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Thus I have heard: …
November 1st, 2013 (November 3rd, 2013)

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Thus I have heard:

I previously wrote about the joys of translation (and of clinging to the results…) in relation to "the four tasks of the noble one" (, "life is unsatisfactory" ( and the four noble truths  (
An excellent tidbit by +Alan Peto gives me the opportunity to address a new one: "Thus I have heard: …"

(Pali:) evaṃ me sutaṃ ekaṃ samayaṃ Bhagavā Sāvatthiyaṃ viharati (…)

(Sanskrit:) एवं मया श्रुतम्। एकस्मिन् समये भगवान् श्रावस्त्यां विहरति स्म (…)
[evaṃ mayā śrutam ekasmin samaye bhagavān śrāvastyāṃ viharati sma (…)]

The usual translation of this traditional beginning of the suttas is
« Thus I have heard : at one time the Buddha was in Śrāvastī (…) »
but the punctuation ':' is not explicit in the text…

It is meant to emphasise that the record is a direct witness account, thus rejecting the suspicion of a mis-attribution to the Buddha. It also conveniently allows for Ānanda (the witness) to state the information as he 'heard' it, which somehow introduces the possibility that he may not have been present in the scene counted, but that he was nonetheless 'directly' told about it (possibly by the Buddha recollecting e.g. his Enlightenment, when there was neither human witness nor disciple!).

The usual translation has given rise to a doctrine, an expectation, a criterion to judge authenticity… It is presented in the tidbit on "The Six Conditions in a Teaching by the Buddha" (

But one is entitled to suspect that such doctrine might be a mental proliferation by the buddhist 'establishment'.

While most translators stick to the consensus, it may be noted that the traditional translation in Tibetan (Kanjurs —xylographed or manuscript) always explicitly punctuate with a shad after dus gcig na, thus grouping "at one time" with "heard":

འདི་སྐད་བདག་གིས་ཐོས་པ་དུས་གཅིག་ན  བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་
['di skad bdag-gis thos-pa dus gcig na bcom-ldan-'das (…)]

« At one time, I was told this : the Buddha (…) »

It may be noted that the grammar in the original text would justify such a translation, rather than the usual one.

It may be noted that the Tibetan translations are consistent, and they're old (the difference is anything but a late drift).

It may be noted that even Theravāda commentators debated this (i.e. it wasn't as clear or unambiguous as our present consensus might make us think). The Vinaya Piṭaka begins each pas­sage with "On that occasion…" (tena samay­ena); the Sutta Piṭaka has "On one occa­sion…" (ekaṃ samayaṃ); and the Abhid­hamma Piṭaka uses "On whatever occa­sion…" (yasmiṃ samaye). The Sutta and Vinaya idioms are intended to ground the teach­ings in time and place, to lend them concrete­ness and his­tor­icity, emphas­ising how they are true and useful rel­at­ive to con­text. The Abhid­hamma idiom uni­ver­sal­ises, de-contextualises, as it moves towards a con­cep­tion of "abso­lute truth".

« Thus I have heard : at one time the Buddha (…) »
« At one time, I was told this : the Buddha (…) »

If we punctuate after sutaṃ, the implication is that the fact heard was "that the Buddha was once staying at Śrāvastī";  whereas with the other punctuation, the object of the hearing is more readily seen to be the piece of doctrine taught, the information about the place being given as it were in parentheses. "Thus did I hear on one occasion: (the Buddha was staying at Śrāvastī, and he delivered the following instruction)."

"The Six Conditions in a Teaching by the Buddha" are definitely an important part of the buddhist folklore… but "going back to basics" as above may still be of interest.

Why would this matter?
Because the Kālāma sutta  ( explicitly states that a teaching should not be accepted on the basis of "this is our teacher".  We should enquire by ourselves the validity of what is told. It doesn't matter where or when or even by who a teaching was given… Clinging to the "six conditions" for authenticity is to be done with moderation ;-)

#Buddhism   #Dharma  
For more detail, cf. e.g. John Brough: "Thus Have I Heard...", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Vol. 13, No. 2 (1950), pp. 416–426. Published by: Cambridge University Press.
Image: Ānanda