Monday, December 10, 2007

Opening the Sutras - Kaikyoge

Buddhism isn't a spiritual religion. It doesn't say much about spiritual things like god or things like that. Instead it says the universe is god and that god is the universe. Buddhism also doesn't have a special holy book that everybody follows. Instead Buddhism has lots of sutras. All the sutras were written by ordinary human beings. Even Gotama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was a human being, though he was a very special one.

But even though Buddhism isn't a spiritual religion, it does have some things that seem a bit religious to most of us. When I first started to go to lectures on Buddhism in Tokyo, one thing I felt uncomfortable with for a while was reciting a verse in Japanese called Kai Kyo Ge (verse to open the sutras) at the beginning of each talk. I asked my teacher, Gudo Nishijima, if it was necessary for foreigners like me to recite the Kai Kyo Ge. He said it was just the tradition in Japan to do so, and of course nobody had to recite it if they didn't want to. For him, reciting Kai Kyo Ge was a way of expressing his respect and thanks to Gotama Buddha for teaching people about Buddhism.

I started to give talks on Buddhism when Gudo Nishijima retired from lecturing in English to devote more time to his translation work. I didn't bother reciting the verse to open the sutras at the first few talks I tried to give. Instead I just got right into trying to give a "talk". But somehow it didn't feel like a proper talk without having said the verse at the beginning. The atmosphere didn't quite feel right. So I started making sure to recite the verse at the beginning and the one at the end too just like Nishijima did. I realized Buddhist tradition can help sometimes.

Now I know anyone reading this probably couldn't care less about some Japanese verse about opening the sutras, but as this is my first real post I thought I'd just go crazy and put up a short video clip of Gudo Nishijima reciting the kai kyo ge at the start of one of his talks at Dogen Sangha's old dojo in Moto Yawata, Japan.


  1. Where is Kaikyoge from? Is it a separate prayer? From Lotus Sutra? Nichiren? T'ien Tai? Is there a translation anywhere?

  2. Steve,

    I think the Kaikyoge originated in China. One article I read on the web said:

    "Hui-yuan of Lushan (334–416) in southeast China might be its author according to one opinion. Historically the Kaikyoge is seen in the preface of the Chinese version of the Flower Garland
    Sutra translated by Shih-ch'a-nant'o. This translation was made by the order of Empress Wu (623–705)."

    As far as I know, most of the different Buddhist schools including Nichiren and T'ien Tai read the Kaikyoge before reading or reciting the sutras. In Nishijima Roshi's case, he recites it before giving a Dharma Talk.

    There's a translation of the Kaikyoge here. It includes the Chinese characters.

    Here is that English version (translation by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross):

    Verse for Opening the Sutras

    The supreme, profound, subtle and fine Dharma,

    In hundred thousand myriad kalpas is hard to meet.

    Now that I see and hear it and am able to receive and retain it,

    I desire to understand the real meaning of the Tathagata's teaching.



  3. Dear Peter-san

    Your blog feels quite honest,
    and I find very valuable comments or information on what you write.
    Do you mind if I share some of your posts in our spanish facebook page? (acknowledging the source of course!)
    Here the url
    Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu!
    Nine bows

  4. Dear Senpo-san,

    Many thanks for your message.

    You're very welcome to share any of these posts on your facebook page. It looks like a great page, and it's nice to see that Buddhism and Zazen are alive and well in Argentina.




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