A minimally edited transcript

Lotus Sutra, Lecture No. II-5

Fall 1968

What is told in this sutra is view of the Dharmakaya and Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya world. We—we say “shoho jisso”.1 “Shoho” means various dharma or various being. “Jisso” is reality. So, this is right view of life and world, shoho jisso, in which various famous Buddha’s disciples and arhats and various Buddha—Sambhogakaya Buddha and Dharmakaya Buddha and Nirmanakaya Buddha—will appear. And I think it's better to start little by little.

The first chapter is introduction to the whole sutra, and it describes the scale of this sutra. “Thus I have heard.”2 This is—all sutras are started in this word. “Nyoze gamon” [evam maya shrutam], “Thus I have heard.” At the meeting of the compilation [of the sutras] after Buddha passed away, the leading disciples decided on Buddha's words. So, he starts, “Thus I heard.” All sutra are supposed to be told by Buddha, but it is not actually so. But it is a kind of form of the sutra, to start with, “Thus I have heard.”

“Thus have I heard, once upon a time.” It doesn't say when.

“Once upon a time the Lord was staying at Ragagriha, on the Gridhrakuta mountain, with a numerous assembly of monks, twelve hundred monks, all of them Arhats, stainless, free from depravity, self-controlled, thoroughly emancipated in thought and knowledge, of noble breed, (like unto) great elephants, having done their task, done their duty, acquitted their charge, reached the goal; in whom the tie which bound them to existence were wholly destroyed. Those minds were thoroughly emancipated by perfect knowledge, who had reached the utmost perfection in subduing all their thoughts; who were possessed of the transcendent faculties; eminent disciples, such as the venerable Ajnatakaundinya, the venerable Asvajit, the venerable Vashpa, the venerable Mahanaman, the venerable Bhadrika, the venerable Mahakasyapa, the venerable Kasyapa of Uruvilva, the venerable Kasyapa of Nadi, the venerable Kasyapa of Gaya, the venerable Shariputra, the venerable Mahamaudgalyayana, the venerable Mahakatyayana, the venerable Aniruddha, the venerable Revata, the venerable Kapphina, the venerable Gavampati, the venerable Pilindavatsa, the venerable Vakula, the venerable Bharadvaga, the venerable Mahakaushthila, the venerable Nanda (alias Mahananda), the venerable Upananda, the venerable Sundarananda, the venerable Purna Maitrayaniputra, the venerable Subhuti, the venerable Rahula; with them yet other great disciples, as venerable Ananda, still under training, and two thousand other monks, some of whom still under training, the other masters; with six thousand nuns having at their head Mahaprajapati and the nun Yasodhara, the mother of Rahula, along with her train; (further) with eighty thousand Bodhisattvas, all unable to slide back, endowed with the spell of supreme perfect enlightenment, firmly standing in wisdom; who moved onward the never deviating wheel of the law; who had propitiated many hundred thousands of Buddhas; who under many hundred thousands of Buddhas had planted the roots of goods, had been intimate with many hundred thousands of Buddhas, were in body and mind fully penetrated with the feeling of charity, able in communicating the wisdom of the Tathagatas; very wise, having reached the perfection of wisdom; renowned  in many hundred thousands of worlds; having saved many hundred thousand myriads of kotis of beings; such as Bodhisattva Mahasattva Manjusri, as a prince royal; the Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas Avalokitesvara, Mahasthamaprapta, Sarvarthanaman, Nityodyukta—“

[Laughs.] This is very difficult [laughter, laughs]. I may bite my tongue [laughter].

“—Anikshiptadhura, Ratnapani, Bhaishagyaraga, Pradanasura, Ratnakandra, Ratnaprabha, Purnakandra, Mahavikramin, Trailokavikramin, Anantavikramin, Mahapratibhana, Satatasamitabhiyukta, Dharanidhara, Akshayamati, Padmasri, Nakshatraraga, the Bodhisattva Mahasattva Maitreya, the Bodhisattva Mahasattva Simha.”

There are many names, but I will explain some of the important ones among those.

“Thus I have heard. Once upon a time the Lord was staying at Ragagriha, Gridhrakuta mountain, with a numerous assembly of monks, twelve hundred monks, all of them Arhats.” Arhats, you know—the sravakas practice their way to attain arhatship. Arhatship is called, “no learning.” It means there’s nothing to learn—nothing to study when they reach arhatship. The perfect being—not Buddha himself, but next to Buddha. But after, as you know, a Mahayana Buddhist arrives, arhat—above arhat there is bodhisattva and buddha.

Anyway, those who attained arhatship—free from depravity, stainless. Stainless means who annihilated all the stains, or all the evil desires. “Free from depravity, self-controlled.” Self-controlled is—yesterday I explained self-control around to annihilate—difference between the way to control self or desires and to annihilate desire. There is slight difference. Do you remember [laughs]? You asked—Sally [Block] asked the question. Self-controlled—to control desires is more autonomous way, more voluntary [laughs]. You do it by yourself. That is self-control. To annihilate means to annihilate something because of evil—because some desires are evil. The desires—many desires we have is not good—evil—so we have to annihilate it—to get rid of it. It is more—this idea is more futile—to more negative way, you know. Self-control is more positive way. So, this—if you switch over practice of negation to practice of self-control, your practice become more religious in its true sense.

It seems like [laughs] this difference divide Buddhism right in two. This attitude of annihilating something or controlling something. You may not like both of them [laughs, laughter]. Certainly, [laughs] you don’t like to control [laughs] your desires, but this is not Zen. But we have desires—limitless desires, [laughs] so if you let all your desires go as they want, [laughs] what will happen to you? So, [laughs] anyway, you must do something with it. That is true. Do you agree with that? [Laughs.] You may say, “Things as it is, you know, desires as they are.” [Laughs] desires as they are does not mean to let them go as they want.

Desires—usually when we say “desires,” desires is not just desire. Desires plus something. That something can be various power or faculties you have, even reason—will—acting with those limitless desires. And limitless desires, by aid of all the faculties we have, will extend themselves, until we get lost. So [laughs], something should be done with it. So, first step will be to know what it is and how they work. When you know what it is and how they work, then you will know how to develop it. That is actually our practice. So, this kind of effort is called—is tentatively, I call it “self-controlled desires.” The word may not be—is not so good word; you may find out some good, beautiful, fancy word for that [laughs]. But actually, what I mean is to know what is our desires—nature of desires—and how it works. What kind of friends they have, and which friend—what kind of—with many friends, what kind of thing they do should be known to us and develop it appropriately; it’s self-control. So, instead of annihilating it, we should know what it is.

Furthermore, in this case, instead of attaining arhatship, trying to attain arhatship by annihilating, one by one, you will develop your desires. The ways of us to develop it and to annihilate it—one is negative way, the other is positive way. And Buddhism is divided in two.

“Hongaku homon.” Hongaku homon3 means to start from Buddha and work on our desires including our human world. Starting from Buddhahood and work on our world and our desires. The other is to attain enlightenment. One is from bottom to the top, the other is from top to the bottom.

Hongaku and Shikaku.4 Hongaku is—hong means origin. Gaku is enlightenment. Shikaku is beginning of the enlightenment. It means that to begin with something, to begin with annihilating—annihilating greed, we will annihilate more subtle desires till we attain enlightenment. This is shikaku.

But the other is starting from Dharmakaya Buddhahood, or Sambhogakaya Buddhahood, and come down to our world to help others. Hongaku homon and shikaku homon.
[Possible break in audio here.]

And it looks like two ways—those two ways are quite different ways, but actually what we do is not different. To annihilate or to control it is the same thing because [laughs] desires is coexistent with our being. That I am here means desires is here [laughter, laughs] —co-existent. If you annihilate all the desires, you don't survive [laughs] —co-existent [laughs]. So, to annihilate means actually to control it [laughs] because you cannot annihilate it. That is, feelings looks like if you say, “Cut it out, all the desires.” That is [laughs] strong feeling of controlling it. “Cut it out!” [Laughs] If you cut it out, you will die [laughter]. But that much confidence is necessary. So, we say annihilate, but this is more—if you extend this kind of practice seriously, this kind of practice end in ascetism.

So, actually, those practice is the same if you know the real nature of desires and how desires work. The same thing. But if you think this is evil desires—we should get rid of it—and if you worried about it, then that is not our way. So, maybe better to understand—maybe better to say, “to control it.” So, it says here, “to control it.” But for sravakas, it is more annihilate, a nihilistic way.

“With numerous assemblage of monks, twelve hundreds of them, all of them arhats, stainless, free from depravity, self-controlled, thoroughly emancipated in thought and knowledge.”

Thought and knowledge: it is necessary to be emancipated from thought and knowledge. And they are “of noble breed, (like unto) great elephants.” This is in India—there were strong feeling of class discrimination. So, elephants having done their—like noble breed, “(like unto) great elephant having done their task, done their duty”—task to annihilate evil desires—“done their duty”—done their duty to attain emancipation—“acquitted their charge”—acquitted their karmic life charge—“reached the goal”—goal of arhat—“in whom the ties which bound them to existence were wholly destroyed.”

We have buddha-nature, but at the same time, the buddha-nature is covered by something. First of all, ignorance. This point should be explained clearly, but I don't think I have so much time. So, figuratively speaking, our desires look like cloud for the moon. Figuratively speaking, it is so, but it is not so actually. But if there is cloud, it should be destroyed—“were wholly destroyed, whose minds were thoroughly emancipated by perfect knowledge.”

Perfect knowledge is wisdom. Perfect wisdom means wisdom is different from wisdom to know something. But anyway, when we say “perfect knowledge,” perfect knowledge is not knowledge in dualistic sense. “Who had reached the utmost perfection in subduing all their thoughts.”

Wisdom—perfect knowledge is called wisdom. Perfect wisdom is called non-discriminative wisdom or non-judgment wisdom or non-thinking wisdom. And so, unless we subdue all our thoughts, we cannot have perfect knowledge.

“Who were possessed of transcendent faculties.” Transcendent faculties is—there are many faculties: clear—clairvoyant or to hear something in distance, to see through some substance. This kind of faculties, which arhat has. Those arhats were there when this sutra was told.

And one of the next group were “eminent disciples,” like ten disciples of Buddha. And I should explain one by one, but I will explain the most important one, ten eminent disciples or four sravakas—eminent sravakas. Sravakas is also Buddha's disciple, you know. The sravakas was the direct disciples of Buddha, so we call them “Theravada.” Theravada is the old disciples or senior disciples.

But five disciples, like Kaundinya and venerable Asvagit were the disciples to whom the first sermon was told by Buddha. Originally those five disciples were Buddha’s—Shakyamuni Buddha’s—Siddhartha's men. When he escaped from the castle, those five men followed him. And as you know, when Shakyamuni Buddha gave up asceticism, they thought, “My master is not strong enough, so he gave up the practice, but we shouldn’t.” They continued to practice asceticism, but Buddha started to practice zazen under the Bodhi tree and attained enlightenment. And he was thinking for forty-nine days what should he explain his  experience and to whom he should tell his experience. And at last Buddha went back to five of his men and told the first sermon. Those are the five disciples. And next one, and ten disciple will follow to those five disciples with some other disciples.

Thank you very much. Do we have time to…?

Claude: Yes, we have.

SR: Oh.

Claude: Eight minutes.

SR: Okay. Hai.

Q: Are we sravakas in that we are listening and learning from you [SR laughs], and—and are the bodhisattvas the ones of—of the Mahayana school, the younger generation like who—who sort of [SR laughs, laughter] split away from the elders? [SR laughs.] Said, we don’t have to—just because we didn’t hear the Buddha directly, you can’t, you know, we will—

SR: Yeah.

Q: Can still stand on our own feet.

SR: You see it [laughs]. Actually, this is when—how Buddhism developed. When I explain how Buddhism actually developed from original Buddhism, I cannot say that this is [laughs] also from Sravakayana to Mahayana. I should explain in order, as it happens. But I am telling you Buddhism in term of—at least when I am explaining this sutra, I should explain from the viewpoint of Mahayana Buddhism. This is Mahayana scripture. So, for Mahayana Buddhist, there is no sravakas or pratyeka. Mahayana—true Mahayana include everything. By name of Mahayana—actually Mahayana, when we discriminate, it is Sravakayana, but actually it should be Mahayana. What is wrong with them—they were too much proud of their teaching as the direct disciple of Buddhism, saying that, “This is, you know, true Buddhism, and those who observe his precepts and those who can recite his teaching—Buddha’s teaching—is priest, and those who cannot do that is not—are laymen.” That was wrong. They are too much confidence in himself. So, that is why we call them—they are just trying to save themselves, with helping themselves, but they do not help others. They do not help sentient beings, or they are too much proud of his teaching. So, in their mind there is no sentient being. That is why they are called “Hinayana.” That was a mistake—their practice was good and their understanding was—their knowledge was good, at least.

Q: As you speak of the true wisdom being wisdom of non-discrimination, how are we to understand the emphasis placed on that ignorance is like clouds in front of the moon? It seems like there’s a discrimination between clouds like as we perceive the moon there’s clouds in front of it sometimes. It seems like that is the way…

SR: Yeah.

Q: it is.

SR: That is what I wanted to explain [laughs], but too complicated, so I didn't. Well, sravakas developed his rigid understanding, or substantial understanding of Buddhism and created or set up a kind of teaching like kusha5 or yuishiki.6 Yuishiki is pretty good, but kusha is very complicated, philosophical. We call it—to study kusha takes nine years and to study yuishiki three years. So, [laughs] it takes three—or, if you want to study all Hinayana philosophy, it takes nine—twelve years. Even you devoted yourself to the study of kusha yuishiki only, it will take nine years, we see. So, they set—established such a fancy, complicated philosophy. For some intellectual people it may be interesting [laughs, laughter], but the more and more you will be involved in it [laughs]—thinking Buddhism. And five arhat, direct disciples of Buddha, were the people who subduing all the thought [laughs], you see? They went more and more wrong direction. That is why they are blamed. This is the point they were blamed of. But originally it was very good.

So, especially in Soto, every morning we recite sutra for arhats. Sammyo rokutsu—we say “sammyo rokutsu mappo shobo ni kaeshi.” It means—sammyo rokutsu is arhat's power.7 Power of—we should be like arhats, who practice so hard Buddhism, and they devoted so hard—so well to Buddha. And although we are—right now we are in last period of Buddhism, but when we practice our way as arhat did, then this time is not the last time anymore. This time is like a time when Buddha was there. So, Buddha should be with them, and Buddha is here. With this spirit, we worship arhats every morning. So, we are very much critical with some kind of philosophy they created—very critical—but we respect their practice very much—not teaching, but practice, their sincerity.


1 Shoho jisso: the real state of all elements or dharmas

2 Suzuki is reading from Hendrik Kern's translation, The Lotus Sutra: Saddharma Pundarika Sutra or the Lotus of the True Law, Dover 1963 (unaltered reprint of 1884 edition), newly re-published in 2011: www.buddhism.org/Sutras/2/Lotus_Sutra.htm.

3 Hongaku homon: the dharma gate of innate buddha-nature

4 Shikaku homon: the dharma gate of realizing one's buddha-nature by undergoing religious exercises

5 Kusha: abhidharma

6 Yuishiki: vijnanamatrata = “consciousness only”

7 Sammyo = tisro vidyah = three types of knowledge: of former births, of future destinies of all beings, and of the origin and way to remove suffering. Rokutsu = sad abhijnah = six kinds of supernatural powers of buddhas and arhats: free activity, eyes capable of seeing everything, ears capable of hearing everything, insight into others' thinking, remembrance of the former state of existence, and perfect freedom. Mappo = saddharmavipralopa = last of the three time periods of Buddhism. Shobo = saddharma = true law or period of righteous law. Kaeshi = ?

This transcript was 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. Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig, July 2023.


Audio & Other Files | Verbatim Transcript | Back to top of page