For the first twenty years, after his enlightenment, the Buddha did not have a permanent attendant. In fact, the Buddha had well over a half dozen attendants such as Nagasamala, Nagita, Upavana, Sunakkhatta, the novice Cunda, Sagata, Radha and Meghiya. (Sunakkhatta, quit the Buddhist Order after converting to the teachings of Korakkhattiya. Sunakkhatta attempted to defame the Buddha by saying that he was not superhuman and his teaching would not lead to the destruction of suffering. His main criticism of the Buddha was that he was unable to perform any miracles or show the beginning of things.)
Twenty years after the Buddha’s enlightenment, the Buddha declared he was advanced in years which, some speculate, may have been due to the extreme asceticism (tapas) that he practiced before his enlightenment (he suffered, it is said, from some kind of intestinal disorder). The Buddha then decided that his first cousin, Ananda, would be his permanent attendant. The Buddha’s choice of Ananda gives us a good indication just how prematurely aged the Buddha may have been since Ananda was the same age as the Buddha and obviously in much better health (Ananda was born on the same day as the Buddha).
For twenty-five years Ananda out of great love waited on the Buddha; who followed him like a shadow. He brought the Buddha his water and toothpick. Ananda washed the feet of the Buddha and kept the Buddha’s cell clean. It is said at night that Ananda, with a staff and torch in hand, stayed awake in case the Buddha needed him; who also prevented the Buddha from being disturbed during his sleep. Ananda protected his master making sure that he would not be harmed; willing to sacrifice his life if it came to protecting the Buddha. Ananda even functioned as a nurse making gruel for the Buddha who suffered from wind in the stomach.
Ananda, you could also say, was the Buddha’s eyes and ears—but also his personal secretary. He set up interviews and the Buddha’s teaching schedule. Ananda also kept at arm’s length the Buddha’s all too many admirers.
Ananda was sought out for his wise counsel and expertise on various doctrinal matters. He also had a great reputation for being able to expound the Dharma. In some instances, the Buddha purposely made his discourse terse and short so that Ananda, afterwards, might expand upon it and, if needs be, answer questions—saving the Buddha from such tedium. Ananda, you could say, was a skilled scholiast; who also was a mystic, that is, a noble disciple (ariya-savaka) who had entered the stream (sotâpanna) after hearing a discourse by Punna Mantaniputta (later, Ananda became an Arhat).
Ananda was a tremendous help to the Buddha throughout his remaining years. But after the Buddha’s death, it seems that Ananda’s fortunes changed. There seems to have been a struggle between Maha Kassapa ((Skt., Mahakashyapa)) and Ananda, the former, for example, blaming Ananda for admitting people to the Order who were not tractable. Maha Kassapa even went so far as to call Ananda, “a corn trampler” and a “boy”.
Taking into consideration that the Buddha left no Dharma heir behind, this being apparent in the Discourse to Gopaka-Moggallana (M. iii. 9) where we learn that no Monk or Brahman can be the support since they are not spiritually equal to the Buddha (Dharma, instead, we learn is to be the support), it is astonishing to read this verse by Maha Kassapa. It seems to be lacking modesty.
When some are distressed climbing up the mountain, there Kassapa climbs, the heir of the Buddha, attentive, mindful, supported by his supernormal power (Theragatha, 1058).
Now compare the above with Ananda’s verse.
“The old ones have passed away; I do not get on with the new ones. Today I meditate all alone, like a bird gone to its nest” (Theragatha 1036).
One almost gets the sense that Maha Kassapa took over the reigns of the Order and pushed old Ananda out into the cold, so to speak (remember, Ananda would be in his 80s). There is more I could say about the character of Maha Kassapa but that is for another day.