ardhatrayodasabhir Bhiksusataih 

“twelve-hundred-fifty Bhiksus” (part two) 

(continued from issue 36)

-By Bhiksuni Heng Hsien 

    When Sakyamuni Buddha spoke the Sukhavati Sutra, a maha bhiksusangha, a great Bhiksu community, ardhatrayodasabhiksusata, composed of 1250 Bhiksus was with him. There were others besides these Bhiksus in the Assembly, but since these disciples of the Buddha had transcended the world they are listed first.  

      mahat, the stem form of the word maha, has three meanings:
(1)"great" mahat
The Bhiksusangha is "great" because it surpasses all others, destroys all obstacles, and is respected by gods, kings, and great men. Bhiksus do not bow to but are bowed to by kings and gods. It is "numerous," made up of many members, in this case 1250. The Sangha is also "superior" because it refutes all heretical views, all ninety-six non-Buddhist schools of thought.  
bhiksu, also has three meanings:
(1)"seeker of alms food";
(2)"destroyer of passions";and
(3)"frightener of Mara."

A bhiksu lives on offerings made to him by the faithful. This meaning of the term can be found in its root, bhiks-, "seek alms food". To the root is added a -u ending, which roughly means "one who"; most words which mean a person who seeks something have this -u ending. Bhiksu is "one who seeks alms."

In the popular spoken languages, called Prakrits, the ends of words are often weak and final consonants especially are often lost. The bhi- of bhiksu might then stand for what in the Classical language is the root bhid- "cut," and the ksu of bhiksu for the root which in its classical form is ksudh- "be hungry." Although a bhiksu is "one, who seeks for food," he is also "one who cuts off hunger"; that is, he cuts off all passions and afflictions klesah

Because in popular spoken tongues final long vowels were weakened to short ones, the bhi- of bhiksu can be said to represent the root bhi- "fear."

In Prakrit a final –am is often pronounced as –u, and so the –ksu of bhiksu can stand for the root ksam- "be able". One who has left home and become a Bhiksu is able (ksu-) to put fear (bhi-) in Mara the lord of Death. Mara knows that the Bhiksu who truly commits himself to the path at the time of ordination is sure eventually to escape birth and death and attain Nirvana. Consequently each time a Bhiksu is ordained, Mara quakes.
(to be continued)

1 See VBS #36 for full discussion.
2 This word should remind you of sresthin; see VBS #34.
3 See discussion in VBS #35.
4 See VBS #21.