Tetsugen’s Sutras

Photo by ganap0627

Tetsugen was a zen master who lived in 17th century Japan.  He wanted to produce a Japanese edition of the buddhist sutras (scriptures) which were then only available in Chinese. This was to be an expensive project because it involved making around 60,000 wooden blocks for printing.

Tetsugen wandered around Japan collecting funds for this project. Sometimes he would meet wealthy people who would offer gold and silver, but mostly he would encounter peasants who could only afford a few small coins.

After 10 years of traveling, he had collected enough funds to start his project. But there was a great flood as the river Uji overflowed. People were left homeless and starving. Tetsugen used all the money he collected to help them.

Then he began traveling and collecting money again for his project. It was several more years before he thought he had enough. Just then, an epidemic spread throughout Japan and Tetsugen once more gave away all that he had collected to aid the afflicted ones.

Then he started traveling again. Twenty years later (and one year before he died), he was able to fulfill his dream of printing the sutras in Japanese. The original printing blocks he used are preserved today in the Obaku Monastery in Kyoto, Japan.

The Japanese like to tell their children that Tetsugen actually produced three editions of the sutras, but the first two are invisible and far superior to the last.

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3 thoughts on “Tetsugen’s Sutras”

  1. I really enjoyed this story – the humility of Tetsugen and his complete compassion for his people speaks of a true dedication to his cause.

    His pursuit of his dream led him to ultimate fulfilment, in that the Buddhist sutras teach of humility, compassion, giving of oneself and holding not for oneself that which others rightly deserve or require – his twice-sacrifice of time and funds to the more desperate need of his people shows his true calling and character.

    The fact that he got it all done by the time he died was a magickal gift the universe saw fit to grant him after his life of servitude and grace.

    Thanks for sharing this with us – you’ve got a subscriber out of me 🙂

  2. Dear Sir,

    I would like to know the copyright holder of the above piece on Tetsugen’s Sutras.

    Regards,
    Nausheen

  3. I’m not entirely sure if there is a copyright-holder because it’s more like a folk tale. I’ve read the story in several books with slightly different variations each time.

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