Why did the Buddha enter nirvana? There are many reasons for this, but it was mainly to avoid people becoming overly dependent upon him. It would be possible for the Buddha to never enter nirvana. However, some disciples, in studying the Dharma with the Buddha, would eventually grow weary of it. They would become lax and lazy. They would think that it didn’t matter whether or not they cultivated, since they were with the Buddha everyday. And so they would become lazy.
For example, I am now explaining the sutras to you. You get to see your teacher everyday. You think, “There are notes of our Teacher’s lectures, but we don’t have to read them now. We can wait until we have time to read them.” You set them on the shelf, thinking you are keeping them very safe and secure; however, over time you’ll forget about them and after awhile you will have totally lost all memory of them.
In this world, joys and sorrow, separations and reunions are a part of life. When certain circumstances arrive, I will leave all of you. When that time comes, even if you’d like to attend a sutra lecture, there will be none; if you’d like to study the Dharma, you will find it difficult. Then you will pick up your notebook and read it again. After you read it thoroughly, you will investigate the principles in the sutras lectured by this Dharma Master. If I don’t go somewhere else, you will never read that notebook.
When I was in Manchuria, I had a lot of disciples. I taught them how to cultivate, yet they didn’t cultivate. Some said they wanted to take their time. Others said, “I don’t have time right now.” After I left Manchuria, I started to get letters that said, “So-and-so, your disciple in Manchuria, didn’t cultivate before, but now he is cultivating because his teacher isn’t here. He’s working very hard now.”
When I was in Hong Kong, my disciples were pretty relaxed about their cultivation. After I left, they realized how hard it is without a teacher, and they all wrote letters to me asking me to come back. I didn’t pay any attention to them, however.
People are like that. If you see something every day, you don’t think it’s important. When it’s taken away from you, you realize how important it is. So the Buddha doesn’t remain in the world for a long, long time, because if he did, people of scanty virtue would fail to plant good roots. They would just choose to wait instead. But those who do not plant good roots or make offerings to the Triple Jewel remain poor and lowly, and they covet the five desires: wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep.
Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Dharma for forty-nine years. During these years, some of his disciples became negligent. Not only Shakyamuni Buddha, but every Buddha, whenever he sees that his disciples have become overly dependent on him, leaves the world and enters nirvana. The reason he enters nirvana is to prevent his disciples from relying too much upon him. This is a way of teaching and transforming living beings.