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The Testimony of Faith

VOLUME 1, Chapter 3


A10 The specific explanation of the meaning of the text.
B1 The preface.
C1 The testimony of faith.
D1 An explanation of the six fulfillments.


Thus I have heard.


expresses faith. Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and the foremost in learning of all his disciples, edited and compiled the sutras. At the beginning of each sutra he says, “Thus I have heard,” indicating that the words to follow are the Buddha’s words. “Thus” means “Dharma such as this, the eight volumes of the Shurangama Sutra, is what I, Ananda, have heard. I, Ananda, myself heard the Buddha speak this.” Therefore, dharma that is “thus” can be believed; dharma that is not “thus” cannot be believed. “Thus,” then, refers to the text of the sutra.

”Thus” satisfies the fulfillment of faith. All sutras spoken by the Buddha begin with the six fulfillments: the fulfillment of faith; the fulfillment of hearing; the fulfillment of time; the fulfillment of a host - one who speaks the dharma; the fulfillment of a place; and, the fulfillment of an audience.

1. The fulfillment of faith.

“Why must one have faith?” someone may wonder.

Faith is the source of the Way
And the mother of merit and virtue
Because it nourishes all good dharmas.
Such is its great importance.

It is said,

The Buddhadharma is like a great sea;
Only through faith can one enter it.

There is no other way to enter the sea of dharma except by faith. Only by means of faith can one “deeply enter the sutra treasury and have wisdom like the sea.” One should have faith that the Shurangama Sutra is extremely fine. Believe in the sutra. That is to have faith. That is what is meant by the fulfillment of faith.

2. The fulfillment of hearing.

Those with the fulfillment of faith still must come to listen to what is said. If you have only the fulfillment of faith, then when lecture time comes you may be off in the park or at a coffee house and miss the lecture entirely. That would be a case of there being no realization of hearing. But if instead you aren’t out drinking coffee while sutras are being lectured - what is more, if you aren’t even thinking about food though you’ve skipped dinner and are thus making absolutely certain that you hear the sutra - you have achieved the fulfillment of hearing. Since you have all come to listen and have brought about the fulfillment of faith with your sincerity, I will realize the fulfillment of hearing for you.

3. The fulfillment of time.

If you have faith and hearing, but you don’t have the time, then there’s no way to hear the sutra. There must be an appropriate time. Usually, you are either going to school or going to work and have no time to come and listen to sutra lectures. But now we have found the time to assemble and investigate the sutra.

4. The fulfillment of a host.

You must also have a host to speak the dharma. If, for instance, you want to listen to sutras, you must find someone to lecture them for you. However, if you were to request one of your “do-it-yourself dharma masters” (laypeople who use this title even though they have not left the home-life in the orthodox tradition) to lecture, you would find that you might as well lecture yourself. You already understand what they lecture. Therefore you must find a host who can speak the dharma. It was for this reason that you pulled me out of the grave. Basically I’m known as the “Monk in the Grave,” but you have brought me out to lecture sutras and speak dharma for you.

”Who is the host of the sutra?”

Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Shurangama Sutra; he represents the fulfillment of a host.

5. The fulfillment of a place.

“Once there is a host to speak the dharma, then everything is ready for dharma to be spoken, right?” you ask.

No, you still need a place to lecture the sutras.

”What about the park? It’s big enough. We could go there for lectures.”

That might work for a day or two, but by the third day the authorities would prevent it. “This is a public park,” they would say. “You can’t occupy it like this.” So you have to find somewhere appropriate to bring about the fulfillment of a place.

6. The fulfillment of an audience.

Finally, there must be people who come to listen. If there’s no audience for the sutra lecture, you can go ahead and lecture to the tables and chairs, but can they listen? No, an audience is necessary.

For the Shurangama Sutra, the place is the Jeta Grove, in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary, at the city of Shravasti, where the Buddha dwelt with his disciples.

In this sutra, the audience is composed of the great bhikshus and Bodhisattvas who came to listen.

When Ananda says, “Thus I have heard,” the “I” refers to the “hypothetical self” of the Bodhisattva. There are four kinds of self:

  1. Ordinary people have an “attachment to the self” which comes from their attachment to the body.
  2. Non-Buddhist religions speak of a “divine self.” They maintain that there is a God-head, or say that they themselves are God.
  3. Bodhisattvas follow worldly custom and manifest a “hypothetical self.”
  4. The Buddhas have the ”true self” of the dharma body.

The ordinary person is attached to his body and feels that it is his real self. Actually the body is but a temporary dwelling, like a hotel. You can live in a hotel for a while, but eventually you will have to move. You can’t stay forever. Ordinary people do not understand this principle. They think, “My body is me,” and they strive to feed it well and dress it beautifully. They look for pleasure to indulge it in. They want an elegant home and beautiful surroundings. They busy themselves dressing well, eating rich food, and living high - all only to help out their “stinking skin-bags.”

The human body is merely a stinking skin-bag. You don’t believe it? Take a look. Unclean matter oozes from your eyes. Your ears discharge wax, which is also unclean. Your nose is full of filthy mucus and your mouth is full of unclean saliva and phlegm. If you don’t bathe for four days, your body begins to stink, and if you perspire, it becomes foul in just a day or two. Feces and urine are also filthy. Impurities are constantly being discharged from the nine bodily apertures of the eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, anus, and urethra – they’re all unclean. What is there to love about your body?

You may dress it in finery; dab it with perfume; slave for it all day applying lipstick, rouge, and powder as some women are wont to do - all for the sake of the false shell of the body. No matter how good the food, it still turns into excrement. Decorating the body is just like decorating a toilet with beautiful material. No matter how elegant the toilet turns out, it is still a place to deposit filthy things. Would you say the insides of a human body are clean?

Tell me, what’s so good about your body? When the time comes to die, it retains no sentiment for you. It doesn’t say, “You’ve been so good to me, I’ll live a few extra days and help you out.” It can’t do it. So what good is the body after all? Nonetheless, the ordinary person is attached to his body and takes it as himself. “This is MY body,” he says. “You hit ME! I can’t allow that! How dare you insult ME!”

Ultimately, who is that “me”? He doesn’t even know who he is, and yet he says others are insulting him or hitting him. He hasn’t recognized his original face and thinks the flesh body is “me.” The spirit and the self-nature are the true self, but he has not found them. He can't see them. He doesn’t even know enough to look for them. He just assumes he’s doing the right thing by slaving for the sake of his body.

If your primary concern is to get the better half of things for yourself, you haven’t figured out life right. Anyone like that won’t be able to make things add up. He is busy for the sake of himself to the exclusion of all else. Therefore, a Bodhisattva is never busy for himself. He is busy for the sake of others. If people want his help, he will give it to them, regardless of the circumstances.

Non-Buddhist religions speak of a “divine self.” “What is the self?” they say. “It is God.” There are many varieties of this kind of self, but they will not be discussed at this time.

What is the “hypothetical self” of the Bodhisattva? Ananda says, “Thus I have heard.” However, Ananda is enlightened; at the time he recalls the Buddha’s words for us, he has already attained arhatship, and so he no longer has any “I” - any ego. In saying “I have heard,” he is simply following worldly custom and assuming a hypothetical self in order to be comprehensible to ordinary people who have an attachment to the self.

Bodhisattvas do not have the characteristic of a self. They recognize the ordinary attachment to the self as false, and they seek the true self of one’s own nature. It is from the false self that you can arrive at the true self, for only if you recognize the false can you find the true. If you don’t recognize the false as false, how can you find the truth? Why are we now investigating the Buddhadharma? It is because we are searching for true principle. Why do we seek true principle? Because we know that everything in the world is false, and we want to find the truth within falsity.

What is the true self of one’s own nature that the Bodhisattva seeks? It is the Buddha. The Buddha is the true self. Before you have realized Buddhahood, your “I” is false. The Bodhisattva knows the self is false, but the ordinary person says, “You say the self is false, but as I see it, my body is excellent. It is strong, tall, well-proportioned and handsome. You may say it is false, but I think it is true.” He can’t see through it, and so he can’t put it down. Unable to put it down, he cannot become truly independent.

The phrase “I have heard” indicates the fulfillment of hearing.

”Now, basically,” you may say, “the ears hear. Why doesn’t it say, .Thus the ears heard,. instead of ‘Thus I have heard.’?” Actually, the ears cannot hear. They are merely the organ of hearing. What hears is the nature, which is eternally present. It is the mind that heard. What it heard was the dharma which is “thus.”

”Which dharma is ‘thus’?” you ask.

It is the Shurangama Sutra that Dharma Master Paramiti wrote out on sheer silk, placed in an incision he made in his arm, carried to China, and translated into Chinese. Now it has come to America, where it has been translated into English. It is what Ananda himself heard the Buddha speak. It is what the Buddha has transmitted to China. It is not something that Ananda as an individual put together and made. It is the dharma the Buddha spoke.

All sutras that the Buddha spoke begin with the four words “Thus I have heard.” There are four reasons for that.

1. To put the doubts of the assembly to rest.

After the Buddha had entered nirvana, and it came time to compile the sutras, Ananda ascended the high seat to speak dharma. He immediately manifested the appearance of entering samadhi and sat there for perhaps five minutes without speaking. Once he had entered samadhi, his appearance became identical with the Buddha’s. He was endowed with the thirty-two marks and eighty subtle characteristics of a Buddha; he emitted light and moved the earth. The great assembly of disciples immediately gave rise to three doubts:

1.Some thought that Shakyamuni Buddha had come back to life because they saw that Ananda had taken on the perfect features of the Buddha. The disciples had probably been thinking so much about the Buddha that their brains were a bit murky, and so they jumped to this conclusion.

2. Some thought that the reason Ananda now had such perfect features was that he, Ananda, had himself realized Buddhahood.

3. Some thought a Buddha had come from another region. “It isn’t Shakyamuni Buddha, and Ananda hasn’t become a Buddha,” they thought. “Perhaps it is a Buddha from the north, south, east, or west, from one of the ten directions.”

But as soon as Ananda said, “Thus I have heard,” the three doubts of the assembly were suddenly resolved.

2. To honor the Buddha’s instruction.

When the Buddha was about to enter nirvana, he announced his intent to his disciples, and they began to cry. Ananda, who was the Buddha’s cousin, cried hardest of them all. He sobbed and wept, probably until his tears washed his face clean. Finally the Venerable Aniruddha approached him and said, “Don’t cry. You can’t cry. Since the Buddha is about to enter nirvana, you should ask him what to do about things after he is gone.”

”What things should I ask about?” Ananda said.

The Venerable Aniruddha replied, “In the future, the sutras will be compiled. You should ask what words to begin them with. Second,” Aniruddha continued, “when the Buddha is in the world, we live with the Buddha. When the Buddha enters nirvana where will we dwell? Ask the Buddha that. Third, we now rely on the Buddha as our teacher. After the Buddha enters nirvana, whom should we take as our teacher? We have to have a teaching and transforming guide, a teaching host. Fourth, when the Buddha is in the world, he is able to discipline and subdue the bad-natured bhikshus. After the Buddha enters nirvana, how should they be dealt with? The proper thing for you to do is to go ask the Buddha these four questions.”

Ananda agreed. He went to the Buddha and asked, “When the Buddha is in the world, we take the Buddha as our master. After the Buddha enters nirvana, whom should we take as master?”

The Buddha answered, “Take the precepts as your master.” Bhikshus and bhikshunis should take the precepts as master.

”When the Buddha is in the world, we dwell with the Buddha,” Ananda said. “When the Buddha enters nirvana, where shall we dwell?”

”When the Buddha leaves the world, you should dwell in the four applications of mindfulness,” the Buddha answered. The four applications of mindfulness are: contemplate the body as impure; contemplate feelings as suffering; contemplate thoughts as impermanent; and contemplate dharmas as being without self. If you contemplate the body as impure, you won’t love the body. If you contemplate feelings as suffering, you can’t be greedy for pleasure. If you know thoughts are impermanent, you won’t become attached to the polluted thoughts that arise in your mind. The dharmas that are without a self are the five skandhas, or heaps: form, feeling, thinking, activity, and consciousness.

Third, Ananda said, “In the future when the sutras are compiled what words should we begin them with?”

The Buddha answered: “Use these four words: ‘Thus I have heard.’” These words and the six fulfillments represent the completeness of the sutra’s meaning and certify that the sutra was spoken by the Buddha.

”I have just one more question,” said Ananda. “When the Buddha is in the world he can control the bad-natured bhikshus. But when the Buddha enters nirvana, what is to be done about them?”

The Buddha said, “As to the bad-natured bhikshus, ignore them and they will go away. Pay no attention to them. Don’t talk to them. Don’t sit with them. In general, treat them as despicable; ignore them. If no one pays any attention to them, they won’t be able to do anything, no matter how evil they may be.”

Bad-natured bhikshus are people who have left the home-life and who say and do unprincipled things. When the Buddha was in the world, there were six bhikshus who were very bad. You shouldn’t think that every person who leaves the home-life is good. There are also many unruly people among the Sangha. The Buddha instructs us to “ignore them and they will go away.” Keep silent and pay no attention to them. In that way you can subdue them.

3. To resolve the assembly’s disputes.

The Buddha had many disciples who were old cultivators - senior members of the assembly who had much more Way-virtue than Ananda. Ananda had just recently attained the fourth stage of arhatship, while among the assembly were many who had long been fourth-stage arhats. If Ananda had simply spoken the sutras, most of them would not have paid him due respect. But by saying “Thus I have heard,” he made it clear that what they were about to hear was not a sutra spoken by Ananda himself, but rather a sutra he heard the Buddha speak. Therefore, no one could argue.

Everyone knew that Ananda had the most excellent memory and could remember in their entirety all the sutras the Buddha had spoken during his forty-nine years of teaching without getting them confused or mixed up in any way. Ananda was born on the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment. He heard everything the Buddha taught during the last twenty-nine years of his life and remembered every single word of it.

”But how could he remember what the Buddha taught during the first twenty years?” someone may ask. “He wasn’t even there to hear the teaching.” Remember that Ananda was the Buddha’s personal attendant and never left the Buddha’s side. He used every opportunity to question the Buddha about the earlier teachings and in this way he learned all the dharma the Buddha had spoken during those first twenty years.

The Buddha’s teaching was like a great river. Every drop of it flowed into the ocean of Ananda’s mind. Not a single drop escaped. That is why it is said that everything the Buddha taught during all the forty-nine years - from his enlightenment to his nirvana - was perfectly preserved in Ananda’s memory. Thus, the disputes of the assembly were quelled.

4. To distinguish Buddhist sutras from the writings of other religions.

Non-Buddhist texts begin either with the word O, “existence,” or the word E, “non-existence.” They say that all phenomena are either existent or non-existent. But Buddhist sutras speak of true emptiness and wonderful existence, the doctrine of the Middle Way. They avoid the extreme doctrines of existence and non-existence, being and non-being. They begin with “Thus I have heard” to distinguish them from non-Buddhist texts.

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