Lotus Sutra, Lecture No. II-8

Shunryu Suzuki Transcript

Fall 1968
Zen Mountain Center

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Buddha's disciples were very good people, generous and honest and sincere, but they were, I think, very tough guys, and his followers were very strong people. For instance, as you know, the Diamond Sutra was recited at the place called, in Japanese, Giju-gikkodoku-on [Skt.: Jetavananathapindadarama], the park given to Buddha by Prince Jeta. The story is that when Sudatta wanted to provide Buddha with a place to stay, he looked for some lodging place, and at last he found a beautiful place which was the property of Prince Jeta. So he asked the Prince to give it to the Buddha. The Prince didn't say yes, but said, “If you pay as much money as it takes to pave the land with coins, I will give it to you.” Sudatta was also a very wealthy person, so he said, “Okay, I will do that.” And he bought a lot of coins and started to pave that land. Prince Jeta was very impressed by him and said, “Okay, okay. I will donate it to your boss.”

That was where the Diamond Sutra was told. [Here Suzuki starts to recite the sutra. It sounded something like this, but I doubt the spelling is right-- Brian Fikes.] “Gije reko do ban, yo dai biku shu dai myo ____ ____ ____.” That is how we recite the Diamond Sutra in Japan. This is Chinese, actually, not Japanese. We are still reciting the old Chinese pronunciation as people did it, maybe, more than one thousand years ago. Anyway, that park was given to him by Prince Jeta.

Not only his followers, but also his students were very tough people. I didn't talk about Aniruddha yet. Aniruddha was famous for his supernatural power [abhijna]. The way he gained that supernatural power is very interesting. Once he slept when Buddha was giving a lecture. He was one of the seven, or more, priests who belonged to the Shakya family. Maybe Buddha was too familiar to him, so he started to sleep. But Buddha blamed him for drowsiness, so he decided not to sleep anymore. Very tough. He didn't go to bed after that. And, at last, he lost his sight. Giba [Jivaka] was a very famous teacher, and Buddha asked him to take care of his eyes. But since he didn't go to bed, he couldn't do anything with him. He lost his physical eyes, but he gained the spiritual eye.

I think Buddha's character was very gentle, but his spirit was very strong. Yesterday morning I told you about the four sufferings or eight sufferings. To come into this world is already suffering, and old age, sickness, death, not to be able to get what we want, not to be able to see who you love most, that you cannot always be with someone you love, and that you will always see someone you don't like. This kind of teaching is very negative, or, at least, it is based on a kind of negative feeling.

But think of why Buddha escaped from the castle. He did not escape because he wanted to seclude himself on a remote mountain. When he saw sick people and poor people and old people having a difficult time in the city around his castle, as their prince, he felt a kind of responsibility for them. His notion was to save them, to find out some way to help them, completely. I think he's a very extraordinary person. Almost all people, even in Buddha's time, must have resigned from the problem of death or sickness. Even though we do not like to die, this comes to everyone. So we think it can't be helped, there is no possibility for us to conquer this kind of problem; there is no possibility of helping people who are going to die. But he didn't give up. He had extraordinary spirit, I think. That was why he gave up his heritage to his father.

So there is no wonder that his disciples were very tough people. They were not afraid of anything, not even death. And their Way seeking mind even went beyond the suffering of life and death. Buddha did not talk about the problem of birth and death just to make us unhappy, but because we have this kind of problem, and it will help us to have real strength. When our spirit is limited by this kind of problem, we cannot have perfect composure of life. That is why he talked about this kind of teaching from his own very critical standpoint.

So we must see our life completely, and we have to confront all the problems by all means. To confront those sufferings is to develop our religious spirit. And before our spirit is emancipated from this kind of problem, there is no chance to have perfect enlightenment.

Here is a good example: As you know, India at that time (or maybe even now, I don't know), had very strict ideas of class. The highest class was the Brahmans, the religious people or priests. The second was the Ksatriyas, the kings or rulers of the country. Third were the common people who participated in farming or some other work [Vaisyas], and the lowest class was the slaves [Sudras].

Upali was one of the ten disciples of Buddha. Before he joined Buddha's order, he belonged to the Sudra or servant class and served Shakyamuni Buddha's family. Buddha came back to his castle, after saving the five disciples and having been given Giju-gikkodoku-on-- I don't know the Sanskrit-- that park. And he had more disciples who had belonged to some other teacher or religion, who worshipped fire. There were four brothers who served the god of fire. Their names were the venerable Kasyapa of Uruvilva, the venerable Kasyapa of Nadi, and venerable Kasyapa of Gaya, and there must be one more Kasyapa [the venerable Mahakashyapa?]. They joined Buddha's order with one thousand disciples. So he already had quite a few disciples before he came back to his castle.

And after he came back, all seven members of his family joined his order, including his father's prince, Buddha's son, Rahula, and his cousin Aniruddha-- I already talked about the blind disciple Aniruddha-- and Devadatta. When all those families joined his order, Upali helped them to shave their heads, and at last he wanted to be a priest too. But because he belonged to the Sudra class, he hesitated. But Buddha, knowing that, became very sympathetic with him and let him join. At that time, one more member of his family [Nanda] wanted to join the order, but Buddha said, “Wait. If you join our order, perhaps you will be the last one [from the Shakya clan?]. And if Upali joins our order after you, he should always be seated in the last seat, and he will not be so happy. So wait and let him join my order before you.”

So Ananda gave his tan to Upali. Upali joined the order, and later Ananda joined the order. When all seven members of his family were seated in their own seats and Nanda came, the six disciples saluted him, and he had to take his seat. But when Upali came to his seat, Ananda hesitated to bow to him. He knew Buddha was right, we should not discriminate about this or that class, higher or lower. But when Upali actually came next to him, he couldn't bow. He forgot, or he couldn't do this. Upali had always been his barber, his servant, so it was rather difficult to bow to him. Buddha was very angry with Ananda and gave him a long lecture about not discriminating between classes. These are very famous words: “Whatever their class, when people join our order, they are all of the Shakyamuni family. Just as when all the rivers come into the ocean, there is no name for the rivers, so is our order. There is no family name when people join our order.”

You may say Buddha was a strange person. In some way he had a very strange spirit, but his spirit is something unusual. That was why he was called “Buddha,” I think. His disciples did not know on what kind of occasions they would be scolded. When they expected to be scolded, Buddha was very gentle, but when the didn't fear anything bad, they were scolded terribly. He had, I think, an unusual spirit which goes beyond our world. So for a Buddhist, this world is one of millions, a small, tiny world. There should be many, many worlds besides this small world. The scheme of this sutra is very big, and there is no wonder why this kind of description came from Buddhas talk.

Upali, who belonged to the Sudra class, is famous for his precepts observation. Not many events are told about him, but after Buddha's death, as you know, they had a synod or compiling conference. At that time, Upali decided [recited?] the precepts.

I must tell you one more thing about Aniruddha, who became blind from not sleeping. As you know, in India the summertime is the rainy season. When it was difficult to travel around to different parts of India, the members of the order stayed in a certain place with Buddha and practiced with him. But when there was clear weather, they went for a journey. Usually Buddha told them to make the journey alone. He said, “You should always be quiet, trust people, and treat people as your friends wherever you go.” This is Buddha's way.

I don't know Christianity, but someone made a comparison on this point. Jesus told his disciples not to travel alone. He said, “You should go in numbers greater than two, because you will have many difficulties and many enemies.” But I don't want to compare Buddhism to Christianity in that kind of way. If you try to compare them in some way, you will have the opposite conclusion. So it is not fair to say Buddhism is a more generous teaching and Christianity is more exclusive. But anyway, this is very interesting.

So Aniruddha, the blind priest went for a journey, and he had to stay at a woman's home where there was nobody but her. That woman started to like him too much. She loved him, but as he was a priest, he said, “You shouldn't do that.” [Much laughter throughout this story.] After he came back to Buddha, he told him what had happened to him. So Buddha set up a precept at that time, that monks should not stay in some woman's home alone. If you want to stay, you should stay with someone else. If there is no one to stay at her home with you, you should always recite the sutra and always think of Buddha. “Buddha, Buddha, Buddha.” That is one of the precepts. Aniruddha is famous for helping Buddha to set up one of the precepts.

Do you have some questions?

Q: Roshi, I think I understand what a sravaka is and what a pratyeka buddha is, but I still can't understand what an arhat is. Will you try once more to--

SR: Arhatship is the goal of the practice of the sravaka or hearer. I don't know historically why, and when, and how we made this kind of technical term. Maybe someone knows, but I don't know. It may be pretty difficult to know when, and how, and why we started using these terms. Perhaps the so-called “Mahayana Buddhists” later used them. Perhaps all of the direct disciples are actually sravakas. All the arhats are listed as disciples of Buddha, but the bodhisattvas, such as the Bodhisattva Manjushri and the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, are not listed as historical people. They may be the people whom Buddha is supposed to have taught, but, for instance, this sutra was not actually spoken by the Buddha. This sutra was composed by someone else long, long after Buddha passed away, maybe in the first or second century A. D.

The earliest Mahayana sutra is supposed to be the small Prajnaparamita Sutra, or Shobo -- [?]. In that sutra they do not say “Mahayana” or “Hinayana”. Instead of using the word “Hinayana”, they use “Shravakayana” or “people who hear.” I don't know Sanskrit, but sravaka means “hearer”, or those who studied under Buddha. “Bodhisattva” means one who studied the Bodhisattva way. The so-called “Bodhisattva way,” or “Mahayana way,” was originated by the assembly who met outside of the cave. The cave was the place where the synod was held to compile Buddha's teaching. In that cave, all the famous disciples assembled and compiled the scriptures.

But there were many disciples who did not join that meeting. They are called daishubu-- I don't know the Sanskrit word. Daishu means “public,” a more public assembly. And, of course, they compiled some other sutras. Maybe the small Prajnaparamita Sutra was compiled by those people. But even in that sutra, they do not use shravaka or “Hinayana” or “Mahayana.” At that time, “Buddhism” meant that which was taught by Buddha, or which was compiled by those famous disciples. They were the shravakas, but maybe we should call them the original Buddhists instead of Hinayanists.

It looks like there is Hinayana and Mahayana, but it is not so. All those Prajnaparamita Sutras are more like Mahayana, so they are all attributed to Shariputra, who was a great disciple of Buddha. He was actually both [Hinayana and Mahayana?]. His understanding was wider and deeper than the rest of the disciples, so all the sutras are attributed to him. If we say, “Shariputra told this story,” it is more like traditional Buddhism.

But at that time, “original Buddhism” or “true Buddhism” was the Shravakayana. According to the shravakas, Buddha was so great that we cannot be like him, but at least we can be an arhat. Next to Buddha are the arhats. After following diligently Buddha's precepts and observing Buddha's teaching with perfect understanding, annihilating all our evil desires, we will obtain buddhahood [should be arhatship?]. This is the shravaka understanding and so-called “original Buddhism.”

But there is one more thing we have to know. After the Meiji period, or recently, European scholars started to study Buddhism from various materials they found in India. The early scholars thought that the Agama Sutra was spoken by Buddha, but later they found out that it was compiled a long, long time after Buddha lived. So the Shravakayana was not original Buddhism. What was the teaching which Buddha taught? We still have that kind of problem. How to know what was taught by Buddha without much reliable material is our problem.

Mahayana Buddhists also had this kind of problem. They couldn't rely on the Agama Sutra or the Kusha [abhidharma] or Yuishiki [Vijnaptimatrata = consciousness only] philosophies. So the Mahayana teachers started to think about what is Buddha's real teaching. This was very good discipline for them. I think that what is true with us, really, is true with Buddha too. That is a very strange or mysterious thing. What you think is right is also right for Buddha. Buddha said it in this way, “What is right for me was right for my teachers and will be right for our descendants.”

In this way Buddhism developed. So there is the original, more fundamental Buddhism, which was taught by Buddha himself, and the Shravakayana, and the Bodhisattvayana. And true Mahayana Buddhism, which includes every Shravakayana and Bodhisattvayana, is true Buddhist teaching. We cannot say it is true, but it “should be” true Buddhism. That kind of Buddhism was established by Tendai Chigi [T'ien T'ai Chih-I]. According to him, true Mahayana teaching, Buddha's true teaching, should be original Buddhism, the Shravakayana, and the Bodhisattvayana. People say the Bodhisattvayana is the best teaching of all the Buddhist teachings, but that is a mistake. If it is the best teaching it should include Buddha's original teaching, of course, and the Shravakayana. So the arhats belonged to the Shravakayana, but every morning we recite the sutra for the arhats too, so they are also our Buddha. People call them other names, but they are actually Buddha. But, technically, arhats belong to the Shravakayana.
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This transcript is a retyping of the existing City Center transcript. It is not verbatim. The City Center transcript was entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997. It was reformatted by Bill Redican (7/17/01).
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File name: 68-10-00-G: Lotus Sutra, Lecture No. II-8 (Not Verbatim) Edited by Brian Fikes

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