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In this book about Bodhisattvas it says that traditionally Buddhism can cause longevity in a way that parallels the longevity that is sought after by Taoism. This kind of longevity arises in the same way that the psychic powers do i.e. it is a natural result of practice but it isn't the end point and it isn't something that should be grasped after. This is the first time I have heard of Buddhism in connection with longevity. Has anyone got any further details about this and perhaps some textual references where this is referred to?

Please note - I'm not interested in scientific studies or connections to well-being/stress reduction and similar in this question. I want to focus on the texts and traditions rather than more modern studies.

Many Thanks

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Longevity, especially the longevity of the Buddha, comes up quite often. @ChrisW has cited the, probably apocryphal, story from the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta. It's very puzzling and unlikely way for the Buddha to behave, far too arbitrary. If he could live longer, then why not simply do it. Why set up harmless, lovable Ānanda to take the fall. I think this reflects early anxieties following the Buddha's death that things would not continue. However it is, I think, the first reference to the longevity of the Buddha in a Buddhist text.

Longevity is one of the classic payoffs from puñña or merit in the early Buddhist texts, i.e Appamāda Sutta SN 3.17:

Āyuṃ arogiyaṃ vaṇṇaṃ, saggaṃ uccākulīnataṃ;
Ratiyo patthayantena, uḷārā aparāparā
appamādaṃ pasaṃsanti, puññakiriyāsu paṇḍitā.
(SN i.87)

Life, health, good looks, heaven, a good rebirth
Every wonderful thing one could wish,
The wise praise vigilance amongst all the merit making activities.

And the Buddha had acquired an essentially infinite amount of merit. So the question is why did he die at all? This question is actually asked by Ruchiraketu in the (Mahāyāna) Suvarṇaprabhāsottama Sūtra (chapter 2). In response he has a vision which a mandala of buddhas appear and answer his question.

mā tvaṃ kulaputraivaṃ cintaya evaṃ parīttaṃ bhagavataḥ śākyamunerāyuḥpramāṇam / tatkasya hetoḥ / na vayaṃ kulaputra taṃ samanupaśyāmaḥ sadevake loke samārake sabrahmake saśramaṇabrāhmaṇikāyāṃ prajāyāṃ sadevamānuṣāsurāyāṃ yaḥ samarthaḥ syādbhagavataḥ śākyamunestathāgatasyāyuḥpramāṇaparyantamadhigantuṃ yāvadaparāntakoṭibhiḥ sthāpayitvā tathāgatairarhadbhiḥ samyaksambuddhaiḥ / [9-10]

Don't you even think it, good man, that the lifespan of the Bhagavan Śākyamuṇi was limited. What is the reason? Good man, we do not see anyone in this world with it's devas, māras, brahmās, people who are ascetics & Brahmins, with kings, men and lords, who could understand, to the fullest possible extent, the lifespan of Śākyamuṇi Tathāgata, apart from the fully enlightened tathāgatas and arhats.

This is followed up by some verses including

jalārṇaveṣu sarveṣu śakyante bindubhir gaṇayitum / na tu śākyamunerāyuḥ śakyaṃ gaṇayituṃ kvacit // Suv_2.1 //

The drops of water contained in all the oceans could be counted; But no one can count the life of Śākyamuni

And so on. His apparent life and death are not to be taken seriously. His lifespan is infinite. BTW Sangharakshita covers this material in his talk: The Bodhisattva’s Dream. And also in his book on the Suvarṇa.

Any perceived short-comings on the part of the Buddha become increasingly problematic as time goes on. Apparent faults, such as a relatively short lifespan, are corrected by the invention of new myths and legends as time goes on. The principle reason for a bodhisatva to wish for a long life, is of course the same one that makes them put off awakening, so that they may help many beings.

In Tantra there are specific sādhana practices aimed at bestowing long life. These are often associated with Amitāyus (Whose name means "infinite life"), White Tārā, and Uṣṇiṣavijāya. Some of the relevant ceremonies are described in stephan Beyer's book Magic and Ritual in Tibet: The Cult of Tārā. A brief example is the well known White Tārā Mantra.

oṃ tāre tuttāre ture mama āyuḥ-puṇya-jñāna-puṣṭiṃ kuru svāhā

Although most elements of the mantra are untranslatable the section "mama āyuḥ-puṇya-jñāna-puṣṭiṃ kuru" is a Sanskrit sentence reading "Give me long-life, merit, knowledge and propersity". (BTW The Vulcan salute "life long and prosper might be "āyuḥ puṣṭiṃ bhavatu") One chants this mantra and hopes that White Tārā will bestow these qualities on one. The word "mama" can be substituted with the name of someone else we want to have these blessings.

So we can see that a concern with longevity is actually quite pervasive in Buddhism.

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Quoting from Maha-parinibbana Sutta: Last Days of the Buddha,

  1. And the Blessed One said: "Whosoever, Ananda, has developed, practiced, employed, strengthened, maintained, scrutinized, and brought to perfection the four constituents of psychic power could, if he so desired, remain throughout a world-period or until the end of it. [21] The Tathagata, Ananda, has done so. Therefore the Tathagata could, if he so desired, remain throughout a world-period or until the end of it."

  2. But the Venerable Ananda was unable to grasp the plain suggestion, the significant prompting, given by the Blessed One. As though his mind was influenced by Mara, [22] he did not beseech the Blessed One: "May the Blessed One remain, O Lord!. May the Happy One remain, O Lord, throughout the world-period, for the welfare and happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, well being, and happiness of gods and men!"

  3. And when for a second and a third time the Blessed One repeated his words, the Venerable Ananda remained silent.

  4. Then the Blessed One said to the Venerable Ananda: "Go now, Ananda, and do as seems fit to you."


So the above is a textual reference.

Off-topic to the question, this (i.e. not having asked the Buddha to remain) is a reason why Ananda was reproached at the first council after the Buddha's death. Later in the same sutta Ananda realizes what the Buddha had been saying and asks him then (asks him three times), but the Buddha says no:

  1. And the Blessed One answered, saying: "Enough, Ananda. Do not entreat the Tathagata, for the time is past, Ananda, for such an entreaty."

and,

  1. "So also at Vesali, Ananda, at different times the Tathagata has spoken to you, saying: 'Pleasant, Ananda, is Vesali; pleasant are the shrines of Udena, Gotamaka, Sattambaka, Bahuputta, Sarandada, and Capala. Whosoever, Ananda, has developed... Therefore the Tathagata could, if he so desired, remain throughout a world-period or until the end of it.'

    "But you, Ananda, were unable to grasp the plain suggestion, the significant prompting, given you by the Tathagata, and you did not entreat the Tathagata to remain. For if you had done so, Ananda, twice the Tathagata might have declined, but the third time he would have consented. Therefore, Ananda, the fault is yours; herein you have failed.

  2. "Yet, Ananda, have I not taught from the very beginning that with all that is dear and beloved there must be change, separation, and severance? Of that which is born, come into being, is compounded and subject to decay, how can one say: 'May it not come to dissolution!' There can be no such state of things. And of that, Ananda, which the Tathagata has finished with, that which he has relinquished, given up, abandoned, and rejected — his will to live on — the Tathagata's word has been spoken once for all: 'Before long the Parinibbana of the Tathagata will come about. Three months hence the Tathagata will utterly pass away.' And that the Tathagata should withdraw his words for the sake of living on — this is an impossibility.

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Donapaka Sutta:

When a person is constantly mindful,
And knows when enough food has been taken,
All their afflictions become more slender
— They age more gradually, protecting their lives.

  • this might not be directly towards a book you are referring to, it is just a sutta i can remember regarding longevity on the here and now. – user5056 Sep 1 '15 at 18:49

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