Ananda, whose name appears in many scriptures, served Shakyamuni, for years as a personal attendant, seldom leaving his side. Because he had so many opportunities to hear the Buddha speak and because he understood and recalled perfectly what he heard, he was known as foremost in hearing many teachings.
Ananda and his older brother, Devadatta, who would become infamous for his attempts to disrupt the Sangha and for his many assaults on the Buddha, were among the group of six young Shakya nobles who, with the barber Upali, together requested permission to join the Sangha. Although Upali and the others received their ordinations immediately, Ananda and Devadatta were not permitted to do so.
At the time, many young Shakya aristocrats from the city of Kapilavatthu were abandoning secular life for the life of religion. Ananda had requested his parents' permission to do the same, but owing to his mother's intense love for him and her dread of losing him, permission had been denied.
One night, gathering his valuables together, Ananda left home to study with a hermit in Videha. Hearing that Ananda had left home and taken a vow of silence, his mother realized that she was powerless to stop him and finally gave him permission to follow the religious life.
Upon learning this, Ananda immediately went to Devadatta, who had asked Ananda to take him along when he went to join the Sangha. Devadatta had already asked to be allowed to join once but had been refused. Shakyamuni had told him he was unsuited to a life of religious discipline and should remain at home, accumulate wealth and acquire merit through charitable works. Nonetheless, Devadatta decided that if Ananda was going, he too would try again.
Together with four other Shakya nobles, Ananda and Devadatta went to the place where Shakyamuni was staying. But Ananda and Devadatta were discouraged when their request to enter the Sangha was rejected. They then became disciples of an ascetic under whom they trained
in a forest near the Bamboo Grove Monastery, but they could not rid their minds of the noble image of the Buddha. After a while Ananda and Devadatta approached Shakyamuni again, made obeisance to him by touching their foreheads to his feet, and repeated their request: "Please admit us into the Sangha. We will follow any discipline imposed on us and will never depart from your teachings."
No doubt taking pity on them because of the desperate expression on Ananda's face and lending an ear to other members of the Sangha who urged their acceptance, the Buddha assented and the two were ordained.
From that day forward, Ananda devoted himself to training and discipline. But by nature a gentle, sympathetic person, he found breaking with the delusions of the world very difficult. It was probably because Shakyamuni had perceived that Ananda was innately ill suited to a life of severe religious discipline and had wished to make Ananda realize this for himself that he had at first refused to grant Ananda's request to enter the Sangha. But Ananda made great efforts to overcome his weaknesses.
After some time had passed, Shakyamuni spoke one day to a gathering of disciples including Sariputta, Moggallana, Maha-Kassapa and other senior monks at the Bamboo Grove Monastery. He said, "I am now in my mid-fifties and am weak and unable to do everything for myself. I need an attendant. Would you choose one for me?"
The senior monks were deeply moved to see how weary Shakyamuni had grown from severe discipline and strenuous teaching. One of them, named Kondanna, stepped forward and expressed willingness to assume the responsibility. With deep compassion, Shakyamuni looked into his upturned, expectant face and said, "Kondanna , I am pleased by your offer, but you are as old as I and need an attendant yourself."
One by one Sariputta, Moggallana, Maha-Kassapa, Kacchayana and the other senior monks offered to serve as attendant, but Shakyamuni declined all their offers. Then Moggallana, foremost in supernatural powers, suddenly realized that Shakyamuni had already selected the person he wanted to serve him. Immediately entering a state of profound meditative concentration, he saw what was in the Buddha's mind: the figure of the young monk Ananda. Emerging from his state of meditation, he went at once to the grove where the young man was meditating and told him that he should serve as Shakyamuni's attendant.
Ananda replied that it was unthinkable that a person with so few qualifications should perform such a service for the Buddha, the supreme teacher. Moggallana replied, "Ananda, listen well. Shakyamuni wants you to serve him. Even knowing that, do you refuse?"
A great joy welled up in Ananda's heart at the news that Shakyamuni, who had found the Way, knew the true nature of all things, and was endowed with all wisdom and virtue, should have chosen him, immature as he was, to be his attendant. In the next instant, however, he reproved himself for his elation and told himself that he could not carry out the great task facing him unless he was sober in his thinking. He saw that he would have to be pure in mind and restrained in body.
Accompanied by Moggallana, Ananda approached Shakyamuni and requested that the Buddha hear the three vows he had made. Shakyamuni assented, and Ananda said, "First, I vow never to accept any garments from the master. Second, I will never sit in any place prepared in homage to the master. Third, I vow never to enter the master's presence except at appointed times. Please hear these three vows that I have made in my heart."
Ananda had realized that the other members of the Sangha and lay believers might accord him special deference because he would be by the Buddha's side. Aware of his own immaturity in training and discipline, he had resolved to be discreet, avoid pride, and never stray from the true path.
The Buddha nodded upon hearing the vows that resulted from this determination. From that day until the Buddha's death, twenty-five years later, Ananda served his master faithfully and was always with him. It is said that he was chosen for this task at the age of twenty-five, five years after he had become a member of the Sangha,
Rather than merely follow Shakyamuni's instructions, Ananda heard many teachings, understood and remembered them all, and sometimes requested guidance from the Buddha on his own initiative. Once, in the village of Saccharin in the kingdom of the Shakyas, he asked the Buddha whether association with good trends was of value in pursuing the Way.
Shakyamuni replied, "Ananda, association with good friends is the whole Way." Suddenly Ananda realized that the Buddha, having liberated himself from all desires and attained perfect enlightenment, was pursuing. the Way in the company of his friends, including Ananda himself and the other members of the Sangha.
Shakyamuni then known as Siddhartha - had been cared by his aunt Mahapajapati after the early death of his mother, Maya. When his father, King Suddhodana, died, she requested permission to join the Sangha. At first Shakyamuni refused because she was a woman. It is said that Ananda pleaded with the Buddha to allow women to become members of the Sangha. A central figure in the founding of the women's Sangha, Ananda earned the respect of the many women who became nuns. In fact, Ananda's compassionate nature and engaging personality, attracted everyone. And because of his gentle and beautiful face, women often became infatuated with him. Once he even had to be saved from the danger of seduction by Shakyamuni's supernatural powers.
Ananda suffered greatly when Shakyamuni eighty years old and ill, approached the hour of his death. In accordance with custom, at the start of the rainy season Shakyamuni and Ananda had stopped traveling and taken up residence on the outskirts of Vesali, the capital of the Vajji confederation.
As Ananda looked after Shakyamuni's needs, he began to fear that his master would die soon. But Ananda believed that Shakyamuni would not leave the Sangha without final instructions. Diligently fulfilling his duties, Ananda watched Shakyamuni slowly recover.
When Ananda asked Shakyamuni about the possibility of his dying without saying, something in farewell to the monks and nuns, Shakyamuni told him, "I have already revealed all the teachings; nothing remains for me to explain. Ananda, do not grieve for me after my death. When I have departed, rely on yourself, rely on the Dharma,and be diligent in following the Way."
Resuming his travels after the rainy season, Shakyamuni came to the village of Pava, in the kingdom of Malla. After eating a meal offered him by a local blacksmith named Chunda, he fell seriously ill again. Nevertheless, he continued his journey; but by the time he reached Kusinara his reserves of strength were exhausted. He quietly instructed Ananda to spread his bedding and lay down with his head to the north.
Realizing that Shakyamuni's death was near, Ananda wept bitterly, but Shakyamuni said to him, "Ananda, you have served me well. Do not grieve. Though I disappear from this world, I live forever. Follow my instructions, keep the teachings and the precepts diligently, and find perfect enlightenment as soon as possible."
Ananda took this counsel to heart and, as a result of his diligence, finally attained enlightenment after the Buddha's death. At the time of the First Council he performed a key service in the compilation of the scriptures by reciting all the teachings he had heard from Shakyamuni.