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[ Beginner's Questions]


V: I have heard talk about the Sasana. I believe it has something to do with a prediction the Buddha made about the duration of true Dhamma, but I'm not sure. I was wondering if you could comment.



Sāsana (Poss from sa = 1; asana = rock, pointed rock, arrow, food, portion, lesson in hunting) by itself is a synonym for the Dhamma, the Word, the Teaching, the System. With ant'ara-dhāna (anta = antler, end, front, anti; ara = arounda; dhāna = given, the given; the end of the given) it is the term used to describe the period of the final dissolution of the Dhamma. I remember reading, but I do not know where (see below), of this period where it gradually comes down to the king riding around asking any and everyone if anything can be remembered of the Dhamma, and I think someone is able to remember one or two lines or maybe three.

Along with this we have the statement by the Buddha to Ānanda at the time of the Admission of women to the Order that "true Dhamma" would only last 500 years because of that (also see below). I am not sure what word is used there for the term 500 and I would be very cautious about taking it literally as there are numerous cases where such figures are only intended to mean "a long time" or, perhaps in this case, "half a long time", and many of these numbers are able to stand for a multiplicity of numbers: satta = 7, 100, 1000, 10,000, or, again, "a whole bunch".

And then, again, we have numerous instances where the Buddha urges diligent study on the part of everyone "lest the world be left devoid of Arahants," which to me sounds a hopeful note.

And one more: there are said to be certain Dhammas that retain their viability whether the bulk of the Dhamma still exists or not: Such are that one should not lie, steal, or harm living beings.

My own view is mixed. On the one hand we have millions of people who claim to believe that the suttas are the foundation of their belief system. On the other hand I believe we can count only a small number that have actually read the texts. On the one hand the suttas are being translated anew even now, and are being disseminated over the Internet in numerous places and there does seem to be some interest ... hey! we have eleven ... well four active members here![1] Theoretically, with the Dhamma available on the Net, it should last a long long time. On the other hand if nobody makes any headway in the system because nobody is actually following what the Dhamma says to do it will not last long in spite of that.



This um ... story ... from Warren's Buddhism in Translations, which is not from the Suttas, is where I remember the idea concerning the last lines of the Dhamma. Reading this now I must say this is bunk start to finish, and destructive bunk at that. This is not Warren's fault, at the time he put his collection together there was very little understanding of Buddhism out there in the Western world.

The Buddhist Apocalypse

My suggestion: read it, burn it into your mind as an example of the dangers of reliance on the commentaries, and put it away.



Here is a chapter from Warren, Buddhism in Translations, in turn from the Culla Vaga, describing the circumstances under which women were allowed into the Saṅgha. It is in this description that the Buddha speaks of the Dhamma lasting only 500 years because of this fact.

#99 The Admission of Women to the Order



There are other descriptions.[2]

My Paraphrase (Mahā Kasapa has asked about the situation, after "seeing" that in the time of a former Buddha there were both more Arahants and fewer rules):

There is no disappearance of the True Dhamma until a false Dhamma appears, but when a false Dhamma appears then the True Dhamma disappears, in the same way that bad money drives out good.

Neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind causes True Dhamma to disappear, but here in the Order itself there appear stupid men and it is they who make the True Dhamma disappear.

It is not because there are more rules that the True Dhamma disappears, but more rules are needed when there are fewer followers and the True Dhamma disappears. A ship may sink because it is overloaded, but that is not the way it works with the Dhamma.

There are five things which conduce to the confusion and disappearance of True Dhamma. What five?

When the Beggars and Female Beggars and laymen and laywomen behave disrespectfully towards the Teacher, the Dhamma, the Saṅgha and the training, it is then that there is confusion and disappearance of True Dhamma.

When the Beggars and Female Beggars and laymen and laywomen behave respectfully towards the Teacher, the Dhamma, the Saṅgha and the training, it is then that there is clarification and preservation of True Dhamma.



Here is a translation of a portion of this, a follow-up posted on the Pāḷi board by Venerable Kumara:

Kassapa, it's not the earth element that shrouds[3] the true dhamma; nor does the water element shroud the true dhamma; nor does the fire element shroud the true dhamma; nor does the wind element shroud the true dhamma. Rather, it's those mindless people[4] who arise 'here' who shroud this true dhamma.

Its an important sutta that I think all Buddhists should read. The endnotes found in Ven. Bodhi' translation of SN is most interesting, with cross-tradition references extracted from the commentaries.



And another couple of references concerning this issue (located by RK and posted on the Pāḷi Board).

Anguttara Nikaya, Fives #88.

Anguttara Nikaya book of fives 155

Monks these five things lead to the confounding, the disappearance of Saddhamma. What five?

Herein monks, the monks master not Dhamma: The sayings, psalms...runes.

This monks is the first thing ...

They teach not others in detail as heard, as learned ...

They make not others speak it in detail ...

They make no repetition of it in detail ...

Again monks, the monks do not in their hearts turn over and ponder upon Dhamma, they review it not in their minds. This monks is the fifth thing that leads to the confounding, the disappearance of Saddhamma.



Here's another one that deals with The Welfare's Discipline (sugata-vinayo) and what will allow it to continue to grow and what will stifle that growth.

A new "Translation" (really an editing of Woodward's version) of AN 4 160: The Welfare's System



Here is an excerpt from The Questions of King Milinda that deals with this subject:

Duration of the Faith

"'Venerable Nagasena, it has been said by the Blessed one: "But now the good law, Ānanda, will only stand fast for five hundred years.[5]" But on the other hand the Blessed One declared, just before his death, in response to the question put by Subhadda the recluse: "But if in this system the brethren live the perfect life, then the world would not be bereft of Arahats."[6] This last phrase is absolute, inclusive; it cannot be explained away. If the first of these statements be correct, the second is misleading, if the second be right the first must be false. This too is a double-pointed question, more confused than the jungle, more powerful than a strong man, more knotty than a knot. It is now put to you. Show the extent of the power of your knowledge, like a leviathan in the midst of the sea.'

'The Blessed One, O king, did make both those statements you have quoted. But they are different one from the other both in the spirit and in the letter. The one deals with the limit of the duration of the doctrine,[7] the other with the practice of a religious life — two things widely distinct, as far removed one from the other as the zenith is from the surface of the earth, as heaven is from purgatory, as good is from evil, and as pleasure is from pain. But though that be so, yet lest your enquiry should be vain, I will expound the matter further in its essential connection.'

'When the Blessed One said that the good law[8] would only endure for five hundred years, he said so declaring the time of its destruction, limiting the remainder of its existence. For he said; "The good law, Ānanda, would endure for a thousand years if no women had been admitted to the Order. But now, Ānanda, it will only last five hundred years." But in so saying, O king, did the Blessed One either foretell the disappearance of the good law, or throw blame on the clear understanding thereof?'

'Certainly not, Sir.'

'Just so. It was a declaration of injury done, an announcement of the limit of what remained. As when a man whose income had been diminished might announce publicly, making sure of what remained: "So much property have I lost; so much is still left" — so did the Blessed One make known to gods and men what remained when he announced what had been lost by saying: "The good law will now, Ānanda, endure for five hundred years." In so saying he was fixing a limit to religion. But when in speaking to Subhadda, and by way of proclaiming who were the true Samanas, he said: "But if, in this system, the brethren live the perfect life, then the world would not be bereft of Arahats" — in so saying he was declaring in what religion consisted. You have confounded the limitation of a thing with the statement of what it is. But if you like I will tell you what the real connection between the two is. Listen carefully, and attend trustfully to what I say.'

[Here Nagasena provides 3 similar similes of which I will give one]:

'Suppose, O king, there were a reservoir quite full of fresh cool water, overflowing at the brim, but limited in size and with an embankment running all round it. Now if, when the water had not abated in that tank, a mighty cloud were to rain down rain continually, and in addition, onto the water already in it, would the amount of water in the tank decrease or come to an end?'

'Certainly not, Sir.'

'But why not, O king?'

'Because of the continual downpour of the rain.'

'Just so, O king, is the glorious reservoir of the good law of the teaching of the Conqueror ever full of the clear fresh cool water of the practice of duty and virtue and morality and purity of life, and continues overflowing all limits even to the very highest heaven of heavens. And if the children of the Buddha rain down into it continuously, and in addition, the rainfall of still further practice of duty and virtue and morality and purity of life, then will it endure for long, and the world will not be bereft of Arahats. This was the meaning of the Master's words when he said: "But if, Subhadda, in this system the brethren continue in perfectness of life, then will the world not be bereft of Arahats."'

'...For the teaching of the Master, O king, has its root in conduct, has conduct as its essence, and stands fast so long as conduct does not decline.'

Venerable Nagasena, when you speak of the disappearance of the good law, what do you mean by its disappearance?'

'There are three modes of the disappearance, O king, of a system of doctrine. And what are the three? The decline of attainment to an intellectual grasp of it, the decline of conduct in accordance with it, and the decline of its outward form.[9] When the attainment of it ceases, then even the man who conducts himself aright in it has no clear understanding of it. By the decline of conduct the promulgation of the rules of discipline ceases, only the outward form of the religion remains. When the outward form has ceased, the succession of the tradition is cut off. These are the three forms of the disappearance of a system of doctrine.'

'You have well explained, venerable Nagasena, this dilemma so profound, and have made it plain. You have loosed the knot; you have destroyed the arguments of the adversary, broken them in pieces, proved them wrong — you, O best of the leaders of schools!'




Well I don't know. I do not see this as having resolved the dilemma.

A better way of thinking about this dilemma is, I think, to consider that with regard to the first statement, the Buddha was speaking using an idiom where 500 years was not to be taken literally, but to be taken as "half a very long time," (perhaps this is what Nagasena is saying — otherwise it reads to me like he is saying that attainment of arahantship is possible without the Dhamma, which is completely crazy. Even Silent Buddhas discover the Dhamma. One can attain Arahantship two ways: either through careful observation for one's self, or by way of hearing about it from someone who heard about it from a Buddha; either way it is the idea of ending dukkha by way of ending taṇhā that is the liberating idea, and that, in a nutshell, is 'true Dhamma.')(The other way to think about this is that the whole business of the Dhamma coming to an end was put into the mouth of the Buddha by the early compilers of the Dhamma to explain the Buddha's reluctance to allow women into the order ... which, 'case you was curious, I figure to be based on rebirth and the real world fact that women follow men: if there were only men allowed into the order, then those women attached to those men who entered the order would have a heart to become men and themselves enter the order in subsequent rebirths ... and in this way, where the order might have lasted for only say 500 years (speaking figuratively) with women allowed in, it would last 1000 years (again, speaking figuratively) with women not allowed in. From the point of view of compassion for the world, the best decision would be to not allow women in because the longer the order lasted, the more beings, men and women, would learn of and make progress in the system.)

Otherwise, the real dilemma is the fact that what we can see with our own eyes is that the Dhamma has lasted longer than 500 years, or that what we have in front of our own eyes is not the real Dhamma, i.e., either the Buddha was speaking literally and was wrong (unthinkable!), or he was right and the Dhamma disappeared after 500 years. The idea that attainments such as Arahantship will continue to exist in the world as long as there are diligent practitioners of the system does not pose a problem to my mind.

What this does is to point out a contradiction in the argument of those who propose that there cannot be the attaining of jhānas, magic powers and attainment of arahantship today because the Dhamma only lasted 500 years. If it only lasted five hundred years, then what we have here today (and what those commentators had in front of them as well), that we call (and they called) 'the Dhamma' is not the true Dhamma, and therefore has nothing to do with what could have or could not have been attained while the 'true Dhamma' existed.

So under their way of thinking, what we have here today, calling itself 'true Dhamma', is not that unattainable system, but something completely different, something we may freely consider to be completely attainable.

And I will make this statement: Break through to what in the Dhamma we have here today is called "Stream-Entry" and you will know for yourself that there could not possibly be a higher system for the attaining of freedom from Dukkha. See: DhammaTalk: Certainty without Faith




Reference: The Questions of King Milinda, IV, I, 55: The Duration of the Faith, T.W. Rhys Davids, trans.
AN 5.154,
AN 5.155,
AN 5.156,
AN 4.160,
AN 2.20
SN 2.16.13
Psalms of the Brethren: [THAG 258] Phussa Mrs. Rhys David's translation.
When asked by a seer of another sect what he forecasts for the future of the Saṅgha Phussa paints a grim picture.


[1] For a more recent (and more hopeful) count of BuddhaDust visitors, see the Dedication Page

[2] PTS: Samyutta Nikaya II: Saddhamma-p-patiruupaka Sutta, pp 224
PTS: The Book of the Kindred Sayings: Kindred Sayings on Kassapa: 13: A counterfeit Norm, Mrs. Rhys Davids, trans., pp 152
WP: Connected Discourses of the Buddha, I, Ñanamoli/Bodhi, trans, pp681 [SN 2.16.13]

[3] VenK: "'Shroud' seems to me a good translation for 'antaradhāpe' ti. in the sense that the notion of 'antara' is kept; although the more common translation 'cause to disappear' seems fine too."

[4] VenK: "Literally 'moghapurisaa' means empty (or, hollow) people.
In other translations, 'mogha' has been commonly rendered as 'foolish' or 'misguided'. The commentaries usually gloss 'moghapurisaa' as 'tucchapurisaa'. Not much help since the dictionaries define 'tuccha' as 'empty, vain, deserted'.
The Aṭṭhakanipāta-aṭṭhakathā, glossed "moghapurisaa" as 'mūḷhapurisaa tucchapurisā'. 'Mūḷha' is a pp. of muyhati, which means 'to be perplexed, bewildered'.
So, 'moghapurisā' seems to mean people who are 'empty of wisdom', in that he is perplexed, bewildered. I think 'mindless people' serve well as a translation. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi translates it as 'senseless people'.
'Moghapurisa' is used by the Buddha in almost every instance to address bhikkhus who instigated the training rules of the Pātimokkha. If the instigator happens to be an ariya, such as Ven. Anuruddha, instead of that term, his name is used.
I do not know of any case whereby the Buddha used the term for anyone else other than bhikkhus. (Do correct me if I'm wrong. [Ed.: M. is used for Mikahali, (AN 1.319) not a bhikkhu]) So, it seems reasonable to assume that 'those 'empty' people who arise 'here'' means bhikkhus who are empty of wisdom."

[5] Kullavagga X, I, 6, translated in 'Vinaya Texts,' vol. iii, p. 325,

[6] Book of the Great Decease, V, 62, translated in 'Buddhist Suttas' p. 107

[7] Sāsana

[8] Saddhammo

[9] Liṅga, possibly 'uniform.' Either the Order or the yellow robe, for instance, if the system were Buddhism.

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