“The Honored One”
--By Sramanerika Heng Hsien
Every sutra spoken by the Buddha begins with Ananda’s account of how he heard the Sutra and the circumstances under which it was spoken. The text of the Amitabha Sutra has so far read:
Evam maya srutam ekasmin smaye
“Thus I have heard at one time...”
The next word is Bhagavan, which we translate “Honored One”. Of the Six Establishments of faith, hearing and time. Bhagavan meets the fourth, that of the host. Host refers to the Dharma Speaking Host, the person who speaks this Sutra. The Sutra itself tells of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of the Western Paradise Sukhavati, and it was spoken by the Buddha Sakyamuni so that living beings of our realm might come to know of Amitabha and the wonderful advantages to be gained from obtaining rebirth in his land.
Bhagavan, “The Honored One”, therefore, refers to Sakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha whom we know from history. In writing , is bha, is ga, and va. After makes va into va; is n with no vowel following (na would be written ). If you look Bhagavan up in a Sanskrit dictionary, it is listed in the form Bhagavat. , –Van is the form the end of the word takes when the Honored One is subject of the sentence.
is one of the Buddha’s titles, just as are the titles Buddha, “Enlightened One” and Sarvajna “All Knower And Buddha may be addressed by these titles, whereas Sakyamuni is the name of a particular Buddha and is something like a family name. “Sakyamuni” means “Sage of the Sakyas” or the “Sakyan Sage”, Sakya being the clan to which the Buddha belonged, and muni meaning “holy man” especially one who takes a vow of silence.
Sakyamuni Buddha also has a personal name, Siddhartha, meaning “One whose goal ( artha)is accomplished” ( siddha)”, signifying that he is one who has realized Buddhahood.
“But”, you object, “you can’t fool me. I know the Buddha had this name before he’d even begun to cultivate. What goal had he accomplished by then?”
When his parents named him Siddhartha, they meant whatever goal he had would be achieved, little realizing it would be the very highest goal! You can also explain this by saying that Sakyamuni had completed all the prerequisites to Buddhahood in numberless past lives of cultivation.
To summarize, Buddha and Bhagavan are titles; Sakyamuni is the family name, and Siddhartha is the Buddha’s personal name.
Very literally, Bhagavan means “Possessing Honor”, and can be analyzed into two parts:
-van “possessing” (or- -vat, as explained above).
The word as a whole means “One possessing honor”, that is, one honored and revered by others, having honor from them and being honorable in return.
Bhagavan has many other meanings, and the Buddha has many other titles. Can you figure these titles out?
The answer to last issue’s quiz is Sakyamunibuddha.