Buddha's thirst in Mahaparinibbana sutta

I wonder why Buddha could not control his thirst for water and sent Ananda to the dirty river? Why is it OK to be thirsty for water but not for sex, for example?

Hi nibbanadhatu,

  1. DN 16 is a huge patchwork of early and late material so any inference made from it must be very carefully made.

  2. As far as I have seen, the sutta doesn’t say that the Buddha couldn’t control his thirst for water. It just says that the Buddha insisted 3 times to drink dirty water from a specific river. Why exactly he chose to do so remains unexplained and it’s only your interpretation that concludes he could not control his thirst.

  3. But let’s assume that you are partly right and that the Buddha drank that water because he could not wait to get to the other river. If things did happen exactly as described in this passage, we have no idea what his condition was exactly. What if it had been a matter of life and death and the Buddha felt like he needed to keep on going a little bit more to accomplish a few more tasks for the benefit of all living beings? Actually I think this is the message between the lines in this passage.

  4. Thirst for water and thirst for sex are different in some major ways. If you don’t quench your thirst for water you will die. If you don’t temporarily quench your thirst for sex but instead uproot it, chances are you will become a Brahma.


The Buddha knew he had the power to miraculously cleanse the water:

“32. And he took up water in the bowl and carried it to the Blessed One, and said: “Marvellous and most wonderful indeed is the power and glory of the Tathagata! For this shallow water, which had been cut through by the wheels so that it flowed turbid and muddy, became clear and settled down, pure and pleasant as I drew near. Now let the Blessed One drink the water. Let the Happy One drink.” And the Blessed One drank the water.”—Digha Nikaya 16

Does the text really say he could not control his thirst?

The way I read it he was just insisting Ananda to fetch water from certain place while Ananda was insisting on an assumption he had about how dirty that water would be.

It turned out the water was fine, indicating the Buddha knew better than Ananda about such things. And, given the oral transmission tradition and the proximity of the small event to the main event (the Buddha’s final extinguishment) it became part of the narrative.

Also, on top of that, it was probably April-May in Kushinagar when the weather is hot and very dry, felt as sweltering hot :



This is because, I think, at that time the Buddha needed water desperately but not sex. But he did not know he in fact sent Ananda to the dirty river to get water for him. Water is certainly more important than sex, when severely feeling a need to drink.

I visited the location few years ago. The river is indeed dirty!

That’s a religious belief like believing in Jesus resurrection.

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  1. He insisted 3 times, therefore he was thirsty and could not wait.

  2. You will die without water only in a week. Well, and for some people quenching their thirst for sex is dukha. Not having sex may cause sex obsession. Just like a hungry person may gave dreams about burgers, sex-supressors may have “porn” dreams.

Not having sex doesn’t ‘cause’ sex obsession, it merely reveals a pre-existing, underlying sex obsession. What causes sex obsession is indulgence in sexual matters. You can check out MN 75 for a detailed explanation


That’s your interpretation and wondering what are your intentions with your loaded questions here in this forum.

As per my reply above, the weather in the region in the period in which these narrated events occurred would be classified as very hot and felt as sweltering.

The texts don’t say he could not control his thirst but instead they preserve a minor but curious event which took place close enough to the main event to be registered in the narrative.

And this minor event tells us the Buddha knew better than Ananda about the water in that stream.

In the big picture, we have a sick human being over 80 years old in ancient India, in the middle of the hottest period of the year, just a few months prior to the monsoons, walking long distances with his attendant and getting ready to die.

He asks his attendant to fetch some water from a specific location three times and when the attendant decides to do as.asked and go he is surprised the water was indeed clear enough to be consumed.

If all, this tells me that despite the Buddha being the Tathagatha people like Ananda felt comfortable to disagree with him!



It is okay to desire sex. Nothing immoral about the desire itself. But the Buddha couldn’t because he had destroyed lust.

Maybe he had already gone a long time without water.

Why should he be able to? AFAIK he never claimed to have absolute control over bodily processes. For example, he mentions having backaches at one point. Why would he have backaches if he could control his body? I don’t see any evidence for your claim that he couldn’t control his thirst, but I also see no problem with it if it were true.


My intention is to understand the impact of the teaching on one’s live. Jain monks stay away from food and drinks to death. That’s how they declare the victory over physical body. That makes sense. Gotama taught ‘thirst is bad’ but encountered the thirst at the end of his life. I am just trying to understand the reason why that story was included in the sutta.

This reads as if you are claiming that the passage demonstrates that the Buddha was not free from tanha.

Tanha is the thirst for sensual pleasures, existence or non-existence.

The Buddha never claimed that his teaching would make it so that you don’t have to drink water any more. That would be a gross misunderstanding due to inability to understand that the finger is pointing at the moon.

I am just trying to understand the reason why that story was included in the sutta.

As I have said earlier, I think this is intended to show how close the Buddha was to dying but still made an out of the ordinary effort to continue until he felt like he had fully completed his mission, as dying on that occasion would certainly have been detrimental to the sasana compared to the way he actually died as depicted later on in that same sutta. But this is not explained clearly and we have to read between the lines.


As long as one has the following thoughts when taking food or drink, one is blameless.

Refer to AN 3.16 and many others

And how does a bhikkhu observe moderation in eating?

Here, reflecting carefully, a bhikkhu consumes food neither for amusement nor for intoxication nor for the sake of physical beauty and attractiveness, but only for the support and maintenance of this body, for avoiding harm, and for assisting the spiritual life, considering: ‘Thus I shall terminate the old discomfort and not arouse a new comfort, and I shall be healthy and blameless and dwell at ease.’ It is in this way that a bhikkhu observes moderation in eating.

Sex is totally out of question, because it is part of 6 senses. Buddha taught to guard senses and free from 6 senses.

If one is still enjoying the senses, there is no true wisdom to arise.

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If you identify with Jain doctrine go for it. We are all free to pursue the teaching and discipline we feel confident with.

As per early Buddhist texts, the choice of stopping eating and drinking only leads to suffering and death and not awakening.

Awakening is the result of internal processes described in many different ways in EBTs.

And the narrative in DN16 summarizes it beautifully when the Buddha tells us of the 37 factors to awakening.

Moreover, the Buddha’s answer to the Jain’s typical religious model based on self-effacement, torture and suicide, usually labelled by them as sallekhana is found at the Sallekha Sutta, MN8: SuttaCentral

But, your choice of words and fallaciously loaded phrasing up to this point in this thread tells me something is odd about your intentions in this discussion. You are probably not really keen to discuss things this direction are you?

To me, the reason why the story was included in the sutta is due to its proximity to the main event, the final extinguishment of the Tathagatha.

I am really surprised that the thirst of an 80 years old human being in the middle of the sweltering hot weather conditions of northern India and days before his death sounds like something unusual to you. :man_shrugging:

And I insist, the events narrated are more than anything telling us that Ananda was not a “yes sir” attendant and despite his initial reluctance, when he followed the Buddha`s instruction he ended up finding drinkable water at that specific stream.

“The old man was right” and that was an event meaningful enough to Ananda and the early Buddhist community to be passed down to posteriority.

To me, the proximity of this event and the relevance of the two characters involved is to me a good reason for it to have become part of the wider sutta and transmitted across the years. Do you see any flaw in that hypothesis?

What is your alternative hypothesis?

Are you claiming that the thirst of the Buddha before his passing away tells us his awakening was a lie?

Can you provide more evidence, if possible of definitive sort, that the thirst for water by the Buddha corresponds to him not being awakened or freed from the desire that warrants future birth?

If it is the case the Buddha’s awakening is a fraud, why would early Buddhists not try to hide that away from such an important narrative? :hushed:

Or maybe it is the case we Buddhists are all part of a 2,500 years old conspiracy to fake up spiritual development and awakening just for the sake of the material benefits (food, shelter, medicine and robes) that arise with the institutions established by the Buddha? :thinking:


The story is of the abbhuta-dhamma (Skt. (adbhuta-dharma) genre, i.e., stories of supernormal marvels.

As such, the primary point of interest for an audience of the Buddhist faithful would be the miraculous transformation of the water:

Then Ānanda thought, “It’s incredible, it’s amazing (abbhutaṁ)! The Realized One has such psychic power and might! For though the shallow water in that creek had been churned up by wheels, and flowed cloudy and murky, when I approached it flowed transparent, clear, and unclouded.”

The particular circumstances that led up to this are of secondary (indeed almost incidental) importance. They could just as well have been a narrative of the Buddha having Ānanda go wash his almsbowl or bring him water to shave with.


Good to know you mention this genre for the DN text. Cf. p. 10, note 34:
Pages 10-11 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (161.9 KB)

Well, The Buddha never declare victory over physical body. He declare victory over klesha - defilement of the mind. He declare that he has uproot craving for desire, for existence, and non-existence.

Where did Gotama teach that “thirst is bad”?
He only teach in regards to thirst of sense desire etc, but not on physical thirst.

He never declare that he can’t get hungry or thirsty.

There is the difference between Jain doctrine and Buddhism. Jain go hungry and thirsty to death. They declare it as victory.
Buddha declare them silly, just pointless death. Buddha said, this mortification of the flesh does not lead to enlightenment, “I know, I tried it before.”


The post reminds me of Christian apologetics. Why do people expect everyone to accept these texts religiously with blind faith in miracles especially in EBT context?

I read what I read. I see declarations about going to the other shore, winning everything, discarding everything, gaining a status of a superhuman. That’s fine. But bodily functions remind of themselves.

== What is your alternative hypothesis? ==

Being skeptical to multiple sayings like “Thus I heard”, I might assume that the story with “water became miraculously clean” is a sort of embellishment.

The whole story attracted my attention is because it deals with control over body, how much human body’s impulses can be controlled.

By this criteria, people with anorexia are enlightened. That is a foolish measure of achievement, and the Buddha found this to be so when he starved himself to the point of death prior to attaining Buddhahood.

We’re not interested in victory over the body. What victory is there over a mass of sores or a bag filled with excrement, urine and pus.

There is a difference between managing the body’s requirements and clinging to and craving for bodily states.

Enlightened beings still have sensations of pain and they are still subject to sickness, old age and death - and they will still act to mitigate the body’s requirements. The Buddha died following a bout of dysentery - diarrhoea and vomiting. He had no control over the sickness of the body (or more correctly, he exerted no control over it), but his mind remained mindful, and composed, encountering pain, sickness, and ultimately death without clinging to passing bodily states or craving for future ones. There’s a subtlety there that you may be missing.

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I didnt know that the buddha was a early breatharian who does away with physical thirst. Just joking of course :sweat_smile: :pray:.The answers given by other people have been good at expounding and looking at different ways in regards to it.