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Pali Canon - Ratana Sutta

by Sangharakshita

The Ratana Sutta Seminar

Held at Padmaloka, May 1980.
Taken from Saddhatissa and an unidentified translation of the Sutta Nipata. Also used: Lord
Chalmers (trs) Buddha's Teachings, being the Sutta Nipata or Discourse Collection (Harvard
U.P., Cambridge, Mass., 1932)
Those present: Venerable Sangharakshita, Lokamitra, Dharmamati, Viramati, Andy Friends,
Alan Turner, Buddhadasa, Bernie Tisch, Darren DeWitt.[1]
Ratana Sutta
S: All right, we're going to be going through the Ratana Sutta which is part of the Sutta
Nipata. It is the first sutta in the second book, which is called the Culavagga: the short or the
little book. I think most of you know that the Sutta Nipata contains some of the most ancient
material, in the whole of the Pali Canon. For instance there is the Parayanavagga and the
Atthakavagga mainly. So the Ratana Sutta can be regarded as quite ancient, in as much as it
appears in the Sutta Nipata at all. But it must be said, it is not one of the most ancient parts of
the Sutta Nipata. But in as much as it is still part of the Sutta Nipata, it is still quite ancient. It
is in, what some scholars have called, "Ballad" form - everybody knows, I think, that the
Buddha didn't actually write anything; the teachings were oral, were verbal. And very often
people took the spirit of what the Buddha said, the monks took the spirit of what the Buddha
said, and they put it into their own words - they even versified it, they even made up 'ballads",
so to speak, which they could chant as they went from place to place for the instruction of the
people. So we can probably conclude that the Ratana Sutta is a work of this kind. It was put
together either by the Buddha's own personal disciples or their disciples, or at the latest by
their disciples in this sort of, versified form and it certainly does reflect the Buddha's own
teachings. It reflects them in a fairly developed form as we shall see. We're going to go
through the text verse by verse, line by line, in fact word by word; as we usually do. And I
should perhaps mention that we are going through this text by, so to speak, special request of
Lokamitra, because this is a very popular text in t e Buddhist East. In Theravada countries,
and in those areas which are influenced by the Theravada tradition, this is one of the three
most popular suttas for recitation; not only for recitation but also for exposition and
commentating upon. The other two are of course the Mangala Sutta, the sutta of blessings or
auspicious signs and the Karaniya Metta Sutta, the sutta on the development of loving
kindness. So Lokamitra thought that if he were equipped with a full exposition of these three
suttas, then he could have quite a bit of material to spread far and wide in India, and in all his
study groups, a certain uniformity of teaching would be introduced. In any case, people there
know the Ratana Sutta, as they know the Mangala Sutta and Karaniya Metta Sutta. They have
heard it, recited it often, read it in translation, some of them, some of our Buddhist friends
there, they know it in Pali, they can recite it in Pali, even understand it in Pali. So quite a lot
of them would like to be able to understand it more fully and more deeply. We also would
like to do this, so we are going to go through this in these two days and four sessions. I hope
we can really, not only, go through it, but do some justice to it. It's a little longer than the
Mangala and Karaniya Metta Suttas but we'll see what we can do. So let's go straight into it
we'll do what we usually do, get somebody to read the first verse, and just look at it for as
long as is necessary.
"Whatever beings are assembled here, whether terrestrial Or celestial, let such beings be [2]
happy; let them moreover, attentively listen to what is said."
S: That is Saddhatissa's translation. I'll read another translation just to give you some idea of
how they can vary. As you'll see, they are substantially the same. "May denizens of earth and
sky assembled here, may beings all rejoice and harken unto me" that's Chalmers. And then
there's Hare's "Spirits of Earth and Sky, here gathered round; Ye spirits all, be ye with good
will filled. And heed ye now and harken to the word." So they are all pretty much the same,
aren't they. So one gets really three points made. What are these three points? Well firstly
there is the address to all beings. Whoever compiled, or whoever composed this sutta, is
addressing all beings, especially beings of the earth and of the sky. "bhummani va yani va
antalikkhe," of the earth, and the space in between, that is to say the sky, the heavens.
: That's "antalikkhe"?
S: Yes. So that's the first point. who is addressed? everybody. The compiler or composer is
calling upon them to listen - that's the second point. Also calling upon them to, ah, one
version says rejoice although it's not in the other versions, and one version speaks of listening
attentively. Ah yes, he calls upon them to be happy, yes be Suman happy rather than rejoice. a
of happy mind - "Su" is good or happy, "mana" is mind - the name Sumana. The compiler or
composer of the sutta is saying to everybody - may you be happy minded. In my own
translation I say "May they be happy -minded, everyone". "Whatever beings are assembled
here creatures of earth or spirits of the sky, May they be happy (that is quite literal translation)
everyone. And pay good heed to what is said to them. So there are these three points; first of
all, all beings are being addressed. Beings of Earth and the Sky. They are asked to be happy
minded, which is an expression of good will towards them, and they are asked to listen. So
there are these three points which one has to go into a little bit first. So first of all - All
beings. So what does this suggest? That at the very beginning of the sutta, the compiler
addresses or invokes all the beings of heaven and earth - so what does this suggest, what does
that convey?
:Well, a Universality of...
S: Sort of Universality, yes? The text doesn't go into any detail, it doesn't say exactly who are
the beings of the earth and the sky, so who do you think are meant by the "beings of the earth"
: (Unclear)
S: Sentient beings living upon the face of the earth but especially human beings and what do
you think about the celestial beings?
: Gods.
S: Gods. So how literally is one to take that? What do you think it really means? What is a
God according to Buddhism?
It seems to be suggested that they've got a sort of independent existence to mankind. [3]
S: Yes. This is the impression that one gets from Buddhist texts. That sentient existence isn't
confined to what we can see with our ordinary eyes in the form of human beings, animals and
so on. Buddhist texts do present a whole range of beings called devas inhabiting other worlds.
One may or may not accept that. Whether one accepts it or not, the basic point remains, that
the Buddha's teaching is addressed to all living beings. if there are such beings as devas, it is
said quite literally that the Buddha's teaching is addressed to them Sometime ago in Christian
theological circles, a question arose "whether the saving death of Christ applied to any beings
that might exist on other planets or in other worlds.' that was in the days of the landing of the
first man on the moon. Do you remember? Some of you may remember it. This rather excited
the interest of some, Christian theologians, because, usually it had been thought, that Christ's
saving, or sacrificial death, saved beings on the earth, but after all Christian theologians
hadn't bothered about beings in other worlds because, traditionally Christianity doesn't have
any such conception. Its attention is centred entirely upon this earth. God created the Earth,
the garden of Eden, he put Adam and Eve there, there's not a word said about any other world
or any other earth or planet,. There are of course the angels, but they are completely different
- they are in heaven, whatever that may mean. They are not distributed over other planets. So
this was quite a question; and opinion was divided. Some felt that the atoning death of Christ
was available or the redemption of Christ was available only for those born on the earth.
Others thought it could perhaps be extended to beings in other worlds, even though of course,
not a word was said about that in Christian scriptures. But in the case of Buddhism there is no
doubt about this at all. You ray or may not accept the existence of devas as described in the
Buddhist Scriptures but there's no doubt that if there are any such beings, of if there are any
beings in distant worlds, in other universes, who are sentient and conscious then the Buddha's
teaching is applicable to them as well. It is as much for them as it is for human beings,
because it is a universal teaching. And this point is made very strongly in Buddhism. I mean,
the Buddha himself sent out his first enlightened disciples to teach the Dharma, to make clear
the Dharma for the good and the welfare of many beings. It's not limited to any particular
section of people. It's not even limited to any particular form of life.
: Does this include Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or are they distinct from sentient beings?
S: Well, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are sentient beings. They are enlightened sentient ...

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