The Heart Sūtra is one of the most-studied scriptures in Zen Buddhism; while it’s one of the shortest, it’s packed with references to overloaded terms like emptiness. Red Pine unpacks a lot of the baggage, examining the original Sanskrit writings (and tracking down their variations) and creating his own translation from scratch, then going over it line by line in as much detail as needed to give the context of the words. His perspective seems generally Mahāyāna rather than particularly Zen.

I quite like how he’ll dig into Sanskrit etymology when he feels it’s necessary to examine the details of a verb conjugation to try and get at the original meaning intended by the unknown writer of the sūtra. He also provides the context necessary to see that the Heart Sūtra is as much an academic manifesto as it is a work of Buddhist scripture, and includes historical commentary as well as his own. (He even brings in some of the 7th century monastic infighting, which hilariously look a lot like modern academic pissing contests— I can see why Eihei Dōgen was inspired to start a back-to-basics movement!)

This is an excellent look at the scholarly underpinnings of the Heart Sūtra. It does a fairly good job of not requiring a background in academic Buddhism to understand it, though I want to grab a kyôsaku and smack a lot of these ancient scholars he quotes when they take the logical equivalent of a running broad jump with the word “thus”.


From: [identity profile] racerxmachina.livejournal.com


Why is the Lotus Sutra such a big deal in Japan, especially Heian Japan? People who are about to die in Heian-era stories are often consoled by the promise of loved ones copying the Lotus Sutra for them. I think it's supposed to knock some years off the parole, or something. What is the Lotus about?

From: [identity profile] sandpanther.livejournal.com


I'd be really intrigued to borrow this book at some point. Mucking through commentary on the Heart Sutra in Japanese is... slow going, at best.

Alas, I have a plane to catch in half an hour so I don't have time to go into the details of belief in the nenbutsu in Pure Land Buddhism/True Pure Land Buddhism. Remind me at a later time and I can go into it. It's closer to Christianity's placing faith in a savior who will take care of everything than it is a recitation of a mystic phrase.

I'll address the Lotus sutra when I get home. Must eat, then get to a plane.

From: [identity profile] sandpanther.livejournal.com


I'd have to disagree that the Pure Land sects are about the magic. Shingon, I can accept, and esoteric Tendai, yes. But Pure Land Buddhism revolves around placing one's faith in Amida Buddha (Amitabha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amit%C4%81bha)to achieve salvation. This faith is based out of the Infinite Life Sutra, where this buddha makes a series of vows (http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/48-bosatsu-vows.shtml) including one that he will save anyone who calls on his name for salvation. (It's very like Christianity in this regard.) The only "magical phrase" used in Pure Land Buddhism is the nembutsu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nianfo), which basically means "All praise to Amida Buddha". No one outside of the (fairly obscure) Ji sect believes that the words themselves have any kind of power. It's used at its essence as a way of bringing the believer to Amida's attention, and more generically as a profession of faith that Amida will bring the believer to Amida's Western Paradise. It's also sometimes used as a mantra for meditation. If Red Pine is claiming that the nembutsu is a magical phrase then maybe I don't want to read him. It sounds like he's mixing his sects up.

Copying sutras is like studying scriptures, with the added benefits that it allows folks to be able to spread the Dharma by having spare copies of said scriptures. It's "magical" only insofar as any act of devotion brings merit.

If you want to look at magic in Buddhism you need to look at the esoteric sects. Japan has the largest concentration of followers of the esoteric traditions, with the esoteric Tendai, and particularly the Shingon sects. It's a bit hard to find much on them in English, since many of their teachings have traditionally been secret teachings only passed on to followers.

From: [identity profile] sandpanther.livejournal.com


The Zen Chef uses skillful means when he says that cooking can lead to enlightenment. The idea is anything that brings one closer to enlightenment is a good thing, even if it's not "true" in the most ultimate sense.

On the flip side of the ethical slippery slope, skillful means can be used beneficially. Nichiren (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nichiren) used it to take the complex Buddhism of his day and transform it into something that gave the common people hope of being able to make progress in this lifetime, rather than being condemned to badness simply because they have to make a living and eat something.

From: [identity profile] sandpanther.livejournal.com


The Lotus Sutra is the main text for the Tendai sect, and particularly the Nichiren sect. (Nichiren is irrelevant to Heian-period writings, since he didn't come along until several centuries later.) Tendai Buddhism, with its main center of worship based on Mt. Hiei to the northeast of the capital, had a huge influence in Kyoto, particularly among the nobility. Like any book of scripture, it covers a lot of topics, so it's kind of hard to summarize in just a few sentences. (Particularly since it's a good deal longer than the Heart Sutra.)

Copying a sutra for someone is kind of like praying for them, or making an offering on the person's behalf.
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