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Part II – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha

A Brief Commentary on The Sutra Of The Four Practices For Bodhisattvas Spoken By The Buddha(Part II)By Acharya ZhiguangAt Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain on July 20153. The prologue of the Sutra“Thus have I heard. The Buddha was dwelling at the Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Park in Shravasti, together with the Sangha of twelve hundred and fifty great Bhikshus.”There are six main points taught in this paragraph. All the Buddhist sutras have six signs, or Six Perfections, to prove that they are authentic. This is the prologue of the sutra. (a) Perfection of Faith “Thus” means the Perfection of…

2017.11.06

A Brief Commentary on The Sutra Of The Four Practices For Bodhisattvas Spoken By The Buddha

(Part II)

By Acharya Zhiguang

At Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain on July 2015

3. The prologue of the Sutra

“Thus have I heard. The Buddha was dwelling at the Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Park in Shravasti, together with the Sangha of twelve hundred and fifty great Bhikshus.”

There are six main points taught in this paragraph. All the Buddhist sutras have six signs, or Six Perfections, to prove that they are authentic. This is the prologue of the sutra.

(a) Perfection of Faith

“Thus” means the Perfection of Faith. The word “thus” means it is exactly what the Lord Buddha has taught.

Many of the sutras of the Buddha were retold by Venerable Ananda. Venerable Ananda had such a supreme memory that he could recite all the sutras taught by the Buddha. Today we also have many so-called Venerable Anandas, all types of voice recorders. There was a saying that goes, “The great ocean of Dharma flows into the heart of Ananda.” Nowadays the Dharma is still like the ocean, but it all flows into the recorders (the audience laughed). So I hope that Dharma will flow into your heart, not just into the recorders. If Dharma teachings cannot merge into our hearts, they will mean nothing to us.

(b) Perfection of Hearing

The expression “have I heard” means the Perfection of Hearing. It means that the Buddha gave the teachings that way and I heard them that way. There are no alterations, just like what a recorder does.

All the Buddhist sutras begin with the expression “Thus have I heard”. There are four reasons for this as follows:

(1) To remove the doubts of some people

After the Buddha entered Nirvana, the Sangha gathered together and decided to compile all the teachings of the Buddha. They came to Venerable Ananda and asked him to retell the Buddha’s teachings because he had the best memory. When Venerable Ananda recited the Buddha’s teachings, some people started to wonder. They wondered whether Venerable Ananda had already attained Buddhahood, whether the Buddha Sakyamuni was back again, or whether some other Buddhas had come. This is because the hallmarks and fine features of Venerable Ananda were very close to those of the Buddha. The Buddha had thirty-two excellent signs, and Venerable Ananda had thirty. So Venerable Ananda was just a little inferior to the Lord Buddha in terms of handsomeness. He became a monk just because he found the Buddha was better looking than him. He asked the Buddha, “Why do you look so nice?” And the Buddha replied, “I will tell you if you become a monk.” Then Venerable Ananda became a monk. So, if the Dharma teachers are good-looking, they will have the advantage in spreading the Buddhist teachings easily. Otherwise, it might be a little difficult for them to do so. Just Kidding!

Some people had the above three doubts during Venerable Ananda’s recitations of the Buddha’s teachings. They no longer had such doubts when Venerable Ananda said “Thus have I heard” because they realized that Venerable Ananda was only repeating the words of the Buddha. This is the first reason why the expression “Thus have I heard” is placed at the beginning of all sutras.

(2) To follow the instructions of the Buddha

When the Buddha was about to enter Nirvana, Venerable Ananda asked him the following four questions:

The first question is, “We all take the Buddha as our teacher when the Buddha is present in this world. But who will be our teacher after the Buddha’s passing?” The Buddha replied, “You should take the Vinaya (disciplines) as the teacher.”

The second question is, “We all stay with the Lord Buddha when he is present in this world. But where should we stay after the Buddha’s Nirvana?” The Buddha responded, “You should be established in Satipatthana (the four foundations of mindfulness).”  

The third question is, “The Buddha disciplines the Bhikshus of bad nature with his power and virtue when the Buddha is present in this world. But how should we deal with those Bhikshus after the Buddha’s Nirvana?” The Buddha replied, “Just ignore them.”

Then the fourth question is, “What sentence should we put at the beginning of all the sutras after the Nirvana of the Buddha?” Then the Buddha said, “You should put the expression ‘Thus have I heard’.”

(3) To settle disputes

The third reason is to settle the disputes among the Buddhist followers. With this expression at the beginning of the sutra, it is made clear that this is how the Buddha has taught and what I, Ananda, have heard personally without any alternations. It’s all known that Venerable Ananda was foremost in learning, and he was able to retain all things he had heard. In this way, there would be no disputes among the Buddhist followers.

(4) To distinguish from the heretical scriptures

The fourth reason is to distinguish the Buddhist sutras from the heretical scriptures.

(c) Perfection of Time

The Perfection of Time is indicated by the expression “at one time” in the sutra. There are time, place and participants in the Buddhist sutras. The texts of the sutras are somewhat like the meeting memos nowadays. The time, place and participants of the Dharma teaching are all recorded in the sutras. The place and participants are generally described in detail, while the time is not. Someone may ask, “Why does it say ‘at one time’? What time is exactly ‘one time’? Why doesn’t the sutra record the exact date? ”

This is because the Buddha has enormous wisdom. When the Buddha gave the teachings in a state, the audience was not limited to the sentient beings of that state. There were also beings from other states, human beings and other life forms, even gods from the heaven, and dragons, what we call the eight groups of transmundane beings in different realms. Therefore, the time is not the same in different locations. It cannot be specified by just one specific time.

According to ancient Buddhist masters, “one time” is the time when the capacities of the students match with the Buddha’s teachings. When the conditions of the sentient beings are ripe and the Buddha decides it is time to give the teachings, this moment is the “one time”. From this point of view, today is also “one time” for us. So this is the Perfection of Time.

(d) Perfection of the Master who Teaches Dharma

The Buddha represents the Perfection of the Master who teaches Dharma. Who is the Master? It is the Lord Buddha! The Buddha does not refer to the other Buddhas; it just refers to the root teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, the Dharma Lord of our Saha world. According to Tantric scriptures, the Lord Buddha has already attained Buddhahood long ago, and he manifested his presence in this world in order to benefit the sentient beings.

(e) Perfection of Place

The expression “at the Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Park in Shravasti” indicates the Perfection of Place where the Dharma teaching was given. The term “Shravasti” is a state of abundant merits in meaning. Shravasti was one of the sixteen major states in India at that time, with the king called Prasenajit. The place where the teachings were given was called the “Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Park”.

Why is it called the “Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Park”? It is because that all the trees in the Jeta Grove in the park were offered by Prince Jeta, while the land of the park was offered by a rich old man named Anathapindada. It is said that Anathapindada once traveled to another state and heard the Buddha’s teaching there. He then had unparalleled faith in the Buddha. He told himself that he must invite the Buddha to his own state to teach such supreme Dharma. Then he went back to his state and started to look for a proper place for the Buddha to give teachings. He went to many places and finally pinpointed the only most beautiful place, which was the garden of Prince Jeta. So he tried to buy this garden from the prince. However, Prince Jeta didn’t want to sell because it was so beautiful. Anathapindada pleaded with the prince again and again. The prince then decided to scare him off with an extravagant demand. The prince said to Anathapindada, “If you can cover the land of my garden with gold, then I will sell it to you.” Normally no one can be so rich. But Anathapindada was no ordinary man. According to historical records, he was also a great Tertön. His eyes could find all the treasures underground or in the rocks. Many Master Tertöns in Tibetan Buddhism could retrieve a lot of precious Dharma teachings. Anathapindada was specialized in retrieving gold. So he got a lot of gold, and covered the whole garden of the Prince Jeta with gold. The prince is then a little bit awkward because he had to keep his words. He said, “Okay, all the areas covered with gold are considered as your offerings to the Buddha. But all the trees in the garden are supposed to be my offerings to the Buddha.” So this garden was finally called “Jeta Grove in Anathapindada park"(the trees of Jeta and the land of Anathapindada). The Buddha had given a lot of teachings in this precious garden, and Anathapindada gained enormous merits.

(f) Perfection of Audience

The last one is the Perfection of Audience, meaning those who were listening to the teachings. The sutra mentions “together with a Sangha of twelve hundred and fifty great Bhikshus”. So the audience was mainly the twelve hundred and fifty Bhikshus at that time. They were the retinues who followed the Lord Buddha all the time. According to The Mahayana Sutra On Four Methods, there were also numerous Bodhisattvas and Mahasattvas at the assembly. So, the number of the audience should be very large. This is what we call the Perfection of Audience. There are many definitions of the term “Sangha”. In Hinayana, “Sangha” means a group of four or more Bhikshus who stay together in harmony in the Six Ways. In Mahayana, it means the Bodhisattvas of the first Bhumi or higher. In Vajrayana, according to Mipham Rinpoche, all the yogis who practice following the Generation and Perfection Stages can be called a Vajrayana Sangha. For example, our Rigdzin Community can be called a Vajrayana Sangha.

(To be continued)

 

Part II – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha

Part II – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha

2017-11-05

A Brief Commentary on The Sutra Of The Four Practices For Bodhisattvas Spoken By The Buddha

(Part II)

By Acharya Zhiguang

At Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain on July 2015

3. The prologue of the Sutra

“Thus have I heard. The Buddha was dwelling at the Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Park in Shravasti, together with the Sangha of twelve hundred and fifty great Bhikshus.”

There are six main points taught in this paragraph. All the Buddhist sutras have six signs, or Six Perfections, to prove that they are authentic. This is the prologue of the sutra.

(a) Perfection of Faith

“Thus” means the Perfection of Faith. The word “thus” means it is exactly what the Lord Buddha has taught.

Many of the sutras of the Buddha were retold by Venerable Ananda. Venerable Ananda had such a supreme memory that he could recite all the sutras taught by the Buddha. Today we also have many so-called Venerable Anandas, all types of voice recorders. There was a saying that goes, “The great ocean of Dharma flows into the heart of Ananda.” Nowadays the Dharma is still like the ocean, but it all flows into the recorders (the audience laughed). So I hope that Dharma will flow into your heart, not just into the recorders. If Dharma teachings cannot merge into our hearts, they will mean nothing to us.

(b) Perfection of Hearing

The expression “have I heard” means the Perfection of Hearing. It means that the Buddha gave the teachings that way and I heard them that way. There are no alterations, just like what a recorder does.

All the Buddhist sutras begin with the expression “Thus have I heard”. There are four reasons for this as follows:

(1) To remove the doubts of some people

After the Buddha entered Nirvana, the Sangha gathered together and decided to compile all the teachings of the Buddha. They came to Venerable Ananda and asked him to retell the Buddha’s teachings because he had the best memory. When Venerable Ananda recited the Buddha’s teachings, some people started to wonder. They wondered whether Venerable Ananda had already attained Buddhahood, whether the Buddha Sakyamuni was back again, or whether some other Buddhas had come. This is because the hallmarks and fine features of Venerable Ananda were very close to those of the Buddha. The Buddha had thirty-two excellent signs, and Venerable Ananda had thirty. So Venerable Ananda was just a little inferior to the Lord Buddha in terms of handsomeness. He became a monk just because he found the Buddha was better looking than him. He asked the Buddha, “Why do you look so nice?” And the Buddha replied, “I will tell you if you become a monk.” Then Venerable Ananda became a monk. So, if the Dharma teachers are good-looking, they will have the advantage in spreading the Buddhist teachings easily. Otherwise, it might be a little difficult for them to do so. Just Kidding!

Some people had the above three doubts during Venerable Ananda’s recitations of the Buddha’s teachings. They no longer had such doubts when Venerable Ananda said “Thus have I heard” because they realized that Venerable Ananda was only repeating the words of the Buddha. This is the first reason why the expression “Thus have I heard” is placed at the beginning of all sutras.

(2) To follow the instructions of the Buddha

When the Buddha was about to enter Nirvana, Venerable Ananda asked him the following four questions:

The first question is, “We all take the Buddha as our teacher when the Buddha is present in this world. But who will be our teacher after the Buddha’s passing?” The Buddha replied, “You should take the Vinaya (disciplines) as the teacher.”

The second question is, “We all stay with the Lord Buddha when he is present in this world. But where should we stay after the Buddha’s Nirvana?” The Buddha responded, “You should be established in Satipatthana (the four foundations of mindfulness).”  

The third question is, “The Buddha disciplines the Bhikshus of bad nature with his power and virtue when the Buddha is present in this world. But how should we deal with those Bhikshus after the Buddha’s Nirvana?” The Buddha replied, “Just ignore them.”

Then the fourth question is, “What sentence should we put at the beginning of all the sutras after the Nirvana of the Buddha?” Then the Buddha said, “You should put the expression ‘Thus have I heard’.”

(3) To settle disputes

The third reason is to settle the disputes among the Buddhist followers. With this expression at the beginning of the sutra, it is made clear that this is how the Buddha has taught and what I, Ananda, have heard personally without any alternations. It’s all known that Venerable Ananda was foremost in learning, and he was able to retain all things he had heard. In this way, there would be no disputes among the Buddhist followers.

(4) To distinguish from the heretical scriptures

The fourth reason is to distinguish the Buddhist sutras from the heretical scriptures.

(c) Perfection of Time

The Perfection of Time is indicated by the expression “at one time” in the sutra. There are time, place and participants in the Buddhist sutras. The texts of the sutras are somewhat like the meeting memos nowadays. The time, place and participants of the Dharma teaching are all recorded in the sutras. The place and participants are generally described in detail, while the time is not. Someone may ask, “Why does it say ‘at one time’? What time is exactly ‘one time’? Why doesn’t the sutra record the exact date? ”

This is because the Buddha has enormous wisdom. When the Buddha gave the teachings in a state, the audience was not limited to the sentient beings of that state. There were also beings from other states, human beings and other life forms, even gods from the heaven, and dragons, what we call the eight groups of transmundane beings in different realms. Therefore, the time is not the same in different locations. It cannot be specified by just one specific time.

According to ancient Buddhist masters, “one time” is the time when the capacities of the students match with the Buddha’s teachings. When the conditions of the sentient beings are ripe and the Buddha decides it is time to give the teachings, this moment is the “one time”. From this point of view, today is also “one time” for us. So this is the Perfection of Time.

(d) Perfection of the Master who Teaches Dharma

The Buddha represents the Perfection of the Master who teaches Dharma. Who is the Master? It is the Lord Buddha! The Buddha does not refer to the other Buddhas; it just refers to the root teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, the Dharma Lord of our Saha world. According to Tantric scriptures, the Lord Buddha has already attained Buddhahood long ago, and he manifested his presence in this world in order to benefit the sentient beings.

(e) Perfection of Place

The expression “at the Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Park in Shravasti” indicates the Perfection of Place where the Dharma teaching was given. The term “Shravasti” is a state of abundant merits in meaning. Shravasti was one of the sixteen major states in India at that time, with the king called Prasenajit. The place where the teachings were given was called the “Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Park”.

Why is it called the “Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Park”? It is because that all the trees in the Jeta Grove in the park were offered by Prince Jeta, while the land of the park was offered by a rich old man named Anathapindada. It is said that Anathapindada once traveled to another state and heard the Buddha’s teaching there. He then had unparalleled faith in the Buddha. He told himself that he must invite the Buddha to his own state to teach such supreme Dharma. Then he went back to his state and started to look for a proper place for the Buddha to give teachings. He went to many places and finally pinpointed the only most beautiful place, which was the garden of Prince Jeta. So he tried to buy this garden from the prince. However, Prince Jeta didn’t want to sell because it was so beautiful. Anathapindada pleaded with the prince again and again. The prince then decided to scare him off with an extravagant demand. The prince said to Anathapindada, “If you can cover the land of my garden with gold, then I will sell it to you.” Normally no one can be so rich. But Anathapindada was no ordinary man. According to historical records, he was also a great Tertön. His eyes could find all the treasures underground or in the rocks. Many Master Tertöns in Tibetan Buddhism could retrieve a lot of precious Dharma teachings. Anathapindada was specialized in retrieving gold. So he got a lot of gold, and covered the whole garden of the Prince Jeta with gold. The prince is then a little bit awkward because he had to keep his words. He said, “Okay, all the areas covered with gold are considered as your offerings to the Buddha. But all the trees in the garden are supposed to be my offerings to the Buddha.” So this garden was finally called “Jeta Grove in Anathapindada park"(the trees of Jeta and the land of Anathapindada). The Buddha had given a lot of teachings in this precious garden, and Anathapindada gained enormous merits.

(f) Perfection of Audience

The last one is the Perfection of Audience, meaning those who were listening to the teachings. The sutra mentions “together with a Sangha of twelve hundred and fifty great Bhikshus”. So the audience was mainly the twelve hundred and fifty Bhikshus at that time. They were the retinues who followed the Lord Buddha all the time. According to The Mahayana Sutra On Four Methods, there were also numerous Bodhisattvas and Mahasattvas at the assembly. So, the number of the audience should be very large. This is what we call the Perfection of Audience. There are many definitions of the term “Sangha”. In Hinayana, “Sangha” means a group of four or more Bhikshus who stay together in harmony in the Six Ways. In Mahayana, it means the Bodhisattvas of the first Bhumi or higher. In Vajrayana, according to Mipham Rinpoche, all the yogis who practice following the Generation and Perfection Stages can be called a Vajrayana Sangha. For example, our Rigdzin Community can be called a Vajrayana Sangha.

(To be continued)