Viharati sma.


by Bhiksuni Heng Hsien


With these words the first phrase of the Amitabha Sutra is complete. It reads:

Evam maya srutam ekasmin samaye

"Thus I have heard at one time

Bhagavan Sravastyam viharati sma.

the Honored One dwelt at Sravasti."

           Notice that when the word Sravastyam occurred alone the final m was written in full, but now, with a consonant directly following, it's reduced to a single dot.


 Viharati, should remind the reader of another Buddhist word vihara,  and in

fact they are related. Viharati  is a verb which means. "he dwells" vinara is a "dwelling place", the Buddhist word for monastery* The verb viharati also means to "wander", "roam", or "walk", and the meaning "dwell" is active, "dwelling" in the sense of passing time, Viharas were at first just way-stations, places where the Sangha passed the night. The first disciples of the Buddha were all wanderers, stopping long in one place only for the compulsory rain retreat.

The word vihara seems also to have been used for a central area where Bhiksus walked and meditated, around which eventually individual huts or cells were grouped. Viharas gradually evolved into permanent dwellings, real monasteries, and the walking area became the central Buddha Hall. These were India's first Temples, from which all others were inspired.

Vihara also occurs in a well-known Buddhist list, the Four Brahmavihara, or 

 “Pure Stations” also called the four apramana, “Unlimiteds”.   

    They are:


                Maitri       Kindness;


                Karuna       Compassion;


                Mudita       Being glad;


                Upaksa       Indifference.


    These are four attitudes adopted by the cultivator in response to states. Each pairs off with and counters the excess in a given situation, returning it to the Middle Way. Kindness counters hatred} compassion dilutes exasperation} gladness is an antidote to jealousy; and indifference counteracts love. Meeting each state with the appropriate vihira, you are not moved or turned, but "dwell".


 sma, is a particle, an "empty word", which transforms a present verb to past, but does not cut off the notion of continuing through time. Sma plus the present tense viharati suggests that, although living beings perceived the Buddha's dwelling at Sravasti as a concrete past event, the Buddha also permanently dwells in all places at all times.


Vihare viharino viharanti sma. 

"In the vihara the wanderers dwelt."


Beginning with the Venerable Patriarch Fa Hsun in issue #32, Vajra Bodhi Sea will introduce the five patriarchs of the Avatamsaka School. Through cultivation of the principles of the Avatamsaka Sutra, these men reached spiritual heights which Westerners have not even dreamed could exist. For example, not even an insect was ever harmed in the monastic fields of the Venerable Patriarch Fa Hsun, and when he wanted to cross the swollen Yellow River the flow stopped and the waters parted until his followers reached the other side. These are signs of an inconceivable state.

Each of these High Masters revealed his unity with the inconceivable state of the Avatamsaka Dharma Realm in a different way, and their biographies are the exciting and inspiring stories of great heroes who conquered the highest realms with unsurpassed courage and will.