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MEAL, THE BUDDHA’S LAST

The Dīgha Nikāya records that before the Buddha passed away he ate a meal given to him by a blacksmith named Cunda. This meal consisted of a preparation called sūkaramaddava which can be translated as ‘pig’s delight’ (D.II,127). There has been a great deal of speculation as to what this meal consisted of. Some say that it was a pork dish, which is quite possible, as the Buddha was not a vegetarian and did not advocate vegetarianism. One of the more bizarre theories and one that has gained wide acceptance, is that it was a type of truffle. Early European scholars of Buddhism theorized that because the French use trained pigs to find truffles, the ‘pig’s delight’ mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures might be a variety of truffle. This theory is based on the false premise that what is so of the French countryside must have been so in ancient India. In fact, truffles do not grow in India and the use of trained pigs to find them even in France is a recent practice. Thus the theory that the Buddha’s last meal was truffles is without any foundation.
Equally unfounded theories, presumably derived from this first one, is that the Buddha died of eating poison mushrooms, from food poisoning or even that he was poisoned. Again, the facts contradict such fanciful speculations. All we can say is that sūkaramaddava was some kind of preparation, the ingredients of which have long ago been forgotten.
In the months before his passing the Buddha had suffered ‘a severe illness causing him sharp pains as if he were to die’ and which he ‘endured mindfully, fully aware and without complaint’ (D.II,99). He was 80 years old, unusually long-lived for the time, and Ānanda described him at this stage as having ‘slack and wrinkled limbs and being stooped’ (S.V,217). He himself said that his body could ‘only be kept going by being patched up’ (D.II,100). After his last meal, he had a severe bout of ‘diarrhoea with blood’ (lohitapakkhandikā), a continuation of the sickness he had been suffering from for some time, and later the next day he passed away. Obviously the Buddha died of the typical complications brought on by exhaustion, sickness and old age, not because of what he had eaten the day before.
From the Buddhist perspective the only significance of the Buddha’s last meal is that it demonstrated once again his infinite capacity for compassion. When he realized that the end was near, he immediately thought that Cunda might be blamed for causing his death. To prevent this from happening he instructed Ānanda to return to Cunda’s village and tell him that to serve a Buddha his last meal was a most auspicious and blessed act. Thus, even being sick, exhausted and nearing death the Buddha’s only thought was for the welfare of others. See Diet and Kusinārā.

The Last Days of the Buddha, trans. by Sister Vajira and Francis Story, 1988.

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