“AT ONE TIME”
--Sramanerika Heng Hsien
The Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra, whose Sanskrit title is Sukhavativyuha. Layout of the Land of Happiness”, began with the words. And now continues . The Buddha’s disciple
Ananda continues to speak, describing the circumstances in which the Buddha spoke this Sutra. These circumstances are concisely described in a list called the Six Establishments. Of the Six Establishments necessary at each Dharma assembly at which Sutras are explained, faith, hearing, time, place, host, and assembly, “thus I have heard” fulfills those of faith and hearing, and “at one time” that of time.
Ekasmin means “at one”. At one what? At one time.
The meaning is not complete until you come to the next word, samaye, “time”, with which ekasmin agrees and which it serves to describe. Eka, by itself means “one”. , smin, is an ending showing location in time or place, which we translate with the prepositions “in”, “at”, or “on”.
In writing ekasmin, is is ka. To write the k alone you would have to write . Because is s, (the, means no vowel follows; is sa) why is –smi written- and not ? You can write it both ways, but
since the two sounds s and m go so closely together, when picturing them in
writing it makes sense to bunch them close together as . stands for the short vowel i. Adding we get ekasmin.
When the second word follows, because there is no break in pronunciation there is also no need to break the writing, thus the at the end of , combines with the first letter of the following word, in this case
s, to form the group ns in . These are still two
separate words, not one long compound word, but in writing their letters are combined. Originally Sanskrit wrote all words together with no break until the end of a line of writing. Today if a word ends neatly with a vowel, we leave a space before writing the next word, but final consonants are written in combination with the first letter of the following word.
Samaye means “time” or “occasion”. It has the ending –e which
translates “on”, “at” or “in”, just as the ending –smin in the word ekasmin. The two endings look and sound different, but they have the same function, and the two words go together to mean “at one time”. Without any function marker or ending the word is samaya. Literally it means “a coming together”. It can refer to a meeting or event, an agreement or convention. The meaning “time” comes from the idea of agreeing upon a time, the right time of proper occasion. The Buddha speaks Dharma when the opportunities of living beings are ripe to hear that Dharma, when the conditions “come together”. The more common Sanskrit word for time is kala, but kala lacks this suggestion of agreement. Samaya is used instead of kala because the sutra:
Agrees with the principles of all Buddhas above,
And accords with the opportunities of living beings below.
This “time” fulfills the requirement of the third of the Six Establishments. It is the time when the Buddha’s speech comes together with the potentials of beings who hear this Dharma, the Dharma of reciting the name of the Buddha to be reborn in the Pure Land .
evam mayā śrutam, “Thus I have heard”. See VBS #26
. His name means ‘Bliss’ or ‘Blissful’.
For more about the six establishments, see VBS #28
Convention’ in English is also literally a ‘coming together’; based on the Latin cum ‘together’ and venire ‘to come’.
Answer to last lesson’s quiz; Sukhāvatī. The words to figure out read: maya Buddha srutah, “By me the Buddha was heard” which is the same as “I heard the Buddha”.