Commentarial explanations for sūkaramaddava

In an earlier discussion I mentioned that the commentaries had various opinions on the meaning of sūkaramaddava, the Buddha’s last meal. I also noted that they present the first interpretation as apparently preferred or authoritative, while recording diverse opinions. At the time I had overlooked the fact that the passage is commented on in more than one place, so the views are even more diverse than I thought. As well as the commentary for DN 16 Mahāparinibbana, the passage also appears in Ud 8.5 Cunda, where. Here’s what both commentaries say.

###DN 16

Sūkaramaddavanti nātitaruṇassa nātijiṇṇassa ekajeṭṭhakasūkarassa pavattamaṃsaṃ. Taṃ kira mudu ceva siniddhañca hoti, taṃ paṭiyādāpetvā sādhukaṃ pacāpetvāti attho
Skaramaddava: neither too young nor too old, the readily available meat of a mature pig. It is soft and tender because of being well cooked.
Eke bhaṇanti – ‘‘sūkaramaddavanti pana muduodanassa pañcagorasayūsapācanavidhānassa nāmetaṃ, yathā gavapānaṃ nāma pākanāma’’nti.
Some say: “Sūkaramaddava means soft rice cooked together with the five dairy products. It’s cooked the same way as kheer.”
Keci bhaṇanti – ‘‘sūkaramaddavaṃ nāma rasāyanavidhi, taṃ pana rasāyanasatthe āgacchati, taṃ cundena – ‘bhagavato parinibbānaṃ na bhaveyyā’ti rasāyanaṃ paṭiyatta’’nti.
Others say: “Sūkaramaddava is a kind of elixir. But the point of relying on that elixir is that Cunda prepared it in the hope that the Buddha would not pass away.

Rasāyana as “elixir” is mentioned in a very similar context in Mukunda-mālā-stotra, mantra 37.

###Ud 8.5

Sūkaramaddavanti sūkarassa mudusiniddhaṃ pavattamaṃsa’’nti mahāaṭṭhakathāyaṃ vuttaṃ.
In the Great Commentary it is said that sūkaramaddava is the readily available meat of a pig, soft and tender.
Keci pana ‘‘sūkaramaddavanti na sūkaramaṃsaṃ, sūkarehi madditavaṃsakaḷīro’’ti vadanti.
But some say it’s not pig meat, but bamboo shoots trampled by pigs.
Aññe ‘‘sūkarehi madditappadese jātaṃ ahichattaka’’nti.
Others say it’s mushrooms growing in a place trampled by pigs.
Apare pana ‘‘sūkaramaddavaṃ nāma ekaṃ rasāyana’’nti bhaṇiṃsu . Tañhi cundo kammāraputto ‘‘ajja bhagavā parinibbāyissatī’’ti sutvā ‘‘appeva nāma naṃ paribhuñjitvā cirataraṃ tiṭṭheyyā’’ti satthu cirajīvitukamyatāya adāsīti vadanti.
Still others say its a certain elixir. For Cunda, thinking “today is the day of the Buddha’s passing”, gave it to the Teacher in the hope that eating it would prolong his life.

Obviously this doesn’t solve the problem in any clear way. Still, the fact that both the Pali commentaries and the Chinese translations offer “mushrooms” as an interpretation does suggest that this is a viable option.


There’s an outside chance “mixed juice” here refers to something like a medicinal decoction (named tang “soup” in Chinese)? “Rasa” (below) is used similarly to “taste”, “flavor”, “essence” etc. in Chinese differentiation of properties of herbal-food substances used medically, tracing back to similar historical periods, and, in the Chinese tradition used almost exclusively in combinations (“mixed”). (Mushrooms figure prominently in this area also.) The PTS citations are largely non-EBT (except for S v.149 referring to cooking), so, together with the commentaries, this slant of meaning likely “inauthentic”, i.e. a later reading-into.

PTS Dictionary: Rasa 1

Dhs 629 gives taste according to: (a) the 6—fold objective source as mūla—rasa, khandha˚, taca˚, patta˚, puppha˚, phala˚; or taste (i. e. juice, liquid) of root, trunk, bark, leaf flower & fruit; and—(b) the 12—fold subjective (physiological) sense—perception as ambila, madhura, tittika kaṭuka loṇika, khārika, lambila (Miln 56: ambila) kasāva; sādu, asādu, sīta, uṇha, or sour, sweet, bitter pungent, salt, alkaline, sour, astringent; pleasant, unpleasant cold & hot.

—5. flavour and its substance (or substratum), e. g. soup VvA 243 (kakkaṭaka˚ crabsoup), cp. S v.149, where 8 soup flavours are given (ambila, tittaka, kaṭuka, madhura, khārika, akhārika loṇika, aloṇika); Pv ii.115 (aneka—rasa—vyañjana “with exceptionally flavoured sauce”); J v.459, 465. gorasa "flavour of cow, i. e. produce of cow: see under go. Also metaphorically: “flavour, relish, pleasure” Sn 257 (pariveka˚, dhamma—pīṭi˚, cp. SnA 299 “assād aṭṭhena” i. e. tastiness); PvA 287 (vimutti˚ relish of salvation). So also as attha˚,
dhamma˚, vimutti˚ Ps ii.89.

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Yes, this is what I was thinking also. The second element, ayana means way, path, perhaps here “coming together?” But I am really struggling with this. Maybe rather it means “conveyance”, i.e. “herbal infusion”?

I just noticed rasayana is found in in Sanskrit in exactly the required sense!

Mukunda-mālā-stotra mantra 37
idaṁ śarīraṁ pariṇāma-peśalaṁ
pataty avaśyaṁ śata-sandhi-jarjaram
kim auṣadhaṁ pṛcchasi mūḍha durmate
nirāmayaṁ kṛṣṇa-rasāyanaṁ piba
This body’s beauty is fleeting, and at last the body must succumb to death after its hundreds of joints have stiffened with old age. So why, bewildered fool, are you asking for medication? Just take the Kṛṣṇa elixir, the one cure that never fails.

Quite remarkable that the same usage is found in this, to me, obscure Hindu text and the Pali commentaries. All thanks to the amazing and!

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[quote=“sujato, post:3, topic:6031, full:true”]
kim auṣadhaṁ pṛcchasi mūḍha durmate
nirāmayaṁ kṛṣṇa-rasāyanaṁ piba
…So why, bewildered fool, are you asking for medication? Just take the Kṛṣṇa elixir, the one cure that never fails.[/quote]
6. agada- tantra- or doctrine of antidotes;
7. rāsāyana- tantra- or doctrine of elixirs; …

Interesting this slant of interpretation – an ‘elixir’ isn’t generally an allopathic medicine, isn’t directed (e.g. as ‘antidote’) at countering some specific symptoms or disease, but rather a “tonic”, along the lines of supporting the body’s strength to be able, on its own, to flourish in the face of any challenge. Elixirs are typical, for instance, of Taoist longevity practices.

This indirectly relates to a theme that stands out (in the Udana sutta 8.5) – the Buddha seemed not that interested in prolonging his life. Falling ill from the meal, he was more intent upon relieving Cunda of any blame. When he was thirsty, despite repeated warnings by Ananda, he appeared oblivious to the possible harm of drinking the dirty water. (The magic-trick making the water appear pure might be a later, mythologizing addition?) In general, when people did things for his benefit, my sense is his response, gratitude, had more to do with acknowledging their good intentions than with his own personal benefit.

It brings to mind also a passage found recently (in the thread about “Are there any Suttas or the Buddhist sources regarding psychosomatic illnesses?”) in researching lohita (“blood”) in the sutta-s. In Sn 433 (“Exertion” or “Struggle”), Mara is trying to persuade the Buddha to hold on to life for its pleasures, while the Buddha is dismissive of bodily decline in view of “attaining the ultimate feeling … See: a being’s purity!

This attitude he was exhibiting (lack of concern for “survival”) may fit that curious pattern Alexander Wynne hypothesizes in dealing with indirect evidence (in “The Origin of Buddhist Meditation”), that when recorded sayings of the Buddha seem peculiar (less formulaic), they may well be representation of historical fact. In this case, it also fits the character of his dhamma overall, in adamantly countering the inveterate human craving for mundane well-being in favor of the sublime peace of unbinding from it all. He was, too, physically worn-out, pushing 80 years of age, after years of virtual asceticism, and in an age when life-span wasn’t often that long.

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