Thus I Have Heard Once

Buddha Teaching the Bhikkhus

Buddha Teaching the Bhikkhus

by Jayaram V

The original teachings of the Buddha, which are available to us as Sutras, begin with this phrase, "Thus I have heard once." Sometimes the world 'once' appears in the same expression, or separately in the next sentence.

The Buddha himself laid down this rule to distinguish his teachings from those of others. In doing so he not only ensured the preservation of his teachings but also indirectly elevated them to the status of Sruti (the heard ones) by which the Vedas are known in Hinduism.

In Hinduism, the Srutis are used to clear any confusion or doubt one may have about a particular teaching or belief by validating it against the knowledge found in the Vedas. In Buddhism, the teachings of the Buddha serve the same purpose.

The four words, "Thus-I have-heard-once," are usually followed by a reference to the Buddha, the place where the lecture or the teaching was originally made and the people who attended the teaching. These two and the four words together represent the six requirements that are necessary to teach or speak about the Sutras, or the sayings of the Buddha.

The six requirements are belief, hearing, time, host, place, and audience. They are represented as stated below.

1. The word 'thus' refers to belief.

2. 'Heard' refers to hearing.

3. 'Once' refers to the time.

4. 'Buddha' refers to the host.

5. The place name (such as Sravasti, Jetavana) refers to the place where the teaching was made.

6. The name of the audience (Bhikkhus, Brahmanas, king, etc.), refers to the audience.

The expression, "Thus I have heard once," is meant to inculcate reverence and respect for the knowledge among the followers and to establish the original source of the teaching. The Buddha did not expect his followers to follow him blindly. He wanted them to listen to him, but learn from their own understanding, experience and observation.

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