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Content ..................................................................................................1 Introduction ...........................................................................................2 The term thera based on vassa ............................................................2 The term thera based on knowledge ...................................................4 The term thera based on experience ...................................................5 Conclusion .............................................................................................7 Reference ...............................................................................................8

Introduction Most Buddhists seem to be familiar with the term thera, namely Sariputta thera, Moggallana thera, especially one who follows Theravada1 tradition. We all know that there are two main branches of Buddhism in the world nowadays, namely Mahayana tradition and Theravada tradition. The former is the development Buddhism. It is also called the Great Vehicle. Mahyna Buddhism originated in India, and some scholars believe that it was initially associated with one of the oldest historical branches of Buddhism, the Mahsghika, a separate school in competition with Sthaviravda or Theravda2 The later is the tradition that the elders who participated in the first council maintained. The chronicles are very convinced and say that even the first council was conducted by the elders (Theras). In this tradition, especially in pali canon, the term thera appear in pali texts such as thero, therana, therassa etc, with different meaning. However, it is difficult to know the meanings exactly in tipitaka. This paper will find out some of them. The term thera based on vassa Vinaya field monks appellation is divided into three levels depending on his vassa (the three-month annual retreat). According to that, monks include navaka, majjhima, thera, and later on, there adds also mahthera.3 The first one is new monk; the second is middle monk; the third is elder
Skilling, Peter and Jason A. Carbine. How Theravada is Theravada? : Exploring Buddhist Identities. Silkworm Books, 2012, p. 460ff. 2 See the 12th chaper of the Cullavaggapali. 3 Bhikkhu Ariyesako. Bhikkhus Rules A Guide For Laypeople. Kallista: Sanghaloka Forest Hermitage, 1998, p.194.
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monk and the last is great elder monk. Some vinaya books, for instance, The Bhikkhus Rules a Guide for Laypeople4 describe clearly as follows: When a candidate requests full admission to the Community (after the smaera ordination) he does not make any 'lifetime vows' but offers himself for training and instruction under his preceptor's guidance. At the end of the ordination ceremony, the preceptor will immediately instruct the new bhikkhu (or arrange that he is properly taught) about the pimokkha Rule and the other principles that all bhikkhus should follow and observe. For the first five years (vassa) a bhikkhu is called navaka ('new one') and he must live 'dependent' (nissaya) on a senior bhikkhu either his preceptor or teacher (acariya) training in the ways of a bhikkhu. The preceptor and the new monk should be kind and helpful to each other, in almost a father-and-son relationship. A new bhikkhu who no longer lives under his preceptor must take another senior bhikkhu as his teacher and depend on him instead. For the next five years after his navaka period, the bhikkhu is called majjhima, ('one in the middle') and he is allowed to live by himself if he is accomplished in certain qualities. When a bhikkhu has completed ten rains he is called thera. Thera can be translated as 'an elder who is worthy of respect.' If he is also accomplished in certain extra qualities, he is allowed to give ordination as preceptor, to be a teacher, and have young monks live in dependence on him.

Bhikkhu Ariyesako. Bhikkhus Rules A Guide For Laypeople. Kallista: Sanghaloka Forest Hermitage, 1998, p.48-49.

When a bhikku has completed twenty vassa, he is called mahthera or great elder. This is an honorific title automatically conferred upon a bhikkhu of at least twenty years' standing.5 The above titles are given relative to account of vassa. However, the term thera also has another meaning regarding to quality of monk. We can see in following quotation: At A II.22 it is said that a bhikkhu, however junior, may be called thera on account of his wisdom. It is added that four characteristics make a man a thera - high character, knowing the essential doctrines by heart, practising the four Jhnas, and being conscious of having attained freedom through the destruction of the mental intoxications. It is already clear that at a very early date, before the Anguttara reached its extant shape, a secondary meaning of thera was tending to supplant that of senior - that is, not the senior of the whole Order, but the senior of such a part of the Sangha as live in the same locality, or are carrying out the same function. 6 About the extra meaning, it is explained in detail in the next part. The term thera based on knowledge The second meaning certain, stable knowledge is found in Ariyapariyesan sutta of Majjhima Nikya where the story of Prince Siddhatthas renunciation is documented. According to this sutta, ascetic Siddhattha studied a subject of yoga meditation from the two ascetics Alarakalama and Udakaramaputta during his searching for truth. Finally he
5 6

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/glossary.html, accessed on October 9, 2013. Thomas William Rhys Davids, William Stede. Pali-English Dictionary. Pali Text Society, 1972,

p. 310.

learnt the sphere of nothingness (Akincannayataya jhana) from the ascetic Alarakalama and developed the sphere of neither perception nor non perception (Neva sanna na-sanna yatana jhana) revealed by the ascetic Udaka-ramaputta. After becoming a Buddha, He retold Bhikkhus in the above sutta that with these two achievements hermit Siddhattha is said to have uttered: So kho aha, bhikkhave, tvatakeneva ohapahatamattena lapitalpanamattena avdaca vadmi theravdaca, jnmi passmti ca paijnmi ahaceva ae ca. (MN 26, PTS: M.i.160) (As far as mere lip-reciting and rehearsal of his teaching went, I could speak with knowledge and assurance, and I claimed, I know and see - and there were others who did likewise.)7 Here, the word Theravda can mean certain, stable knowledge in the sense that Hermit Siddhattha gained certain and firm knowledge of what Alara-kalama and Udaka-ramaputta taught. The commentary on the Ariypariyesana Sutta, in the Papacasudani (Majjimanikay-atthakatha) (i.e commentary of the MN) defines the theravda in this context as theravadanti thirabhava vadam. Therefore, the discourse of the Pali cannon used the term theravda in the sense of certainty. The term thera based on experience The meaning of thera regarding to experience here mean one who understand certainly the teaching and practice it perfectly. He really

namoli, Bhikkhu and Bhikkhu Bodhi trans. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikya. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1995, p.257.

experiences the dhamma in his daily life. No matter he is young or old, even a novice, he is called thera. The story with reference to Thera Bhaddiya, who also known as Lakundaka8 Bhaddiya because he was very short in stature illuminates this meaning. While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verses (260) and (261) to concise the story as follows: One day, thirty bhikkhus came to pay obeisance to the Buddha. The Buddha knew that time was ripe for those thirty bhikkhus to attain arahatship. So he asked them whether they had seen a thera as they came into the room. They answered that they did not see a thera but they saw only a young samanera as they came in. Whereupon, the Buddha said to them, "Bhikkhus! That person is not a samanera, he is a senior bhikkhu although he is small-built and very unassuming. I do say that one is not a thera just because he is old and looks like a thera; only he who comprehends the Four Noble Truths and does not harm others is to be called a thera." These verses in pai language are: Na tena thero so hoti yenassa palitam siro paripakko vayo tassa "moghajinno" ti vuccati.

Yamhi saccanca dhammo ca ahimsa samyamo damo sa ve vantamalo dhiro "thero" iti pavuccati.

Lakundaka means dwarf, short.

(Verse 260. He is not a thera just because his head is grey; he who is ripe only in years is called "one grown old in vain." Verse 261. Only a wise man who comprehends the Four Noble Truths and the Dhamma, who is harmless and virtuous, who restrains his senses and has rid himself of the stains of defilements is indeed called a thera.)9 The term thera here implies a monk has real experience, penetrating the Four Noble Truths and the Dhamma (four ways and four fruits) and attains the goal of nibbana. Conclusion As a result, the meaning of the term thera is not simple as the senior or elder in normal understanding. Although thera literally means the title of senior monk has at least ten raining retreats, it also means the monk who attains the end, have real experience of the Four Noble Truths, and achieve four ways and fruits. The most interesting meaning is stable, certain. It is the stable knowledge, certain knowledge the Buddha experience himself mentioned in very sutta nikaya. Further meaning is one who follows Theravada tradition. This paper does not mention. But one who would like to research farther, the term suggested is Sthaviravda, Acariyavada, Attanomati

See Ven. Weagoda Sarada Maha Thero. Treasury of Truth. Illustrated Dhammapada. Taipei: The Corporate Body of the Buddha Education Foundation, 1993, p. 1069-1070.

Reference

Bhikkhu Ariyesako. Bhikkhus Rules A Guide For Laypeople. Kallista: Sanghaloka Forest Hermitage, 1998. namoli, Bhikkhu and Bhikkhu Bodhi trans. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikya . Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1995, p.257. Narada Thera, The Buddha and his teachings, BMS,Malaysia, 3rd edition, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia): BMS Buddhist Missionary Society, 1993. Skilling, Peter and Jason A. Carbine. How Theravada is Theravada? : Exploring Buddhist Identities. Silkworm Books, 2012. Thomas William Rhys Davids, William Stede. Pali-English Dictionary. Pali Text Society, 1972. Ven. Weagoda Sarada Maha Thero. Treasury of Truth. Illustrated Dhammapada. Taipei: The Corporate Body of the Buddha Education Foundation, 1993, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/glossary.html, accessed on October 9, 2013.