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The Diamond Sutra at Tassajara by DC

11-22-14 -

That's not the Diamond Sutra at Tassajara but an old Diamond Sutra scroll image that was posted on cuke long ago in 2007 for no particular reason. I know that it's said that the Diamond Sutra is the earliest printed text we know of. Maybe this is that though it looks hand-written.

 Winding up this series with this image and a few insignificant words down at the very bottom.


11-18-14 - After the first practice period which was July and August of 1967, we had another couple of months of guest season. I was running the dining room which had moved to the same location as now in the old old stone building with hand-hewn logs spanning the ceiling and holding up the dorm rooms above. The first couple of months of guest season in May and June we'd continued to use the old dining room which became the zendo almost overnight for the practice period and beyond.

Baker and Suzuki had breakfast with an elderly couple that had driven all the way in on that perilous dirt road in a big black Cadillac. I think they might have been sent by Elsie Mitchell of the Cambridge Buddhist Association. I assumed they were considered as possible donors and I could feel that managed, somewhat nervous vibe that comes with such hopes - wanting everything to go smoothly - that not coming from Suzuki but from his disciple who worked tirelessly to see the bills paid and payments met. I was bringing food and drinks over from the kitchen across the courtyard. The room was quiet. All the other guests had left as this was the very end of that guest season and of October.

At one point the woman told Suzuki she had a question she was most eager to ask him. She had been looking at a copy of the Conze book that she found in the reading area. Suzuki of course was most gracious and ready to answer whatever question she had as well as he could. "Now, I've read a great deal about religion," she said. "I consider that I know quite a bit about the different spiritual paths. But I have never heard or read anything like what I read in that book. It said in the Diamond Sutra that there is no self, no being, no person, no soul. What is that all about?" I stood nearby listening to her heartfelt question about the dharma which was, to my mind, more to the point than most questions we students had asked him all summer.

"That is fundamental teaching of Buddhism," Suzuki began, and he was about to continue when Baker, interrupted with, "And how are the colors of the leaves in Massachusetts this fall? I do miss that here on the West Coast," and he successfully diverted the conversation to a more comfortable area. Suzuki kept quiet.

11-17-14 - I don't know how those photocopies of Conze's book came to be made. Maybe no one thought about the ethical and legal implications. I don't think Suzuki would have approved if he'd known but like most or maybe all of us it probably didn't occur to him. I'll ask Richard Baker someday. I remember Baker told him we could get Buddhist books cheaper ordering from England, and Suzuki said that rather than try to save money, we should buy books from local bookstores. Sometime back then writer Herb Gold drove in with some foreign car - a Jaguar maybe - and gave it to us. Maybe he had car trouble and left it. I'll ask him next time I see him. Anyway, the reason his name came to mind is he told me that he was invited to Synanon's place on Highway 1 in Marshall north of Green Gulch to speak on a book he wrote that a class there was going to study. He was told that each student would get a copy. He offered to bring them but they said they already had them. He arrived for the class to find a bound photocopy of his book on each desk. Maybe they got the idea from the SFZC.

11-16-14 - That's the early edition of the Conze translation of the Diamond and Heart Sutras studied during the first practice period at Tassajara. It was July 1967. As I recall, the study period was in the morning in the zendo. Later it would be in the dining room but at least not at the beginning of that first practice period. We'd sit on our zafus and read. I don't remember if Suzuki Roshi joined us but that's the sort of thing he'd do. I recall the subject matter being interesting, profound. Emptiness. Wow. it being hard to stay awake, a lot of us would be nodding off as the days heat crept in. Later the practice period study would be before breakfast but this might have been after. I'll have to ask some people. As a person who has published books and who was eager for people to buy them, however, one fact sticks in mind beyond all the details I'm not clear on. We each had a photocopied book, pirated and stapled.  - More tomorrow

11-15-14 - Diamond Sutra's short Chapter seventeen - all the chapters are short. My kind of sutra. This is a recent translation in ordinary English by Alex Johnson. I'm not qualified to grade it but I like it. It's like Buddha writing something on a blackboard and then erasing it before he goes on to the next point to make before erasing. The Diamond and Heart sutras were what we read in the morning study period at the first practice period at Tassajara. People ask, "What did Suzuki Roshi teach?" One answer would be, He taught us to read and study he Diamond Sutra. He emphasized zazen and practice in daily life and he didn't set up any curriculum. That wasn't his way. But he did teach that book reading study was an important ingredient. That includes the early sutras and wide ranging Buddhist study. He lectured on certain texts and suggested some to study, but mainly it was left up to us. As far as I'm concerned, he didn't see his own lectures and efforts as anything more than an encouragement to get people on paths which would take their own coarse. And his confidence in us (that includes you) encouraged him to do what he did in America.

Your conduct should not be based on just verbal teaching. Your inmost nature will tell you, you know. That is true teaching. What I say is not true teaching. I just give you the hint, you know.*

And one way he hinted was to get us to study the Diamond Sutra. - DC

* Quote from a sesshin lecture, July 1965 [65-07-29-C)


11-19-14 -Shunryu Suzuki mentions of the Diamond Sutra in his lectures


Sunday April 16, 1967

Old Bush Street Zendo

Lecture Notes by Tony Artino



A teaching, i.e., sutra, cannot be whole and perfect because it, like a medical prescription, is specific to certain people and circumstances. The Diamond Sutra is probably the closest to a universal teaching because it was a teaching the Buddha addressed to his own deep self.




Zen emphasizes the simplest way of practice
May 1967 

Tony Artino notes


In the Shingon School, mudras are much used. Shingon also recognizes a basic scripture upon which Shingon functions. This scripture is the Diamond Sutra, considered to be the only 'perfect” sutra because it was the Buddha addressing himself.


In Soto Zen, there is no particular sutra upon which the school rests. It is felt that Buddha's essential teaching was (and is) to see into our own true nature; and the best way to see into our own nature is to practice zazen.




Lotus Sūtra No. 5
Feb 1968 

Tantric or Shingon Buddhism emphasizes this point. Their basic scripture is the Diamond Sutra, which was told by Buddha, but not by the historical Buddha. Buddha didn't speak this sutra with his mouth. He didn't tell it for an audience, but for himself. This means that we should not read that scripture with our mind. That is why they explain the sutra with various mudras. The Zen understanding is very similar to this, but Zen does not depend on any sutra, because everything is a sutra. But the Shingon school chooses one scripture. They say this sutra was told by the Bodhisattva DainichiČ Nyorai [Mahavairocana tathagata].

To be turned by the Lotus Sutra means to read it literally, or in an intellectual or dualistic way: "I read the Lotus Sutra." To turn it means the LoČtus SuČtra turns the Lotus Sutra, like the Shingon understanding of the Bodhisattva or TaČthagata of the Diamond Sutra giving the teaching to himself. That is how we turn the Lotus Sutra.



Lotus Sutra, Lecture No. 6
Oct 1968 
[Problem tape. Transcript in progress.]

The other day someone asked me about Vairocana Buddha, Vairocana Buddha is Dharmakaya Buddha and Sambogakaya Buddha. Sambogakaya is, ([in] Shingon ??) School, the main Buddha is Vairocana Buddha, and Vairocana Buddha, when he is Dharmakaya Buddha, he is the Buddha whose body is the whole world … … the whole universe – his body. So everything is included.

But when he help people, he is Sambogakaya. And he ( taught ??) Diamond Sutra, and Diamond Sutra is the fundamental sutra of ( Shingon ??) School. So same Buddha in one way is Dharmakaya Buddha as the main Buddha, and when he takes the form of teacher ( or savior ??), he is someone helping. That is why same Buddha is two things as Dharmakaya Buddha, Sambogakaya Buddha.


This is true with all schools – the understanding about Dharmakaya Buddha and Sambogakaya Buddha.


So, actually, this sutra, Diamond Sutra is the sutra which was taught by Sambogakaya Buddha to himself, you know, because Dharmakaya Buddha or Sambogakaya Buddha. Vairocana Buddha includes everything, so we are part of Vairocana Buddha, and Vairocana Buddha is there, teaching to himself. To himself, but to us. To us means to himself because we are part of him.

This is the system of the Shingon School. This Shingon School is very close to Zen. Shingon School is still based on the Diamond Sutra, which was taught by Buddha, but we are not based on any … ..we have no fundamental sutra, but Shingon has. And Shingon is authorized by [the] Diamond Sutra. As long as they have fundamental sutra, the most important sutra on which the school is based ( on ??), they have to have someone who taught that sutra.



Lotus Sutra, Lecture No. 8
Oct 1968 [68-10-00-G] 
Zen Mountain Center

Buddha's disciples were very good people, generous and honest and sincere, but they were, I think, very tough guys, and his followers were very strong people. For instance, as you know, the Diamond Sutra was recited at the place called, in Japanese, Giju-gikkodoku-on [Skt.:


Jetavananathapindadarama], the park given to Buddha by Prince Jeta. The story is that when Sudatta wanted to provide Buddha with a place to stay, he looked for some lodging place, and at last he found a beautiful place which was the property of Prince Jeta. So he asked the Prince to give it to the Buddha. The Prince didn't say yes, but said, “If you pay as much money as it takes to pave the land with coins, I will give it to you.” Sudatta was also a very wealthy person, so he said, “Okay, I will do that.” And he bought a lot of coins and started to pave that land. Prince Jeta was very impressed by him and said, “Okay, okay. I will donate it to your boss.”


That was where the Diamond Sutra was told. [Here Suzuki starts to recite the sutra. It sounded something like this, but I doubt the spelling is right-- Brian Fikes.] “Gije reko do ban, yo dai biku shu dai myo ____ ____ ____.” That is how we recite the Diamond Sutra in Japan. This is Chinese, actually, not Japanese. We are still reciting the old Chinese pronunciation as people did it, maybe, more than one thousand years ago. Anyway, that park was given to him by Prince Jeta.


Within Light There Is Utter Darkness
Sandokai Lecture IX
Saturday, June 20, 1970

Student D: In the Diamond Sutra it says that if you're suffering misfortunes in this life it is because of sins or mistakes you committed in past lives, and that by suffering these misfortunes now, you will work out these mistakes or make retribution for them, you know, atone-- atone for these mistakes or sins and open the way for enlightenment. I don't-- it seemed like a very heavy load when I read it [laughs], you know. I didn't understand it. I didn't-- it added a new dimension [laughs] to my problem [laughter].


SR: It will help, you know. Because, you know, that you suffer now means, you know, not because someone make you suffer or-- but you caused your suffering. So that is why you suffer. If you understand in that way, you have no complaint. And at the same time, we say if you understand only in that way, it is-- you understand things this way, you know-- you understand your life just from the viewpoint of, you know, suffering or karma, you know, in that way-- dualistic way why we suffer. “What should we do?”-- like this [gestures?]. That is to be caught by the idea of karma.

There was another lecture where a student mentioned the Diamond Sutra in the question, but the exchange doesn't really relate. - DC - to read the lectures these excerpts came from

11-22-14 - continued - It's said the Sixth Patriarch got enlightened hearing a monk recite the Diamond Sutra passage that said "no abode." I dearly loved my new abode Tassajara, but sometimes I was dying to get out.

Those wealthy East Coast folks mentioned in the post of 11-18 wanted someone to drive their big black Cadillac out of Tassajara because the road was so treacherous and it was much much worse back in 1967. And this is at the end of October months after it had been worked on by the county road crew. That narrow, windy dirt road goes from about 1500 feet at Jamesburg to 5000 at Chew's Ridge back to 1500 at Tassajara - give or take. It was built by Chinese laborers a hundred years or so before. That's why there's China Camp up top. I drove the guests out and continued with them to Big Sur where they dropped me off at Nepenthe Restaurant. I ended up getting stoned with friends I'd met at Tassajara in the summer - and staying overnight. And who knows what else. There was a wild scene in Big Sur back then. Hitchhiked back through Carmel, Carmel Valley, Jamesburg to Tassajara. Went to Suzuki Roshi's cabin to say hi. He was in his garden working. He said hi and after a moment I said I wished he'd been able to complete his answer to that woman who asked about the Diamond Sutra saying no self, no person, no soul, no being. He just nodded and then remembered something and changed tone, scolding me for leaving and staying away without getting permission, saying that monks don't leave monasteries on their own. I wasn't a monk but I knew what he meant. I snapped back at him that I had told someone and blurted some other excuses. I bet I'd just muttered something to someone quickly and gotten out before they realized I'd said I was leaving. What I remember about the exchange with Suzuki though is that as soon as I rudely barked back at him, he backed off and said, Oh okay. I see - and he apologized. There was something about the exchange, the way he just politely dropped out of it when I resisted. For a second I didn't know where I was. I'd expected a counter-attack. He'd made his point and clearly had no interest in arguing, instead sort of tripping me with kindness. But what he'd said sunk in and I was less sneaky after that - a little less. And I thought of that when he'd say he'd only be strict or hard on someone if they were a good student. He was never strict with or hard on me. But still he left me with a feeling of not being so sure about where I stood.