This document was originally distributed on Internet as a part of the
Electronic Buddhist Archives, available via anonymous FTP and/or
COOMBSQUEST gopher on the node COOMBS.ANU.EDU.AU
The document's ftp filename and the full directory path are given in the
coombspapers top level INDEX file.
This version of the document has been reformatted by Barry Kapke and is
being distributed, with permission, via the DharmaNet Buddhist File
[Last updated: 25 October 1993]
WHY DO WE RECITE SUTRAS?
by Hakuun Yasutani Roshi
This text addresses some of the most fundamental and delicate religious
issues. Therefore, it should be read, quoted and analysed in a mindful
Copyrights (c) by Robert Aitken and Sydney Zen Center
251 Young St., Annandale, Sydney, NSW 2038, Australia.
(Hakuun Yasutani Roshi (1885-28 Mar 1973) was a successor of Daiun
Sogaku Roshi and a teacher of Koun Yamada Roshi. He was one of Maezumi
Roshi's three principle teachers. He visited the United States each year
from 1962 to 1969, holding a number of sesshin from coast to coast. More
articles by and about Yasutani Roshi appear in the Yasutani Roshi
Memorial Issue of the Zen Center of Los Angeles Journal, available in
the ZCLA Bookstore. This document was scanned from an un-referenced 2-
page typed manuscript in the collection of the Sydney Zen Center.)
There are three reasons why we recite sutras. First, we recite them to
make an offering to Buddhist patriarchs; second, to create a noble
relationship with all beings; third, to unite these first two actions
with our Buddhist training.
The first reason, to make a sincere offering to Buddhist patriarchs, is
a natural expression of gratitude for the opportunity to hear, to
believe, to learn and to realize Buddhist teaching.
Our action in erecting a Buddhist image and offering it incense,
flowers, candle-light and deep bows is such an expression. The greatest
delight for Buddhist patriarchs is for their followers to respect, to
maintain and to spread the teaching. Therefore, we sit before an image
and recite with sincerity the sutras which they composed. In this way,
our sutra recitation is the expression of our gratitude to them.
Second, Buddhist followers want to have others know about and believe
and realize the noble teaching of the Buddha. In order to do this, we
must read sutras as often as possible. It is necessary and important to
do this to establish a relationship with many people. You may ask why,
then, we may read sutras alone, or before a dead person. Such recitation
has value, and I will explain it to you.
We recite sutras before others as an education of their subconscious
minds. On the surface, it may seem that effectiveness of teaching is
limited by the extent of understanding. So, it may be thought, if we
read difficult sutras, they will have no effect. However, only people
who do not understand the power and subtlety of the subconscious, hold
such an opinion. If you have studied only a little about the
subconscious, you will know that even though you do not grasp meaning
with your conscious mind, you may understand very clearly with your
subconscious. Or, if you do not get any conscious impression, you may
already have a subconscious impression. Moreover, you will know, if you
have studied the matter, that our conscious mind is influenced by our
subconscious; indeed, that our subconscious operates absolute control
over our character.
Now, reading sutras alone in a mountain temple is announcing Buddha's
teaching to all the world, to all the universe. For our conscious minds,
we need a radio station and a radio. However, on the subconscious level,
all people in this world and all life in this universe receive perfectly
the sutras recited by one person in a mountain temple, and they accept
completely the doctrines of Buddhism.
Moreover, if you know the grandeur and subtlety of the thinking process,
you will realize that just thinking the sutras, without using the voice,
has a great influence upon the people of the world
Thus, whether or not others can see or hear, whether they are alive or
long dead, if we recite sutras time and again with great conviction to
the visible and invisible worlds, we permeate everywhere and guide many
to Buddhism, saving all beings. Therefore, the recitation of sutras is
very meaningful work.
I presume that you understand that the first two elements of sutra
recitation are elements of Buddhist training. But I want to emphasize
this point, that there is a great difference in effectiveness in both
elements according to the way you recite the sutras -- with great energy
and single-mindedness, or half-heartedly.
At the same time, there is also a great difference in effectiveness in
the third aspect of sutra recitation. This third element is this: if you
recite sutras with great energy and single-mindedness frequently, then
your own samadhi-power will be strengthened and you will have a good
chance for satori. Or, if you have already awakened, your satori will
shine more brilliantly in your character and act more effectively in
your everyday life. The most important attitude in reciting sutras is to
recite with your whole spirit.
In conclusion, let me say that if you recite sutras with your whole
heart, there will be no difference between zazen and your recitation.
Eido Tai Shimano Roshi
Robert Chotan Aitken Roshi
end of file