Thus have I heard:
Once Buddha was in the land of Shravasti,
in the garden of Jeta and Anathapindika.
Buddha told Ananda, his attendant and also the person who heard all of Sakyamuni’s teachings, that when he later repeated the sutras, he should always start with the words “Thus have I heard.”
“Thus” means that Sakyamuni definitely spoke the sutra. “I” is Ananda referring to himself, and saying that he was indeed present at Sakyamuni Buddha’s teaching. “Heard” refers to Ananda’s having both understood and absorbed what Sakyamuni Buddha said. It is
not a case of listening without comprehending.
"Once” refers to the time when Sakyamuni spoke this sutra. He said to use “once” instead of a particular time and date because these are not the same everywhere. We can see this when we consider a date. What is December 1st for one person can already be December 2nd for someone else. The use of various kinds of calendars such as lunar, Gregorian, and others can also lead to further confusion. It may be the same point in time, but people use different dates and calendars to identify it.
“Once” also means that the conditions for people to hear a specific sutra had matured. If the necessary conditions had not existed, Sakyamuni Buddha would not have spoken the sutra. It would have been pointless. Therefore, “once” is when teacher and student are in accord. Students are willing, indeed happy, to learn from the teacher. The teacher is willing, and happy, to teach. It is a joyous coming together as the mind of the student and that of the teacher are in sync.
“Sravasti” was the capital city of a prosperous Indian kingdom. A prince named Jeta lived in Sravasti, as did a wealthy and respected merchant known for helping the poor. Due to his generosity, people called the merchant Anathapindika, which means “giving to orphans and the solitary elderly.”
After hearing Sakyamuni speak the Dharma, Anathapindika decided to offer the Buddha a place in which to teach. Determining that the most suitable site was a park owned by Prince Jeta, he asked if he could buy the land. Initially, Prince Jeta declined, but eventually they came to an agreement.
Anathapindika then happily instructed that the gold in his warehouses be brought and used to cover all the ground in the park to fulfill their agreement. Moved by Anathapindika’s generosity, Prince Jeta wondered what kind of person Sakyamuni was to elicit such respect. When Anathapindika told him about Sakyamuni, Prince Jeta wanted to join the merchant in making the offering.
The two benefactors decided they would jointly offer the park to Sakyamuni Buddha. They had living quarters and assembly halls built, ponds and wells dug, pathways put in, and an impressive gate built at the entrance to the park. In honor of these two benefactors, the monastery became known as the Garden of Jeta and Anathapindika.
— Chapter 2, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
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