Gautam Buddha said, “You are an enlightened being. You don’t have to touch my feet.”
Sariputta said, “Before enlightenment, it was a ritual. Just because every disciple was touching your feet, I was touching also. But now it is no longer a ritual. Now it is authentic gratitude, because without you I don’t think I would have attained to myself. Although it was always within me, I don’t think that alone I was able to discover it – not at least in this life.
“Your compassion, your love, your continuous showering of blessings slowly, slowly removed all that was not me. Now when I touch your feet it is not a ritual, it is a heartfelt nourishment. I feel nourished. The day I miss touching your feet, I feel a great gap. And I know that you are within me.”
Buddha said, “Do one thing. All you who have become enlightened will have to learn to be away from me, and yet not away from me. It is true you cannot touch my feet, but from wherever you are just turn towards the side you think I am and bow down to the earth. My body belongs to the earth. If you touch the earth with the same gratitude, you have touched me.”
Sariputta went away. And the people of his kingdom could not believe it; he had become such a glory, such a magnificence, such a beauty. All this was miraculous, but their curiosity was that every day – morning, evening – he would turn towards the direction where Buddha was dwelling far away, and touch his feet with tremendous gratitude. They said, “You are an enlightened being; you don’t have to touch the earth.”
He said, “I am not touching the earth. I have learned a new secret, that the body is nothing but earth, that the earth contains not only the feet of my Buddha, my master, but all the buddhas of the past, of the present, of the future. Touching it, I am touching all those who have become awakened and made the path clear for me, showed me the way.”
Even when Buddha died, he continued…towards the same direction where Buddha’s body was lying at the last moment. He never felt any separation. And it was not only for him, it was the same for all twenty-four disciples who had become enlightened.
Ananda became – just according to the prediction of Gautam Buddha – enlightened after twenty-four hours. He in fact did not move from the place. He closed his eyes when Buddha died and remained without eating, without drinking, without sleeping. Those twenty-four hours were the greatest time of his life, a time of transformation from an ignorant being into an awakened soul. He opened his eyes only when the tears had disappeared and a smile had come to his face.
Manjushri was close to him. He said, “What happened? You were crying; you were sitting as if dead, and suddenly you are smiling.”