Lotus Sutra, Lecture No. III-5

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Third Lotus Sutra Series
Tuesday Evening, October 28, 1969
Zen Mountain Center


I think there must be many things to prepare before you understand-- before you read Lotus Sutra. First of all, we say always, you know, “Mahayana” or “Hinayana.” So what actually means by Hinayana or Mahayana is one of the many things which you should know.

Buddha originally left teaching some time for some special people. But even so, people who listen to that-- hear the Buddha's teaching maybe [have] different understanding, according to the ability of the people who listen-- who hear him. So actually there are many various kinds of teaching in Buddha's teaching. We say, “Buddha's teaching,” but-- in one word-- but there are many various kinds of teaching included.

But naturally, Buddha's teaching was divided in two-- as his disciple or his descendant naturally divided in two, you know, as it is so always. They were divided in some logical student and some more conservative ones. The conservative one was so-called-it Hinayana or Theravada. Even 100 [years] after-- 100 [years] after Buddha passed away, there is-- there were some even [?]. Some radical students proposed to practice ten-- ten more practice. But some conservative students-- Theravada students-- called him: “He is heretic; he is not orthodox traditional-- orthodoxical traditional students; that is not what Buddha said.” In this was there was already some dispute.

And they had later a second meeting to-- to-- to unify Buddha's teaching. But, at the same time, some group had another meeting [laughs], you know. In this way, there were Buddhist-- Buddhists divided in two. The conservative ones are mostly the ones who remembered Buddha's teaching and who has-- who had some record, and who had some complete traditional texts. Radical ones more put emphasis on Buddha's intention to leave his teaching: why Buddha, you know, left this kind of teaching. That was the most important point for the radical ones. They didn't, you know, stick to scriptures only. And the conservative ones, you know, who wanted to oppose radical ones, more and more systematized Buddha's teaching, you know, and analyzed Buddha's teaching in various way. That is so-called-it Hinayana teaching.

The Hinayana teaching, in one word, [is] the teaching which-- Hinayana teaching in one word, we say, in Japanese, Sanzejitsu-u-hottai-gou.1 It means that:2 sanze is three [worlds]-- past, present, and future is sanze. And hottai is the teachings-- teachings analyzed our mind and-- our mind and body, or subjective world and objective world in various way, like five skandha, you know, five skandha, or-- do you know the teaching of five skandha? In Prajnaparamita [it] said, “Five skandha is empty-- are empty.” That five skandha or six mind, or seventh mind, or eighth mind-- that is how they analyzed our subjective and objective world. And those, you know, elements were called dharma. And, in China, they counted in 75 or 100. And those, you know, elements supposed to be some-- [are] supposed to be substantial things. The Hinayana students thought in that way. And it is always exist in that way.

But, you know, it is-- originally, you know, those elements were result of the-- result of our analyze, you know. We-- they analyze our mind-- how we-- our mind works, you know. And they counted up the-- in 75 [dharmas] or something like that.

As you know, you know, Buddha's teaching originally-- the most important teaching for Buddhist is-- everything changes is the most important teaching [laughs]. It is rather difficult, maybe, but if you hear it over and over again, naturally you will understand-- eventually you will understand. Everything changes is the fundamental teaching of Buddhism, as you know. Nothing has self-nature. But when conservative Theravada students [were] interested in more and more analyzing Buddha's teaching, and trying to authorize his teaching [as] something which was given to them, and because the teaching are something valuable, they wanted to protect it. While they are doing-- making effort in that way, they-- after all those effort, they set up something which does not change [laughs], you know-- teaching-- teaching does not change! Teaching-- ”dharma” mean sometime “teaching,” and sometime “various being,” and it-- it sometime it means “various element produced by analyze.” And they-- they put-- they s- -- after all they said, those teaching does not change, and, at the same time, those elements which teaching denote does not change. And there is actually some elements-- some entity.

But that is not anymore true, you know. That is not true. We say “mind,” but where is mind? [Laughs.] Mind is not-- is not some substantial thing. We say “eyes,” you know. Eyes-- when we-- when I was learning psychology, we started to learn how our-- it was like physics, you know. Teacher draw, you know, what do you-- what do you call it-- ”eye”?

Student: Eyeball?

SR: Hmm? No. This.

Student: [Unclear]?

SR: Round one [laughs]. Eyebulb? [Laughs.]

Students: [Several suggestions at once.]

SR: Eyeball? Eyeball is like [laughs, laughter]. Nerve-- the-- he, you know, draw nerves. This connect to brain, you know-- something like that [laughs]. But we say “eyes,” you know. “Eyes” is actually a part of skin [laughs]. And nose is also a part of skin. And ears, to, you know. So you may say, “This is eyes,” you know. But strictly speaking, all those eyes and nose and mouth and everything is part of our skin. Even our tongue is a part of skin. But we tentatively, for convenience sake, [say] “This is tummy; this is eye; this is nose.” That's all, you know.

So Buddha said [laughs], “There is no eyes.” No such thing as eyes. Tentatively, you know, this part of skin you may call it-- call them “eye.” This part is nose. And this part is ear. Actually, we-- we have, you know, nose and mouth and everything, but it is not any particular thing. There is some difference. So we-- we-- we-- we may say, “There is eyes,” but at the same time, even though it is different from other part, but originally it is a part of it. There is no borderline between your nose and eyes or ears. From where [laughs] is it, you know, belongs to ear? And from where your nose start? No one knows. Maybe someone may say “from here” [laughs], someone may say “from here.” All your way from your tummy to-- it will come to here.

Student A: What-- what smells when you [1-2 words unclear]?

SR: That is function-- function of the-- some particular part of skin [laughs, laughter].

Student B: [Entire question unclear.]

SR: Skin.

Student: Skin.

SR: I'm just-- right now I'm-- maybe you can hear it as a-- a kind of joke. But it is true, you know. We understand, you know, our-- in Mahayana teaching, we understand things from various angle, and standpoint we take is very free, you know. This way and that way. Someone-- if someone say yes, someone say no. And yes and no they discussed until yes and no become same. That is more Mahayana way.

And moreover, you know, the Hinayana students, when they talked about mind, you know-- mind is also, you know, something which exist [as] some substantial thing. You may call it-- some people may call it “soul” or something, you know. But no one knows the exact terminology of “soul.” And if, you know, if-- soul is actually, you know-- mind is actually-- you think you have mind, you know, but no one knows exactly what kind of substance the mind is. No one knows. But we-- because we have various function, you know, so someone must be there, you know, who has-- which has that kind of function. That is mind.

So if you say so, it-- it is too much-- too far [laughs], when you don't know what-- what kind of thing it is-- whether there is mind or not. Before you know that, you say here is-- there is mind, and that-- or soul. And that soul or mind is always some substantial thing. And it does not change. It is-- it was like that in past time, and-- and it will be like this. It will exist in future as it exist right now. So they said hottai3-- ”everything exist in past and present and future.” They reached this kind of conclusion after trying to authorize Buddha's teaching in various way. They went too far, and they forgot original-- the most important teaching of Buddha.

That is what has happened to Buddha's teaching after Buddha passed away. Some people, you know, didn't feel so good when some student authorize Buddha's teaching in this way-- in that way, because Buddha's teaching more and more became far away from the original teaching. That was actually what has happened to Buddhism. That is why Mahayana school became strong-- stronger.

In Mahayana teaching, they, in word-- in one word, his teaching-- their teaching was [that] present-- present things-- things in this moment exist, but it doesn't-- nothing exist in past or future, or, you know, in past or future it doesn't actually-- things doesn't exist, actually. That is quite opposite, you know, statement-- to destroy their-- Hinayana statement of Hinayana students they-- they said Kan-ni mutai genzai jitsu-u.4

So, as you must have realized, in, you know, Lotus Sutra, they put emphasis on present. That which exist in present-- present time exist in past and future. But that past and future is quite different past and future of tomorrow-- tomorrow's past and future. And future's past and future-- yesterday's past and future. That is more Mahayana's mystic understanding. May be the same, but for us right now it-- it is different. That is more Mahayana understanding of time and things.

The Mahayana students observed things [as] one whole living being, you know. Everything is just one whole being. Like, you know, I said, you know, we say “eyes and nose and mouth,” but it is actually one whole body, and those are a part of it. So to-- if you want to experience one whole being there is no other way to experience it in this moment. That is more Mahayana teaching.

Body and mind is the same, you know. Living being-- there is one living being which is called-- you know, I don't know what is the name of it, but-- one whole being. It has various activities. And one activity-- if we classify the activity of big being, it may be mental activity, and it may be-- the other will be the physical. But it is one whole living being. That is more Mahayana teaching.

So when, you know, when someone stick to some idea or some substantial idea of A or B, you know, that is more Hinayana understanding. When we put emphasis on interrelationship between various thing, that is more Mahayana understanding. And that is more faithful to-- Mahayana understanding is more faithful to original teaching of Buddha: selflessness, and everything changes. “Everything changes” means one whole being is taking always activity. Continuously they are taking activity. That is original teaching of Buddha. And Mahayana teaching is more faithful to the original teaching.

Attitude of the student is also different. The Hinayana teach- -- student put emphasis on self-realization. And Mahayana Buddhist put more emphasis on helping others. And to help others is-- why we should help others, and how we help others, when you want to help others-- you-- we should know-- we should have wisdom. That wisdom is based on everything is one whole being-- one whole living being. So, you know, to help myself-- if you want to help ourself-- himself in its true sense, you should help others too. And to help others means to help himself. That is more Mahayana understanding or attitude of practicing Buddhist way.

One is very idealistic. The other is very practical. But if you read Lotus Sutra you may say that is not so practical. But, you know, if you seize the underlying thought, you may [be] amazed how practical teaching-- was hidden in that kind of parable.

I don't know what kind of, you know, understanding you have. So tonight, you know, I will not talk any more, but I want you to ask some questions, and I want to answer why.

Student C: Roshi, could you tell us [rest of sentence unclear]. If I put my hand in front of my eyes, you know--

SR: Uh-huh.

Student C: -- what-- what sees it [?]?

SR: Your skin see [laughs]. I-- what I said, you know, “no nose” means, you know, if you say, you know, according to-- for instance, according to Hinayana teaching, you know, Theravada teaching, there is eyes. Eyes has its-- it is one of the important element of our being. And that is more independent element, and more substantial thing, and something which has self-nature.

“Self” means, you know, something which has, you know, self. Buddhism is self- -- teaching of selflessness. But when-- I must explain [laughs] this point too-- mmm-- let me see. Buddhist teaching is teaching of selflessness, but Buddha didn't establish that kind of new teaching. But he wanted to correct their misunderstanding when they say “self,” you know. So because he doesn't want to establish any teaching, you know, so if someone-- when someone say “self,” and that self means something proper, then Buddha may accept it. “Yes, we have self,” he may say. If the “self”-- if some appropriate meaning the words “self' has, Buddha will say, “Yeah, there is self.” But when they have misunderstanding about self, he says, “No, there is no such thing, self.”

“Self” means, you know, to have-- when Buddha did not accept “self,” that “self” means some-- something which has self-nature, and which has some special substance. That is self. So something which has its own nature, you know-- it own independent nature. That is self. You know, when you say “self,” you have your own character. And that is maybe a kind of, you know, nature-- your own nature. So you call-- you-- you say you have self. In the same way, Buddha-- when Buddha said “no self,” he means-- by “self” he meant some independent nature which is quite different-- quite different from other nature.

And accordingly, because of that nature, it has some characteristic-- independent character. That is self. And this kind of self, we attach to it, you know. And because of this kind of self, we make various mistake, ignoring [laughs] others' self. You become very, very independent, and you become very selfish because of this kind of understanding. So Buddha says “no self.” You say you have your own nature, but that is also universal nature. And you have your own characteristic, but [it is] little bit different from other one [?], as many things is not exactly the same-- [2-4 words unclear]. But you should not point out some characteristic which is quite different from others. Mostly your character is the same as others'.

So that you say you have independent nature is wrong. That you have quite different character or characteristic, that is also-- not wrong, but not complete. That is what Buddha said. So what Buddha says is-- point up-- point at our misunderstanding. Do you understand? What he is talking about [is] reality-- things as it is. If someone make some misunderstanding, he points at many things, and fundamental teaching is “everything changes” and selflessness, because most people thinks things has its own nature. But there is no such nature exist. It is based on universal nature. Oh. Hai.

[The poor sound quality of the rest of the lecture makes accurate transcription impossible. The batteries in the original recorder appear to have faded. With a newer audio by Engage Wisdom, the following section is added, 6/2/2021.]

[Inaudible question.]

Yeah, practice is also dependent. Hinayana or Theravada practice or—actually there is no Hinayana—that is something. Tentatively I can say Hinayana. Hinayana practice it's something like annihilating. As we have some nature, evil nature or evil desires which is—which is very substantial, and which is, you know, more materialistic. So, you know, like you can pull out your teeth, evil desires can be annihilated—can be pulled out. That kind of practice—with that kind of idea—not discipline [unclear] something like this. So, to annihilate our evil desires and to attain arhatship is, you know, their practice. But Mahayana practice as there is no special desire which is good or bad. So, to find out the—how to harmonize our desires is more the Mahayana way. And, that practice should be based on wisdom. The wisdom is to see things as it is, without being caught by any kind of special thing. That is more Mahayana way, but—. So, you know, in zazen, you know, we try to—try not even to think. To think, when you think something, you're—you will become more dualistic [unclear]. And you—because you stick to one side, you will have a problem against the other side. The fact that [unclear] one. Two sides of the one problem. [Unclear.] Two sides of one problem. If you say evil desires, that is evil desires, but why you call it evil desires because you have wisdom on the other side. When you lose your control, or when you lose your harmony, or when you do not—when because of your idle thinking without doing or without trying to do something, you think there is evil desires, but actually if you do something there is no [unclear]. Before you think—before you try to think, there is—you think, I didn't—I don't want to think, or I want to [unclear] mind. If I thought of thinking either thinking. But if you actually sit, there is no such difficulty—no such gap [unclear].

[Inaudible question.]

Good practice is—when we say "good," good means to help—to help our practice to [unclear] something which can be disturbance of our practice [unclear].

[Inaudible question.]

Yeah, hindrance. Hindrance—when you get hindrance. [Unclear] when you don't, when you—you are watching it, that is hindrance. But, if you try to work on it [unclear] other. Then because of the hindrance you are, you know, pure effort will come up. Hindrance is not hindrance, that is just a way of breathing or thinking. So, you know, when you are involved in one all activity of the big universe actually that is our practice. And, when you—you think you are quite out of the [unclear] and you are watching, and you are thinking whether we join them or not there [unclear] encouragement.

[Inaudible question.]

You know, good.

[Inaudible question.]

Because it wants to try to understand it, though you cannot. But [unclear] do understand it, but there is something you cannot do it better. Good is something you can [unclear] somewhere. When you do something, that is good, when you don't that is bad.

Dogen Zenji said, zazen does not kill you, but don't practice will kill you [laughs]. [Unclear] makes it difficult to understand. Zazen does not kill you, but don't practice will kill you. Don't practice is actually you are killing. You are out of sync. You are—you are lost already. As long as you are in sync even though you are tired, you are—you have time. You—you are still alive. But if you are out of sync it will kill you. This is the same thing if in a [unclear]. If you think you—as if you are out of sync there is spirit alive. And if—if you feel as if you are inside of the—of this buddha world—buddha [unclear] then actually buddha is back in his usual—so to practice [unclear]—to—to join, to actually appreciate [unclear].

[Inaudible question.]

Because of practice.

[Inaudible question.]

Why we—there are too many ways to explain. [unclear]

[Inaudible question and response.]

Some other questions? Hai.

[Inaudible question]

[Unclear] why you need to accept. If you don't need it, you will not [unclear]. There is—I have to give you some chance to understand it. So that is why I ask you if—

[Inaudible question]

Yeah, but even though you know it, it needs to. Even though you know it, if you don't feel so, that [unclear].

[Inaudible question]

So what—what is—what I am talking about is not to some special [unclear] but so called it wisdom.

[Inaudible question]

Excuse me.

[Inaudible question]

Big wisdom. Yeah.

Big wisdom, you know. Big wisdom doesn't make sense, even though everyone knows [unclear] it's based on feeling, you know, [unclear]. So to feel, you know, the wisdom and not to be caught by it. Not to be caught by it. You are understanding and you are feeling [unclear]. It means you should continue your practice on and on to have religious feeling.

[Inaudible question]

Did, yeah. So, when you become tired [unclear] it means—it means that you have already some—some your mind stuck or something. So, "Oh, I am—I am—I am stuck." No [unclear]. But, it is not—if indeed why—why another more meaning

[Inaudible question]

Yeah. Well, you cannot [unclear].

[Inaudible question]

[Unclear]. When you practice, or when in its true sense you are the practice.

[Inaudible question]

Hm. When?

Right now. That's when.

So, you, you know—you don't feel you understand you are the practice. The practice you are. And, you included. And, I am here. [Unclear]

[Inaudible question]

You—you are the [unclear]. I am the [same word]. But, we are different. But, actually the same design—desires.

1 The view of the Sarvāstivāda school that since the dharmas exist in a real sense in the three worlds, the substance of dharmas is real.

2 The remaining two terms are: jitsu-u: reality; gōu: appears to be equivalent to kō, "always" (Nelson No. 1683). Later (p. 4), Suzuki-rōshi
translates the phrase as "everything exist in past and present and future."

3 Sanze-jitsu-u-hottai-gōu, from pp. 1–2.

4 Phonetic only; spelling is not verified. Possibly: mutai (Jap.): "not to reply"; "not to respond"; genzai: "present time"; jitsu-u: "reality."

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Bill Redican (7/5/01).

File name: 69-10-28: Lotus Sutra, Lecture No. III-5 (Verbatim) Multiple attempts to improve sound quality, but still very unclear towards end of audio. Q & A after lecture. Footnotes restored 11/22/2020. New transcription of last section, 6/2021 pf.

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