Buddha Has To Stretch His Back

Hey friends,

I read a part of a book about Ananda at a Goenka retreat years ago and I remember a Sutta where the Buddha was teaching and then asked Ananda to continue teaching the Dhamma because he needed to stretch himself.

Has anyone come across this or any other Suttas indicating the Buddha had back problems or pains and stretched from time to time?

I will keep looking also.




here’s one passage:

“Ānanda, let there occur to you a learner’s course for the Sakyans of Kapilavatthu; my back is aching, I will stretch it.” “Yes, revered sir,” the venerable Ānanda answered the Lord in assent. Then the Lord, having folded his outer robe into four, lay down on his right side in the lion posture, foot resting on foot, mindful, clearly conscious, reflecting on the thought of getting up again.
MN 53


By memory, I feel as though, I’ve come across it a bunch of times. It’s a bit more tricky locating exactly where. As a quick off the cuff thought, building on the sutta tsilva mentioned is a search for the phrase, “Piṭṭhi me āgilāyati” (Results here). I’m sure there are better ways of searching, but I guess it’s a start.

Actually, that sounded remarkably like something I’d read lately (and I haven’t read MN lately). I then worked out it’s in SN 35, which I was reading through last week, specifically SN 35.243. In this case the Buddha asks Moggallana rather than Ananda to take over (and we’ve got the lion’s posture thing again):

Yes, venerable sir,” they replied. Then they rose from their seats and, after paying homage to the Blessed One, keeping him on their right, they departed. Then, not long after the Sakyans of Kapilavatthu had left, the Blessed One addressed the Venerable Mahamoggallana thus: “The Saṅgha of bhikkhus is free from sloth and torpor, Moggallana. Give a Dhamma talk to the bhikkhus. My back is aching, so I will stretch it.”

“Yes, venerable sir,” the Venerable Mahamoggallana replied.

Then the Blessed One prepared his outer robe folded in four and lay down on his right side in the lion’s posture, with one foot overlapping the other, mindful and clearly comprehending, after noting in his mind the idea of rising. Thereupon the Venerable Mahamoggallana addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Friends, bhikkhus!”

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I am reading through A.N. and saw this at least a couple times so far. It sounds like it was something he made no secrets of-- he had back pain and needed to stretch his back from time to time. There is one Sutta where the Buddha asks Ananda to give an explanation to a question asked while he stretches his back and rests. When you think about it that is pretty incredible and meaningful. He knew to take care of himself and ask for other’s help.

DN 16:

I, Ānanda, at present, am old, elderly, of great age, far gone, advanced in years, I am eighty years old. It is like, Ānanda, an old cart, which only keeps going when shored up with bamboo, just so, Ānanda, I think the Realised One’s body only keeps going when shored up with bamboo.

When the Realised One doesn’t pay attention, Ānanda, to any of the signs, when all feelings have ceased, he lives having established the signless mind-concentration, and at that time, Ānanda, the Realised One’s body is most comfortable.

The idea (and I hear this a lot) that pain is to be met with ongoing mindful awareness is… romantic, but not always realistic. I’m reminded of SN 22.87, where a Noble was unable to sustain themselves with ongoing awareness in just such a case of bodily pain.


As a counterpoint, SN 52.10 relates how Anuruddha chose to dwell in the four satipatthana when he was in intense pain:

On one occasion the Venerable Anuruddha was dwelling at Savatthi in the Blind Mens’ Grove, sick, afflicted, gravely ill. Then a number of bhikkhus approached the Venerable Anuruddha and said to him:
“In what dwelling does the Venerable Anuruddha usually dwell so that the arisen bodily painful feelings do not persist obsessing his mind?”
"It is, friends, because I dwell with a mind well established in the four establishments of mindfulness that the arisen bodily feelings do not persist obsessing my mind. What four? Here, friend, I dwell contemplating the body in the body … feelings in feelings … mind in mind … phenomena in phenomena, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world.
“It is, friends, because I dwell with a mind well established in the four establishments of mindfulness that the arisen bodily feelings do not persist obsessing my mind.”

Another example is from SN 1.38, when the Buddha’s foot was badly injured by the stone splinter:

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Rajagaha in the Maddakucchi Deer Park. Now on that occasion the Blessed One’s foot had been cut by a stone splinter. Severe pains assailed the Blessed One—bodily feelings that were painful, racking, sharp, piercing, harrowing, disagreeable. But the Blessed One endured them, mindful and clearly comprehending, without becoming distressed. Then the Blessed One had his outer robe folded in four, and he lay down on his right side in the lion posture with one leg overlapping the other, mindful and clearly comprehending.

Since both Anuruddha and the Buddha were well-known for their mastery of samadhi, we assume they could easily have escaped the pain into a jhana or formless attainment. But, at least on these occasions, they chose to remain mindful and clearly aware.

I would speculate that their minds remain undisturbed regardless, but, with chronic or long-lasting pain, the constant pinging on the mind may become wearying and the automatic tensing of the muscles around the pain may call for a physical rest every now and then. The deeper states of samadhi would provide rest for both body and mind, allowing one to emerge refreshed and energetic again.


Or, pain-filled mindfulness gets more difficult with age? Maybe the DN cite I gave is later than these other texts?

I don’t think remaining mindful and unruffled by pain would get more difficult with age for a noble one, or even for someone whose insight into anicca/dukkha/anatta has been deep enough. But perhaps the body has more sources of “pinging” on the mind, all clamoring at the same time and resulting in the weariness and need for rest coming sooner. That seems to be the direction my body is heading!

It’s hard to get much later in the Buddha’s life than DN 16, isn’t it? :wink: But I thought the stone splinter incident occurred near the end of the Buddha’s life too. That chronology may be based on a commentarial explanation, though.

Already mentioned were AN 10.67, AN 10.68, SN 35.243, MN 53. I would add AN 9.4.

And also see SN 48.41

Then the Venerable Ananda approached the Blessed One. Having approached and paid homage, while massaging the Blessed One’s limbs, he said to him: “It is wonderful, venerable sir! It is amazing, venerable sir! The Blessed One’s complexion is no longer pure and bright, his limbs are all flaccid and wrinkled, his body is stooped, and some alteration is seen in his faculties.

Just a minor nit-picking. I think the Pali text says “certain feelings” not “all feelings”. Back to topic.


This does change the tenor, however; maybe it pulls together the idea that mindfulness during pain is both mindfulness of impermanence, and also mindfulness of the emptiness of pain from other ‘feels’?

Pain that prevents samadhi (or even sati?) seems to be the tipping point.

Could you elaborate? To pre-empt any misunderstanding , I’m just harping on my idea (ventilated elsewhere) that DN 16’s animitta is simply another name for the jhanas.

I’m just shooting from the hip, looking to see if mindfulness is in and of itself the method of pain-endurance, or whether mindfulness is emphasized because jhanas are the actual method there.

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I think it’s probably both. It’s just that with the 1st Jhana, physical pain disappears completely - AN 5.176, AN 9.37 and every vivicceva kaamehi pericope.