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PART 3:  


All sutras may be divided into three parts:

  • the Preface,
  • the Principle Proper, and
  • the Transmission.

The Preface discusses the sutra’s general meaning, the Principle Proper discusses its doctrines, and the Transmission instructs us to transmit the sutra, to propagate it and make it flow, like water, everywhere. The Preface is like a person’s head, and the Principle Proper is like his body. Just as our organs are very clearly arranged within our bodies, so are the doctrines clearly set forth within the sutras.

The Preface may also be called the “Afterword.” “Isn’t that a contradiction,” you ask. It is not a contradiction because it wasn’t spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha himself, but was added later when Ananda and Mahakasyapa edited the sutras. It may also be called the “Arising of Dharma” Preface because it sets forth the reasons the sutra was spoken. It is also called the “Certification of Faith” Preface because it proves that the sutra can be believed.

In the Preface, Six Requirements are fulfilled. They are

  • faith,
  • hearer,
  • time,
  • host,
  • place, and
  • audience.


Thus I have heard. At one time the Buddha dwelt at Sravasti, in the Jeta Grove, in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary, together with a gathering of great Bhikshus, twelve hundred fifty in all, all great Arhats whom the assembly knew and recognized:


Thus fulfills the requirement of faith. I have heard fulfills the requirement of the hearer. At one time fulfills the requirement of time and the Buddha is the host. Sravasti, in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary fulfills the requirement of place, the gathering of great Bhikshus fulfills the audience requirement. Because all six requirements are fulfilled, we know that the sutra can be believed.

Thus I have heard.

What does Thus mean? Thus fills the requirement of faith. You can have faith in Dharma which is Thus , not in dharma which is not Thus . Thus designates the text as orthodox Buddhadharma.

Thus means “it is Thus.”

Thus is stillness: it is denotes movement.

If it is Thus , it is; if it is not Thus , it is not.

Whatever is not non-existent, exists; whatever is without error is correct.

Thus means “still and unmoving.”
Thus is true emptiness; it is is wonderful existence.
Wonderful existence is not apart from true emptiness.
True emptiness is not apart from wonderful existence.
Emptiness and existence are non-dual:
Both empty and existing, neither empty nor existing.
This Dharma can be believed.

The four words Thus I have heard begin all Buddhist sutras. It is Thus; if it were not Thus it would not be correct. This is the doctrine, and Dharma which is Thus can be believed.

I have heard.

Ananda says that he himself personally heard this teaching. But, having given proof to the fruit of Arhatship, basically Ananda has no ego. How can he say, “I have heard?” This is the “self of noself.” Ananda says, “I have heard” in order to be comprehensible to ordinary people, who have a “self.”

Heard fills the accomplishment of the hearer. Why does one have faith? Because one has heard. If one hadn’t heard, how could one have faith?

Ananda’s Four Questions

The use of Thus I have heard comes from instructions given to Ananda by the Buddha just before the Buddha entered Nirvana:

One day Shakyamuni Buddha announced, “Tonight, in the middle of the night, I am going to enter Nirvana!” When Ananda heard this he was so distraught that he cried like a baby for its mother and called, “Buddha, Buddha, please don’t enter Nirvana! Please don’t cast us all aside!” He cried and pleaded until his brain got addled, probably because he thought that this was what he should be doing.

Just then a blind man came by, one unlike other blind men. His ordinary eyes were blind, but his Heavenly Eye was open. Because he was blind, he wasn’t burdened with a lot of false thinking, and his mind was very clear. “Venerable One,” he said, addressing Ananda, “Why are you crying?”

“The Buddha is about to enter Nirvana,” Ananda replied. “How can I hold back my tears?”

The eyeless elder replied, “How can you do your work if you cry? After the Buddha enters Nirvana, we will have to establish many things. There is work to be done and questions to be asked.”

“What questions?” said Ananda. “The Buddha is going to Nirvana. What is there left to do? What could be more important than the Buddha’s Nirvana?”

The blind man, whose name was Aniruddha, and who was foremost in the capacity of the Heavenly Eye, said, “There are four extremely important matters which must be settled.”

“What are they?” asked Ananda.

“Compiling the sutras is one,” he said. “With what words should we begin each sutra?”

“True!” said Ananda. “That is important. It’s a good thing you brought it up. I never would have thought of it myself. All I can think of is the Buddha going to Nirvana. What is the second question I should ask?”

The Venerable Aniruddha said, “We have taken the Buddha as our teacher, but when he goes to Nirvana, who will be our teacher? Should we look for another teacher?”

“Right, right!” said Ananda. “We should find another good teacher. You’re quite right. What is the third?”

Aniruddha said, “Now we live with the Buddha, but when he goes to Nirvana, where will we live?” “That is very important,” said Ananda. “Without a place to live, how can we cultivate the Way? Should we find someplace else to live? These three matters are extremely important. What is the fourth?”

Aniruddha said, “The Buddha can discipline evil-natured Bhikshus, but after he goes to Nirvana, how shall we take care of them?”

Now, an evil-natured Bhikshu does nothing but disturb other people. If you meditate, he walks around, “Clomp! Clomp!” making a lot of noise so that no one can enter samadhi. When people are walking, he sits to meditate. “Look at me!” he says. “I sit much better than all of you,” and pretends to have entered samadhi. When people are bowing to the Buddha, the evil-natured Bhikshu likes to recite sutras, and when people are reciting sutras, he likes to bow to the Buddha.

In general, he’s got to have a special style – “the evil-natured-Bhikshu style” – and he does not follow the rules. If everyone goes one way, he goes the opposite way. He has no consideration for anyone else, but expects everyone to notice him. “He’s terrific,” everyone says. “He really cultivates.” He insists on being special so that others will notice him and say that he is the best. Fiercely competitive, he must be the strongest, outstanding among the best. He stands like an asura with his hands on his hips as if to say, “See what a great hero I am?” He has to be different and outdo everyone else.

When the Buddha was in the world, he could control such evil natured Bhikshus, and they obeyed his instructions. But after he entered Nirvana who would supervise them? And who could control the evil-natured laymen who say, “Look at me. I’m more dedicated than all you other laymen.” Actually, it’s just because of him and his special style that no one else is dedicated. Aniruddha said, “When the Buddha goes to Nirvana, what are we going to do with the evil-natured Bhikshus and evil-natured laymen?”

“These are important questions,” said Ananda. “I’ll go ask right away.” He wiped his eyes, blew his nose, and ran off to the Buddha. “Buddha, Great Master,” he said, “I have four questions which I would like to ask you before you go to Nirvana. World Honored One, won’t you be compassionate and answer them?”

“All right,” said the Buddha.

“Buddha,” said Ananda, “you have spoken many sutras. When we compile and edit them, with what words should they begin?”

The Buddha said, “All sutras spoken by the Buddhas of the past, present, and future begin with the words, ‘Thus I have heard,’ which means, ‘The Dharma which is Thus can be believed. I personally heard it.’”

Ananda said, “Secondly, you are our Master, but when you enter Nirvana, who will be our teacher? Please instruct us. Should it be Mahakasyapa?”

The Buddha said, “No. When I go to Nirvana, take the Pratimoksa, the precepts, as your teacher. To accord with the Buddha’s instructions, those who leave home must first receive the precepts.”

Then Ananda said, “We have always lived with you, Buddha, but when you enter Nirvana, where are we going to live?”

Shakyamuni Buddha said, “When I go to Nirvana, all Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Upasakas, and Upasikas should dwell in the Four Applications of Mindfulness: Mindfulness with regard to the body, feelings, thoughts, and dharmas.

  • Contemplate the body as impure. If you know that the body is impure, you won’t love it, and without love there will be no attachment. Being without attachment is freedom. So first of all, regard the body as impure.
  • Contemplate feelings as suffering. Feelings are all a kind of suffering, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, for pleasant feelings are the cause of unpleasant feelings.
  • Contemplate thought as impermanent. Thoughts shift and flow and are not permanent.
  • Contemplate dharmas as devoid of self.”

Ananda further asked, “How should we treat evil-natured Bhikshus?”

The Buddha said, “That is no problem at all. Simply be silent and they will go away. Fight evil people with concentration power. Don’t be moved by them. If they are evil, don’t be evil in return. If a mad dog bites you and you bite him back, you’re just a dog yourself. Evil-natured people are born with a bad temper. All you can do is ignore them and they will soon lose interest and leave.”

“Oh,” said Ananda, “it’s really very simple.”

Why did the Buddha tell Ananda to use the four words “Thus I have heard?” These four words have three meanings:

  • To distinguish Buddhist sutras from the writings of other religions. Non-Buddhist religions in India began their texts with the words “A” or “O” which means “non-existence” or “existence.” As these opposing religions see it, all dharmas in heaven and earth either exist or do not exist. “If it is not non-existent,” they say, “then it exists, and if it doesn’t exist, then it’s non-existent.” In general, as far as they can see, nothing goes beyond existence and non-existence. “In the beginning there wasn’t anything,” they write, “but now there is.” None of these religions speaks of true emptiness and wonderful existence. Their doctrines may resemble them somewhat, but they don’t explain them in detail.

Buddhist sutras are “Thus.” They are just that way. The Dharma is just that way. You ask, “What is not that way?” Everything is that way. If you question it and say, “What is that way?” then nothing is that way. “Thus” is extremely wonderful. The words “Thus I have heard” distinguish Buddhist sutras from the writings of other religions.

To resolve the doubts of the assembly. The Buddha knew that everyone would have doubts. After the Buddha’s Nirvana, while Ananda and Mahakasyapa were editing the sutras, Ananda sat on the Dharma-seat to speak the Dharma. Seeing him sitting on the Buddha’s seat, the members of the assembly suddenly gave rise to three doubts:

  • Some thought, “Shakyamuni Buddha hasn’t completed the stillness! He hasn’t gone to Nirvana. Our Master lives!” They thought Ananda was Shakyamuni Buddha come back to life.
  • Others thought, “Shakyamuni Buddha has already entered Nirvana. This must be a Buddha from another direction: north, east, south, or west.”
  • “No,” said others, “the Great Master has gone to Nirvana. He hasn’t come back to life, and the Buddhas of the other directions teach people in other directions. They would never come all the way to the Saha world. Why, Ananda himself must have realized Buddhahood!”

The assembly held these three doubts until Ananda said, “Thus I have heard.” As soon as he said them, everyone knew that Shakyamuni Buddha hadn’t come back. They knew it was not a Buddha from another direction, and that Ananda had not become a Buddha. The Dharma which is “Thus” is that which Ananda personally heard from Shakyamuni Buddha. Three doubts suddenly arose and four words resolved them.

To end the assembly’s debates. Of all the great Bhikshus, Ananda was the youngest. He was born on the day Shakyamuni Buddha realized Buddhahood, and when the Buddha went to Nirvana, Ananda was only forty-nine years old. Why was Ananda selected to explain and edit the sutras? Old Kasyapa was the eldest, and Maudgalyayana and Shariputra were both of higher status than Ananda. There were many others in the assembly with more Way-virtue and learning than him.

He was the youngest and it was likely that no one would believe in him and that many would try to be first. One might say, “I’ve heard more sutras than you so I should explain them.” But when Ananda said, “Thus I have heard,” everyone knew that these were not Ananda’s principles, or the principles of the Great Assembly. “This is the Dharma which I, Ananda, personally heard the Buddha speak. It is not your teaching and not my teaching; it is our Master’s teaching. You are not first and I am not first.” This silenced the assembly’s debates.

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