A minimally edited transcript

Lotus Sutra, Lecture No. III-5

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

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

Buddha originally gave teaching for some special people. But even so, people who heard the Buddha's teaching maybe had different understandings, according to the abilities of the people who heard him. So, actually there are many various kinds of teaching in Buddha's teaching. We say, “Buddha's teaching,”—in one phrase—but there are many various kinds of teaching included.

Naturally, Buddha's teaching was divided in two—as his disciples or his descendants naturally divided in two, as it is so always. They were divided between some logical students and some more conservative ones. The conservative ones were so-called Hinayana or Theravada. Even 100 years after Buddha passed away, there were some. Some radical students proposed to practice ten more practices. But some conservative students—Theravada students—called them: “They are heretics; they are not orthodox traditional students; that is not what Buddha said.” In this way there was already some dispute.

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

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

But, originally those elements were the result of their analysis. They analyzed our mind—how our mind works. And they counted up to 75 dharmas or something like that.

As you know, the most important teaching for Buddhists is that everything changes [laughs]. It is rather difficult, maybe, but if you hear it over and over again, 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 analyzing Buddha's teaching more and more, and trying to authorize his teaching as something which was given to them, and because the teachings are something valuable, they wanted to protect them. While they were making efforts in that way, after all those efforts, they set up something which does not change [laughs]—a  teaching that does not change! Teaching—“dharma”—sometimes means “teaching,” and sometimes “various being,” and sometimes it means “various elements produced by analysis.” And, after all, they said  that teaching does not change, and, at the same time, those elements which teaching denotes do not change. And there are actually some elements—some entity.

But that is not true. That is not true. We say “mind,” but where is mind? [Laughs.] Mind is not some substantial thing. We say “eyes.,” When I was learning psychology, it was like physics. The teacher drew—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]. Nerves—he drew nerves. This connects to the brain—something like that [laughs]. But we say “eyes.” “Eyes” are actually part of the skin [laughs]. And a nose is also part of the skin. And ears, too. So you may say, “These are eyes,” 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.

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

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

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

Student B: [Entire question unclear.]

SR: Skin.

Student: Skin.

SR: Right now maybe you hear it as a kind of joke. But it is true. In Mahayana teaching, we understand things from various angles, and the standpoint we take is very free. This way and that way. If someone says yes, someone says no. And yes and no they discuss until yes and no become the same. That is more the Mahayana way.

And moreover, Hinayana students, when they talk about mind, mind is also something which exists as some substantial thing. Some people may call it “soul” or something. But no one knows the exact terminology of “soul.” You think you have mind, but no one knows exactly what kind of substance the mind is. No one knows. Because we have various functions someone must be there which has that kind of function. That is mind.

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

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

In Mahayana teaching, their teaching was things in this moment exist, but nothing exists in the past or future. In the past or future things don't exist, actually. That is quite an opposite statement. To destroy the statement of Hinayana students they said Kan-ni mutai genzai jitsu-u.4

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

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

Body and mind is the same. There is one living being which is called—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 the other will be physical. But it is one whole living being. That is more the Mahayana teaching.

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

The attitude of students is also different. Hinayana students put emphasis on self-realization. And Mahayana Buddhists put more emphasis on helping others. And helping others—why we should help others, and how we should help others When you want to help others—we should have wisdom. That is our foundation based on everything as one whole living being. So, if you want to help yourself in the true sense, you should help others too. And to help others means to help yourself. That is more the Mahayana understanding or attitude of practicing the Buddhist way.

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

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

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 sees [laughs]. “For instance, according to Hinayana teaching, or Theravada teaching, there are eyes. Eyes are one of the important elements of our being. And they are a more independent element, and more substantial thing, and something which has self-nature.

“Self” means something which has self. Buddhism is the teaching of selflessness. I must explain [laughs] this point too—let me see. Buddhist teaching is the teaching of selflessness, but Buddha didn't establish that kind of new teaching. He wanted to correct people’s misunderstanding when they said “self.” He didn't want to establish any teaching, so when someone said “self,” and that self meant something proper, then Buddha might have accepted it. “Yes, we have self,” he may have said. If the word “self” has some appropriate meaning, Buddha would say, “Yeah, there is self.” But when people have a misunderstanding about self, he said, “No, there is no such thing as self.”

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

And accordingly, because of that nature, it has some independent character that is self. And this kind of self, we attach to it. And because of this kind of self, we make various mistakes, 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 characteristics, but it is a 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 saying you have independent nature is wrong. That you have quite different character or characteristics, that is also—not wrong, but not complete. That is what Buddha said. So Buddha points up our misunderstanding. Do you understand? What he is talking about is reality—things as it is. If someone has some misunderstanding, he points at many things, and the fundamental teaching is “everything changes” and selflessness, because most people think things has its own nature. But no such nature exists. It is based on universal nature.

Oh, hai.

[The poor sound quality of the rest of the lecture originally made accurate transcription impossible. The batteries in the original recorder appear to have faded. With a newer audio by Engage Wisdom, the following section was 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. We have some evil nature or evil desires which are very substantial, and which are more materialistic. 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 their [Hinayana] practice. But in Mahayana practice, there is no special desire which is good or bad. To find out 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 the Mahayana way. So in zazen, we try not even to think. When you think something, you will become more dualistic [unclear]. And because you stick to one side, you will have a problem with the other side. The fact that [unclear] one. Two sides of one problem. [Unclear.] Two sides of one problem. If you say evil desires, that is evil desires, but 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 because of your idle thinking 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, you think, 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—when we say "good," good means to help our practice to [unclear] something which can be a disturbance of our practice [unclear].

[Inaudible question.]

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

[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 if you don't practice that 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 lost already. As long as you are in sync even if you are tired, you have time. 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 you feel as if you are inside of this buddha world—buddha [unclear] — then actually buddha is back in his usual—so to practice—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].  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 I am talking about is not to some special [unclear] but so-called 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 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 that you have already some—your mind is stuck or something. So, "Oh, 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 don't feel you understand you are the practice. The practice you are. And, you included. And, I am here. [Unclear]

[Inaudible question]

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 , "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). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (6/2021).


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