All his life, the Buddha was accompanied by an attendant to take care of his needs. For many years one monk after another attended him, but over time, no one proved suitable. One day the Buddha called all the monks together. There he announced that he wished to select a permanent attendant.
"I am growing older and I want to find someone who will obey my every wish, someone who best understands me and who will do good things in this world," he explained.
Naturally, all the monks offered their services. The Buddha listened to their pleas, and as he did, he noticed his cousin, Ananda, sitting quietly in the back of the room. Ananda had become a monk when he was young. He was a diligent and willing student, and he was following the proper path. Ananda was a deeply kind young man. There was no one who did not like and admire him.
The Buddha said, "Why do you not volunteer your services, Ananda?"
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"You know who is best," Ananda said. "It is your choice, not one for another to make."
The Buddha smiled. "It is you I select," he said.
Ananda agreed to serve as attendant, but only on some conditions. First, the Buddha was never to give Ananda any food or robes or special accommodation. And he would never accompany the Buddha when he was invited to people's homes.
"I do not wish people to think I am serving you for my own material gain," Ananda explained.
He had other conditions, too, and the Buddha accepted them all. And so began a life together that would last for 25 years, until the Buddha attained Nirvana.
Ananda had always loved the monk's life, and his selflessness showed in his service to the Buddha. He worked to help the Buddha so that he could concentrate on his teachings. He washed and mended the Buddha's clothes, cleaned his house and cooled him with a fan while the Buddha was meditating. He slept nearby so he would always be at hand. He accompanied the Buddha on his travels to teach at other monasteries, and when the Buddha was tired, he kept people away. Ananda was the Buddha's confidante and servant, his secretary and his guard, his friend and his student.
One day the Buddha sent Ananda to a village in India to perform a special task. Ananda walked through the village until he came to the well, where he saw a young girl with dirty hands and feet and face.
"Will you give me a drink of water, please?" Ananda asked her. This was the special task that Buddha had asked him to do.
The girl blushed and looked at the ground. "Sir, I am not worthy to do such a thing. I am of the lowest caste. I cannot give water to a monk. I might contaminate you."
Ananda shook his head and said, "I did not ask you to tell me your caste. I asked you for a drink of water."
Without hesitation, the girl lifted her bucket from the well and poured a cup of water for the monk. As she handed it to him, she smiled with pure delight. Ananda drank the water, thanked the girl and walked away.
Soon after this the girl asked her priest who this man was. "I wish to live in the place where he lives. I wish to serve this man, for I love him," she said.
The priest smiled at the girl. He understood that she was bursting with devotion toward this man of such deep compassion.
"You do not love Ananda," the priest explained. "It is his kindness that you love. And it is a great thing when a king is kind to a slave, as Ananda was kind to you. It is greater still when the slave ignores her wrongs and instead celebrates kindness."
Ananda was secretly listening, and he began to nod. "Yes," he said, and the girl turned and saw this man of such kindness. "You are the great one," he told her. "You understand it is better not to hate your oppressors. You are powerless to resist your masters, but instead of hatred, you feel pity for their arrogance. You know they are to be pitied for their inability to be kind."
"But, sir," the girl said, "there is no reason in the world to be cruel. I am grateful for all the good things in this world."
Ananda and the priest agreed, and the Buddha did too. This girl was a blessed child, a model for all the nobles of this world.
"You may be of low caste," Ananda said, "but those in the highest caste will learn from you, and from this day on, you will outshine kings and queens."
This was true. The Buddha honored this young woman with his love and kindness, and from that day, whenever anyone saw her face, they recognized her not as a poor slave girl or a powerless child, but as a woman of grace and power.
She was one of the chosen.