HAVING received life, one cannot escape death. Yet though everyone, from the noblest, the emperor, on down to the lowliest commoner, recognizes this as a fact, not even one person in a thousand or ten thousand truly takes the matter seriously or grieves over it. Suddenly confronted with evidence of the impermanence of life, we may be frightened at the thought that we have remained so distant from Buddhism and lament that we have been too engrossed in secular affairs.1 Yet we assume that those who have preceded us in death are wretched, and that we who remain alive are superior. Busy with that task yesterday and this affair today, we are helplessly bound by the five desires of our worldly nature. Unaware that time passes as quickly as a white colt glimpsed through a crack in the wall,2 ignorant as sheep being led to the slaughter, held hopeless prisoners by our concern for food and clothing, we fall heedlessly into the snares of fame and profit and in the end make our way back to that familiar village in the three evil paths, where we are reborn time after time in the realm of the six paths. What person of feeling could fail to grieve at such a state of affairs, or could fail to be moved to sorrow!
Alas! Neither young nor old know what fate awaits them—such is the way of our sahā world. All those who meet are destined to part again—such is the rule in this floating world we live in. Although none of this had just struck me for the first time, [I was appalled at] seeing all those who took early leave of this world in the beginning of the Shōka era.3 Some of them left little children behind them, while others were forced to abandon their aged parents. How sad their hearts must have been when, though still in the prime of life, they were obliged to set off on their journey to the Yellow Springs. It was painful for those who departed, and painful for those left behind.
The king of Ch’u’s passion for the goddess remained as a wisp of morning cloud,4 and Liu’s grief at remembering his meeting with the immortal visitor was consoled by the sight of his descendants of the seventh generation.5 But how can a person like myself win release from sorrow? I find myself recalling the poet of old who hoped that because he was a humble-hearted dweller in the mountains he might be free of such sadness.6 Now, gathering together my thoughts as the men of Naniwa gather seaweed to extract salt, I give them form with my writing brush as a memento for people in later ages.
100How sad, how lamentable it is! From the beginningless past, we have been drunk on the wine of ignorance, reborn again and again in the six paths of existence and the four forms of birth. Sometimes we gasp amid the flames of the hell of burning heat or the hell of great burning heat;7 sometimes we are frozen in the ice of the hell of the crimson lotus or the hell of the great crimson lotus.8 Sometimes we must endure the hunger and thirst that torment those in the realm of hungry spirits, for five hundred lifetimes not so much as hearing the word “food” or “drink.” Sometimes we suffer being wounded and killed in the realm of animals, the wounding and killing that occur when the small are swallowed up by the large, or the short engulfed by the long. Sometimes we face the contention and strife of the realm of asuras; sometimes we are born as human beings and undergo the eight sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, death, the pain of parting from loved ones, the pain of encountering those whom we hate, the pain of failing to obtain what we desire, and the pain that arises from the five components of body and mind.9 And sometimes we are born in the realm of heaven and experience the five signs of decay.
And so we go round and round like a cartwheel in this threefold world. Even among people once related as father and child, parents reborn do not know that they were parents, or children that they were children; and though husband and wife re-encounter each other, they do not know that they have already met. We go astray as though we had the eyes of sheep; we are as ignorant as though we had the eyes of wolves. We do not know our past relationship with the mother who gave us birth, and we are unaware of when we ourselves will succumb to death.
And yet we have obtained birth in the human world, something difficult to achieve, and have encountered the sacred teachings of the Thus Come One, which are rarely to be met. We are like the one-eyed turtle finding a floating log with a hole in it that fits him exactly. How regrettable it would be, then, if we did not take this opportunity to sever the bonds of birth and death, making no attempt to free ourselves from the cage of the threefold world!10
Then a wise man appeared and addressed the unenlightened man, saying: “You are quite right to lament as you do. But those who understand the impermanence of this world in this way and turn their hearts to goodness are rarer than the ch’i-lin’s horns, while those who fail to understand and instead give themselves to evil thoughts are more numerous than the hairs on a cow. If you wish to arouse the aspiration for enlightenment and to quickly free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death, then I know of the finest doctrine that there is for such a purpose. If you wish, I will explain it to you so that you may know of it.”
The unenlightened man rose from his seat, pressed his palms together, and said: “For some time now I have been studying the classics of secular literature and giving all my attention to matters of poetry, so I have no detailed knowledge of the Buddhist teachings. I hope that you will be kind enough to explain them to me, sir.”
At that time the wise man said: “You must listen with the ears of Ling Lun,11 borrow the eyes of Li Chu,12 and still your mind, and I will explain things to you. The sacred teachings of Buddhism number no less than eighty thousand, but the most important teaching, the father and mother of all the schools, is that concerning the precepts and rules of conduct. In India, the bodhisattvas Vasubandhu and 101Ashvaghosha and, in China, the priests Hui-k’uang and Tao-hsüan placed great emphasis on these. And in our own country, during the reign of the forty-fifth sovereign, Emperor Shōmu, the Reverend Chien-chen [Ganjin] brought to Japan the teachings of the Precepts school, along with those of the T’ien-t’ai school, and established an ordination platform for administering the precepts at Tōdai-ji temple. From that time down to the present, the precepts have been revered over many long years, and the honor paid to them increases daily.
“In particular, there is the Honorable Ryōkan of Gokuraku-ji. Everyone, from the supreme ruler on down to the common people, looks up to him as a living Thus Come One, and on observing his conduct, we find that it is indeed in keeping with such a reputation. He directed charitable activities at the port of Iijima, collected rice at the Mutsura Barrier,13 and used the funds to build roads in the various provinces. He set up barriers along the seven highways,14 collected a toll from everyone who passed by, and used the money to build bridges across a number of rivers. In such acts of compassion, he is equal to the Thus Come One, and his virtuous deeds surpass those of the sages of the past. If you wish to quickly free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death, then you should observe the five precepts and the two hundred and fifty precepts, deepen your compassion for others, refrain from killing any living thing, and, like the Honorable Ryōkan, engage in building roads and bridges. This is the finest of all teachings. Are you prepared to embrace it?”
The unenlightened man pressed his palms together more fervently than ever and said: “Indeed, I want very much to embrace it. Please explain it to me thoroughly. You speak of the five precepts and the two hundred and fifty precepts, but I do not know what they are. Please describe them to me in detail.”
The wise man said: “Your ignorance is abysmal! Even a child knows what the five precepts and the two hundred and fifty precepts are. However, I will explain them for you. The five precepts comprise, first, the prohibition against taking life; second, the prohibition against stealing; third, the prohibition against lying; fourth, the prohibition against unlawful sexual intercourse; and fifth, the prohibition against drinking intoxicants. The two hundred and fifty precepts are numerous, and so I will not go into them here.”
At this the unenlightened man bowed low and with the deepest respect said, “From this day forward, I will devote myself to this doctrine with all my heart.”
This man had an old acquaintance, a lay Buddhist believer living in retirement, who paid him a visit to cheer him up. At first the visitor spoke about the affairs of the past, likening them to a dream that is endless and hazy, and then he talked of the future, pointing out how vast and dark it is, how difficult to predict. After he had sought in this way to divert his listener and explain his own views, he said: “Most of us who live in this world of ours find we cannot help thinking about the life to come. May I ask what kind of Buddhist doctrine you have embraced in order to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death, or to pray for the welfare of those who have gone on to another life?”
The unenlightened man replied: “The other day an eminent priest called on me and instructed me in the five precepts and the two hundred and fifty precepts. In truth I am deeply impressed with his teachings and find them most admirable. Although I know I can never equal the Honorable Ryōkan, I have determined to do all I can to repair roads that are in poor 102condition and to build bridges over rivers that are too deep for wading.”
Then the lay believer gave him words of advice, saying: “Your concern for the way would seem to be admirable, but your approach is foolish. The doctrine you have just described to me is the lowly teaching of the Hinayana. That is why the Buddha has set forth eight analogies,15 and why Bodhisattva Manjushrī has described seventeen differences16 between the Hinayana and the Mahayana. The Buddha has said, for example, that the Hinayana is like the light of a firefly compared to the brilliance of the sun, or like plain crystal compared to emerald. Moreover, the teachers of India, China, and Japan have written not a few treatises refuting the Hinayana teachings.
“Next, concerning your reverence for those who observe these practices, a teaching is not necessarily worthy of honor simply because its practitioners are respected. It is for this reason that the Buddha laid down the principle, ‘Rely on the Law and not upon persons.’17
“I have heard it said that the sages of ancient times who observed the precepts could not bear even to utter the words ‘kill’ or ‘hoard,’ but would substitute some pure-sounding circumlocution, and when they happened to catch sight of a beautiful woman, they would meditate upon the image of a corpse.18 But if we examine the behavior of the priests of today who supposedly observe the precepts, we find that they hoard silks, wealth, and jewels, and concern themselves with lending money at interest. Since their doctrines and their practices differ so greatly, who would think of putting any faith in them?
“And as for this matter of building roads and constructing bridges, it only causes people trouble. The charitable activities at the port of Iijima and the collecting of rice at the Mutsura Barrier have brought unhappiness to a great many people, and the setting up of barriers along the seven highways of the various provinces has imposed a hardship upon travelers. These are things that are happening right in front of your eyes. Can’t you see what is going on?”
The unenlightened man thereupon flushed with anger and said, “You with your little bit of wisdom have no cause to speak ill of that eminent priest and to defame his teachings! Do you do so knowingly, or are you simply a fool? It is a fearful thing you are doing.”
Then the lay believer laughed and said: “Alas, you are the foolish one! Let me briefly explain to you the biased views of that school. You should understand that, when it comes to the Buddhist teaching, there is the Mahayana division and the Hinayana division, and that in terms of schools there are those based upon the provisional teachings and those based upon the true teaching. Long ago, when the Buddha taught the Hinayana doctrines in Deer Park, he was opening the gate to a phantom city.19 But later, when the mats were spread for the teaching of the Lotus Sutra on Eagle Peak, then those earlier doctrines ceased to be of any benefit.”
The unenlightened man looked at the lay believer in perplexity and said: “Both the documentary evidence and the evidence of actual fact indeed support what you have said. But then what kind of Buddhist teaching ought one to embrace in order to free oneself from the sufferings of birth and death and quickly attain Buddhahood?”
The other replied: “Although I am only a layman, I have given myself earnestly to the practice of Buddhism, and from the time of my youth, I have listened to the words of many teachers and have done a certain amount of reading in the sacred scriptures. For those of us of this latter age, who have committed all manner of evil, there is 103nothing that can compare with the Nembutsu teachings that lead to rebirth in the Pure Land. Thus, the Supervisor of Priests Eshin says, ‘The teachings and practices that lead to rebirth in the Land of Perfect Bliss are the eyes and feet for those who live in this defiled latter age of ours.’20 The Honorable Hōnen collected key passages from the various sutras and spread the doctrine of exclusive devotion to the practice of the Nembutsu. In particular, the original vows21 of the Buddha Amida surpass the vows of all other Buddhas in their worth and importance. From the first vow, that the three evil paths will not exist in his land, down to the last vow, that bodhisattvas will be enabled to attain the three types of perception,22 all of Amida’s compassionate vows are to be greatly welcomed. But the eighteenth vow is particularly effective on our behalf. In addition, even those who have committed the ten evil acts or the five cardinal sins are not excluded, nor is any distinction made between those who have recited the Nembutsu only one time and those who have recited it many times. For this reason, everyone from the ruler on down to the common people favors this school far above the other schools. And how many countless people have gained rebirth in the Pure Land as a result of it!”
The unenlightened man said: “Truly one should be ashamed of the small and yearn for the great, abandon the shallow and embrace the profound. This is not only a principle of Buddhism but a rule of the secular world as well. Therefore, I would like to shift my allegiance without delay to this school you have described. Please explain its principles to me in greater detail. You say that even those who have committed the five cardinal sins or the ten evil acts are not excluded from the Buddha’s compassionate vows. What, may I ask, are the five cardinal sins and the ten evil acts?”
The wise lay believer replied: “The five cardinal sins are killing one’s father, killing one’s mother, killing an arhat, shedding a Buddha’s blood, and disrupting the harmony of the Buddhist Order. As for the ten evil acts, there are three acts of the body, four acts of the mouth, and three acts of the mind. The three evil acts of the body are killing, stealing, and unlawful sexual intercourse. The four evil acts of the mouth are lying, flattery, defaming, and duplicity. The three evil acts of the mind are greed, anger, and foolishness.”
“Now I understand them,” said the unenlightened man. “From this day forward, I will place all my trust in this power of another, of the Buddha Amida, to bring me to rebirth in the Pure Land.”
At that time there was a practitioner of the esoteric school who was extraordinarily diligent in upholding its teachings. He too came to call on the unenlightened man to console him. At first he spoke only of “wild words and ornate phrases,”23 but in the end he discoursed on the differences between the two types of Buddhist teachings, those of the exoteric schools and those of the esoteric school. He inquired of the unenlightened man, “What sort of Buddhist doctrines are you practicing, and what sutras and treatises do you read and recite?”
The unenlightened man replied, “Recently, in accordance with the instruction of a lay believer I know, I have been reading the three Pure Land sutras and have come to put profound trust in Amida, the lord of the Western Paradise.”
The practitioner said: “There are two kinds of Buddhist teachings, the exoteric teachings and the esoteric teachings. The most profound doctrines of the exoteric teachings cannot compare even to the elementary stages of the esoteric teachings. From what you tell me, it seems that the doctrine 104you have embraced is the exoteric teaching put forth by Shakyamuni. But the doctrine that I adhere to is the secret teaching of Mahāvairochana, the King of Enlightenment. If you are truly fearful of this burning house that is the threefold world we live in and long for the wonderful Land of Tranquil Light, then you should cast aside the exoteric teachings at once and put faith in the esoteric teachings.”
The unenlightened man, greatly startled, said: “I have never heard of this distinction between exoteric and esoteric doctrines. What are the exoteric teachings? What are the esoteric teachings?”
The practitioner replied: “I am a hardheaded and foolish person, and am not learned at all. Nevertheless, I would like to cite one or two passages and see if I can dispel your ignorance. The exoteric teachings are the doctrines preached in response to the request of Shāriputra and the other disciples by the Thus Come One of the manifested body. But the esoteric teachings are those that Mahāvairochana, the Thus Come One of the Dharma body, preached spontaneously out of his boundless joy in the Law, with Vajrasattva as his listener. These teachings constitute the Mahāvairochana Sutra and the others of the three esoteric sutras.”24
The unenlightened man said, “What you say stands to reason. I think I should correct my former error and hasten to embrace these more worthy teachings.”
There was a mendicant priest who drifted about from province to province like floating grass, who rolled on from district to district like tumbleweed. Before anyone realized it, he appeared on the scene and stood leaning on the pillar of the gate, smiling but saying nothing.
The unenlightened man, wondering at this, asked what he wanted. At first the priest made no reply, but after the question was repeated, he said, “The moon is dim and distant, the wind brisk and blustery.” His appearance was quite out of the ordinary and his words made no sense, but when the unenlightened man inquired about the ultimate principle behind them, he found that they represented the Zen teachings as they are expounded in the world today.
He observed the priest’s appearance, listened to his words, and asked what he considered a good cause for entering the Buddha way. The mendicant priest replied: “The teachings of the sutras are a finger pointing at the moon. Their doctrinal nets are so much nonsense that has been captured in words. But there is a teaching that enables you to find rest in the essential nature of your own mind—it is called Zen.”
“I would like to hear about it,” said the unenlightened man.
“If you are truly in earnest,” said the priest, “you must face the wall, sit in Zen meditation, and make clear the moon of your original mind. That the Zen lineage of the twenty-eight patriarchs was passed on without break in India, and that the line of transmission was handed down through the six patriarchs25 in China is clear for all to see. It would be pitiful indeed if you should fail to understand what they have taught and remain caught in the nets of doctrine. Since the mind itself is the Buddha, and the Buddha is none other than the mind, what Buddha could there be outside yourself?”
When the unenlightened man heard these words, he began to ponder various things and to quietly consider the principles he had heard. He said: “There are a great many different Buddhist doctrines, and it is very difficult to determine which are sound and which are not. It is only natural that Bodhisattva Ever Wailing should have gone east to inquire about the truth, 105that the boy Good Treasures should have sought for it in the south, that Bodhisattva Medicine King burned his arms as an offering, and that the ascetic Aspiration for the Law stripped off his skin. A good teacher is truly difficult to find. Some say that one should go by the teachings of the sutras, while others say that the truth lies outside the sutras. In pondering the rights and wrongs of these doctrines, one who has not yet fathomed the depths of Buddhism and stands gazing over the waters of the Law is in doubt as to how deep they may be; one who assesses a teacher does so with all the anxiety of a person walking on thin ice. That is why the Buddha has left us those golden words, ‘Rely on the Law and not upon persons,’ and why it is said that those who encounter the correct teaching are as few as the grains of earth that can be placed on a fingernail. If there is someone who knows which of the Buddhist teachings are true and which are false, then I must seek him out, make him my teacher, and treat him with appropriate respect.”
They say that it is as difficult to be born in the realm of human beings as it is to thread a needle by lowering the thread from the heavens, and as rare to see and hear the Buddha’s teachings as it is for a one-eyed turtle to encounter a floating log with a hole just the right size to hold him. Having this in mind and believing that one must regard the body as insignificant and the Law as supreme, the unenlightened man climbed numerous mountains, impelled by his anxiety, going from one temple to another as his feet would carry him. In time he arrived at a rocky cave with green mountains rising sheer behind it. The wind in the pines played a melody of eternity, happiness, true self, and purity, and the emerald stream that bubbled along in front sent its waves striking against the bank with echoes of the perfection of these four virtues. The flowers carpeting the deep valley bloomed with the hue of the true aspect of the Middle Way, and from the plum blossoms just beginning to open in the broad meadow wafted the fragrance of the three thousand realms. Truly it was beyond the power of words to describe, beyond the scope of the mind to imagine. One might have thought it the place where the Four White-Haired Elders of Mount Shang lived, or the site where some ancient Buddha had walked about after meditation. Auspicious clouds rose up at dawn, a mysterious light appeared in the evening. Ah, the mind cannot grasp it nor words set it forth!
The unenlightened man wandered about, pondering what was before him, now pausing in thought, now resuming his steps. Suddenly he came upon a sage. Observing his actions, he saw that the sage was reciting the Lotus Sutra; his voice stirred the seeker deeply. Peering in at the quiet window of the sage’s retreat, he found that the sage was resting his elbows on his desk, pondering the sutra’s profound meaning.
The sage, divining that the unenlightened man was searching for the Law, asked in a gentle voice, “Why have you come to this cave among these far-off mountains?”
The other replied, “Because I attach little importance to life but great importance to the Law.”
“What practices do you follow?” asked the sage.
The unenlightened man answered: “I have lived all my life amid the dust of the secular world and have not yet learned how to free myself from the sufferings of birth and death. As it happened, however, I encountered various good teachers, from whom I learned first the rules of discipline and then the Nembutsu, True Word, and Zen teachings. But though I have learned these teachings, I am unable to determine their truth or falsity.”
The sage said: “When I listen to 106your words, I find that it is indeed just as you have said. To hold life lightly but value the Law is the teaching of the sages of former times, and one that I myself know well.
“From the realm where there is neither thought nor no thought26 above the clouds to the very bottom of hell, is there any being who receives life and yet succeeds in escaping death? Thus, even in the unenlightened secular writings we find it said, ‘Though you may set out at dawn on the journey of life with pride in the beauty of your rosy cheeks, by evening you will be no more than a pile of white bones rotting on the moor.’27 Though you may move among the most exalted company of court nobles, your hair done up elegantly like clouds and your sleeves fluttering like eddies of snow, such pleasures, when you stop to consider them, are no more than a dream within a dream. You must come to rest at last under the carpet of weeds at the foot of the hill, and all your jeweled daises and brocade hangings will mean nothing to you on the road to the afterlife. The famed flower-like beauty of Ono no Komachi28 and Soto’ori Hime29 was in time scattered by the winds of impermanence. Fan K’uai and Chang Liang, in spite of their skill in the military arts, in the end suffered beneath the staves of the wardens of hell. That is why men of feeling in former times wrote poems such as these:
How sad, the evening smoke
from Mount Toribe!
Those who see off the dead one—
how long will they remain?30
Dew on the branch tips,
drops on the trunk—
all sooner or later
must vanish from this world.31
“This rule of life, that if one does not die sooner one will surely die later, should not at this late date come as a surprise to you. But the thing that you should desire above all is the way of the Buddha, and what you should continually seek are the teachings of the sutras. Now, from what you have told me about the Buddhist doctrines you have encountered, I can see that some of them belong to the Hinayana division of Buddhism and some to the Mahayana. But, leaving aside for the moment the question of which is superior and which inferior, I can say that, far from bringing you deliverance, the practice of these teachings will lead to rebirth in the evil paths.”
At this the unenlightened man exclaimed in surprise: “But were not all the sacred teachings that the Buddha expounded throughout his lifetime designed to benefit living beings? From the time of the preaching of the Flower Garland Sutra at the seven places and eight assemblies, down to the ceremony in which the Nirvana Sutra was expounded on the banks of the Ajitavatī River, all the doctrines were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha himself. Though one may perhaps be able to distinguish certain small degrees of relative merit among them, how could any of them possibly be the cause for rebirth in the evil paths?”
The sage replied: “The sacred teachings that the Thus Come One proclaimed in the course of his lifetime may be divided into the categories of provisional and true, Hinayana and Mahayana. In addition, they may be classified according to the two paths of the exoteric and the esoteric. Thus they are not all of the same sort. Let me for a moment explain the general nature of the teachings and thus relieve you of your misunderstandings.
“When Shakyamuni, the lord of teachings in the threefold world, was nineteen years old, he left the city of Gayā and went into retreat on Mount Dandaka,32 where he carried out various difficult and painful austerities. He 107attained enlightenment at the age of thirty and, at that time, instantly banished the three categories of illusion and brought to an end the vast night of ignorance. It might appear that he should at that time have preached the one vehicle of the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law in order to fulfill his original vow. But he knew that the people varied greatly in their capacities, and that they did not have the receptivity to understand the Buddha vehicle. Therefore, he devoted the following forty years and more to developing the people’s inherent capacity. Then, in the last eight years of his life, he fulfilled the purpose of his advent in the world by preaching the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law.
“Thus it was that, when the Buddha was seventy-two, he preached the Immeasurable Meanings Sutra as an introduction to the Lotus Sutra and therein stated: ‘In the past I sat upright in the place of meditation for six years under the bodhi tree and was able to gain supreme perfect enlightenment. With the Buddha eye I observed all phenomena and knew that this enlightenment could not be explained or described. Why? Because I knew that living beings are not alike in their natures and their desires. And because their natures and desires are not alike, I preached the Law in various different ways. Preaching the Law in various different ways, I made use of the power of expedient means. But in these more than forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth.’
“The meaning of this passage is that, when the Buddha was thirty years of age, seated in the place of enlightenment under the bodhi tree, he observed the inner heart of all living beings with the Buddha eye and realized that it was not the proper time to preach to them the Lotus Sutra, which reveals the direct way to the attainment of Buddhahood for all living beings. Therefore, as one would wave an empty fist about to humor a little baby, he resorted to various expedient means, and for the following forty years and more he refrained from revealing the truth. Thus he defined the period of the expedient teachings as clearly as the sun rising in the blue sky or the full moon coming up on a dark night.
“In view of this passage, why should we, with the very same faith that could just as easily be directed toward the Lotus Sutra, cling to the provisional teachings of the sutras that preceded the Lotus, those doctrines defined by the Buddha to be empty, and as a result keep returning to the same old dwelling in the threefold world, with which we are already so familiar?
“Therefore, in the ‘Expedient Means’ chapter in the first volume of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha says, ‘Honestly discarding expedient means, I will preach only the unsurpassed way.’ This passage indicates that one should honestly discard the teachings that the Buddha set forth in the various sutras preached in the previous forty-two years, namely, the Nembutsu, True Word, Zen, and Precepts doctrines to which you referred.
“The meaning of this passage is perfectly clear. And, in addition, we have the warning delivered in the ‘Simile and Parable’ chapter in the second volume, ‘desiring only to accept and embrace the sutra of the great vehicle and not accepting a single verse of the other sutras.’ This passage is saying that, no matter what year of the Buddha’s life a sutra may have been preached in, one should not accept even a single verse from any of the sutras other than the Lotus Sutra.
“The varying doctrines of the eight schools are as numerous as so many orchids and chrysanthemums, and priests and lay believers differ in appearance, yet they all agree in claiming to cherish the Lotus Sutra. But how do they interpret these passages from 108the Lotus Sutra that I have just cited? These passages speak of ‘honestly discarding’ the earlier teachings and forbid one to accept so much as a single verse from any of the other sutras. But are the doctrines of Nembutsu, True Word, Zen, and Precepts not based on the ‘other sutras’?
“Now this Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law I have been speaking of represents the true reason why all Buddhas make their advent in the world and teaches the direct way to the attainment of Buddhahood for all living beings. Shakyamuni Buddha entrusted it to his disciples, Many Treasures Buddha testified to its veracity, and the other Buddhas extended their tongues up to the Brahmā heaven, proclaiming, ‘All that you [Shakyamuni] have expounded is the truth!’33 Every single character in this sutra represents the true intention of the Buddhas, and every brushstroke of it is a source of aid to those who repeat the cycle of birth and death. There is not a single word in it that is untrue.
“Is not one who fails to heed the warnings of this sutra in effect cutting off the tongues of the Buddhas and deceiving the worthies and sages? This offense is truly fearful. Thus, in the second volume it says, ‘If a person fails to have faith but instead slanders this sutra, immediately he will destroy all the seeds for becoming a Buddha in this world.’34 The meaning of this passage is that, if one turns one’s back on even one verse or one phrase of this sutra, one is guilty of a crime equal to that of killing all the Buddhas of the ten directions in the three existences of past, present, and future.
“If we use the teachings of the sutras as a mirror in which to examine our present world, we will see that it is a difficult thing to find one who does not betray the Lotus Sutra. And if we understand the true meaning of these matters, we can see that even a person of disbelief cannot avoid being reborn in the hell of incessant suffering. How much more so is this true, then, for someone like the Honorable Hōnen, the founder of the Nembutsu school, who urged people to discard the Lotus Sutra in favor of the Nembutsu! Where, may I ask, in all the five thousand or seven thousand volumes of sutras is there any passage that instructs us to discard the Lotus Sutra?
“The Reverend Shan-tao, who was revered as a practitioner who had gained enlightenment through the attainment of meditation and honored as a living incarnation of Amida Buddha, designated five kinds of sundry practices that are to be discarded, and said of the Lotus Sutra that ‘not even one person in a thousand’ could be saved by it; by which he meant that if a thousand people put faith in that sutra not a single one of them will attain Buddhahood. And yet the Lotus Sutra itself says, ‘If there are those who hear the Law, then not a one will fail to attain Buddhahood.’35 This indicates that if they hear this sutra then all beings in the Ten Worlds, along with their environments, will attain the Buddha way. Hence the sutra predicts that Devadatta, though he has committed the five cardinal sins, will in the future become a Buddha called the Thus Come One Heavenly King, and tells how the dragon king’s daughter, though as a woman subject to the five obstacles and thought to be incapable of attaining Buddhahood, was able instantly to achieve the Buddha way in the southern realm. Thus even the dung beetle can ascend through the six stages of practice and is in no way excluded from achieving Buddhahood.36
“In fact, Shan-tao’s words and the passages of the Lotus Sutra are as far apart as heaven and earth, as different as clouds from mud. Which one are we to follow? If we stop to ponder the logic of the matter, we will realize that 109Shan-tao is the deadly enemy of all Buddhas and sutras, and the foe of wise priests and humble lay believers alike. If the words of the Lotus Sutra are true, then how can he escape the hell of incessant suffering?”
At these words, the unenlightened man flushed with anger and said: “You are a person of no more than humble station in life, and yet you dare to utter such ugly accusations. I find it very difficult to judge whether you speak out of true understanding or out of delusion, and to tell whether your words stand to reason or not. It behooves us to remember that the Reverend Shan-tao is said to have been a transformed body of Amida the Well Attained37 or of his attendant Bodhisattva Great Power. And the same is said of the Honorable Hōnen, or that he was a reincarnation of Shan-tao. These were both outstanding men of antiquity, and in addition they had acquired extraordinary merit through their religious practices and commanded the most profound degree of understanding. How could they possibly have fallen into the evil paths?”
The sage replied: “What you say is quite correct, and I too had great respect for these men and believed in them as you do. But in matters of Buddhist doctrines one cannot jump to conclusions simply on the basis of the eminence of the person involved. The words of the sutras are what must come first. Do not make light of a teaching just because the person who preaches it is of humble station. The fox of the kingdom of Bima who recited the twelve-character verse that goes, ‘There are those who love life and hate death; there are those who love death and hate life,’ was hailed as a teacher by the god Shakra,38 and the demon who recited the sixteen-character verse that begins, ‘All is changeable, nothing is constant,’ was treated with great honor by the boy Snow Mountains. This was done, however, not because the fox or the demon was of such eminence, but simply out of respect for the doctrines they taught.
“Therefore, in the sixth volume of the Nirvana Sutra, his final teaching delivered in the grove of sal trees, our merciful father Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, said, ‘Rely on the Law and not upon persons.’ Even when great bodhisattvas such as Universal Worthy and Manjushrī, men who have returned39 to the stage of near-perfect enlightenment, expound the Buddhist teachings, if they do not do so with the sutra text in hand, then one should not heed them.
“The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai states, ‘That which accords with the sutras is to be written down and made available. But put no faith in anything that in word or meaning fails to do so.’40 Here we see that one should accept what is clearly stated in the text of the sutras, but discard anything that cannot be supported by the text. The Great Teacher Dengyō says, ‘Depend upon the preachings of the Buddha, and do not put faith in traditions handed down orally,’41 which expresses the same idea as the passage from T’ien-t’ai’s commentary. And Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna says that one should rely on treatises that are faithful to the sutras, but not rely on those that distort the sutras.42 This passage may be understood to mean that, even among the various sutras, one should discard the provisional teachings put forth prior to the Lotus Sutra and put one’s faith in this sutra, the Lotus. Thus both sutras and treatises make it perfectly clear that one should discard all scriptures other than the Lotus.
“Nowhere in all the five thousand or seven thousand volumes of sutras listed in the K’ai-yüan era catalog43 do we find a single scriptural passage that expresses disapproval of the Lotus Sutra and advises one to discard it or to cast 110it aside, nor any passage that says it is to be classified among the sundry practices and abandoned. If you disagree, you had better find some reliable passage from the sutras that will support your view, so that you may rescue Shan-tao and Hōnen from their torments in the hell of incessant suffering.
“The practitioners of the Nembutsu in our present day, priests as well as ordinary lay men and women, not only violate the words of the sutras but also go against the instructions of their own teachers. Shan-tao produced a commentary in which he described five kinds of sundry practices that should be abandoned by practitioners of the Nembutsu. Referring to these sundry practices, The Nembutsu Chosen above All says: ‘[Shan-tao states as follows:] “Concerning the first of the sundry practices, that of reading and reciting sutras, with the exception of the recitation of the Meditation on the Buddha Infinite Life Sutra and the other sutras that preach rebirth in the Pure Land, the embracing, reading, and recitation of all other sutras, whether Mahayana or Hinayana, exoteric or esoteric, is to be regarded as a sundry practice. . . . Concerning the third of the sundry practices, that of worshiping, with the exception of worshiping the Buddha Amida, the worshiping or honoring of any other Buddha or bodhisattva, or deity of this world is to be regarded as a sundry practice. Concerning the fourth of the sundry practices, that of calling on the name, with the exception of calling on the name of the Buddha Amida, calling on the name of any other Buddha or bodhisattva, or deity of this world is to be regarded as a sundry practice. Concerning the fifth of the sundry practices, that of praising and giving offerings, with the exception of praises and offerings directed to the Buddha Amida, the praising of and giving of offerings to any other Buddha or bodhisattva, or deity of this world is to be regarded as a sundry practice.”’
“This passage of commentary is saying that with regard to the first sundry practice, that of reading and reciting sutras, there are fixed rules for priests and lay believers of the Nembutsu, both men and women, concerning which sutras are to be read and which are not to be read. Among the sutras that are not to be read are the Lotus, Benevolent Kings, Medicine Master, Great Collection, Heart, Woman Born as a Man to Become a Buddha, and Life-Prolonging Northern Dipper sutras, and in particular, among the eight volumes of the Lotus Sutra, the so-called Perceiver of the World’s Sounds Sutra,44 which is commonly read by so many people. If one reads so much as a single phrase or a single verse of these sutras, then, although one may be a devoted practitioner of the Nembutsu, one is in fact grouped among those who follow sundry practices and cannot be reborn in the Pure Land. Yet now, as I observe the world with my own eyes, among those who chant the Nembutsu I see many people who read these various sutras, thus going against their teachers and thereby committing one of the seven cardinal sins.45
“In addition, in the passage concerning the third kind of sundry practice, that of worshiping, it is said that with the exception of the worship of Amida flanked by two honored bodhisattvas,46 the worshiping or honoring of any of the earlier mentioned Buddhas, bodhisattvas, or heavenly gods and benevolent deities is to be regarded as a sundry practice and is forbidden to practitioners of the Nembutsu. But Japan is a land of the gods. It was created by the august deities Izanagi and Izanami,47 the Sun Goddess deigns to have her dwelling here, and the Mimosuso River48 for many long ages down to the present has continued to flow [through the grounds on which her 111shrine is located]. How could anyone who was born in this country heed such an erroneous doctrine! In addition, as we have been born under the all-encompassing sky and enjoy the benefits of the three kinds of luminous bodies, the sun, the moon, and the stars, it would be a most fearful thing if we should show disrespect to the gods of these heavenly bodies.
“Again, in the passage concerning the fourth kind of sundry practice, that of calling on the name, it says that there are certain names of Buddhas and bodhisattvas that the Nembutsu believer is to call on, and certain names of Buddhas and bodhisattvas that he is not to call on. The names he is to call on are those of the Buddha Amida and his two honored attendants. The names he is not to call on are those of Shakyamuni, Medicine Master, Mahāvairochana, and the other Buddhas; those of the bodhisattvas Earth Repository, Universal Worthy, and Manjushrī, the gods of the sun, moon, and stars; the deities of the shrines in Izu and Hakone, Mishima Shrine, Kumano Shrine, and Haguro Shrine; the Sun Goddess; and Great Bodhisattva Hachiman. If anyone so much as once recites any of these names, then, although he may recite the Nembutsu a hundred thousand or a million times, because he committed the error of calling on the name of one of these Buddhas, bodhisattvas, the gods of the sun and moon, and other deities, he will fall into the hell of incessant suffering and fail to be reborn in the Pure Land. But when I look about at the world, I find Nembutsu believers who call on the names of these various Buddhas, bodhisattvas, heavenly gods, and benevolent deities. Thus, in this matter as well, they are going against the instructions of their own teachers.
“In the passage concerning the fifth sundry practice, that of praising and giving offerings, the Nembutsu believer is enjoined to make offerings to the Buddha Amida and his two bodhisattva attendants. But if he should offer even a little bit of incense or a few flowers to the earlier mentioned Buddhas, bodhisattvas, or heavenly gods and benevolent deities, then, although the merit he has gained from the Nembutsu practice may be laudable, because of the error he has committed, he is condemned to be classified among those who carry out sundry practices. And yet, when I look around the world, I see the Nembutsu believers paying visits to various shrines and offering streamers of paper or cloth, or entering various Buddhist halls and bowing in reverence there. In this, too, they are going against the instructions of their teachers. If you doubt what I say, then look at the text of Nembutsu Chosen above All. It is very clear on these points.
“Again, The Teaching on Meditation Sutra49 by the Reverend Shan-tao says: ‘With regard to intoxicants, meat, and the five strong-flavored foods,50 one must vow never to lay a hand on them, never to let one’s mouth taste them. One must pledge, “If I should go against these words, then may foul sores break out on both my body and mouth!”’ The meaning of this passage is that the Nembutsu believers, men and women lay believers, nuns and priests alike, must not drink wine and must not eat fish or fowl. In addition, they must not eat any of the five strong-flavored foods, the pungent or strong-smelling foods such as leeks or garlic. If any Nembutsu believers fail to abide by this rule, then in their present life they will find foul sores breaking out on their bodies, and in the next life they will fall into the hell of incessant suffering. In fact, however, we find many Nembutsu laymen and laywomen, nuns and priests, who pay no heed to this prohibition but drink as much wine and eat as much fish and fowl as they please. They are in 112effect swallowing knives with which to wound themselves, are they not?”
Thereupon the unenlightened man said: “In truth, as I listen to your description of the doctrine, I can see that, even if the Nembutsu teaching could in fact lead one to rebirth in the Pure Land, its observances and practices are very difficult to carry out. And of course, since the sutras and treatises upon which it is based all belong to the category of provisional expositions, it is perfectly clear that it can never lead to rebirth in the Pure Land. But surely there is no reason to repudiate the True Word teachings. The Mahāvairochana Sutra constitutes the secret teaching of Mahāvairochana, the King of Enlightenment. It has been handed down in an unbroken line of transmission from the Thus Come One Mahāvairochana to Shan-wu-wei and Pu-k’ung. And in Japan the Great Teacher Kōbō spread the teachings concerning the mandalas of the Diamond Realm and the Womb Realm. These are secret and arcane teachings that concern the thirty-seven honored ones.51 Therefore, the most profound doctrines of the exoteric teachings cannot compare even to the elementary stages of the esoteric teachings. Hence the Great Teacher Chishō of Gotō-in temple52 stated in his commentary, ‘Even the Lotus Sutra cannot compare [to the Mahāvairochana Sutra], much less the other doctrines.’53 Now what is your view on this matter?”
The sage replied: “At first I too placed my trust in the Thus Come One Mahāvairochana and desired to carry out the teachings of the True Word school. But when I investigated the basic doctrines of the school, I found that they are founded on views that in fact are a slander of the correct teaching.
“The Great Teacher Kōbō of Mount Kōya, of whom you have spoken, was a teacher who lived in the time of Emperor Saga. He received a mandate from the emperor directing him to determine and explain the relative profundity of the various Buddhist teachings. In response, he produced a work in ten volumes entitled The Treatise on the Ten Stages of the Mind. Because this work is so broad and comprehensive, he made a condensation of it in three volumes, which bears the title The Precious Key to the Secret Treasury. This work describes ten stages in the development of the mind, from the first stage, the ‘mind of lowly man, goatish in its desire,’54 to the last stage, the ‘glorious mind, the most secret and sacred.’55 He assigns the Lotus Sutra to the eighth stage, the Flower Garland Sutra to the ninth stage, and the True Word teachings [of the Mahāvairochana Sutra] to the tenth stage. Thus he ranks the Lotus Sutra as inferior even to the Flower Garland Sutra, and as two stages below the Mahāvairochana Sutra. In this work, he writes, ‘Each vehicle that is put forward is claimed to be the vehicle of Buddhahood, but when examined from a later stage,56 they are all seen to be mere childish theory.’ He also characterizes the Lotus Sutra as a work of ‘wild words and ornate phrases,’ and disparages Shakyamuni Buddha as being lost in the region of darkness.
“As a result, Kōbō’s disciple in a later age, Shōgaku-bō, the founder of Dembō-in temple, was led to write that the Lotus Sutra is not fit even to be a sandal-tender for the Mahāvairochana Sutra, and that Shakyamuni Buddha is not worthy even to serve as an ox-driver for the Thus Come One Mahāvairochana.57
“Still your thoughts and listen to what I say. In all the five thousand or seven thousand volumes of sutras that the Buddha preached during his lifetime, or the three thousand or more volumes of the Confucian and Taoist scriptures, is there anywhere a passage clearly stating that the Lotus Sutra is 113a doctrine of ‘childish theory,’ or that it ranks two stages below the Mahāvairochana Sutra, being inferior to the Flower Garland Sutra as well, or that Shakyamuni Buddha is lost in the region of darkness and is not worthy even to serve as an ox-driver to the Thus Come One Mahāvairochana? And even if such a passage did exist, one would certainly have to examine it with great care.
“When the Buddhist sutras and teachings were brought from India to China, the manner of translation depended upon the inclination of the particular translator, and there were no fixed translations for the sutras and treatises. Hence the Tripitaka Master Kumārajīva of the Later Ch’in dynasty always used to say: ‘When I examine the Buddhist teachings as they exist in China, I find that in many cases they differ from the Sanskrit originals. If the sutra translations that I have produced are free from error, then, after I am dead and cremated, my body, since it is impure, will no doubt be consumed by the flames, but my tongue alone will not be burned.’ And when he was finally cremated, his body was reduced to a pile of bones, but his tongue alone remained, resting on top of a blue lotus blossom and emitting a brilliant light that outshone the rays of the sun. What a wonderful thing!
“Thus it came about that the translation of the Lotus Sutra made by the Tripitaka Master Kumārajīva in particular spread easily throughout China. And that is why, when the Great Teacher Kompon [Dengyō] of Enryaku-ji attacked the teachings of the other schools, he refuted them by saying, ‘We have proof in the fact that the tongue of the Tripitaka Master Kumārajīva, the translator of the Lotus Sutra, was not consumed by the flames. The sutras that you rely upon are all in error.’
“Again, in the Nirvana Sutra the Buddha says that, when his teachings are transmitted to other countries, many errors are bound to be introduced into them. Even if among sutra passages we were to find the Lotus Sutra characterized as useless, or Shakyamuni Buddha described as a Buddha lost in the region of darkness, we should inquire very carefully to see whether the text that makes such statements belongs to the provisional teachings or the true teaching, to the Mahayana or the Hinayana, whether it was preached in the earlier or the later part of the Buddha’s life, and who the translator was.
“It is said that Lao Tzu and Confucius thought nine times before uttering a single word, or three times before uttering a single word. And Tan, the Duke of Chou, was so eager to receive his callers that he would spit out his food three times in the course of a meal and wring out his hair three times in the course of washing it [in order not to keep them waiting]. If even the people described in the shallow, non-Buddhist writings behaved with such care and circumspection, then how much more so should those who study the profound doctrines of the Buddhist scriptures!
“Now nowhere in the sutras and treatises do we find the slightest evidence to support this contention [that the Lotus Sutra is inferior to the Mahāvairochana Sutra]. The Great Teacher Kōbō’s own commentary says that one who slanders persons and disparages the correct teaching will fall into the evil paths.58 A person like Kōbō will invariably fall into hell—there can be no doubt of it.”
The unenlightened man seemed to be dazed, and then suddenly began to sigh. After some time, he said: “The Great Teacher Kōbō was an expert in both the Buddhist and non-Buddhist writings and a leader of the masses. In virtuous practices he excelled the others of his time, and his reputation was known everywhere. It is said that when 114he was in China he hurled a three-pronged diamond-pounder59 all the way across the more than eighty thousand ri of the ocean until it reached Japan, and that when he expounded the meaning of the Heart Sutra so many sufferers from the plague recovered their health that they filled the streets. Thus he was surely no ordinary person, but a manifestation of a great sage in temporal form. We can hardly fail to hold him in esteem and put faith in his teachings.”
The sage replied: “I at first thought the same way. But after I entered the path of the Buddha’s teachings and began to distinguish what accords with its principles from what does not, I realized that the ability to perform miraculous acts at will does not necessarily constitute a basis for determining the truth or falsity of Buddhist teachings. That is why the Buddha laid down the rule that we should ‘rely on the Law and not upon persons,’ which I mentioned earlier.
“The ascetic Agastya poured the Ganges River into one ear and kept it there for twelve years, the ascetic Jinu drank the great ocean dry in a single day, Chang Chieh exhaled fog, and Luan Pa exhaled clouds.60 But this does not mean that they knew what is correct and what is not in the Buddhist teachings, or that they understood the principle of cause and effect. In China, when the Dharma Teacher Fa-yün lectured on the Lotus Sutra, in no time at all flowers came raining down from the heavens. But the Great Teacher Miao-lo said, ‘Though he could bring about a response in this way, his understanding still did not accord with the truth [of the Lotus Sutra].’61 Thus Miao-lo accused him of having failed to understand the truth of Buddhism.
“The Lotus Sutra rejects the three categories of preaching—that done by the Buddha in the past, the present, and the future.62 It refutes the sutras preached before it, saying that in them the Buddha had ‘not yet revealed the truth.’63 It attacks the sutras of the same period by declaring itself superior to those ‘now being preached,’ and repudiates the sutras expounded later by stating that it excels all those ‘to be preached.’ In fact, the Lotus Sutra is first among all sutras preached in the three periods of past, present, and future.
“In the fourth volume of the Lotus Sutra, we read, ‘Medicine King, now I say to you, I have preached various sutras, and among those sutras the Lotus is the foremost!’64 This passage means that at the gathering on Eagle Peak the Buddha addressed Bodhisattva Medicine King and told him that, beginning with the Flower Garland Sutra and ending with the Nirvana Sutra, there were countless sutras numbering as many as the sands of the Ganges, but that among all these the Lotus Sutra that he was then preaching held first place. But evidently the Great Teacher Kōbō took the word ‘first’ to mean ‘third.’
“In the same volume of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha says, ‘For the sake of the Buddha way in immeasurable numbers of lands from the beginning until now I have widely preached many sutras, and among them this sutra is foremost.’65 This passage means that Shakyamuni Buddha has appeared in countless lands, taking different names, and assuming varying life spans. And it establishes that, among all the sutras he has preached in the various forms in which he manifested himself, the Lotus Sutra holds first place.
“In the fifth volume of the Lotus Sutra, it is stated that ‘it holds the highest place,’66 making clear that this sutra stands above the Mahāvairochana, Diamond Crown, and all the other countless sutras. But evidently the Great Teacher Kōbō read this as ‘it holds the lowest place.’ Thus Shakyamuni and Kōbō, the Lotus Sutra and Precious Key to the Secret Treasury, are in fact 115completely at odds with each other. Do you intend to reject Shakyamuni and follow Kōbō? Or will you reject Kōbō and follow Shakyamuni? Will you go against the text of the sutra and accept the words of an ordinary teacher? Or will you reject the words of an ordinary teacher and honor the golden words of the Buddha? Think carefully before you decide what to accept and what to reject.
“Furthermore, in the ‘Medicine King’ chapter in volume seven, ten similes are offered in praise of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. The first simile concerns water, and in it streams and rivers are likened to the other various sutras and the great ocean to the Lotus Sutra. Thus, if anyone should assert that the Mahāvairochana Sutra is superior and the Lotus Sutra inferior, he is in effect saying that the great ocean holds less water than does a little stream. Everyone in the world today understands that the ocean exceeds the various rivers in size, and yet they fail to realize that the Lotus Sutra is the foremost among sutras.
“The second simile concerns mountains. Ordinary mountains are likened to the other sutras and Mount Sumeru to the Lotus Sutra. Mount Sumeru measures 168,000 yojanas from top to bottom; what other mountain could compare with it? To say that the Mahāvairochana Sutra is superior to the Lotus Sutra is like saying that Mount Fuji is bigger than Mount Sumeru.
“The third simile deals with the moon and stars. The other sutras are likened to the stars, and the Lotus Sutra is likened to the moon. Comparing the moon and the stars, can anyone be in doubt as to which is superior?
“Later on in the series of similes, we read, ‘This sutra likewise is foremost among all the sutra teachings preached by all the Thus Come Ones, preached by all the bodhisattvas, or preached by all the voice-hearers.’
“This passage tells us that the Lotus Sutra not only is the foremost among all the doctrines preached by Shakyamuni Buddha in the course of his lifetime, but also holds first place among all the teachings and sutras preached by Buddhas such as Mahāvairochana, Medicine Master, or Amida, and by bodhisattvas such as Universal Worthy or Manjushrī. Therefore, if anyone should assert that there exists a sutra superior to the Lotus, you must understand that he is expounding the views of the followers of non-Buddhist teachings or of the heavenly devil.
“Moreover, as to the identity of the Thus Come One Mahāvairochana, when Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, who had been enlightened from remote ages past, for forty-two years dimmed his light and mingled with the dust of the world, adapting himself to the capacities of the people of the time, he, a Thus Come One who unites the three bodies in one, temporarily assumed the form of Vairochana.67 Therefore, when Shakyamuni Buddha revealed the true aspect of all phenomena,68 it became clear that Vairochana was a temporary form that Shakyamuni had manifested in response to the capacities of the people. For this reason, the Universal Worthy Sutra says that Shakyamuni Buddha is given the name Vairochana Pervading Everywhere, and that the place where that Buddha lives is called Eternally Tranquil Light.
“Now the Lotus Sutra expounds the doctrines of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds, a single moment of life comprising the three thousand realms, the unification of the three truths, and the inseparability of the four kinds of lands. Moreover, the very essence of all the sacred teachings expounded by Shakyamuni Buddha in his lifetime—the doctrines that persons of the two vehicles can achieve Buddhahood, and that the Buddha attained 116enlightenment in the inconceivably remote past—is found only in this one sutra, the Lotus. Is there any mention of these most important matters in the three esoteric sutras you have been talking about, the Mahāvairochana Sutra, the Diamond Crown Sutra, and so forth? Shan-wu-wei and Pu-k’ung stole these most important doctrines from the Lotus Sutra and contrived to make them the essential points of their own sutras. But in fact this is a fraud; their own sutras and treatises contain no trace of these doctrines. You must make haste and remedy your thinking on this point.
“The fact is that the Mahāvairochana Sutra includes each of the four types of teachings69 and expounds the kind of precepts whose benefit is exhausted when the bodily form comes to an end.70 It is a provisional teaching, designated by Chinese teachers71 as a sutra belonging to the Correct and Equal category, the group of sutras that, according to T’ien-t’ai’s classification, were preached in the third period. How shameful [to hold it above the Lotus]! If you really have a mind to pursue the way, you must hurry and repent of your past errors. In the final analysis, this Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law sums up all the teachings and meditative practices of Shakyamuni Buddha’s entire lifetime in a single moment of life, and encompasses all the living beings of the Ten Worlds and their environments in the three thousand realms.”
AT this, the unenlightened man looked somewhat mollified and said: “The words of the sutra are clear as a mirror; there is no room to doubt or question their meaning. But although the Lotus Sutra surpasses all the other sutras that the Buddha taught before, at the same time, or after, and represents the highest point in his preaching life, still it cannot compare with the single truth of Zen, which cannot be bound by words or confined in the text of a sutra, and which deals with the true nature of our minds. In effect, the realm where the countless doctrines are all cast aside and where words cannot reach is what is called the truth of Zen.
“Thus, on the banks of the Ajitavatī River, in the grove of sal trees, Shakyamuni Buddha stepped out of his golden coffin, twirled a flower, and, when he saw Mahākāshyapa’s faint smile, entrusted this teaching of Zen to him. Since then, it has been handed down without any irregularity through a lineage of twenty-eight patriarchs in India, and was widely propagated by a succession of six patriarchs in China. Bodhidharma is the last of the twenty-eight patriarchs of India and the first of the six patriarchs of China. We must not allow this transmission to be lost, and founder in the nets of doctrine.
“So, in the Sutra of the Buddha Answering the Great Heavenly King Brahmā’s Questions, the Buddha says: ‘I have a subtle teaching concerning the eye and treasury of the correct teaching, the wonderful mind of nirvana, the true aspect of reality that is without characteristics. It represents a separate transmission outside the sutras, independent of words or writing. I entrust it to Mahākāshyapa.’
“Thus we see that this single truth of Zen was transmitted to Mahākāshyapa apart from the sutras. All the teachings of the sutras are like a finger pointing at the moon. Once we have seen the 117moon, what use do we have for the finger? And once we have understood this single truth of Zen, the true nature of the mind, why should we concern ourselves any longer with the Buddha’s teachings? Therefore, a man of past times has said, ‘The twelve divisions of the scriptures are all idle writings.’
“If you will open and read The Platform Sutra of Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch of this school, you will see that this is true. Once one has heard even a single word and thereby grasped and understood the truth, what use does one have for the teachings? How do you consider this principle?”
The sage replied: “You must first of all set aside the doctrines for the moment and consider the logic of the matter. Can anyone, without inquiring into the essential meaning of the Buddha’s lifetime teachings or investigating the basic principles of the ten schools, presume to admonish the nation and teach others? This Zen that you are talking about is something that I have studied exhaustively for some time. In view of the extreme doctrines that it teaches, I must say that it is a highly distorted affair.
“There are three types of Zen, known respectively as Thus Come One Zen, doctrinal Zen, and patriarchal Zen.72 What you are referring to is patriarchal Zen, and I would therefore like to give you a general idea of it. So listen, and understand what it is about.
“It speaks of transmitting something apart from the teachings. But apart from the teachings there are no principles, and apart from principles there are no teachings. Don’t you understand the logic of this, that principles are none other than teachings and teachings none other than principles? This talk about the twirled flower, the faint smile, and something being entrusted to Mahākāshyapa is in itself a teaching, and the four-character phrase about its being ‘independent of words or writing’ is likewise a teaching and a statement in words. This sort of talk has been around for a long while in both China and Japan. It may appear novel to you, but let me quote one or two passages that will clear up your misconceptions.
“Volume eleven of The Supplement to T’ien-t’ai’s Three Major Works states: ‘If one says that we are not to hamper ourselves by the use of verbal expressions, then how, for even an instant in this sahā world, can we carry on the Buddha’s work? Do the Zen followers themselves not use verbal explanations when they are giving instruction to others? If one sets aside words and phrases, then there is no way to explain the meaning of emancipation, so how can anyone ever hear about it?’
“Farther on, we read: ‘It is said that Bodhidharma came from the west and taught the “direct pointing to the mind of man” and “perceiving one’s true nature and attaining Buddhahood.” But are these same concepts not found in the Flower Garland Sutra and in the other Mahayana sutras? Alas, how can the people of our time be so foolish! You should all put faith in the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddhas, the Thus Come Ones, tell no lies!’
“To restate the meaning of this passage: if one objects that we are hampering ourselves with doctrinal writings and tying ourselves down with verbal explanations, and recommends a type of religious practice that is apart from the teachings of the sutras, then by what means are we to carry on the Buddha’s work and make good causes in this sahā world of ours? Even the followers of Zen, who advocate these views, themselves make use of words when instructing others. In addition, when one is trying to convey an understanding of the Buddha way, one cannot communicate the meaning if one sets aside words and phrases. Bodhidharma came to China from the west, 118pointed directly to people’s minds, and declared that those minds were Buddha. But this principle is enunciated in various places even in the provisional Mahayana sutras that preceded the Lotus Sutra, such as the Flower Garland, Great Collection, and Great Wisdom sutras. To treat it as such a rare and wonderful thing is too ridiculous for words. Alas, how can the people of our time be so distorted in their thinking! They should put their faith in the words of truth spoken by the Thus Come One of perfect enlightenment and complete reward, who embodies the principle of the Middle Way that is the true aspect of all things.
“In addition, the Great Teacher Miao-lo in the first volume of his Annotations on ‘Great Concentration and Insight’ comments on this situation by saying, ‘The people of today look with contempt on the sutra teachings and emphasize only the contemplation of truth, but they are making a great mistake, a great mistake indeed!’
“This passage applies to the people in the world today who put meditation on the mind and various other things first, and do not delve into or study the teachings of the sutras. On the contrary, they despise the teachings and make light of the sutras. This passage is saying that this is a mistake.
“Moreover, I should point out that the Zen followers of the present age are confused as to the teachings of their own school. If we open the pages of The Continued Biographies of Eminent Priests, we find that in the biography of the Great Teacher Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Zen in China, it states, ‘By means of the teachings one can understand the essential meaning.’ Therefore, one should study and practice the principles embodied in the sacred teachings preached by the Thus Come One in the course of his lifetime and thereby gain an understanding of the substance of the various doctrines and the nature of the different schools.
“Furthermore, in the biography of Bodhidharma’s disciple, Hui-k’o, the second of the six Chinese patriarchs, it states that the Meditation Master Bodhidharma handed over the four volumes of the Lankāvatāra Sutra to Hui-k’o, saying: ‘Observing this land of China, I find only this sutra to be of real worth. If you base your practice on it, you will be able to bring salvation to the world.’ Here we see that, when the Great Teacher Bodhidharma came from India to China, he brought the four volumes of the Lankāvatāra Sutra and handed them over to Hui-k’o, saying: ‘When I observe the situation in this country, I see that this sutra is of outstanding superiority. You should abide by it and put it into practice and become a Buddha.’
“As we have just seen, these patriarch-teachers placed primary emphasis on the sutra texts. But if we therefore say that one must rely on the sutras, then we must take care to inquire whether those sutras belong to the Mahayana or the Hinayana, whether they are the provisional teachings or the true teaching.
“When it comes to making use of sutras, the Zen school relies on such works as the Lankāvatāra Sutra, the Shūramgama Sutra, and the Diamond Wisdom Sutra. These are all provisional teachings that were preached before the Lotus Sutra, doctrines that conceal the truth.
“These various sutras expound partial truths such as ‘the mind itself is the Buddha, and the Buddha is none other than the mind.’ The Zen followers have allowed themselves to be led astray by one or two such sentences and phrases, failing to inquire whether they represent the Mahayana or the Hinayana, the