Sramanerika Heng Hsien

--VBS is pleased to publish the first in a new series lessons
  in Sanskrit based on Buddhist texts.

Samskrtam: This is the title (above) written in the English alphabet and also the Sanskrit name for the Sanskrit language. The word samskrtam falls into two parts: sam— and krtam. Sam- is not a word on its own but contributes the idea of 'together' or 'complete'; kytam means 'made' or 'done'. Samskytam can then have two meanings:

1. 'made together' or 'made up'; and

2. 'completely made' or 'perfect'.

The first meaning, 'made up', can in turn be explained in two ways:

a. 'made up' or 'artificial' in contrast to Prakrtam the 'natural' spoken language; and,

b. 'made up' or 'put together', because, according to the Indian
         grammarians, Sanskrit is assembled from root syllables and other
         parts of words.

Although Sanskrit was the classical literary language of Ancient India, people also spoke many other languages in their daily' lives. These dialects varied depending on where a person lived, and on what class he belonged to in society. At first Sanskrit was not universally used. But by the time of the great debates between the learned Buddhist monks and the Externalist philosophers of the Dharma Image Age, Sanskrit had become the standard language for the writing and communication of ideas.

Sanskrit can be said to be 'made up' or 'artificial' in the sense that, while spoken languages are constantly changing, at one point the sounds and shapes of words in Sanskrit were very thoroughly described by grammarians, in terms of rigid rules. These rules were then rigorously followed in speaking and writing Sanskrit. The language was not allowed to change, and so it could be said to be 'artificial' while the popular languages were ‘natural’.

Sanskrit is an Indo-European language, which is to say that it is very closely related to the languages of the West such as Greek, Latin, Russian, French or English, Sanskrit and English belong to one family, while such languages as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean belong to another different family. But if you look at Sanskrit very closely, you see it is pervaded by words and ways of speaking that come from more native Indian tongues, and by-ways of the popular speech. So one may even say it is 'made up' or ‘put together' from these. It is, then, called Samskrtam 'made up' in contrast to Prakrtam which means 'natural' or 'original'. Pra- means 'first' and krtam, as before, means 'done' or 'made'. This explanation then considers the Prakrit languages as the 'original material' from which Sanskrit is made.

By Prakrtam or Prakrit we mean the many local popular dialects used by people in their daily lives. It is just these which were spoken by the Buddha and the Buddha's disciples. In fact the Buddha specifically instructed the Bhiksus not to put the teaching into one fixed and elegant literary or recitation form, but to teach in the languages people normally used. Later when Sanskrit was also widely spoken it qualified as a popular language. Pali, the language in which the Ceylonese Buddhists wrote down the Buddha's teachings for the Small vehicle, is a very old kind of Prakrit, which was converted into a literary language when the Buddha's teachings were written down. The Small Vehicle teachings were also recorded in Sanskrit, and in Sanskrit we have as well the Great Vehicle Sutras and Sastras which the Hinayana lacks.

The second meaning of Samskrtam is 'completely made' or 'perfect'. The ancient' Indians were not especially interested in the historical development of languages. For them, Sanskrit was given by the gods just as it was, and was the most perfect of languages. In fact, they said, if someone spoke some other tongue, he was just trying to speak Sanskrit but it came out a little strange. And so, including all other languages, how could Sanskrit be lees than perfect? Don't you want to study it?

Prakrtam is, of course, a secondary derivative as the long a shows. The related word prakrti means 'nature' or 'original substance'.

For who would not desire to see near kin

If in the end we did not leave what’s dear?

But since there’s parting, be it long delayed, 

Fond father even do I then renounce.

Part of the Buddha’s reply to his father’s request that he return to his home and family.

From the Sanskrit of Asvaghosa Bodhisattva’s Life of the Buddha IX.32 translated by Stamanerika Heng Hsien

Notice to our Readers

Because of the time and extensive labor involved in the construction of Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery and other related activities, Vajra Bodhi Sea has fallen several issues behind. The editor and staff are now endeavoring to catch up, and will' be publishing issues at more frequent intervals over the next few months. Readers will find, along with recent articles, material and news which was scheduled for earlier publication but which did not reach print because of unforeseen delays. The editor and staff sincerely apologize for the delays, and are using every available moment to make Vajra Bodhi Sea the magazine that makes men out of ghosts and animals. Attracted by its powerful light, they make a deep wish, cut off their greed and bad habits, get reborn among people, learn English, and read Vajra Bodhi Sea.

Meet the eminent Buddhists of the past, present and future in the feature articles, The Bodhi Seal, The Bodhi Mirror, and The Bodhi Lectern. VBS will continue introducing the Patriarchs, virtuous Sanghins, and worthy Laymen in each issue. Watch for them.

Solid Gold Summer Sessions!

During the summer of 1972 the Sino-American Buddhist Association, Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, and Vajra Bodhi Sea Publications will jointly sponsor three separate Sutra-Study and Meditation Sessions, each five weeks long. During these sessions daily explanations of major Buddhist texts will be made. Complementing the Sutra study will be approximately five hours of meditation every day in addition to the chanting of Sutras and mantras. The dates for the three sessions follow;

First Session: June 7th—July 13th, 1972
      Second Session: July 14th—August 18th, 1972
            Third Session: August 19th—September 22nd, 1972

The closing date for registration for the second session is July 7th, 1972.

There is no better way to introduce yourself to Buddhism and the path of cultivation than by attending one of these sessions. Following the instructions of Sakyamuni Buddha, the combination of Sutra study, meditation, and recitation will bring about a deep understanding of both the principles and the practice of the Buddhadharma. You may attend one, two, or all three of these sessions.

For further information call or write the Sino-American Buddhist Association, Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, 1731 15th Street, San Francisco, 94103. Telephone: (415) 621-5202

Calligraphy in this issue: English and Sanskrit, Bhiksu Heng Shoou; Chinese, Upasaka Li Kuo Wei. Cover Calligraphy by Upasaka Lee Kuo Ch’ien


June  7  Precept Platform opens Medicine King Bodhisattva's Birthday
June 23  Ch'ieh Lan Bodhisattva's Birthday
July 13  Sramanera Precepts Transmitted Vajrapani Bodhisattva's Birthday
July 29  Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva's Accomplishment of the Way
August 18 Bhiksu Precepts Transmitted
August 21 Great Strength Bodhisattva's Birthday
August 23 Ullambana Festival