Special Human Powers – The Lotus Sutra – Fragments

This is a talk about special powers that people have without knowing it nor using them. This discussion is a transcript of a talk given by Shunryu Suzuki and the transcript  lacks fluidity but reflects the actual presentation style of Suzuki. The sutra story shows that through paying attention to what is in front of you many powers open up to use. The vehicle of the story is through Master and disciple and learning through practice. Following Susuki’s talk is a piece by Sarah Fraser that tells the story of her time illustrating the Lotus Sutra and what she learned in doing so.

Shunryū Suzuki-rōshi



Friday Evening, July 11, 1970


Listen to this talk: Suzuki-roshi 70-07-11

[This is the third in a series of six lectures by Suzuki-rōshi on

the four ekōs chanted at the conclusion of morning services at

San Francisco Zen Center and other Sōtō Zen temples and monasteries.

The Second Morning Ekō:

Chōka ōgu fugin

Line 1.  Aogi koi negawakuwa shōkan, fushite kannō o taretamae.

Line 2.  Jōrai, Maka Hannyaharamita Shingyō o fujusu, atsumuru

                  tokoro no kudoku wa,

Line 3.  jippō jōjū no sambō, kakai muryō no kenshō,

Line 4.  jūroku dai arakan, issai no ōgu burui kenzoku ni ekō su.

Line 5.  Koinegō tokoro wa,

Line 6.  sanmyō rokutsū, mappō o shōbō ni kaeshi goriki hachige,

                  gunjō o mushō ni michibiki.

Line 7.  Sammon no nirin tsuneni tenji, kokudo no sansai nagaku shō

                  sen koto o. 

Dedication for the Morning Service Arhat’s Sūtra

Line 1.  May Buddha observe [see?] us and respond.

Line 2.  Thus, as we chant the Maha Prajñā Pāramitā Hridaya Sūtra,

we dedicate the collected merit to

Line 3.  the all-pervading, ever-present Triple Treasure,

the innumerable wise men in the ocean of enlightenment,

Line 4.  the sixteen great arhats and all other arhats.

Line 5.  May it be that

Line 6.  with the Three Insights and the Six Universal Powers,

the true teaching be restored in the age of decline.

With the Five Powers and Eight Ways of Liberation,

may all sentient beings be led to nirvāna.

Line 7.  May the two wheels of this temple forever turn

and this country always avert the Three Calamities.]

Last night I—I explained—oh, excuse me—already about arhat.  The second sūtra—second sūtra reciting of Prajñā Pāramitā Sūtra is for arhats.  And in ekō it says:

[Line 1.]  Jō—Aogi koi negawakuwa shōkan, fushite kannō o


[Line 2.]  Jōrai, Hannya Shingyō o fujusu, atsumuru tokoro no

                           kudoku wa,

Some people say, Jōrai, Maka Hanyaharamita Shingyō o fujusu, but some other people say, Jōrai, Hanya Shingyō—don’t—without saying Maka.  That is more usual.  Jōrai, Hanya Shingyō o fujusu.

When we, you know, when kokyō start sūtra, we say Maka Hanyaharamita Shingyō, and when we—in—in sūtra—in ekō we say, Jōrai, Hanya Shingyō o fujusu.  That is more usual.  But you can say:

[Line 2.]  Jōrai, Maka Hannyaharamita Shingyō o fujusu, atsumuru

                  tokoro no kudoku wa,

[Line 3.]  jippō jōjū no sambō, kakai muryō no kenjō,[1]

[Line 4.]  jūroku dai arakan, ōgu issai burui[2]  kenzoku ni ekō su.

We already—I explained already so far, and tonight I have to explain about arhats’ so-called-it “supernatural power.”

Sanmyō[3]  rokutsū.  Sanmyō rokutsū is—sanmyō is the—the power of—of clair- [partial word]—clairvoyant, you know, to see things through various obstacles.  He—he can see his past life, even.

And next one is to hear everything from a distant.  That is a[n] arhat’s power.  And the last one is the power to put an end to the kar- [partial word]—karmic life.  So arhat—for arhats there is no karma because he extinguished all the desires, and he has no—he doesn’t cause any karma.  That is the third one.  Sanmyō.  San is “three.”  Myō is “clear—clear powerful power.”  That is sanmyō.

The rokutsū.[4]  Rokutsū is—in rokutsū is those three [sanmyō] is included.  And when we say rokutsū, to—the power to read someone’s mind is the—one of them.  And to know, you know—  The first one in rokutsū—the first one is the—to see everything—clairvoyant—ears to—capable of hearing everything.  So—and to read someone’s mind, to have insight into others.  And he is able to observe or—observe the cause of the various suffering.  And—shuku-shuku-shukumyōtsū[5]—and he has power of to see people’s past life, including his past life.  And he has a kind of supernatural power to fly, you know, or to cross the river without boat—that kind of supernatural perfect freedom from everything.  This is more, you know, subjective, you know, power.  But you—you cannot say this kind of power is something objective power.  [It is] more subjective, but for him, you know, that ki- [partial word:  kind?]—he [an arhat] has that kind of power.  Or he thinks, you know, he—he has some conviction, you know, like this.

And how he attained this kind of power is power of practice.  And this kind of practice is called, in Chinese, shūzen.  Shūzen means practice to attain some supernatural power is shū- [partial word]—a kind of practice which is called shūzen.

But the last one—the—to know, to extinguish all the cause of the karma, is the more Buddhistic practice and only Buddhist—the power only Buddhist have.  The Buddhist, you know—purpose of Buddhist practice is to be free from karma is the—why Buddhist practice Buddhist way.

And the last one is the most important one.  So there is some kōan about this.  Some, you know, arhat—some sage or hermit called [on] the Buddha and said, “We have five supernatural powers, but I heard that you have six, you know, supernatural power.  What is the last one?”  [Laughs.]  And the gedō, or, you know, the hermit or sage asked Buddha.  Buddha didn’t say anything, but he said—the hermit said in this way:  “What is that—what is that power which we do not have?”—he asked—sage asked—hermit asked.

Buddha said, without answering to his question—yeah—he said, “What will be that,” you know, “what will be that last super-” [partial word]—not supernatural power, but—”that last power?  What do you think it is?”—Buddha asked.

Buddha knows that even—even though he explain, he [the sage] will not understand what is the last one, the power to be completely free from karma.  Usually, you know, people, even Buddhist, thinks after attaining arhatship they will have that sixth powers, including the power to be free from karma.  But that last, you know, the power to be free from karma, is not any special [laughs] power.  It is quite, you know, usual power we have.

But we do not care for that power so much, and we ignore that power always.  Although we have it, we ignore it, and we think we have no such power.  But actually we have.  So the sage thought, “Buddha must have some special power,” you know.  Five powers he—he has is already supernatural, special power, but “Buddha has more special power,” he thought.  But Buddha, you know, didn’t have any special power.  But he knows what kind of power he himself has.

Usually, because we don’t know what is that power, we are involved in karmic practice.  If we know that, you know, we have—originally have that kind of power, we will not, you know, create any karma.  Just because we are ignorant of it, we create karma for ourselves.  So even to, you know, practice to attain some special power is, you know, actually to create karma for himself.  So even though—because of those practice—to fly to the heaven or to—to go to the heavenly body without any trouble, but if he—if he goes to the—some heavenly body, he has to come back to this world.  If you die, you know, in the heavenly body—if he appeared in—if he take a bath in the heavenly body, he should die in the heavenly body.  That is—that kind of, you know, supernatural power do not possess any power to be free from karma.  But last power, which Buddhist has, [is] the power to be free from karma, and for that purpose we practice our way.

Dōgen-zenji, you know, in his Shōbōgenzō, [in] the fascicle of supernatural power, “Jinzū.”[6]   Jinzū—rokujinzū,[7]  we say.  “Six.”  Jin is, you know, usually translated, maybe, [as] “supernatural power,” but jin is “true”—something which is true is jin.  True power.  Tsū is, you know, to—the power which is—maybe you can use the word “omnipresent,” or “wherever you go, there is that power”—the power which everyone has.  That is tsū in its true sense.

But, you know, when we say five power or six power, that power is power to work for some purpose.  But true power which we have or fundamental original power which we have is the power to work everywhere under various circumstances.  That is tsū.  Rokujinzū:  six true universal powers—you cannot say “universal”—or effective power or—mmm—it doesn’t come, that word—very useful words—English words.  You can—something you can—power you can apply to every circumstances.

There is also—in Shōbōgenzō [“Jinzū”], he [Dōgen] referred to the story, you know, Zen story between Isan[8]  and his disciple, Kyōzan.[9]  Isan [and] Kyōzan are the founder of Igyō-shu.  I-kyō-shū.  “Isan’s/Kyōzan’s school.”  Isan, you know, one day was taking nap [laughing] in his cabin, maybe.  He was sleeping.  And his disciple, you know, Kyōzan, opened the door and see the—his teacher Kyōzan [Isan] was sleeping.  So his—Isan, you know, the teacher [thought] “Oh, someone—someone came.  Oh my!”  So he turned to the wall, you know.  He was sleeping this way.  But because someone came, he turned to the—faced to the wall—turned, you know, his body.

And—and his disciple Kyōzan [said], “Oh, I am sorry,” he said, “but don’t be disturbed.  I am your disciple.  Don’t worry.  [Laughs.]  Don’t be so formal,” you know, he said.

And he [Isan] was going out [got up to leave], you know, and the teacher said, “Hey, Kyōzan.”  [Laughs, laughter.]

And Kyōzan, you know, came back.  And sha- [partial word] “May I help you?” he said.

“Yes.  I had a good dream,” you know, “so I want to tell you about my dream.”

The disciple said—disciple, you know, sit down [and asked], “What was the dream?”—[laughs, laughter] his disciple said.

And Kyōzan [Isan] said, “What do you think that was?”—the teacher said.

That was the story, you know.  [Laughs, laughter.]  And, you know, what is, then, supernatural power?  What is a supernatural power?  Supernatural power is already there, you know [laughing], and moreover, you know, his disciple, because he was asked, “What do you think my dream was?”—so he went out to the kitchen and brought a—a b- [partial word:  basin?]—brought some water in the basin with towel.  And put the water, you know—offered the water to Kyōzan—Isan.

Isan [said or thought], “Oh, this is very good!”  And he washed his face and wiped his face with the towel.  And, you know, as soon as he wiped—finished wiping his face, Kyōgen,[10] another disciple, came in.  And, you know, Isan again [said]:  “We are talking about good—my good dream.  What do you think it was?”[laughs]—Isan asked Kyōzan [Kyōgen].[11]   Kyōzan [Kyōgen], you know, went to the kitchen again and brought a cup of tea [laughs].

“Please have a cup of tea because you washed your face already.  How about cup of tea?”  That was, you know, Isan—Kyōzan’s [Kyōgen’s?] supernatural power [laughs].  That was the kōan [laughs].

This kind of, you know, power could be extended everywhere, you know.  There is no end, you know, [to] this kind of good relationship between teacher and disciple.  There is no end in the relationship.  Even though he is teacher, he has no idea of being their teacher.  Even though they are disciple, they—they feel as if his [their] teacher is their friend.  But they know exactly, you know, what [laughs] their teacher need and what they—what his—what he means.  That is—Dōgen-zenji says, that is real, you know, power who—which really well-trained teachers and disciple—disciples have.

This kind of power, you know, or this kind of—way of practice, for us, it is, you know, we ignore this kind of practice.  You may, you know, rigidly practice zazen [laughs], but you will ignore this kind of practice.  Sometime your rigid idea of practice will—will be hindrance of the real practice, which was going [on] between Isan and Kyōzan.  Dōgen-zenji—Dōgen admired their practice very much.  “That is real practice,” he said.

When you continue this kind of practice without any idea of teacher or disciple or practice, even, then there is no way to create karma.  Even though you see things, you know, things does not create any problem for you because you don’t feel you saw something, you know.  Even though you see it, you don’t even remember what you have seen.  If it is necessary it will be in your mind, but when it is not necessary that object—that object you saw will vanish.  So no karma, or no trace of practice, or no trace of activity remain.  That is—that kind of practice looks like very easy and common [laughs], but actually this kind of practice will ap- [partial word:  appear?]—will go [on] between, you know, good teacher and good disciple.  This is, you know, actually the last power of sanmyō, and last power of six supernatural power.

[Line 6.]  sanmyō rokutsū, mappō o shōbō ni kaeshi goriki hachige,

                  gunjō o mushō ni michibiki.

Sanmyō rokutsū.  Sanmyō rokutsū.  And—and in ekō it says, Sanmyō rokutsū, mappō o shōbō ni kaeshi.  Mappōmappō is, you know, last stage in Buddhist history, where there is no more Buddhism [laughs, laughter].[12]  Last period.  According to. you know, scripture, last—first 1,000 year after Buddha’s death is the shōbō, “the age of right law—right dharma.”  There they practice our way very hard, and there there is teacher and teaching, and—and so they can attain enlightenment in the first 1,000 years after Buddha passed away.

And next stage, next—after 1,000 year, the zōbō—period of zōbō will start.  There there is teaching, but—and there is, you know, teachers, but teachers who has no enlightenment.  So [laughs] knows—teachers knows what is Buddhism, but actually they do not practice so hard.  But they know what is Buddhism intellectually.  So there is no student who attain enlightenment.  That is, you know, the time of zōbō, which will continue for 1,000 years more.

And the last period is after 2,000 year from Buddha’s death, and there there is no Buddhism.  There may be some, you know, relics of Buddhism [laughs], but there is no Buddhism at all.  Even [if] there is teaching, no one read it.  No one knows what is Buddhism.  According to some scriptures, you know, it is so.

And that period in Ja- [partial word]—history of Japanese Buddhism, that mappō, the last period, started from Kamakura period, when Nichiren[13] or Shinran[14]  appear.  Dōgen, you know, appeared in that—in the same age.  It is—it may be about 1200 [C.E.], yeah.  And so Shinran or Dōgen—Shinran or Nichiren thought because this is, you know, a time of the last period of Buddhism where—when Buddhism will be banished [vanished?], so the teaching should be changed.  The teaching should be some teaching which is—which could be applied in the last period of Buddhism.

That is why Nichiren and—and by Nichiren and Shinran, a kind of reformation of Buddhism was done.  But it is not actually reformation, you know.  It is more, we can say, restoration of [Buddhism].  He—they tried to restore the Buddhism—the Buddhism in the time of Buddha.

But way, you know—Shinran, for an instance, thought, because it is—it is not possible to attain enlightenment any more for the people in this period, so the only way is to, you know, to ask the help of Buddha, and by means of Buddha’s help will—will be saved, reciting, you know, Namu Amida butsu.  And with strong faith, believing in Amida Buddha’s power, they will be saved.  That was, in short, Shinran’s way.

And Nichiren, you know, thought it is, you know, the time of mappō now, but according to Lotus Sūtra, if we recite Lotus Sūtra, or if we recite it for—for others, or if we obtain Lotus Sūtra, even, the merit of obtaining the Lotus Sūtra, or merit of reciting Lotus Sūtra will save us even in the period—period of mappō.  So … [Sentence not finished.  Tape turned over.]

… maybe his good means of, you know, maybe so.  But he actually believed in that—believed in that way.  Even though people may read Lotus Sūtra, if they do not actually observe things as it is described in Lotus Sūtra, he cannot be a true teacher.  So he wanted to prove the power of Lotus Sūtra.  So he—so that he can prove the power of the Lotus Sūtra, he did many things—he tried many things.  Once he was almost killed by the people which was sent by government at Kamakura, but their sword break—broke when they wanted to kill Nichiren.  That was actually appeared in that way as you read it in Lotus Sūtra.

So he said, “This is the power of,” you know, “Lotus Sūtra.”  And he said, you know, “If—because we—no one believe in Lotus Sūtra, which is the only sūtra for the period of mappō, so something terrible will happen to Japan.”  And several years later, you know, the Mongolians, you know, came, you know, to conquer Japan with many ships.  But Nichiren thought, “If—if I am believe in this sūtra, the Japan will not be conquered.”  And as he said so, the Mongolian ships were destroyed by the hurricane [laughs] before they arrived to Hakata in Kyūshū.[15]   So people, you know, were terrified [by] the power of the Lotus Sūtra.  In that way, you know, Nichiren School was established.

Shinran, you know—after the many years of war period, when people did not know what to do, Shinran said, “If you say—just say Namu Amida butsu, you will be saved.[16]   Amida Buddha will save you.  So why don’t you recite the name of Amida Buddha?”  Without traveling [to] various countries, sometime he was sent to some lonely island, [like] Sado, but he did not stop his practice.  He was strongly believe in Amida Buddha and his power of faith.

In this way, you know, in Kamakura period, even [if] it was already the last period of Buddhism, a new Buddhism, you know, arise.  Dōgen was one of them.  But Dōgen’s attitude is quite different, you know.  He did not believe in, you know, mappō.  That is just skillful means of Buddha.  Actually, there is no such thing [as the] last period or the first period or second period.  That is just Buddha—to encourage people to believe in Buddhism.  Buddha said so to encourage people.  So that is just skillful means.

So even [if] it is the time of mappō, if we practice hard we will attain enlightenment.  The Buddha—Buddhism will not die.  He believed in—Dōgen believed in his practice, the practice of, you know, practice of non-practice.  That is [laughs] Dōgen’s practice.  There is nothing to practice, especially.  Whatever we do, that is practice.  If so, there is no special practice.

By shikantaza you will not gain anything, but you will be you yourself.  So by shikantaza you will establish yourself on yourself.  You will be you.  Tile will be a tile.  Mirror will be a mirror.  And that is, you know, our practice.  There is no secret in our practice.  If that is practice, there is no special teaching like Buddhism.  The Buddhism is already there when Buddha appeared in this world.  It is not because Buddha appeared in this world [that] Buddhism was established.  That is, you know, Dōgen-zenji’s understanding of Buddhism.

So the last power of practice is without being involved in karmic practice.  How we should practice our way was Buddhist practice.  So Buddhist practice start from nothing—nothingness, not from somethingness.  We start our practice from nothing to attain nothing [laughs].  That is Buddhist practice.  You may think that is very strange, but that is, in short, Buddha’s—Buddhist practice.

[Line 6.]  sanmyō rokutsū, mappō o shōbō ni kaeshi goriki hachige,

                  gunjō o mushō ni michibiki.

Sanmyō rokutsū, mappō o shobō ni kaeshi goriki hachige.  Goriki—goriki is—here it says:  faith, and exertion—exertion, mindfulness, contemplation—contemplation—zazen, you know—dhyāna—and wisdom.  This—those are five powers.

And hachige.  Hachige is rather complicated.  It is related to Theravādan practice.  I explained last night about primitive Buddhist practice:  four stage for zazen, for Zen—four stages of Zen, of form world, [and] four practice of non-form world.  That makes eight.  And in each stage there is attainment—renunciation.  Eight—eight meditation power, or eight kinds of renunciation to free one from attachment—our attachment—to free from everything.

The first—as I explained last night, the—in the first stage you have no anger, or you have no drowsiness.  Because you are not angry, and you—your mind is very calm, so you can think clearly.  And you have physical joy, and spiritual joy, and concentration.  So in the first stage you have clear thinking which can be, you know, contemplation of shāstra[17]  of teaching—dharma, or you can observe things clearly.  That is thinking mind.  And physical joy, and mental joy, and concentration.  So you have four.  One-two-three-four-five.

And in the second stage, you—you—you don’t think in the second stage.  So your mind is more clear, you know, because you don’t think even.  There is no waves of mind—thinking mind—so you are, you know, physically and mentally or emotionally or mentally, you will be more—you have a kind of joy of [being] free from emotional disturbance or thinking faculties.  And you have concentration—good concentration.

So you have there inner purity of mind—inner purity of mind free from thinking, and you have physical joy, and physical or emotional, you may say, or emotional joy and spiritual joy, or mental joy and concentration.  By this—in this stage, what you will have—the power you will have is to see all things.  How you get, you know, how you get this kind of power, you know—they practice, you know, various practice, you know, [for example] to see a skeleton [laughs]—to put skeleton in front of you and you sit [concentrate] on it.  So even [if a] beautiful lady appears in front of you, we may say, “Oh, that is skeleton!”  [Laughs.]  “In that way you will be free from, you know, objective world.” [Laughs, laughter.]

You may laugh, but actually they did it—sometime in front of fire they sit; in front of water they sit.  Or they contemplated on our physical being, observing physical body is a bag of nasty things [laughs].  It is [laughs, laughter]—it looks—looks like beautiful.  It is mostly practice for men, maybe [laughs].  “So a woman, maybe, looks like very beautiful, but inside of the woman is nasty, you know [laughs, laughter]—[containing] five organs and many things” [laughs, laughter].  They practiced, you know, in that way.  That is more, you know [laughs]—  And in that way they wanted to be free from objective world.

But in the second stage, they, you know, changed their way—not to—to contemplate on objective being, but to contemplate in- [partial word]—inward, you know.  Directed their concentration inward.  And inwardly they could make ourselves sure that we are not permanent any more.  So it is foolish to attach to ourselves.  If so, it may be more foolish to attach to something outside [laughs].  If, you know, each one—each [something like a light bulb pops loudly; laughs, laughter]—    If he is, you know, not worthy to attach to, then the people may, you know—outside people could be more worth- [partial word]—worthless to attach to.  In that way, they wanted to be free from outward object.  So their practice was the power of practice to see all things as impure, and thereby removed their lust—lust or desires.

Second one is to remove attachment to external phenomenon.  Those, you know, power will be gained by—in the first and second stage of practice.  And third one is the power of not to give arise [a rise?] to the desires even [if] phenomenon looks like beautiful, you know.  Now, you know, after attaining the attach- [partial word]—detachment from themselves and from outside world, you know, they are quite sure—he will be quite sure that he has power of detachment.

So to make their power sure [sure of their power?], they tried to see some beautiful flowers, you know.  If they, you know, attach to it—if they become attached to it or not.  They tried, you know [laughs].  They opened their eyes and saw some beautiful lady.  [They saw] if he attached to her again or not.  That—and if he doesn’t attach to someone, that is—it means that he has really, you know, the power of detachment [laughs].  In that way they test themselves.  That is two [to?], you know, that is the third one.  And it will—in this way, the—each—in each stage, they obtained more power of detachment and until they attain arhatship.

It is described in this way, but if you literally take this description, it is—it doesn’t make much sense.  But later, you know, in the formless world, when they attained the world of formlessness, their practice—their power obtained by their practice is to contemplate boundless space—boundless space of form, you know.

And they contemplate on the limitless consciousness of ourselves.  That is more inward practice.  So their practice became wider and wider and until their practice come to the area of void.  That is the fifth one.  And fourth one was to contemplate on boundless space.  And the fifth one is to contemplate limitless world of consciousness inwardly.  That is fifth one.  Sixth one is to contemplate non-substantiality—non-substantiality.  There is nothing, nothingness, complete voidness—not voidness—but nothingness.

And seventh one [is] to contemplate the state of beyond thought.  The seventh one is to contemplate on substantial- [partial word]—non-substantiality in term of, you know, substance.  The seventh one is to contemplate on beyond thought, you know.  To contemplate on non-substantiality, you know.  Non-substantiality is a kind of idea, isn’t it?  Non-substantiality.  So to go beyond the idea of no- —non-substantiality is the seventh one.

And last one is metsujin-jō,[18]  which is same as the third one of the three—sanmyō.  To attain metsujin-jōmetsujin-jō is, you know—metsujin-jō:  to—to have no karmic activity—a cessation of all the activity.

So for a long time, you know, they practiced zazen literally in this way—attached to this kind of psychological analysis, but actual practice cannot be like this actually.  You can, you know, analyze your practice in that way—four or eight [stages of practice] or practice of form world, or practice of no- —no-form world.  But actual practice, you know, cannot be like that.

So more and more Buddhists started to put more emphasis on actual practice, without analyzing our practice, without being involved in this kinds of, you know, stages.  But if you carefully, you know, understand this kind of, you know, stages and interpretation of the stages, as I explained last night, there is very important key to the actual practice.  But if you miss that kind of point, you will be easily caught by it.

Step by step:  stepladder practice.  We call it “stepladder practice.”  There is no end in stepladder practice.  At first, you know, you may say there is three steps, but in each three steps—in each step there is three steps [laughs], and in each of the three steps there is three steps, if you carefully analyze it.  So at least we have eighty-one steps or more [laughs].  Eighty-one, you know, eighty-one—two hundred [laughs, laughter] and forty-one stages.  No end.  So we shouldn’t be caught by this kind of interpretation, you know.  But we should have eyes to see what [it] actually means.  And the people who set up this kind of teaching, you know, has—carefully they set up this kind of teaching, and commentary is—we have a great amount of commentary to those stepladder-like practice, so that it cannot be stepladder practice.  We should, you know, understand this point.

So Dōgen-zenji did not ignore this kind of practice and this kind of commentary and this kind of stepladder practice.  But he more put emphasis on the everyday practice like to serve tea or to give their teacher water and towel or a cup of tea.

Hmm.  Oh!  [Probably discovers the late hour.]  Excuse me [laughs].  No time for question tonight.


Sources:  Contemporaneous transcript and Ekō Study Book by David Chadwick; transcript entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997; transcript checked and corrected against tape by Bill Redican 11/17/99.

 [1]  Not kenshō, as in version at start of transcript.  They may be two different ways of saying the same word in Japanese.

 [2]  Not issai no ōgu burui, as in version at start of transcript.

 [3]  (Suzuki-rōshi clearly says sanmyō, not sammyō.  But both spellings are common.)  Sanmyō refers to the three transcendental types of knowledge attained by an arhat, bodhisattva, or buddha.  They are a subset of the six rokutsū (see below):  (1) pubbenivāsānussati (Pali):  knowledge of former lives; (2) dibbacakkhu (Pali):  divine eye; knowledge of the future destiny of oneself and others; (3) āsavakkhaya (Pali):  knowledge of the sufferings of the present life and the ways to remove their root cause, mental intoxicants.

[4]  rokutsū or rokujinzū (Jap.); ṣaḍ abhijñāḥ (San.);  chaḷ-abhiññā (Pali):  The six kinds of supernatural powers attributed to an arhat, bodhisattva, or buddha.  The traditional six are:

(1)  iddhividhā (Pali):  magical powers

(2)  dibbasota (Pali):  divine ear

(3)  ceto-pariya-ñāṇa (Pali):  knowledge of the minds of others

(4) dibbacakkhu (Pali): divine eye

(5) pubbenivāsānussati (Pali):  knowledge of former lives

(6) āsavakkhaya (Pali):  extinction of mental intoxicants or passions.

[See, e.g., G. P. Malalasekera (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Buddhism,

1965, Vol. I, p. 98.]

[5]  shukumyōtsū (Jap.):  Japanese term for No. 5, pubbenivāsānussati.  (See H. Inagaki, A Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist Terms, 1992, p. 252.)

 [6]  jinzū (Jap.):  abhijñā (San.) or abhiññā (Pali).  The five powers of sages or the six powers or arhats.

 [7]  rokujinzū or rokutsū (Jap.):  ṣaḍ abhijñāḥ (San.) or chaḷabhiññā (Pali).  The six kinds of supernatural powers.  Roku (Jap.) = “six.”

 [8]  Isan Reiyū or Zen Master Daii (Jap. for Guishan Lingyu):  771-853.  Chan master of southern China; student and dharma heir of Hyakujō Ekai (Baizhang Huaihai).

 [9]  Kyōzan (Gyōzan) Ejaku (Jap. for Yangshan Huiji):  807-883.  He and his master Isan co-founded the Igyō School of Chan (Igyō-shū in Japanese).

[10]  Kyōgen Chikan (Jap. for Xiangyan Zhixian):  d. 898.  Chan master; student and dharma heir of Isan.

[11]  In the fascicle “Jinzū,” Isan asks the question of Kyōgen (not Kyōzan), who then goes to get Isan a cup of tea.

[12]  See also SR-70-06-01, pp. 11 and 13 (the third Sandōkai lecture), for another discussion of these three time periods (the shōzōmatsu).  The length of the time periods (e.g., 500 vs. 1000 years) differs from lecture to lecture, just as there are at least four views on the length of shōbō and zōbō in Zen literature (see, e.g., Japanese-English Buddhist Dictionary, p. 299).

[13]  Nichiren (1222-1282):  founder of Nichiren or New Lotus school of Buddhism in Japan, which places great emphasis on the Lotus Sūtra.

[14]  Shōnin Shinran (1173-1262):  founder of Jōdo-shin-shū school of Buddhism in Japan, a community of lay followers who believe that liberation is attained by the help and grace of Amida Buddha.

[15]  The first Mongol invasion fleet was damaged by a storm in November of 1274.  The second Mongol invasion fleet was similarly afflicted in 1281.

[16]  Namu Amida butsu:  “Veneration to Buddha Amitābha.”  This nembutsu, recitation of the name of Amida (Amitābha) Buddha, is the meditation practice of the Jodo-shin-shū.  If nembutsu is done with complete devotion, the practitioner may be reborn in the Pure Land of Amitābha.

[17]  shāstra (śāstra, Sanskrit):  instruction or textbook.

[18]  metsujin-jō (Jap.) or nirodha-samāpatti (Pali):  “extinction of feeling and perception”; a state resembling death except for a sense of warmth, life, and consciousness.

– See more at: http://suzukiroshi.sfzc.org/dharma-talks/?p=1328#sthash.CJVHBB7l.dpuf

– See more at: http://suzukiroshi.sfzc.org/dharma-talks/?p=1328#sthash.Q5CL5vzN.dpuf

Copying the Lotus Sutra, One Letter at a Time

Written by Ninzan Kyosho Valorie Beer

painting by Sarah Fraser

Two years.  Nine large sketchbooks, one hundred pages in each.  One hundred forty- seven calligraphy pens.   Uncounted hours of peace and quiet joy.

April 2004.  I had just finished a difficult practice period at Green Gulch.  Difficult not because of the practice itself, but because I was trying to participate in the practice period while managing from afar the restoration of my house, which had been partially destroyed by a flood from a broken hot water pipe.

The study text for the practice period had been the Lotus Sutra.  I bought the Burton Watson translation because I liked the colors on the cover.   It wasn’t the translation that everyone else had.   Abbess Linda Ruth Cutts suggested that we try copying the sutra.  I looked at the 324-page book and shook my head at the absurdity of her suggestion.  It’s too much, I thought, and what would be the good of such an effort, anyway?

But when I left Green Gulch at the end of the practice period and stepped, hesitantly, into my half-restored house, I was overwhelmed with how much work remained and how much of my mold-encrusted possessions I was going to have to throw away.  I was desperate to do something positive, to create, to see progress.  And the Abbess’s suggestion came back to me, now seeming not quite so absurd.

I went to an art store that afternoon.  I hadn’t planned to buy the largest sketchbook –14”x17”– but it was the only thing that felt big enough to counteract the destruction I had been dealing with for the past five months.   I bought black calligraphy pens, but wanted some color, too.  Black for the text.  Alternating blue and teal for the verses.  Blue and teal, like the colors of the lotus pond on the cover of the translation I had bought.

I found my calligraphy notes from a class 20 years ago and started to carefully practice the letters, just to warm up.  But I didn’t finish.  The sutra was calling, not with urgency, but with a gentle, insistent tug at my heart.  So I opened the first page, and wondered for a moment about where all of this was going to lead, where it would end.  I was grateful that the first words were familiar from other sutras, “This is what I have heard.”

All through the summer of 2004 I copied the text, then took it to the fall practice period at Tassajara.  Then to the next two practice periods at Green Gulch.  Then back to Tassajara this year for the winter 2006 ango.  There was never a moment when I didn’t want to work on it, never a time when I wanted it to be done.  We just kept going, the sutra and I, one letter at a time.  Page after page, chapter after chapter.

Occasionally, the sutra would reach out and take my hand, stopping my motion.  “Pay attention,” it would say, “this passage is important.”  And there were times when I would stop myself as I struggled with a particular section, or with the whole of Chapter 23.  Could I sanction with my hand the self-immolation of Medicine King?  Why not just leave out this whole repugnant chapter?  I had made other, small alternations to the text as I was copying it, changing the ubiquitous “he” to “they,” changing “sons” to “children.”  Gently updating the text so that I could feel included.  But to skip a whole chapter?
I sat with the dilemma for a week.  And then the real question arose: What part of myself was I unwilling to take a match to?   The answer was predictable, human – and left me gasping at the power of this sutra.  The answer was that I would rather burn up my body than torch the delusions and fantasies and stories that I use to define me.  And then I remembered the passage, ‘way back in Chapter 2, that had stopped my hand more thoroughly than any other section:  “[they] enter deeply into erroneous views, hoping to shed suffering through greater suffering.”  It was those erroneous views that I didn’t want to incinerate, else who would I be?  I continued copying, and cried when Medicine King ignited himself, crying for the strength he had that I do not.

And then one evening, just before the last sesshin, it was done.  The Abbess and I faced each other in dokusan, spring rain pattering on the roof of her cabin at Tassajara, the sutra spread out before us, my last black pen poised in my hand.  She read, slowly, the final sentence of the sutra as I made the letters one by one.  “Accepting and upholding the words of the Buddha, they bowed in obeisance and departed.”

Three weeks later, I stood at the altar of the Empty Nest Zendo in North Fork.  One by one, I handed the finished copybooks to Myoan Grace Schierson.  She incensed them, welcoming them to a new home in the library of Central Valley Zen.  Earlier that morning, I had given the Sunday dharma talk to the sangha.  The theme, of course, was erroneous views, and the myriad ways we cause our own suffering with our tightly-held stories.

So much has changed in the two years I spent with the letters of the Lotus Sutra.  When I started the project, my daughter was a teenager, my mother was alive, and I had hair on my head.  And so much has not changed.  The power of a sutra to speak across millennia astounds me.  The power of a spiritual text to change me astounds me even more.  It’s true that I copied the whole Lotus Sutra, and that I changed it in small ways as I went along.  But it changed me, too, and I wonder.  Did it copy me?

Ninzan Kyosho Valorie Beer was ordained in January 2005 by Ed Brown.  Valorie lives at Green Gulch Farm.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 15 August 2006 )


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