Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 3.1.2 Sīsapāvanasuttaṃ 
(Like a Handful of Leaves)

This famous and well known admonition spoken by the Buddha in the Sīsapā-forest, is the sutta where he compares the vast multitude of leaves in the large and immense Sīsapā-forest with the handful of leaves, that he has taken in his palm and relates this to the vast field of topics that are conceivable to a Buddha and human mind and the few truths that matter for one’s own wellbeing, peace and liberation. During most eras mankind may dwell in ignorance, obliviousness and waste energy in research on subjects that are not related to one’s salvation. It is only during periods when fully Enlightened Ones point these out that awareness can get directed towards these few truths of correct understanding.

More than 2,500 years after the Buddha’s Parinibbāna have passed away. According to the Burmese tradition these 5,000 (see lesson 2.1.5) years during which the Sāsana will be maintained is divided into two cyclic sections of five times five-hundred years each with repetitive predominance of the specific qualities of deliverance: vimutti; concentration: samādhi; moral standards: sīla; learning: suta; and generousity: dāna. The first half of the Sāsana has passed and we are fortunate to encounter the entering of the second half; the era of the practical application of meditation. It is the cycle where the clock of Vipassana has again struck and Dhamma is bound to spread throughout the world on the base of this feasible appliance of paññā. This is the period of Vipassana, the period of applied insight and thus it enables the accomplishment in the three trainings, the tīsu sikkhāsu of sīla, samādhi, paññā.

This understanding of two cycles of the Sāsana is based on the commentary on the verses of Thera Phussa, (Phussattheragāthāvaṇṇanā), who with clairvoyance foresaw the decline in the conduct of Bhikkhus (see lesson 2.1.11) and admonished them firmly (see lesson 3.1.7) to get established in proper behaviour by putting forth all exuberance as long as the last period, the last time (pacchimo kālo) may not have arrived:

Evaṃ anāgataddhānaṃ1, paṭipatti bhavissati;

Bhikkhūnaṃ bhikkhunīnañca, patte kālamhi pacchime.

In this way in future times the practice of the Bhikkhus

and Bhikkhunis will develop when the last time is reached.

“Evan”ti-ādi vuttassevatthassa2 nigamanaṃ3. Tattha evanti vuttappakārena. Anāgataddhānanti anāgatamaddhānaṃ, anāgate kāleti attho. Taṃyeva sarūpato4 dassento “patte kālamhi pacchime”ti āha5. - Starting with: “In this way” here is the explanation of the meaning of what has been set forth. Here “In this way” is the exposition of what has been said6. Here the future time is the period in the future, the meaning is the time in the future. Therefore with reference to what has been said it should be understood of: “when the last time is reached.”

Tattha katamo pacchimakālo? “Tatiyasaṅgītito paṭṭhāya pacchimakālo”ti keci, taṃ eke nānujānanti7. Sāsanassa hi pañcayugāni vimuttiyugaṃ, samādhiyugaṃ, sīlayugaṃ, sutayugaṃ, dānayuganti. Tesu paṭhamaṃ vimuttiyugaṃ, tasmiṃ antarahite8 samādhiyugaṃ vattati, tasmimpi antarahite sīlayugaṃ vattati, tasmimpi antarahite sutayugaṃ vattateva.–Thus what is the last time? The last time starts, according to some, from the third saṅgīti, but this is not acknowledged by others. Because the sāsana is divided into five parts: The period of vimutti–deliverance; the period of concentration–samādhi; the period of upholding of moral principles–sīla; the period of learning, what has been heard–suta and the period of generosity–dāna. Of these the first period is that of vimutti, after the disappearance of it the period of samādhi comes into existence, after the disappearance of it the period of sīla evolves, after the disappearance of it the period of suta comes into existence. Aparisuddhasīlo9 hi ekadesena pariyattibāhusaccaṃ paggayha10 tiṭṭhati lābhādikāmatāya11. Yadā pana mātikāpariyosānā12 pariyatti sabbaso antaradhāyati13, tato paṭṭhāya liṅgamattameva avasissati, tadā yathā tathā dhanaṃ saṃharitvā* dānamukhena vissajjenti14, kira15 nesaṃ carimā sammāpaṭipatti. Tattha sutayugato paṭṭhāya pacchimakālo, “sīlayugato paṭṭhāyā”ti apare. Because sīla does not get completely purified, in a certain region theoretical studies through exertion in great learning are maintained because of the desire beginning with gain. But when achievements of theoretical knowledge completely terminate, it vanishes. From henceforth only outward signs (liṅga) remain. After that, having accumulated wealth in various ways, they begin giving donations (dāna); this, truly, is the final right practice. Then, after the disappearance of the period of learning (suta) commences the last time. Others say16 that it is from the time of the disappearance of morality.

Whether this prophesy may prove true or not we do not know – but the fact is, that we have encountered the period where the teaching of the Buddha is fully available. May these present five-hundered years enable a multitude of beings to make use of the generous distributed teaching by walking on the Path for the benefit and wellbeing of many! May we all gratefully accept that inheritance of a few leaves offered by the Enlightened One as long as we will be able to for our own safety and the welfare of others!


[1] anāgataddhāna: anāgata + addhāna: future + time, period

[2] vuttassevatthassa: vuttassa + eva + atthassa: said, spoken of + indeed + of the meaning

[3] nigamana: explanation, illustration

[4] sarūpato: (abl.): with reference to

[5] āha: said, spoken of, told

[6] vuttappakārena: vutta + p + pakārena: what has been said + explanation: this refers to the description of the conduct and practise of the Bhikkus and Bhikkunis as depicted by Phussa Thera in his verses at 2.1.11.

[7] nānujānanti: na +anujānanti: not + agree, consent to

[8] antarahito: disappearance, passing away, vanishing

[9] aparisuddhasīlo: a + pari + suddha + sīlo: not + completely purified + sīlo

[10] paggayha: stretching forth, taking up, exerting

[11] lābhādikāmatāya: lābha +ādi + kāmatāya: gain, receiving + starting from + desire, craving ( this phrase probably refers to the standard: lābhasakkhārasiloka: gain, offerings and reknown)

[12] mātikāpariyosānā: mātikā + pariyosānā: order, list, summary + termination; (mātikā is the introductionary summary, or presented concept of texts in the Abhidhamma)

[13] antaradhāyati: vanish, disappear

[14] saṃharitvā: ger. of saṃharati: collect, accumulate, gather

[15] vissajjeti: sending forth or away, to emit, discharge,

[16] kira: truly, really, they say

[17] apare: by others, another interpretation: the commentators in general collect, mention or dwell on diverging views introducing them with these words. There are also slightly varying interpretations of the predominance of the respective stages of the 5,000 years in the Anāgatavaṃsa, which are neglected here.

Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.1.2

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Last modified: Saturday, 12 January 2019, 5:22 PM