Venerable, the Elder (thera)
Thai statue of Ānanda
Religion Buddhism
Known for Memory, service to others
Born Kapilavatthu
Died (aged 120) Between the borders of Kapilavatthu and Devadaha
Parents Sakiya King Amitodana (father), Mrgī (mother)
Senior posting
Title Aggaupaṭṭhāyaka – foremost personal attendant of the Buddha
Predecessor Several other temporary attendants
Religious career
Teacher The Buddha, Belatthasīsa, Punna Māntāniputta
Students Sabbakāmī, etc.
Initiation By the Buddha himself
Translations of
Burmese အာနန္ဒာ
Chinese 阿難
Khmer ព្រះអនន្ដ
(Preah Anon)
Sinhalese ආනන්ද මහ රහතන් වහන්සේ
Thai พระอานนท์
(RTGS: Phra Anon)
Glossary of Buddhism

Ānanda was the attendant of the Buddha, a first cousin of him and one of his ten principal disciples.[1] Among the Buddha's many disciples, Ānanda stood out for having the most retentive memory. Most of the texts of the Sutta Pitaka are attributed to his recollection of the Buddha's teachings during the First Buddhist Council. For that reason, he was known as the Guardian of the Dharma.


The word Ānanda means 'bliss' in Pāli language, as well as in Sanskrit and some other Indian languages. It is a popular name in India and South-East Asia, especially Indonesia.

In the text Kannakatthala Sutta [note 1], the meaning of Ānanda's name is explained:

"Then King Pasenadi Kosala said to the Blessed One [the Buddha], 'Lord, what is the name of this monk?'
'His name is Ānanda, great king.'
'What a joy he is! What a true joy!'"


Early life

Tradition says that Ānanda was the first cousin of the Buddha,[2] his father Amitodana being the brother of Suddhodana, the Buddha's father.[3] The Mahāvastu states that Ānanda's mother's name was Mrgī ('little deer'),[4] who is named in the Kanjur and Sanghabedavastu as one of Prince Siddhattha Gotama's harem wives (prior to his leaving the palace and becoming a monk), pointing to the possibility that Ānanda was in fact the Buddha's son.[5] The Pāli language tradition has it, however, that Ānanda was born on the same day as Prince Siddhatta.[4]

Following the Pāli Canon and its commentaries, Ānanda becomes a monk in the second year of the Buddha's ministry, together with other princes of the Buddha's clan. He is ordained by the Buddha himself.[3][4] Ānanda's first teachers are Belaṭṭhasisa and Puṇṇa Mantāniputta. It is Puṇṇa's teaching that leads Ānanda to attain the stage of sotāpanna, an attainment preceding that of enlightenment, and Ānanda later expresses his debt to Puṇṇa.[4]

Becoming the Buddha's attendant

In the first twenty years of the Buddha's ministry, he has several personal attendants. However, after these twenty years, the Buddha announces his need for a permanent attendant.[3][4] The Buddha has been growing older, and his previous attendants did not do their job very well.[4] Initially, several of the Buddha's foremost disciples respond to his request, but the Buddha did not accept them. All the while Ānanda remains quiet. When he is asked why, he says that the Buddha will know best who to choose, upon which the Buddha responds by choosing Ānanda. Ānanda agrees to take on the role, on the condition that he does not receive any material benefits from the Buddha. Accepting such benefits would open him up to criticism that he chose the position because of ulterior motives. He also requests that the Buddha allows him to accept invitations on his behalf, allows him to ask questions about his doctrine, and repeats any teaching that has been taught in Ānanda's absence.[3][4] These requests would help people trust Ānanda and show that the Buddha was sympathetic to his attendant.[4]

The Buddha agrees to Ānanda's conditions, and Ānanda becomes the Buddha's attendant, accompanying the Buddha on most of his wanderings. Ānanda takes care of the Buddha's daily practical needs, by doing things such as bringing water and cleaning the Buddha's room. He is depicted as observant.[4] Ānanda also often takes the part of interlocutor in many of the recorded dialogues.[6] He attends the Buddha for a total of 25 years;[2][4] his relationship with the Buddha is depicted as warm and trusting.[7] When the Buddha grows ill, Ānanda has a sympathetic illness.[4]

Ānanda sometimes literally risks his life for his master. Once the monk Devadatta tries to kill the Buddha by having a drunk and wild elephant released. Ānanda steps in front of the Buddha to protect him. When the Buddha tells him to move, he refuses, although normally he always obeys the Buddha.[4] The Buddha then uses supernatural powers (Pali: iddhi) to move Ānanda aside and brings the elephant down through touching and speaking to it with loving-kindness.[8]

Ānanda often acts as an intermediary, passing on messages from the Buddha, informing the Buddha of news, invitations, or needs of lay people, and advising lay people who want to provide gifts to the saṅgha. It is described that Ānanda plants a Bodhi tree as a symbol of the Buddha's enlightenment, to give people the chance to pay their respects when the Buddha is away travelling. This tree came to be known as the Ānanda Bodhi Tree,[4] and it is identified with a tree in Sravasti.

Ānanda is the subject of a special panegyric delivered by the Buddha just before the Buddha's death, as described in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta;[note 2] it is a panegyric for a man who is kindly, unselfish, popular, and thoughtful toward others.[6]

Setting up the nun's order

Early Buddhist Texts attribute the inclusion of women in the early saṅgha (monastic order) to Ānanda.[9] The Buddha concedes and permits his step-mother Mahāpajapati to be ordained as a nun (bhikkhuni) only after Ānanda prevails upon the Buddha that if women possess the potential for awakening, they should be allowed to pursue the same monastic vocation as men.[10] However, after the death of the Buddha, Ānanda is accused by the members of the saṅgha for having enabled women to join the monastic order in this manner.[11][12]

During and after the Buddha's death

Despite his long association with and close proximity to the Buddha, the texts describe that Ānanda did not become enlightened yet. However, the Buddha says before his death that the purity of Ānanda's heart is so great that,

"Should Ānanda die without being fully liberated, he would be king of the Gods seven times because of the purity of his heart, or be king of the Indian subcontinent seven times. But ... Ānanda will experience final liberation in this very life".[note 3]

According to the Pāli tradition, Ānanda hears and memorizes many of the discourses the Buddha delivered to various audiences, because Ānanda attends the Buddha personally and often travels with him. Therefore, he is often referred to as the disciple of the Buddha who "heard much". At the First Buddhist Council held in Rājagaha in 480 BCE, shortly after the Buddha has died, the presiding monk Mahākassapa calls upon Ānanda to recite many discourses, which later become the collection of discourses (Sutta Pitaka) of the Pāli Canon.[3][13] Ānanda is consulted to determine which discourses are authentic, and which are not.[12] Ānanda therefore plays a crucial role in this council.[2]

Prior to the First Buddhist Council, it is proposed that Ānanda not be permitted to attend, on the grounds that he is not yet a fully enlightened disciple (arahant), unlike the rest of the council, which consists of five hundred arahants. According to legend, however, Ānanda feels prompted to focus his efforts and he is able to reach enlightenment before the convening of the conclave.[2]

Ānanda lives a long life, teaching till the end of his life.[3]

Role and character

According to Buddhist tradition, every Buddha in the past and future will have two chief disciples and one attendant during his ministry. In the case of Gautama Buddha, the pair of chief disciples were Sāriputta and Moggallāna and the attendant was Ānanda.

In the long list of the disciples given in the Anguttara Nikaya,[note 4] where each of them is declared to be foremost in some quality, Ānanda is mentioned five times (more often than any other). He was named foremost in conduct, in service to others, and in power of memory.[6] The texts say that the Buddha sometimes asks Ānanda to substitute for him as teacher, later stating that he himself would not have presented the teachings in any other way.

Nevertheless, in contrast to most of the figures depicted in the Pāli Canon, Ānanda is presented as an imperfect, if sympathetic, figure. He mourns the deaths of both Sāriputta, with whom he enjoyed a close friendship, and the Buddha. A verse of the Theragatha[14] reveals his loneliness and isolation following the death of the Buddha.

In the Zen tradition, Ānanda is considered to be the second Indian patriarch. He is often depicted with the Buddha, alongside Mahākassapa (Sanskrit: Mahākāśyapa), who is considered the first Indian patriarch. In the iconography of the Mahāyāna tradition, Ānanda is sometimes depicted flanking the Buddha Vairocana.[15]

Death and relics

Ānanda dies at the river Ganges.[16]

Between 1856 and 1858 Richard Wagner wrote an opera about Ānanda and the character Prakriti, called Die Sieger. He never finished it, but the draft was used by composer Jonathan Harvey in his 2007 opera Wagner Dream.[17]

See also


  1. MN 90.
  2. DN 16.
  3. AN 3.80
  4. Page i. xiv.


  1. "Ananda — The Man Whom Everybody Liked".
  2. 1 2 3 4 Powers, John (2013). "Ānanda". A Concise Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Oneworld Publications. ISBN 978-1-78074-476-6.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Keown 2004, p. 12.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Malalasekera 1960, Ānanda.
  5. Garling, Wendy (2016). Stars at Dawn: Forgotten Stories of Women in the Buddha's Life. Shambhala Publications. pp. 9–106.
  6. 1 2 3  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Rhys Davids, Thomas William (1911). "Ānanda". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 913.
  7. Mcneill, William (2011). Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History (2nd ed.). Berkshire Publishing Group. p. 270. ISBN 978-1-61472-904-4.
  8. Malalasekera 1960, Nālāgiri.
  9. Violatti, Cristian (9 December 2013). "Siddhartha Gautama". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  10. Gross, Rita M. (2013). "Buddhist Perspectives on Gender Issues" (PDF). In Emmanuel, Steven M. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy (1st ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. p. 665. ISBN 978-0-470-65877-2.
  11. Chakravarti, Uma. The Social Dimensions of Early Buddhism. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.
  12. 1 2 Keown 2004, p. 164.
  13. Thorp, Charley Linden (3 April 2017). "The Evolution of Buddhist Schools". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  14. Olendzki, Andrew. "Ānanda Thera: Ānanda Alone". accesstoinsight.org.
  15. Pagani, Catherine (2009). "Longmen Grottoes". In Cheng, Linsun. Berkshire Encyclopedia of China. 3. Berkshire Publishing Group. p. 1349. ISBN 978-1-61472-898-6.
  16. John S. Strong (2007). Relics of the Buddha. pp. 45–46.
  17. "Jonathan Harvey's Wagner Dream, Opera on 3 - BBC Radio 3". BBC. May 2012.


Further reading

  • Bigandet, Paul Ambrose (1858). The life or legend of Gaudama, the Budha of the Burmese, with annotations, Rangoon: Pegu Press vol. 1, vol. 2
  • Inoue, Hirofumi (2006). The Excuse of Ananda, 井上博文 - Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies 54 (3), 69-74
Buddhist titles
Preceded by
Lineage of Buddhist patriarchs
(According to the Zen schools of China and Japan)
Succeeded by
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