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Georgia O'Keefe. Pelvis. Mirrored.

The Sayings of the Buddha in Forty-Two Sections by Kasyapa Matanga and Gobharana is said to be the first official Buddhist literature that was put together for the Chinese. The authors were two early Indian missionaries, Kashyapa Matanga and Gobharana during the reign of Emperor Ming of the Later Han Dynasty. The first Buddhist temple in China, the White Horse Temple, was built for these two monks from Central India around 70 CE. At this temple, Matanga and Gobharana are said to have translated five sutras, including the Sutra of Forty-two Sections, in which they used extracted passages from different Buddhist scriptures they had brought along.

Each section begins with "The Buddha said," which corresponds to the Confucian "Confucius said". It contains a fair collection of moral and religious sayings of Buddha. It has been translated into English by John Blofeld (1977) and others as well.

The following points are culled and reworked from The Sutra of Forty-Two Sections Spoken by the Buddha. Kernels that are not annotated here, may be found in the first or fourth translation in the book list at the bottom of the page.


From the Sutra of Forty-Two Sections

When the World-Honoured One [Buddha] had become Enlightened, he taught:

A mind troubled and vexed with the passions is impure.

A torch-carrier running against the wind; his hands are sure to be burned. (No 25)

Arhats possess the powers of levitation and transformation. (No 1)

Attachments and passions makes some stupid and irrational.

Be careful not to depend on your own intelligence - it is not to be trusted. Only when you have reached a high level within can you depend on your own intelligence. (No 28)

Be trained in the discipline that is beyond discipline. Those who understand this are near, those who are confused are far. The Way is beyond words and expressions.

Brilliance is reached when the mind is pure and not defiled. (No 15)

Buddha said, I consider this universe as small. I consider the various methods of salvation taught by the Buddhas as a treasure created by imagination. I consider the profound doctrine of the Buddhas as precious metal or priceless fabric seen in a dream. I consider the teaching of the Buddhas as a flower before my eyes. I consider the practice of Dhyana as a pillar of worth. I consider Nirvana as awakening from a daydream or nightmare. (No 42)

Buddha said, Those who study the doctrine of the Buddhas will do well to observe what is taught by them. It is like honey; it is sweet within, it is sweet without, it is sweet throughout; so is the Buddhas' teaching. (Abr.) (No 39)

By forcing oneself the mind will become weary and perhaps irritable, even irresolute. (No 34)

By purifying the mind and preserving the will you can come in contact with the Way. (No 13)

Even without physical or mental impairment, it is difficult to be born in the middle country [that is, a country that is the centre of culture, knowledge, and where Buddhism prospers. It refers to India.] (No 36)

Get an opportunity of reading the sutras. (No 12)

Good is to practice the Way and to follow the truth. Great is the heart that is in accord with the Way.

Hold your peace if an evil man comes and creates a disturbance. If you do not angrily upbraid him; he will merely harm himself. (No 6)

I look upon nirvana as being awake both day and night. (No 42 - Being fully awake (enlightened) at all times, and not deluded day and night in samsara, the world. Yet higher enlightenment means to see that nirvana and samsara are not different, teaches the Chung Tai Zen Centre of Sunnyvale in California. That is a Tibetan Buddhist teaching too, as in Nyingma)

If a man has faults and, becoming aware of them, changes for the better, retribution (bad karma) may abate. (No 5)

If a person studies quietly and happily, he should not lose the Way.

If the mind follows the Way, what need is there to labour on the path? (No 40)

If the thirst for truth were weaker than passion, how many of us in the world will be able to follow the way of righteousness?

If those who study the Way are not misled, not disturbed, and earnestly advance towards the non-phenomenal, they will attain to the Way. (No 27)

If you desire to attain enlightenment, you should steadily walk in your Way, with a resolute heart, with courage, and should be fearless - to the end of reaching your goal.

If you hanker after worldly fame and practise not the Way, it is like burning an incense stick. (Mod) (No 21)

If you observe the Way with simplicity of heart, great indeed is this Way.

It can be hard to investigate things thoroughly. (No 12)

It is best to feed a Buddha, one who is above knowledge, one-sidedness, discipline, and enlightenment.

To give food to a hundred bad men is not equal to giving food to one good one [not to speak of a Buddha]. (No 11)

It is by rare opportunity that one is introduced to a true spiritual teacher.

It is great to give food to one who "ponders nothing, does nothing, practices nothing, and manifest nothing" – someone on the Way. (No 11)

It is hard for the poor to practice charity. • It is hard to practice charity when one is poor. (No 12)

It is hard for the strong and rich to observe the Way.

It is hard not to get into a passion when slighted.

It is hard to be even-minded and simple hearted in all one's dealings with others.

It is hard to be thorough in learning and exhaustive in investigation.

It is hard to come into contact with things and yet remain unaffected by them. (No 12)

It is hard to gain an insight into the nature of being and to practice the Way.

It is not always easy to keep the mind evenly balanced. (No 12)

It is only a favoured few that get acquainted with a Buddhist sutra.

It is rare fortune to be born at the time of a Buddha, and rarer still to see the Enlightened One. Even if he is able to see the Enlightened One, it is his rare fortune to have his heart awakened in faith. Even if he has faith, it is his rare fortune to awaken the heart of wisdom. Even if he awakens the heart of wisdom, it is his rare fortune to realise a spiritual state of non-cultivation and non-attainment. (No 36)

Killing, stealing, sexual misconduct; malicious, abusive, false, and frivolous speech; envy, anger, and ignorance are known as the ten evils. To renounce the ten evils is to practice the ten virtues. (No 4)

Lust may be said to be the most powerful passion.

Meekness is full of strength.

Men are tied up to their families and possessions more helplessly than in a prison.

Monks, you must not walk on the way as the ox is attached to the wheel. His body moves, but his heart is not willing. But when your hearts are in accord with the Way, there is no need of troubling yourselves about your outward demeanour. Also, those who practice the Way might well follow the example of an ox that marches through the deep mire carrying a heavy load. He is tired, but he is steadily gazed, looking forward and not relax till he comes out of the mire; it is only then that he takes a respite. Escape misery by going for the Way. (Mod.)

Moved by their selfish desires, people seek after fame and glory. (No 21)

Once you are free from delusions, you can trust your own mind. (No 28)

One is to remain calm and firm under most circumstances, if not all of them. *

One who practices the Way is like a single person battling against ten thousand. Donning his armor and leaving home, his will may weaken, he may retreat halfway, he may be killed in combat, or he may return victorious. (No 33)

One who practices the Way is like an ox that carries a burden through a mire. Very tired, but steadfast and mindful, he cannot rest. (No 41, abr)

People who cultivate the Way are like those who carry hay - very cautious. (No 30)

People who succumb to lust are like those who walk against the wind holding a torch; they will surely burn their hands. (No 25)

Religious discipline is like playing a stringed instrument. When the mind is properly adjusted and quietly applied, the Way is attainable. But when you are too fervently bent on it, your body grows tired, and when your body is tired, your spirit becomes weary, your discipline will relax. Therefore, be calm and pure, and the Way will be gained. (Abr.)

Rely not on your will. It is not trustworthy. Guard yourself.

Students of the Buddha's Way may comply with the main ideas of Buddha. (No 39, much modified. It is not so simple to learn all the texts, nor is detecting the true Buddha sayings from the many later additions among texts that were put down in writing long after the demise of Buddha. It pays to be guarded when it comes to lore too, teaches Buddha. Kalama Sutta)

The Arhat is able to fly through space and assume different forms, and there are times when he causes heaven and earth to quake. (No 1, abr)

The bliss of the Way is like a lighted torch. Its flame can be distributed to very many other torches people may bring along, to help them, while the original torch remains the same. (No 10)

The evil-man is insulting himself by trying to insult you. He seems to denounce you now, but as you firmly do not accept it, he must take the wrong deed back on his own person. Be therefore mindful, and never hurt but offenders and evil-doers. Such persons go for destroying their betters, and may thus end up destroying themselves.

The most illuminating is a mind that is thoroughly cleansed of dirt.

There was once a man who in despair over his inability to control his passions, wished to mutilate himself. Buddha said to Him, Better destroy your own evil thoughts than do harm to your own person. Passions grow from thought and imagination. Get calm, rather.

There was one who came to scold me, but I remained silent and did not retort. When he had finished, I said: "Now you have just cursed me and I did not accept your curses, so the evil which you yourself did has now returned and fallen upon you. In the end there will be no escape, so take care not to do what is evil." (No 7)

Those who are following the Way should behave like a piece of timber drifting along a stream and finally reaching the ocean. (No 27)

Those who cultivate the Way are like logs in a stream, following the current. If they are not grounded on either shore, gathered by men and they do not decay, then these logs will reach the ocean. If those who follow the Way are not blinded by sensual desires, led astray by evil influences, and are diligent yet empty of effort, they will attain the Way. (No 27, abr)

Those who are pure in heart and single in purpose are able to understand the most supreme Way. It is like polishing a mirror.

Those who can come up to practising that which is beyond practice, they progress. (No 18)

Those who follow the Way are like warriors who fight single-handed with a multitude of foes. They may all go out of the fort in full armour; but among them are some who are faint-hearted, and some who go halfway and beat a retreat, and some who are killed in the affray, and some who come home victorious.

Those who hunger for a name that shall long be remembered in the world and who do not study the Way strive vainly and struggle for empty forms. (No 21)

Those who recognize the source of their own mind, penetrate the profound doctrine of the Buddha, and awaken to the unconditioned Dharma. (No 1)

To be able to bear insult (without retort) suggests great power. (No 15)

To follow the Way and hold to what is true is good. When the will is in conformity with the Way, that is greatness. (No 14)

To help those who bestow the Way is a great joy and many blessings can thus be obtained. (No 10)

Try to bear insult without making an angry reply. (No 12)

When the mind is properly adjusted to the Way, one can attain to it (No 34)

When the Way is attained and the truth is seen, ignorance vanishes and enlightenment abides forever.

When you gain spiritual enlightenment, you shall then find wisdom. The knowledge thus attained leads you quickly to the Way.

Who understands the source of his own mind, penetrates the deepest doctrine of Buddha, and comprehends the Dharma. He has no prejudice in his heart, he has nothing to hanker after.

Why fear to rid yourselves at once of the longing for physical beauty? Otherwise you are meriting the name of 'simple fellows'. (No 23)


Sayings of Ancient China from the Sayings of the Buddha in Forty-Two Sections, Mahayana Buddhism, Literature  

Blofeld, John. The Sutra of Forty-Two Sections. Paperback ed. London: The Buddhist Society; Rev ed. The Buddhist Society, 1977.

Kuan, Cheng, tr. The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters Divulged by the Buddha. 2nd ed. Taipei, Taiwan: Neo-Carefree Garden Buddhist Canon Translation Institute, 2011.

Kashyapa-matanga and Gobharana. The Sutra of Forty-Two Chapters (with Annotation) Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale. Sunnyvale, CA, nd.

Kasyapa Matanga and Gobharan. The Sayings of the Buddha in Forty-Two Sections.

Soyen Shaku. 1906. Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot. Tr. from the Japanese by Daisetz T. Suzuki. Chicago, IL: The Open Court Publishing Company. ⍽▢⍽ The Sutra of Forty-Two Chapters is in it.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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