he Diamond Sutra says that if we always carry with us and chant the Sutra, it will create more merit than we can imagine. We can see many people apply themselves to chanting. Some are so attached to chanting the Sutra that they never fail to read the Sutra once a day. I don¡¯t mean that chanting itself is bad. The problem is that they chant the Sutra without knowing what the Sutra means. I wonder how much merit there is to chant the Sutra without knowing the meaning. What is worse, their sayings are quite different from their doings; that is, while chanting the Sutra with their mouths, they behave against the Sutra, which can¡¯t be said to be the chanting of the Sutra in the true sense of the word. The saying that we can attain enlightenment by chanting the Sutra is not wrong, but there is nobody that has attained enlightenment by chanting the Sutra without knowing what the Sutra means. So we should know that it is we, not the Sutra, who are to blame for failing to attain enlightenment.
True chanting is done not with our mouths but with our whole bodies or through our actions. There is a saying that anything that is done by the enlightened is Buddha¡¯s work, but even building a grand temple is evil work if it is done by those who aren¡¯t enlightened. In a word, when the Sutra becomes a part of us or the Sutra and we become one, and when our sayings, whatever we may say, and our doings, whatever we may do, are not against what the Sutra says, we can say we chant the Sutra in the true sense of the word. We can neither be full nor keep ourselves healthy only by reciting recipes and ingredient labels of food. Only when we eat food and make the food a part of us by digesting it, can we be full and keep ourselves healthy. In other words, just as food is helpful to us only when the food becomes one with our bodies, so the Sutras can be helpful to us only when the Sutras become one with us or our sayings and doings.
Then what should we do towards efficient chanting?
The second best way, although not as efficient as the first way, is to learn the Sutras from those who know well the Sutras (Sutra masters) in case we cannot meet a Zen master. I say this is not as efficient as the first way, because understanding the Sutras is one thing and making them perfectly ours is another. Those who have not opened the eye of wisdom may understand the Sutras as facts or knowledge, but they cannot make the Sutras theirs. However, this is much better than chanting the Sutras without knowing what they say.
There is one thing that we Buddhists should remember: Buddha didn¡¯t attain enlightenment by studying the Sutras but he attained enlightenment by practicing, and what he said about the enlightenment he experienced are the Sutras. So we should put practicing before studying the Sutras, and study of the Sutras that is not accompanied by practicing is not so helpful.
Written by Master Subul Sunim of Ahnkook Zen Center
Monthly Magazine SEOUL(December 2007)