Monday, May 26, 2014


The Japanese word kankin has two parts. Kan means to read, and kin means sutras.
Sutras are records of the supposed talks of Shakyamuni Buddha who lived some 2500 years ago. Some Buddhist schools have adopted particular sutras, theorizing Buddhism can better be understood through written words. Other schools say Buddhism is not a theoretical system, and that truth does not reside in words.
          The Buddha himself took what is known as the middle way. It was a path of moderation, of self-control, of understanding that opened knowledge, and led to insight and awakening.
Master Dogen also favored the middle way. He said reading sutras was possibly one method of learning what Buddhism is. However, he added that wisdom was not in sutras, and that sutras did not have some supernatural element that led to awakening.
          Dogen looked beyond sutras as collections of words and pithy sayings. Just as he believed meditation was awakening, he believed all of existence was a sutra. Grass, trees, mountains, rivers, and self were all Buddhist sutras, and they did not have to be numbered, named, and recited.
          Dogen cautioned that what we call self is not restricted by “me and you.” Self is not ego. Self is eyes and ears and all of the five physical senses.
Sutras are something to be read, to be recited, to be copied, to be received, and to be retained instinctively. But Dogen said sutras—like awakening—are to be experienced intuitively.
Instinct is a natural, built-in behavior, such as sharks attacking anything that seems to be food. Intuition is a gut feeling, an inner understanding that does not depend on logical thinking.
Dogen tells the story of Zen Master Kodo who one day was told that his monks were anticipating his instruction.
“Strike the bell,” Kodo said.
The monks gathered.
Kodo sat in front of the monks for a few minutes, saying nothing. Then he got up and went back to his quarters.
The temple chief was puzzled. He asked the master why he hadn’t said a word.
Kodo answered, “There are sutra teachers, and there are commentary teachers. I can speak at great length on such subjects. However, I teach neither. Instead, I encourage intuition, and there is little to speak of on that matter.”
          Another story tells of a master who was conversing with a king. The king said, “Everyone else recites sutras. Why is it that you do not?”
          The master said memorizing sutras and bringing sutras here and there was a state of bustling and jostling. The true state of mind was not measured by a perfect memory or faultless understanding. It was beyond wisdom, in the living of the moment.
          One more story tells of a government official who requested that a master read and recite all of the sutras. The master and the official bowed to each other.
          Then they bowed again.
Then they bowed some more.
Finally the master said, “Do you understand?”
          The official said, “I do not understand.”
          The master said, “You have two eyes, two ears, and one tongue. We have read and recited and experienced all of the sutras. How could you not understand?”
          And now I have a question for you, and you don’t have to shake your head or nod your head.
          Do you understand?


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