urination
You need to understand that not emptying your bladder on time is the main cause of kidney damage. This way, your urine sits in your bladder, allowing bacteria to multiply quickly and increasing the risk of kidney and urinary tract infections. Delaying urination will eventually resultin renal failure – change the habit before it becomes too late!

  1. Insufficient water intake
Not drinking enough water can lead to serious kidney problems. When the body lacks water, the blood gets too concentrated which makes the blood flow to the kidneys reduced, leading to impaired kidney function and retaining toxins inside the body. Adults need to drink 10-12 glasses of water daily to keep properly hydrated, but don’t drink more as too much water can also harm the kidneys.
  1. High salt intake
Consuming excess amounts of salt can lead to serious kidney damage and serious diseases as well. 95% of the sodium we intake through food is metabolized by the kidneys, so consuming too much salt will overload the organs and reduce their function. This will result in water retention which can increase the risk of kidney disease and high blood pressure. According to studies, salt intake increases the amount of urinary protein, a major factor for kidney disease. The recommended amount of salt is 5 gr. daily, so you need to stick to it in order to prevent further problems.
  1. Regular analgesics use
People usually take analgesics and over-the-counter drugs to lower inflammation and fever and to reduce pain. However, this damages the kidneys and other organs. According to studies, analgesics can reduce the blood flow to the kidney and spoil their function, while long-term use of analgesics can cause acute kidney injury and intestinal nephritis. People with reduced kidney function should consult their doctor before taking painkillers – people with normal kidney functions should use carefully as well.
  1. High protein diet
Excess intake of protein-rich foods can increase the risk of kidney disease. Kidneys metabolize and eliminate nitrogenous waste from the body, which is a by-product of protein digestion. High protein intake raises the glomerular pressure and hyper filtration, increasing the metabolic load of the kidneys and the risk of kidney disease as well. Limit the amount of red meat you consume in order to prevent further complications.
  1. Too much alcohol
Alcohol is a powerful toxin that stresses the kidneys and other organs. Excessive alcohol intake can cause severe kidney damage, which is why you should limit the amount of your favorite drinks. Too much alcohol will store uric acid in the renal tubules, causing tubular obstruction and increasing the risk of renal failure. Alcohol will also dehydrate your organs and impair normal kidney function. The recommended daily amount of alcohol is 1 drink for women and old people, and 2 for men.
  1. Smoking
Smoking is bad for every organ in the body, but it’s especially harmful to your kidneys. According to the American Association of Kidney Patients, smoking is the #1 cause of end stage renal disease (ESRD). Smoking increases your heart rate and blood pressure while decreasing the blood flow and narrowing the blood vessels in the kidneys. This awful habit will aggravate existing kidney disease, and impair the organs’ normal function.
  1. Too much caffeine
Drinking too much coffee will raise your blood pressure and overload the kidneys, eventually leading to kidney damage. According to a 2002 study, consumption of caffeine is related to kidney stones, and coffee can also raise the concentration of calcium in your urine. On the other hand, consuming moderate amount of coffee is fine – 3 cups of tea and 1-2 cups of coffee daily is enough. However, you should know that caffeine is also present in cocoa, soft drinks, chocolate, certain drugs, which is why you need to eliminate them from your diet.
  1. Ignoring common infections
Ignoring coughs, colds, the flu, tonsillitis, pharyngitis and other common infections can result in kidney damage. Not treating these infections on time will overload the kidneys with bacteria and result in kidney damage, so take antibiotics and rest properly to prevent further problems.
  1. Lack of sleep
People ignore the importance of sleep due to our modern, hectic lifestyle. 6-8 hours of sleep is recommended for proper overall health. Organ tissues are being renewed overnight, so if you don’t rest properly, you interrupt this crucial process and damaging your organs, including the kidneys.
According to several studies, improper sleep can clog your arteries and increase your blood pressure, eventually increasing the risk of kidney damage. Try to balance work and rest, and adopt healthy sleeping habits to protect your kidneys and your overall health.

Why Japanese Woman Never Get Fat and Live the Longest

Japanese women have been holding the world record for longest living women with an average lifespan of 84.5 years. On top of that, they seem to never gain weight! So, what’s their secret?

Naomi Moriyama leads readers of her book “Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat” into her mother’s kitchen and gives us an insight on the Japanese secrets for long and healthy life. Moriyama says that Japanese women don’t gain weight as their traditional diet includes foods that aid weight loss such as fish, seaweed, fruit, soy, rice, vegetables and green tea. All these foods have anti-aging properties as well, which is why Japanese women always look young.
The Japanese eat homemade cooked meals mostly consisting of grilled fish, a bowl of rice, cooked vegetables, soup, green tea and fruits. They consume about 10% of all the fish in the world, although they make up 2% of the world’s population. Moriyama also notes that parents teach their children to eat slowly and appreciate every bite – this is why the Japanese never fill their bowls to the top or serve huge portions of food.
Japanese mealsareeasy – the food is slowly cooked, usually grilled or cooked, and instead of bread, the Japanese eat rice. A usual Japanese breakfast consists of many foods and drinks, including a piece of fish, rice, tofu, seaweed, soup, young garlic, omelet and green tea, all in small portions.
Sweet desserts are a rarity in Japanese cuisine, but even when served they are also small. It’s not that they don’t like chocolate or cookies – they simply realize the consequences and adverse side-effects of sweets on our health.
“Exercise is part of the daily routine in Japan and in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle they built an entire culture of biking, walking and hiking,” Moriyama concludes in her book.

7 Crazy Facts About Buddha You Didn’t Know

Here’s some things about Buddha that most people never know about:

Buddha was Most Likely Not a Vegetarian

Buddha had a certain creed that was important to him and his followers: do no harm.
That extended to animals and diet…hence many Buddhists are vegetarian today.
But Buddhists eat what is given to them, and do not request anything or complain; especially meat.
Because of this simple philosophy and Asia’s culinary history, it’s very likely that in his travels Buddha was offered meat and ate it.

Buddha was Canonized by the Christian Church

Buddha’s story spread by word of mouth quickly in the ancient world, but had many different “versions”.
European travelers documented their discovery of a religion known as Buddhism in Asia. They would often retell the stories.
This, of course, included the origin of Buddhism. But over time, the origin became the transformation of a sinner into a saint in Christianity…and instead of Buddha, it was Josaphat.
Many other stories were written about Josaphat, and his tales were loved by many Christians. They included healings and prophesying.
Eventually the tales became so popular that he was canonized into sainthood!
If you’d like to do more reading on this fascinating subject, you can read a book about it here.

Buddha Probably Didn’t have the Top-Knot Hair Bun

When Buddha’s stories began to across the world, Greek architecture and sculptures dominated artistry and influenced much of the work.
This also extended to Buddhist statues.
The hair bun, the toga style robe, the halo, and the stylistic realism are all elements that most likely came from Greece.
For more info, click here.

Buddha Treated Women Equally

Most monastic orders, especially at that time, did not allow females to participate.
But Buddha did.
This was a stark contrast to the exclusive Brahman caste of India, with its male dominated system.

The “Fat Buddha” was not Buddha

Many times, people think that the “fat Buddha” (often seen in Chinese restaurants) is Buddha; but that’s not true.
The fat Buddha is a representation of a Buddhist monk that lived in the early 900’s. This saintly monk was known as Hotei a Budai.
The confusion comes from the teaching that everyone is a Buddha themselves, but has yet to uncover it…but apparently this man did.
That’s why you’ll only see China with this depiction; the rest of Asia shows Buddha as slender.

Buddha did not Care about “Gods”

Buddhism was a stark contrast to many of the orthodox teachings of Hinduism in its day.
Perhaps the greatest example of this is the conception of gods in Buddhism: there are none!
Buddha did not believe that gods or goddess were really relevant to the supreme goal of enlightenment…therefore, they could be left out of the main teachings.
It’s up to the practitioner to find what works for them. But belief of their existence is needless.

Buddha’s Tooth

Supposedly, Buddha’s tooth is still around today.
It was removed during his cremation ceremony and smuggled into Sri Lanka where it is still present today.

Some Amazing and Unknown Facts. Did You Know?

Go ahead and check these weird facts that will sound totally untrue, but they’re not.
★ Ants never sleep.

★ When the moon is directly overhead, you will weigh slightly less.

★ Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, never called his wife or mother; because they were both deaf.
 image credits
image credits

★ An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.

★ “I Am” is the shortest complete sentence in the English language.

★ Babies are born without knee caps – actually, they’re made of cartilage 
and the bone hardens, between the ages of 2-6 years.
★ Happy Birthday (the song) is copyrighted.

★ Butterflies taste with their feet.

★ A “jiffy”, is an actual unit of time for 1/100th of a second.

★ It is impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.

★ Leonardo Da Vinci invented the scissors.

★ Minus 40° Celsius, is exactly the same as minus 40° Fahrenheit.

★ No word in the English language, rhymes with month – orange – silver -or- purple.

★ Shakespeare invented the words “assassination” and “bump”.

★ Stewardesses is the longest word typed with only the left hand.

★ Elephants are the only animals that cannot jump.

★ The names of all the continents end with the same letter that they start with.

★ The sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” 
uses every letter in the English language.

★ The shortest war in history was between Zanzibar and England in 1896. Zanzibar surrendered after 38 minutes.

★ The strongest muscle in the body is the tongue.

★ The word “lethologica” describes the state of not being able to remember the word you want.

★ Camels have three eyelids to protect themselves from the blowing desert sand.

★ TYPEWRITER is the longest word that can be made using the letters on only one row of the keyboard.

★ You can’t kill yourself by holding your breath.

★ Your stomach has to produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks or it will digest itself.

★ The dot over the letter “i” is called a ‘Tittle’.

6 Common Habits Of Unhappy People (And How To Be Happy)

If you know someone who has recently become depressed or simply unhappy in general, then you may want to look for these six bad habits to identify what kind of behavioral issues they are suffering from and how you can help them overcome these struggles.
Being unhappy or depressed can be a very energy consuming process that is constantly draining them of all motivation 24/7. It is important that you remain patient with them as they go at their own pace in restoring their happiness once again.

1. Future Worry

People who are depressed or unhappy usually have a sense of worry for what might happen in the future. They are never truly living in the moment and choose to look far ahead into their lives thinking of all the horrible outcomes they could suffer from.
It is important you try to remind them that they must live fully in the present, otherwise they will never truly be happy with what is going on in the future. Focus on the here and now, what they can improve on and how they can get themselves back to being happy.

2. Won't Let Go Of The Past

Depressed or unhappy people often dwell on their past mistakes and regret a lot of the things that they use to do. This ties to the first habit we discussed of not truly living in the present moment.
In order for them to regain their happiness, they are going to have to stop being so hard on themselves for previous mistakes that they will never be able to fix. They must be able to forgive themselves as well as whatever happened in order for them to move on officially.

3. Extremely Negative

Depressed or unhappy people will resort to extreme negative addictions. Usually food being the main go to for comfort or sometimes going even further to more dire substances like drug abuse and alcohol abuse for relieving themselves of existing.
It's important that we try to get them the help that they need in order to get over their nasty habits and for them to begin the recovery process from all of the horrible things they've consumed in the past years or however long they've been unhappy.

4. Impulse Spending

This is usually one of the more obvious habits of depressed and unhappy people is that they will impulsively buy things to get an additional emotional boost for themselves for a chance of feeling temporary peace within.
This can result in a very self-destructive manner, sometimes people do not know how to turn off their impulse buying and over-spend way too much money on things they never even needed to begin with.

5. Hard On Themselves/Others

People who are depressed or unhappy are more often than not hard on themselves as well as others. They find unnecessary criticisms to make on themselves and deliberately tell others what they are doing wrong without giving any friendly advice afterward.
They focus on the things that need desperate improvements, yet, they carry themselves in a very ugly way because of it. It's important to remind them that everyone is built differently and that it's not a competition between anyone but themselves.

6. Consistent Complaints

People who are depressed or unhappy tend to complain almost about everything. They have a hard time finding the bright side in things they want to enjoy, so they feel the need to let others know just how unhappy they are with whatever is going on. Even if it's the smallest of details, they can sometimes over-exaggerate just how big the problem really is. It's important to remind them that even if things aren't perfect, at least they still have the chance to experience something they've never had before.
Hopefully this has helped with identifying who is unhappy or depressed among your people, it's good to let them know that you will be there for them through thick and thin, regardless of whatever happens. If the situation appears to be way too out of control, then you may have to remove yourself from their life entirely.

How The Buddha Died

During Wesak Day, we are informed that it is also the day Buddha attained Parinibbana. But not many know how the Buddha died. Ancient texts weave two stories about the Lord Buddha's death. Was it planned and willed by the Buddha, or was it food poisoning, or something else altogether? Here's an account.

The Mahaparinibbana Sutta, from the Long Discourse of Pali Tipitaka, is without doubt the most reliable source for details on the death of Siddhattha Gotama (BCE 563-483), the Lord Buddha. It is composed in a narrative style that allows readers to follow the story of the last days of the Buddha, beginning a few months before he died.

To understand what really happened to the Buddha is not a simple matter, though. The sutta, or discourse, paints two conflicting personalities of the Buddha, one overriding the other. 

The first personality was that of a miracle worker who beamed himself and his entourage of monks across the Ganges River (D II, 89), who had a divine vision of the settlement of gods on earth (D II, 87), who could live until the end of the world on condition that someone invite him to do so (D II, 103), who determined the time of his own death (D II, 105), and whose death was glorified by the shower of heavenly flowers and sandal powder and divine music (D II, 138). 

The other personality was that of an aged being who was failing in health (D II, 120), who almost lost his life because of a severe pain during his last retreat at Vesali (D II, 100), and who was forced to come to terms with his unexpected illness and death after consuming a special cuisine offered by his generous host. 

These two personalities take turns emerging in different parts of the narrative. Moreover, there also appear to be two explanations of the Buddha's cause of death: One is that the Buddha died because his attendant, Ananda, failed to invite him to live on to the age of the world or even longer (D II, 117). The other is that he died by a sudden illness which began after he ate what is known as "Sukaramaddava" (D II, 127-157). 

The former story was probably a legend, or the result of a political struggle within the Buddhist community during a stage of transition, whereas the latter sounds more realistic and accurate in describing a real life situation that happened in the Buddha's last days.

A number of studies have focused on the nature of the special cuisine that the Buddha ate during his last meal as being the agent of his death. However, there is also another approach based on the description of the symptoms and signs given in the sutta, which modern medical knowledge can shed light on. 

In another mural painting at Wat Ratchasittharam, the Lord Buddha is approaching death, but he still takes time to answer questions put forth by the ascetic Subhadda, his last convert who, after being admitted to the Buddhist Order, became an arahant (enlightened monk).

What we know

In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, we are told that the Buddha became ill suddenly after he ate a special delicacy, Sukaramaddava, literally translated as "soft pork", which had been prepared by his generous host, Cunda Kammaraputta. The name of the cuisine has attracted the attention of many scholars, and it has been the focus of academic research on the nature of the meal or ingredients used in the cooking of this special dish. 

The sutta itself provides details concerning the signs and symptoms of his illness in addition to some reliable information about his circumstances over the previous four months, and these details are also medically significant.

The sutta begins with King Ajatasattus' plot to conquer a rival state, Vajji. The Buddha had journeyed to Vajji to enter his last rainy-season retreat. It was during this retreat that he fell ill. The symptoms of the illness were sudden, severe pain. 

However, the sutta provides no description of the location and character of his pain. It mentions his illness briefly, and says that the pain was intense, and almost killed him.

Subsequently, the Buddha was visited by Mara, the God of Death, who invited him to pass away. The Buddha did not accept the invitation right away. It was only after Ananda, his attendant, failed to recognise his hint for an invitation to remain that he died. This piece of the message, though tied up with myth and supernaturalism, gives us some medically significant information. When the sutta was composed, its author was under the impression that the Buddha died, not because of the food he ate, but because he already had an underlying illness that was serious and acute-and had the same symptoms of the disease that finally killed him.

The Timing

Theravada Buddhist tradition has adhered to the assumption that the historical Buddha passed away during the night of the full moon in the lunar month of Visakha (which falls sometime in May to June). But the timing contradicts information given in the sutta, which states clearly that the Buddha died soon after the rainy-season retreat, most likely during the autumn or mid-winter, that is, November to January.

A description of the miracle of the unseasonal blooming of leaves and flowers on the sala trees, when the Buddha was laid down between them, indicates the time frame given in the sutta. 
Autumn and winter, however, are seasons that are not favourable for the growth of mushrooms, which some scholars believe to be the source of the poison that the Buddha ate during his last meal.


The sutta tells us that the Buddha felt ill immediately after eating the Sukaramaddava. Since we do not know anything about the nature of this food, it is difficult to name it as the direct cause of the Buddha's illness. But from the descriptions given, the onset of the illness was quick. 

While eating, he felt there was something wrong with the food and he suggested his host have the food buried. Soon afterward, he suffered severe stomach pain and passed blood from his rectum. 
We can reasonably assume that the illness started while he was having his meal, making him think there was something wrong with the unfamiliar delicacy. Out of his compassion for others, he had it buried. 

Was food poisoning the cause of the illness? It seems unlikely. The symptoms described do not indicate food poisoning, which can be very acute, but would hardly cause diarrhoea with blood. Usually, food poisoning caused by bacteria does not manifest itself immediately, but takes an incubation period of two to 12 hours to manifest itself, normally with acute diarrhoea and vomiting, but not the passage of blood. 

Another possibility is chemical poisoning, which also has an immediate effect, but it is unusual for chemical poisoning to cause severe intestinal bleeding. Food poisoning with immediate intestinal bleeding could only have been caused by corrosive chemicals such as strong acids, which can easily lead to immediate illness. But corrosive chemicals should have caused bleeding in the upper intestinal tract, leading to vomiting blood. None of these severe signs are mentioned in the text.

Peptic ulcer diseases can be excluded from the list of possible illnesses as well. In spite of the fact that their onset is immediate, they are seldom accompanied by bloody stool. A gastric ulcer with intestinal bleeding produces black stool when the ulcer penetrates a blood vessel. An ulcer higher up in the digestive tract would be more likely to manifest itself as bloody vomiting, not a passage of blood through the rectum.

Other evidence against this possibility is that a patient with a large gastric ulcer usually does not have an appetite. By accepting the invitation for lunch with the host, we can assume that the Buddha felt as healthy as any man in his early 80s would feel. Given his age we cannot rule out that the Buddha did not have a chronic disease, such as cancer or tuberculosis or a tropical infection such as dysentery or typhoid, which could have been quite common in the Buddha's time. 

These diseases could produce bleeding of the lower intestine, depending on their location. They also agree with the history of his earlier illness during the retreat. But they can be ruled out, since they are usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, weight loss, growth or mass in the abdomen. None of these symptoms were mentioned in the sutta.

A large haemorrhoid can cause severe rectal bleeding, but it is unlikely that a haemorrhoid could cause severe abdominal pain unless it is strangulated. But then it would have greatly disturbed the walking of the Buddha to the house of his host, and rarely is haemorrhoid bleeding triggered by a meal.

Mesenteric infarction

A disease that matches the described symptoms-accompanied by acute abdominal pain and the passage of blood, commonly found among elderly people, and triggered by a meal-is mesenteric infarction, caused by an obstruction of the blood vessels of the mesentery. It is lethal. Acute mesenteric ischaemia (a reduction in the blood supply to the mesentery) is a grave condition with a high rate of mortality.

The mesentery is a part of the intestinal wall that binds the whole intestinal tract to the abdominal cavity. An infarction of the vessels of the mesentery normally causes the death of the tissue in a large section of the intestinal tract, which results in a laceration of the intestinal wall. 

This normally produces severe pain in the abdomen and the passage of blood. The patient usually dies of acute blood loss. This condition matches the information given in the sutta. It is also confirmed later when the Buddha asked Ananda to fetch some water for him to drink, indicating intense thirst. 

As the story goes, Ananda refused, as he saw no source for clean water. He argued with the Buddha that the nearby stream had been muddied by a large caravan of carts. But the Buddha insisted he fetch water anyway. 

A question arises at this point: Why did the Buddha not go to the water himself, instead of pressing his unwilling attendant to do so? The answer is simple. The Buddha was suffering from shock caused by severe blood loss. He could no longer walk, and from then to his death bed he was most likely carried on a stretcher. 

If this was indeed the situation, the sutta remains silent about the Buddha's travelling to his deathbed, possibly because the author felt that it would be an embarrassment for the Buddha. Geographically, we know that the distance between the place believed to be the house of Cunda and the place where the Buddha died was about 15 to 20 kilometres. It is not possible for a patient with such a grave illness to walk such a distance. 

More likely, what happened was that the Buddha was carried on a stretcher by a group of monks to Kusinara (Kushinagara). 

It remains a point of debate whether the Buddha really determined to pass away at this city, presumably not much larger than a town. From the direction of the Buddha's journey, given in the sutta, he was moving north from Rajagaha. It is possible that he did not intend to die there, but in the town where he was born, which would have taken a period of three months to reach.

From the sutta, it is clear that the Buddha was not anticipating his sudden illness, or else he would not have accepted the invitation of his host. Kusinara was probably the nearest town where he could find a doctor to take care of him. It is not difficult to see a group of monks hurriedly carrying the Buddha on a stretcher to the nearest town to save his life.

Before passing away, the Buddha told Ananda that Cunda was not to be blamed and that his death was not caused by eating Sukaramaddava. The statement is significant. The meal was not the direct cause of his death. The Buddha knew that the symptom was a repeat of an experience he'd had a few months earlier, the one which had almost killed him.

Sukaramaddava, no matter the ingredients or how it was cooked, was not the direct cause of his sudden illness.

Progression of the disease

Mesenteric infarction is a disease commonly found among elderly people, caused by the obstruction of the main artery that supplies the middle section of the bowel-the small intestine-with blood. The most common cause of the obstruction is the degeneration of the wall of the blood vessel, the superior mesenteric artery, causing severe abdominal pain, also known as abdominal angina.

Normally, the pain is triggered by a large meal, which requires a higher flow of blood to the digestive tract. As the obstruction persists, the bowel is deprived of its blood supply, which subsequently leads to an infarction, or gangrene, of a section of the intestinal tract. This in turn results in a laceration of the intestinal wall, profuse bleeding into the intestinal tract, and then bloody diarrhoea.

The disease gets worse as the liquid and content of the intestine oozes out into the peritoneal cavity, causing peritonitis or inflammation of the abdominal walls. This is already a lethal condition for the patient, who often dies due to the loss of blood and other fluid. If it is not corrected by surgery, the disease often progresses to septic shock due to bacterial toxins infiltrating the blood stream.

Retrospective analysis

From the diagnosis given above, we can be rather certain that the Buddha suffered from mesenteric infarction caused by an occlusion of the superior mesenteric artery. This was the cause of the pain that almost killed him a few months earlier during his last rainy-season retreat.

With the progress of the illness, some of the mucosal lining of his intestine sloughed off, and this site became the origin of the bleeding. Arteriosclerosis, the hardening of the vessel wall caused by ageing, was the cause of the arterial occlusion, a small blockage that did not result in bloody diarrhoea, but is a symptom, also known to us as abdominal angina.

He had his second attack while he was eating the Sukaramaddava. The pain was probably not intense in the beginning, but made him feel that there was something wrong. Suspicious about the nature of the food, he asked his host to have it all buried, so that others might not suffer from it.

Soon, the Buddha realised that the illness was serious, with the passage of blood and more severe pain in his abdomen. Due to the loss of blood, he went into shock. The degree of dehydration was so severe that he could not maintain himself any longer and he had to take shelter at a tree along the way. 

Feeling very thirsty and exhausted, he got Ananda to collect water for him to drink, even though he knew that the water was muddied. It was there that he collapsed until his entourage carried him to the nearest town, Kusinara, where there would have been a chance of finding a doctor or lodging for him to recover in. 

It was probably true that the Buddha got better after drinking to replace his fluid loss, and resting on the stretcher. The experience with the symptoms told him that his sudden illness was the second attack of an existing disease. He told Ananda that the meal was not the cause of his illness, and that Cunda was not to blame.

A patient with shock, dehydration and profuse blood loss usually feels very cold. This was the reason why he told his attendant to prepare a bed using four sheets of ifsanghati nf. According to Buddhist monastic discipline, a ifsanghati nfis a cloak, or extra piece of robe, very large, the size of a bed sheet, which the Budd ha allowed monks and nuns to wear in winter.

This information reflects how cold the Buddha felt because of his loss of blood. Clinically, it is not possible for a patient who is in a state of shock with severe abdominal pain, most likely peritonitis, pale and shivering, to be ambulatory. 

The Buddha was most likely put into a lodging, where he was nursed and warmed, located in the city of Kusinara. This view is also confirmed with the description of Ananda who, weeping, swoons and holds onto the door of his lodge after learning that the Buddha was about to pass away.

Normally, a patient with mesenteric infarction could live 10 to 20 hours. From the sutta we learn that the Buddha died about 15 to 18 hours after the attack. During that time, his attendants would have tried their best to comfort him, for example, by warming the room where he was resting, or by dripping some water into his mouth to quench his lingering thirst, or by giving him some herbal drinks. But it would be highly unlikely that a shivering patient would need someone to fan him as is described in the sutta. 

Off and on, he may have recovered from a state of exhaustion, allowing him to continue his dialogues with a few people. Most of his last words could have been true, and they were memorised by generations of monks until they were transcribed. But finally, late into the night, the Buddha died during a second wave of septic shock. His illness stemmed from natural causes coupled with his age, just as it would for anyone else.


The hypothesis outlined above explains several scenes in the narrative of the sutta, namely, the pressuring of Ananda to fetch water, the Buddha's request for a fourfold cloak for his bed, the ordering of the meal to be buried, and so on.

It also reveals another possibility of the actual means of transportation of the Buddha to Kusinara and the site of his death bed. Sukaramaddava, whatever its nature, was unlikely to have been the direct cause of his illness. The Buddha did not die by food poisoning. Rather, it was the size of the meal, relatively too large for his already troubled digestive tract, that triggered the second attack of mesenteric infarction that brought an end to his life./.

By Dr Mettanando Bhikkhu

Dr Mettanando Bhikkhu was a physician before entering the monkhood. He is currently based at Wat Raja Orasaram, Thailand.

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