A Sutra Equal In Size To The Whole World


The holy writ that Zen masters admire is not one of parchment nor of

palm-leaves, nor in black and white, but one written in heart and

mind. On one occasion a King of Eastern India invited the venerable

Prajnyatara, the teacher of Bodhidharma, and his disciples to dinner

at his own palace.

Finding all the monks reciting the sacred sutras with the single

exception of the master, the Ring questioned Prajny
tara: Why do you

not, reverend sir, recite the Scriptures as others do? My poor

self, your majesty, replied he, does not go out to the objects of

sense in my expiration nor is it confined within body and mind in my

inspiration. Thus I constantly recite hundreds, thousands, and

millions of sacred sutras. In like manner the Emperor Wu, of the

Liang dynasty, once requested Chwen Hih (Fu Dai-shi) to give a

lecture on the Scriptures. Chwen went upon the platform, struck the

desk with a block of wood, and came down. Pao Chi (Ho-shi), a

Buddhist tutor to the Emperor, asked the perplexed monarch: Does

your Lordship understand him? No, answered His Majesty. The

lecture of the Great Teacher is over. As it is clear to you from

these examples, Zen holds that the faith must be based not on the

dead Scriptures, but on living facts, that one must turn over not the

gilt pages of the holy writ, but read between the lines in the holy

pages of daily life, that Buddha must be prayed not by word of mouth,

but by actual deed and work, and that one must split open, as the

author of Avatamsaka-sutra allegorically tells us, the smallest grain

of dirt to find therein a sutra equal in size to the whole world.

The so-called sutra, says Do-gen, covers the whole universe. It

transcends time and space. It is written with the characters of

heaven, of man, of beasts, of Asuras,[FN#13l] of hundreds of grass,

and of thousands of trees. There are characters, some long, some

short, some round, some square, some blue, some red, some yellow, and

some white-in short, all the phenomena in the universe are the

characters with which the sutra is written. Shakya Muni read that

sutra through the bright star illuminating the broad expanse of the

morning skies, when he sat in meditation under the Bodhi Tree.

[FN#13l] The name of a demon.

Ling Yun (Rei-un) read it through the lovely flowers of a peach-tree

in spring after some twenty years of his research for Light, and said:

A score of years I looked for Light:

There came and went many a spring and fall.

E'er since the peach blossoms came in my sight,

I never doubt anything at all.

Hian Yen (Kyo-gen) read it through the noise of bamboo, at which he

threw pebbles. Su Shih (So-shoku) read it through a waterfall, one

evening, and said:

The brook speaks forth the Tathagata's words divine,

The hills reveal His glorious forms that shine.