The Lanka sutra of one word – Koan 84

No. 84. The Lanka sutra of one word

Kataoka Moritada had studied spells for a long time under a teacher of the Esoteric Shingon sect. Happening to stay overnight in one of the guest rooms at Kenchoji temple, he asked priest Kinkei:

In the Lanka sutra spells which are recited by the Zen sect followers, there are many names of the terrible gods invoked by the followers of the outer ways in the heaven of the west (India). What good is it to recite that sort of spell?’

Don’t you know what is said in the sutra itself?’ replied the teacher. ‘It says that water drunk by the snake becomes poison, but the water drunk by a cow becomes milk. In the same way, the terrible gods of India, when they come into the heart of a Zen man, become protective divinities for the dharma; so when he recites them, the terrible gods of India become great manifestations of Bodhisattvas to save the world. To recite such spells, what harm is there in that?’ The inquirer said: ‘I’m not saying anything about harm. I’m asking what good it is.’

The teacher said: ‘Good is in the heart of the reciter; it has nothing to do with saying spells.’

The inquirer said: ‘If so, then rather than reciting the long spells of the Lanka sutra, it would be better to use the short spells of Shingon.’

The teacher replied: ‘The recitation of the Lanka spells in our sect had its origin with the Sung master Shinketsu as a propitiatory prayer for relief against plague, but always a Zen man when he recites long spells, is doing so simply as a prop to help the feelings of other people. If for ourselves we recite the Lanka sutra spell, we do it in just one word. The gateway to the true spell of the Zen sect is the course of the four postures (standing, sitting, lying, going). What need to talk about long or short spells?’


Say the Lanka spell in just one word.

This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of priest Soen, the 62nd master at Kenchoji.

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