Lotus Sutra, Lecture No. II-4

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Fall 1968
Zen Mountain Center


The point—point of my previous lecture is—because it may be difficult for you to understand this sutra, so I wanted to clarify about the—how this—who told this—who is supposed to told—is supposed to told this sutra. And usually all the sutra, you know, looks like told by Buddha himself and especially historical Buddha. But our Buddhist sutra is not actually so. So, if you, you know, think when you read some sutra, if you think this sutra was told by Buddha himself—self, then it is difficult. You will be confused because actually in the sutra there are many elements which is not, you know, Buddha—which is not Buddha's time exist. At Buddha’s time there was no such elements, but after when—when the sutra was compiled, at that time they—the sutra involved in various thought. So, without—and Buddhist thought itself, you know, developed from Buddha’s time to understand from—understanding of direct disciples of Buddha to several generation after Buddha. So, you will be very much confused in—when you read the sutra.

So, and actually, this sutra was told by so-called-it Mahayana Buddhist several hundred years after Buddha passed away. And Buddhism itself developed from sravakas to the Mahaya. And this development is very—we say—if I say Buddhism developed from sravakas—sravakas to the Mahayana, then you may think Buddhism developed or changed. But real—in—in reality, it is not changed or developed[?], but Buddhism—Buddhists came to the original source—tried to resume original way—original understanding of Buddhism. In this way, Buddhist for many thousand—thousands of years, have been trying to resume to Buddha's teaching. But this effort looks like Buddhism changed from original one to some—some different teaching, but it is not so.

Do you understand what I am saying? I’m—it is rather difficult for my [laughs] language everything to explain this part, you know. Buddha, you know, this is Buddhism, you know, started from Buddha’s disciple and Mahayana Buddhist. And this sutra was told by someone who was here—Mahayana Buddhist. But sutra was described—is described as if this sutra was told by someone who is here, you know. Historical Buddha—looks like historical Buddha told this sutra, but actually he did not talk—tell the story—sutra. But someone who is here told the story. And Buddhism itself, you know, developed from here to here—or developed from here to here. So, you may say Buddhism—this sutra is not—which—which is told in this sutra as Buddhism is not Buddha's teaching, some—but some teaching which developed from Buddha's teaching. So, though—if you are attached to Buddha's original teaching, you may be disappointed, you see?

But what I’m want—what I want to say is there is no need for you to be disappointed because what they have been trying was to resume—what they trying—they have been trying to find out what was the fundamental Buddhism. So, this is not fundamental Buddhism. This is not—this was not—this was not. And finally, they thought this is Buddha's original purpose of telling—teaching. When they reached this kind of understanding, he—someone told this story in such conviction—with such conviction, in such a great scale. That is why, you know, this sutra is called the king of the all the—all sutra. Do you understand?

And nowadays we have various sect in China or in Japan, but why they—we have—why so many founders of school—various school make such—that kind of effort is only to understand who was Buddha. When he found Buddha was such and such person, he became a founder of some school, you know. The—all the effort we have been doing is to know what is—who is Buddha and what was his purpose of telling—teaching. Do you understand this point?

So, for a Buddhist, Buddha is not only historical Buddha—not—he is not just a historical person. He is truth itself. And we think he should be truth itself. But historical Buddha cannot be perfect. But the background of the historical Buddha is—which—should be truth. So, if so, truth itself should be real Buddha for us. Then what is truth, you know? How should we understand the truth, or how should we accept truth in this situation of the age or world? That is why we have various schools. Do you understand?

In this way, you know, with this kind of idea, this sutra was told. So, it is necessary for me to tell you about the history from original, fundamental Buddhism through Mahayana Buddhism. And if I say “Mahayana,” there is “Hinayana” schools. But Hinayana, name of Hinayana is opposite to the Mahayana. And when the Mahayana Buddhists established or reached Buddha's original understanding of original teaching, he—this group eventually[?] called all the teaching before, you know, Mahayana arise—Mahayana Buddhism arise, called “Hinayana”. But when real Mahayana school established, there was no Hinayana school.

And there is—according to Tiantai school, which was started by Tiantai Zhiyi in China, there is two kinds of Mahayana. One is the last stage of the development of the Buddhism—the last stage here. This is Mahayana. And who is—which is very much different from so-called-it Hinayana, or sravakas. Pratyeka has no teaching because [laughs] he is, you know, they are the people who has no teacher, and who studied by himself. So, if there is ten Pratyeka Buddhist teaching what should be ten, you know [laughs]. So, it means that there is no school for Pratyeka Buddhist. They have no way to teach their teaching; they have no written material for their disciples. The trees we see, flowers we see, or stars and the moon, or mountain and rivers, are teaching. There is no written teaching for Pratyeka Buddhist. So, no Pratyekaya. But only for sravakas we have teaching. So, Mahayana teachers who reached this point, discriminated or criticized sravakas by name of Hinayana. This is, according to Tiantai, this is not real Mahayana, or real teaching. Real teaching is the teaching which could include, you know, sravakas, Pratyeka, and so-called-it “one vehicle” or “great vehicle” teaching. That is true teaching. So, the teaching—the Buddhists who are—who will discriminate Mahayana or Hinayana is not true Mahayana. True Mahayana—for true Mahayana Buddhist, there is no sravakas or Pratyeka or “Great One Vehicle” or “yana.” And one is called true vehicle—truth vehicle, and the other is—what should I say—one is special, you know, special [laughs], special teaching. Special teaching is not good enough. And perfect teaching—it should be perfect teaching. So, they Tiantai—according to the Tiantai’s analogy, there is perfect teaching and special teaching and the three—and the other teaching which is Pratyeka and sravakas. This is more proper understanding of Buddha's teaching.

In this way, more and more, our understanding of Buddha's teaching improved. How should we improve Buddha’s teaching as a perfect teaching? And how should we accept Buddha's teaching as a perfect Buddhist teaching is the effort we have been making. So, Buddhism should change, should not be completed, you know. One after another, we must have a new teacher, and we must improve our teaching and from the immature one to the mature understanding—the teaching. In this way—with this idea—with this—with this idea, we should study this sutra. Did you understand what I'm trying to say?

And today I want you to present some questions if you have.

Student A: If that was the interpretation of Buddhism that was perfect for that time, maybe some new interpretation is perfect for this time. Or do you think that the Lotus Sutra is the—the best expression of Buddhism for now?

SR: The way—the way, you know, of understanding, you know, truth is logically–or way of understanding or culture is also, you know, truth, you know, to carve Buddhism. So, I think nowadays you should use more some—some other truth to carve Buddha's image.

Q: Would—do you think like Shobogenzo was maybe the best sutra for that time?

SR: For that time, it’s—it was. And it was very unusual one, you know. And then he used a very unusual truth for that time, who is very unusual as a person who was born several hundred years ago, you know. Some of—most of truths he used may be very much appropriate for—for us to use too. In this sense, we are interested in—many scholars are interested in Buddhism—Shobogenzo. But even so, I don’t think that is the—you cannot say that is—Buddhism was completed by Dogen Zenji. If we have this kind of understanding, Shobogenzo becomes, you know, a coffee shop [laughs] on the freeway [laughs, laughter]. Dogen will be very much angry [laughs], if you stay there. That is why he wrote it. Intention of—his intention was not to stay here. You should go and on and on. And that was the point he put the emphasis on. You know, it—he said it—Buddhism is not valuable because of the teaching, but because of the continuous practice, like our four vows way[?] ???. Hai.

Q: I didn't understand the emphasis in this sutra—the future lives of the different disciples. Why—why they—how that’s valuable?

SR: “Future disciples,” you know, it means that Buddhism, you know, is the teaching which has limitlessly—which has limitless future and beginningless beginning, which is always true—should be always true. So, in the sutra, there are many disciples and buddhas who will exist in future and who existed in eons of time before.

Q: We shouldn't be concerned about that, and it seems so difficult to…

SR: Yeah, difficult.

Q: …to understand.

SR: To understand [laughs, laughter], you see, that is why I—that is the point of my previous lecture, you know, about—on this sutra. If your understanding does not lead to the Sambhogakaya Buddha or Dharmakaya Buddha, this kind of, you know, description doesn't make any sense. It looks like fable [laughs] tales. Do you understand? The even the—in this sutra as you may see later, many eminent disciples of—direct disciple of Buddha—Buddha said, you know, “You should survive until—you should live until Maitreya Buddha appears, in many and many eons of—after many and many eons of time.” And they said, “Yes.” [Laughs] it is—it looks like, you know, you cannot understand this kind of thought, you know, without the idea of Sambhogakaya Buddha. And Sambhogakaya Buddha they—you may think—you may say is some idea, just some idea, but if you have experience of zazen practice, you can accept it. That is [laughs] why Zen Buddhism arise.

Q: What position does the—what does the understanding of the vow have to do with understanding of Sambhogakaya Buddha?

SR: Sambhogakaya Buddha…

Q: Is—is there…

SR: Sambhogakaya Buddha is the Buddha—first of all, he is the perpetual one, you know, perpetual—perpetual one who exist from beginningless beginning to the endless end. And he—and second—secondary, he is the who exist moment after moment with various form, so Sambhogakaya is the Buddha of the back—Sambhogakaya Buddha is the background of Nirmanakaya Buddha. And Nirmanakaya Buddha is—called Nirmanakaya Buddha because it is the embodiment of the Sambhogakaya Buddha. So Sambhogakaya Buddha will give birth—birth to Nirmanakaya Buddha. Nirmanakaya Buddha is a Buddha which exist moment after moment with various forms. Do you understand? So, that is why we say, you know, even sentient being are numberless, you know, number—numberless, and we are beginningless—we exist from beginningless—from beginningless beginning and endless end.

Q: Some of the things in that sutra—there are like she said, and I think a lot of us have felt are hard to understand from our experience, but in the same way that the vow is hard to understand, in that the vow seems to be, you know, impossible to our understanding. But—but there seems to be a relationship between if you make that vow and the—I don’t know …

SR: Yeah, it may be difficult to, you know, explain. I think you—I think you know pretty well [laughs], and as Claude [Dalenberg?] explained it pretty well in—in his answer to someone's question. You know, that is how actually we exist here. We are, you know, we exist moment after moment, as taking form and color of great Nirmanakaya—Sambhogakaya Buddha. That is true [laughs]. Don't you think so? If I say “Sambhogakaya Buddha,” you know, by technical term because of the [laughs] technical—because you don't know what does it mean—definition of Sambhogakaya Buddha. So, it makes you—more difficult maybe.
But we exist here, and we are not permanent being. In this—only in this moment, we exist as like this. But next moment I—I will change to—tomorrow I will not be the same person. This is true. Next moment I shall be future buddha. Yesterday I was past buddha. In this way there is many and many buddhas. And you will be another buddha.

And there—there—in this way there are many buddhas, but source of—or we are incarnated bodies, with some certain color and form and character. So, there must be [taps] source of each being or root of each being, as Sambhogakaya Buddha was the source of Shakyamuni Buddha with Nirmanakaya Buddha—with called Nirmanakaya Buddha. But when he realized this point, he accept himself as [taps] Nirmanakaya Buddha, as [taps] Sambhogakaya Buddha, as [taps] Dharmakaya Buddha. When we understand ourselves in this way, you know, what will be the way—why we live in this world is to try to—continuously try to express Buddha Nature, moment after moment. And that is the effort we should make, instead of being caught by some certain color or form.

But even so [laughs], we should not ignore—we should make our best effort [taps] in each moment. So, that is a kind of attachment, but this attachment is, at the same time, detachment, because next moment you should be—you should make best effort [laughs, laughter]. So, [laughs] it means detachment to the last being. In this way, we, you know, moment after moment, we exist. So, this kind of understanding will be expressed by our technical term of Nirmanakaya Buddha, Sambhogakaya Buddha, and Dharmakaya Buddha.

Q: Can all sentient beings be considered Nirmanakaya Buddhas?

SR: Yeah, all sentient beings are Nirmanakaya Buddha. But [laughs], you know, whether or not they realize it, it is actually so, but they do not accept themselves [laughs] as a Nirmanakaya Buddha, that's all. For them, they are not, but for—for us who understand ourselves and others, they are—all of them are Nirmanakaya Buddha and Sambhogakaya Buddha, based on Sambhogakaya Buddha and Dharmakaya Buddha.

Q: Some people live by karma you said, and some people live by vows.

SR: Em hmm, by vows. For the people who do not understand this truth, they live in a—their life is karmic life. And those who know this point, our life is not karmic life. The karma is the—another version of karmic life is another version of Buddhist life. Hai.

Q: You mentioned the triple world ???.

SR: Triple?

Q: Triple world.

SR: Oh, triple world. Past, present, and future.

Q: Can you explain bringing people from this world—bringing them from this world?

SR: There is no separate, you know, past and future. And present, past, or future is actually exist in present. Past exist in this present moment. Future also. Do you understand? If you do something good, your future is, you know, bound to be good. That you are good means your past life was good. Hai.

Q: You speak of our existence lasting only an instant, but that at each instant, that existence should make its best effort. And the more that I think about this idea of best effort, the less I'm able to understand at all what it means. I think I've asked you this before, but maybe I'm ready to hear again. What do you mean by making your best effort on each instant[?]?

SR: I don't mean to sacrifice this moment for the future, you know. I don't mean that to be bound by a past life, you know, and try to escape from it. Is not—this kind of effort—with these effort you make usually. But there's a more important point in your effort. What is to—you know, to stand on your feet [laughs] is the most important thing. You know, to sacrifice this moment for the—for your future, for your ideal even, means that you are not sitting—standing on your feet. So, the—the most important thing is to accept yourself, you know, to have subjectivity on each moment. Or, to accept yourself don't complain, you know, don’t make any complaint, and accept things as it is, and satisfy with your—yourself with what you have right now. And you should think, this is the only reality, only Buddha, you know, you can see, you can experience, you can have, you can worship. And then, you know, if you want to do something as real[?]—and at that time you are Nirmanakaya Buddha and Sambhogakaya Buddha and Dharmakaya Buddha.

This transcript is a retyping of the existing City Center transcript by Brian Fikes. It was not verbatim. The City Center transcript was entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997. It was reformatted by Bill Redican (7/17/01). Verbatim version by Peter Ford and Wendy Pirsig 9/2022 based on Engage Wisdom audio.

File name: 68-10-00-C: Lotus Sutra, Lecture No. II-4 Wind Bell: Teachings from the San Francisco Zen Center, p. 3, (Verbatim) Q & A after lecture. Edited by Brian Fikes

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In Wind Bell, Vol. 8, issue 3, 1969