Some Shunryu Suzuki lectures on the Lotus Sutra weren't included in the
Here's a minimally edited version of the second of six that were given at
Tassajara in the late winter of 1968. - Thanks to Brian Fikes for doing this
work over 20 years ago.
Index for these six lectures
Sutra No. 2
A ray issued
from Buddha's forehead between his eyebrows. Everyone could see many
things, and Maitreya Bodhisattva is asking Manjusri why this kind of
miraculous sight appears. We have more than ten gathas about those
sights. Page 14, number 36 [from Saddharma‑Pundarika translated
by H. Kern]:
offer in the presence of the Jinas and the assemblage of disciples gifts
(consisting) in food, hard and soft, food [S.R. said "food", but the
book says "meat" here] and drink, medicaments for the sick, in plenty
Buddha. "Food hard and soft" means food or delicacies to sip and to eat,
something to chew and something to sip. Soft means something like soup.
It says "meat and drink" here, but maybe it is food and drink. He
translated it "food hard and soft", and then used "meat" so that he
wouldn't use the same word twice. But the first "food" is dishes and
delicacies, something to chew, something to sip. And "food and drink" is
various foods to eat, and drink, like wine or lemonade. Repetition, you
offer in the presence of Jinas and the assemblage of disciples hundreds
of kotis of clothes, worth thousands of kotis, and
garments of priceless value."
"They bestow in
the presence of the Sugatas hundreds of kotis of monasteries which
they have caused to be built of precious substances and sandalwood, and
which are furnished with numerous lodgings (or couches)."
kotis of monasteries," like Tassajara, "which they have caused to be
built of precious substances," like various jewels and stones, "and
sandalwood," do you know sandalwood? Sandalwood, "and which are
furnished with numerous lodgings (or couches)." These are rather
important words which appear many, many times in various scriptures.
This is one of the five materials to offer to Buddha‑‑a bed. These
lodgings include something like a bed. You put mats on something which
has four legs, and a cushion which has cotton, or stuffing, in it, and a
bed cover, which is some textile, and a pillow. It is something to sit
on sometimes, so it is also something like a couch. Monks or priests are
prohibited from using expensive ones, you know. We should not use
material made of sheep, or sheepskin. In some countries, like Tibet, the
use of skin is allowed. But if we changed the rule so soon [in this
country], it would be a violation of the precept. At least, we should
not change it in six years. And we are supposed to use the same bed for
thirteen years. Nowadays we do not strictly observe this kind of rule,
but in the old times they had very strict rules about food and beds and
lodging. Here [in the sutra] they see various monasteries built of
precious jewels and sandalwood, but this is, of course, not real stone.
the leaders of men and their disciples with neat and lovely gardens
abounding with fruits and beautiful flowers, to serve as places of daily
The leader of
men is, of course, Buddha. "...and their disciples with neat and lovely
gardens abounding with fruits and beautiful flowers," like Church Creek,
"to serve as places of daily recreation." This translation makes it
look very picnic‑like, but it is not actually so. After they went
begging, in mid‑day, when it was very hot, they rested for a while in
someone's garden. It is very good to rest, to have something good which
is offered by the owner of the house or garden, to put heavy things
aside and rest under a tree. This is our custom, you know. In Japan we
do this also. When it is very cold, we may be ushered into a warm room
with a big charcoal fire, and they may serve mochi with sugar,
and, sometimes, New Year's dishes. And for a while we can rest at that
home. So this may be a kind of afternoon recreation, or afternoon rest.
It does not mean resting and having a good time all day long. Rather,
after the practice of begging, for a while, only when it was hot, they
would rest at someone's home. They [in this sutra] could see Buddha and
his disciples resting at some beautiful home.
have, with joyful feelings, made such various and splendid donations,
they rouse their energy in order to obtain enlightenment; these are
those who try to reach supreme enlightenment by means of
Most people who
met with Buddha wanted to be his disciple, if possible. Those who could
not be his disciples would contribute something. They wanted to
participate in Buddha's work and to feel better. That is what it really
means. "These are those who try to reach supreme enlightenment by means
of charitableness." This is more natural, you know. It is something like
a special practice for attaining enlightenment. It was so, for the
bodhisattva. The bodhisattva has six paramitas: dana paramita, sila
paramita, ksanti or patience paramita, zeal or virya
paramita, meditation or dhyana paramita, and prajna
paramita. Those are bodhisattva practices. But they did this kind
of practice more naturally; later we counted them, like the six
prajna paramitas or four practices of the bodhisattva.
forth the law of quietness, by many myriads of illustrations and
proofs; they preach it to thousands of kotis of living beings;
these are tending to supreme enlightenment by science."
by wisdom. It says science, but science is very modern. Enlightenment
by wisdom. "The law of quietness," we should be quiet, first of
all‑‑that is meditation, "by many myriads of illustrations and proofs."
If you sit quietly, you will be like this. This is the proof. And how
you keep quiet is the illustration. "They preach it to thousands of
kotis of living beings." Just to sit is to preach Buddha's teaching to
sons of the Sugata who try to reach enlightenment by wisdom; they
understand the law of indifference and avoid acting at the antinomy (of
things), unattached like birds in the sky."
perfect wisdom, they understand the law of indifference. Indifference
means non‑action, non‑thinking, non‑activity. "And avoid acting at the
antinomy," dualistic action, "unattached like birds in the sky." We say,
"Bird flies like a bird, fish swims like a fish." That is that.
see,"‑‑"I" means Maitreya Bodhisattva‑‑"O Manjughosha, many
Bodhisattvas who have displayed steadiness under the rule of the
departed Sugatas, and now are worshipping the relics of the Jinas."
We have already
seen many things. First of all, we saw many Buddhas entering
meditation, and we saw this earth was shaking in six ways, and a ray
issued from the Buddha's forehead, and we saw people incarnated in the
six states of living beings, heavenly, human, animal, asura,
hungry ghost, hell. And we also saw buddhas in each world, and heard the
Law preached by them. We saw Buddha's four congregations: monks, nuns,
male and female devotees, and we saw bodhisattvas who are helping
others, and Buddha finally entering Nirvana. And the last vision will be
building stupas and mounds for Buddha, and worshipping Buddha's
tomb. This is the whole story of this sutra.
thousands of kotis of stupas, numerous as the sand of the
Ganges, which have been raised by these sons of the Jina and now adorn
kotis of grounds."
In each of
innumerable worlds there is a Buddha who took final Nirvana and who
adorned the kotis of lands with this kind of stupa. Buddha
did not encourage his disciples to make stupas, but some of them
built one for a nun when she passed away. Mostly, stupas were
built by Mahayana Buddhists. We have a certain way of building stupas.
They are round, and underneath the roof is an umbrella for protecting
Buddha's mound. [or, the roof is an umbrella for protecting Buddha's
mound?] If you go to Japan Center, you will see a stupa. The top
of the building is a symbol of the center of the umbrella. And in the
center of the building there is supposed to be a sarira [relic]
magnificent Stupas, made of seven precious substances, with their
thousands of kotis of umbrellas and banners, measure in height
no less than 5000 yojanas and 2000 in circumference."
always decorated with flags; a multitude of bells is constantly heard
sounding; men, gods, goblins, and Titans pay their worship with flowers,
perfumes, and music."
yakshas and titans are rakshasas, devas who devour human
beings, sucking our blood and eating our flesh. There was supposed to be
an island south of ancient India where many rakshasas were
living. That island could be Ceylon‑‑I don't know. There were five
hundred merchants who wanted to cross the ocean but were blown by a
hurricane or storm to the island of rakshasas. The rakshasas
disguised themselves as decent people and invited the merchants to a
beautiful castle. But at midnight the merchants climbed the wall of the
castle and saw another castle. They climbed higher and peeked inside the
castle, where many rakshasas were devouring human beings. Some
were still alive. So they were very frightened and discussed how to
escape. Fortunately they were able to get out of the castle. This kind
of story is told in some Buddhist scriptures, it is said‑‑I haven't
read it. When you recite this sutra, yakshas and rakshasas
always get together and frighten us.
"Such honor do
the sons of the Sugata render to the relics of the Jinas, so that all
directions of space are brightened as by the celestial coral trees in
"From this spot
I behold all this; those numerous kotis of creatures; both this
world and heaven covered with flowers, owing to the single ray shot
forth by the Jina."
were seen by the people who gathered at Rajagriha when the ray issued
from Buddha's forehead.
"O how powerful
is the Leader of men! how extensive and bright is his knowledge! that a
single beam darted by him over the world renders visible so many
thousands of fields!
astonished at seeing this sign and this wonder, so great, so
incomprehensible. Explain me the matter, O Manjusvara! the sons of
Buddha are anxious to know it.
classes of the congregation in joyful expectation gaze on thee, O hero,
and on me; gladden (their hearts); remove their doubts; grant a
revelation, O son of Sugata!
"Why is it that
the Sugata has now emitted such a light? O how great is the power of the
Leader of men! O how extensive and holy is his knowledge!
"That one ray
extending from him all over the world makes visible many thousands of
fields. It must be for some purpose that this great ray has been
"Is the Lord of
men to show the primordial laws which he, the Highest of men, discovered
on the terrace of enlightenment? Or is he to prophesy the Bodhisattvas
their future destiny?
"There must be
a weighty reason why so many thousands of fields have been rendered
visible, variegated, splendid, and shining with gems, while Buddhas of
infinite sight are appearing.
the son of Jina; men, gods, goblins, and Titans, the four classes of the
congregation, are eagerly awaiting what answer Manjusvara shall give in
Manjusri, the prince royal, addressed Maitreya, the Bodhisattva
Mahasattva, and the whole assembly of Bodhisattvas (in these words):"
I must continue
this for two or three lectures. Do you have some questions?
Roshi, you said not to stop thinking, but to be free from thinking, and
I wonder if you could explain what it means to be free from thinking?
What I meant was don't be bound by your thinking. When you reach a
conclusion by thinking, you will have some definite idea. Actually, that
is why you think: to have a definite answer. But that is not possible.
So what should you do?
You can think, and thinking will help you, of course. But you should
know, at the same time, that that answer will not be definite. So you
think, but you are free from thinking. That is what I meant: to have
what we call a double‑edged blade. So doubleedge‑think: don't think and
think. It works two ways. This is the double nature, the double
construction of Buddhist philosophy: thinking construction and
non‑thinking construction. Some other question?
Last night you mentioned the world of form, the world of desire, and the
world of no form. Would you explain what the world of form is and how
that differs from the world of desire?
The world of desire is the world of attachment. The world of form is the
world as it is, including desires. We have desires; everything has a
kind of desire. But if we observe desire as it is, that is also the form
world, not the desire world. The world of no form is easily obtained in
your deep zazen. When you do not feel your body, you're deep, you know.
That is the world of non‑form. Those are the worlds where every being
In Hinduism they often wonder about good karma and bad karma and merit.
And when the Emperor asked Bodhidharma about the merit in making many
temples, Bodhidharma said, "No merit." In what sense is there merit in
reading or chanting the sutra?
To sit is to read the sutra. We understand in the opposite way. Let me
explain this point. This is a very good question. In another school, for
instance, they say, "You should read the scripture with your body. You
should experience it." When they say this, it means that even if a
person is going to be killed, the sword will be broken in two, piece by
piece. If that kind of thing happens to him, it means he reads the
scripture by his experience, with his body.
say you should read the scripture with your body, but what we mean by
that is that not just this scripture only has eternal truth. Universal
truth is truly with this scripture, with bodhisattvas, with various
kinds of followers of Buddhism, and with rivers and mountains and
everything. So to read this scripture with the body means to find the
truth of it in everything, in everyday activity. There's a big
difference. So the merit of reading this scripture is in finding the
truth of it in our everyday activity. We read this scripture so that we
can understand more perfectly and become familiar with the truth. This
is our attitude toward scriptures.
kind of statement is in this scripture. So we should observe everything
as being the things described in this scripture. The emperor's building
of temples is, of course, merit, not because he built temples, but
because of his understanding of Buddhism and helping. That is merit.
Real merit is not a matter of building temples or not building temples,
or a matter of big and small. This is our understanding.
Roshi, when we chant the Maka [Hannya Haramita] Shin Gyo, in what
sense is there merit? And can we give this merit to others?
Yes, to help. When you become familiar with the Shin Gyo, what
you will do will naturally explain your understanding, your attitude.
Even though you don't realize it, there is a big difference between the
people who can recite sutras and those who cannot. So, of course, that
you can recite sutras will help others. From my cabin, when I am
resting, I can see out of the window in front of my sink. Before you
enter the restroom, you bow. And I think you are just doing it, you
know, like this, maybe, because you get accustomed to it. But I thought,
if people saw someone bowing to that place, what kind of feelings would
they have? The people might not know what it meant, but I think you
would give them some feeling. You just do it, you know. And that's a
very valuable thing. This is the same thing as reciting the sutra.
disciples converted many learned scholars to Buddhism, like Sariputra,
who converted when he saw a monk walking on the street with a very
steady feeling. So, we say that each one of the 250 characters of the
"Prajna Paramita Sutra" is a bodhisattva, is Buddha. This is more than
just how we understand it. That is this merit for us and for
transcribed, and edited by Brian Fikes.
Old file name 68-02-LS.2
Prepared for digital archive by DC 9-12