Manual Of Zen Buddhism 2- Gathas and Prayers



Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, D.Litt., Professor of Buddhist Philosophy in the Otani University, Kyoto, was born in 1870. He is probably now the greatest living authority on Buddhist philosophy, and is certainly the greatest authority on Zen Buddhism. His major works in English on the subject of Buddhism number a dozen or more, and of his works in Japanese as yet unknown to the West there are at least eighteen. He is, moreover, as a chronological bibliography of books on Zen in English clearly shows, the pioneer teacher of the subject outside Japan, for except for Kaiten Nukariya’s Religion of the Samurai (Luzac and Co., 1913) nothing was known of Zen as a living experience, save to the readers of The Eastern Buddhist (1921-1939), until the publication of Essays in Zen Buddhism (Volume I) in 1927.

Dr. Suzuki writes with authority. Not only has he studied original works in Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese and Japanese, but he has an up-to-date knowledge of Western thought in German and French as well as in the English which he speaks and writes so fluently. He is, moreover, more than a scholar; he is a Buddhist. Though not a priest of any Buddhist sect, he is honoured in every temple in Japan, for his knowledge of spiritual things, as all who have sat at his feet bear witness, is direct and profound. When he speaks of the higher stages of consciousness he speaks as a man who dwells therein, and the impression he makes on those who enter the fringes of his mind is that of a man who seeks for the intellectual symbols wherewith to describe a state of awareness which lies indeed “beyond the intellect”.

To those unable to sit at the feet of the Master his writings must be a substitute. All these, however, were Out of print in England by 1940, and all remaining stocks in Japan were destroyed in the fire which consumed three-quarters of Tokyo in 1945. When, therefore, I reached Japan in 1946, I arranged with the author for the Buddhist Society, London–my wife and myself as its nominees–to begin the publication of his Collected Works, reprinting the old favourites, and printing as fast as possible translations of the many new works which the Professor, self-immured in his house at Kyoto, had written during the war.

This undertaking, however, was beyond the powers of the Buddhist Society, and we therefore secured the assistance of Rider and Co., who, backed by the vast resources of the House of Hutchinson, can honour the needs of such a considerable task.

Of Zen itself I need say nothing here, but the increasing sale of books on the subject, such as The Spirit of Zen by Alan Watts (Murray), and the series of original translations of Chinese Zen Scriptures and other works published by the Buddhist Society prove that the interest of the West is rising rapidly. Zen, however, is a subject extremely easy to misunderstand, and it is therefore important that the words of a qualified Master should come readily to hand.

CHRISTMAS HUMPHREYS – President of the Buddhist Society, London 1948


All references to the Author’s Essays in Zen Buddhism, Series One and Two, and to his Introduction to Zen Buddhism, are to the second edition of these works, published in “The Complete Works of D. T. Suzuki.”


In my Introduction to Zen Buddhism (published 1934), an outline of Zen teaching is sketched, and in The Training of the Zen Monk (1934) a description of the Meditation Hall and its life is given. To complete a triptych the present Manual has been compiled. The object is to inform the reader of the various literary materials relating to the monastery life. Foreign students often express their desire to know about what the Zen monk reads before the Buddha in his daily service, where his thoughts move in his leisure hours, and what objects of worship he has in the different quarters of his institution. This work will partly, it is hoped, satisfy their desire. Those who find my Essays too bulky or too elaborate may prefer these smaller works on Zen.





Gatha is a Sanskrit term meaning “verse” or “hymn”. In Buddhist literature it is used to designate the versified portion of the sutras. Chinese scholars have adopted this word for their Versified compositions, which are known as chieh, an abbreviation of chieh-t’o, or as chieh-sang, which is the combination of the Sanskrit and the Chinese. The gathas collected here are not exclusively those of the Zen sect; some belong to general Buddhism.



The Dharma incomparably profound and exquisite
Is rarely met with, even in hundreds of thousands of millions of kalpas;
We are now permitted to see it, to listen to it, to accept and hold it;
May we truly understand the meaning of the Tathagata’s words!



All the evil karma ever committed by me since of old,
On account of greed, anger, and folly, which have no beginning,
Born of my body, mouth, and thought–
I now make full open confession of it.



I take refuge in the Buddha;
I take refuge in the Dharma;
I take refuge in the Sangha.
I take refuge in the Buddha, the incomparably honoured one;
I take refuge in the Dharma, honourable for its purity;
I take refuge in the Sangha, honourable for its harmonious life.
I have finished taking refuge in the Buddha;
I have finished taking refuge in the Dharma;
I have finished taking refuge in the Sangha.



However innumerable beings are, I vow to save them;
However inexhaustible the passions are, I vow to extinguish them;
However immeasurable the Dharmas are, I vow to master them;
However incomparable the Buddha-truth is, I vow to attain it.

[1. These vows are recited after every service.]



We prostrate ourselves in all humbleness before the holy Sarira representing the body of Sakyamuni, the Tathagata, who is perfectly endowed with all the virtues, who has the Dharmakaya as the ground of his being, and Dharmadhatu as the stupa dedicated to him. To him we pay our respect with due deference. Manifesting himself in a bodily form for our sakes, the Buddha enters into us and makes us enter into him. His power being added to us, we attain Enlightenment; and [again] dependent on the Buddha’s miraculous power, all beings are benefited, become desirous for Enlightenment, discipline themselves in the life of the Bodhisattva, and equally enter into perfect quietude where prevails infinite wisdom of absolute identity. We now prostrate ourselves before him.



Not to commit evils,
But to do all that is good,
And to keep one’s thought pure–
This is the teaching of all the Buddhas.



All composite things are impermanent,
They are subject to birth and death;
Put an end to birth and death,
And there is a blissful tranquillity.

[1. For the sake of the second half of this gatha the Buddha is said to have been willing to sacrifice his own life. For this reason this is also known as the “gatha of sacrifice”.]



[Adoration to] Kwanzeon!
Adoration to the Buddha!
To the Buddha we are related
In terms of cause and effect.
Depending on the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha,
[Nirvana is possible which is] eternal, ever-blessed, autonomous, and free from defilements.
Every morning our thoughts are on Kwanzeon,
Every evening our thoughts are on Kwanzeon.
Every thought issues from the Mind,
Every thought is not separated from the Mind.

[1. Yemmei means “Prolonging life”; when one daily recites this short document in ten clauses relating to Kwannon, one’s health is assured for doing good not only for oneself but for the whole world.]



If one wishes to know all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future, one should contemplate the nature of this Dharmadhatu essentially as the creation of Absolute Mind.
Adoration to the Buddhas in the ten quarters;
Adoration to the Dharma pervading the ten quarters; Adoration to the Sangha in the ten quarters;
Adoration to Sakyamuni the Buddha who is our Master; Adoration to Kwanzeon the Bodhisattva, who is the great compassionate and pitying one, ready to save beings from afflictions;
Adoration to Ananda the Arhat who is the expounder of the Teaching.
Namu sabo totogyato boryakite, yen!
Sammola sammola, un!
Namu suryoboya totogyatoya tojito, yen!
Suryo suryo boya suryo boya suryo, somoko!
Namu samanda motonan, ban![1]
Adoration to Hoshin[2] the Tathagata;
Adoration to Taho[3] the Tathagata;
Adoration to Myoshishin[4] the Tathagata;
Adoration to Kohashin[5] the Tathagata;
Adoration to Rifui[6] the Tathagata;
Adoration to Kanroo[7] the Tathagata;
Adoration to Omito[8] the Tathagata.
Namu omitoboya totogyatoya,
Omirito bigyaratei,
Omirito bigyarato gyamini,
Gyagyano shitogyari,

[1. It is difficult to tell how this dharani came to be inserted here. As most dharanis are, it is devoid of sense from the human point of view; but it may not be necessarily so to the hungry ghosts, for whom the prayer is offered.

Can this be restored to the original Sanskrit as follows?

Namah sarva-tathagatavalokite! Om!
Sambala, sambala! Hum!
Namah surupaya tathagataya!
Om, suru[paya], surupaya, surupaya, suru[paya], svaha!
Namah samantabuddhanam, vam!

“Be adored! O all the Tathagatas who are regarded [as our protectors]; Om! Provision, provision! Hum! Adored be the Tathagata Beautifully Formed! Namely: Om! To the Beautifully-formed One! To the Beautifully formed One! To the Beautifully-formed One! Hail! Adored be all the Buddhas! Vam!”

2. “Jewel-excelled” (ratnaketu).

3. “Abundant-in-jewel” (prabhutaratna).

4. “Fine-form-body” (surupakaya).

5. “Broad-wide-body” (vipulakaya).

6. “Freed-from-fear” (abhayankara).

7. “Nectar-king” (amritaraja).

8. “Amida” (amitabha).]


By the supernatural power of this Dharani the food and drink is purified, and this we offer to the spiritual beings as numerous as the sands of the Ganga. We pray that they shall all be fully satisfied and abandon their greed; that they shall all leave their abodes of darkness and be born in the blissful paths of existence; and further that taking refuge in the Triple Treasure they shall awaken the desire for supreme enlightenment and finally come to the realization of it. The merit they thus attain is inexhaustible and will continue on to the end of time, making all beings equally share in this Dharma-food.

O you hosts of spiritual beings, we make this offering of food to you all, which we pray will fill the ten quarters and that all beings of your kind will partake of it.

By the practice of this meritorious deed we pray that we repay what we owe to our parents, who have done all they could for our sakes. May those who are still alive continue to enjoy their happy and prosperous lives for ever, while those who are no more with us be released from suffering and born in the land of bliss.

We pray that all sentient beings in the triple world who are recipients of the fourfold benefaction, together with those beings suffering in the three evil paths of existence and tormented with the eight kinds of calamities, may repent of all their sins and be cleansed of all their sores, so that they may all be released from the cycle of transmigration and be born in the land of purity.

We pray to all the Buddhas, all the Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas in the ten quarters, of the past, present, and future, and to Mahaprajna-paramita, that by virtue of this merit universally prevailing, not only we but all beings shall equally attain Buddhahood.

[1. Namo ‘mitabhaya tathagataya! Tadyatha, amritodbhave, amritasiddhe, (?)-bhave, amritavikrante, amrita-vikranta-gamine, gaganakirtikare! Svaha!

“Adored be the Tathagata of Infinite Light! Namely: O Nectar-raising one! O Nectar-perfecting one! [O Nectar-] producing one! O One who makes nectar pervade! O One who makes nectar universally pervade! O One who makes nectar known as widely as space! Hail!”]



By the Bhikshus all present here
The mystic formula of Surangama has been recited as above,
Which is now dedicated to all the Nagas and Devas who are protectors of the Dharma,
And also to all the holy assemblies of the spiritual beings who are guardians of this monastery and surrounding district.
May all beings in the three evil paths of existence variously suffering the eight kinds of disasters be thereby released from the afflictions!
May all beings in the triple world who are recipients of the fourfold benefaction thereby participate in the merit!
May the state continue in peaceful prosperity with all its warlike activities stopped!
May the wind blow in time, the rain fall seasonably, and the people live happily!
May the entire congregation sharing in the exercise cherish the higher aspirations!
To go beyond the ten stages with a cap, and this without much difficulty!
May this monastery keep on its quiet life, free from disturbances.
And the patrons and devotees grow not only in faith but in wisdom and bliss!
[We pray this to] all the Buddhas and Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas in the ten quarters, of the past, present, and future, and to Mahaprajna-paramita!

[1. This is read, as can be inferred from the text, after the recitation of the Surangama dharani.]



Would that the sound of the bell might go beyond our earth,
And be heard even by all the denizens of the darkness outside the Iron Mountains (cakravala) !
Would that, their organ of hearing becoming pure, beings might attain perfect interfusion [of all the senses],
So that every one of them might come finally to the realization of supreme enlightenment![1]

[1. It is customary in the Zen monastery to recite the Kwannongo while striking the big bell, which is done three times a day. The present gatha is recited when the striking is finished. As will be seen below, from Kwannon issues a sound which is heard by those who sincerely believe in his power of releasing them from every form of disaster. Each sound emitted by the bell is the voice of Kwannon calling on us to purify our sense of hearing, whereby a spiritual experience called “interfusion” will finally take place in us. See under the Ryogonkyo and the Kwannongyo below.]

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