Zen & the Lotus Sutra

Ryuei and Maylie at the Berkeley Zen Center

A Series of Seminars at the
Berkeley Zen Center ~ 1999
by Ryuei Michael McCormick

Table of Contents

Dedication to the memory of the late Zen Master, Kushin Seisho Maylie Scott (1935-2001)

Session One ~ April 1

  • Opening Verse and Statement (Ch.1)
  • Zen and the Lotus Sutra (Ch.2)
  • Parables of the Lotus Sutra (Ch.3-4)
  • Overview of the Seminar
  • Q&A from Session 1
  • Session Two ~ April 8

  • Overview of the Lotus Sutra
  • Bodhicitta (Ch.3-4)
  • Parables of Encouragement (Ch.5,7)
  • Parables of Buddha-nature (Ch.8,14)
  • Absolute and Relative Bodhicitta (Ch.10,14)
  • Q&A from Session 2
  • On the Odaimoku
  • Session Three ~ April 15

  • Appearance of the Precious Stupa (Ch.11-14)
  • The Emergent Bodhisattvas of the Earth (Ch.15)
  • The Eternal Buddha (Ch.16)
  • The Merits of the Single Moment of Faith and Rejoicing (Ch.17-19)
  • The Transmission of the Wonderful Dharma (Ch.21-22)
  • Q&A from Session 3
  • Session Four ~ April 22

  • Analysis of the Lotus Sutra
  • Bodhisattva Medicine King (Ch.23)
  • Bodhisattva Wonder Sound (Ch.24)
  • Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World (Ch.25)
  • Dharanis (Ch.26)
  • King Resplendent (Ch.27)
  • Encouragement of Bodhisattva Universal Virtue (Ch.28)
  • Q&A for Session 4
  • Session Five ~ April 29

  • Q&A for Session 5 after Shodaigyo Practice

    Appendix A: Verses for Opening the Sutra
    Appendix B: Practice Questions
  • Appendix C: The Seven Parables of the Lotus Sutra
    Appendix D: Zen Masters on the Lotus Sutra
    Appendix E: Recitation Passages
    Appendix F: Shodaigyo Meditation

    Appendix E

    Recitation Passages taken from The Threefold Lotus Sutra


    First Selection:

    The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings

    Chapter I: Virtues

    Thus have I heard. Once the Buddha was staying at the City of Royal Palaces on Mount Grdhrakuta with a great assemblage of great bhikshus, in all twelve thousand. There were eighty thousand bodhisattva-mahasattvas. There were gods, dragons, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, and mahoragas, besides all the bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas, and upasikas. There were great wheel-rolling kings, small wheel-rolling kings, and kings of the gold wheel, silver wheel, and other wheels; further, kings and princes, ministers and people, men and women, and great rich persons, each encompassed by a hundred thousand myriad followers. They went up to the Buddha, made obeisance at his feet, a hundred thousand times made procession around him, burned incense, and scattered flowers. After they variously worshipped, they retired and sat to one side.

    Chapter II: Preaching

    Thereupon the Bodhisattva Great Adornment, with the eighty thousand bodhisattvas, said to the Buddha in unison with one voice:

    "World-honored One! If the bodhisattva-mahasattvas want to accomplish Perfect Enlightenment quickly, what doctrine should they practice? What doctrine makes bodhisattva-mahasattvas accomplish Perfect Enlightenment quickly?"

    The Buddha addressed the Bodhisattva Great Adornment and the eighty thousand bodhisattvas: "Good sons, there is one doctrine which makes bodhisattvas accomplish Perfect Enlightenment quickly. If a bodhisattva learns this doctrine, then he will accomplish Perfect Enlightenment."

    "World-honored One! What is this doctrine called? What is its meaning? How does a bodhisattva practice it?"

    The Buddha said: "Good sons! This one doctrine is called the doctrine of Innumerable Meanings. A bodhisattva, if he wants to learn and master the doctrine of Innumerable Meanings, should observe that all laws were originally, will be, and are in themselves void in nature and form; they are neither great nor small, neither appearing nor disappearing, neither fixed nor movable, and neither advancing nor retreating; they are nondualistic, just emptiness. All living beings, however, discriminate falsely: "It is this" or 'It is that,' and 'It is advantageous' or 'It is disadvantageous'; they entertain evil thoughts, make various evil karmas, and [thus] transmigrate within the six realms of existence; and they suffer all manner of miseries, and cannot escape from there during infinite kotis of kalpas. Bodhisattva-mahasattvas, observing rightly like this, should raise the mind of compassion, display the great mercy desiring to relieve others of suffering, and once again penetrate deeply into all laws. According to the nature of a law, such a law emerges. According to the nature of a law, such a law settles. According to the nature of a law, such a law changes. According to the nature of a law, such a law vanishes. According to the nature of a law, such an evil law emerges. According to the nature of a law, such a good law emerges. Settling, changing and vanishing are also like this. Bodhisattvas, having thus completely observed and known these four aspects from beginning to end, should next observe that none of the laws settles down even for a moment, but all emerge and vanish anew every moment; and observe that they emerge, settle, change and vanish instantly. After such observation, we see all manner of natural desires of living beings. As natural desires are innumerable, preaching is innumerable, and as preaching is innumerable, meanings are innumerable. The Innumerable Meanings originate from one law. This one law is, namely, nonform. Such nonform is formless, and not form. being not form and formless, it is called the real aspect [of things]. The mercy which bodhisattva-mahasattvas display after stabilizing themselves in such a real aspect is real and not vain. They excellently relieve living beings from sufferings. Having given relief from sufferings, they preach the Law again, and let all living beings obtain pleasure.

    Chapter III: Ten Merits

    "Good sons! Do you want to hear how this sutra has ten inconceivable merit-powers?" The Bodhisattva Great Adornment said: "We heartily want to hear." The Buddha said: "Good sons! First, this sutra makes the unawakened bodhisattva aspire to buddhahood, makes a merciless one raise the mind of mercy, makes a homicidal one raise the mind of great compassion, makes a jealous one raise the mind of joy, makes an attached one raise the mind of detachment, makes a miserly one raise the mind of donation, makes an arrogant one raise the mind of keeping the commandments, makes an irascible one raise the mind of perseverance, makes an indolent one raise the mind of assiduity, makes a distracted one raise the mind of meditation, makes an ignorant one raise the mind of wisdom, makes one who lacks concern for saving others raise the mind of saving others, makes one who commits the ten evils raise the mind of the ten virtues, makes one who wishes for existence aspire to the mind of nonexistence, makes one who has an inclination toward apostasy build the mind of nonretrogression, makes one who commits defiled acts raise the mind of detachment. Good sons! This is called the first inconceivable merit-power of this sutra."

    Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Teaching

    Chapter III: A Parable

    The triple world is not safe,
    Just as the burning house,
    Full of all kinds of sufferings,
    Was greatly to be feared.
    Ever there are distresses of birth,
    Old age, disease, and death;
    Such fires as these
    Are burning ceaselessly.
    The Tathagata, freed from
    The burning house of the triple world,
    Tranquilly lives in seclusion,
    Abiding in peace in the woodland.
    Now this triple world
    All is my domain;
    The living beings in it
    All are my sons.
    But now this place
    Abounds with distresses;

    And I alone Am able to save and protect them.
    Though I taught and admonished them,
    Yet they did not believe,
    For they were imbued with desires
    To which they were greedily attached.
    Therefore, tactfully
    I tell them of the three vehicles
    Which cause all living beings
    To know the sufferings of the triple world,
    And reveal and expound
    The way of escaping from this world.
    If all these sons
    are resolved in their minds,
    They will perfectly have the three clear views
    And the six transcendent faculties,
    And they will become pratyekabuddhas
    Or bodhisattvas who never slide back.
    Sariputra!
    I, for the sake of all beings,
    By means of this parable
    Preach the One Buddha-vehicle.
    If all of you are able
    To receive these words in faith,
    You shall all be able
    To accomplish the Buddha-way.

    Second Selection:

    The Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Teaching

    Chapter II: Tactfulness

    At that time the World-honored One, rising quietly and clearly from contemplation, addressed Sariputra: "The wisdom of buddhas is very profound and infinite. Their wisdom-school is difficult to understand and difficult to enter, so that the sravakas and pratyekabuddhas cannot comprehend it. Wherefore? [Because] the buddhas have been in fellowship with countless hundred thousand myriad kotis of buddhas, perfectly practicing the infinite Law of all buddhas, boldly and zealously advancing and [making] their fame universally known, perfecting the very profound, unprecedented Law and preaching, as opportunity served, its meaning [so] difficult to understand. Sariputra! Ever since I became Buddha, with various reasonings and various parables I have widely discoursed and taught, and by countless tactful methods have led living beings, causing them to leave all attachments. Wherefore? [Because] the Tathagata is altogether perfect in his tactfulness and paramita of wisdom. Sariputra! The wisdom of the Tathagata is broad and great, profound and far-reaching; [his mind] is infinite; [his expositions] are unimpeded; [his] powers, [his] fearlessness, [his] meditations, [his] emancipations, [his] contemplations have enabled him to enter into the boundless [realms] and to accomplish all the unprecedented Law. Sariputra! The Tathagata is able to discriminate everything, preach the laws skillfully, use gentle words, and cheer the hearts of all. Sariputra! Essentially speaking, the Buddha has altogether fulfilled the infinite, boundless, unprecedented Law. Enough Sariputra, there is no need to say more. Wherefore? [Because] the Law which the Buddha has perfected is the chief unprecedented Law, and difficult to understand. Only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom the Reality of All Existence, that is to say, all existence [has] such a form, such a nature, such an embodiment, such a potency, such a function, such a primary cause, such a secondary cause, such an effect, such a recompense, and such a complete fundamental whole."

    The Buddha addressed Sariputra: "Such a wonderful Law as this is [only] preached by the buddha-tathagatas on [rare] occasions, just as the udambara flower is seen but once in [long] periods. Sariputra, believe me, all of you; in the Buddha's teaching no word is false. Sariputra, the meaning of the laws which the buddhas expound as opportunity serves is difficult to understand. Wherefore? [Because] I expound the laws by numberless tactful ways and with various reasonings and parabolic expressions. These laws cannot be understood by powers of thought or discrimination; only the buddhas can discern them. Wherefore? [Because] the buddhas, the world-honored ones, only on account of the one [very] great cause appear in the world. Sariputra, why [do I] say that the buddhas, the world-honored ones, only on account of the one [very] great cause appear in the world? Because the buddhas, the world-honored ones, desire to cause all living beings to open [their eyes] to the Buddha-knowledge so that they may gain the pure [mind], [therefore] they appear in the world; because they desire to show all living beings the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world; because they desire to cause all living beings to apprehend the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world; because they desire to cause all living beings to enter the way of the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world. Sariputra, this is why it is [only] on account of the one [very] great cause that buddhas appear in the world."

    The Buddha addressed Sariputra: "The buddha-tathagatas teach only bodhisattvas. Whatever they do is always for one purpose, that is to take the Buddha-knowledge and reveal it to all living beings. Sariputra! The Tathagata, by means of the One Buddha-vehicle, preaches to all living beings the Law; there is no other vehicle, neither a second nor a third. Sariputra! The laws of all the buddhas in the universe also are like this. Sariputra! The buddhas in times past, by infinite, numberless tactful ways and with various reasonings and parabolic expressions, expound the laws for the sake of all living beings. All these laws are for the One Buddha-vehicle, [so that] all those living beings, who have heard the Law from the buddhas, might all finally obtain perfect knowledge."

    Chapter X: A Teacher of the Law

    "Medicine King! If there be any good son or good daughter who after the extinction of the Tathagata desires to preach the Law-Flower Sutra to the four groups, how should he preach it? That good son or good daughter, entering into the abode of the Tathagata, wearing the robe of the Tathagata, and sitting on the throne of the Tathagata, should then widely proclaim this sutra to the four groups [of hearers].

    "The abode of the Tathagata is the great compassionate heart within all living beings; the robe of the Tathagata is the gentle and forbearing heart; the throne of the Tathagata is the voidness of all law. Established in these, then with unflagging mind to bodhisattvas and the four groups [of hearers] he will preach this Law-Flower Sutra."

    Third Selection:

    The Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Teaching

    Chapter XVI: Revelation of the [Eternal] Life of the Tathagata

    Since I attained buddhahood,
    The kalpas through which I have passed
    Are infinite thousands of myriads
    Of kotis of asamkhyeya years.
    Ceaselessly preached I the Law and taught
    Countless kotis of creatures
    To enter the Way of the Buddha;
    Since then are unmeasured kalpas.
    In order to save all creatures,
    By tactful methods I reveal nirvana,
    Yet truly I am not [yet] extinct
    But forever here preaching the Law.
    I forever remain in this [world],
    Using all of my spiritual powers
    So that all perverted creatures,
    Though I am near, yet fail to see me.
    All looking on me as extinct
    Everywhere worship my relics,
    All cherishing longing desires,
    And beget thirsting hearts of hope.
    [When] all creatures have believed and obeyed,
    In [character] upright, in mind gentle,
    Wholeheartedly wishing to see the Buddha,
    Not caring for their own lives,
    Then I with all the Sangha
    Appear together on the Divine Vulture Peak.
    And then I tell all creatures
    That I exist forever in this [world],
    By the power of tactful methods
    Revealing [myself] extinct and not extinct.
    [If] in other regions there are beings
    Reverent and with faith aspiring,
    Again I am in their midst
    To preach the supreme Law.
    You, not hearing of this,
    Only say I am extinct.
    I behold all living creatures
    Sunk in the sea of suffering,
    Hence I do not reveal myself
    But set them all aspiring,
    Till, when their hearts are longing,
    I appear to preach the Law.
    In such supernaturally pervading power,
    Throughout asamkhyeya kalpas
    [I am] always on the Divine Vulture Peak
    And in every other dwelling place.
    When all the living see, at the kalpas end,
    The conflagration when it is burning,
    Tranquil is this realm of mine,
    Ever filled with heavenly beings,
    Parks, and many palaces
    With every kind of gem adorned,
    Precious trees full of blossoms and fruits,
    Where all creatures take their pleasure;
    All the gods strike the heavenly drums
    And evermore make music,
    Showering mandarava flowers
    On the Buddha and his great assembly.
    My Pure Land will never be destroyed,
    Yet all view it as being burned up,
    And grief and horror and distress
    Fill them all like this.
    All those sinful creatures,
    By reason of their evil karma,
    Throughout asamkhyeya kalpas,
    Hear not the name of the Precious Three.
    But all who perform virtuous deeds
    And are gentle and of upright nature,
    These all see that I exist
    And am here expounding the Law.
    At times for all this throng
    I preach that the Buddha's life is eternal;
    To those who at length see the Buddha
    I preach that a buddha is rarely met.
    My intelligence-power is such,
    My wisdom-light shines infinitely,
    My life is of countless kalpas,
    From long-cultivated karma obtained.
    You who have intelligence,
    Do not in regard to this beget doubt
    But bring it forever to an end,
    For the Buddha's words are true, not false.
    Like the physician who with clever device,
    In order to cure his demented sons,
    Though indeed alive announces [his own] death,
    [Yet] cannot be charged with falsehood,
    I, too, being father of this world,
    Who heals all misery and affliction,
    For the sake of the perverted people,
    Though truly alive, say [I am] extinct;
    [Lest,] because always seeing me,
    They should beget arrogant minds,
    Be dissolute and set in their five desires,
    And fall into evil paths.
    I, ever knowing all beings,
    Those who walk or walk not in the Way,
    According to the right principles of salvation
    Expound their every Law,
    Ever making this my thought:
    "How shall I cause all the living
    To enter the Way supreme
    And speedily accomplish their buddhahood?"

    Fourth Selection:

    The Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Teaching

    Chapter XXV: The All-Sidedness of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World

    "Listen to the deeds of the Cry Regarder,
    Who well responds to every quarter;
    Her vast vow is deep as the sea,
    Inconceivable in its eons.
    Serving many thousands of kotis of buddhas,
    She has vowed a great pure vow.
    Let me briefly tell you.
    [He who] hears her name, and sees her,
    And bears her unremittingly in mind,
    Will be able to end the sorrows of existence.
    Though [others] with harmful intent
    Throw him into a burning pit,
    Let him think of the Cry Regarder's power
    And the fire pit will become a pool.
    Or driven along a great ocean,
    In peril of dragons, fishes, and demons
    Let him think of the Cry Regarder's power
    And waves cannot submerge him.
    Or if, from the peak of Sumeru,
    Men would hurl him down,
    Let him think of the Cry Regarder's power
    And like the sun he will stand firm in the sky.
    Or if, pursued by wicked men,
    And cast down from Diamond Mountain,
    He thinks of the Cry Regarder's power,
    Not a hair shall be injured.
    Or if, meeting with encompassing foes,
    Each with sword drawn to strike him,
    He thinks of the Cry Regarder's power,
    All their hearts will turn to kindness.
    Or if, meeting suffering by royal [command],
    His life is to end in execution,
    [And] he thinks of the Cry Regarder's power,
    [The executioner's] sword will break in pieces.
    Or if, imprisoned, shackled, and chained,
    Arms and legs in gives and stocks,
    He thinks of the Cry Regarder's power,
    Freely he shall be released.
    Or if by incantations and poisons
    One seeks to hurt his body,
    And he thinks of the Cry Regarder's power,
    All will revert to their originator.
    Or if, meeting evil rakshasas,
    Venomous dragons, and demons,
    He thinks of the Cry Regarder's power,
    At once none will dare to hurt him.
    If, encompassed by evil beasts,
    Tusks sharp and claws fearful,
    He thinks of the Cry Regarder's power,
    They will flee in every direction.
    If, scorched by the fire-flame
    Of the poisonous breath
    Of boas, vipers, and scorpions,
    He thinks of the Cry Regarder's power,
    Instantly at his voice they will retreat.
    Clouds thunder and lightning flashes,
    Hail falls and rain streams:
    He thinks of the Cry Regarder's power
    And all instantly are scattered.
    The living, crushed and harassed,
    Oppressed by countless pains:
    The Cry Regarder with her mystic wisdom
    Can save [such] a suffering world.
    Perfect in supernatural powers,
    Widely practiced in wisdom and tact,
    In the lands of the universe there is no place
    Where she does not manifest herself.
    All the evil states of existence,
    Hells, ghosts, and animals,
    Sorrows of birth, age, disease, death,
    All by degrees are ended by her.
    True regard, serene regard,
    Regard of pity, compassionate regard,
    Ever longed for, ever looked for!
    Pure and serene in radiance,
    Wisdom's sun destroying darkness,
    Subduer of woes of storm and fire,
    Who illumines all the world!
    Law of pity, thunder quivering,
    Compassion wondrous as a great cloud,
    Pouring spiritual rain like nectar,
    Quenching the flames of distress!
    In disputes before a magistrate,
    Or in fear in battle's array,
    If he thinks of the Cry Regarder's power
    All his enemies will be routed.
    Hers is the wondrous voice, voice of the world-regarder,
    Brahma-voice, voice of the rolling tide,
    Voice all world-surpassing,
    Therefore ever to be kept in mind,
    With never a doubting thought.
    Regarder of the World's Cries, pure and holy,
    In pain, distress, death, calamity,
    Able to be a sure reliance,
    Perfect in all merit,
    With compassionate eyes beholding all,
    Boundless ocean of blessings!
    Prostrate let us revere her.

    Session One | Session Two | Session Three | Session Four | Session Five

    Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 1999. 2002.


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