Thus I have heard. At one time the Bhagavan was travelling through various lands to teach living beings. He arrived at Vaishali (the City of Extensive Adornments) and stayed beneath a tree from which music resounded. With him were eight thousand great Bhikshus and thirty-six thousand Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas; also kings, ministers, Brahmans, lay disciples; gods, dragons, and the rest of the eightfold division; beings human and non-human. The immeasurable great multitude respectfully surrounded him, and he spoke Dharma for them.
Thus I have heard. The word "thus" means, "The Dharma which is 'thus' can be believed, studied, and practiced. You should make vows to practice according to the Dharma which is 'thus.'" Ananda [who compiled the Sutra] is saying, "The Dharma spoken in this Sutra is what I, Ananda, personally heard the Buddha speak with his golden mouth. It is not hearsay. I myself heard it."
The Four Matters
There were four reasons for saying "Thus I have heard," which the Buddha gave when Ananda asked about the Four Matters. When the Buddha was about the enter Nirvana, Ananda was so overcome with grief that he could only cry! Although Ananda was a First Stage Arhat, he was still emotional. He couldn't bear to think that the Buddha was going to enter Nirvana, so he wept piteously, forgetting about everything else.
Then another Bhikshu reminded him, "You're in charge of recording the Dharma spoken by the Buddha. The Buddha is about to enter Nirvana, so you'd better think things over clearly! There are some important matters you should ask the Buddha about before he enters Nirvana. All you know how to do is cry! What will become of us in the future?" Hearing the Venerable One's words, Ananda collected his wits and said, "Yes, you're right, but I've been crying so hard I can't think straight. What should we ask the Buddha?"
The Venerable One said, "First of all, when we compile the Sutras in the future, how should they begin?" Ananda replied, "Right! That's very important!" "Second, when the Buddha is in the world, we take the Buddha as our teacher. After the Buddha enters Nirvana, whom should we take as our teacher?" Ananda said, "Yes, that's also an important question!"
"Third, when the Buddha is in the world, all the Bhikshus dwell with the Buddha. After the Buddha enters Nirvana, with whom should we dwell?" "That's certainly a good question!" said Ananda. "Fourth, when the Buddha is in the world, he can subdue the evil-natured Bhikshus. After the Buddha enters Nirvana, who should discipline them?"
"These four questions are all extremely important," said Ananda. "Now I will go and ask the Buddha." Then he went before the Buddha, knelt, placed his palms together, and said, "World Honored One, since you are about to enter Nirvana, there are some important questions I would like to ask. I hope the Buddha will compassionately answer them." The Buddha replied, "What are your questions? You may ask them now."
"Buddha, you have spoken the Dharma for forty-nine years and expounded the Sutras in over three hundred assemblies," said Ananda, "In the future, when we compile the Sutras, how should they begin?"
The Buddha told Ananda, "Our Sutras are different from the scriptures of other religions, which begin by speaking of either existence or non-existence. You should begin the Buddhist Sutras with the four words, 'Thus I have heard,' which means, 'I, Ananda, personally heard this Dharma, which is thus; it is not hearsay.'"
To be continued