Thus We Heard / The Life of the Buddha
By Walpola Piyananda
By Stephen Long

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From the Foreword

The timeless teachings of the Buddha have been our source of inspiration, our guidelines for happy living, our motivation for practice, and our tools for higher spiritual attainment for many decades.

The question always arises: Just who was this prince who renounced the world to seek enlightenment and eventually became the Buddha?

Many books have attempted to answer this question, and many have done an admirable job. None, however, have really satisfied our desire for an eye-witness account of who he really was.

We decided that the best and only place to look for him was the Tripitaka, the Three Baskets of 84,000 teachings that were organized during the First Sangha Council ninety days after the Buddha passed away, and then first written down three hundred years after the Buddha’s Parinibbana.

Our first intention for writing this book was to present a biography of the Buddha from the perspective of the Tripitaka itself. The ancient Pali-language Canon contains a wealth of information on this subject, and we decided to mine it for deeper clues that might enable us to discover exactly who and what the Buddha was – minus the speculations, fables, and tales from the early Buddhist commentaries.

Our second intention for writing this book was to share verbatim as many translations of the Buddha’s primary messages as we could, realizing that most readers would never have the chance to read them unless they took it upon themselves to engage in countless hours of research.

Our third intention for writing this book was to share the life of the Buddha in a way that would appeal to Westerners and Easterners alike. To do that, we realized the need for a contextual story platform that would make the material both accessible and entertaining: hence the creation of the fictitious First Sangha Council sub-committee that recollected the life of the Buddha.

Thus We Heard: Recollections of the Life of Buddha became an amalgam of three kinds of books: a fully-researched biography of the Buddha, a collection of his important Dhamma messages, and a historical novel that “might have happened,” but we’ll never know for sure.

The nine fully-enlightened arahants on the sub-committee are real historical disciples of the Buddha that may have attended the First Sangha Council; we know that at least three of them actually did: Maha Kassapa, Ananda, and Upali. In regards to the other six, the records tell us they were alive at the time of the Buddha’s passing away, which means that they may have attended. The characterizations of the arahants in this book are based upon information gleaned from the Tripitaka, as well as from insights drawn from our own understanding, plus some imagination. The conversations they have with one another are fictitious, of course, as are the events we portray as having taken place during the course of the Council. The characters that make “guest appearances” at the subcommittee meetings are real and historic, and their genuine contributions to the Sasana are duly recorded in the Tripitaka.

Since both of us have close connections to Sri Lanka, it might be expected that we would include stories about the Buddha’s reputed three visits to that island in this book, but we did not. It is our intention to cover these fascinating tales in a future publication.

We hope you enjoy Thus We Heard: Recollections of the Life of Buddha, and gain a greater appreciation for the Fully Enlightened One and his influence on all of humanity for the past two and a half millennia.

May you be well and happy!

About the Authors

Bhante Walpola Piyananda is the author of Saffron Days in LA and  The Bodhi Tree Grows in LA – both of them subtitled “Tales of a Buddhist Monk in America.” “Saffron Days in LA” has become a classic in American Buddhist literature, often used as a textbook in Buddhist Studies courses in universities; it has been translated into Mandarin, Korean, and Sinhalese.

Bhante Piyananda was ordained in 1955 as a novice monk in Sri Lanka at the age of twelve. He graduated with Honors with a BA from Kelaniya University in 1967. He received post-graduate degrees from the  University of Calcutta in India and from Northwestern University in Chicago; completing his doctoral coursework at the University of California, Los Angeles. Bhante also received an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Oriental Studies in Los Angeles. He received the title of “Tripitaka Dharma Visarada” from the University of Ruhuna in Sri Lanka.

He first came to America on July 4, 1976 and founded Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles in 1980. He is the President of the Sri Lankan Buddhist Sangha Council of America and Canada, Chief Sangha Nayake of America, and Abbot of Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara.

Dr. Stephen Long (Bodhicari Dharmapala) is the author of Karmic Ties: A Novel of Modern Asia, first published in the U.S. in 1999, and again in Asia in 2005. He is also a business consultant, screenwriter, journalist, editor, and meditation practitioner. In 1998 he was ordained a Buddhist lay minister (Bodhicari) at Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles; and in 2009 he received a Doctorate of Dharma from Buddhist Studies International, Los Angeles. He is Chairman of the Board of Captive Daughters, an all-volunteer California non-profit, which is dedicated to ending sex trafficking in the world. (



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