The Sutra of the Leaves
by Baksheesh the
Thus have I heard. One summer afternoon in a place near Rajgir, when the heat of the day was intense, while walking in an area of sandy dunes with Ananda, the World-Honoured One remarked, "Ananda, this place where we are staying is very hot."
"Yea, World-Honoured One, very hot indeed," replied Ananda.
Turning to Ananda, walking at his side, the World-Honoured One, gesturing gracefully, extended his arm toward a grove of palm trees that was being attacked by workmen with knives, who stripped the leaves from the trees and carried them off in baskets.
"Ananda," asked the World-Honoured One, "why are those workmen taking the leaves from the palm trees?"
"They are harvesting them,” replied Ananda, "to use as writing paper, for books that are being written."
“Is that why, Ananda,” questioned the World-Honoured One, “it is so difficult to find a shady place to sit in this place?”
“I believe that the World-Honoured One is correct in suggesting this to be one of the reasons why it is so difficult to find a shady place to sit in this place.”
The World-Honoured One then gestured gracefully to a place where men were cutting down trees and burning the trunks in pits from which dark black clouds emerged. “Ananda,” asked the World-Honoured One, “why are those men burning the trees in those pits?”
“To make charcoal, World-Honoured One, that is used to make ink for writing on the palm leaves.”
“So the trees,” the World-Honoured One said, “are being sacrificed to the writing of books, Ananda?”
“Yea, World-Honoured One, books of mighty importance,” replied Ananda solemnly.
"What books are those?" asked the World-Honoured One.
"The books, World-Honoured One," replied Ananda, "written by the monks of the Sangha, recording the sacred Dharma of the World-Honoured One that you have offered to all men from the generosity of your noble mind."
The World-Honoured One asked further, "Ananda, have you arranged for my words to be written on leaves, for the leaves to be bundled into books, for the books to be distributed to faithful, and for the proceeds of all this virtue to be directed to the Sangha treasury?"
Then Ananda beamed with satisfaction as he announced, "World-Honoured One, indeed have I done these things. I have arranged for the faithful recording of every word of teaching spoken by the World-Honoured One, and so great has been the clamor of the faithful for your teachings that the trees have indeed been sacrificed in great number to this great work.”
The World-Honoured One the asked, "Are my words, Ananda, more important than the trees?"
"Yea, World-Honoured One, far more important," replied Ananda, "your words are the highest Dharma known among all gods and humans, whereas a tree gives coconuts, dates, mangos, tamarinds are also very tasty, but nothing like the Dharma in value."
“Ananda,” asked the World-Honoured One, “are your words recorded in these books that have been made in such great number?”
“No, World-Honoured One, they are your words, the words of the Dharma,” replied Ananda.
“So Ananda,” asked the World-Honoured One, “if there were no more trees and everyone knew the Dharma, would my Dharma have triumphed over the world of Samsara?
"I do not know, World-Honoured One," replied Ananda, "I do not know the answer to your question."
"Then I will tell you the answer to my question, Ananda," replied the World-Honoured One. "My Dharma would not have triumphed over the world of Samsara if in doing so the trees were lost, because my Dharma is a Dharma for the benefit of all living things, and when beings are killed they are not benefited, and once the trees are lost, all other living things will follow their path to death. Therefore, a Dharma that causes the destruction of the trees and of all living things cannot be the Dharma of the World-Honoured One.”
“World-Honoured One,” answered Ananda, “I was only trying to propagate the Dharma by distributing the teachings more widely, to permit more earnest study by your students.”
“Ananda,” questioned the World-Honoured One, “before you became Bikkhu Ananda, did you have no books?”
“No, World-Honoured One,” answered Ananda, “like yourself, I had a library in my home, filled with important books.”
“Ananda,” continued the World-Honoured One, “Do you wish to have a library again?”
“No,” replied Ananda, “I wish to be a Bikkhu and to follow your World-Honoured Self.”
“Then,” replied the World-Honoured One, “You must give up this notion that the Dharma is written in books. The Dharma is to gain understanding, not knowledge. Do you understand, Ananda?”
“Yea, World-Honoured One, I understand,” replied Ananda.
“Since you understand, then, Ananda,” said the World-Honoured One, “you and all of the bikkhus will abandon this practice of recording my words, of which you do not yet know the meaning, and will destroy these books you have made, and devote yourselves to understanding my meaning.”
“So will it be done, World-Honoured One,” replied Ananda, and respectfully leaving the presence of the World-Honoured One, arranged for the destruction of the books and notified the workmen that the library project would be abandoned.
Thus have I heard.