The 4 Reliances Sutra

Four Reliances Sutra
Sanskrit text and translation of a short but important sutra, probably early, but not found in the Pali collection.

“catvāri pratiśaraṇāni| tadyathā-arthapratiśaraṇatā na vyañjanapratiśaraṇatā| jñānapratiśaraṇatā na vijñānapratiśaraṇatā| nītārthapratiśaraṇatā na neyārthapratiśaraṇatā| dharmapratiśaraṇatā na pudgalapratiśaraṇatā ceti||”

“Four reliances: that is:

  • Reliance on the Dhamma not (merely) reliance on the person;
  • Reliance on the meaning not (merely) reliance on the phrasing;
  • Reliance on the suttas whose meaning is already drawn out not (merely) reliance on those suttas whose meaning is to be drawn out (interpreted);
  • Reliance on extraordinary-knowledge* not (merely) reliance on (intellectual) discrimination.”

Source:  Originally from one of Bhante Sujato’s websites.

So when learning the Buddha’s teachings:

  • Rely on the principle, not necessarily on the person teaching it – because if you understand the principle, then you can use it whether you have the teacher there to hold your hand or not.  The understanding is yours to use at your will whether the teacher is there helping you or not.  Further, experts can sometimes be dead wrong – so don’t always defer your own wisdom to experts.
  • Rely on the meaning, not just the literal words.  You can use different ways of explaining the same thing – once you understand the meaning, you can use as many or as little words to get your point across as you need to.  Meaning is primary, the words are secondary.
  • Rely on Sutras passages where the meaning is clear, not the Sutra passages which are unclear in meaning.  Sometimes, you read Sutras and you don’t understand it – that’s where you can consult other translations to see if you can penetrate the meaning of it from different perspectives.  As the verse for opening a Sutra tells us, “The unsurpassed, deep, profound, subtle, wonderful Dharma, In a hundred thousand million eons, is difficult to encounter; Now that I’ve come to receive and hold it, within my sight and hearing, I vow at fathom the Thus Come One’s true and actual meaning.”
  • Rely on wisdom – not just on your thinking.  Thinking can be linear and limited.  Where sometimes, you can see the answer through direct knowledge simply and easily – whereas sometimes, the more you think, the more confused you get as maybe you were thinking along the wrong lines, going off on a tangent and losing track of the big picture, yet you keep rationalizing to yourself that it’s correct.

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