The Passing of Sāriputta

by | May 12, 2024 | Buddhism for All

I like to close the topic of gods and miracles in Buddhism with the story of Sāriputta’s final days.[1]

Sāriputta was the Buddha’s top disciple.  He passed into final nirvana a few months before the Buddha.  One day, during the final year of the Buddha’s time on earth, Sāriputta saw that his own life force could only sustain him for one more week.  What to do with your final week on this earth?  Sāriputta thought of his mother, who was “one without faith”.  He decided his last deed would be to help his mom. The debt to one’s parents is taken very seriously in Buddhism. The Buddha taught that even if one were to carry one’s parents and care for them all day for a hundred years, it would not be enough to repay their kindness.[2] The only way to fully repay them is to help them walk the path to enlightenment.

Sāriputta tidied up his room and took one last look at it.  He went to the Buddha, paid his respects, and told the Buddha that he would soon pass, and that he wanted to spend his last days with mom.  The Buddha approved, and told Sāriputta, “The monks will not see the likes of you again.  Please give them one last discourse.”  Sāriputta did.  At the end of the discourse, Sāriputta embraced the Buddha’s legs and said, “I have fulfilled the ten perfections for countless aeons just so I could worship these feet.  My wish has been fulfilled.  I will now enter the City of Nirvana, the unaging, undying, peaceful, blissful, heat-assuaging and secure, which has been entered by countless buddhas.”

Sāriputta stood up, and walked mindfully around the Buddha three times.  He then saluted the Buddha and said, “This is my last sight of you, there will be no more.”  And he left.

By the time Sāriputta arrived at his home village of Nālaka, he had only one day left.  At first, his mom was excited to hear that Sāriputta had returned, but she was disappointed to see he was still a monk.  Sāriputta moved into the room he was born in, and then he became very, very sick.  Even as Sāriputta laid rapidly dying, mom barricaded herself in her room[3] because she was still upset about Sāriputta becoming a monk.

In the middle of the night, something happened.  Mom noticed Sāriputta’s room becoming very bright.  She got curious and went to peek inside.  To her astonishment, she saw a line of gods paying their final respects to Sāriputta.  Sāriputta had the same conversation with every one of them.  He would ask, “Who are you?”  They would identify themselves, “I am the god so-and-so.”  Sāriputta would then ask, “Why are you here?”  “I came to take care of you.”  “I already have an attendant, you may go.”

Every god that came to pay his last respect, Sāriputta would dismiss.  Mom’s jaw dropped.  She realized for the first time that her son was no ordinary monk.

After all the gods had been dismissed, mom sat down next to Sāriputta and asked who all those gods were.  Sāriputta gave her the list, the first four were the four great heavenly kings, and then there was Sakka the king of the Heaven of the Thirty Three Gods, and that last one was Great Brahmā.  Mom asked, “The Great Brahmā that I worship, came to bow to you?”  “Yes, that Great Brahmā, your lord and master,” Sāriputta said.  When mom heard this, faith in the Buddha arose in her, and consequently, rapture and joy arose in her, suffusing her entire body and mind.

Seeing that mom was now finally ready to hear the Dharma, Sāriputta gave her a discourse.  By the end of the discourse, mom understood the Dharma and gained stream-entry.  Sāriputta’s final debt had been repaid by offering the greatest gift to his mother, the gift of Dharma.  Early the next morning, he passed.

Statue of Sariputta. Source: Wikipedia.


  • Reflect on this post with Angela:
    • Venerable Sāriputta was able to repay his gratitude to his mother, by helping her mind awaken to enlightenment. Rejoice! 
    • Reflect on how you are indebted to your loved ones, parents, caregivers, and mentors in life. How have they helped you get to where you are in life? 
    • Imagine if you had all the powers and resources in the world. What would you do to repay your gratitude to them? How would you benefit them? 
    • For me, the best way to repay my gratitude to those who have helped me is to help them awaken to the true nature of reality, and be free of suffering. And before I can help anyone else, I must first help myself. Therefore, practice, practice, practice!
    • What stood out to you from this article? Why?


[1] Taken largely from Nyanaponika. Great Disciples of the Buddha: Their Lives, Their Works, Their Legacy (The Teachings of the Buddha). Wisdom Publications (2003).

[2] Aṅguttara Nikāya 2.33.

[3] The words in the source text are, “she stood leaning by the door of her own room.”

Artwork by Colin Goh.

Chade-Meng Tan

Meng is an award-winning engineer, international bestselling author, movie producer and philanthropist. His work has been nominated eight times for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Read Meng's story)

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