The Three Learnings

We know that the very nature of Buddhism is education. It encompasses a large number of subjects, which cover the perfect knowledge of life and the universe. The textbooks for these subjects are sutras. However, not all of the sutras in India were brought to China. Because of the difficulties in the long journey between China and India in ancient times, both the Indian monks who visited China and the Chinese monks who returned after visiting India, had to limit the number of books they carried. They selected the most important ones and had to leave the others behind. So, all the books that were introduced into China were considered the essence of Buddhism.

However, after their introduction, not all of the books could be translated. Further screening had to be done and only the best and the most essential were selected for the difficult translation process. The project was financed by the central government. Experts, who were monks and laypeople from all over China as well as from foreign countries, were invited to participate in the mammoth translation effort. According to historical records, Master Kumarajiva’s translation institute had over 400 people while Master Xuan-Zhuang’s institute had more than 600 people.

The name of the translator that we see today at the beginning of the sutra is the chief of the institute and represents all the translators in the group. The Chinese sutras that we have today are fairly complete. However, the Indian Sanskrit versions have been largely lost with few remaining. After the Chinese sutras, the second largest collection is that of Tibet. Part of this collection was translated directly from the Sanskrit and the rest came from the Chinese versions.

Princess Wen-Cheng of the Tang Dynasty brought Buddhist sutras to Tibet when she was married to the Tibetan king. This is why the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet was some 600 years later than the introduction of the teachings to the Chinese. As the Tibetan king built up belief in Buddhism, a new school from India found its way into Tibet.

An important part of the teachings are the Three Learnings of abiding by the precepts or self-discipline, deep concentration and wisdom. Accomplishment of these can relieve the suffering of this world. Buddha Shakyamuni told us how long the teachings would remain on this earth. The Dharma Perfect Age would last 500 years. The Dharma Semblance Age would last 1000 years. The Dharma Ending Age that we are now in will last 10,000 years.

What are the sufferings of the sentient beings in our current age? The first is committing the wrong-doings of the Ten Bad Conducts. The Buddha taught us the First Learning of self-discipline to overcome these. The second suffering is the inability to remain serene and at peace. The Buddha taught us the Second Learning of deep concentration to achieve purity of mind and tranquility. The third suffering is ignorance. The Buddha taught us the Third Learning of wisdom to overcome our current state of ignorance.

Committing wrongdoings, being confused and remaining in ignorance are three of the major problems of sentient beings in our contemporary world. The Buddha will teach when these problems afflict the sentient beings in our world. However, if the beings are not ill, there will be no need for the Buddha to teach. The Diamond Sutra says: “in the end we even have to  lay aside the Buddha’s teachings, let alone the worldly teachings.” When beings are well, the teachings are unnecessary and introducing them might even lead to more problems. This is similar to a healthy person taking medicine every day and eventually falling ill.

Self-discipline cures our body, deep concentration cures our mind and wisdom cures our behavior. Therefore, a person who practices Buddhism is wise in thought, speech and behavior. So how could such a person be unhappy?