Sutras Used By Zen Masters
Ten Dai failed to explain away the discrepancies and contradictions
of which the Canon is full, and often contradicted himself by the
ignoring of historical facts.
Let us state our own opinion on the subject in question.
The foundation of Hinayanism consists in the four Nikayas, or four
Agamas, the most important books of that school. Besides the four
Agamas, there exist in the Chinese Tripitaka numerous books
translated by various authors, some of which are extracts from
Agamas, and some the lives of the Buddha, while others are entirely
different sutras, apparently of later date. Judging from these
sources, it seems to us that most of Shakya Muni's original teachings
are embodied into the four Agamas. But it is still a matter of
uncertainty that whether they are stated in Agamas now extant just as
they were, for the Buddha's preachings were rehearsed immediately
after the Buddha's death in the first council held at Rajagrha, yet
not consigned to writing. They were handed down by memory about one
hundred years. Then the monks at Vaisali committed the so-called Ten
Indulgences, infringing the rules of the Order, and maintained that
Shakya Muni had not condemned them in his preachings. As there were,
however, no written sutras to disprove their assertion, the elders,
such as Yaca, Revata, and others, who opposed the Indulgences, had to
convoke the second council of 700 monks, in which they succeeded in
getting the Indulgences condemned, and rehearsed the Buddha's
instruction for the second time. Even in this council of Vaisali we
cannot find the fact that the Master's preachings were reduced to
writing. The decisions of the 700 elders were not accepted by the
party of opposition, who held a separate council, and settled their
own rules and doctrine. Thus the same doctrine of the Teacher began
to be differently stated and believed.
This being the first open schism, one disruption after another took
place among the Buddhistic Order. There were many different schools
of the Buddhists at the time when King Acoka ascended the throne
(about 269 B.C.), and the patronage of the King drew a great number
of pagan ascetics into the Order, who, though they dressed themselves
in the yellow robes, yet still preserved their religious views in
their original colour. This naturally led the Church into continual
disturbances and moral corruption. In the eighteenth year of Acoka's
reign the King summoned the council of 1,000 monks at Pataliputra
(Patna), and settled the orthodox doctrine in order to keep the
Dharma pure from heretical beliefs. We believe that about this time
some of the Buddha's preachings were reduced to writing, for the
missionaries despatched by the King in the year following the council
seem to have set out with written sutras. In addition to this, some
of the names of the passages of the Dharma are given in the Bharbra
edict of the King, which was addressed to the monks in Magadha. We
do not suppose, however, that all the sutras were written at once in
these days, but that they were copied down from memory one after
another at different times, because some of the sutras were put down
in Ceylon 160 years after the Council of Patna.
In the introductory book of Ekottaragama (Anguttara Nikaya), now
extant in the Chinese Tripitaka, we notice the following points: (1)
It is written in a style quite different from that of the original
Agama, but similar to that of the supplementary books of the Mahayana
sutras; (2) it states Ananda's compilation of the Tripitaka after the
death of the Master; (3) it refers to the past Buddhas, the future
Buddha Maitreya, and innumerable Bodhisattvas; (4) it praises the
profound doctrine of Mahayanism. From this we infer that the Agama
was put in the present form after the rise of the Mahayana School,
and handed down through the hand of Mahasanghika scholars, who were
much in sympathy with Mahayanism.
Again, the first book of Dirghagama, (Digha Nikaya), that describes
the line of Buddhas who appeared before Shakya Muni, adopts the whole
legend of Gotama's life as a common mode of all Buddhas appearing on
earth; while the second book narrates the death of Gotama and the
distribution of his relies, and refers to Pataliputra, the new
capital of Acoka. This shows us that the present Agama is not of an
earlier date than the third century B.C. Samyuktagama (Samyutta
Nikaya) also gives a detailed account of Acoka's conversion, and of
his father Bindusara. From these evidences we may safely infer that
the Hinayana sutras were put in the present shape at different times
between the third century B.C. and the first century A.D.
With regard to the Mahayana sutras we have little doubt about their
being the writings of the later Buddhist reformers, even if they are
put in the mouth of Shakya Muni. They are entirely different from
the sutras of Hinayanism, and cannot be taken as the preachings of
one and the same person. The reader should notice the following
(1) Four councils were held for the rehearsal of the Tripitaka
namely, the first at Rajagrha, in the year of Shakya Muni's death;
the second at Vaisali, some 100 years after the Buddha; the third at
the time of King Acoka, about 235 years after the Master; the fourth
at the time of King Kanishka, the first century A.D. But all these
councils were held to compile the Hinayana sutras, and nothing is
known of the rehearsal of the Mahayana books. Some are of opinion
that the first council was held within the Sattapanni cave, near
Rajagrha, where the Hinayana Tripitaka was rehearsed by 500 monks,
while outside the cave there assembled a greater number of monks, who
were not admitted into the cave, and rehearsed the Mahayana
Tripitaka. This opinion, however, is based on no reliable source.
(2) The Indian orthodox Buddhists of old declared that the Mahayana
sutras were the fabrication of heretics or of the Evil One, and not
the teachings of the Buddha. In reply to this, the Mahayanists had
to prove that the Mahayana sutras were compiled by the direct
disciples of the Master; but even Nagarjuna could not vindicate the
compilation of the doubtful books, and said (in
Mahaprajnyaparamita-castra) that they were compiled by Ananda and
Manjucri, with myriads of Bodhisattvas at the outside of the Iron
Mountain Range, which encloses the earth. Asanga also proved (in
Mahayanalankara-sutra-castra) with little success that Mahayanism was
the Buddha's direct teachings. Some may quote
Bodhisattva-garbhastha-sutra in favour of the Mahayana; but it is of
no avail, as the sutra itself is the work of a later date.
(3) Although almost all of the Mahayana sutras, excepting
Avatamsaka-sutra, treat of Hinayanism as the imperfect doctrine
taught in the first part of the Master's career, yet not merely the
whole life of Gotama, but also events which occurred after his death
are narrated in the Hinayana sutras. This shows that the Mahayana
sutras were composed after the establishment of early Buddhism.
(4) The narratives given in the Hinayana sutras in reference to
Shakya Muni seem to be based on historical facts, but those in the
Mahayana books are full of wonders and extravagant miracles far from
(5) The Hinayana sutras retain the traces of their having been
classified and compiled as we see in Ekottaragama, while Mahayana
books appear to have been composed one after another by different
authors at different times, because each of them strives to excel
others, declaring itself to be the sutra of the highest doctrine, as
we see in Saddharma-pundarika, Samdhinirmocana,
(6) The dialogues in the Hinayana sutras are in general those between
the Buddha and his disciples, while in the Mahayana books imaginary
beings called Bodhisattvas take the place of disciples. Moreover, in
some books no monks are mentioned.
(7) Most of the Mahayana sutras declare that they themselves possess
those mystic powers that protect the reader or the owner from such
evils as epidemic, famine, war, etc.; but the Hinayana sutras are
pure from such beliefs.
(8) The Mahayana sutras extol not only the merits of the reading, but
the copying of the sutras. This unfailingly shows the fact that they
were not handed down by memory, as the Hinayana sutras, but written
by their respective authors.
(9) The Hinayana sutras were written with a plain style in Pali,
while the Mahayana books, with brilliant phraseology, in Sanskrit.
(10) The Buddha in the Hinayana sutras is little more than a human
being, while Buddha or Tathagata in the Mahayana is a superhuman
being or Great Deity.
(11) The moral precepts of the Hinayana were laid down by the Master
every time when his disciples acted indecently, while those of the
Mahayana books were spoken all at once by Tathagata.
(12) Some Mahayana sutras appear to be the exaggeration or
modification of what was stated in the Hinayana books, as we see in
(13) If we take both the Hinayana and the Mahayana as spoken by one
and the same person, we cannot understand why there are so many
contradictory statements, as we see in the following:
(a) Historical Contradictions.--For instance, Hinayana sutras are
held to be the first sermon of the Buddha by the author of
Saddharma-pundarika, while Avatamsaka declares itself to be the first
sermon. Nagarjuna holds that Prajnya sutras are the first.
(b) Contradictions as to the Person of the Master.--For instance,
Agamas say the Buddha's body was marked with thirty-two
peculiarities, while the Mahayana books enumerate ninety-seven
peculiarities, or even innumerable marks.
(c) Doctrinal Contradictions.--For instance, the Hinayana sutras put
forth the pessimistic, nihilistic view of life, while the Mahayana
books, as a rule, express the optimistic, idealistic view.
(14) The Hinayana sutras say nothing of the Mahayana books, while the
latter always compare their doctrine with that of the former, and
speak of it in contempt. It is clear that the name 'Hinayana' was
coined by the Mahayanists, as there is no sutra which calls itself
'Hinayana.' It is therefore evident that when the Hinayana books
took the present shape there appeared no Mahayana sutras.
(15) The authors of the Mahayana sutras should have expected the
opposition of the Hinayanists, because they say not seldom that there
might be some who would not believe in and oppose Mahayanism as not
being the Buddha's teaching, but that of the Evil One. They say also
that one who would venture to say the Mahayana books are fictitious
should fall into Hell. For example, the author of
Mahaparinirvana-sutra says: "Wicked Bhiksus would say all Vaipulya
Mahayana sutras are not spoken by the Buddha, but by the Evil One."
(16) There are evidences showing that the Mahayana doctrine was
developed out of the Hinayana one.
(a) The Mahayanists' grand conception of Tathagata is the natural
development of that of those progressive Hinayanists who belonged to
the Mahasamghika School, which was formed some one hundred years
after the Master. These Hinayanists maintained that the Buddha had
infinite power, endless life, and limitlessly great body. The author
of Mahaparinirvana-sutra also says that Buddha is immortal, his
Dharma-kaya is infinite and eternal. The authors of
Mahayana-mulagata-hrdayabhumi-dhyana-sutra and of
Suvarnaprabha-sottamaraja-sutra enumerate the Three Bodies of Buddha,
while the writer of Lankavatara-sutra describes the Four Bodies, and
that of Avatamsaka-sutra the Ten Bodies of Tathagata.
(b) According to the Hinayana sutras, there are only four stages of
saintship, but the Mahasamghika School increases the number and gives
ten steps. Some Mahayana sutras also enumerate the ten stages of
Bodhisattva, while others give forty-one or fifty two stages.
(c) The Himayana sutras name six past Buddhas and one future Buddha
Maitreya, while the Mahayana sutras name thirty-five, fifty-three, or
three thousand Buddhas.
(d) The Hinayana sutras give the names of six Vijnyanas, while the
Mahayana books seven, eight, or nine Vijnyanas.
(17) For a few centuries after the Buddha we hear only of Hinayanism,
but not of Mahayanism, there being no Mahayana teacher.
(18) In some Mahayana sutras (Mahavairocanabhisambodhi-sutra, for
example) Tathagata Vairocana takes the place of Gotama, and nothing
is said of the latter.
(19) The contents of the Mahayana sutras often prove that they were,
composed, or rewritten, or some additions were made, long after the
Buddha. For instance, Mahamaya-sutra says that Acvaghosa would
refute heretical doctrines 600 years after the Master, and Nagarjuna
would advocate the Dharma 700 years after Gotama, while
Lankavatara-sutra prophesies that Nagarjuna would appear in South
(20) The author of San-ron-gen-gi tells us Mahadeva, a leader of the
Mahasamghika School, used Mahayana sutras, together with the orthodox
Tripitaka 116 after the Buddha. It is, however, doubtful that they
existed at so early a date.
(21) Mahaprajnyaparamita-castra, ascribed to Nagarjuna, refers to
many Mahayana books, which include Saddharma-pundarika,
Vimalakirtti-nirdeca, Sukhavati-vyuha, Mahaprajnyaparamita,
Pratyutpanna-buddhasammukhavasthita-samadhi, etc. He quotes in his
Dacabhumivibhasa-castra, Mahaparinirvana, Dacabhumi, etc.
(22) Sthiramati, whose date is said to be earlier than Nagarjuna and
later than Acvaghosa, tries to prove that Mahayanism was directly
taught by the Master in his Mahayanavataraka-castra. And
Mahayanottaratantra-castra, which is ascribed by some scholars to
him, refers to Avatamsaka, Vajracchedikka-prajnyaparamita,
Saddharmapundarika, Crimala-devi-simhananda, etc.
(23) Chi-leu-cia-chin, who came to China in A.D. 147 or A.D. 164,
translated some part of Mahayana books known as Maharatnakuta-sutra
(24) An-shi-kao, who came to China in A.D. 148, translated such
Mahayana books as Sukhavati-vyaha, Candra-dipa-samadhi, etc.
(25) Matanga, who came to China in A.D. 67, is said by his biographer
to have been informed of both Mahayanism and Hinayanism to have given
interpretations to a noted Mahayana book, entitled Suvarnaprabhasa.
(26) Sandhinirmocana-sutra is supposed to be a work of Asanga not
without reason, because Asanga's doctrine is identical with that of
the sutra, and the sutra itself is contained in the latter part of
Yogacaryabhumi-castra. The author divides the whole preachings of
the Master into the three periods that he might place the Idealistic
doctrine in the highest rank of the Mahayana schools.
(27) We have every reason to believe that Mahayana sutras began to
appear (perhaps Prajnya sutras being the first) early in the first
century A.D., that most of the important books appeared before
Nagarjuna, and that some of Mantra sutras were composed so late as
the time of Vajrabodhi, who came to China in A.D. 719.
To say nothing of the strong opposition raised by the Japanese
scholars, such an assumption can be met with an assumption of
entirely opposite nature, and the difficulties can never be overcome.
For Zen masters, therefore, these assumptions and reasonings are
mere quibbles unworthy of their attention.
The foremost of them was Chuki Tominaga (1744), of whose
life little is known. He is said to have been a nameless merchant at
Osaka. His Shutsu-jo-ko-go is the first great work of higher
criticism on the Buddhist Scriptures.
To believe blindly in the Scriptures is one thing, and to be pious is
another. How often the childish views of Creation and of God in the
Scriptures concealed the light of scientific truths; how often the
blind believers of them fettered the progress of civilization; how
often religious men prevented us from the realizing of a new truth,
simply because it is against the ancient folk-lore in the Bible.
Nothing is more absurd than the constant dread in which religious
men, declaring to worship God in truth and in spirit, are kept at the
scientific discovery of new facts incompatible with the folk-lore.
Nothing is more irreligious than to persecute the seekers of truth in
order to keep up absurdities and superstitions of bygone ages.
Nothing is more inhuman than the commission of 'devout cruelty' under
the mask of love of God and man. Is it not the misfortune, not only
of Christianity, but of whole mankind, to have the Bible encumbered
with legendary histories, stories of miracles, and a crude cosmology,
which from time to time come in conflict with science?
The Buddhist Scriptures are also overloaded with Indian superstitions
and a crude cosmology, which pass under the name of Buddhism.
Accordingly, Buddhist scholars have confused not seldom the doctrine
of the Buddha with these absurdities, and thought it impious to
abandon them. Kaiseki, for instance, was at a loss to
distinguish Buddhism from the Indian astronomy, which is utterly
untenable in the face of the fact. He taxed his reason to the utmost
to demonstrate the Indian theory and at the same time to refute the
Copernican theory. One day he called on Yeki-do a
contemporary Zen master, and explained the construction of the Three
Worlds as described in the Scriptures, saying that Buddhism would
come to naught if the theory of the Three Worlds be overthrown by the
Copernican. Then Yeki-do exclaimed: "Buddhism aims to destroy the
Three Worlds and to establish Buddha's Holy Kingdom throughout the
universe. Why do you waste your energy in the construction of the
A learned Japanese Buddhist scholar, who died in 1882.
A famous Zen master, the abbot of the So-ji-ji Monastery,
who died in 1879.
In this way Zen does not trouble itself about unessentials of the
Scriptures, on which it never depends for its authority. Do-gen, the
founder of the Japanese So To Sect, severely condemns (in his
Sho-bo-gen-zo) the notions of the impurity of women inculcated in the
Scriptures. He openly attacks those Chinese monks who swore that
they would not see any woman, and ridicules those who laid down rules
prohibiting women from getting access to monasteries. A Zen master
was asked by a Samurai whether there was hell in sooth as taught in
the Scriptures. "I must ask you," replied he, "before I give you an
answer. For what purpose is your question? What business have you,
a Samurai, with a thing of that sort? Why do you bother yourself
about such an idle question? Surely you neglect your duty and are
engaged in such a fruitless research. Does this not amount to your
stealing the annual salary from your lord?" The Samurai, offended
not a little with these rebukes, stared at the master, ready to draw
his sword at another insult. Then the teacher said smilingly: "Now
you are in Hell. Don't you see?"
Does, then, Zen use no scripture? To this question we answer both
affirmatively and negatively: negatively, because Zen regards all
sutras as a sort of pictured food which has no power of appeasing
spiritual hunger; affirmatively, because it freely makes use of them
irrespective of Mahayana or Hinayana. Zen would not make a bonfire
of the Scriptures as Caliph Omar did of the Alexandrian library. A
Zen master, having seen a Confucianist burning his books on the
thought that they were rather a hindrance to his spiritual growth,
observed: "You had better burn your books in mind and heart, but not
the books in black and white."
As even deadly poison proves to be medicine in the band of a good
doctor, so a heterodox doctrine antagonistic to Buddhism is used by
the Zen teachers as a finger pointing to the principle of Zen. But
they as a rule resorted to Lankavatara-sutra,
Saddharma-pundarika-sutra, Avatamsaka-sutra, and so forth.
This book is the nearest approach to the doctrine of Zen,
and is said to have been pointed out by Bodhidharma as the best book
for the use of his followers. See Nanjo's Catalogue, Nos. 175, 1761
The author of the sutra insists on the unreality of all
things. The book was first used by the Fifth Patriarch, as we have
seen in the first chapter. See Nanjo's Catalogue, Nos. 10, 11, 12,
13, 14, 15.
The sutra agrees with Zen in many respects, especially in
its maintaining that the highest truth can only be realized in mind,
and cannot be expressed by word of mouth. See Nanjo's Catalogue,
Nos. 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149.
The sutra was translated into Chinese by Buddhatrata in the
seventh century. The author treats at length of Samadhi, and sets
forth a doctrine similar to Zen, so that the text was used by many
Chinese Zenists. See Nanjo's Catalogue, Nos. 427 and 1629.
The sutra was translated into Chinese by Paramiti and
Mikacakya, of the Tang dynasty (618-907). The author conceives
Reality as Mind or Spirit. The book belongs to the Mantra class,
although it is much used by Zenists. See Nanjo's Catalogue, No. 446.
The author of the book sets forth his own conception of
Nirvana and of Buddha, and maintains that all beings are endowed with
Buddha-nature. He also gives in detail an incredible account about
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