The Manifested Three Treasures, Part 1
Given by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi on June 11, 1967, at the San Francisco Zen Center’s City Center
Today I will explain Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Originally, Buddha is
the one who attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree and became a
teacher of all [Buddhist] teachers. Dharma is the teaching which was
spoken by Buddha, and Sangha is the group who studied under Buddha. This
way of understanding Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha is called the Manifested
Three Treasures, or as we say in Japanese, Genzen Sambo.
Genzen means to appear. Of course, whether Buddha appeared or not,
there is Truth. But if there is no one who realizes the truth, the truth
means nothing to us. So in this sense we say the manifestation of truth,
and the manifestation of truth is Sangha.
People who join the practice with harmony and unity are called Sangha. The meaning of Sangha is not only this group of people, but also the state of harmony or unity. Truth itself is Dharma, and the truth which is not divided into various forms is called Buddha, which is another interpretation of the Three Treasures. This understanding is called "one body/three treasures." Although there are three treasures, they are an interpretation of the one reality. So we call this kind of interpretation, "one body/three treasures" or ittai sambo. Ittai: ichi is one and itai is body; sambo is three treasures. Ittai sambo.
But within the social framework of culture we have Buddhist culture.
That culture consists of Buddha and his teaching, and the priests
[monks] or followers of Buddhism. So, this understanding of the Three
Treasures in Japanese is called juji sambo. Juji actually means
cultural sambo. Existing sambo is what exists in society
or within a cultural framework. So, beautiful buildings and Buddhist art
or Buddha’s image are, perhaps, Buddha. Scriptures written in a
beautiful design and literature are Dharma. Priests [monks] in robes are
The cultural Three Treasures are closely related to society. The Buddhist organization is also Sangha. So there are three ways of understanding the Three Treasures, but actually the three are not different. It is one and it is three. This is a very old way of oriental thinking, even before Buddha. Buddha applied this interpretation to our framework of teaching. I think Christianity has the idea of Trinity. This is the universal framework of religion. But in Buddhism there are many sects, so Buddhism does not combine many ways of understanding in one school.
Each school is based on some particular understanding or standpoint. We do not take many standpoints in one school. We especially emphasize this in Japan, but this is not sectarianism. Once we take a standpoint, we should develop that standpoint through and through until we can understand various standpoints. At first, each way of understanding has its own insight. But if your understanding becomes deeper and deeper, you can understand other viewpoints at the same time. This is how we establish various schools in Buddhism.
The Nichiren school takes the standpoint of Dharma. Dharma includes the other two, Buddha and Sangha. Their object of worship is the Lotus Sutra, and they repeat, nam myo ho renge kyo. "Myo ho ren ge kyo" is the title of the Lotus Sutra in Japanese. The Shin School repeats Amida Buddha’s name, Namu Amida Butsu. The Zen school repeats Buddha’s name, but the emphasis is on Sangha. The Zen school is not so concerned about the intellectual viewpoint or understanding. So we just repeat the founder’s name and say, Namu Shakyamuni Butsu. When we say Namu Shakyamuni Butsu, his scripture is included and his Sangha is also included; and we are a part of the Sangha. Even though we members of the Sangha are not direct disciples of Buddha, we are the descendants of Buddha. We are successors of Buddha; and because we emphasize the practice of attaining enlightenment as Buddha did, we naturally put emphasis also on Sangha. Through practice we build our character as Buddha did and that’s why we repeat Shakyamuni Buddha’s name. For us it is natural to repeat Shakyamuni Buddha’s name rather than Amida Buddha’s name or the name of a scripture. If you repeat the name of some scripture, you are liable to be bound by some teaching which was told by Buddha. Actually, it’s impossible to authorize some teaching as the absolute teaching because something which is told by some particular person could not be absolute, even though it was told by Buddha. It may be impossible to authorize the teaching for human beings.
You may say if it’s impossible to authorize even the teaching of Buddha, then how is it possible to authorize some person as a Buddha (laughs). This is the point we are studying. This is why we emphasize our practice, and we have a particular understanding of practice called practice based on original enlightenment. It may look like quite an unusual way to authorize Buddha’s Sangha, but this is more adequate and understandable. So Soto Zen emphasizes transmission from Buddha to us, and we emphasize Sangha or those who have transmission and who are disciples of Buddha.
Up to now I have talked about the three ways of understanding the Three Treasures. The first is the Manifested Three Treasures. The next is One Body Three Treasures, or a philosophical under-standing of the oneness of the Three Treasures. It is necessary to be concentrated on one thing. If we have three objects of worship, it is difficult to be concentrated; so we have to have some philosophical or intellectual understanding. But, in fact, what exists here is the actual activity of Buddha. Therefore we emphasize the Sangha.
The third way of understanding the Three Treasures is understanding our daily activity. This is the traditional Three Treasures or Cultural Three Treasures. But the Cultural Three Treasures are supported by philosophy and Buddha’s teaching and Buddha’s character, and the Cultural Three Treasures cannot be separated from the other two. When understanding the Three Treasures, each way will complement the other two and make our understanding complete. This is the Soto way of understanding the Three Treasures. We have the Three Treasures and what we do is practice zazen; that is our way. So, our understanding of practice is very different from that of other schools.
Each school has its own particular understanding of the Three Treasures. If you study each school’s understanding of the Three Treasures, you will have perfect understanding. And you will find that even though there are many schools, what each one actually means is the same. It must be so because religious life is the expression of our inmost nature which is universal to everyone. As Buddha attained enlightenment, we will attain enlightenment. What Buddha was striving for is the same thing we are striving for because we have the same inmost nature as a human being.
When you project your inmost nature into the objective world as Buddha, Dharma or Sangha, it is nothing but our inmost desire to be someone whom you can accept. You strive for something acceptable in its true sense. It is the same thing. You create God, and you strive for God. It means you are striving for yourself. And as we have the same human nature, our understanding of it must be the same. But if the standpoint is different, the way of explanation should be different, that’s all.
Tentatively, I am giving you an explanation of the Three Treasures. It may be necessary to explain it more, but as we have no time, I will explain the next paragraph.
We should revere the Three Treasures and make offerings to them. Veneration of the Buddha, the Law or Truth, and the Sangha is in accordance with a precept handed down by Buddha in India to the ancestors of China. These are the most important precepts handed down from Buddha to us. We should not worship a Genie of the mountains, or call upon the spirit of death for any reason whatsoever, nor should we pay homage to any heretical religion or religious edifice. Such worship does not lead to emancipation. The Three Treasures are not just an idea invented by someone. They are the universal framework of all the advanced religions, not just the framework of the Buddhist religion. But some hasty person, who usually does not pay any attention to religion, finding himself in some difficulty, may worship something like the god of fire, or god of water or some powerful natural spirit without any idea of what the teaching is, what God is, or true practice.
It is quite easy to know our inmost nature if it is related to the right way. And if we express that inmost nature in an appropriate way, it will develop. But if our inmost nature is misled by a hasty idea, a person may go astray and even destroy himself. This is why Buddha said that you should not worship the Genie of the mountains or call upon the spirit of death for any reason whatsoever. This is too simple.
Nor should we pay homage to any heretical...here it says heretical, but heretical is not an adequate translation. I don’t know if you have an appro-priate word for this. We say gedo. Gedo is "outer way" which is just a classification. We call Buddhist scripture "inner scripture," and other, non-Buddhist literature "outer." Whether inner or outer, it is the same thing; inside and outside. Outside does not mean bad, and inside is not always good. So, as Buddhists, we should not take absolute refuge in outer religious scriptures or organizations. It is not because they are bad, but because we should not mix up our viewpoint. If you try to discover something good, like a monkey in a cage, you will not find out anything. All you will find is radishes. And your stomach will be hurt (laugh). That is not our way. We should make some human effort always. That is why he says we should not pay homage to outer religious edifices. Such worship does not lead to emancipation. If we have only an idea of the Three Treasures, the Three Treasures will be the goal. If you just have an idea of God without a teaching of the way to God, you will be lost. You will be discouraged. If there is a God, there should be a way to God. But God is the absolute one. So it is a perpetual idea we have which cannot be attained. This point should be understood by people.
It is necessary to have some way to enjoy Buddhahood. Someone who enjoys or rejoices in Buddha nature is the perfect one, or Buddha. This kind of framework is very important. And there must be some practice. There must be some understanding of life. For us, our everyday life is practice itself. So in our everyday life we have religion, if you understand Buddhism. Of course, you will reach Buddhahood through your activity in everyday life. But if you worship some god just because of fear, in what way can you appeal to your inmost request? You will be lost. You will not be led to emancipation.
Before Buddhism became popular in Japan, Prince Shotaku set up our Constitution for the Japanese people. In the second chapter he said, "Respect the Three Treasures." He said that to follow the Three Treasures is the supreme way of attaining liberation for everyone. Because we use the termi-nology of Buddhism, it looks like what we are talking about is just Buddhism, but it is not actually so. That is why he said that if you worship some immature religion you will not attain enlightenment. To take refuge in the Triple Treasure it is necessary to have a pure faith. Whether it be at the time of the Tathagata or after his disappearance from the world, we should repeat his formula with clasped hands and bowed head, "I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha."
Pure faith includes our mental, physical and verbal effort. It is not enough to just think something or say something superficial. Pure faith means, not just faith in something, but real action – reality, realized action. This is necessary to have real practice. You should take refuge in the Triple Treasure with real effort, not false effort. And it doesn’t matter whether it is in the time of the Buddha Tathagata or not. In Zen Master Dogen’s time, almost everyone believed in the Three Periods of Buddhism. They said that in the last period people will not believe in Buddha and Buddhism will fade away into some other religion. But Dogen did not believe this. He believed that there is no difference in our practice, whether Buddha is here or not.
We take refuge in the Buddha because he is the great teacher. We take refuge in the Law because it is our medicine and points the way. We take refuge in the Sangha because the members are our wise friends. Although the Three Treasures are one, the understanding, or the way they help us is different. It is through this triple adoration that we become the disciples of Buddha. Without the Triple Treasure, or if one of them is missing, we cannot be a disciple of the Buddha. It is on the basis of this adoration that all the moral precepts of Buddhism rest.
We say "adoration," but just to adore Buddha is like a dream. It means nothing. So adoration should follow some actual practice or guidance. Without guidance, God means nothing. Even though you believe in a God, it will not help you if your everyday life is cut off from God. In that way God means nothing. So all the great religions have their teachings and followers. And where there are followers, there should be a way to attain enlightenment – not in the next life, but in this moment. This is Buddhism.
To be continued.
© Copyright San Francisco Zen Center 2013