The Fragrance of Suchness


“If you truly want to read the sutras, you first have to awaken the mind that does the reading. All formal readings from the sutras are ultimately destructive. The wonderful dharma of one’s mind does not change through successive eons; it is the essence of all the sutras. If you want to comprehend this essence, you should know that the voices of frogs and worms, the sound of wind and raindrops, all speak the wonderful language of the dharma and that birds in flight, swimming fish, floating clouds, and flowing streams all turn the dharma wheel. When you see the wordless sutra only once, the sutras of all the heavens with their golden words which fill one’s eyes clearly manifest. If you read the sutras with this kind of understanding, you will never be idle throughout endless eons. If you do not have this kind of understanding, you will spend your whole life covering the surface of black beans.*” 

Many mistake mere formalized reading of the sutras as hearing the True Buddhadharma. When initiated as such it all falls on deaf ears, ears that are no more alive and aware than a rotting corpse in a charnel house. The essence of all sutras are recognized only through the ‘wonderful dharma of one’s mind’, the same Self-Mind recognition that is changeless and deathless. The sutras are then alive with the fragrance of True Suchness. This Suchness is not confined to mere words written on parchment that are no more real than squashed flies on paper. All the fowl of the air Sing the Great Wordless Dharma as much as Huike proclaiming IT with his arm dangling down in that blood-stained snow; read in such a manner the golden words of the sutrayana will blossom in innumerable Buddha-fields untold. Suddenly the blind man will pipe a tune that is not heard through surface chatter but only through the Mind of proper awakening. One first needs to be blind and immune from the infectious intoxication that blots the World’s eye in order to Clearly See the churning dharma-wheel of the Tathagatas. In the land of the living dead the Dharma-eyed one is King.

*Black beans signify words (Chinese characters written with brush and black ink). Hence the meaning: You will spend your life touching the surface of words without understanding their substance.–Braverman

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3 Responses to The Fragrance of Suchness

  1. Kantairon says:

    Beautiful passage from Bassui.

    I would just add that it’s also wrong to misunderstand this to mean: “first get enlightened, then read the Sutras” – , since the Sutras contain what is needed for awakening. It is the Sutras that open the eye that allow one to read the Sutras. No Guru is needed, just the Sutra. This is Sutrayana.

    Yes, mere “lip service” and formalized reading is no good. But I would still recommend it. It still plants seeds in one’s mind, seeds that can one day grow to true understanding. Even if one learns just a few verses of the Lotus Sutra by heart, without understanding, it’s still in his mind, as a latent seed that can one day flower into a wonderful lotus blossom.

    This is why the Lotus Sutra incessantly insists that just reading a few lines of the Sutra is such an immense merit, or telling a few lines of the Sutra to other people… in some passages it even says it’s superior to aeons of sitting meditation. This sounds quite slanderous to a Theravadin. But the logic behind it is sound! (Seed of enlightenment; inherent Buddha-nature vs gradual “self-improvement”…)

    Of course if one just reads the sentences of the Lotus Sutra as if it was some philosophical treatise or some normal religious book, then one misses the Entity of the Lotus. The Heart of the Lotus is to be found within the Lotus Sutra. It is the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus within the Lotus Sutra that one has to find. ( – Just like Tozen taught that one has to find the Word within the Lankavatara Sutra.)

    Hui-neng received awakening directly from the Sutra. In the records, he actually recommends everyone to study the Diamond Sutra, which he says contains everything that is needed for awakening.

    Hakuin Ekaku in the letter to the Nichiren nun states, I paraphrase: “There is no Mind outside of the Lotus Sutra; there is not Lotus Sutra outside of the Mind.”

    Hakuin first read the LS and thought it’s not profound enough (as a young Zennist). But later as a 40+ year old man, he read it again, and it he got his final and greatest satori.

    The beautiful thing about Sutras is that they don’t have the flaws of humans. A text will not try to sexually abuse you, like it often happens in the Guru Yoga and Zen traditions. If you stake your karmic destiny on a person, then there’s always a risk involved.

    “Rely on the Dharma, not on persons.”

    Tiantai Master Zhiyi said:

    “How could the coarse thinkable be different from the marvelous unthinkable? Without leaving words and letters we can thus speak the meaning of liberation. The crux is just to realize how the thinkable is identical to the unthinkable.”

    Moreover, in the Procedure for the Lotus Samādhi
    Repentance, he claims that the highest form of realization is accessible through “mere ritual recitation of the Lotus Sūtra, without entering into samādhi.” (T46.843b15-18)

    The latter seems to be at odds with Bassui’s statement. But actually it is not! Why can ritual recitation, too, be a vessel of the highest enlightenment?

    Bassui speaks from his enlightened perspective, that frogs and rain and rocks and mountains are giving Dharma lectures. This is truly an advanced stage of realization.

    Now Zhiyi speaks from the same point of view, but he includes the Sutra itself. The mere sounds and letters of the Sutra, too, like frogs and the sound of the wind, contain realization.

    This is why the imageless word of the Lotus Sutra is its title, which contains the whole Sutra within it: popularly rendered in the Japanese reading, “Myoho-Renge-Kyo”.

    Once this is realized, everything becomes an instance of the Lotus Entity, all the universe speaks the Lotus Sutra.

    In this age of Dharma decline when so many people are thirsty for True Dharma teaching, and there are so many wolves in monk’s robes out there, – today Sutrayana is more relevant than ever.

    Like Tozen said: “You have roof over your head, you’re not born into starvation, you’re living in a peaceful country, and you have good Sutras. What else do you need?”

    The Sutras contain the key that unlocks the Sutras.

    • Vajragoni says:

      “The Sutras contain the key that unlocks the Sutras”

      Right. Now how is the key ever first put into use?

      I suggest your quote from Hakuin is still not sinking in for you…

      What is this “Thing” called enlightenment? You are still far from Bassui’s Light.

  2. Kantairon says:

    “Enlightenment” means different things in different contexts. In most contexts, it implies somebody’s ego-trip.

    As for the one who is commenting here, he is not claiming to be either enlightened, nor is he claiming to be especially ignorant.

    Yet, when you say I am far from it – what is this “Thing” you think I’m far away from?

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