The Story of Chunda
Translated by Yasuo Saito from Kangi-Sekai Magazine

This is a story about something that happened long, long ago, when Shakyamuni Buddha relayed the last of his teachings in the sala grove.

Soon after they heard the World Honored One was about to pass away into Nirvana, countless people came to the sala grove in Kushinagar.
They ranged from royalties to common people. And also, there were heavenly deities, asuras, and devils. In addition to that, animals were also seen.
They came to see the Buddha, even if just a glance, and to make their last offerings.
Whatever marvelous offering was presented, however, the Buddha did not accept any.
They felt dejected by the Buddha's refusal and sat without a word.

Then, a lay follower stood up in front of the Buddha.
He was Chunda, a blacksmith. Carrying his offerings, he hurried there with his fifteen friends to whom he had conveyed the teachings.
He deeply bowed and praised the Buddha. Then he asked the Buddha with tears:

"World Honored One, with your compassion, please accept these last offerings, though they are small and meager, with your disciples.
If you are gone, we will be without refuge and without salvation. We shall be at a loss.
In order to save all beings, please rain down the sweet dharma dew on our poor souls so that we would receive the treasure of the teachings to cut away our hardships."

After the World Honored One listened to that, He looked into Chunda and addressed him:

"Excellent, excellent! I will now root out this poverty for you and rain down the unsurpassed dharma dew upon your fields, causing the dharma to sprout and grow there.
Chunda, there are two types of food offering that bring great merits:
Firstly, it is when you make offering to one who is attaining the unsurpassed complete Enlightenment.
Secondly, it is when you make offering to one who is entering into Nirvana.
I will now receive your very last offerings and let you accomplish danaparamita (making offerings)."

Surprisingly, the Buddha just said that He would accept the offerings from this young man, though He had not taken even the marvelous offerings from all kinds of people, from the deities, and from the great-bodhisattvas of all buddhist countries.
There occurred an excitement among the congregation.
Upon hearing the Buddha's acceptance of the very last offerings from Chunda, the congregation, though they had felt dejected and been sitting without a word, was elated, danced joyfully, and praised Chunda:

"How wonderful, how wonderful, Chunda!"
"The Buddha understood your true heart."
"We genuinely praise and respect you in the same way we look up to and admire the pure, bright full moon of an autumn sky."
"You are truly a child of the Buddha and no different from His son, Rahula."
"Now please beg the Buddha to stay in this world longer and to teach the supreme dharma for all beings."

Chunda was, of course, elated and his face was beaming with joy as if his deceased parents had suddenly come back to life.
And he reverently bowed before the Buddha, recited the verses (gathas) and asked Him to stay in this world longer.
His request, however, could not overturn the Buddha's decision of entering into Nirvana.
The World Honored One had taught that all phenomena are impermanent, thus one should not cling to his or her physical body which is a cause of sufferings.
It is as a matter of course because the Buddha's true body is the dharma-body, which is eternal and detached away from all the sufferings.

Chunda continued:

"World Honored One, it certainly is as you have said.
What wisdom I have is quite shallow, like that of mosquitoes.
How could I possibly conceive of that core meaning of the Tathagata's Nirvana?
But, my joy given by the Buddha's loving kindness and compassion is as much as Manjusri's and other great-bodhisattvas'.
It is because of the spiritual power of the Buddha.
Therefore, World Honored One, I beg you to stay in this world longer and not enter Nirvana."

Then, Manjusri stood up after hearing his name was mentioned in Chunda's bold speech.
Manjusri was a bodhisattva who was realized to have great wisdom.
He was considered as a successor of the core of the Mahayana teachings and was also called the Dharma Prince Manjusri.

Manjusri advised Chunda:

"Now, Chunda, you should not ask for the Buddha in such a wrong way -- asking the Tathagata to stay long in life and not to enter Nirvana.
You should see the nature of all phenomena. Contemplating all phenomena, you will gain the samadhi of emptiness.
If you want to seek the right dharma, you should thus train yourself."

Hearing the words from Manjusri, Chunda daringly challenged a debate with Manjusri the boddhisattva of Wisdom.
His young burning dharma-seeking heart drove him in that way.

Chunda asked:

"Manjusri, the Tathagata is the most honored and most supreme of the heavens above or among men.
How can such a Tathagata be the same as changing and varying phenomena?
Do you mean, He is just like water bubbles, arising quickly and quickly ceasing?
You should not regard the Tathagata in such a way.
Manjusri, do you speak in that way with understanding the Buddha, or do you speak in that way without understanding Him?
You should not say, only with your realization in your head, that the Tathagata would also be the same as changing and varying phenomena."

"For instance, there is a wealthy elder's son who is sickly and may have a short life, and upon his parents' knowing this, he would not be able to continue the family lineage, and his parents would never again cherish him.
Manjusri, do you see the Tathagata be the same?
If so, there would be no one who could succeed this unchanging unvarying dharma of universal truth.
Manjusri, if one wishes to protect the true dharma, he shall not say that the Tathagata is the same as phenomena or not the same as phenomena.
Rather, he should deeply reflect himself and claim, 'I am now deluded and do not yet possess the wisdom eye.'
The Tathagata's true dharma is inconceivable."

Chunda continued:

"If one has the correct view, then he says that the Tathagata is never-changing, eternal, and unconditional.
If one is a bodhisattva who protects the dharma, he would rather give up his life than say that the Tathagata is changing, varying, and conditional.
If he says that the Tathagata is unconditional, then without seeking it, he would attain enlightenment.
Manjusri, a heretic says that the Tathagata is the same as all phenomena. Then that is a deluded statement.
It should be known that upon death this person would enter the hell as his own home.
Manjusri, if you feel deeply ashamed yourself, you should abandon such deficient understanding and seek the correct knowledge."

Manjusri flinched at Chunda's furious argument.
One might have been mad when being told in that way.

But, a great-bodhisattva as he was, he wasn't carried away by emotion, rather he praised Chunda, saying,

"Excellent, excellent! You have now created the causes and conditions for a long life span.
Since you are able to understand that the Tathagata is eternally abiding, unchanging, and unconditional, you have now well overturned the physical, secular views about the Tathagata.
Because of this merit you have just gained, it is not long now before you will realize the Arhat's perfect enlightenment.
We shall together overturn such wrong views among the people.
But now let us stop the debate, and you may hurry presenting the very last offerings of foods.
Thus, without hesitation, quickly giving the offering is the consummation of the perfection of danaparamita (making offering).
See, the Tathagata shall enter parinirvana soon."

Though the debate seemed to be over, since Chunda still couldn't accept some of the words in Manjusri's speech, he started refuting again.

Chunda replied,

"Manjusri, why do you now covet these foods and say 'many, few, sufficient, or insufficient' in order to lead me to offer right away?

"Manjusri, do you really mean to say that the Tathagata who is truly awakened will accept these foods?

"Verily, I resolutely know that the body of the Tathagata is the dharma-body and not an foods-eating body."

Chunda seized upon the point of the debate, there was nothing Manjusri could say.
At that time, the Buddha addressed Manjusri, saying, "It is so, it is so."
He likewise said to Chunda, "Excellent, Chunda! You have brought to fruition the subtle and wondrous great knowledge and skillfully entered the most profound Mahayana scriptures."
Finally the Buddha agreed with Chunda, which meant that Chunda was correct.

Now Manjusri had to admit that Chunda refuted him.
Then he unwillingly spoke to Chunda,

"So it is, so it is. It is as you have said. It's not as though I did not know it.
"Instead, my desire was only to test you against the bodhisattva work."

At this point, whatever Manjusri said only sounded like his defense of his loosing in the debate.
Thus, it was proved that Chunda was the right person to represent all the sentient beings and was qualified to provide the very last offerings to the Buddha.

There had been no one else who refuted Manjusri, who was superior to the other great-bodhisattvas in wisdom.
But Chunda, who was just one of the lay followers, actually refuted Manjusri. It was really amazing.
The World Honored one showered His great compassion and loving kindness on Chunda, a young lay buddhist, and entrusted him with the future of the dharma.

Since then, Chunda was recognized as a great-bodhisattva with whom none could match and he became a major figure who succeeded to the teachings of the Buddha's last will.

At that time, the World Honored One emitted a variety of lights from his facial orifices and these lights lit around Him.
Encountering these lights, Manjusri then knew the meaning of this incident and addressed Chunda, saying,

"Chunda, as you saw it, it will not be long before He must enter into Nirvana.
"The World Honored One considers now is the time to present the very last offerings you have prepared for Him."

The World Honored One nodded His consent, and Chunda looked at His face, then Chunda's heart swelled with grief, though he had seemed calm till now, he could not help but start sobbing.
The World Honored One saw Chunda sobbing and He spoke to him:

"Do not have sorrow, Chunda. You must receive immovable merit because I am the supreme source of merit for all sentient beings.
"If you'd like to be a good source of merit to serve all beings, it is now time to make the very last offerings"

Even though Chunda realized and understood, as he loved the Buddha like his father, the Buddha's departure from this world was so hard and sorrowful for him.
Chunda and his friends could do nothing but prepare the very last offerings through their tears.