The Tibetan prayer wheel enclosed a minimal scripture

Inner Scripture

There has to be an inner scripture. The Tibetan prayer wheel enclosed a minimal scripture, or a sentence from a scripture. But the real effect is from revolving in the heart, not from the external whirling. Again, two Chinese Zen monks, in the same monastery, thought they would help each other to remember the urgency of the Buddhist undertaking, by writing on their foreheads the six-stroke Chinese character DEATH.

The idea was, that each time one of them saw the other, he would be reminded that on his own forehead too was the word Death, and he would recall the urgency of the Buddhist aspiration to go beyond life-and-death. A visitor to the monastery saw them, and was much impressed. He asked the abbot about it, and was surprised when the old master said: “Oh, it is all right for beginners perhaps. But until that word is written, not on the outer forehead, but on the inner forehead, ever present before the mind, it will not have its true effect.”

A girl in 18th century Japan was a great devotee of the famous Lotus Sutra, one of the basic texts of Mahayana Buddhism. Every day she used to put the text of the Sutra on an altar in her room with flowers and incense, and recite a section of it with the utmost reverence. Then she would sit in devotional meditation before it for an hour. Gradually the time grew longer, and she also began to do the same thing in the evening. The rest of the time she was a loyal and hard-working daughter and the parents were proud of her.

One day during her devotional period, they were shocked to hear a crash from her room. Alarmed, they went in, and were further shocked at what they saw. The flower vase had been knocked over, the water had extinguished the incense, and the scroll of the Lotus Sutra had been spread out on the floor. Their pious daughter was sitting on top of it, sewing a torn garment. She was quite unabashed by their protests. They realised that something had happened that was beyond them, and sent a message to the Zen master Hakuin, whose temple was not far away. He sent her a riddling message, which she correctly understood to indicate that the expressions of realisation (satori) are best kept within bounds. She sighed: “So even Master Hakuin does not sit down really hard,” but shortly after she went to him and became one of his disciples.

This incident echoes a saying of Master Dogen: “Sit on the Lotus: don’t let the Lotus sit on you.” When the individual self, with all its imperfections and desires, comes before the Sutra, it can feel crushed by the majesty and perfection of the Sutra; but when it gives up its own individuality, and individual desires, it finds itself supported on the rock of the Sutra.

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