A minimally edited transcript

Samantabhadra Buddha

Friday Evening, January 12, 1968

We are still studying about Samantabhadra Buddha. This buddha is told about in Saddharma— in the Kegon Sutra.1 The Kegon Sutra is famous for its view of dharma. The main thought of the Kegon Sutra is perfect harmony with truth and various facts or things, and perfect harmony between every existence.

Jiji muge or riji muge.2 Most people know this special technical term. Ri is truth or theory, and ji is things. Where there is something, there is truth or theory. So through things you will understand the theory on which everything is based. This much is understood by almost everyone, but perfect harmony between each thing is rather hard to understand, or rather hard to accept, unless you study Buddhist thought more.

As I said last night,3 our thought or our view of things is very substantial. And we think everything exists as it is and everything is independent from the rest of things, but actually everything—is dependent with each other. Things are dependent with each other, and things are changing always. That things change means they are not independent beings. Things do not exist having some special self-nature. Strictly speaking, everything does not exist, but in the smallest particle of time things exist. Or as a smallest particle of an element things exist.4

So in the Kegon Sutra they divide time and space in the smallest particles. When they explain this dharma world, they use a cosmic scale of explanation. That is why the description is so great. I think I already read some of the description:

“With deepest belief and understanding, through pure physical and mental action, to bow to the number of ultimate elements of all the buddhas-lands in ten directions of the three worlds.”

We don't know how many buddhas here we have to bow to. It means that we realize that in the smallest element there are innumerable elements—so each element consists of innumerable elements.  We don't know what is the ultimate existence.

When we have this understanding, we have no more idea of self. Instead of having an idea of self, we will see the Buddha in each world. So this world, if you say it is great—this world is as great as the cosmos. If you say this world is small, you will see the innumerable world even in a speck of dust. In this way we have to understand our world, and in this way we have to practice our way. So accordingly, this bodhisattva's practice is always based on this understanding.

To respect tathagata, this is vow Number 1:

“With the deepest belief and understanding, through pure physical and mental action, to bow to the number of ultimate elements of all the buddha-lands in ten directions of the three worlds, appearing in each of those worlds as innumerable bodies, as many as the number of ultimate elements of all the wondrous, incomprehensible buddhas, and bowing to them [1 word: sounds like kasana] by [same word], and to continue this practice perpetually.”

This is the first vow. So actually it means to continue this practice incessantly, and for us everything is Buddha. Large and small, everything is Buddha. So to respect Buddha means to respect everything.

And the second one—admiration of the tathagatas:

“With the deepest understanding, actually seeing the number of ultimate elements of all the buddha-lands in ten directions of the three worlds, making inexhaustible sounds of sea from his tongue and from each of the innumerable sounds making out words of the sea, to admire the sea of virtue and merits of all the tathagatas and to continue practice forever.”

This is the second vow of the Samantabhadra Bodhisattva. This is also the practice, to treat everything as you treat your teacher or Buddha. As Dogen Zenji says, “You should not call rice kome,”5 you know. “You should call it okome.” Okome is a more honorary prefix. Okome. Instead of saying mizu, “water,” say omizu. O means an honorary prefix. Or, “You should treat a grain of rice as you treat your eyes.” This kind of practice comes from this idea.

So, instead of respecting things objectively, here we respect our practice instead. It looks like we put emphasis on respecting something, some particular thing. But actually, we respect the practice of respecting things.

Usually, when you bow to Buddha, you look like you are respecting Buddha, but actually why you bow to Buddha is to continue your practice. That is the point. Without having any particular substantial idea or materialistic idea, just to live in the bodhisattva's vow is the point.

So, we practice our way to solemnize this dharma world. Without practice things don’t mean anything. Because of our practice, things come to have some meaning. Without practice there is nothing. When you have a materialistic understanding of things, even though you do not practice in our way, things exist. But if you understand how things are going completely, you should continue your practice as things are going. This is the point of practice.

And the third one is about kuyo6 in Japanese—to provide things for Buddha or sangha or dharma. In Sanskrit we say  pujana.7  In Vedanta—I don't know when they practice pujana. It means to make an offering or to recite a sutra. Actually we offer incense. That is kuyo. To offer flowers, that is also kuyo. And originally, we count four kuyo. One is to prepare food for the Buddha. And, to prepare something to wear. And, to prepare something to sleep in. And, to prepare for Buddha some medicine. Those are four kuyo. But later we count many,  many ways of making offerings or kuyo. This is also our practice.

And in the Kegon Sutra why we make those offerings is described in detail. Why we use zuko.8 Zuko is very fine powder of incense. And we rub it, we put it in our hands like this when we have a special ceremony. Why do we do it, why do we burn incense, or why do we offer flowers to Buddha? Zuko, which is the fine powder of incense, is to purify our body and everything. And, to offer flowers means to have a compassionate mind. You think as if a beautiful flower opens in your mind, and with this flower in your mind you should decorate the buddha-land. That is why we offer flowers to the Buddha. Why we burn incense is to pervade our way all over the world. When you burn incense, if wind comes from the east, incense will go to the west. According to the wind, the incense will pervade everywhere. That is why we offer incense. And each offering of incense will be one merit. And one merit will be burned by wisdom fire and the smoke or smell of liberation will pervade all over the world. In the Kegon Sutra, it is described in this way.

Food is to support our immortal practice. When we support our way by food, we will attain enlightenment. So to offer food, or to take food is to practice our way.

And light, candlelight or whatever light it may be. We offer light to break the darkness of ignorance. That is why we offer light. This is the understanding.

This is material offering, but there is dharma offering. Dharma offering is very symbolical and idealistic. To read, to recite sutras, or to build a shrine. Or, to make a copy of scripture, or to make a bell, to make a buddha image, or to give lectures about scriptures, we say those are dharma offerings or dharma kuyo.

There are many kinds of descriptions. Soon after Buddhism was introduced to Japan, we made a big, big Vairocana Buddha. I think you know the big bronze Buddha in Nara. This is a kind of pretty large scale kuyo.

As the way of making kuyo was described in the Kegon Sutra, they did it very big. They made a great big Buddha [laughs]. But, the true understanding of the Kegon Sutra is not a matter of big or small.  Their understanding was rather primitive so they [laughs] made a big, big Buddha. With the best effort of the nation, they did it.  Since then, Buddhism became more and more elaborate. Their practice became more and more elaborate. And, they spent most of the time in their devotional way of practice until no commoner could follow their practice.

In the Kamakura period, when the government lost power, the Samurai class arose and took over the influential controlling power. That was the Kamakura period. Various new schools appeared at that time. Zen was one of the schools, a new Buddhist school.

If you understand this kind of spirit of making offerings, as Dogen Zenji says, an offering should be like offering a flower which blooms in remote mountains to the Buddha. It should be like this. In spring, in Japan we have cherry blossoms, and to offer that cherry blossom to the Buddha is kuyo.

This evening you saw a big ring [laughs] around the moon. To make an offering to Buddha, is to make a big ring. To make an offering to Buddha with a big ring is kuyo. To hear the sound of the river should be kuyo, according to Dogen Zenji. So, to have deeper understanding, instead of shallow substantial understanding, is to make a perfect offering.

I am very grateful for you making various offerings to the altar. Sometimes wildflowers, sometimes stones, or a candlestick. This is true offering, I think. And, this is the true practice— offerings of practice—our practice, which should be continuously practiced. And, when we practice our way in this way, there is buddha, and we are also buddha. In this way, we should understand these bodhisattva vows.

Do you have some questions? Hai.

Student A: Could you explain again why the Kegon Sutra is supposed to have been the highest truth?

SR: You may say highest truth because the understanding of dharma is very profound. It is said that—I don't think that is true but—it is said that this is the sutra which Buddha had in his mind when he attained enlightenment. But, he didn't know how to explain his deep understanding of life. So he started to teach with the Agama Sutra. The Agama Sutra is the first sutra which was told by him. Anyway, the Kegon Sutra is a very important sutra. But the Saddharmapundarika Sutra, or Hokke Kyo,9 is also an important sutra. The Hoke-kyo is more concrete, while Kegon Kyo is very abstract.

First of all, when you want to be a Buddhist, you should understand emptiness—or you should give up a substantial viewpoint of life. But, you should come back to a substantial explanation of the world. When you say something, you should put it into some words. When you put it in some words, it is already substantial. The Saddharmapundarika Sutra is more concrete and easier to understand, and it is for everyone, while the Kegon Sutra is very philosophical.

Student B: What is the English translation of Kegon?

SR: Avatamsaka Sutra.

Student C: I don't understand about Samantabhadra Bodhisattva. What was his role in Buddhist history?

SR: Buddhist history?

Student C: How does he fit into the Kegon Sutra and into our meal chant?

SR:  Most of the description of his teaching is in the Kegon Sutra. If you read the Kegon Sutra, you will have his name and that very important teaching told by Buddha.

Student C: Was he one of Buddha's disciples?

SR: I don't know. No one knows, maybe. Some of the Buddha's disciples were Buddha's disciples, and some of them may not be actually, historically, Buddha's disciples.

Student C: Well then this sutra was supposed to be thought of by Buddha—

SR: Yes.

Student C: —told by Samantabhadra Bodhisattva.

SR: Or told by Buddha.

Student C: I don't understand.

SR: Told by Buddha about this bodhisattva.

Student C: Oh, I see.

SR: Hai.

Student D: I'm not sure how to put the question, but last night you said that when we find the true power of zazen, we wouldn't have trouble affecting what we want to affect, or it will just come naturally.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student D: And then at other times you've said that zazen doesn't help us or doesn't change us a bit.

SR: [Laughing.] Yeah. Yeah. Doesn't help. [Laughter.] Zazen doesn't help, you know. But your true nature will help. If you practice zazen because zazen will help you—with this idea if you practice zazen, it will not help you [laughs] because that is not true zazen.

Student E: Docho Roshi?

SR: Hai.

Student E: From time to time you emphasize a different recommendation for how we practice or do zazen.

SR: [Laughs.] Uh-huh..

Student E: Breathing, watching our breath, or concentrating our power in our hara, or last night you referred to shikantaza.

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student E: When you change your recommendations, do you think that we as a group should change our way of practicing according to what you say in the lecture? Or just those who feel it?

SR: Yeah, that is a good question [laughs, laughter]. Whatever practice you do, the point is to practice your way without expecting anything. Just to be yourself, you practice zazen. So even if you count breaths—even if you cannot do it properly, you should not be worried about it. Just do it. That is our way. Even if your posture is not perfect, it is all right as long as you are practicing hard. You should not criticize your practice. Even though I recommend some particular way, it does not mean if you cannot do that, that is not zazen. Even if you can do it almost perfectly, it is not always true zazen. When you limit the true meaning of zazen, or when you become critical with your zazen, or when you are proud of your good practice, that is not true zazen. Do you understand?

The way I recommend to you is—I do not recommend it as the best way. To put some strength in your hara means to take natural, deep breathing and to have calm mind. To be concentrated on your breathing or counting breathing does not mean if you are just concentrated on your breathing I don't mind your posture or your wandering mind. You see? The point you concentrate on will be different, but the various instructions should be followed. Do you understand?

Student E: When you say—

SR: Mudra, you know. “Don't lose your mudra,” means you should practice our way with all of your mind and body, in one word.

There are not so many points. Pretty many, but in one word, keep your [laughs] posture right. When your posture is right your mind is also right.

Some more questions?

Student F: Dogen Zenji said that the mind and body are one—

SR: Mm-hmm.

Student F: —and the way is attained through the body. What did he mean by that?

SR: Through? Not “through.” — Mind and body is one, so if you practice physical practice, the mind is there. True mind is there.

Student F: Thank you.

SR: So, what we should do is to sit in the right posture.

Student G: Just a small question on posture. Should your fingers be together?

SR: Yes, fingers together. And, you should not cross too deep or too shallow. See? Here, you have two joints here. And this joint and this joint will make one line—two lines.

Student G: Your first joint should be with your middle joint, and the middle joint—

SR: Yeah. Yours is right. If your mudra is not right, we will correct your mudra. Some more questions? Please ask me.

Student H: What are the three worlds?

SR: Hmm? Three worlds?

Student H: Yes, that you mentioned tonight.

SR: Oh. Past, present, and future.

Student I: And what are the ten directions?

SR: [Laughs, laughter.] In present there is past and future, but we say “three worlds,” and myriads of kalpas of time or something like that.  We should know what it means actually. In the Indian literature the scale is very big, and they repeat descriptions over and over again. And, Buddhist scripture is no exception. But we should know what does it mean actually.

Student I: Are there supposed to be ten directions?

SR: Ten directions? Eight directions, and up and down—ten directions [laughs, laughter].

Student I: Like north, south, east, west?

SR: And, you know, east and north [northeast], east-south [southeast].

Student I: Okay.

SR: Yeah. Eight and up and down. And there are a few this way [laughs, laughter]. So, I don't know how many.

Student J: Is our community here different from the original Buddhist community? Or is it the same?

SR: I don't know exactly [laughs, laughter]. This is a big subject to study. Anyway, in a Buddhist community there were four: laymen, and laywomen, and monks, and nuns are four. We count four. We have four kinds of disciples. In our community we have few or no nuns yet [laughs]. But laywomen and laymen.

We will have precepts too, more and more. “You should respect the Buddha or Buddhist thought,” and, “You shouldn't trip based on Buddha.” This kind of precepts we will have— new precepts [laughs, laughter] created by you. If Buddha says, “Don't do that,” that is one precept [laughs]. After they had a household life, they became a Buddhist at that time. This was the typical thing. But there were many young disciples of Buddha. So, may be the same.

1 Kegon Sūtra: Buddhāvatamsaka-sūtra (Sanskrit) or Kegon-kyō (Jap.). The fundamental sūtra for the Chinese Huayen school and Japanese Kegon School of Buddhism.

2 Suzuki-rōshi discusses ri and ji extensively in the Sandōkai lectures: "When you practice zazen more, you can accept things as your own, whatever it is, you know. That is actually the teaching of, you know, famous teaching of Kegon—jiji-muge. Jiji-muge means 'being has no,' you know, 'no barrier, no disturbance.' It—it, you know—interrelated closely. And it is difficult to say, 'This is bird, and this is me,' because it is interrelated very closely. So it is difficult to separate bluejay from me. That is jiji-muge." [From fourth Sandōkai lecture, SR-70-06-03, p. 3.]

3 Lecture SR-68-01-11.

4 gokumi: See Lecture SR-70-06-13.

5 kome (Jap.): uncooked white rice.

6 kuyō (Jap.): veneration.

7 Or pūjā.

8 zukō (Jap.): to powder one's whole body with fine incense.

9 The Lotus Sūtra.

Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Diana Bartle and Bill Redican (11/6/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (11/2020).

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