So how does one practice a Sutra? Surely there are many ways to do this. Over the next lifetime or three I will be exploring this question – some of that exploration will appear here on this blog!
Not too long ago, I was staying over at the Ann Arbor Zen Temple for a practice weekend. On Friday night, Haju (the resident priest, Dharma heir to Ven. Samu Sunim, and one of the most energetic and fun-loving and fierce women I have met) had us read the Diamond Sutra. We went into the Buddha hall, sat on our knees, and read it fast and out loud. No stopping, no thinking, no non-thinking, sometimes no breathing. Five raucous voices, clashing, sometimes as if calling out to each other (Subhuti: Yes Lord, the Lord: What do you think Subhuti – Yes Lord!). At the end, each one of us would put the sutra down and sit. The sound tapered out. A bell signaled the end of our practice.
At the start of this year, Haju encouraged me to do this at the end of evening practice. I reluctantly took it up. Shouldn’t I be reading the Diamond Sutra slow? Taking notes? Reading commentaries? Studying it long and hard? Well, yes. But, read it fast too. Don’t get caught up in thinking about it too much. Just read it, hear it, feel it, practice it.
What can I say about this practice so far? If you want to practice loving kindness, it is good to read the Metta Sutta. But reading the Metta Sutta fast without stopping does not seem like the appropriate way to practice that sutra. There is a practice of Metta that the Metta Sutta provides, but I would not say that the practice is one of reading the sutra fast without stopping.
On the other hand, reading the Diamond Sutra fast so that you feel it, hear it, and awaken (or confuse) your thinking and non-thinking and neither thinking nor non-thinking body-mind does seem like an appropriate way to practice it. It is as if the Diamond Sutra is asking you, in some sense, to read it but not read it, to hear it but not hear it, to feel it but not feel it, to think it but not think it. Reading it fast is a tool to bring these words to life.
This is one way to practice a sutra – can you think of others? Will you try this at home? Will you practice awakening for the benefit of all beings here and now?
Thank you for reading! Thank you for your practice!