Notes on scriptures
When I was new to Buddhism and our [Soto Zen] tradition, I found that there were bits of the scriptures that we use that were a bit obscure. Particularly some of the foreign words and references to the history of Zen. Here are some notes that I have compiled about the scriptures for my own information. They are compiled from various sources, including - the writings of Rev Master Jiyu-Kennet, publications by the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives and mostly from dharma-talks from monks.
The Scriptures used in the Ceremonies are translations from Japanese or Sanskrit and published in The Liturgy of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives for the Laity by P T N H Jiyu-Kennet (Shasta Abbey Press, California, 1990) and Scriptures and Ceremonies for Meditation Groups published by Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in 1997.
Note - these notes are only intended to aid an intelectual understanding of these scriptures and are not to be seen as a spiritual teaching or interprtation.
Bosatsu - Japanese for Bodhisattva.
Kanzeon - Japanese name for Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, also known in Japanese as Kannon or Kwannon, Kwan Yin in Chinese and Chenresi in Tibetan. Kanzeon is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, 'The hearer of the cries of the world'.
Koan - "public notice" - a saying of a Zen master that has been recorded. Koans are used in Rinzai Zen as objects for meditation.
Nirvana (nehan in Japanese) - the extinction of desire and delusion.
[click here to view a glossary of Japanese Zen terms]
In the scriptures you will see the use of an asterisk (*) to indicate the striking of the gong and a small cross (+) to indicate the striking of a signal bell. The gong is struck at the beginning and middle of the scripture when the priest sets off to make an incense offering at the altar and upon her/his return to the bowing mat. The priest makes the offering on behalf of everyone present at the ceremony. The congregation puts their hands together in gassho during the incense offering. The signal bell is struck during the last two lines/phrases of the scripture.
The Scripture of Avalokiteswara Bodhisattva.
This scripture is part of chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra, Renge Kyo in Japanese.
Scripture of Great Wisdom
This is one of the Prajnaparamita scriptures, and is commonly known as the "Heart Sutra" and called the Maka Hannya Haramita Kyo in Japanese.
The true refuge is to be found beyond all clinging. The Five Skhandas - five conditioned elements of existence forming a being : form/body, feeling/perception, perception, emotional reactions and consciousness.
Shariputra is one of the two chief disciples of the Buddha.
The skandas, sense organs, sense objects, four noble truths, etc. are usually said to be empty or void in this translation Reverend Master says they are "Void, Unstained and Pure", not just nothing/emptiness.
Prajnaparamita - perfection of wisdom.
Mantra : Shingon in Japanese, "True Words"
In Sanskrit the mantra is : Gate, gate. paragate, parasamgate bodhi, svaha.
and in (medieval) Japanese it is : Gya tei, gya tei, ha ra gya tei, hara so gya tei, bo ji so wa ka.
Usually translated as " gone, gone, gone totally beyond...." but here translated as " going, going, going on beyond, always becoming Buddha", because it is a continuing process, and a no stage can we say we have arrived.
Sandokai is Japanese for Ts'an t'ung ch'i a poem written by Chinese Master Shih t'ou Hsi ch'ien (700 790 CE) [ called Sekito Kisen in Japanese].
'The Patriarch of North and South' the only true Patriarch : "That Which Is".
The Eternal exists within both light and darkness.
It is not you who makes the two arrows meet in mid air, but your actions - one must act and take the consequences, be they good or evil.
"Set up not your own standards", but just keep practising.
"Do not waste time" - to understand Buddhism is to not waste your time.
The Most Excellent Mirror - Samadhi.
Hohyozammai in Japanese, San mei k'o in Chinese, written by Chinese Master Tung shan Liang chieh 807-869 CE ( called Tozan Ryokai in Japanese).
"This basic Truth" is that the Cosmic Buddha exists and It exists in You.
The white snow, the silver plate, the snowy heron and the bright moon are all white, but they are not the same thing ! Do not discriminate between their values.
The real Truth cannot be expressed in words, however hard we try; the words are not the truth. Do not go against the Truth by trying to capture It through words, logic or argument.
The shadows in the jewel mirror are karmic shadows, they are not reality, they are the egocentric self. They are shown to us so that we know what NOT to do, so we can leave the egocentric self behind and the Cosmic Buddha can take over.
"The changes five" or five positions are :-
1 the person looking through darkness, i.e. the position of
2 of seeing the koan and cleansing it and going beyond it.
3 of blessing it.
4 allowing water to flow over it.
5 of being still within it.
The five tastes of the Chi grass are bitter, sweet, hot, cold and salty.
"The absolute upright" is the correctly shaped spine sitting in meditation and the stem of the lotus. "... which holds many phenomena within its delicate balance..." everything is changing, always moving, but to be able to return to the first position after changes five shows what your potential was and still is.
The Ancestral Line.
The Blood Line; Ketchimyaku in Japanese. The unbroken succession from master to disciple, from the early Buddhas to the present day.
East authentic Zen tradition has its own version of the Ancestral Line. The names are chanted in Japanese or Japanese transliterations. The first names in the list are derived from Sanskrit, these are followed by Chinese names. "Daiosho" means "Great Priest" and "butsu" means Buddha.
It starts with the traditional seven Buddhas, Shakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha) being the seventh. The Indian ancestors follow from Mahakasyapa (Makakashyo Daiosho) to Bodhidharma (Bodhaidharuma Daiosho) who took the teaching to China. The Chinese ancestors follow up to Dogen Zenji (Eihei Koso Daiosho) who took the teaching to Japan. Keizan Jokin Daiosho wrote the Denkoroku - "The record of the transmission of the light" about the previous 53 Ancestors. Keido Chisan Daiosho is Rev Master Keido Chisan Koho who ivited Peggy Kennett to Soji-ji temple in Japan. And now the late Reverend Jiyu Kennett is added to the line as Houn Jiyu Daiosho, she died in 1996 CE.
Founders Ceremony :
The Litany of the Great Compassionate One
Adoration of the Buddha's Relics
The relics of the Buddha can be found in whatever points to the Truth. All things can teach us if we know how to view them correctly. Without the foundation of morality and great compassion for others, no progress can be made on the Path.
The music is from a Russian funeral march.
At the end of the ceremony there are three gratitude bows - one to the Buddha, one to the celebrant and one to the congregation.
Mid-day Service :
Rules for Meditation.
Fukan Zazenji in Japanese.. Written by Dogen in 1227 CE at Kennin ji in Kyoto. Dogen was troubled by the koan in his training - 'why do we have to train if we already have the Buddha Nature?'. None of his teachers in Japan could answer that question, which is why he travelled to China. This was the first scripture he wrote when he returned from China.
The opening paragraph refers to Dogen's personal koan, which comes from the Nirvana Sutra. The Buddha states that all beings have the Buddha Nature from their birth - Dogen wondered why we have to practice Buddhism if that is true.
'Since Truth is clearly apart ....' refers to the famous story of Daikan Eno the 6th Chinese patriarch and the two poems about the dust on the mirror.
'Cease from erudition' - do not try to find the Truth intellectually.
'...must start at once' - there is no time like the present!
'Cast off body and mind naturally' - when he experienced kensho Dogen described it as "body and mind dropped away".
'cut all ties, give up everything' - this does not mean that you have to cut yourself off from the world, but rather just put worldly things aside when meditating; just let them become still.
'breath in quickly' - start the meditation with one deep breath to clear stale air from your lungs.
'The koan appears naturally in daily life" - problems and dilemmas occur naturally - we do not have to look for them or study the koans of the Masters.
The Dragon - often portrayed as the defender of the Buddhist faith in mythology. It is also a metaphor for Buddha-Nature.
The mountain where the tiger roams = Karma.
"You are in possession of the vital attributes of a human being" - being born into the "human realm" rather than the "animal realm" or the other four realms of the 'wheel of life' is seen as being a very precious opportunity to become enlightened by many Buddhists."Do not waste time with this and that" - to understand Buddhism is to not waste your time.
"Of what use is to merely enjoy this fleeting world?" - there are many pleasures to be found in this life but they are not permanent.
"Do not doubt the true Dragon..." comes from a Japanese folk tale to someone who collected statues of dragons, but when he met a real dragon did not realize it was not another statue.
'Rubbing only part of the elephant' - an old Buddhist/Indian story about the blind men describing an elephant, each feeling different parts of the animal.
This ceremony is usually followed by a period of sitting meditation.
Evening Office :
These invocations are asking for the help of the Bodhisattvas. We are asking because we are willing to change and aspiring to have their attributes.
The Litany of the Great Compassionate One.
The heart of Kanzeon is compassion. Kanzeon stands in the waters of compassion
Hymn to Acalanatha.
The Mandela is our training ground. Acalanatha Fudo myo in Japanese, "the Great Immovable One".
One of the Kings of Light, representing the dynamic will to enlightenment.
Acalanatha stands in the flames of suffering. but accepts the present situation, not running away from that which is unpleasant. In one hand he has the rope of the Precepts, in the other the sword to cut away the Fetters. He is willing be still amongst the three fires of greed, hatred and delusion; allowing the opposites to arise and naturally dissolve. We should trust in our meditation 'the temple of our own heart', in every situation 'the myriad mountains'.
Hymn to Mahakala.
Mahakala - the "great black one", Daikoku in Japanese. Portrayed with a large sack on his back and a mallet in the right hand. He is the defender of the Dharma, carrying the sack of Emptiness. We should not try to see what is in the sack but learn to give freely and trust the Dharma. Mahakala is also the kitchen guardian, willing to give the food of the Dharma and protecting the kitchen from fire. In the monasteries of Japan, with many wooden buildings, fires often began in the kitchen.
'The arrow of emptiness' can pierce the darkness of delusion, when we want to give and want nothing in return.
Hymn to the Cosmic Buddha.
The Cosmic Buddha - Vairocana Buddha, Birushanfu or Dainichi Nyorai in Japanese. Another term for the Eternal, Dharmakaya (Law Body) or Buddhahood. The statue of the Cosmic Buddha is on the altar in the Meditation Hall at Throssel Hole. In the left hand is (or usually is) a small statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, the right hand is in the mudra of fearlessness and welcome. All are welcome if they choose to turn in that direction.
The Golden Bell that rings but once.
'The golden bell' is the eternal sound of meditation, which rings constantly.
Zen Monks meditate on the pillow (their Zafu) and use it as a pillow when they sleep.
'Makura Om' Japanese for 'peace upon the pillow' !
Meal time Ceremonies :
'At first the mallet will strike the Buddha on the foot, then it will strike him on the head' at first we make a realisation by accident, later we will realise its significance.
These notes are based on publications and teachings of the OBC, and are offered in the hope they will help in the understanding of the ceremonial scriptures. If you have come across any more or can correct any errors, please let me know, thanks, Mike.
further information about the scriptures can be found in:
Batchelor M 1999. Principles of Zen. Thorsons. 127pp
Benson, K 2001. Vespers, Part I: "The Litany of the Great Compssionate One". The Journal of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives 16, no. 4, 18-29.
Benson, K 2001. Vespers, Part II. The Journal of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives 17, no. 1, 27-33.
Chadwick D 1999. Crooked Cucumber. Thorsens, London. 432pp.
Koho KC 2000. Soto Zen. Sahsta Abbey Press, California.160pp (first published in Japan in 1960; this version editied by Rev Jisho Perry). [Ancestral Line]
Nearman H (trans) 1993. The Dekoroku Shasta Abbey Press, California. 303pp [Ancestral Line]Okumora S, 1985. Shikantaza - an introduction to zazen . Kyoto Soto Zen Centre. 130pp [Rules for meditation]
Suzuki, D T 1960. Manual of Zen Buddhism. Grove Press, New York.192pp. [Heart Sutra]
Suzuki, Shunryo 1999. Branching Streams flow in the darkness - Zen talks on the Sandokai. University of California Press, Berkeley.195pp [Sandokai]
Wessex EducationTelevision Consortium 1990. [Video] Morning Service at Throssel Hole Priory. 22 minutes.
updated May 1997 , March 2001, August 2001, August 2003
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