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Our text archive has over 17 million words!
Samudradaka, FBA Team
Candradasa, FBA Team
Suriyavamsa, Glasgow, UK
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Aileen, Shetland Islands
Kuladharini, Glasgow, UK
Colum, London, UK
The Sutra of 42 Sections
Women's seminar at Padmaloka May 1982 Those present:-
The Ven. Sangharakshita, Marlene Halliday, Janet Martin, Stephanie
Blyth, Noel Lehane, Marje Zeef, Vajragita, L(z Bubez, Eve Gill, Els Witschaff, Trish
Mander, Elsie Ke ng, Teresa Fisher, Ann Morgan, Beryl Cary, Carla Halstead, Sulocana,
Christine Robertson, Vimala, Punyavati, Annie Leigh. The Sutras~~~~ of 42 Sections John
Blofield (frst)j The Buddhist Society, London 1977 (revised edn.)
Page 10. You can read the introductory matter by your- selves. Let me
say a few words to begin with about this text as a whole. A potted history very briefly. You
know, I'm sure, that Buddhism went to China from India. It went, or it began to go, so far as
we know, in the very early centuries of the Common Era and obviously it was introduced,
Buddhism was introduced, into China little by little. It was wandering monks making the
journey from India via Central Asia, or from Central Asia itself, who took Buddhism to
China. And, of course, they took the scriptures. And, of course, the scriptures had to be
translated. So we find that at the beginning the scriptures weren't translated completely. That
is to say, complete scriptures weren't translated. It seems as though very early on two Chinese
missionaries, two Buddhist monks from Central Asia, made a sort of selection from various
scriptures, various sutras, and arranged them in Chinese for the benefit of the Chinese people.
It's a bit like what is happening in the West today, or a bit like what did happen. You usually
didn't get whole works translated into English or into French or into German. Usually it was
anthologies. It was selections of texts taken from various sources which were translated. We
still have a number of these like Warren's 'Buddhism in Translations' or Woodward's 'The
Word of the Buddha' or4 Christmas Humphreys'S 'The Wisdom of Buddhism' or Bert's 'The
Teaching of the Compassionate Buddha'. So in much the same way these two monks of the
later Han Dynasty, that is to say, Kasyapa Matanga and Gobharana, some say Gobharatna,
from central India going via Central Asia, made a selection of passages from various
Buddhist works, as far as one can see, and arranged them in the form of a continuous series,
in the form of a sutra, as though the Buddha had given one saying after another. Though one
can hardly imagine him speaking in this sort of way. You also notice another thing. That
many of the sayings begin "The Buddha said". Why do you think this is? Actually most
sutras begin in the original, "Thus have I heard. The Buddha was at one time..." etc. etc. But
these sections mostly begin, "The Buddha said". Why do you think that is?
I think it's very much to do with the culture at the time. Like in China itself,
most of the people were educated in Confucianism and Taoism and they were used to what
'The Master said', so I think some people might....
: Yes, because there is a Chinese work, a Confucian work, in English we call it 'The
Analects of Confucius'. It's really the sayings of Confucius, in some cases little
S of 42 S Dl Tl
22 S(ctd) :
conversations which Confucius had with his disciples. So each section begins
with, 'The Master said', 'Confucius said'. So when these two monks translated these various
passages, as it pea ~Jro~ Buddhist sutras, they arranged the m~%eri~l~in a or that would be
familiar to the Chinese people, especially to those educated in Confucianism. It's rather like,
for instance, (Paul Caras?) when he puts together selections from Buddhist scriptures. He
called it'The Gospel of the Buddha' because the Western, the Christian, reader would be
familiar with the idea of a gospel. So instead of the gospel according to St. Matthew or the
gospel according to St. Mark, you had the gospel of the Buddha. That was, I mean, a bit in
accordance with people's way of thinking. It was putting the whole thing in a way they could
understand. And that perhaps, in that way at least, is no longer necessary. But you could see
how it might be helpful in the earlier days when Buddhism wasn't so familiar. So this sort of
thing the two monks did when they were introducing the Buddhist scriptures and Buddhist
teachings into China, and it's interesting that they made a selection. Presumably they selected
teachings which they thought would be of interest to the Chinese people, which would help
them, which they needed. Even though some of those teachings went very much against the
traditional Chinese, especially Confucian, way of thinking, just as many We tern Buddhist
teachings go against the Christian way of thinking or thinking or even modern so-called
progressive way of thinking. But one may introduce those teachings, or one may consider
those more necessary and more important or one may consider as more necessary or more
important those teachings which go along with our present way of thinking. Or one might
think a combination of the two would be useful. But however that may be, these two monks
made their selection from the sutras. At least, that is what we infer, because there is no Pali
or Sanskrit work corresponding to this Chinese work. We therefore infer they took these
different passages from different texts, from different sources, some of which may well have
been lost by now in their entirety. And the result was this little compilation which is
obviously regarded as not only historically important but as a quite basic sort of Buddhist
work. It represents the material which the Chinese people were given,£which they first
encountered, when they encountered Buddhism. So we're going to go through it section by
section. There's 42 sections. We've got ten days, ten sessions. So that means, well, just over
four sections per day, per session. We ought to be able to get through it in the time at our
disposal. At least let's try to do that. The material isn't always easy going, I must warn you of
that. We may have to delve into Buddhist teaching, Buddhist doctrine, quite a bit. You may
encounter some ideas which are strange or -unfamiliar. Even others which may give you a bit
of a jolt. But it isn't a bad thing that we're given a bit of a jolt sometimes. Also, we
S of 42 S Dl Tl
33 S(ctd) :
may find from time to time, we have to translate the traditional Buddhist
terms, so to speak, the traditional Buddhist approach, into something which is more - I won't
say more modern - but certainly more directly applicable to ourselves. Anyway, let's deal with
that as it comes up. So, we'll just go round the circle with each person reading a section and
then we'll just discuss it and try to understand it. So, could we have the first section, please?
"When the World-Honoured had become Enlightened, he reflected thus: "To
abandon desire and rest in perfect quietude is the greatest of victories. To remain in a state of
complete abstraction is to overcome the ways of all the evil ones." In the Royal Deer Park, he
expounded the Doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, converting Kaundinya and four others, and
thus manifesting the fruit of the Way. There were frequently monks who voiced their doubts
and aske,,d the Buddha to resolve them, so the World- Honoured-taught and commanded
them, until, one by one, they became Enlightened and, bringing their hands together in
respectful agreement, prepared to follow the sacred commands."
: So, this introductory section is a bit, as it were, biographical. It tells us a bit about
the Buddha, a bit about his career. A bit about how he started teaching. So it begins: "When
the World-Honoured had become Enlightened, he reflected thus." To begin with this title
itself is significant. It's 'lokajyestha'. There's a misprint here in this It's j y e 5 t h a 'jyestha'.
It means the elder of the world or even the elder brother of the world. Now what is the
significance of this? Especially the significance of the Buddha being called the elder brother
of the world or the elder brother of mankind. What would you say was the significance of
It suggests that he's more developed or advanced.
. It suggests that he's more developed or advanced, but... But comes from the same
: Ah~ Comes from the same kind. He's not of a completely different kind, a
completely different spec~es. He may be elder, but he's also, he's also, as it were, brother.
He's from the same family. He's just more advanced than you are, more developed than you
are. So what does that give you?
: Yes, it gives you ( ), it gives you hope. Because if he's simply an -Older
brother, not someone from a completely different family, a completely different species, it
means that you can grow up into being what he is or what he represents. Therefore this title
of ~lokajyestha~, World-Honoured or elder or elder brother of the world is quite important.
It's quite significant. So, "When the World-Honoured had become Enlightened, he
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44 S(ctd) :
reflected thus: "To abandon desire and rest in perfect quietude is the greatest
of victories." Now, here we must bear in mind the difficulties of translation. This text has
been translated into Chinese ...