Zen Study Group

See our virtual practice schedule for meeting times.

October Discussion, led by Eishin Tom Houghton:

The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion: The Diamond Sutra

“To give rise to a bodhisattva mind, that is, to the deepest understanding and the greatest ability to help others, where should our mind take refuge and how can we master our thinking?  The Diamond Sutra is a response to this question.”  – Thich Nhat Hanh

It is said that the sixth patriarch, Huineng, gained enlightenment instantly as he overheard someone reciting the Diamond Sutra.  This contributed to a significant historical turning point in Zen teaching emphasis, transitioning from the Lankavatara Sutra to the Diamond Sutra, as exemplified in the legendary verse competition between Huineng, a Diamond Sutra supporter and eventual sixth patriarch, and Shen-hsui, a supporter of the Lankavatara Sutra.

To help us through the sutra, we will be using Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, “The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Diamond Sutra”.  Other commentaries are also welcome.

November Discussion, led by Vicki Goldsmith

The Stories of the Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra is not really a chant; it is an anthology, a collection of many stories, myths, parables, poems, and sermons, usually translated into twenty-eight chapters.  To keep it from being overwhelming, we will examine a few of the best known stories to find the threads that run through all of them.  In his translator’s introduction, Burton Watson says, “The profound influence which the Lotus Sutra has exerted upon the cultural and religious life of the countries of eastern Asia is due as much to its function as a guide to devotional practice as to the actual ideas that it expounds.  It calls upon us to act out the sutra with our bodies and minds rather than merely reading it, and in that way enter into its meaning.”

In his Introduction to The Stories of the Lotus Sutra, Gene Reeves says, “ …there are no exceptions to having Buddha-nature; therefore you cannot make an exception of yourself.

“That, I think, is the core purpose of the Lotus Sutra, not merely the abstract notion of universal awakening, but the always-present possibility and power of awakening, which is a kind of flowering, in each of us.

“These stories, then, are instruments, skillful means, to help us see and embrace what we might not otherwise see or appreciate—the potential and power in each of us to take up the way of the bodhisattva, which is to become supremely awakened, which is to become a buddha.

Rafe Martin, in the book’s Foreword, says, “the ancient teachings illumine the mind, and the mind illumines the ancient teachings.”  In other words, we ourselves have to bring the Lotus Sutra to life, even as it works skillfully on bringing us into our own real life.  The relationship is dynamic and mutual, never static…Stories of compassion awaken our own kindness and generosity.  Stories of cause and effect make us wiser.  Stories that change our perception of our own deep purposes on this earth can change the way we actually live and interact with ourselves and with our fellow beings.  Stories in words may open doors unreachable by other technologies.  Like the swimmer visualizing and practicing in a visionary pool, they help us develop our skills to first imagine, and then live, well.

“Be forewarned!  This book might transform you into the kind of Buddhist who loves the Lotus Sutra and therefore deeply cares about this world.”

November Reading Materials