Monday, May 14, 2012

Lakavatara Sutra - A Poem

At Buddha's Deli Meats

The Tathagata is behind the counter,

The Dharma loaf is in the slicer.

The World-Honored One cuts it Lanka style,

Each slice thinner

Than the one before,

So thin that at last,

You'd swear it was non-existent!

In the end, he'll tell you

Not to eat meat at all.

Earlier this year, tipped off by Wild Fox Zen's Dosho Port, I was pleased to get a release day copy of Red Pine's new translation of The Lankavatra Sutra. This Buddhist text played an important role in the foundation and development of the Ch'an/Zen tradition in China, having been taught by the First Patriarch Bodhidharma and passed on by him to his first successor, Hui-k'o.

Previously available in English only in a dense and immensely difficult translation by Japanese scholar D.T. Suzuki, Red Pine (Bill Porter) has done the Western Zen world an immense service by providing a clearly written text with generous and illuminating facing-page notes on many terms and ideas that might otherwise be difficult for all but a scholar.

I see that a number of on-line Buddhist bloggers and reviewers have covered the book's publication, discussing its' history and significance and what each writer felt were its' merits and shortcomings. Not being a scholar, but instead a lazy poet and given only to short outbursts, I have confined my commentary to the poem above, a poem which it is largely necessary for one to have already read the book to understand. How useful is that?

I found the Lankavatra to be a total gem! It is filled with pithy explications of the mind-only view and the fundamental underpinnings of Zen thought, like the following;

"Assertions and denials
don't exist where there is only mind
as for the body, the world and possessions
unable to see these are mind
and bereft of any wisdom
fools assert and deny."
~ Mahamati's Questions, XXV

"4. In truth nothing arises from causes
nor does anything cease
regard conditioned things
like flowers in the sky
let go deluded views
the grasping and the grasped

5. Nothing has arisen or ever will
nor do causes or conditions exist
nothing exists at all
and these are nothing but words."
~ Mahamati's Questions, XXXI

The above poem and text was written several months ago, but not posted at the time and left unfinished due to illness. I'm undergoing a treatment that has a number of debilitating side-effects which have largely caused me to lose the energy for blogging. Rather than further developing these thoughts, I'm posting what I have written here now. I'm doing so mostly because I want to recommend this exciting text and translation to anyone who is interested in Zen and its' intellectual, scriptural roots.

For more information or to order a copy of the Lankavatara Sutra, go to