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
Zen Mountain Center
Manjusri again is
answering Maitreya, telling him what he has seen. He is so sure that the
Buddha will tell them the Lotus Sutra.
"And so, Agita, having
once seen a similar fore‑token of the Lord, I infer from a similar ray
being emitted just now, that the Lord is about to expound the
Dharmaparyaya called the Lotus of the True Law."
"And on that occasion,
in order to treat the subject more copiously, Manjusri, the prince
royal, uttered the following stanzas:"
(Stanza #57:) "I
remember a past period, inconceivable, illimited kalpas ago, when the
highest of beings, the Jina of the name of Kandrasuryapradipa, was in
"He preached the true
law, he, the leader of creatures; he educated an infinite number of
kotis of beings, and roused inconceivably many Bodhisattvas to
acquiring supreme Buddha‑knowledge.
"And the eight sons
born to him, the leader, when he was prince royal, no sooner saw that
the great sage had embraced ascetic life, than they resigned worldly
pleasures and became monks."
All of them, all of his
eight sons resigned worldly pleasures and became monks.
"And the Lord of the
world proclaimed the law, and revealed to thousands of kotis of living
beings the Sutra, the development, which by name is called 'the
excellent Exposition of Infinity.'
delivering his speech, the leader crossed his legs and entered upon the
meditation of 'the excellent Exposition of the Infinite.' There on his
seat of the law the eminent seer continued absorbed in meditation."
He was absorbed in
meditation like Shakyamuni Buddha is doing.
"And there fell a
celestial rain of Mandaravas, while the drums (of heaven) resounded
without being struck; the gods and elves in the sky paid honour to the
highest of men.
"And simultaneously all
the fields (of Buddha) began trembling. A wonder it was, a great
prodigy. Then the chief emitted from between his brows one extremely
"Which moving to the
eastern quarter glittered, illuminating the world all over the extent of
eighteen thousand fields. It manifested the vanishing and appearing
"Some of the fields
then seemed jewelled, others showed the hue of lapis lazuli, all
splendid, extremely beautiful, owing to the radiance of the ray from
"Gods and men, as well
as Nagas, goblins, Gandharvas, nymphs, Kinnaras, and those occupied
with serving the Sugata became visible in the spheres and paid their
"The Buddhas also,
those self‑born beings, appeared of their own accord, resembling golden
columns; like unto a golden disk (within lapis lazuli), they revealed
the law in the midst of the assembly.
"The disciples, indeed,
are not to be counted: the disciples of Sugatas are numberless. Yet the
lustre of the ray renders them all visible in every field.
breach or flaw in their course, similar to gems and jewels, the sons of
the leaders of men are visible in the mountain caves where they are
like the sand of the Ganges, who are spending all their wealth in giving
alms, who have the strength of patience, are devoted to contemplation
and wise, become all of them visible by that ray.
firm in patience, devoted to contemplation, and absorbed in meditation
are seen the true sons of the Sugatas while they are striving for
supreme enlightenment by dint of meditation.
"They preach the law in
many spheres, and point to the true, quiet spotless state they know.
Such is the effect produced by the power of the Sugata.
"And all the four
classes of hearers on seeing the power of the mighty Kandrarkadipa were
filled with joy and asked one another: How is this?
"And soon afterwards,
as the Leader of the world, worshipped by men, gods, and goblins, rose
from his meditation, he addressed his son Varaprabha, the wise
Bodhisattva and preacher of the law:" And he aroused himself from
"'Thou art wise, the
eye and refuge of the world; thou are the trustworthy keeper of my law,
and canst bear witness as to the treasure of laws which I am to lay bare
to the weal of living beings.'
"Then, after rousing
and stimulating, praising and lauding many Bodhisattvas, did the Jina
proclaim the supreme laws during fully sixty intermediate kalpas."
Now Kandrasurya is
starting to give the Lotus Sutra.
"And whatever excellent
supreme law was proclaimed by the Lord of the world while continuing
sitting on the very same seat, was kept in memory by Baraprabha, the
son of Jina, the preacher of the law."
He was the one who told
this Lotus Sutra.
"And after the Jina and
Leader had manifested the supreme law and stimulated the numerous crowd,
he spoke, that day, towards the world including the gods (as follows):
"'I have manifested the
rule of the law; I have shown the nature of the law; now, O monks, it is
the time of my Nirvana; this very night, in the middle watch.
"'Be zealous and strong
in persuasion; apply yourselves to my lessons; (for) the Jinas, the
great seers, are but rarely met with in the lapse of myriads of kotis of
"The many sons of
Buddha were struck with grief and filled with extreme sorrow when they
heard the voice of the highest of men announcing that his Nirvana was
near at hand.
"To comfort so
inconceivably many kotis of living beings the king of kings said: 'Be
not afraid, O monks; after my Nirvana there shall be another Buddha.
"'The wise Bodhisattva
Srigarbha, after finishing his course in faultless knowledge, shall
reach highest, supreme enlightenment, and become a Jina under the name
"That very night, in
the middle watch, he met complete extinction, like a lamp when the
cause (of its burning) is exhausted. His relics were distributed, and
of his Stupas there was an infinite number of myriads of kotis."
There is, you know, a
similar story in
When a Zen Master Nangyo Ejo passed away, the Emperor asked him, "What
should we do about your relics? Is there anything we can do to help you?
What do you want me to do?" And Ejo said, "If you build me a mound for
my relics, it is enough." "How should I build it?" the Emperor asked.
Ejo said, "My disciple will know it well, so ask him." So after he
passed away, the Emperor asked his disciple how to make the mound. The
disciple said, "Make the best mound." "How do you make the best mound?"
The disciple said, "From the east side of the Yangtse to the west side
of the Yangtse River." And the Emperor couldn't understand. It would
cover the whole country! So he couldn't answer, he couldn't say yes.
Ejo's true body covers everything, you know. He is one with everything,
so even though he dies, there is no difference.
"The monks and nuns at
the time being, who strove after supreme, highest enlightenment,
numerous as sand of the Ganges, applied themselves to the commandment
of the Sugata."
The Lotus Sutra
should not be understood literally. What it describes is how things
exist, animate and inanimate beings, human and non‑human beings, from
the lowest being of the six worlds to the highest being of Buddha. You
know the six worlds. Among the six worlds, the celestial world is the
highest, next is the human world, and the hell world and hungry ghost
world are the lowest. Above the celestial world are sravakas,
pratyekas, bodhisattvas, and buddhas. Buddha is the highest. This
sutra includes all of those beings. We describe reality in terms of
those beings, but that is not enough. We should understand in that way.
If so, the Lotus Sutra is not the only valuable sutra, or the
highest sutra. All the sutras are very valuable. There may be sutras
not yet described by anyone.
So, as Dogen Zenji
said, even the sound of the bell and the color of the mountain are
bodhisattvas--they all can teach. Actually, he means that all we see
teaches the Lotus Sutra. That is how we Zen Buddhists understand
this sutra. Zen Buddhism, especially Dogen's Zen, actually arose from
the Tendai school and teaching. But the difference is that the other
school treats this sutra as the king of sutras, the highest sutra, but
we do not. We think this is one of the important sutras, but all of the
sutras are important. When we understand everything, everything will be
important. This is the difference between our understanding of the
Lotus Sutra and the understanding of other schools. And, according
to Dogen, whether or not we attain enlightenment, we are actually
fluently speaking about the truth.
Here it says,
daiichigi[‑tai], "the First Principle". What does it mean? The first
Principle is the reality, the absolute, which cannot be conveyed in
terms of good or bad, supreme or common. It is the principle that
everything is revealed through everything, revealing itself and fluently
speaking about the First Principle. So he understood enlightenment in
this way. But it does not mean that there is no need to attain
enlightenment. If you understand in that way, it is already the Second
Principle, not the First Principle. If it is necessary or not necessary,
this is the Second Principle. So if it is necessary to say something,
you must say, "Sometimes necessary, sometimes not necessary." Whatever
you say, that is right. That is more like Dogen Zenji's understanding.
The other day, in the
fireplace room, Lama Govinda talked about the Shingon understanding,
the so‑called "Tantric" understanding ‑‑not the physical Tantric, but
the original Tantric, esoteric teaching of Buddhism. The reason we say
"esoteric" is that true teaching is beyond understanding. Esoteric means
you can't see or hear it. When you cannot see or understand it, you may
say that is mystery or mystical. But that is not true understanding.
There may be two kinds of things you cannot understand. One is something
mystical ‑‑just because you cannot see or cannot understand it. But
there is another thing which you cannot understand. It is too obvious.
The reality is too real to speak about. We say, "If you want to explain
what water is, give him water, don't speak about it. Even though you
speak about it, it is not possible to explain what water is." That kind
of true experience, or reality, is not possible to talk about. In this
sense, there is esoteric teaching.
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 Dainichinyorai [Mahavairocana‑tathagata].
We say kenzoku
[?], which means "like his hands or legs or ears". He told it to
himself. Kenzoku means "his name", actually. But when they say
Dainichi‑nyorai's name, it means his mandala. The whole
mandala of Dainichinyorai is his body. There are many buddhas in
the mandala, and all of them are a part of his body. Dainichi‑Nyorai
is telling the truth to himself, to those buddhas in the mandala.
Since they are a part of himself, he is not giving some special teaching
to anyone else. Do you understand? It is like the universe is telling
the truth to the universe, the whole cosmic being is telling the truth
to the cosmic being. So whatever is going on in the cosmos is the
teaching itself. When we understand their teaching in this way, it is
very close to Zen.
In the Shobogenzo
we have the fascicle called Hokke Ten Hokke, which means
"Turning the Lotus Sutra". The title of this fascicle came from
the Sixth Patriarch. I think you know that. Once the Sixth Patriarch was
giving Dharma to people, and a bold disciple, a very arrogant fellow,
appeared in front of him. But he couldn't bow to the floor, he failed to
lower his head to the floor. So the Sixth Patriarch said, "Why are you
so arrogant? Why do you bow in that way?" And the monk said, "I am very
sorry." "If you say so, it is alright. But if you fail to lower your
head to the floor, you must have something in your mind. What do you
have in your mind?" The boy said, "The Lotus Sutra. I am reading
it every day, and I must have read it maybe thousands of times." "Even
though you are reading the Lotus Sutra, you don't understand what
it means," the Sixth Patriarch said. "What is the true meaning of the
Lotus Sutra" the boy asked him. And he said, "I will explain it to
you, but I cannot read it, so please read it to me." So the boy started
to read it, and the Sixth Patriarch said, "If your mind is deluded, you
will be turned by the Lotus Sutra. If you are enlightened, you
will turn it."
Dogen Zenji, referring
to this story, said to be turned by the sutra, or to turn the sutra, or
to be deluded or to be enlightened, are all the First Principle. The
Lotus Sutra says there is no difference. That is Dogen Zenji's
understanding. What the Sixth Patriarch meant is not different from
Dogen Zenji's understanding, but Dogen Zenji made what the Sixth
Patriarch said clearer. 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 Lotus Sutra turns the
Lotus Sutra, like the Shingon understanding of the Bodhisattva
or Tathagata of the Diamond Sutra giving the teaching to
himself. That is how we turn the Lotus Sutra.
So there is no
difference. If you are enlightened, you are one with the whole universe,
and the whole universe is telling the truth to the whole universe, to
everything, or the whole universe is revealing itself through every
being. What is happening is the activity of big, One Being, which is
called Buddha. This his how we should understand the Lotus Sutra.
In short, if we explain
Buddhism or Zen Buddhism in this way, that whatever we are doing is a
part of that activity, what we are discussing may seem too big, and
seem to have nothing to do with our everyday life. But this is not just
our understanding. We say, "When we talk about the greatness of the
teaching, it will be as great as the universe. But when we talk about it
on a small scale, it will penetrate the smallest particle of being
That is why you may
think our way is too careful and particular. We say, "Don't place
something that way," or, "You should put something which belongs in a
higher place in a higher place, and something which belongs in a lower
place in a lower place. Don't mix them up." Our way is very careful in
this respect. So our teaching is limitless in both ways. Our teaching
is on a great scale, and, at the same time, it is very particular on a
small scale. This is the nature of our world.
As you know, I like
stones very much, but especially big ones. Someone came to me the other
day with a magnifying glass and said, "Look at those stones." So I
looked at them one by one. But to my great astonishment, those small
stones were exactly the same as big ones! They were as interesting as
big ones, the shapes were different, and some had very good shapes. You
could make a beautiful garden with those stones. I was very pleased. I
thought, this is what the universe consists of and how everything is
going. So, if you cannot accomplish something great, you can work on a
very small thing, in a very small scale, and the meaning is not any
different at all. This is the nature of our practice and teaching.
So those teachings were
not started by Buddha. Before Buddha there must have been many many
Buddhas, limitless, numerous Buddhas. There must have been, in
this way this sutra describes reality.
Thank you very much.
and edited by Brian Fikes.
Old file name 68-02-LS.5
Prepared for digital archive by DC 9-12