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Updated: Jun 29, 2019

Two lovely Sutras to Meditate with

What is a Sutra?

by Daigaku Rummé,

Sutra is a Sanskrit word that originally meant string or thread, although it is now commonly used to refer to the discourses of Shakyamuni Buddha. Sutra is derived from the same verbal root as the English words “to sew” and “suture.” The Sanskrit word was later translated in China and Japan using a character that had the radical for “string” or “thread.” The connection between string and scripture derives from the fact that these were oral teachings that were sewn together from a common theme and passed down from generation to generation. It wasn’t until the first century BCE that people began to write down the Buddhist sutras.

Each sutra is an independent text that includes a description of the circumstances that led the Buddha to give the teaching and also notes the place, the time of year, and so forth. The actual teaching instruction follows, usually in a simple, easy- to-understand form that is rich in parables and allegories. These early sutras are all attributed to the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni.

While some schools of Buddhism emphasize the study and also the memorization of sutras as a means to understand the nature of practice and to embody the Buddhist teachings, some schools, primarily Zen, emphasize that Buddhist practitioners must not rely on words. “If you say the word ‘fire,’ why doesn’t it burn your lips? If you say the word ‘water,’ why doesn’t it quench your thirst?” These are rhetorical questions that a Zen master might ask his or her students, prodding them to see that the teachings, whether sutras or otherwise, are only descriptions and not the thing itself. “Fingers pointing at the moon” is another well-known Zen expression that describes how the sutras only point to the objective of liberation; the analogy is used to encourage practitioners not to be overly concerned with the explanations provided by the sutras, but rather to realize that the moon of liberation we seek is the dharma itself.

As Shakyamuni Buddha was about to die, Ananda asked him what he should rely on after his death, and the Buddha said, “Be a lamp onto yourself; make the dharma into a lamp rather than simply believing in my teachings.” The reality that has come to be called the buddhadharma didn’t belong to Shakyamuni Buddha, but rather belongs to all people who realize the dharma for themselves.

The Metta Sutta

This is what should be done

By one who is skilled in goodness,

And who knows the path of peace:

Let them be able and upright,

Straightforward and gentle in speech,

Humble and not conceited,

Contented and easily satisfied,

Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.

Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,

Not proud or demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing

That the wise would later reprove.

Wishing: In gladness and in safety,

May all beings be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be;

Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,

The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,

The seen and the unseen,

Those living near and far away,

Those born and to-be-born —

May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,

Or despise any being in any state.

Let none through anger or ill-will

Wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life

Her child, her only child,

So with a boundless heart

Should one cherish all living beings;

Radiating kindness over the entire world:

Spreading upwards to the skies,

And downwards to the depths;

Outwards and unbounded,

Freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down

Free from drowsiness,

One should sustain this recollection.

This is said to be the sublime abiding.

By not holding to fixed views,

The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,

Being freed from all sense desires,

Is not born again into this world.

We’ll use the Metta Sutta, The Buddha’s Sermon in Impartial Kindness, as the template overview for practicing liberation from suffering. We’ll have time to study the sermon, practice both mindfulness and lovingkindness meditation, and have discussions and Q&A about obstacles to practice.


The Heart Sutra

Form is no other than emptiness,

Emptiness no other than form.

Form is only emptiness,

Emptiness only form.

Feeling, thought, and choice,

Consciousness itself,

Are the same as this.

All things are by nature void

They are not born or destroyed

Nor are they stained or pure

Nor do they wax or wane

So, in emptiness, no form,

No feeling, thought, or choice,

Nor is there consciousness.

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body,


No color, sound, smell, taste,


Or what the mind takes hold of,

Nor even act of sensing.

No ignorance or end of it,

Nor all that comes of ignorance;

No withering, no death,

No end of them.

Nor is there pain, or cause of pain,

Or cease in pain, or noble path

To lead from pain;

Not even wisdom to attain!

Attainment too is emptiness.

So know that the Bodhisattva

Holding to nothing whatever,

But dwelling in Prajna wisdom,

Is freed of delusive hindrance,

Rid of the fear bred by it,

And reaches clearest Nirvana.

All Buddhas of past and present,

Buddhas of future time,

Using this Prajna wisdom,

Come to full and perfect vision.

Hear then the great dharani,

The radiant peerless mantra,

The Prajnaparamita

Whose words allay all pain;

Hear and believe its truth!

Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate

Bodhi Svaha

Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate

Bodhi Svaha

Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate

Bodhi Svaha


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