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“Thus I heard…”
Thus I heard, at one time the Buddha was at such and such a place with a gathering of this many monks.
“Thus” begins virtually all sutras. “Thus,” in fact, is the first of six conditions necessary for the making of a sutra. Without all six, you don’t have a sutra. With all six, you do.
On one level, these six conditions, sometimes called the six fulfillments, answer our most mundane questions about the provenance of the sutra: who said what, to whom, when, and where. On another, deeper level, the six fulfillments are in themselves a lesson in conditioned causality: “Because there is this, there is that.” This key teaching, as the scriptures remind us, is the dharma. We will approach dependent origination in future blogs; for now, let’s just look at each of the six conditions in the context of relieving dukkha in our everyday lives.
First, here is a list of the six fulfillments:
1. Thus –– The condition of authenticity and accuracy is met with the opening word “thus.”
2. I heard –– For there to be a sutra, someone must have heard and reported on what was heard.
3. At one time –– This asserts when the talk took place.
4. The Buddha –– There has to have been a speaker for this event to take place, usually the speaker is the Buddha.
5. At such and such a place –– There must be a place where the talk was given.
6. A gathering of this many monks –– An audience must have heard it.
Now let’s take a deeper look at the six.
Thus –– When “thus” is present, we know this dharma can be believed. If the dharma is not “thus” it cannot be believed.
Today: If we say that there can’t be a teaching unless it is accurate, authentic and builds faith, (which is the implicit and explicit understanding I find in this condition), then, am I not raising the larger questions: Is what I am doing today, now, in this very moment, truthful and authentic? Am I being present and mindful? Am I building a more peaceful and compassionate world, one based on a greater truth? Is my every action for the benefit of others. Or am I mired in my own afflictions, leading myself and the world down a false path?
We are, in every moment, faced with a choice: Are we, or are we not going to be Thus? The question is no longer which one I am going to choose, or which one I should choose. The question is, “Wouldn’t it be silly of me not to choose thusness?”
I have heard Usually the “I” refers to Ananda, the Buddha’s trusted attendant and constant companion, who memorized and edited all the teachings.
The “I” is also, as Master Hua explains, the “Hypothetical Self” of a Bodhisattva. The Hypothetical Self is the self which realizes that there is no self. The other three Selfs are (1) The Ordinary Self, which comes from attaching to the body, (2) the Divine Self, which comes from defining one’s self theistically, and (3) the True Self, the self of a Buddha.
Another model of the self, which is used throughout the Diamond Sutra, is discussed in the blog Who Am I Anyway.
Hearing, listening, being present and being in the moment; sitting on the ground in front of the Buddha, mindfully listening, authentically hearing what is being said––without losing focus, and without fabricating stories about what is heard––that’s what is meant by this second condition.
Today: In order to memorize the sutra, Ananda had to be absolutely clear and present in every moment, and that’s is being suggested for us too. We must stabilize our minds so that we can listen to what the world is telling us and hear conditions as they arise, accurately and clearly. Hard as this is to do, to be utterly mindful is our practice. When someone is talking to us, if we allow our minds to weave stories about what they are saying instead of listening to them and hearing them accurately, it is impossible for our Buddhanature, for our compassionate self, to arise in response to what is being said. Then, instead of doing right from a pure heart, we do wrong from an afflicted mind-state.
At one time –– The third condition is simply saying: We must make time to practice. We must make time to meditate. We must make time for listening to dharma talks. We have to just do it, no excuses! After all, if we aren’t willing to make time for the dharma, what are we willing to make time for? TV, a football game, another hour surfing the web? More self-cherishing and self-indulgence? The truth is, if we make time for the dharma, we will find that there is enough time for everything else. On the other hand, if we use our time unwisely, there will never be enough time.
Today: No excuses! No wasted time contemplating to-do lists on the cushion. No expectations about how things ought to be, or about what I do or don’t want. Instead, right now, today, we are being called upon by the dharma to make time for the dharma. Making time for the dharma is the first step to becoming the dharma. This is what a bodhisattva does. What could be more important to us, to our families, to our communities, and to our planet?
The Buddha’s final words were an exhortation. “What are you waiting for?” he called to us as he lay upon his deathbed. “Do it now!”
The Buddha –– In order for a talk to take place, there must be a speaker. In this case, the speaker is the Buddha, which literally means that Siddhartha Gotama was there, talking. When a Buddha talks, we listen. We know that a Buddha speaks only when he or she believes that what is being said can be heard and understood, and will be of benefit.
In order to approach sutras in the most beneficial way, we need to understand the deeper meaning of the phrase “the Buddha.” If we take “the Buddha” to be simply a man, then, for us, the teaching will be mundane. But if take “the Buddha” as a metaphor for our own enlightened mind-state, a mind-state universal to us all, then “The Buddha” is the ultimate nature of reality/emptiness, shunyata. In that case, we are hearing the sutra from a place deep inside ourselves, from our own Buddhanature, not from just any person who happens to be a few steps further along the Path than we are.
Today: In a sense, the sutras are mirrors that reflect, not the ordinary face we see in ordinary mirrors, but the face of the Absolute in each of us. Since each mirroring sutra is different, to move most effectively along the Path, it’s important to have a teacher who can guide us toward the sutra or sutras most beneficial to us.
Look carefully into the mirror and learn to see the dharma from a deeper place inside you, not to flatter yourself, but so that you can move along our path with humility.
In such and such a place –– We now must establish a location for the talk. Location is more than longitude and latitude. The location itself is charged with meaning and can contribute to our understanding of the Dharma Is the place an embodiment of the living dharma? Does the place reflect the values we hear in the teaching? Is dana as integral a part of the place as its bricks and mortar? (Can we ever truly hear the dharma if there are granite countertops and gold faucets in the bathrooms of the meditation hall?)
Today: We fulfill the condition of place in our daily practice. That place can be at home, where we practice alone, or it can be in a Temple, Monastery or Dharma Center where we practice together as a community and have the opportunity to hear the Dharma from our teachers. To obtain the best results from practice, we need both kinds of places. One result of practice is the certainty that our lives would be immeasurably impoverished if we had no teacher, no center, no practice. We have to make space in our homes for meditation and we must support our Teachers and Dharma centers, financially as well as with our continual physical presence and participation.
The final condition for a sutra to arise is Audience. In addition to telling us who heard the Dharma that day, which, as a literary device, indicates how important a sutra is, the nature of the audience gives us clues as to its skillful means, the attitude and assumptions behind the talk.
The Buddha used a variety of teaching strategies, called skillful means, to ensure that the Dharma was heard and understood. So we can expect a dharma talk addressed to a king to be quite different from one addressed to a thousand monks, or to a single passerby. For example, consider the audience for the Lotus Sutra: …a large group of monks, twelve thousand in all. Eighty thousand bodhisattva great ones were also there. There were gods, dragons, satyrs, centaurs, asuras, griffins, chimeras, and pythons, in addition to all the monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen. There were great wheel-turning kinds, minor wheel-turning kinds, golden wheel-turning kings, silver wheel-turning kinds, and other wheel-turning kings. There were kings and princes, ministers and people, men and women, and great elders, each surrounded by followers numbering in the hundreds of thousands. [Gene Reeves translation]
We can be sure that this extraordinary group has gathered to hear a message of extraordinary importance.
Today: Everyday, in every moment, I ask this question: Am I being a good audience for the dharma? Am I making the time to hear my original nature through the chatter of my afflictions? Am I being a good audience for the Ultimate? And, of course, what can I do when I notice I’m not such a good audience?
Thus, we are not perplexed by life, we just do it. However, to be living thus, we have to clear away the fog of our afflictions. We have to strive to be authentic, both to ourselves and to the dharma. We have to go from the ordinary self to the tranquility of no-self. We have to learn to listen and to hear. We must continually be located at the place where the Dharma is spoken. We must become an audience for the Absolute. We need to find and support spiritual teachers who guide our practice. We must make a sacred space for the teachings in our homes, our lives and our hearts.