Sutra (Sanskrit) literally means “thread” and it is derived from the root “siv” which means to sew. In Buddhism, the word sutra refers to the scriptures of the historical Buddha “Gautama Buddha” who was part of the Kshatriya Shakya Clan. Although, there are exception to this, such as, the “Platform Sutra” which was written by Daikan Eno. Within Buddhism, the Sutra are collected within the “Second basket”, or the Sutra Pitaka which consists of the core teachings.
Some schools of Zen Buddhism have always remained cautious of extensive sutra study and have tended to gravitate towards the investigation of a limited selection. The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra (Shastra) are commonly part of this Zen Core. The concern of attachment and Sophism, as well as their distortive affects on practice are central to this reluctance.
Reading Sutra without the wisdom to understand its correct application and context may lead to more harm than good. However, with a balanced approach, the Sutra are valuable guides to the practice of Zen Buddhism and in a greater sense, life itself. In the sutra “The better way to catch a snake” Buddha explains, “Bhikshus…if you do not practice the Dharma correctly, you may come to understand it as the opposite of what was intended. But if you practice intelligently, you will understand both the letter and the spirit of the teachings…”. The conceptual briars that arise from an incomplete and unbalanced understanding inevitably leads to many draining journeys and shallow insights.
The “letter” and the “spirit” are viewed as equally important at Blue Mountain Zendo. Blue Mountain Zendo’s Sutra study classes are designed to aid students in their journey to understand the context, tradition and true meaning of the sacred texts. The teaching style at B.M.Z. achieves this balance between “letter” and “spirit” by addressing the various facets of Prajna (wisdom). These facets include: Sutra Prajna (Scripture Wisdom), Dhyana Prajna (Meditative Wisdom) and Yana Prajna (Non-dual Wisdom).
“Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by a reflection on reasons, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker…” (Buddha)