SANSKRIT LESSON

mahata bhiksusanghena sardham


"Together with a great community of Bhiksus"

from issue 34

--by Bhiksuni Heng Hsien

In the Prologue to the Sutra of the Land of Happiness, which describes the Paradise of the Buddha Amitabha and the dharma door of reciting the Buddha's name to be reborn in Sukhavati, after the initial establishments of faith, hearing, time, place and host, we now come to the sixth and final one, the assembly. Who made up the assembly, the audience, when Sakyamuni Buddha spoke this Sutra?

Mahata means "great." The stem of the word is mahant, which has a weaker form mahat  (without 
the n), in some functions, such as the one discussed here. The ending -a is the function marker and it translates "with." The same -a was seen earlier in the phrase evam maya srutam, "Thus by me was heard," where it 
translated "by." The function indicated is the means by which or whom something else is done, with what or whom. Just as in English, "with" can have two meanings:

(1) By means of; and

(2) In the company of.

The same Sanskrit ending represents these two meanings. Here the sense is that of (2), in the company of. Mahata and the compound word bhiksusanghena both depend upon the final word sardham, which causes them to take this ending.

Bhiksu is a Buddhist who has left the home life. The word is based upon the root bhiks

, which means, "to seek " a share," referring to the fact that those who have left home in the Buddhadharma depend upon the gifts of others for their food. At the time of the Buddha, and in many Buddhist countries still today, the Bhiksus go begging daily from house to house until they obtain food. Some follow the recommended practice of seeking only up to seven houses in a row, then stopping even if no offering has been made. This renders the Buddhist practice of eating only once a day at noon even more ascetic.

The root bhiks is a variation of another root bhaj-, which means "to have a share" or "eat." By certain sound changes, mainly involving -iks- and u, Sanskrit can form words which mean to wish or seek to do whatever the basic root implies. Here bhiks- means "to seek to bhaj-," to seek to have a share. It is not the case however that a Bhiksu asks for food. He stands silent and composed before a house holding out his bowl, and if no one gives him food he goes away.

Sanghena is the word Sangha, which means "community," with the ending -ena which means "with." The articles "a" and "the" do not exist as such in Sanskrit. Previously the ending -a meant "with. -ena has the same function as -a, but has a different shape, and is used with all singular nouns whose stem ends in -a to translate "with" or "by." Sangha often refers to the third member of the Triple Jewel: the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

 Parham means "together with" or "in the company of," and calls for the "with" case ending function marker on the words it governs. The words so governed come before sardham in Sanskrit, while in English we say "together" first.

The total phrase means "together with a large Bhiksu-community." The Buddha is in the Jeta Grove together with these monks, the Bhiksus have the same teacher, the Buddha; they live in the same place; they study the Buddhadharma together; they will all produce the same resolve for Enlightenment; they will all open the same wisdom, and together realize Buddhahood...six reasons why it says...

to be continued

1See VBS #26

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Coming Features

In forthcoming issues Vajra Bodhi Sea will begin an exciting bilingual series presenting-the informal talks of the Master Hua to a hard working group of cultivators during the December 1972 winter cultivation sessions. The first two of the three weeks were given over entirely to recitation of the Buddha's name, and the third to twenty hours a day of dhyana meditation. The Master's instructional talks are lively and informative, filled with poetry and engaging answers to the participants' questions which cut right through to reveal the core of the practice. This series will present material which is not only totally new to the Western culture, but what is more, is new to the Orient as well. For this reason the talks will be presented in both English and Chinese. This is a series you won't want to miss!