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
"The monks and nuns at the time being, who strove after
supreme, highest enlightenment, numerous as sand of the
themselves to the commandment of the Sugata.
"And the monk who then was the preacher of the law and the
keeper of the law, Varaprabha, expounded for fully eighty intermediate
kalpas the highest laws according to the commandment (of the Sugata)."
In other words,
Buddha's teaching is eternal truth, beginningless and endless. And the
Bodhisattva Varaprabha expounded it for fully eighty intermediate
kalpas, in other words, for a limitlessly long time.
"He had eight hundred
pupils, who all of them were by him brought to full development. They
saw many kotis of Buddhas, great sages, whom they worshipped."
"He had eight hundred
This is different from the prose part, which says:
"Now it so happened,
Ajita, that the eight sons of the Lord Kandrasuryapradipa, Mati and the
rest, were pupils to that very Bodhisattva Varaprabha. They were by him
made ripe for supreme, perfect enlightenment, and in after times they
saw and worshipped many hundred thousand myriads of kotis of Buddhas,
all of whom had attained supreme, perfect enlightenment, the last of
them being Dipankara, the Tathagata, the perfectly enlightened one."
Gatha 88: "By
following the regular course they became Buddhas in several spheres, and
as they followed one another in immediate succession they successively
foretold each other's future destiny to Buddhaship.
"The last of these
Buddhas following one another was Dipankara. He, the supreme god of
gods, honoured by crowds of sages, educated thousands of kotis of
Dipankara Buddha is
supposed to be the Buddha who gave juki to Shakyamuni Buddha. I
explained juki already [see previous lecture]. In Sanskrit it is
vyakarana, to tell one's future attainment. "You will be born in
such and such a place, and will attain enlightenment, and your name
will be such and such." This is juki.
Shakyamuni Buddha in
his former life studied under this Dipankara Bodhisattva. When this
bodhisattva came to a muddy place, Shakyamuni Buddha spread many things
over the mud. But the mud was so wide that the rugs he gathered could
not cover it, so he spread his hair over the muddy place and let
Dipankara Bodhisattva pass over the muddy place. This is why we bow, you
know, with the feeling of Buddha's feet on our hands three times. This
is the Buddha.
Another story is also
told. Dipankara Buddha is the Buddha who gave juki to Buddha and
may be the last buddha Shakyamuni Buddha served. In ancient times there
were great kings whose ministers were very wise. One minister was so
wise that his king gave him half of the whole world, which he ruled. And
he had a bright boy whom he sent to his brother, who was a great
scholar. He studied under him and became a great teacher or bodhisattva.
His father was very proud of him and brought him to his home and
listened to his sermon. Then he brought him to his former king at the
border between their two countries, and the son gave the king a great
sermon. After that, for many hundreds of kotis of kalpas
of time, the king sent various offerings to that teacher. Later that
teacher became Dipankara Bodhisattva, and that king who helped him was
the Buddha himself. So when Dipankara Bodhisattva became enlightened and
became a true teacher of the whole world, Buddha became his disciple,
studied, and received his juki from him.
All of those stories
are about the eternal teaching which is always with every being, from
beginningless beginning to endless end. That is what they mean.
"Among the pupils of
Varaprabha, the son of Jina, at the time of his teaching the law, was
one slothful, covetous, greedy of gain and cleverness."
I explained this
already. Here it says "cleverness", but the prose part says "praise".
And the original words may not be the same. According to the result of
the studies of many scholars, this sutra was held in India by some group
like Zen Center. Zen Center had a special scripture, which was called
the Lotus Sutra. And we had many branches. At Tassajara we made a
translation, and at
and Los Altos and Berkeley they made translations. At Tassajara we might
change our version, so originally the scriptures they used were not
the same. That is why we have so many original texts and so many kinds
of translations. And various people from various countries translated
the texts, so naturally there must be many kinds of translations. It is
The Chinese and Japanese translations are not identical word for word.
Isn't that just because the symbolism is different?
The words are also nearly the same, not so different.
This translation here tries to make it word for word. It's difficult,
but the British
scholar who translated
it didn't try to change the symbolism to fit British symbolism. I was
wondering if they changed the words to fit the Japanese symbolism.
No, they don't. They try to be faithful to the original words, word for
word, when they translate. They say Kumaragiva's translation is not very
literal, but you may say even his is a very literal translation. If they
had the original text, the Chinese and the Tibetan and the Nepalese
scholars were very faithful to the translation, word by word. And they
discussed the words: "This word should be translated as this word. No,
that word." This kind of discussion is still going on so that we will be
faithful to the original.
And Dogen did this too?
Dogen Zenji did not translate, he commented. He expressed his way of
understanding this sutra. Almost every time he wrote something he
referred to this sutra. At least two fascicles of the Shobogenzo,
"Juki" and "Hokke Ten Hokke", are his own special
understanding of this sutra. "We should understand the sutra this way,"
contribution was, for instance, that he sometimes put two gathas
together so that they could be understood better. As you must have seen,
[in the Sanskrit,] one long sentence was sometimes divided into two to
put them into the gatha style. But Kumaragiva put more emphasis on the
meaning of the sutra; so for the Chinese people, Kumaragiva's
translation was easy to understand. That was a big reason why this sutra
was appreciated so much by the Chinese people.
"He was also
excessively desirous of glory, but very fickle, so that the lessons
dictated to him and his own reading faded from his memory as soon as
I explained this
already. Dogen Zenji was very faithful to this sutra and very impressed
by those gathas. He was very strict about Buddhists having worldly
desires. As a Buddhist we should not have even the desire to expect
enlightenment. You may say that was a strict observation of this sutra.
Of course, that was his character. His character was so pure and lofty.
And he didn't care about anything but truth. He would give his whole
body and mind to the truth. That was his way.
"His name was
Yasaskama, by which he was known everywhere." "Yasaskama" means "desirous of glory".
"By the accumulated
merit of that good action, spotted as it was,"--
he helped people very much, so with this merit he attained
enlightenment--"he propitiated thousands of kotis of Buddhas, whom
he rendered ample honour. He went through the regular course of duties
and saw the present Buddha Sakyasimha.
"He shall be the last to reach superior enlightenment and
become a Lord known by the family name of Maitreya, who shall educate
thousands of kotis of creatures."
Maitreya was actually a
historical character and a disciple of Buddha. Many stories are told
about him. You know, Buddha's aunt who raised him when he was young,
gave a kesa of gold embroidery to him.
[A portion of the tape
is completely or nearly silent here, where he tells the story of the
Who wore it?
Tell us where.
No one wore the gold embroidered kesa except Jita Maitreya, who
was supposed to be the last disciple to attain enlightenment. He was
something like this bodhisattva in his former life. He was called
"desirous of glory". And Buddha was very glad that he wore the kesa,
but maybe because of that, he received that kind of juki, that he
would be the last buddha.
This is interesting,
you know. Buddha was glad that he was not so good. If I were Shakyamuni
Buddha, I would have been very angry, maybe. I would not be happy to see
that one of the disciples was not so good, treading the wrong path. But
Buddha was very patient, and he was very glad. He thought, "eventually
he will attain enlightenment."
I think this is
why Dogen Zenji says all of us will eventually attain enlightenment. It
is no use expecting attainment. Sooner or later everyone will attain
enlightenment because we have Buddha nature. As a buddhist, we must have
this kind of big mind and big scale of practice. It is not a matter of
today or tomorrow, or this year or next year.
"He who then, under the
rule of the extinct Sugata, was so slothful, was thyself, and it was I
who then was the preacher of the law."
Manjusri was the
preacher, and the slothful one was Maitreya.
"As on seeing a
foretoken of this kind I recognize a sign such as I have seen manifested
(some translations have "at that place manifested of yore")
"therefore and on that account I know," "That decidedly the chief of
Jinas, the supreme king of the Sakyas, the All‑seeing, who knows the
highest truth, is about to pronounce the excellent Sutra which I have
He will proclaim the
same sutra. The highest truth is daiji, translated as dai
jiki in Chinese scriptures. This is the subject of the question the
emperor asked Bodhidharma: "What is the First Principle?" Bodhidharma
said, "I don't know." "I don't know" is the First Principle. Do you
understand? The first Principle cannot be known in terms of good or
bad, right or wrong, because it is both right and wrong.
"That very sign
displayed at present is a proof of the skillfulness of the leaders; the
Lion of the Sakyas is to make an exhortation, to declare the fixed
nature of the law."
"Fixed nature" means
the true nature or ultimate nature of the law.
"Be well prepared and
well minded; join your hands: he who is affectionate and merciful to
the world is going to speak, is going to pour the endless rain of the
law and refresh those that are waiting for enlightenment.
"And if some should
feel doubt, uncertainty, or misgiving in any respect, then the Wise One
shall remove it for his children, the Bodhisattvas here striving after
This is the last
gatha of the first chapter. I think you must have understood the
nature of our teaching. This is the Oriental tree, you know. It is
rather difficult for you to figure out which way its root is going. If
you know which way the root of Buddhism is going, it may be easier to
understand how the trunk of the tree of Buddhism is supported by the
There is a
characteristic in the way we make our effort. The direction in which we
make our effort might be very interesting for you to know. If our human
effort is pointed in the same direction by all human beings, that is a
dreadful destiny. Everyone should strive in his own way, and everyone
should find out his own way to develop himself. Even though each one of
us is making a different effort, as long as we have Buddha Nature, as
long as all the effort is supported by Buddha Nature, there is no
problem. When we don't know that everyone's effort is supported by the
same ground and are attached to our own way, rejecting or ignoring the
others' ways and insisting on our own way, that is confusion. So we
Buddhists put emphasis on each one's own way. This sutra, especially,
puts emphasis on each one's own way, and on the meaning of each one's
own being. At the same time, as you must have understood already, this
sutra provides every one of us with a big, common ground where we can
enjoy each one's own way.
This is possible if you
understand this truth. But most people think it is not possible. "If we
become friendly with each other, we will be lost. The only way is to
have hard competition. If it is necessary, we should even fight or
reject others' opinions. And we should stick to our own way." That is
what we are doing, actually. Before you actually practice our way, you
have this fear, but if you practice our way, there is no such problem at
all, as you must have seen. If you have even the faintest idea of this
truth, then it will be a great help for you, I think. Because you don't
have this kind of idea, because you have never made this kind of effort,
we are so unhappy. For a bodhisattva, to be unhappy is also good. For
the usual person, to be unhappy is a terrible thing.
I think we have already
finished the most difficult part of this sutra. The next chapter will be
the interesting one, maybe. So if you read it, you will be very
interested in it, because it has this kind of understanding. It is
called the chapter of "Good Devices" or "Skillful devices". In this
sutra devices are more important than the First Principle. Usually
people respect the First Principle rather than skillful devices. But in
this Sutra, Buddha put emphasis on skillful devices instead. This means
that Buddha put emphasis on mercy. The way to help people with skillful
devices is the most important point. And to find each one's own
position, responsibility, and meaning of life, and to find the joy of
life in the activity near at hand, or the previous attainment, is the
most important point.
Thank you very much for
listening to my tedious lecture. If you have questions, please ask me.
Q: You were talking about Dogen Zenji's saying that
eventually everyone will attain enlightenment. We hear the word
"attain" often, but in chanting the Shingyo we say, "No
attainment because of no attainment". I find myself clinging constantly
to the idea of attaining something, or imagining that something is
going to happen. It seems that what the sutra is saying, "no
attainment", and what Dogen is saying, "Don't worry, because you will
all attain enlightenment," are very different understandings.
Yeah, very different. But when we say "attainment", the meaning is
actually very different from the usual connotation of the word. By
attainment we mean not even the result of practice, but that everything
is attainment. What we see is attainment of something. If you say this
is the result, that is the result. If you say this is the cause, that is
the cause, you know. So even though I call it attainment, it may be the
practice. We understand in that way. So we say "tongueless tongue,
wordless word". Words beyond words. Somehow, we must say something. So,
sometimes "attainment", sometimes "practice". That is our way. That is
how you should listen to or read our scriptures.
When we describe
something, we should follow the logical sequence. That is one side of
the practice. But Dogen Zenji says, "When one side is described, the
other side is dark." We cannot describe both ways [at once]. That is why
we describe just one side of the Truth. But if you have ears to listen
to it, eyes to read it, you should be satisfied with one description,
because you know there is the other side.
[Tape ends here.]
and edited by Brian Fikes.
Old file name 68-02-LS.6
Prepared for digital archive by DC 9-12