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[FN#119] facts.

[FN#119] 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 i
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,

Suvarnaprabhasottamaraja, etc.

(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

and Mahavaipulya-mahasannipata-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,[FN#120] 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.

[FN#120] 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,[FN#121] 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[FN#122] 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

Three Worlds?[FN#123]

[FN#121] A learned Japanese Buddhist scholar, who died in 1882.

[FN#122] A famous Zen master, the abbot of the So-ji-ji Monastery,

who died in 1879.

[FN#123] Kin-sei-zen-rin-gen-ko-roku.

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.[FN#124]

[FN#124] Ukiyo-soshi.

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,[FN#125]





sattvacarya-surangama-sutra,[FN#129] Mahapari-nirvana-sutra,[FN#130]

Saddharma-pundarika-sutra, Avatamsaka-sutra, and so forth.

[FN#125] 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


[FN#126] 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.

[FN#127] 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.

[FN#128] 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.

[FN#129] 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.

[FN#130] 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

Gotama's death.