The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
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The Shurangama Sutra With Commentary by the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua: Volume 1
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The Shurangama Sutra
With Commentary by the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
- 1 Exhortation to Protect and Propagate
- 2 CHAPTER 1: The Ten Doors of Discrimination
- 2.1 The General Explanation of the Title
- 2.2 Causes and Conditions for the Arising of the Teaching
- 2.3 The Division and The Vehicle
- 2.4 The Depth of the Meaning and Principle
- 2.5 The Teaching Substance
- 2.6 Individuals Able to Receive the Teaching
- 2.7 Similarities, Differences and Determination of Time
- 3 CHAPTER 2: The History of the Transmission and Translation
- 4 CHAPTER 3: The Testimony of Faith
- 5 CHAPTER 4: Ananda’s Fall
- 6 CHAPTER 5: The Way to Shamatha
- 7 CHAPTER 6: Ananda Repents and Seeks the Truth
- 8 Continue Reading
- 9 Source
Exhortation to Protect and Propagate
Within Buddhism, there are very many important sutras. However, the most important Sutra is the Shurangama Sutra. If there are places which have the Shurangama Sutra, then the Proper Dharma dwells in the world. If there is no Shurangama Sutra, then the Dharma Ending Age appears. Therefore, we Buddhist disciples, each and every one, must bring our strength, must bring our blood, and must bring our sweat to protect the Shurangama Sutra. In the Sutra of the Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma, it says very, very clearly that in the Dharma Ending Age, the Shurangama Sutra is the first to disappear, and the rest of the sutras disappear after it. If the Shurangama Sutra does not disappear, then the Proper Dharma Age is present. Because of that, we Buddhist disciples must use our lives to protect the Shurangama Sutra, must use vows and resolution to protect the Shurangama Sutra, and cause the Shurangama Sutra to be known far and wide, reaching every nook and cranny, reaching into each and every dust-mote, reaching out to the exhaustion of empty space and of the Dharma Realm. If we can do that, then there will be a time of Proper Dharma radiating great light.
Why would the Shurangama Sutra be destroyed? It is because it is too true. The Shurangama Sutra is the Buddha’s true body. The Shurangama Sutra is the Buddha’s sharira. The Shurangama Sutra is the Buddha’s true and actual stupa and shrine. Therefore, because the Shurangama Sutra is so true, all the demon kings use all kinds of methods to destroy the Shurangama Sutra. They begin by starting rumors, saying that the Shurangama Sutra is phony. Why do they say the Shurangama Sutra is phony? It is because the Shurangama Sutra speaks too truly, especially in the sections on The Four Decisive Deeds, the Twenty-five Sages Describing Perfect Penetration, and the States of the Fifty Skandha Demons. Those of off-center persuasions and externally-oriented ways, weird demons and strange freaks, are unable to stand it. Consequently there are a good many senseless people who claim that the Shurangama Sutra is a forgery.
Now, the principles set forth in the Shurangama Sutra are on the one hand proper, and on the other in accord with principle, and the weird demons and strange freaks, those in various cults and sects, all cannot hide away their forms. Most senseless people, in particular unwise scholars and garbage-collecting professors “Tread upon the holy writ.” With their extremely scant and partial understanding, they are confused and unclear, lacking real erudition and true and actual wisdom. That is why they falsely criticize. We who study the Buddhadharma should very deeply be aware of these circumstances. Therefore, wherever we go, we should bring up the Shurangama Sutra. Wherever we go, we should propagate the Shurangama Sutra. Wherever we go, we should introduce the Shurangama Sutra to people. Why is that? It is because we wish to cause the Proper Dharma long to dwell in the world.
If the Shurangama Sutra is regarded as true, then there is no problem. To verify its truth, let me say that if the Shurangama Sutra were phony, then I would willingly fall into the hells forever through all eternity - for being unable to recognize the Buddhadharma - for mistaking the false for true. If the Shurangama Sutra is true, then life after life in every time I make the vow to propagate the Great Dharma of the Shurangama, that I shall in every time and every place propagate the true principles of the Shurangama.
Everyone should pay attention to the following point. How could the Shurangama Sutra not have been spoken by the Buddha? No one else could have spoken the Shurangama Sutra. And so I hope that all those people who make senseless accusations will wake up fast and stop creating the causes for suffering in the Hell of Pulling Out Tongues. No matter who the scholar is, no matter what country students of the Buddhadharma are from, all should quickly mend their ways, admit their mistakes, and manage to change. There is no greater good than that. I can then say that all who look at the Shurangama Sutra, all who listen to the Shurangama Sutra, and all who investigate the Shurangama Sutra, will very quickly accomplish Buddhahood.
CHAPTER 1: The Ten Doors of Discrimination
The Sutra of the Foremost Shurangama at the Great Buddha’s Summit Concerning the Tathagata’s Secret Cause of Cultivation, His Certification to the Complete Meaning and all Bodhisattvas’ Myriad Practices.
These words are the complete title of the sutra. All but the word “sutra” are the specific designation which differentiates this sutra from others. The word “sutra” is the general designation for all the discourses of the Buddha.
The three kinds of single titles are:
1. Sutra titles that refer only to people. The Buddha Speaks the Amitabha Sutra is an example of this kind. The “Buddha” and “Amitabha” are both people; only people are named in this title. 2. Sutra titles that refer only to dharmas. The Maha-Parinirvana Sutra is an example. “Nirvana” is the dharma of non-production and non-extinction. 3. Sutra titles that contain only analogies. The title Brahma Net Sutra refers to the analogy, discussed in that sutra, of the circular curtain of netting of the Great Brahma King.
The three kinds of double titles are:
4. Sutra titles that refer both to people and to dharmas. The title Sutra of Manjushri’s Questions on Prajna indicates that Manjushri, a person, requests prajna, a dharma. 5. Sutra titles that refer both to people and to analogies. In the title Sutra of the Tathagata’s Lion’s Roar, the “Tathagata” is a person, and the "Lion’s Roar” is an analogy for the Buddha’s speaking of dharma. 6. Sutra titles that refer both to dharmas and to analogies. An example is the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. “Wonderful Dharma” is the dharma, and "Lotus Flower” is the analogy.
The complete titles are:
7. Sutra titles that refer to people, to dharmas, and to analogies. The Buddha’s Universal Great Means Expansive Flower Adornment Sutra is an example. “Great” and “Universal” refer to dharmas, the “Buddha” is a person, and “Flower Adornment” is an analogy, in which the myriad practices that lead to enlightenment are said to be flowers that adorn the unsurpassed and virtuous attainment of enlightenment.
Every sutra title belongs to one of these seven classes, and everyone who lectures sutras should be able to explain them. If you do not understand these seven, how can you explain sutras for others? How can you teach others to become enlightened when you yourself have not awakened? You should not be like people who decide to call themselves dharma masters after reading a book or two, despite the fact that they can’t explain even one of the seven The Ten Doors of Discrimination 3 types of sutra titles or the fivefold mysterious meanings or a single door of the ten doors of discrimination. That is truly a case of premature exuberance. By speaking sutras and lecturing dharma without having reached a true understanding of them, these people send most of their listeners to the hells, and they themselves fall, too. Once in the hells, neither they nor their followers know how they got there. How pitiful! Only after reaching a genuine understanding and gaining genuine wisdom in the study of the Buddhadharma can one teach and transform living beings without making mistakes.
To explain the inexhaustible principles contained in the Shurangama Sutra, I will use the ten doors of discrimination of the Xian Shou (“Worthy Leader”) school rather than the fivefold mysterious meanings of the Tian Tai (“Heavenly Vista”) school. The Xian Shou and the Tian Tai are two great schools of Buddhism in China. Some dharma masters who lecture sutras have studied only one of the two schools, and so their explanations do not always reach the level of “perfect penetration without obstruction.”
The ten doors of discrimination of the Xian Shou school are:
- The general explanation of the title;
- The causes and conditions for the arising of the teaching;
- The division in which the sutra is included and the vehicle to which it belongs;
- The examination of the depth of the meaning and the principle;
- The expression of the teaching-substance;
- The identification of the appropriate individuals able to receive the teaching;
- The similarities and differences between the principle and its implications;
- The determination of the time;
- The history of the transmission and translation;
- The specific explanation of the meaning of the text.
The General Explanation of the Title
The Sutra of the Foremost Shurangama at the Great Buddha’s Summit Concerning the Tathagata’s Secret Cause of Cultivation, His Certification to the Complete Meaning and all Bodhisattvas’ Myriad Practices is the complete name of this sutra.
The word Great has four aspects and refers to a great cause, a great meaning, a great practice, and a great fruition.
The great cause is a Secret Cause. It differs from other causes in that ordinary people do not know of it; adherents of externalist religions do not understand it; and those of the two vehicles, sound-hearers and pratyekabuddhas, have not awakened to it. Thus it is great.
The great meaning is the Complete Meaning: the culmination of one’s Cultivation of the Way leading to Certification.
The great practice includes all the Bodhisattvas’ Myriad Practices.
The great result is the Foremost Shurangama. Because of these four kinds of greatness, the specific title begins with the word da “great.”
Buddha comes from a Sanskrit word that was transliterated into Chinese as fo tuo ye and subsequently abbreviated to fo. Although many people think the word fo is Chinese for Buddha, it is in fact only the first syllable of the full transliteration of the Sanskrit for Buddha. Buddha means “enlightened,” “awakened.” There are three kinds of enlightenment: enlightenment of self, enlightenment of others, and the perfection of enlightened practice.
The Buddha is enlightened. His state of being is different from that known to ordinary, unenlightened people. To be enlightened oneself is not enough, however. One must also enlighten others. The enlightenment of others involves thinking of ways to cause everyone else to become enlightened.
Within the enlightenment of self and the enlightenment of others there are various stages and myriad distinctions. There are, for instance, small enlightenments, which are not complete, and there is great enlightenment, which is total. The Buddha has by himself realized great enlightenment, and he also causes others to obtain great enlightenment.
When one has perfected both the enlightenment of self and the enlightenment of others, one attains the perfection of enlightenment and practice.
The Buddha has perfected the three kinds of enlightenment and so is adorned with myriad kinds of virtuous practices.
The three enlightenments perfected,
The myriad virtues complete:
Thus is he called the Buddha.
Someone may wonder why people believe in the Buddha. It is because we ourselves are Buddhas. That is, fundamentally we are Buddhas, but at present we are confused and unable to attain certification as Buddhas. The reason I say we are basically Buddhas is that the Buddha himself said: “All living beings have the nature; all can become Buddhas. It is only because of polluted thinking and attachments that they are unable to attain certification.” The polluted thoughts of living beings shift to the north, south, east, and west, above, and below. They suddenly pierce the heavens, suddenly drill into the earth. They reach to every conceivable place and their number is incalculable. Do you know how many polluted thoughts you have in a single day? If you do, you are a Bodhisattva. If not, you are still an ordinary person.
People become attached to possessions and constantly make distinctions of “me” and “mine.” They are unable to put aside material objects or physical pleasures. “That is my airplane.” “This is my car, the very latest model, you know.” One is attached to whatever one possesses. Men have masculine attachments, women have feminine attachments; good people have the attachments of good people; bad people have the attachments of bad people. No matter what the attachments are, those who have them cannot let them go. They keep grabbing, taking, and hanging on, getting more and more attached. The process is endless. Pleasures such as good food, a fine home, exciting entertainment, and the like are usually considered beneficial, but it isn’t certain that they are. Although you may not realize it, it is that very craving for pleasure that prevents your realization of Buddhahood. So the Buddha said, “It is only because of polluted thinking and attachments that living beings are unable to realize Buddhahood.”
In the Shurangama Sutra the Buddha said, “Bodhi is the ceasing of the mad mind.” The mad mind is explained as the false egocentric mind, the mind fond of status, the mind full of vain hopes and illusions, the mind that looks down on others and cannot see beyond its own achievements and intelligence. Even someone who is really ugly will consider himself to be very beautiful. Such strong attachments as these are dissolved when the mad mind is made to cease. That ceasing is Bodhi. It is an awakening to the Way; it is an enlightenment that is a first step toward the realization of Buddhahood. If you can cause the mad mind to cease, then you are well on your way.
Of the three kinds of enlightenment, the arhats’ and pratyekabuddhas’ enlightenment of self distinguishes them from ordinary, unenlightened people. Pratyekabuddhas awaken to the Way by cultivating the twelve links of conditioned causation. Arhats awaken to the Way by cultivating the dharma-door of the four sagely truths. Bodhisattvas differ from arhats and pratyekabuddhas in that they resolve to enlighten and to benefit others.
Ultimately, the arhats, the pratyekabuddhas, and the Bodhisattvas are simply people who have cultivated to the point of realization. How many people are we speaking of? We could be speaking of one person who cultivates to become first an arhat, then a pratyekabuddha, and then a Bodhisattva by means of the six paramitas and the myriad practices; such a person embodies all three levels.
Someone else, however, may cultivate to the level of arhatship, and then not want to go on. Once he himself has understood, such a person says: “I myself have already become enlightened. I understand. I can ignore everyone else.” He is a selfish person. He comes to a halt at the accomplishment of arhatship and it does not occur to him to continue down the path to pratyekabuddha-hood. Others continue to pratyekabuddhahood but do not consider progressing further. So one can say they are one person or one can say they are three people.
A Bodhisattva, however - one who enlightens himself and others . cultivates the six paramitas and the magnificence of the myriad practices, and he can continue to progress until he reaches the perfection of the Bodhisattva Way. That stage is said to be the perfection of enlightenment and practice; it is the realization of Buddhahood. The Buddha’s state of perfect enlightenment and practice distinguishes him from the Bodhisattva.
These three kinds of enlightenment can be discussed at length. When one practices them, many distinctions appear; within realizations are further realizations; within distinctions are further distinctions. The process is extremely complex.
The Summit is the highest point. The crown of the head is its summit; above that is heaven. It is sometimes said of people that “the top of the head touches heaven and the feet touch the earth”; such people are indomitable. Together, the words “Crown of the Great Buddha” refer to the top of the great Buddha’s head.
How big is the great Buddha? “The size of a six-foot-high Buddha-image?” you wonder.
No, a Buddha-image is like a mere drop in the ocean, or one fine mote of dust in a world-system. There is nothing greater than the great Buddha. He is great and yet not great. That is true greatness.
”Who is he?” you ask.
He is the Buddha who pervades all places. There is no place where he is and no place where he is not. No matter where you say he is, he is not there. Wherever you say he is not, he is there. What size would you say he is? There is no way to calculate how great he is, and so he is truly great - so great that he is beyond greatness.
”How can one be beyond greatness?”
No greatness can compare to his; his greatness is the most great.
”Who is he then?”
The great Buddha.
”Who is this great Buddha?”
He is you, and he is me.
”But I am not that great. And as far as I can tell, neither are you. How can you say he is you and me?” you ask. “How can you talk about it like this?”
If he did not have any connection with you and me, it would not be necessary to discuss him.
”How am I that great?” you ask.
The Buddha-nature is great, and it is inherent in us all. Just that is the incomparably great Buddha.
Now we are not only speaking of the great Buddha, we are referring to the crown of his head: his summit. And the great Buddha’s summit refers to the appearance of yet another great Buddha.
”How big is that Buddha?” you ask.
That Buddha is invisible. He is referred to in the verse that we recite before reciting the Shurangama Mantra:
The transformation atop the invisible summit
poured forth splendorous light
and proclaimed this spiritual mantra.
What is invisible can be said not to exist. How can one refer to the existence of a great Buddha when he cannot even be seen?
What cannot be seen is truly great. If it weren’t so big as to be invisible, why do you suppose you couldn’t see it?
”Little things are invisible, not big ones.”
Really? The sky is big, but can you see all of it? No! The earth is vast, but can you see its entire surface? No. What is truly great cannot be seen.
The great Buddha’s “invisible summit emits a light.”
”How great is the light?”
Think it over. Could a great Buddha emit a small light? Naturally the light he emits is so great it illuminates all places.
”Does it shine on me?”
It has shone on you all along.
”Then why am I not aware of it?”
Do you want to know of it?
When the mind is pure
the moon appears in the water.
When the thoughts are settled
the sky is without a cloud.
If your mind is extremely pure, the Buddha’s light will shine on you and illumine your mind like the moonlight deeply penetrating clear water. If your mind is impure, it is like a puddle of muddy water through which no light can pass. The mind in samadhi is like a cloudless sky, a state that is inexpressibly wonderful. If you can truly purify your mind, then you can obtain the strength of the Shurangama Samadhi.
Tathagata is a Sanskrit word; it means “Thus Come One.” There is nothing which is not “thus,” and nothing which is not “come.” “Thus” refers to the basic substance of the Buddhadharma, and “come” refers to the function of the Buddhadharma. “Thus” refers to a state of unmoving suchness. “Come” means to return and yet not return. It is said,
Thus, thus unmoving,
Come and come again,
Come and yet not come.
”Did he go?”
”Did he come?”
Therefore, it says in the Vajra Sutra that the Tathagata does not come from anywhere, nor does he go anywhere. He does not go to you nor does he come to me, yet he is right there with you and right here with me.
Tathagata is one of the ten names of the Buddha. Originally every Buddha had ten thousand names. In time these ten thousand names were reduced to one thousand because people got confused trying to remember them all. For a while every Buddha had a thousand names, but people still couldn’t remember so many, so they were again reduced to one hundred names. Every Buddha had a hundred different names and living beings had a hard time remembering them, so they were shortened again to ten, which are:
- One Worthy of Offerings;
- One of Proper and Universal Knowledge;
- One Perfect in Clarity and Practice;
- Well Gone One;
- One Who Understands the World;
- Unsurpassed One;
- Great Regulator;
- Teacher of Gods and People;
- Buddha, World Honored One.
All Buddhas have these ten names. The first, “Tathagata,” indicates that he has traveled the path as it truly is, and has come to realize proper enlightenment, that is, he has accomplished Buddhahood. The second, “One Worthy of Offerings,” indicates that he is worthy of receiving the offerings of gods and people.
The Secret Cause is the basic substance of samadhi power inherent in everyone. It is called “secret” rather than “manifest” because, although it is fundamentally complete in every person without exception, not everyone is aware of it. And so it is a secret. The secret is the basic substance of the Tathagata’s samadhi-power and in turn it is the basic substance of the samadhi-power of all living beings. The only difference is that living beings haven’t uncovered it, and so for them it remains a secret.
Cultivation, His Certification to the Complete Meaning. The secret cause must be cultivated and certified. Although investigation of dhyana and mindfulness of the Buddha are both means of cultivation, the cultivation referred to here is exclusively that of investigating dhyana. Through exclusive cultivation of dhyana one can be certified to and obtain the complete meaning, which is just no-meaning.
”Is that to say it is meaningless?”
The complete meaning is a complete certification to and realization of all worldly and world-transcending dharmas. There is no further dharma that can be cultivated, no further dharma that one can be certified as having attained. Great Master Yong Jia’s “Song of Enlightenment” speaks of the complete meaning:
Have you not seen the person of the Way,
who is beyond all learning
And, in leisure does nothing?
He neither casts out false thoughts
nor seeks reality.
The person of the Way does not do anything at all. He does not cast out false thoughts because he has already gotten rid of them. Only one who is not fully rid of them still needs to cast them out. The person of the Way does not seek after truth because he has already obtained it. Only those who have not obtained it need to seek it. These lines speak of the complete meaning.
The complete meaning, which is certified to, is also said to be “complete” because the principles spoken by the Buddha are so complete that an exhaustive study of them would reach to the end of all “meaning.” When one has exhausted all the principles that the Buddha spoke, then they do not exist; the meaning is complete. An incomplete meaning still has “meaning” left in it. The complete meaning is without any “meaning” at all. It is pure. When it is reached, it is the secret cause, the basic substance of proper samadhi. Reaching the basic substance, you cultivate and are certified to the complete meaning. If you do not cultivate you cannot attain the realm of the complete meaning, the great meaning which encompasses all meanings.
”But you said the complete meaning does not exist,” you say.
Yes, but that very non-existence is true existence. Relative existence is not true existence. When you have been certified as having understood the complete meaning, there are no further meanings for you to understand. You have arrived at the ultimate point.
”What is the ultimate accomplishment?”
It is the state of Buddhahood. But if you wish to reach the state of Buddhahood, you must continue to practice the Bodhisattva Way. Therefore, the title speaks of all the Bodhisattvas’ Myriad Practices. “All” can refer to the incalculable number of Bodhisattva’s practices. In general there are fifty-five Bodhisattva stages, which will be explained in detail later in the text. They include the ten faiths; the ten dwellings; the ten practices; the ten transferences; the four aiding practices; the ten grounds; and equal enlightenment, which comes before the wonderful enlightenment of Buddhahood. At each position are millions of Bodhisattvas. The fifty-five stages do not refer to a mere fifty-five Bodhisattvas, but rather to fifty-five levels through which limitless Bodhisattvas pass.
The “myriad practices” are the numerous ways in which Bodhisattvas cultivate. There are said to be 84,000 dharma-doors, but the title simply refers to them as “myriad practices.” In addition to their myriad practices, Bodhisattvas also cultivate the six paramitas - also called the six perfections.
"Paramita,” a Sanskrit word, literally means “arrived at the other shore.” It means to completely finish whatever you do. If you decide to become a Buddha, then the realization of Buddhahood is paramita. If you want to go to a university and get a Ph.D., obtaining the degree is paramita. If you’re hungry and want to eat, then to get full is paramita. If you’re sleepy, then to lie down and go to sleep is paramita. The Sanskrit word “paramita” is transliterated into Chinese as bo luo mi. Bo luo is Chinese for pineapple, and mi means honey. So the fruit of paramita is said to be sweeter than the pineapple.
Bodhisattvas cultivate the six paramitas. They are:
There are three kinds of giving: the giving of wealth, the giving of dharma, and the giving of fearlessness.
As to wealth: although money is one of the things people love most, it is also the dirtiest thing in the world. Just consider how many hands it passes through and how many germs it gathers. In Buddhism, money is considered unclean. First of all, its source is often unclean. It may have been stolen or embezzled.
”I’ve earned every penny of my money,” someone may complain. ”It’s clean!”
Even if your money comes from legitimate sources, you still can’t deny that the money itself is filthy and covered with germs. Even so, everyone still likes it. A lot of people spit on their fingers when they count money. Then they pass it back and forth, making it highly suspect as a carrier of infectious diseases. But in spite of its filth, no one is afraid of getting too much money. If you gave someone all the money in America, he would not think it was too much. But when you have a lot of money, you also have a lot of problems. You can’t get to sleep at night. You are kept busy figuring out where to put it. Since money keeps you so preoccupied, it is basically not a good thing. But even though it is not a good thing, most people love it and cannot give it up. One who can give away money practices the paramita of giving and is cultivating the Bodhisattva Way.
It is not easy for people to give. Their hearts are the junction of yin and yang, the battleground of reason and desire. For instance, someone sees someone else in bitter straits without a bit of food and, being a principled person, he decides to give the poor person a dollar. He reaches into his pocket, but suddenly his desire seizes him and he starts to have second thoughts. “Wait a minute. I can’t give him that dollar. It’s the last bit of change I’ve got. If I give it away, I won’t have any money for the bus and I’ll have to walk. I can’t do it.” His first impulse was to be generous to someone else, but it was followed immediately by a second thought: his own welfare. So he puts the money back in his pocket and doesn’t give it away. That’s the way it goes. It happens the same way on a large scale as it does on a small scale, all the way from a penny to a million dollars. The first thought is to give, the second thought concerns oneself. The giving of wealth is not easy. Some people even go so far as to think, “I’d be stupid to give my money to you. Why don’t you give yours to me?” It is easy to talk about giving, but when the time comes to do it, it is difficult.
Ever since I was young, I haven’t known how to count. Whenever I got some money, I gave it away. If I had one dollar, I gave that, and if I had two dollars, I gave them both away. I didn’t want money. Most people would consider my behavior very stupid, because I didn’t know how to help myself out. I only knew how to help others.
By benefiting others one brings forth the heart of a Bodhisattva, and those who bring forth the heart of a Bodhisattva benefit others rather than themselves. They say, “It’s all right if I have to suffer and endure distress, but I don’t want others to suffer.” Bodhisattvas always benefit others by practicing good conduct without bothering to figure out if they take a loss.
Some people spend all their time making sure they get a bargain. When they set out to buy something, they do a lot of comparison shopping until they come up with the best buy. But what they end up buying turns out to be cheap in more ways than one - things made of the “latest material” wrought from scientific experiments, things which look handsome enough but which break as soon as they are used. Although such people think they’re getting a good deal, in the end they take a loss. Instead of indulging in such calculated selfish behavior, you should work for the good of others.
The lecturing of sutras and explaining of dharma are the giving of dharma. It is said:
Of all the kinds of offerings
The gift of dharma is the highest.
The money you give can be counted, but the gift of dharma can’t be reckoned. If someone comes to a sutra lecture and hears something that causes him to become enlightened - to genuinely understand - can you imagine how great the merit derived from such a gift would be? Because the gift of a sentence of dharma can cause people to realize Buddhahood, it is the highest kind of giving.
The giving of fearlessness takes place, for example, when you bring calm to the victims of robbery or fire or any other catastrophe that causes them to be terrified or panic-stricken. You can calm them and comfort them by saying something like, “Don.t be afraid. No matter what the problem is, it can eventually be resolved.”
The second paramita practiced by Bodhisattvas is keeping moral precepts. This refers to the precepts and rules, which are one of the most important aspects of the Buddha’s teachings.
What are precepts?
Precepts are the rules of moral conduct that Buddhist disciples follow. The precepts stop evil and guard against mistakes. When you maintain precepts, you don’t indulge in any bad actions, but instead you conduct yourself properly and you offer up your good conduct to the Buddha.
How many kinds of precepts are there?
Laypeople who have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel - the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha - and who wish to make progress should take the five precepts. The five are not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, not to lie, and not to take intoxicants. One vows to follow these rules for the rest of one’s life. After receiving the five precepts, laypeople can make further progress by taking the eight precepts. Beyond the eight precepts are the ten precepts of a shramanera (novice). After receiving the shramanera precepts, to become fully-ordained - to become one who has left the home-life - one can take the two hundred fifty precepts of a bhikshu (monk) or the three hundred forty-eight precepts of a bhikshuni (nun). There are also the ten major and forty-eight minor Bodhisattva precepts. The first ten are called “major” because one cannot repent and reform for violation of any of these ten. If one violates the minor precepts, it is still possible to change one’s faults and begin anew.
When the Buddha was about to enter nirvana, his disciple Ananda asked him four questions, one of which was this: “When the Buddha was in the world, he was our master; after the Buddha enters nirvana, who will be our master?”
The Buddha told him, “After I enter nirvana, you should take the precepts as master.” He was indicating that people who leave the home-life - all bhikshus and bhikshunis - should take the precepts as master.
Laypeople who seek to receive precepts should certainly seek them from one who has left the home-life. When the precepts are transmitted, the precept-substance must be bestowed upon the recipient by a bhikshu. According to the Buddha’s precepts, bhikshunis cannot transmit precepts.
It is absolutely essential for people who want to cultivate the Way to receive precepts. If you can guard the pure precept-substance, then you are as beautiful as a gleaming pearl. Vinaya Master Dao Xuan (“Proclaimer of the Way”), who lived on Zhong Nan mountain during the Tang dynasty, held the precepts so well that gods made offerings of food to him. The virtue of the precepts is very great. If you study the Buddhadharma without receiving the precepts, you will be a leaky bottle. To keep the precepts is to patch the leaks. The human body has outflows. It leaks. If you maintain the precepts for a long time, eventually there will be no outflows.
This Shurangama dharma assembly, in which the sutra is now being explained, offers a combination of study and practice. The schedule is strenuous, from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily, much more rigorous than regular school - but this is a school for ending birth and death. It is a school of complementary practice and understanding. From the study of the Shurangama Sutra we derive understanding, and we practice by investigating dhyana. Through the combination of practice and understanding we can stride forward over solid ground and get the job done without carelessness or negligence. Through your efforts, you may solve the problem of birth and death and obtain extremely great benefit.
An example will help to illustrate the value of combining understanding with practice. A blind man and a cripple lived together in a family compound. There were several other people living with them and helping them out. One day, however, everyone else went out - fishing, shopping, doing the sorts of things people like to do. The blind man and the cripple were the only ones left at home. On that particular day a fire broke out in the house. The blind man couldn’t see and had no way to get out. The cripple could see, but he didn’t have any legs. What a predicament they were in! Both of them were certainly going to burn to death.
At that time a good and wise advisor gave them some advice. “You two can avoid dying. You can get out of this burning house. How? Cripple, let the blind man use your eyes. Blind man, let the cripple use your legs.” They followed his advice. Did the cripple gouge out his eyes and stick them in the sockets of the blind man? Without a surgeon such a method would surely fail. To put the blind man’s legs on the cripple without a physician would also be difficult. What did they do?
They made the best of the situation. The cripple climbed on the blind man’s back and told the blind man where to walk. “Go left, go right, go straight ahead.” The blind man had legs and, although he couldn’t see, he could hear the cripple’s instructions. Thanks to the timely advice, the two managed to save themselves.
When you hear this, don’t mistakenly think that I am calling you blind or crippled. It is not you who are blind or you who are crippled. I am blind and crippled. But having understood the principle involved, I have spoken the analogy, which is not speaking of you or me and yet is speaking of you and me.
No one should be arrogant. Don’t reflect on your singular understanding or the greatness of your wisdom. Why haven’t you realized Buddhahood? It is because you are too arrogant. “I have so much knowledge,” you think, but whatever you learn obstructs you. If you have a lot of knowledge, you are burdened with the obstruction of knowledge. If you have a lot of ability, your ability obstructs you so that you are unable to realize the Way. We should get rid of our thoughts of you, me, and him. Let the thoughts settle. Relax. Purify them. Empty your belly.
Then you can fill your belly with the wonderful flavor of clarified butter, the unsurpassed wonderful dharma. Once there was a young woman, a Ph.D. candidate, who admitted that her mind was full of garbage. Now we’ll use her words and say, throw out the “garbage” from your mind, and then you can listen to sutras. Then each thing you hear will unfold into a thousand understandings.
The third paramita of the Bodhisattva is patience. There are three kinds: patience with production; patience with dharmas; and patience with the non-production of dharmas.
The fourth paramita is vigor. To be vigorous is to continually advance and never retreat. An example of extreme vigor is given in the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra in the Chapter on the Past Deeds of Medicine King Bodhisattva. This Bodhisattva wrapped his body in cotton, saturated it with fragrant oils, went before the Buddhas, and burned his body as an offering.
”Why did he do that?” you ask.
Because he felt the Buddhas’ kindness was so sublime, so profound, and so great that there was just no way to repay it.
Therefore, he used his own body, heart, nature, and life as an offering to the Buddhas.
”How long did his body burn?” you wonder.
For an extremely long time. There is no way to calculate for how long it burned.
When the Great Master Zhi Yi (“Wise One”), third patriarch of the Tian Tai school, read the Chapter on the Past Deeds of Medicine King Bodhisattva, he entered samadhi when he came to the passage that reads: “This is true vigor. This is a true offering of dharma.” Within samadhi he saw that the assembly at Vulture Peak, where the Dharma Flower Sutra was spoken by the Buddha, was still there and had not yet adjourned.
Master Zhi Yi saw that Shakyamuni Buddha was still there speaking dharma, turning the great dharma wheel, teaching and transforming living beings. Thereupon Great Master Zhi Yi entered the Dharma Flower samadhi and obtained the once-revolving dharani. After experiencing this he withdrew from samadhi. By means of the great wisdom he had gained, he established and systematized the Tian Tai school. This response was evoked by the inconceivable merit and virtue of Medicine King Bodhisattva’s vigor when he burned his body as an offering to the Buddhas.
Most people will react by saying, “If plucking out a single hair of my head would benefit the entire world, I still wouldn’t do it.” That’s because they only know how to benefit themselves and not how to benefit others. They can’t be called vigorous.
The fifth paramita is dhyana concentration, also called dhyana samadhi. There are four dhyanas and eight samadhis. The nine successive stages of samadhi are discussed in the text of the Shurangama Sutra, so they will not be dealt with in detail now. I will explain the four dhyanas briefly.
The first dhyana is called the “state of joy apart from production.” In the first dhyana, one’s pulse stops.
The second dhyana is called the “state of joy from achieving samadhi.” Here one’s samadhi is more solid than in the first dhyana. In the second dhyana one’s breath stops, but this does not mean death; it is instead another realm of consciousness. The outer breath ceases and an inner breath comes to life. Ordinary people can use only their external breath. If a person can breathe internally, he can avoid death. He can live as many years as he wants. However, one can live so long as to turn into a useless corpse-guarding ghost obsessed with the need to protect his “stinking skin-bag” of a body.
The third dhyana is called the “state of wonderful bliss detached from joy.” Most people who cultivate like to experience joy. However, the bliss experienced in the third dhyana, which is detached from joy, is extremely wonderful. In this dhyana, conscious thought ceases.
The fourth dhyana is called the “state of pure renunciation of thought.” Here all thoughts are abandoned. One can know what is happening in the heavens and among people. But one should not become attached to the experience. Entering the samadhi of the fourth dhyana represents only a first step in cultivating the Way. One should not think that accomplishing the fourth dhyana is a special attainment. It is just the first step toward realizing Buddhahood. It is not even the accomplishment of the first stage of arhatship.
The sixth paramita is prajna. Prajna is a Sanskrit word that may be translated as wisdom. Most people consider mundane intelligence to be wisdom. It is not. Intelligence is worldly knowledge such as that derived from the study of science, philosophy, and the like. “Wisdom” refers to the world-transcending wisdom that realizes Buddhahood. This is prajna. The word prajna is not translated because it contains many meanings and thus falls within the five kinds of terms not translated, which are:
- terms that are secret;
- terms that have many meanings;
- terms that refer to something not existing in the translator’s country;
- terms that traditionally have not been translated; and
- terms that are honorifics.
Literary prajna refers to the wisdom contained in the sutras. Contemplative prajna refers to the wisdom gained through returning the light and illumining within, through reversing the hearing to hear the self-nature. It arises when your eyes don’t gaze outside but look within. With the light of wisdom of contemplative investigation, you can illumine and break through all darkness within you. When that happens you become very clear and pure inside and are no longer burdened with filth. True-appearance prajna, the most wonderful inconceivable kind of prajna, is synonymous with the “complete meaning” of which the sutra speaks. The true appearance has no appearance, and yet there is nothing left without an appearance. If you say that it has no appearance, everything thereupon appears. Thus it is the true appearance. If you understand this, you are right next to the Buddha; you are but a step away.
The Vajra Sutra says, “All that has appearance is empty and false. If you see all appearances as no appearance, then you see the Tathagata.” Everything that has an appearance is false. If, while in the midst of appearances, you can understand that they have no appearance, then you see the Buddha. You understand the basic substance of the dharma and penetrate to the dharma’s source. To see the source of all dharmas is to see the Buddha.
uch an experience is easy to talk about, but difficult to attain. You can’t understand just by hearing lectures; you must think of a way to travel that road. For instance, one may say, “I’d like to travel to New York, but it’s so far away and flying is very expensive. I guess I won’t go.” However, if you never go, you’ll never know what New York is like. Realization of Buddhahood is the same way. On the one hand, you want to become a Buddha, but on the other hand, it’s such a long hard pull that it would take forever to get there. It’s just like looking at the sea and heaving a great sigh. “Studying the dharma is too difficult; I’ll find something easier to do.” If you take that attitude, you will never realize Buddhahood. If you don’t want to become a Buddha, then there’s nothing to talk about. But if you do then you must endure difficulties, because only through difficulty is ease attained. In China it is said, “If the winter’s cold did not pierce to the bone, how could the plum blossoms be so fragrant?” The extremely sweet-smelling plum blossom of China blooms in mid-winter. As a result of enduring the bitter cold, the blossoms have an exquisite fragrance.
Every living being is endowed with true-appearance prajna, but like the “secret cause” of this sutra, it is not yet manifest within them, and they are unaware of their own inheritance. We do not realize the prajna of our own nature, its inherent true-appearance, and so we are as if poverty-stricken within the dharma. Prajna is the wisdom we have always had. We should open this treasure-room of wisdom, and then our original face will appear. As long as we don’t know that we are endowed with true-appearance prajna, we carry an undiscovered gold mine inside us. To discover the gold mine is not enough, however. We have to use manpower to mine the gold before it can be used. The sutras tell us that the gold mine of prajna exists within each one of us, but unless we mine the gold, it’s not of much use to know about it. We must put in the work and vigorously resolve to cultivate. Then we can mine the prajna, and our inherent Buddha-nature will appear.
The Buddha said, “All living beings have the Buddha-nature and can realize Buddhahood.” But one cannot say, “The Buddha said I am a Buddha, so I am a Buddha even without cultivating.” This is to know the gold is there and yet not bother to dig it from the ground.
This has been a general explanation of the six paramitas of the Bodhisattva. Everyone can decide to be a Bodhisattva and cultivate the Bodhisattva’s practices. If you carry out the deeds of a Bodhisattva, then you are a Bodhisattva with an initial resolve. Bodhisattvas do not selfishly say, “Only I can become a Bodhisattva. You can’t be a Bodhisattva. You can’t compare to me.” Not only can everyone become a Bodhisattva; everyone can become a Buddha. I believe that everyone in this assembly will attain Buddhahood someday.
Foremost Shurangama. Shurangama is a Sanskrit word that means “the ultimate durability of all phenomena.” “All phenomena. refers to everything - all the mountains, rivers, the great earth, buildings, people, and things, as well as all creatures born from wombs, from eggs, from moisture, and by transformation. When one plumbs all things to their unchangeable source, one obtains the basic substance of samadhi, the samadhi of the “secret cause.” When one obtains the samadhi of the “secret cause,” one can then be certified as having attained the “complete meaning.” When one is certified as having attained the complete meaning, one then cultivates the six paramitas and the myriad practices of a Bodhisattva and thereby attains the “great practice.” When one has attained the great practice, one can then accomplish the samadhi of the ultimate durability of all things, which is the “great result”
The Great Buddha’s Summit, then, refers to the wonderful advantages of the four kinds of greatness: the great cause, the great meaning, the great practice, and the great result. They can also be called the wonderful cause, the wonderful meaning, the wonderful practice, and the wonderful result. However, “wonderful” doesn’t describe them completely, and so the word “great” is used.
”The ultimate durability of all phenomena” refers to samadhi. Without samadhi, the body and mind are distracted and do not work in harmony. You may decide to go south, but your legs refuse to obey; you end up walking north. Or you may want to do good deeds, but you lose control and somehow end up committing crimes instead. A lack of consistency or constancy in carrying things out is also evidence of a lack of samadhi. In studying the Shurangama Sutra everyone should be firm, sincere, and constant. You should firmly resolve, “I am determined to study until I understand the principles of the Shurangama Sutra.” You shouldn’t stop in the middle of the road and turn around to go back; you shouldn’t hit the drum to adjourn the meeting prematurely. Don’t draw the line when you’ve come only half way. Don’t say, “Ah, I’ve studied so many days and haven’t understood yet. This is extremely difficult material. I don’t think I’ll study it any more.”
With sincerity, you can study in earnest and can keep your mind on what you are doing. You are so delighted by study that all worries are forgotten. You study so industriously that you forget to eat. When you lie down at night to sleep no thoughts arise other than those of the doctrines in the sutra.
With constancy, you don’t study for a few days and then back out, feeling that studying the Buddhadharma is dry and uninteresting. You don’t decide to go play in the park or find some good entertainment. You don’t think up excuses: “There’s no practical value in studying this stuff. It’s antiquated in this scientific age,” and then run away. Without constancy, you lack ultimate durability.
With cultivation of these three - firmness, sincerity, and constancy - you can be “ultimately durable” and gain Samadhi-power. With samadhi-power, you will not be “turned by states”: you won’t be controlled by your environment. This is a general explanation of the specific title of this sutra
Sutra. To translate the Sanskrit word “sutra,” the Chinese used the character that means “to tally,” because a sutra tallies above with the principles of all Buddhas and below with the opportune circumstances for teaching all living beings.
”Sutra” is also defined as a “path,” for it can lead ordinary people to the position of Buddhahood. “Sutra” has four further meanings: stringing together, attracting, constant, and method. A sutra strings together the meanings within it, like beads strung on a thread. It attracts the beings for whom the teaching will be opportune. The sutras present the dharmas appropriate to the particular needs of beings, as medicine is prescribed to cure specific illnesses. The sutra is like a magnet and living beings are like the iron filings which are attracted to the magnet. The Shurangama Sutra is like a magnet, and so it is called “durable.” But the Shurangama Sutra is even stronger than a magnet. It can keep people from falling ever again. Thus it gathers in living beings so that they cannot possibly fall again into the realms of the hells, or turn into hungry ghosts, or change into animals. They are magnetized so that even if they want to run away they can’t. Even if they want to fall they won’t be able to. That’s how wonderful the sutras are! People come to listen to a sutra lecture and once they’ve heard they become magnetized. They hear one passage and they want to hear the next. “This makes sense!” they exclaim. “I like the flavor. It’s really sweet!” Sutras are said to be constant because from ancient times to the present day they have not changed. Not one word can be added or taken away. They are permanent and unchanging. The sutras are said to be methods, for they are revered by beings in the past, present, and future because they contain methods to cultivate the Way, realize Buddhahood, and teach and transform living beings.
The Buddhist canon is composed of twelve divisions. All twelve may be found within each sutra. The twelve divisions are:
- reiterative verses;
- bestowal of predictions;
- causes and conditions;
- past events;
- present lives;
- broadening passages;
- previously non-existent dharma;
- unrequested dharma;
The first of the twelve divisions consists of the prose sections of the sutras - in Chinese, literally the “long lines.” The second division, the reiterative verses, consists of verses that rephrase the meanings expressed in the prose sections of the sutras.
The third division is bestowal of predictions. In the sutra Shakyamuni Buddha may tell a Bodhisattva, “In such and such an age, you will become a Buddha. Your name will be such and such, your lifespan will be so long and in such and such a country you will teach living beings.” An example is Dipankara (“Burning Lamp”) Buddha’s bestowing the prediction of Buddhahood upon Shakyamuni Buddha. In a former life, on the cause-ground, Shakyamuni Buddha cultivated the Bodhisattva Way so sincerely in his search for the dharma that once he “spread out his hair to cover the mud.” Why did he do that? Once in a former life, when Shakyamuni Buddha was walking down a road, he noticed a bhikshu walking toward him. He didn’t know the bhikshu was actually a Buddha. The road that lay between them was muddy and full of puddles. “If that old bhikshu walks through all this water, he’s bound to get drenched,” thought the future Shakyamuni Buddha, and out of his respect for the Triple Jewel, the ascetic lay down in the mud and water. He used his body as a mat on top of the water and invited the old monk to walk on his body to cross the puddles. There was a small portion of the puddle still exposed, and fearing the old bhikshu would have to step in the mud, he loosened his hair and spread it out over the mud for the bhikshu to walk on.
Who would have guessed that the old bhikshu was a Buddha! The Buddha, whose name was Dipankara, was pleased to witness such a sincere offering and he said, “So it is, so it is, you are this way and I am also this way.” The first “so it is” meant: “You have now made an offering to me by lying down and allowing me to walk over the top of your body.” The second “so it is” meant “In the past, I was this way, too. I also cultivated the Bodhisattva Way.” His meaning was, “You are correct.” And then Dipankara Buddha gave him a prediction, saying, “In the future you will become a Buddha named Shakyamuni.” Why did Dipankara Buddha offer this prediction? Because he was moved by the sincerity of the future Shakyamuni Buddha’s heart, and so although he usually paid no attention to other people’s affairs, he took notice of this gesture and gave him a prediction of Buddhahood.
The fourth division of the sutra explains the causes and conditions that lie behind the speaking of various dharmas. In the fifth division, analogies are used to make clear the wonderful aspects of the Buddhadharma. In past events, the sixth division, the sutras relate events in the former lives of Shakyamuni Buddha or of various Bodhisattvas. Present lives, the seventh division, discusses events in Shakyamuni Buddha’s present life or in the present lives of various Bodhisattvas. Broadening dharma, the eighth division, refers to the universality of the dharma spoken. Previously non-existent dharma, the ninth division, refers to dharma that has never been spoken before. Without a request from anyone, the Buddha himself emits light, moves the earth, and speaks unrequested dharma, the tenth division. Interpolation, the eleventh division, refers to verses that express meanings that have no connection with the passages preceding or following. The twelfth division is discussions.
A verse says:
Prose and reiterations;
Bestowal of predictions;
Causes and conditions;
Past lives; analogies;
Discussions; never been before;
This life; broadening passages
Make up twelve divisions;
The shastra of great wisdom
Explains them in roll thirty-three.
Each sutra has within it these twelve divisions. This is not to say that there are only twelve volumes in the Buddhist canon, but that every section of the sutra text falls under one of these divisions.
Causes and Conditions for the Arising of the Teaching
Teachings are the transmissions of a sage - a Buddha or Bodhisattva - in order to teach and transform living beings. The teaching arises from causes and conditions, and these come from living beings. If there were no living beings, there would be no Buddha. If there were no Buddha there would be no teaching. Therefore the teaching is established for the sake of living beings. The causes and conditions are the reasons for the teaching. They cause living beings to end birth and death. This is the reason Shakyamuni Buddha appeared in the world. The Dharma Flower Sutra says, “The Buddha appeared in the world because of the causes and conditions of one great matter.” What is this matter? It is the problem of everyone’s birth and death. Because people don’t understand why they are born and why they die, they continue to undergo birth and death. Shakyamuni Buddha appeared in the world to cause living beings to understand why they are born and why they die.
Where did you come from when you were born?
Where will you go after you die?
Once born into the world, living beings are busy all their lives finding places to live, clothes to wear, and food to eat. They become so preoccupied with pursuing food, clothing, and shelter that they have no time to solve the problem of birth and death. This is how ordinary people carry on. They say, “We must work hard and keep busy to get two meals, clothes, and a place to live.” Nobody is busy figuring out how to end birth and death. They don’t think about it. They don’t wonder, “Why did I come into this world? How did I get here? Where did I come from?”
When you meet someone, you say, “Where are you from? How long have you been here?” But people never ask these questions of themselves. They have forgotten where they came from, and they have forgotten where they are going. They forget to ask themselves, “Where am I going to go when I die?” It is just because people have forgotten to ask themselves this question that Shakyamuni Buddha came into this world to urge us to investigate the problem of birth and death.
The Dharma Flower Sutra says further that the Buddha appeared in the world to cause all living beings to give rise to the Buddha’s knowledge and vision; to display the Buddha’s knowledge and vision, to become enlightened to the Buddha’s knowledge and vision; and to enter the Buddha’s knowledge and vision. Originally all living beings inherently possess the Buddha’s knowledge and vision. Their wisdom is identical to the Buddha’s. But in a living being the wisdom is like the gold in the mine mentioned above. Before the mine is excavated the gold is not evident. Once you realize the existence of your inherent Buddha-nature, you can cultivate in accord with the dharma; you can excavate the mine and extract the pure gold that contains no slag or impurities.
”Where is our inherent Buddha-nature? Where is our inherent wisdom?”
The Buddha-nature is found within our afflictions. Everyone has afflictions and everyone has a Buddha-nature. In an ordinary person it is the afflictions, rather than the Buddha-nature, that are apparent. Afflictions are like ice. Our wisdom is like water. Our Buddha-nature is like moisture, which is present in both ice and water. So, too, the Buddha-nature is found within both wisdom and affliction. But while moisture is common to both ice and water, their physical properties differ. A small piece of ice is hard and can harm people if you hit them with it; in the same way you can injure people by giving rise to afflictions. But a small amount of water is harmless if you pour it over somebody; in the same way, a wise person, by the sound of his voice, can make people happy even when he’s scolding them. If you use your affliction to make trouble for others, your great ignorance will ignite as soon as you speak to them. In fact, you may upset someone so much that the two of you come to blows, and certainly someone will be injured.
People can return to the original source if they can change their afflictions into wisdom. The change is analogous to the melting of ice. You can’t say that the ice is not water, for the ice melts into water. You also can’t say that the water is not ice, for water can freeze into ice. Their common quality is their moisture. In the same way, no one can argue that living beings are not the Buddha or that the Buddha is not a living being. The Buddha belongs to living beings, and living beings belong to the Buddha. You should understand this doctrine. You need only change and melt the ice. This is to be useful to people.
I say that water can’t harm people; but someone may argue that everyone is aware of the danger of drowning and the danger brought by floods.
It is true that a lot of water can harm people; but in the analogy I referred to a small amount of water. If you want to come up with unreasonable objections, the possibilities are endless. You should grasp the meaning and not be obstructed by the particulars. Without faith your genuine wisdom won’t ever manifest. Genuine wisdom arises out of genuine stupidity. When the ice turns to water, there is wisdom; when the water freezes into ice, there is stupidity. Afflictions are nothing but stupidity. If you are thoroughly clear, then you are without afflictions.
In lecturing the sutras, I refer to principle. Don’t try to use specifics to criticize principles; the two are different. You should continue to listen, and when you have heard a lot of dharma you will understand. Having only heard a little, you are unable to put it together. “What is he talking about?” you wonder. “I don’t understand.” You’ve never heard it at all before; how could you understand? If you could understand the dharma without ever having heard it before, your wisdom would be truly exceptional. Perhaps you have heard it in the past; but this is the first time for you in this life. The first time you hear it, it seems familiar; but even then, hearing it is a gradual process. In the same way, if you meet someone for the first time, he may seem familiar to you, but it takes several meetings before you can easily recognize him.
Once you understand that your own nature is the Buddha-nature, you can change your afflictions into Bodhi. To realize Bodhi means to become enlightened: enlightened to the fact that you should not be attached to anything. If you have attachments, you cannot become enlightened.
A Bodhisattva is not the same as you. Although he has attachments, he is not enlightened. If you had no attachments, you’d be enlightened. A Bodhisattva is not enlightened because he doesn’t want to be enlightened. He wants to be together with living beings. But your thoughts are not the same as the attachments of a Bodhisattva, for he can’t forsake living beings and he sees everyone as good. For this reason he doesn’t want to be enlightened. One with the heart of a Bodhisattva wishes for the welfare of others and is unconcerned for himself. A Bodhisattva would willingly descend into the hells and undergo limitless sufferings if it would cause people to realize enlightenment. If there are good things to eat, he tastes a little bit and then gives the food to others. In the same way, he has already tasted a bit of the flavor of enlightenment and wants to give everyone a taste. To taste the flavor of enlightenment, you must sever your afflictions. When you are without afflictions and devoid of ignorance, wisdom comes forth and you become liberated. That is to give rise to the Buddha’s knowledge and vision.
Once you give rise to the Buddha’s knowledge and vision - once you’ve excavated the gold mine - then you need to display the Buddha’s knowledge and vision. You still need to work hard, just as it takes manpower to bring up the gold. First you must get rid of the dirt and then gradually you remove the gold from the sand. To display the Buddha’s knowledge and vision, you instruct living beings in how to be truly vigorous.
Displaying requires cultivation - sitting in meditation and investigating Chan every day, until one day, while you are sitting, your contemplation will suddenly penetrate through, and you will become enlightened. You will understand, “Oh, originally it was thus. Originally it was all just this way.” You will have truly solved the questions of human existence. This is to be enlightened to the Buddha’s knowledge and vision.
The Buddha’s knowledge and vision are not to be mistaken for the knowledge and vision of living beings. Living beings use their knowledge and vision to give rise to incessant false thoughts. Deep attachments cause them to become afflicted by the least impoliteness. “How can you be so mean to me?” you say. In fact, people will inevitably be good to you if you are truly good to them. It is not that people are not good to you but rather that you have not been good to them. If you understand this doctrine, then no one can be mean to you.
One hand claps,
but makes no sound
Only two hands clapping
can make a sound.
Everyone bows to the Buddha with utmost respect because the Buddha is truly good. This is why no one is not good to the Buddha.
”I don’t believe it,” someone may say. “Some people slander the Buddha.”
People who slander the Buddha can’t even be counted as people. They simply don’t understand how to be people and so they slander the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. They don’t understand the basic question of their own lives. If they knew how to be human, they wouldn’t slander the Triple Jewel.
We should enter the Buddha’s knowledge and vision once we are enlightened to them. This also takes work. You must work to understand and then you must work some more. You must return the light and illumine inwardly. When your light illumines your heart and you become truly wise, then you will have entered the Buddha’s knowledge and vision, with no duality, no difference. The Buddha spoke the sutras in order to cause beings to give rise to, to display, to become enlightened to, and to enter the Buddha’s knowledge and vision.
In general, these are the reasons that Shakyamuni Buddha, in over three hundred dharma assemblies held for over forty-nine years, spoke the sutras and taught the dharma in the world. With particular reference to the Shurangama Sutra, six causes and conditions lie behind its being spoken.
The first of these six is:
1.The dependence on erudition and the neglect of Samadhi-power.
T he Buddha’s disciple and cousin, Ananda, was very learned; he read widely and he was very knowledgeable. He followed the Buddha for several decades and could remember the dharma spoken at every dharma assembly. His memory was so keen that once he heard something, he never forgot it. Ananda didn’t have to force himself to remember, it came very naturally. Often, however, learned people force themselves to remember the principles they read in books and they come to rely upon their learning. “Look at me,” is their attitude, “I know more than all of you. I have Ph.D.’s in science, philosophy, and literature. Why, I have more than a hundred Ph.D.’s!” Although Ananda’s ability to learn came naturally, he also relied on it too much, and he neglected developing his samadhi-power. He thought samadhi was not important. “I know a lot of things and have wisdom. That’s sufficient. Samadhi-power isn’t important. It is said that through samadhi one develops wisdom, but I already have wisdom.” So he forgot about samadhi.
The Shurangama Sutra was spoken for Ananda’s sake, precisely because he didn’t have sufficient samadhi-power. He had not done the work of meditation required to develop it. When others were sitting investigating dhyana, Ananda would go read a book or write instead. The wonderful quality of the Shurangama Lecture and Cultivation Session, in which this sutra is being explained, is that it combines the actual practice of sitting in meditation with the understanding gained from the study of the sutra. You can practice meditation in accord with your new understanding. Through the application of effort, you can become enlightened. But it is essential both to develop samadhi and to acquire learning.
In other words, Ananda hadn’t cultivated true-appearance prajna; he thought he could realize Buddhahood through literary prajna alone. He thought that since he was the Buddha’s cousin, the Buddha, who had realized Buddhahood, would certainly help him realize Buddhahood, too. Thinking that it didn’t really matter whether he cultivated or not, he ended up wasting a lot of time.
One day, as the Shurangama Sutra relates, Ananda went out to receive alms by himself. He took his bowl and went from house to house. While walking alone on the road, he encountered the daughter of Matangi. Ananda was particularly handsome, and when Matangi’s daughter saw him, she was immediately attracted to him. But she didn’t know how to snare him. So she went back and told her mother, “You absolutely must get Ananda to marry me. If you don’t, I’ll die.”
Now the mother, Matangi, belonged to the religion of the Kapilas, the “tawny-haired,” and she cultivated this religion’s mantras and dharma-devices, which were extremely effective. Since Matangi really loved her daughter, she used a mantra of her sect - a mantra that they claimed had come from the Brahma Heaven - to confuse Ananda. Ananda didn’t have any Samadhi-power, so he couldn’t control himself. He followed the mantra and went to Matangi’s daughter’s house, where he was on the verge of breaking the precepts.
The first five precepts prohibit killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and the taking of intoxicants; and Ananda was about to break the precept against sexual misconduct. The Buddha knew about it as it was happening. Realizing his cousin was in trouble, he quickly spoke the Shurangama Mantra to break up the former Brahma Heaven mantra of the Kapila religion. Ananda’s confusion had made him as if drunk or as if he had taken dope - he was totally oblivious to everything. But when the Buddha recited the Shurangama Mantra, its power woke Ananda up from his confusion, and there he was wondering how he had gotten himself into such a situation.
He returned, knelt before the Buddha, and cried out in distress. “I have relied exclusively on erudition and have not perfected any strength in the Way. I haven’t any samadhi-power. Please, Buddha, tell me how the Buddhas of the ten directions have cultivated so they were able to obtain samadhi-power.” In reply the Buddha spoke the Shurangama Sutra. This was the first reason that it was spoken.
The second reason it was spoken was:
2. To warn about those with insane wisdom who cherish deviant thoughts.
There are many intelligent people in the world who, despite their intellectual ability, do not follow proper paths, but instead use their knowledge in ways that harm people. This is deviant thought. They harbor deviant thoughts and have no desire to put an end to them, because they think they are correct. They outsmart themselves and act in a very confused way. The sutra issues a warning about them.
There is a proverb that says:
Intelligence is helped by hidden virtue.
Hidden virtue leads you to enter the path of intelligence.
Those who do not practice hidden virtue,
but make use of intelligence alone,
Will be defeated by their own intelligence.
People are intelligent because in past lives they undertook virtuous practices. Perhaps they studied hard in past lives, or they read many Buddhist sutras. But intelligence is established by doing this good work in secret. It is “hidden virtue” that others do not see. Intelligence does not come to people who do a good deed and then strike the gong, beat the drum, and put an ad in the paper or on television saying, “I, so-and-so, have just now done something good.” Such a person may have done good deeds, but this is not hidden virtue. Good deeds that are done unknown to anyone are hidden virtue; they are genuine good deeds. So it is said:
Good done hoping others will notice it is not true good.
Evil done fearing others will discover it is great evil.
People who want the good they do to be known haven’t done genuine good; they’re just being greedy for a good reputation. The very greatest kind of evil is done secretly in the fear that people will find out.
Hidden virtue practiced in the past may endow us with intelligence, but if we don’t use our intelligence correctly, if we don’t practice hidden virtue and do good deeds, but instead do evil, our intelligence defeats us and we defeat our intelligence. It becomes merely a petty knowledge, a petty intelligence, not true intelligence.
For example, the great general Cao Cao of the Three Kingdoms period in China was extremely intelligent, but as deceptive as a ghost. But great Emperor Yao of China was said to have divine wisdom. Wise people are sometimes even called gods. But, one should not view gods too highly in the Buddhadharma. They do not hold a very high position. They are simply dharma protectors whose job is to protect the Triple Jewel of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
One of great good who falls will join the ranks of evil. If someone who does great evil recognizes it and changes, he can be considered a person of great good because he has had the courage to change. However, when someone who ordinarily does good deeds decides to do evil and cheat people because he doesn’t notice any particular response to his former conduct, he thereby becomes a very evil person since he is one who clearly knows what is right and intentionally does wrong.
A person with “insane wisdom” does upside-down things - improper things - and still feels he is correct. He may go so far as to commit murder and say: “If I hadn’t killed that man, he might have killed others. But because I have killed him, he won’t kill anyone else.” In truth, the victim was not a potential murderer at all, but the killer had a grudge against him. This is deviant thought. Someone basically in error makes up a rationale for his behavior; he makes up a fine story to avoid the judgment of the courts. Although he is wrong, he is very convincing and he wins his case. This is insane wisdom. The Shurangama Sutra warns people against making arguments based on deviant thoughts. It warns people who do this not to cherish deviant thoughts, not to be convinced that they are right, but to change their ways and to correct their thinking so they may return to the proper path, to proper thought.
The third reason for the speaking of the sutra is:
1. To point to the true mind and manifest the basic nature.
The Shurangama Sutra points directly to our mind so we may see our nature and realize Buddhahood.
”What is this mind?”
It is the true mind, which cannot be seen. The heart within your chest that you can see is merely the flesh-heart, the only function of which is to keep you alive. It is not the true mind. It certainly cannot lead you to genuine understanding. If the heart within your chest were the true mind, it should be able to accompany you when you die. However, a person’s body remains after death and the flesh heart is still within it. So the flesh heart is not your true mind. Your true mind is the Buddha nature.
”Where is the Buddha nature?”
It is “not outside or inside or in the middle.” The sutra text will explain this principle in great detail. The sutra will also explain the “ten instances of manifesting the seeing-nature,” that is, one’s true mind. This is the third reason the sutra was spoken: to point out the pure nature and bright substance of the eternally dwelling true mind, which neither comes nor goes, neither moves nor changes. It is the basic substance, without defilement; its nature is pure, its substance, bright.
The fourth reason the sutra was spoken is:
2. To display the samadhi of the nature and to exhort us to actual certification.
There are many dharma-doors in the cultivation of samadhi. Externalists also develop samadhis; but in cultivating samadhis, if one is off at the beginning even by a hair’s breadth, one will miss the mark in the end by a thousand miles. Therefore it is necessary to cultivate proper samadhi, and to avoid cultivating deviant samadhi. The samadhis cultivated by externalists are deviant samadhis, not proper samadhis. Because their samadhis are not the proper samadhi of the true nature, they will never achieve sagehood, no matter how long they cultivate. It is said:
When the nature is in samadhi,
demons are subdued and every day is blissful;
When false thoughts do not arise
everywhere is peaceful.
Why do people have demonic obstacles when they cultivate? Why do karmic obstacles arise? It is just because people’s natures lack samadhi. If the nature is in samadhi, all demons can be subdued.
There are many kinds of demons. This sutra explains fifty kinds of “skandha demons.” Actually there are many, many demons: heavenly demons, earth demons, human demons, ghost demons, and weird demons. Heavenly demons are the demon-kings in the heavens who come to disturb your dhyana concentration. Earth demons that dwell on the earth, human demons, ghost demons, weird demons, and strange creatures also all come to disturb your dhyana concentration.
”Why do they do this?”
Because before you attain Buddhahood you are a member of the demons’ family. When you decide to leave the family of demons, cultivate dhyana concentration, end birth and death, and break through the turning wheel, the demons are still fond of you. They love you and can’t let you go. Therefore they come to bother your spirit and disturb your dhyana concentration.
If you have no concentration-power, you can be turned by the demon-states and end up following them. If you have concentration- power, you won’t be turned. You will be “thus, thus unmoving / clear and eternally bright.” To be “thus, thus unmoving” is to have concentration power. To be “clear and eternally bright” is to have wisdom-power. With the combined powers of concentration and wisdom, no demon can move you. But if you have no concentration or wisdom-power, you will follow the demons and become their children and grandchildren. It is extremely dangerous.
The reason externalists do not develop the concentration of the nature is because they apply effort to the branches, not the root; they work on the false shell of a body. Their mistake is to identify the sixth consciousness, the ordinary mind, with their true mind. As a result of their cultivation they get a little of the experience of still quiescence but what they experience is not actual. They force themselves to keep their thoughts from arising, but they haven’t dug out the root of their polluted thinking, so they can’t end birth and death. It is like trying to use a rock to prevent grass from growing. When the rock is removed, the grass grows right back. When cultivators of external religions relax their efforts, it is just like removing the rock. Their methods are not ultimate.
In dhyana cultivation, one investigates the meditation topic, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” By investigating this topic one sweeps away all dharmas and leaves all appearances. In seeking for “who?” one penetrates to the root of all polluted thinking and rips it out. If you use this method, the day will come when your contemplation will suddenly penetrate through and you will suddenly become enlightened. Then you will know whether your nostrils are pointing up or down. At present you don’t know whether your nostrils face up or down. Once you are enlightened, you will know, and then you’re on your way.
When Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Shurangama Sutra, there were in India various religious groups that did not discuss enlightenment. Rather, they imitated the behavior of cows or dogs. This strange practice came about because someone, while sitting in samadhi, had seen a cow reborn in the heavens, and this person concluded, “I should study the behavior of cows.” He began to eat grass, to live outside in a cowshed, and to learn how to even sleep like a cow. When he wasn’t sleeping he cultivated a bit of samadhi, but he had no genuine accomplishment; it was deviant samadhi.
Another religion of that time came about because someone had a confused dream in which a dog was born in the heavens. This person decided that if he imitated the behavior of dogs, he too would be born in the heavens. He modeled himself after a dog in every way; guarding the door, eating things dogs eat, and sleeping the way dogs do. But in the end such cultivation did not bring ultimate accomplishment.
Another old cultivator of another religion cultivated the no-thought samadhi, in which he didn’t think of anything. He was without polluted thinking, and finally in his cultivation he was born in the no-thought heaven. But birth in the no-thought heaven is not ultimate, and eventually he fell. This too is considered a deviant samadhi. All these methods taught by externalists are not ultimate, not fundamental, they are not cultivation of the self-nature, our origin.
Using the ordinary mind and its false thinking to cultivate the Buddhadharma is like trying to make rice by cooking sand. It will never succeed. You can cultivate for countless ages, but you won’t escape the turning wheel, you won’t realize Buddhahood. It is essential for those of you who wish to cultivate to meet a master who has genuine understanding, in order for you to be able to attain genuine samadhi power. In order to attain real samadhi-power, you will certainly have to undergo the tests of demons, also. As I mentioned earlier, there are many kinds of demons: there are external demons and internal demons. The external demons are not too difficult to subdue, but the demons produced in your own mind are hard to defeat.
Certain demons that bring sickness are also hard to subdue. When I was about seventeen or eighteen, I studied the Buddhadharma and yet was very arrogant. My arrogance prompted me to say an insane thing: “Most people are afraid of demons, but I have no fear of them. In fact, demons fear me.” Wouldn’t you say that was an insane remark? “No matter what kind of demons they are - heavenly demons, earth demons, spirit demons, ghost demons, human demons - no matter what kind, I have no fear of them.” After I finished spouting off, what do you suppose happened? I was attacked by a sickness demon, and then it was I who feared the demons, not the demons who feared me, because sickness inhibits one’s movements like a yoke and chains. My body wouldn’t obey my commands. I told it to walk, but it wouldn’t; I told it to sit, but it couldn’t. From morning to night I lay on the bed unable to eat or drink. The demon had me trapped. Then I realized what I had said was all wrong. I had boasted that I wasn’t afraid of demons, but now when the sickness-demon caught me I was powerless. I was so sick that I was oblivious to everything. It seemed certain I would die. But just as I was lingering on for one last breath - when I was almost dead but not quite - another thing happened to me. I saw the three filial sons Wong of Manchuria: two monks - one a Taoist master and one a Buddhist bhikshu, and one a layman. The three came and told me to come out and play, and I followed them outside. It was very strange: just outside the door I started to walk, but my feet weren’t touching the ground. Although I wasn’t in an airplane, I was in empty space. It wasn’t like mounting the clouds and driving the fog, however, it was like being enveloped in space. I walked on the tops of houses and soon they looked very small, and I could see lots of people below.
We went to all the famous temples, mountains, and great rivers. We went to the four sacred mountains in China: Wu Tai (Five Peaks), E Mei, Jiu Hua (Nine Flowers), and Pu Tuo. Wherever we went there were lots of temples and lots of people. We didn’t stop with China, however, and soon were flying over foreign lands where the people were fair-haired and blue-eyed. We went from place to place so quickly that it was like watching a movie, where frame after frame flashes on the screen in a constant change of scene, except there was no projector or screen, and I actually went to the places I saw.
After seeing and hearing many things, I arrived back at my own front door. I opened the door and looked into my house, and there on the bed was another me. The moment I realized there were two of me I became one, and my breath and pulse returned. “He hasn’t died!” exclaimed my father and mother, who were seated beside me. “He’s alive!” Then I realized that when I had seen myself on the bed unable to move, I had been sick. I asked my father and mother about it, and they said I had been in a coma for seven or eight days, and had seemed dead. So, I am a living dead man. Even I myself thought I was dead, and then I was born anew. After that I wasn’t so insane. I never said that I didn’t fear demons or that demons feared me. Take my advice: whatever you do, don’t say things like that. If you say, “I’m not afraid of anything,” in the future you will encounter something that will frighten you. But to say “I’m afraid of everything” is also incorrect. In general, don’t even bring up such useless topics.
Prior to my illness, I was an instructor at the Way-Virtue Society. I lectured on the advantages of benevolence, righteousness, the Way, and good conduct. Not only did I just exhort others to do good deeds, I myself also practiced benefiting others. I had cultivated to the point that I felt I had a little skill. One day I read an article about Zhang Xuan’s exemplary way of life and I decided I wanted to be just like him. I vowed to heaven that I would practice the deeds of Zhang Xuan. But after I made the vow I regretted it. “Of what use is imitating him?” I wondered doubtfully. And, strangely enough, that very evening a demon came to test me to see if I really could keep my vow. If you make vows, the Bodhisattvas may come to test you. The point is, don’t speak arrogantly; take care to avoid something that pleases you or in time something will happen to cause you to be displeased.
Keep your mind on cultivation of the Way. Don’t use the mind that ordinary people use but rather a mind that is intent on the Way. Cultivate the samadhi of the nature and seek actual accomplishment. Actual accomplishment is the opposite of what is empty and false. One whose accomplishment is empty and false may suddenly think, “I have just realized Buddhahood,” and while sitting in dhyana he may feel that his body is like the Buddha’s, emitting light and moving the earth. Actually there isn’t anything going on at all. The experience is empty and false: it is not the accomplishment of the Way.
One may think: “Sitting here in dhyana, I saw the Buddha give me a prediction, saying, ‘You will soon realize Buddhahood. Don’t bother to cultivate. You are a Buddha already.’” This, too, is a false experience; it is not genuine accomplishment of the Way.
Shakyamuni Buddha accomplished the Way beneath the Bodhi tree. He sat there for forty-nine days, and then one evening, he saw a star and awakened to the Way. “Strange indeed, strange indeed, strange indeed,” he said, “all living beings have the Buddha-nature. All can become Buddhas.”
However, before he had accomplished Buddhahood, a heavenly demon came to test him. It transformed into a beautiful woman who came before the Buddha and spoke seductively, trying to get him to abandon his cultivation and marry her instead. But the Buddha, from within his samadhi, was not moved by the sight of this exquisite creature. He just thought, “You think you are really beautiful, but actually you are an old hag. Countless wrinkles line your face and from your eyes and nose flow filthy tears and mucus. There is snot in your nose and phlegm and saliva in your mouth. Your whole body is filthy, and yet you still come and try to cheat me.” The Buddha contemplated this thought from within samadhi and transformed the demon’s power so that the demon turned into an old woman. Her hair turned white, her teeth fell out, and her nose began to run with snot. She looked wretched. “Look at yourself,” the Buddha told the demon. The demon looked and was so ashamed that she ran away. Many such demons came to test the Buddha, but the Buddha was never turned. Since he was not turned by the demons, he accomplished the Buddha-Way.
When people work hard cultivating the Way, they are likely, at crucial stages of development, to undergo the tests of demons. Before you have any skill the demons won’t test you, but once you develop a little skill, they will try you out. If you don’t recognize it as a test, then you may run off and join the retinue of demons. If you want to cultivate to the point of actual accomplishment, you must develop the samadhi of the nature. When you cultivate by working on the samadhi of the nature, and your nature is not moved, you will naturally have samadhi-power and your accomplishment will naturally be true and actual, not false. If you are moved by demons, then your samadhi is not true and proper but is rather a deviant samadhi, which will not lead you to Buddhahood.
Earlier I mentioned the deviant samadhis developed by people who studied the behavior of cows and dogs. How did the cow and dog they imitated happen to get born in the heavens? In a former life, the cow had cultivated the ten good deeds, but before that it had done many bad things. The retribution for the evil deeds caused it to be born as a cow and the reward for its cultivation of the ten good deeds led it, at death, to be reborn in the heavens. The same was true for the dog. Not knowing the past causes and conditions of the cow and the dog that led to their rebirth in the heavens, these people thought that it was merely being a cow or a dog in the present life that led to the heavenly reward. So they blindly imitated the behavior of cows and dogs. Nothing came of their cultivation, however, and they couldn’t obtain actual accomplishment.
Actual accomplishment means the genuine realization of one’s own perfect, clear inherent wisdom and samadhi-power, where samadhi aids wisdom and wisdom aids samadhi in a mutual, perfect, unobstructed interpenetration. It is to realize the true fundamental substance; it is to obtain one’s own true mind.
Upside-down thoughts are improper. People are really upside-down. Well, people aren’t actually upside-down; their thinking is. When Ananda and Matangi’s daughter returned to the Buddha, Ananda bowed and asked for instruction. After hearing it, he spoke a verse, which begins:
The wonderfully deep dharani,
the unmoving honored one,
The foremost Shurangama King
is rarely found in the world.
The “unmoving honored one” is the Shurangama Samadhi. The entire sentence refers to Shakyamuni Buddha. It is rare because, as the third line of the verse says, “It melts away my inverted thoughts gathered in a million kalpas.” Life after life, for limitless, boundless kalpas, Ananda had been striking up upside-down thoughts, thinking of improper things. “Upside-down thoughts” refer to any of the thoughts worldly people have. The function of the Shurangama Sutra is to destroy and melt away these inverted polluted thoughts and to dispel our subtle delusions.
Subtle delusions may be so subtle that the eyes can’t see them, the ears can’t hear them, and the mind cannot form thoughts about them. As soon as we give rise to one unenlightened thought, the three subtle delusions arise, although the space of a thought is very short. Delusion can be likened to dust. If there is dust flying about in a room where there is a mirror, the mirror will immediately catch a lot of dust particles. These particles of dust will go unnoticed until they become so thick that they cloud the mirror. Our subtle delusions are like the dust on the mirror.
Fundamentally, our own nature is like a bright mirror - it is the great perfect mirror wisdom. But because of the production of these fine delusions, the bright mirror becomes coated and grows dimmer and dimmer. Great Master Shen Xiu’s verse says:
The body is a Bodhi tree,
The mind like a bright mirror stand.
Time and again brush it clean;
And let no dust alight.
Some people say this verse is incorrect. I say it is correct. Why? He is telling us to constantly cultivate, to time and again brush clean the mind so that it doesn’t catch any dust. Brush it morning and night, for when you have cleared up the dust of the subtle delusions, the mirror of your own nature will shine brightly. Before one has become enlightened, one should honor this doctrine and cultivate in accord with it.
The Great Master, the Sixth Patriarch, said in reply:
Originally Bodhi has no tree,
The bright mirror has no stand.
Originally there is not a single thing,
Where can the dust alight?
This verse was spoken by one who was already enlightened. One who is enlightened can understand and cultivate in accord with this verse.
It is said:
When not one thought arises,
the entire substance manifests.
When the six roots suddenly move,
one is covered by clouds.
When not one thought is produced, the Buddha-nature and samadhi appear. When your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind suddenly move and take control, it is as if the sky has suddenly clouded over. So one must put an end to inverted false thoughts and dispel the subtle doubts and then one can very quickly realize Buddhahood. Unfortunately, though, no one wants to realize Buddhahood. People would rather flow along in the five turbidities, flowing along and forgetting to return. They take suffering as bliss, turn their backs on enlightenment and unite with defiling objects. Although they have not ended birth and death, they nonetheless think themselves pretty fine, saying, “Look at me, I am intelligent and handsome. Everyone who sees me likes me and I understand what others don’t.” Actually such people are just like mirrors attracting dust. The more dust that gathers, the dimmer the mirror gets until it reflects no light at all. They may think themselves smart in this present life, but wait and see: perhaps ten lives from now they will end up as stupid as pigs. Therefore, in this life we must decide where we will be going - we must recognize clearly what our destiny will be, what path we will take. Then there is hope.
The sixth reason the Buddha spoke this sutra is:
1. To clarify the two doors for the benefit of living beings of the present and future.
The two doors are the dharma-door of level equality, which is the actual dharma, and the expedient door, which is the provisional dharma. Provisional dharma is not real, but is temporary and impermanent. Actual dharma is real and forever unchanging. There are two dharmas: provisional and actual.
The expedient dharma, which is the provisional dharma, may be illustrated by the following event:
Once Shakyamuni Buddha saw a child toddling toward a well. The child was on the brink of falling into the water and would surely drown before anyone could reach it. The Buddha knew that if he called to the child to come back that it wouldn’t listen, but would keep right on running. He said instead, “I have candy in my hand. Come back quickly and I will give my candy to you.” When the child heard there was candy to eat it turned around and came back. Actually there wasn’t anything in the Buddha’s hand. But was the Buddha lying? Was he cheating the child? No. The child was just about to fall into the well. If the Buddha hadn’t enticed it in such a way as to cause it to turn immediately, it would have drowned. The Buddha extended his empty fist and said there was candy in it. The child came because it wanted to eat candy.
The provisional dharma-door is used to teach and transform living beings. Basically there isn’t anything at all, but the Buddha says to living beings, “I have treasures. Come to me and I will give you a jewel - a priceless gem - and other fine things.” Because living beings are greedy, they follow along to reap the advantages. Ultimately they have been enticed by an expedient dharma-door. The provisional dharma, then, refers to the clever skill-in-means used to save living beings.
The dharma-door of level equality - the actual dharma - and the provisional dharma-door were both used in speaking this sutra. By means of these two dharma-doors living beings are led to separate themselves from suffering and to obtain bliss, so that they eventually may give proof to the result and realize Buddhahood.
The two doors benefit living beings of the present and future. The “present” here can refer to the time when the Buddha taught, and it can also refer to now. Living beings of the present and future can obtain the benefit of being enriched by the dharma. To make the two doors understood for the benefit of living beings of the present and future is the last of the six reasons for the arising of the teaching.
The Division and The Vehicle
The “division” refers to the tripitaka, the three treasuries of the Buddhist canon: the sutra treasury, the vinaya treasury, and the shastra treasury. The three treasuries correspond to the three nonoutflow studies: precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. The sutra treasury teaches samadhi, the vinaya treasury teaches precepts, and the shastra treasury teaches wisdom. In sutras one often sees the title “Tripitaka Master.” This refers to one who has mastered all three treasuries.
Although sutras may include sections dealing with the vinaya or with wisdom, they predominately deal with the study of samadhi. For instance, the Shurangama Sutra teaches people how to cultivate dhyana concentration. This has already been mentioned as the fourth reason that the Buddha spoke this Sutra: to display the samadhi of the nature and to exhort us to actual accomplishment. There is one section in this sutra known as the four unalterable aspects of purity, and this is an explanation of vinaya. But since the sutra is primarily devoted to a discussion of samadhi, it is not classed as vinaya, but as a sutra.
The “vehicle” refers to the two vehicles in Buddhism: the great vehicle (mahayana) and the small vehicle (theravada). The small vehicle is like a very small cart, which can only seat a few people. It is the vehicle of the sound-hearers and pratyekabuddhas. The great vehicle is the Bodhisattva vehicle, that is, like a limousine, which can seat many people. This sutra expounds great vehicle dharma for teaching Bodhisattvas, of whom the Buddhas are protective and mindful. As instruction for Bodhisattvas, it causes arhats to turn from the small and go toward the great, to resolve their minds on Bodhi and cultivate the Bodhisattva Way. For instance, when Ananda returned from the house of Matangi’s daughter to where Shakyamuni Buddha was, he respectfully requested the Buddha to instruct him in the “path to Bodhi, which all Thus Come Ones of the past have cultivated.” Shakyamuni Buddha’s answer to his question is the Shurangama Sutra, a dharma cultivated by Bodhisattvas. Therefore this sutra is classed as a great vehicle rather than a small vehicle dharma.
The Depth of the Meaning and Principle
The examination of the depth of the meaning and the principle
The storehouse teaching, or tripitaka teaching, refers to the dharmas of the small vehicle. It includes the abhidharma and the agama sutras. Agama is sometimes interpreted as “incomparable dharma” but even so it is still the teachings of the small vehicle.
The connecting teaching connects with the storehouse teaching that precedes it and with the separate teaching that follows it.
The separate teaching differs from what comes before and after it. It is not the same as the connecting teaching that precedes it nor the perfect teaching that follows.
The fourth of the teachings as described by the Tian Tai is the perfect teaching. Of these four, the Shurangama Sutra belongs to the separate teaching.
The Xian Shou school makes five divisions:
- the small teaching;
- the beginning teaching;
- the final teaching;
- the sudden teaching;
- the perfect teaching.
The small teaching coincides with the storehouse teaching of the Tian Tai division. The beginning teaching includes both the connecting and the separate teachings of the Tian Tai. The final, sudden, and perfect teachings are all contained in the perfect teaching division of the Tian Tai. Although the names differ, the principles are the same.
The small teaching refers to the small vehicle teachings. The beginning teaching refers to the beginning of the great vehicle teaching. It was spoken for those who understood only the emptiness of people and had not yet realized the emptiness of dharmas. They were not yet free of their attachment to dharmas.
The final teaching is the great vehicle dharma. It is for those who understand the emptiness of people and the emptiness of dharmas, the doctrine of the great vehicle. Speaking of the emptiness of people and dharmas, I am reminded of a story that is on the public record.
When Shakyamuni Buddha lived in the world, people often asked him to accept vegetarian meal-offerings. Following the meal it was customary for the host to go before the Buddha, bow, and request dharma. If the Buddha was not present, then the host would ask the Buddha’s disciples to accept the offering and in turn the disciples would speak dharma for the host.
One day the Buddha and his great bhikshus left the Jeta Grove at the city of Shravasti, where they were living, and went out to accept an offering of food, leaving behind only one small shramanera (novice monk) to watch the door. After the Buddha had departed, an upasaka (layman) came to the monastery to request that a member of the Sangha come and accept offerings at his home on behalf of the Triple Jewel. Finding that the bhikshus and the Buddha had all gone out, he said to the one small shramanera who was left, “That’s okay, I’ll invite you, shramanera, to come and accept my offering. Come with me.” The small shramanera nervously consented to accompany him: nervous because he had never gone out by himself to accept an offering before. He’d always gone with the other bhikshus. Once he found himself obligated to speak dharma, he realized he didn’t have any idea what to say. Although this concern weighed on him, he accompanied the host who had so sincerely asked him to go and accept the meal-offering. After they had eaten, the inevitable happened. The host very respectfully turned to the small shramanera, bowed deeply, and requested dharma. As an expression of his sincerity, the host kept his head bowed as he knelt before the small shramanera, waiting for him to speak dharma. There sat the small shramanera staring at his host prostrate before him. And then what do you suppose happened? Without uttering a word, he slipped off his chair, tip-toed outside, and beat a hasty retreat back to the Jeta Grove. Naturally he felt ashamed at having eaten his fill and then run away without speaking the dharma.
For a long time the host knelt with his head bowed. But finally, having heard nothing, he lifted his head to steal a peek and he saw that there was no one in the seat before him. The small shramanera had disappeared. At the moment he saw that the shramanera was gone, he became enlightened. He awoke to the emptiness of people and the emptiness of dharmas. “Haaaa! So that’s the way it is!” he exclaimed, and wished immediately to seek certification of his enlightenment. Naturally he headed for the Jeta Grove in search of the small shramanera.
Meanwhile the small shramanera, petrified that his host would pursue him in quest of the dharma, had run back to the Jeta Grove, headed straight for his room, slammed the door, and locked himself in. Who would have guessed that not long after he had locked the door, he would hear a knock? The little shramanera stood frozen with fear without making a sound on the other side of the door. He was totally panic-stricken. After all, he had eaten the host’s food and now the host had come demanding the dharma. His nervousness reached such an extreme that at the height of his anxiety, suddenly he became enlightened and also awakened to the emptiness of people and the emptiness of dharmas.
This story illustrates that it is not certain under what circumstances one will become enlightened. Perhaps you will become enlightened by getting nervous. Or perhaps happiness will cause you to become enlightened. Any experience you stumble on may bring enlightenment. Some hear the sound of the wind and become enlightened. Some listen to the flow of water and become enlightened. Some become enlightened upon hearing a wind-chime; others upon hearing a bell ring.
”I have heard all those things many times. Why haven’t I become enlightened?” you may ask.
How should I know why you haven’t become enlightened? You must wait for enlightenment until your time arrives, just as you must wait for food to be cooked before you can eat it. You must wait for the opportunity to ripen. When the opportunities are ripe, then anything you run into can cause you to become enlightened. The patriarchs of the past in China have become enlightened under many different circumstances. It is only necessary that you continue to cultivate and investigate the Buddhadharma with determined and concentrated effort. If you do that, then one day you will become enlightened. If you are already enlightened, so much the better. If you aren’t enlightened, you should go slowly and wait. Don’t be nervous. Don’t be so anxious that you can’t sleep or eat.
The final teaching is for those who have awakened to the emptiness of people and dharmas. It is the entrance into the great vehicle teaching. The final teaching instructs Bodhisattvas. It is not however the ultimate teaching. It is surpassed by the sudden and perfect teachings. The perfect teaching explains the unobstructed perfect interpenetration of all things. Everything is originally the Buddha. The Dharma Flower Sutra, a perfect teaching, says that all living beings will become Buddhas in the future. That sutra says: “If people who are very scattered and confused enter a stupa or temple and say ‘Namo Buddha’ but once, they can all realize the Buddha’s Way.” When people enter stupas or temples to bow to the Buddha they should be sincere and intent upon what they are doing. But here, the Dharma Flower Sutra refers to an insincere person who enters a temple and casually recites “Namo Buddha.” Due to just that one recitation of “Namo Buddha” he will become a Buddha in the future.
I am reminded of another story that is a matter of public record. When you recite the Buddha’s name, you should transfer the merit to all living beings; you shouldn’t just recite for your own sake. When you recite the name of a Buddha even once and dedicate the merit and virtue from your recitation to all living beings, you thereby increase the merit and virtue of the recitation, and you make it penetrate without obstruction.
Once, Shakyamuni Buddha went to a certain country to collect alms, accompanied by all of his disciples except Mahamaudgalyayana only to find that no one there would give them offerings. Neither the king, nor his government officials, nor the citizens made offerings to the Buddha or his disciples. Later, however, when Mahamaudgalyayana arrived in that country, there was a complete change of heart. The king, the officials, and all the citizens very respectfully gathered around to welcome Mahamaudgalyayana and to bow to him. They beseeched him to let them know what he needed so they could make offerings to him. The Buddha’s disciples did not understand why the Buddha, one of such great virtue, received no offerings from the people of this country, while when the Buddha’s disciple arrived, the whole town turned out to greet him and everyone made offerings to him. “What’s the meaning of this?” the disciples asked the Buddha.
The Buddha told his disciples: “The great officials and the citizens made no offerings to me because in a past life I failed to set up conditions with them and consequently we have no affinity with one another. Once long, long ago, ages prior to this one, Mahamaudgalyayana was a firewood gatherer. One day while picking up firewood he bumped against a nest of bees, and they swarmed out to attack him.
Mahamaudgalyayana simply recited the Buddha’s name and made a vow saying, ‘Namo Buddha. You bees, don’t sting me! In the future when I have realized the Way, you will be the first ones I take across to Buddhahood. Renounce your evil thoughts and stop harming people.’ As a result of this vow, the bees did not sting him. Eventually the queen bee became the king of this country and the drones and workers became the officials and citizens. When Mahamaudgalyayana, now a bhikshu, came to this city, the former bees whom he had to take across all bowed and welcomed him. Such is the power of his former vow.”
Taking this situation to heart, we should always establish wholesome affinities by being kind to everyone. We should vow to lead all people and all creatures to Buddhahood. A vow is invisible, but living beings have the equivalent of a radio receiver in their minds, so they can tune in to it. A vow is not tangible or visible, but beings will instinctively know if you are good to them. You should resolve to rescue all living beings. Anyone who maintains this frame of mind will have affinities wherever he goes.
”I went to a certain place and no one came to my aid. Why was that?” someone may ask.
It is because you didn’t develop any affinities with the people there in the past. Creating affinities is especially important for cultivators of the Way. So it is said, “If you haven’t harvested the fruit of Bodhi, first create affinities with living beings.” How? By being good to everyone. Why is this necessary? Living beings are the Buddha. Being good to them is simply being good to the Buddha. If you’re not good to them, you’re not being good to the Buddha.
Every thought ought to arise
for the sake of living beings.
Every good deed should be done
for the sake of all living beings.
One should use all one’s strength to do good deeds. Such is the resolve of a great vehicle Bodhisattva. Don’t be a small vehicle “self-ending” arhat who only takes himself across to enlightenment and doesn’t take others across, too.
If you can see all living beings as Buddhas, living beings will see you as a Buddha. If you see all living beings as demon kings, living beings will see you as a demon king. It’s just like putting colored glasses on. If you put on green glasses, everything you see is green. If you wear red glasses, everyone turns red. Not only that, but the way you see others is the way they see you. That’s why I said earlier that living beings have radio receivers in their minds, which let them tune into each other. Don’t think the other person is not aware of your bad thoughts. Although he may not actually know what you are thinking, his self-nature senses it. Being good to people is yang-light. Not being good to people is yin-shadow.
The meanings and doctrines of the Shurangama Sutra are as deep as the sea. Although some people claim to have fathomed the depths of the ocean, actually its depth varies so much from place to place that it’s impossible to say just how deep it is. The doctrines of the Shurangama Sutra are the same way. It’s not easy to fathom them. Each person gains his or her own particular advantages from the sutra. From person to person the advantages differ, but all come forth from the wisdom of the sutra. Because the sutra is deep, the wisdom we can obtain from it is great and the samadhi-power we gain is durable, and so it is called “the ultimate durability of all things.”
”If each of us obtains something from the sutra, are its meanings and doctrines diminished?”
No. The meanings and doctrines are like water in the sea. When someone goes to the shore and dips out a bucketful of water, the amount of water left in the sea is still great. If another person takes some water for his purposes, the water in the sea is still abundant. The sea is inexhaustible and unending. The doctrines of this sutra are also inexhaustible and unending. When you become enlightened, the sutra’s doctrines are still as complete as they were before your enlightenment. You can extract any amount of wisdom, but the wisdom obtainable from the sutra remains the same - it neither grows nor diminishes.
The expression of the teaching-substance
All dharmas spoken by the Buddha have a teaching-substance. What is the substance of this sutra’s teaching? It consists of words, sentences, writings, and sound. Manjushri Bodhisattva suggests to the Buddha that when the Thus Come One appears in the world the “true teaching-substance of this region resides only in sound.” The region meant is the Saha world, our world of suffering. However, sound alone cannot be considered the substance of the teaching. Wind and water also make sounds, but they cannot be called the substance of the teaching.
More specifically, then, the substance of the teaching consists of sound, words, sentences, and writings. The sound is that of the Buddha’s first speaking this dharma. Once it was spoken, sound became words. And the words formed sentences, which were then written down. Once it was written down, the teaching became available. So the sutra’s teaching-substance is composed of sound, words, sentences, and writings.
The teaching-substance can be divided into four doors. The first is the door of accompanying phenomena; in this case, the sound, words, sentences, and writings. The Shurangama’s teaching-substance is based also on the door of consciousness-only, and on the door of returning to the nature, which is not concerned with appearances but returns directly to the nature. The sutra also takes the door of unobstructedness as its teaching-substance.
The door of consciousness-only discusses how the “three realms arise only from the mind and the myriad dharmas only from consciousness.” Shakyamuni Buddha contemplated the conditions to see which dharmas he should use to rescue beings. Then from within pure consciousness he spoke the dharma to teach and transform living beings, and their consciousness gained the benefit. This is the door of consciousness-only, taking consciousness-only as the substance of its teaching.
The door of returning to the nature is completely interpenetrated without obstruction. In it the consciousness disappears and returns to the nature. Returning to the nature is also the substance of the teaching.
What is the door of non-obstruction? The former doors include both phenomena and noumena, with the door of returning to the nature being noumena. When the four doors combine, phenomena and phenomena are non-obstructive. This non-obstruction, then - the perfect fusion and unobstructedness of all phenomena and of noumena - comprises this sutra’s teaching-substance.
Individuals Able to Receive the Teaching
The identification of the appropriate individuals able to receive the teaching
This refers to the living beings who are taught and transformed. To whom is the teaching of this sutra directed? The Shurangama Sutra causes sentient and insentient creatures to perfect all-wisdom at the same time. Both sentient and insentient beings can realize Buddhahood. Those who are taught specifically here are the sound-hearers, ones enlightened to conditions, and those with something left to learn.
Ones enlightened to conditions are pratyekabuddhas born at a time when there is a Buddha in the world. They cultivate the twelve links of conditioned causation and awaken to the Way. When there is no Buddha in the world, pratyekabuddhas are called solitary enlightened ones. Solitary enlightened ones live deep in the mountains in the remote valleys where they hide away in caves. There they watch the myriad things between heaven and earth continually live and die. In the spring the hundred flowers open, in the autumn the yellow leaves fall. Watching these changes, they awaken to the Way.
Besides teaching the sound-hearers and the ones enlightened to conditions, this sutra also teaches those with something left to learn, which in this case refers to the Bodhisattvas. The Buddha is the only one who has nothing left to learn. The sutra also transforms the fixed-nature sound-hearers, those who do not wish to turn from the small vehicle toward the great. A sound-hearer whose nature is flexible turns from the small toward the great and can pass from the position of sound-hearer through that of one enlightened to conditions on to become a Bodhisattva. Although sound-hearers, ones enlightened to conditions, Bodhisattvas, and fixed-nature sound-hearers can be said to be the primary recipients of the sutra’s teaching, all living beings of the three realms - the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm - are the primary recipients of the teaching. This sutra accords with all opportunities and takes everyone across without exception.
Similarities, Differences and Determination of Time
The similarities and differences between the principle and its implications
The principle is that which is held in honor. What the principle leads us back to is called its implication. The teaching of the two vehicles (sound-hearers and pratyekabuddhas) is concerned primarily with cause and effect. This is a provisional dharma. The dharma the Buddha spoke includes both provisional and actual teaching. The provisional is temporary, the actual is everlasting. With the provisional dharma, cause is principle, the entering is its implication. When true appearance is reached, the provisional becomes actual. When the actual is reached, one is said to have awakened and entered. Thus the awakening is the principle, the entering is its implication.
When Ananda, the protagonist of this sutra, ran into trouble, the Buddha rescued him and then taught him to turn from the small toward the great. That is the principle. Ananda’s arrival at the ultimate fruit is its implication. The principle and its implication thus penetrate to the Buddha-Way, and are the Way to Buddhahood, and are thus distinguished from the various small vehicle sutras which discuss only the small vehicle and cannot penetrate to the Buddha-position.
The determination of the time
This refers to the time when the sutra was spoken. The Buddha spoke dharma for forty-nine years. When he spoke the Shurangama Sutra, King Prasenajit was sixty-two years old, and since the Buddha and King Prasenajit were the same age, this would place the sutra in the prajna period. But if we judge the sutra by its teaching, it is classified as vaipulya. Vaipulya, a Sanskrit word, means “broadening passages” and refers to the third period of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching, according to the Tian Tai classification. Therefore the previous classification of this sutra as a final teaching, according to the Xian Shou classification, was correct.
CHAPTER 2: The History of the Transmission and Translation
The history of the transmission and translation
After the great Tian Tai Master Zhi Yi read the Dharma Flower Sutra, he divided all sutras into three sections: the preface; the body, which embodies the principle and implication of the sutra; and the propagation, which is an exhortation at the end of the sutra that it be circulated throughout the world.
Later, when an Indian dharma master came to China and learned that Great Master Zhi Yi had divided all sutras into these three parts, he was amazed, and exclaimed, “That is just the same way the sutras of India are divided! The Shurangama Sutra, for instance is divided in exactly the same way!” When Master Zhi Yi heard of the existence of the Shurangama Sutra, which he had never seen, he was moved to bow to the west in the hope that he would one day see this sutra. He bowed to the west every day for eighteen years, but in the end he never had the opportunity to see the sutra. How superior must be the causes and conditions that allow us, who have never bowed to the sutra, to be able to encounter it now, to read it, and to recite it!
Eventually, the king of India proclaimed the Shurangama Sutra a national treasure because it was one of the sutras that Nagarjuna Bodhisattva brought back from the Dragon Palace. After the proclamation, no one was permitted to take the sutra out of the country. At that time, Dharma Master Paramiti was intent upon getting the sutra out of India into other countries, especially China. He set out for China carrying a copy of the sutra, only to be stopped at the border by customs officials who would not permit him to carry the sutra across the border. Since he was unable to take the sutra out of the country, he returned and tried to think of a way to get the sutra out of the country. Finally, he thought of a way. He wrote out the sutra in minute characters on extremely fine silk, rolled it up, and sealed it with wax. Then he cut open his arm and placed the small scroll inside his flesh. Next he applied medicines to the wound and waited for it to heal. Some people say he put the sutra in his leg, but I think that since it would not have been respectful to place the text below the waist, he probably chose some fleshly place on the upper part of his body and put the sutra there. When the wound healed, he again set out for China and passed through the border guards without incident since the sutra was well concealed. Eventually, he arrived in Canton province where he happened to meet the Prime Minister Fang Yong, who invited him to reside at a temple in Canton while he translated the sutra.
These were the difficulties encountered at the time the sutra was translated. How fortunate for us that the dharma master was so determined to take the sutra to China. From this account you can see how important this sutra is.
It was during the Tang dynasty, after Empress Wu Zai Tian retired, in the first year of the Shen Long reign period that Shramana Paramiti translated this sutra from Sanskrit to Chinese. He accomplished the translation very quickly, so that he could get back to India before the customs officials at the border were punished for letting him slip through with the sutra. Dharma Master Paramiti wanted to return to India and turn himself in so the guards would not be punished. After he finished his translation he went back to India, confessed to the king, and asked to receive whatever punishment the offense entailed.
This dharma master’s merit with regard to this sutra is extremely great. Since it is due to his efforts at the outset that we now have the opportunity to investigate this sutra, we should first be thankful for this shramana’s meritorious work.
Shramana is a Sanskrit word which means “diligent and putting to rest,” that is, diligently cultivating precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, and putting to rest greed, hatred, and stupidity. The Buddha is also called a shramana. Once in India, when the Buddha was in the world, the bhikshu Ashvajit (“Master of Horses”) was walking down the road carefully attired in his robes. His awesome deportment was so striking that upon seeing him Maudgalyayana was moved to say, “You are so majestic, your awesome manner so well perfected, that certainly you must have a master. Whom do you study with?”
Bhikshu Ashvajit said, “All dharmas arise from conditions, all dharmas cease because of conditions. The Buddha, the Great Shramana, often spoke of this.” When Maudgalyayana heard those words, he accompanied the monk back to the Jeta Grove in the Garden of Anathapindaka, bowed to the Buddha as his master, and left the home-life.
Each of us should study the conduct of a shramana. In order to cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom diligently like the shramana, we should first take refuge with the Triple Jewel and then receive the five precepts: to refrain from killing, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, from lying, and from taking intoxicants. After receiving these precepts, we should actually put them into practice, which means we should never violate them. The five precepts are extremely important. Strict adherence to them will ensure rebirth in the realm of humans. If you cultivate the five precepts, you won’t lose the opportunity to be born a person.
Someone may say, however, “I understand why one should not kill. After all, all living beings have the Buddha-nature, all can become Buddhas, so every living being’s life should be spared. I also understand why stealing is not good and that it is important to refrain from indulging in sexual misconduct and lying, but why are intoxicants included within the five precepts? I’ve always enjoyed drinking and smoking. Everybody drinks. Everybody smokes. What’s wrong with it? In fact, I’m seriously considering dropping my study of the Buddhadharma just because of this prohibition against intoxicants.”
You should stop and think about it instead of just following the crowd. Others enjoy smoking and so you join them; others enjoy drinking and so you drink, too. You get caught up in such company and do the things they do until eventually you get the habit as well. Most people don’t have great faults, but rather just slight faults and little problems. But just on account of these slight problems you would consider cutting short your study of the Buddhadharma. How stupid that would be! Do you want to know why there is a prohibition against wine? I’ll tell you a true story to clarify this point.
There was once a man who liked to drink. He took the five precepts, but afterwards he didn’t keep them. How did this happen? One day he thought, “Perhaps I’ll have a little drink of wine.” He took out a bottle and had a few swallows. He was accustomed to having something to eat with his drink, so he set the bottle down and went outside to look for something to eat. He noticed that his neighbor’s chicken had strayed over into his yard. “Good,” he thought, “it will make a good chaser,” and he snatched up the pullet. At that point, he broke the precept against stealing. Once he.d stolen it, he had to kill it before he could eat it, and so he broke the precept against killing. Once the chicken was cooked he used it to chase down his wine, and soon he was roaring drunk, thus breaking once again the precept against the use of intoxicants. About that time, there was a knock at his door. It was the neighbor woman in search of her chicken. “I haven’t seen it,” he blurted out, thereby breaking the precept against lying. A second glance at the neighbor woman revealed her beauty to him, and, aroused by an overwhelming sexual desire, he raped her. Afterwards he was sued. Now all this came about because he wanted to drink. Just because he had a few drinks, he subsequently broke the other four precepts and got into a lot of trouble. Intoxicants cause one to become confused and scattered, and so they are the object of one of the Buddhist prohibitions. A person who is drunk lacks self-control. With no forewarning he can find himself suddenly in the heavens, suddenly on earth. He “mounts the clouds and drives the fog.” He’ll do anything. Because it causes one to lose all inhibitions, it is included among the five precepts.
If you receive the five precepts and do not violate them, then you are protected by good dharma-protecting spirits who are connected with each precept. If you break the precepts, the good spirits leave and no longer protect you. This is why receiving the precepts is extremely important in Buddhism.
”How does one receive the precepts?” someone may want to know.
Merely reading in a book that one must not kill, steal, commit acts of sexual misconduct, lie, or take intoxicants does not count as taking precepts. Nor is it possible to go before the Buddhas, light some incense, and make some incense-burns on your body and receive the precepts in that way. No, it is not done that way. If a layperson wishes to receive the five precepts, he must certainly find a high Sangha member of great virtue to certify that he, the Sangha member, has transmitted the substance of the precepts to the layperson. The Sangha member tells the layperson that from now on he or she is one who has received the precepts. The merit gained by receiving and maintaining the precepts is inconceivably great and wonderful. But in order for it to be in accord with dharma, one must go before a Sangha member to seek and receive the precepts.
In addition to cultivating the precepts, a shramana cultivates samadhi. There are many kinds of samadhi that could be discussed, but in general, if you are not moved by any external experience, you are in samadhi.
”How can one obtain samadhi?”
First you must become quiet by sitting in meditation and investigating dhyana. The reason most people go restlessly back and forth, east today and west tomorrow, is that they have no samadhi. In the morning to the gate of Qin, in the evening to the court of Chu: they run all over, because they don’t have any samadhi. To obtain samadhi, you must work hard, and as you do, you may have many different experiences. But in the midst of these experiences, you should take care not to let them turn you around. That is samadhi. If an experience changes your state of mind, you have no samadhi. For instance, if you receive a letter containing bad news and it makes you worry, you have no samadhi. You don’t pass the test. Or if you encounter some happy situation and you go chasing after it, you have no samadhi. If you are faced with a displeasing experience and you get angry, you also have no samadhi. You should be neither happy nor sad, neither exhilarated nor mournful. To have samadhi is to do things without getting emotional, but to use your Way mind instead.
”Where do samadhi-power and wisdom-power come from?” you ask.
They come from precepts. Every day you must protect and keep the precepts until eventually there comes to be a mutual response between the dharma and your cultivation of it. When you have established this kind of relationship with the dharma you can obtain the nourishment of dharma-water.
A shramana diligently cultivates precepts, samadhi, and wisdom and puts to rest greed, anger, and stupidity. These three poisons, greed, anger, and stupidity, are precisely the reason you have not realized Buddhahood. If you can put a stop to the three poisons you will quickly become Buddhas.
Greed is the feeling of “the more the better” whenever you encounter something you like. Anger is the feeling that arises when you encounter a situation that doesn’t please you. Stupidity is the polluted thoughts of the stupid mind that cause you to go about things in a confused way. If you can simply put an end to those three poisons, you can be in mutual response with the Way. Then it is very easy to accomplish your work in the Way.
There are four kinds of shramanas:
- A shramana victorious in the Way. He has cultivated and accomplished either Arhatship or Bodhisattvahood.
- A shramana who speaks of the Way. He propagates the dharma for the benefit of living beings.
- A shramana who lives the Way. He maintains the precepts with purity and great vigor and is careful never to break them.
- A shramana who defiles the Way. He doesn’t eat pure food and he breaks the precepts; he turns his back on them. Not only does he defile himself, but he defiles the Buddh’s teaching. He makes a bad impression on people. When they see a person who has left the home life but does not keep the precepts, they lose their faith in the Buddhadharma. Since he causes others to lose faith, he is said to defile the Buddha’s teaching.
Paramiti, the shramana who translated the Shurangama Sutra, represents the first three kinds of shramana: he is victorious in the Way, he speaks of the Way, and he lives the Way. Paramiti in Sanskrit means “extreme amount,” indicating that his talent and his wisdom were both extremely ample and full. Dharma Master Paramiti translated the Shurangama Sutra, and as director of translation, he stood at the head of more than two hundred dharma masters who had assembled to work on the translation. The work was done at Zhi Zhi monastery, a large monastery in the city of Canton. Because of the great merit and virtue involved in directing the translation of the sutra, the translator and the history of transmission and translation are discussed as the ninth door, before the text itself is explained.
The Reviewer, Certifier and Editor
Dharma Master Paramiti was assisted by a shramana from Uddiyana, a place in India. Before it was converted to housing, Uddiyana had been the imperial flower garden, so in transliterating the word into Chinese, the character for carambola, a kind of flower, was used. Meghashika means “able to subdue,” which indicates that he could subdue afflictions, demon-obstacles, or anything of the sort. Having left Uddiyana for China, Meghashika revised the translation, paying particular attention to what expressions in Chinese would be used. He was one of the highest dharma masters to take part in the work.
Often copies of the sutra text do not list this dharma master’s name, but his name is listed in earlier editions and should be added to later ones if it has been omitted. Luo Fu Mountain is a famous mountain in Canton province. Nan Luo Monastery is the place where Shramana Huai Di (“Cherishing Progress”) dwelt. Probably when Huai Di’s master gave him that name, it was in the hope that he would work hard and vigorously. The “Di” of his name means to “progress,” the meaning being that he should continually be vigorous in his cultivation, that he should not rest, that he should not be lazy. This dharma master was extremely well-educated. He concentrated on the study of the teachings of the sutras, so he was very clear about the doctrines contained in them. Because he also understood Sanskrit, he was the dharma master appointed to certify the translation. Since both Dharma Master Paramiti and Dharma Master Meghashika understood Sanskrit thoroughly, why did someone else from China certify the translation? Although these two dharma masters had mastered both Sanskrit and Chinese, they had just come to China, and it was to be feared that they did not completely understand Chinese, so someone from China was called upon to certify the translation. This was Dharma Master Huai Di.
I haven’t looked into why contemporary editions of the sutra don’t list Dharma Master Huai Di, although former editions all do. But I wanted to mention him so that it would be known who certified the translation.
The Bodhisattva precepts should be taken by both people who have left the home-life and laypeople. The sutra that sets forth the Bodhisattva precepts, the Brahma Net Sutra, says, “Whether as king of a country or as a great official, when one is initiated into one’s position, one should take the Bodhisattva precepts.” Because Fang Yong understood the Buddhadharma, he took the Buddha as his father and the Bodhisattvas as his brothers, and took the ten major and forty-eight minor Bodhisattva precepts. Afterwards, he referred to himself as a disciple.
He received the Bodhisattva precepts and then he became the Censor of State, which means whenever the country was in error he reported it. He criticized. “Of State” indicates his official capacity within the government. The text says former, indicating that at the time he edited the Shurangama Sutra translation, he was no longer in that position. Concurrently means that he held two positions: Attendant and Minister. As attendant, he looked after the emperor’s affairs and carried out imperial commands. As minister, he was involved in the government of the country and in that capacity issued his own commands. His duty as Court Regulator was to make sure the affairs of court were in equilibrium.
Edited by means he used his brush to write out the text. He polished the language, making it even more eloquent, so that the style and technical perfection of the writing is of unsurpassed excellence. Why? Official Fang Yong was a great writer, an extremely well-educated man. That he himself, with his own brush, polished this text makes the Shurangama Sutra text particularly fine. If you wish to study Chinese, you can memorize the Shurangama Sutra; it is a paragon of Chinese composition. Even many Chinese are unable to read and understand it.
Now that the first nine doors of explanation are complete, the specific explanation of the meaning of the text follows.
CHAPTER 3: The Testimony of Faith
A10 The specific explanation of the meaning of the text.
B1 The preface.
C1 The testimony of faith.
D1 An explanation of the six fulfillments.
Thus I have heard.
Thus expresses faith. Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and the foremost in learning of all his disciples, edited and compiled the sutras. At the beginning of each sutra he says, “Thus I have heard,” indicating that the words to follow are the Buddha’s words. “Thus” means “Dharma such as this, the eight volumes of the Shurangama Sutra, is what I, Ananda, have heard. I, Ananda, myself heard the Buddha speak this.” Therefore, dharma that is “thus” can be believed; dharma that is not “thus” cannot be believed. “Thus,” then, refers to the text of the sutra.
”Thus” satisfies the fulfillment of faith. All sutras spoken by the Buddha begin with the six fulfillments: the fulfillment of faith; the fulfillment of hearing; the fulfillment of time; the fulfillment of a host - one who speaks the dharma; the fulfillment of a place; and, the fulfillment of an audience.
1. The fulfillment of faith.
“Why must one have faith?” someone may wonder.
Faith is the source of the Way
And the mother of merit and virtue
Because it nourishes all good dharmas.
Such is its great importance.
It is said,
The Buddhadharma is like a great sea;
Only through faith can one enter it.
There is no other way to enter the sea of dharma except by faith. Only by means of faith can one “deeply enter the sutra treasury and have wisdom like the sea.” One should have faith that the Shurangama Sutra is extremely fine. Believe in the sutra. That is to have faith. That is what is meant by the fulfillment of faith.
2. The fulfillment of hearing.
Those with the fulfillment of faith still must come to listen to what is said. If you have only the fulfillment of faith, then when lecture time comes you may be off in the park or at a coffee house and miss the lecture entirely. That would be a case of there being no realization of hearing. But if instead you aren’t out drinking coffee while sutras are being lectured - what is more, if you aren’t even thinking about food though you’ve skipped dinner and are thus making absolutely certain that you hear the sutra - you have achieved the fulfillment of hearing. Since you have all come to listen and have brought about the fulfillment of faith with your sincerity, I will realize the fulfillment of hearing for you.
3. The fulfillment of time.
If you have faith and hearing, but you don’t have the time, then there’s no way to hear the sutra. There must be an appropriate time. Usually, you are either going to school or going to work and have no time to come and listen to sutra lectures. But now we have found the time to assemble and investigate the sutra.
4. The fulfillment of a host.
You must also have a host to speak the dharma. If, for instance, you want to listen to sutras, you must find someone to lecture them for you. However, if you were to request one of your “do-it-yourself dharma masters” (laypeople who use this title even though they have not left the home-life in the orthodox tradition) to lecture, you would find that you might as well lecture yourself. You already understand what they lecture. Therefore you must find a host who can speak the dharma. It was for this reason that you pulled me out of the grave. Basically I’m known as the “Monk in the Grave,” but you have brought me out to lecture sutras and speak dharma for you.
”Who is the host of the sutra?”
Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Shurangama Sutra; he represents the fulfillment of a host.
5. The fulfillment of a place.
“Once there is a host to speak the dharma, then everything is ready for dharma to be spoken, right?” you ask.
No, you still need a place to lecture the sutras.
”What about the park? It’s big enough. We could go there for lectures.”
That might work for a day or two, but by the third day the authorities would prevent it. “This is a public park,” they would say. “You can’t occupy it like this.” So you have to find somewhere appropriate to bring about the fulfillment of a place.
6. The fulfillment of an audience.
Finally, there must be people who come to listen. If there’s no audience for the sutra lecture, you can go ahead and lecture to the tables and chairs, but can they listen? No, an audience is necessary.
For the Shurangama Sutra, the place is the Jeta Grove, in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary, at the city of Shravasti, where the Buddha dwelt with his disciples.
In this sutra, the audience is composed of the great bhikshus and Bodhisattvas who came to listen.
When Ananda says, “Thus I have heard,” the “I” refers to the “hypothetical self” of the Bodhisattva. There are four kinds of self:
Ordinary people have an “attachment to the self” which comes from their attachment to the body.
Non-Buddhist religions speak of a “divine self.” They maintain that there is a God-head, or say that they themselves are God.
Bodhisattvas follow worldly custom and manifest a “hypothetical self.”
The Buddhas have the ”true self” of the dharma body.
The ordinary person is attached to his body and feels that it is his real self. Actually the body is but a temporary dwelling, like a hotel. You can live in a hotel for a while, but eventually you will have to move. You can’t stay forever. Ordinary people do not understand this principle. They think, “My body is me,” and they strive to feed it well and dress it beautifully. They look for pleasure to indulge it in. They want an elegant home and beautiful surroundings. They busy themselves dressing well, eating rich food, and living high - all only to help out their “stinking skin-bags.”
The human body is merely a stinking skin-bag. You don’t believe it? Take a look. Unclean matter oozes from your eyes. Your ears discharge wax, which is also unclean. Your nose is full of filthy mucus and your mouth is full of unclean saliva and phlegm. If you don’t bathe for four days, your body begins to stink, and if you perspire, it becomes foul in just a day or two. Feces and urine are also filthy. Impurities are constantly being discharged from the nine bodily apertures of the eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, anus, and urethra – they’re all unclean. What is there to love about your body? You may dress it in finery; dab it with perfume; slave for it all day applying lipstick, rouge, and powder as some women are wont to do - all for the sake of the false shell of the body. No matter how good the food, it still turns into excrement. Decorating the body is just like decorating a toilet with beautiful material. No matter how elegant the toilet turns out, it is still a place to deposit filthy things. Would you say the insides of a human body are clean?
Tell me, what’s so good about your body? When the time comes to die, it retains no sentiment for you. It doesn’t say, “You’ve been so good to me, I’ll live a few extra days and help you out.” It can’t do it. So what good is the body after all? Nonetheless, the ordinary person is attached to his body and takes it as himself. “This is MY body,” he says. “You hit ME! I can’t allow that! How dare you insult ME!”
Ultimately, who is that “me”? He doesn’t even know who he is, and yet he says others are insulting him or hitting him. He hasn’t recognized his original face and thinks the flesh body is “me.” The spirit and the self-nature are the true self, but he has not found them. He can't see them. He doesn’t even know enough to look for them. He just assumes he’s doing the right thing by slaving for the sake of his body.
If your primary concern is to get the better half of things for yourself, you haven’t figured out life right. Anyone like that won’t be able to make things add up. He is busy for the sake of himself to the exclusion of all else. Therefore, a Bodhisattva is never busy for himself. He is busy for the sake of others. If people want his help, he will give it to them, regardless of the circumstances.
Non-Buddhist religions speak of a “divine self.” “What is the self?” they say. “It is God.” There are many varieties of this kind of self, but they will not be discussed at this time.
What is the “hypothetical self” of the Bodhisattva? Ananda says, “Thus I have heard.” However, Ananda is enlightened; at the time he recalls the Buddha’s words for us, he has already attained arhatship, and so he no longer has any “I” - any ego. In saying “I have heard,” he is simply following worldly custom and assuming a hypothetical self in order to be comprehensible to ordinary people who have an attachment to the self.
Bodhisattvas do not have the characteristic of a self. They recognize the ordinary attachment to the self as false, and they seek the true self of one’s own nature. It is from the false self that you can arrive at the true self, for only if you recognize the false can you find the true. If you don’t recognize the false as false, how can you find the truth? Why are we now investigating the Buddhadharma? It is because we are searching for true principle. Why do we seek true principle? Because we know that everything in the world is false, and we want to find the truth within falsity. What is the true self of one’s own nature that the Bodhisattva seeks? It is the Buddha. The Buddha is the true self. Before you have realized Buddhahood, your “I” is false. The Bodhisattva knows the self is false, but the ordinary person says, “You say the self is false, but as I see it, my body is excellent. It is strong, tall, well-proportioned and handsome. You may say it is false, but I think it is true.” He can’t see through it, and so he can’t put it down. Unable to put it down, he cannot become truly independent.
The phrase “I have heard” indicates the fulfillment of hearing.
”Now, basically,” you may say, “the ears hear. Why doesn’t it say, .Thus the ears heard,. instead of ‘Thus I have heard.’?” Actually, the ears cannot hear. They are merely the organ of hearing. What hears is the nature, which is eternally present. It is the mind that heard. What it heard was the dharma which is “thus.”
”Which dharma is ‘thus’?” you ask.
It is the Shurangama Sutra that Dharma Master Paramiti wrote out on sheer silk, placed in an incision he made in his arm, carried to China, and translated into Chinese. Now it has come to America, where it has been translated into English. It is what Ananda himself heard the Buddha speak. It is what the Buddha has transmitted to China. It is not something that Ananda as an individual put together and made. It is the dharma the Buddha spoke.
All sutras that the Buddha spoke begin with the four words “Thus I have heard.” There are four reasons for that.
1. To put the doubts of the assembly to rest.
After the Buddha had entered nirvana, and it came time to compile the sutras, Ananda ascended the high seat to speak dharma. He immediately manifested the appearance of entering samadhi and sat there for perhaps five minutes without speaking. Once he had entered samadhi, his appearance became identical with the Buddha’s. He was endowed with the thirty-two marks and eighty subtle characteristics of a Buddha; he emitted light and moved the earth. The great assembly of disciples immediately gave rise to three doubts:
1.Some thought that Shakyamuni Buddha had come back to life because they saw that Ananda had taken on the perfect features of the Buddha. The disciples had probably been thinking so much about the Buddha that their brains were a bit murky, and so they jumped to this conclusion.
2. Some thought that the reason Ananda now had such perfect features was that he, Ananda, had himself realized Buddhahood.
3. Some thought a Buddha had come from another region. “It isn’t Shakyamuni Buddha, and Ananda hasn’t become a Buddha,” they thought. “Perhaps it is a Buddha from the north, south, east, or west, from one of the ten directions.”
But as soon as Ananda said, “Thus I have heard,” the three doubts of the assembly were suddenly resolved.
2. To honor the Buddha’s instruction.
When the Buddha was about to enter nirvana, he announced his intent to his disciples, and they began to cry. Ananda, who was the Buddha’s cousin, cried hardest of them all. He sobbed and wept, probably until his tears washed his face clean. Finally the Venerable Aniruddha approached him and said, “Don’t cry. You can’t cry. Since the Buddha is about to enter nirvana, you should ask him what to do about things after he is gone.”
”What things should I ask about?” Ananda said.
The Venerable Aniruddha replied, “In the future, the sutras will be compiled. You should ask what words to begin them with. Second,” Aniruddha continued, “when the Buddha is in the world, we live with the Buddha. When the Buddha enters nirvana where will we dwell? Ask the Buddha that. Third, we now rely on the Buddha as our teacher. After the Buddha enters nirvana, whom should we take as our teacher? We have to have a teaching and transforming guide, a teaching host. Fourth, when the Buddha is in the world, he is able to discipline and subdue the bad-natured bhikshus. After the Buddha enters nirvana, how should they be dealt with? The proper thing for you to do is to go ask the Buddha these four questions.”
Ananda agreed. He went to the Buddha and asked, “When the Buddha is in the world, we take the Buddha as our master. After the Buddha enters nirvana, whom should we take as master?”
The Buddha answered, “Take the precepts as your master.” Bhikshus and bhikshunis should take the precepts as master.
”When the Buddha is in the world, we dwell with the Buddha,” Ananda said. “When the Buddha enters nirvana, where shall we dwell?”
”When the Buddha leaves the world, you should dwell in the four applications of mindfulness,” the Buddha answered. The four applications of mindfulness are: contemplate the body as impure; contemplate feelings as suffering; contemplate thoughts as impermanent; and contemplate dharmas as being without self. If you contemplate the body as impure, you won’t love the body. If you contemplate feelings as suffering, you can’t be greedy for pleasure. If you know thoughts are impermanent, you won’t become attached to the polluted thoughts that arise in your mind. The dharmas that are without a self are the five skandhas, or heaps: form, feeling, thinking, activity, and consciousness.
Third, Ananda said, “In the future when the sutras are compiled what words should we begin them with?”
The Buddha answered: “Use these four words: ‘Thus I have heard.’” These words and the six fulfillments represent the completeness of the sutra’s meaning and certify that the sutra was spoken by the Buddha.
”I have just one more question,” said Ananda. “When the Buddha is in the world he can control the bad-natured bhikshus. But when the Buddha enters nirvana, what is to be done about them?”
The Buddha said, “As to the bad-natured bhikshus, ignore them and they will go away. Pay no attention to them. Don’t talk to them. Don’t sit with them. In general, treat them as despicable; ignore them. If no one pays any attention to them, they won’t be able to do anything, no matter how evil they may be.”
Bad-natured bhikshus are people who have left the home-life and who say and do unprincipled things. When the Buddha was in the world, there were six bhikshus who were very bad. You shouldn’t think that every person who leaves the home-life is good. There are also many unruly people among the Sangha. The Buddha instructs us to “ignore them and they will go away.” Keep silent and pay no attention to them. In that way you can subdue them.
3. To resolve the assembly’s disputes.
The Buddha had many disciples who were old cultivators - senior members of the assembly who had much more Way-virtue than Ananda. Ananda had just recently attained the fourth stage of arhatship, while among the assembly were many who had long been fourth-stage arhats. If Ananda had simply spoken the sutras, most of them would not have paid him due respect. But by saying “Thus I have heard,” he made it clear that what they were about to hear was not a sutra spoken by Ananda himself, but rather a sutra he heard the Buddha speak. Therefore, no one could argue. Everyone knew that Ananda had the most excellent memory and could remember in their entirety all the sutras the Buddha had spoken during his forty-nine years of teaching without getting them confused or mixed up in any way. Ananda was born on the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment. He heard everything the Buddha taught during the last twenty-nine years of his life and remembered every single word of it.
”But how could he remember what the Buddha taught during the first twenty years?” someone may ask. “He wasn’t even there to hear the teaching.” Remember that Ananda was the Buddha’s personal attendant and never left the Buddha’s side. He used every opportunity to question the Buddha about the earlier teachings and in this way he learned all the dharma the Buddha had spoken during those first twenty years. The Buddha’s teaching was like a great river. Every drop of it flowed into the ocean of Ananda’s mind. Not a single drop escaped. That is why it is said that everything the Buddha taught during all the forty-nine years - from his enlightenment to his nirvana - was perfectly preserved in Ananda’s memory. Thus, the disputes of the assembly were quelled.
4. To distinguish Buddhist sutras from the writings of other religions.
Non-Buddhist texts begin either with the word O, “existence,” or the word E, “non-existence.” They say that all phenomena are either existent or non-existent. But Buddhist sutras speak of true emptiness and wonderful existence, the doctrine of the Middle Way. They avoid the extreme doctrines of existence and non-existence, being and non-being. They begin with “Thus I have heard” to distinguish them from non-Buddhist texts.
At one time the Buddha dwelt at the city of Shravasti in the sublime abode of the Jeta Grove.
At one time refers to the time when the Shurangama Sutra was spoken. It was the appropriate time to speak the sutra.
”Why wasn’t the specific year, month, day, and time recorded?” you ask.
Since the calendars of India and China did not coincide, there was no way to fix the time the Shurangama Sutra was spoken, so the simple phrase “At one time” was chosen. Of the six fulfillments, “At one time” brings about the fulfillment of time, and the Buddha as the host who speaks the dharma is the fulfillment of a host.
If you want to become a Buddha, you must learn what a Buddha is like.
”What is a Buddha like?”
A Buddha is happy from morning to night. He doesn’t worry. He doesn’t give rise to afflictions. He sees all living beings as Buddhas, and so he himself has realized Buddhahood. If you can see all living beings as Buddhas, you too are a Buddha.
”What does the word Buddha mean?”
The word Buddha means “enlightened.” The Buddha has perfected the three kinds of enlightenment: enlightenment of self, enlightenment of others, and the perfection of enlightenment and practice. This has been explained above.
In this sutra the terms for the three kinds of enlightenment are called basic enlightenment, initial enlightenment, and ultimate enlightenment, but these are simply different names for the enlightenment of self, the enlightenment of others, and the perfection of enlightenment and practice. In Buddhist sutras there are many places where the names vary but the meaning is the same. You should not fail to recognize something just because the name is different. If someone changes his name, you won’t know he is being referred to when someone mentions him by his new name, but when you meet him face to face, you’ll say, ”Oh, it’s you!” The three kinds of enlightenment of the Buddha are the same way. If you haven’t investigated the Buddhadharma deeply, then you won’t know what basic enlightenment, initial enlightenment, and ultimate enlightenment are, but if you have studied the Buddhadharma you know that they are the same as the three enlightenments.
That is a general explanation of the word Buddha. If the word Buddha were discussed in detail, it could not be completely explained in three years, let alone three months. Now I have no alternative but to explain it for three minutes and let it go at that. That is because Americans like speed. They want everything to be done fast. So now in lecturing the sutra I will do it fast, like a rocket going to the moon. In a rocket, Zut! – you’re there. Although basically I hold to the old ways, I can’t use antiquated methods.
The Buddha dwelt at the City of Shravasti. Shravasti, a Sanskrit word, was the name of the capital city in which King Prasenajit lived. The Buddha taught and transformed many living beings there while he dwelt in the sublime abode of the Jeta Grove; which was near the city. Shravasti was different from other cities, in that it was unusually full of pleasures involving the five objects of desire: forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and objects of touch. All were extremely fine. As to forms, there were probably many beautiful women, and the city itself was undoubtedly very colorful. As to sounds, the music was probably extremely beautiful. As to smells, there was Indian curry, for instance, which we also have in this country and which can be smelled for quite a distance when it is cooking. As to flavors, there was ghee, a delicious milk product. As to objects of touch, they probably had the finest silks - the epitome of elegance - in Shravasti.
The city had abundance and affluence, and the people had the virtues of education and freedom; thus Shravasti is interpreted as meaning “Abundance and Virtue.” The people were well-educated, well-read, and experienced. They were endowed with intelligence, penetrating insight, and scholarship. They were also a free people; they were not bound by others.
Once there was a dharma master who went to seek instruction from an elder dharma master. When he arrived, he put on his robe and sash, opened his kneeling cloth, knelt before the elder dharma master, and asked for instruction.
”What instruction do you want from me?” asked the old master.
”I am seeking freedom,” came the reply.
”Who’s binding you up?” the old master asked.
As soon as he heard the question, the young dharma master realized that no one was binding him, and he immediately became enlightened. “I am already free,” he realized. “What am I doing seeking further freedom?” That realization brought about his enlightenment.
”If I were to seek instruction in how to obtain freedom, and someone were to tell me that I’m not bound up, would I become enlightened?” you ask.
That’s different. Your time has not yet arrived. Your potential has not yet matured. When it does, one sentence will cause you to awaken, to connect suddenly and penetrate through to enlightenment.
The people of Shravasti were free, which means that their cultivation made it easy for them to realize the Way. Because Shravasti was so well-endowed with abundance and virtue, the Buddha dwelt there.
The sublime abode of the Jeta Grove is the “Jeta Grove in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary” mentioned at the beginning of the Vajra Sutra.
In Shravasti there lived a great elder named Sudatta, who was endowed with many blessings. No one knew the extent of his wealth. One day a friend said to Sudatta, “The Buddha is at such-and-such a place speaking dharma.” The moment Sudatta heard the word “Buddha,”. his hair stood on end and he was beside himself.
”I want to go see the Buddha right now,” he said; ”Immediately!” Because of his wish to see the Buddha, the Buddha shone his light on Sudatta, although he was a good distance away. It was the middle of the night, but because the Buddha’s light was shining on him, Sudatta thought it was already dawn, so he arose and set out to see the Buddha. Since it was actually the middle of the night, the city gates were still locked, but by means of the power of the Buddha’s spiritual penetrations, the gates opened of themselves when Sudatta arrived and closed behind him again as he went out. He reached his destination, saw the Buddha, and, hearing the Buddha speak dharma, was inexpressibly happy. Then he asked the Buddha, “You have so many disciples; where do they live?”
At that time there wasn’t any sublime abode in the Jeta Grove. The Buddha said, “I haven’t any permanent residence.”
”I will build you a monastery!” said the elder. “I will make a place for you.” Since he was wealthy, he could speak with authority. “As soon as I return I will find a place and begin construction.”
When he got back to Shravasti he looked everywhere until he eventually found Prince Jeta’s garden, which was about a mile and a half outside the city. He saw that the garden was the most appropriate place to give the Buddha. But it belonged to the prince, so he went to negotiate.
”Why do you want to buy my garden?” Prince Jeta asked.
“I’m going to build a place to invite the Buddha to live in,” replied the elder.
”All right,” Prince Jeta said in jest, “cover the grounds of the garden completely with gold coins, and I will sell it to you.”
It never occurred to the prince that Sudatta would actually do it. Who would have guessed that Sudatta would return and take all the gold coins from the family storehouses to the gardens to be laid out on the grounds?
”I was just kidding!” cried the prince when he saw the gold-laden ground. “How could I sell you my garden? You shouldn’t have taken me seriously!”
”You are a prince now,” replied the elder Sudatta. “In the future you will be the king. A king does not speak in jest. You can’t joke with me. Whatever you say should be just as it is. You can’t refuse to sell.”
When the prince heard that, there was nothing he could do. “Very well,” he said. “You have covered the ground with gold coins, but you didn’t cover the trees. Here’s what we will do. We will divide it. The ground you covered is yours, but the trees are mine. However, I don’t want them for myself. I’ll make a gift of them so you can provide a place for the Buddha.”
The elder Sudatta had no choice but to accept Prince Jeta’s conditions. So the place was named the “Jeta Grove in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary.” Sudatta was also known as Anathapindaka, “the benefactor of orphans and the solitary,” because he took pleasure in helping widows, widowers, orphans, and the solitary, that is elderly couples who had no children. His virtuous deeds earned him a title awarded to elders of great virtue.
”How is Prince Jeta’s name explained?”
Prince Jeta was born on the day his father, King Prasenajit, returned victorious from a battle with a neighboring country, so the child was given the name Jeta, “Victorious in War,” by his father, the king.
This is the history of the “sublime abode of the Jeta Grove”. Sudatta invested large additional sums of money in the construction of the sublime abode.
D2 A broad explanation of the fulfillment of an audience.
F1 Listing their number.
With a gathering of great bhikshus, twelve hundred fifty in all.
The gathering of great bhikshus, together with the great Arhats and the Bodhisattvas of the ten directions mentioned below, bring about the fulfillment of an audience.
The sutras spoken by the Buddha are not confused or disconnected. They weren’t spoken casually. Every sutra has its six fulfillments at the beginning, because only when these six are brought about can a dharma assembly be established and the dharma be spoken.
Great bhikshus are different from small bhikshus. Great bhikshus are at the stage in their cultivation where they are just about to attain enlightenment. “Bhikshu” is a Sanskrit word that has three meanings: mendicant, frightener of Mara, and destroyer of evil.
A bhikshu is a mendicant who takes his bowl out into the streets to collect alms. He does not go only to the wealthy and avoid the poor, or vice-versa. A bhikshu must practice equality in his alms-rounds, which means he must go strictly from door to door, and to no more than seven houses. So it is said, “One should not avoid the poor and go to the rich, nor ignore the lowly and seek out the honorable.”
When someone ascends the precept platform to receive the bhikshu precepts, he faces three masters and seven certifiers. The three masters are the precept transmitter, the karmadana, and the teaching transmitter. The seven certifiers act as guarantors that, as a monk, the bhikshu will not violate the rules of pure eating or break the precepts. When the precepts are transmitted, the karmadana asks, “Have you already resolved to attain Bodhi?”
The answer is, “I have already resolved to attain Bodhi.”
He also says, “Are you a great hero?”
The answer to be given by the preceptee is, “Yes, I am a great hero.” When the questions have been answered in this way, an earth-traveling rakshasa ghost, a being of our world who records good and evil, says, “Now the Buddha’s retinue has increased by one, and Mara’s retinue has decreased by one.” The earth-traveling rakshasa transmits this news to a space-traveling yaksha ghost, who in turn transmits the news through space to the sixth desire heaven, where Mara dwells. When Mara, who is king of the heavenly demons, hears the news, he is terrified. That is why the second meaning of bhikshu is frightener of Mara.
A bhikshu is also a destroyer of evil, because he breaks up the evils of ignorance and afflictions.
Since the word bhikshu has three meanings, it falls in the category of “terms not translated because they contain many meanings,” and, according to the rules of translation as set down by Dharma Master Xuan Zang during the Tang dynasty in China, it is left in Sanskrit.
Actually, there were twelve hundred fifty-five great bhikshus in the Jeta Grove assembly, but the number is rounded off to twelve hundred fifty in all. These disciples comprised the Buddha’s constant following. Formerly most of them had adhered to non- Buddhist paths, but, upon receiving the Buddha’s teaching, they were transformed. Moved by the Buddha’s deep kindness, they constantly dwelt with him thereafter.
Of the twelve hundred fifty, the Buddha first took across Ajnatakaundinya and the other four of the five bhikshus in the Deer Park. Next he converted the three Kashyapa brothers, who had been fire-worshipers. When they took refuge with the Buddha, they brought their thousand disciples along with them to also take refuge. That makes one thousand five disciples. Maudgalyayana and Shariputra each had a hundred disciples: they brought the total to one thousand two hundred and five. Then Yashas, the son of an elder, and his disciples took refuge for a total of fifty people, which makes one thousand two hundred fifty-five disciples in all.
What is meant by a “gathering”? One person cannot be called a gathering, nor can two, nor three. It takes four or more to form an assembly. In this case, however, the gathering consisted of more than twelve hundred fifty.
This is how Ajnatakaundinya became the first of Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciples. In a former life, the Buddha was a patient immortal cultivating the Way in the mountains. He cultivated the practice of patience in the face of insult. One day the king of Kalinga went to the mountain on a hunting expedition, bringing with him a party of concubines, palace girls, ministers, and officials. While the king hunted, the concubines went for a stroll on the mountain and encountered the old bhikshu, the patient immortal. The concubines, who rarely left the palace, had never before seen a person with such a long beard and such hair as his. Although he was a cultivator, the concubines thought he was a freak, and so they crept closer and asked him, “What are you doing?”
”I am working at cultivating the Way. I am practicing the Buddhadharma,” replied the old cultivator. The concubines had never heard of the Buddhadharma or even of the Buddha and were completely puzzled by his answer. Their curiosity got the better of them, and each one had to come closer for a peek at the old cultivator. They crowded around him in a circle.
By then the king of Kalinga had returned from his hunting, only to find that his beautiful concubines had disappeared. He went looking for them and found them standing in a circle around a long-haired, bearded man. The sight ignited the king’s jealousy. He thought to himself, “This man has seduced my beautiful women! They won’t pay any attention to me, and yet he’s managed to seduce them.” Aloud he asked, “What are you doing?”
”I am cultivating patience,” replied the old cultivator.
”What do you mean by patience?”
”Patience means that no matter what you do to me, no matter how impolite you are to me, no matter how badly you treat me, I can bear it.”
”Really?” said the king of Kalinga. “Is that truly the way you are? I don’t believe you can do it. If you truly have patience, why did you seduce my women? Now that they have become so involved with you and have fallen in love with you, in the future they will certainly run away from the palace.”
”No, I wouldn’t seduce your women. I have been speaking dharma for them, teaching them to be patient.”
”Patient!” spit back the king. “So you can be patient, eh? All right, I’ll try you out. Let’s see if you can be patient...” and he chopped off the old cultivator’s ear. “Can you bear it?” he shouted. “Are you angry?”
”I’m not angry,” replied the old cultivator.
Next the king sliced off the cultivator’s nose. “Are you angry?” he asked. “Are your afflictions welling up? Don’t you hate me?”
”I haven’t given rise to affliction,” replied the old cultivator, “nor am I angry with you.”
”Is that true? Are you really not angry?” screamed the king. “Very well, I’ll cut off your hand,” which he did in one blow. “You still don’t hate me?”
The old cultivator, this previous incarnation of Shakyamuni Buddha, said to the king of Kalinga, “I don’t hate you.”
”Then I will cut off the other hand!” and the king brought his sword down once again on the old cultivator. “Are you angry?”
”I’m still not angry,” replied the old cultivator.
”Ah, you don’t know truth from falsehood. Here, I’ll cut off your foot. Now, are you angry?”
”I’m not angry.”
”The king cut off his other foot, which meant that he had severed all four of the old cultivator’s limbs. “You still don’t hate me?” he asked.
The old cultivator replied, “I still don’t hate you.” “You’re lying!” cried the king. “There isn’t a person in the world who wouldn’t get angry upon having all four limbs sliced off his body. I don’t believe you really can be this way.”
At that time the old cultivator made a vow. “If I have not given rise to any anger,” he told the king, “then my four limbs will grow back and my body will be whole once more. But if I have gotten angry, my hands and feet won’t rejoin my body, and my nose and ear won’t grow back.” As soon as he finished speaking, his hands, feet, ear, and nose, which had been completely severed, grew back again.
”What kind of weird monster are you?” the king of Kalinga cried. “What kind of freak can make his hands and feet grow back on his body? A demon!” the king concluded, addressing his party of ministers and concubines. But as soon as these thoughts arose, the dharma protectors and beneficent gods let loose a hail-storm that came beating down on the king.
Then the old cultivator made another vow. “Please, dharma protectors and good spirits, don’t punish him. I forgive him,” he said. Then he told the king, “In the future, when I realize Buddhahood, I will take you across to Buddhahood first.” As a result of that vow, when Shakyamuni Buddha realized Buddhahood, the first person he took across was Ajnatakaundinya, who was none other than the former king of Kalinga.
Upon realizing Buddhahood, the power of his vow led him immediately to the Deer Park to save the five bhikshus, of whom the first was Ajnatakaundinya. When someone makes a vow, a connection is created. Therefore you should make vows to be good to people and to rescue them, and you should be careful not to make vows to kill people. If you vow to kill people, in the future, people will vow to kill you, and there will be no end to the cycle of killing. If you make vows to take living beings across to Buddhahood, then we can all realize Buddhahood together, and everyone will obtain the bliss of the eternally still, bright, Pure Land. Be good to people, even if they are not good to you. We should have the kind of vitality that the patient immortal had when, far from getting angry, he vowed to save his attacker who was cutting off his limbs. Students of the Buddhadharma should imitate this spirit of magnanimity.
F2 Praising their virtues
All were great Arhats without outflows, disciples of the Buddha, dwellers and maintainers. They had fully transcended all existence, and were able to travel everywhere, and to accomplish the awesome deportment.
These great bhikshus were not just great bhikshus; they were Bodhisattvas appearing in the bodies of bhikshus. So it is said, “Inwardly they secretly practiced the Bodhisattva-conduct. Outwardly, they appeared in the bodies of sound-hearers.” Though all were Bodhisattvas at heart, though the fundamental nature of the great vehicle was contained in their hearts, they outwardly practiced the dharmas of the small vehicle and appeared as great Arhats without outflows. A person who has attained the first fruition of enlightenment is called a “small” arhat, while one who has attained the fourth fruition is called a “great” arhat. However, if an arhat who has attained the fourth fruition does not continue to progress in his investigation, does not advance in his cultivation, he is called a “fixed-nature sound-hearer”; he remains fixed on that level. He obtains a little and is satisfied. Although what he has is not much, he thinks it is sufficient and does not consider making any further progress. If he continues to advance in his cultivation, he can attain the position of a Bodhisattva. This was the case with the great Arhats of the Shurangama assembly.
As explained above, “Arhat” is a Sanskrit word with three meanings: worthy of offerings, without birth, and killer of thieves. While bhikshus can receive the offerings only of people, small arhats are worthy of the offerings of people and gods, such as kings of countries or of heavens. Great Arhats are worthy of receiving the offerings not only of people and gods, but also of those who have transcended the world - that is of those who have reached states beyond the six desire heavens. Great Arhats can receive the offerings of Bodhisattvas, because they have cut off afflictions beyond the triple realm, whereas small arhats have cut off only the afflictions within the triple realm. So great Arhats can be said to be Bodhisattvas. Although they manifest as bhikshus and do not practice the Bodhisattva-Way, within their hearts they have the magnanimity of Bodhisattvas, and they can gradually attain the level of Bodhisattvahood. In past lives, they had already realized Buddhahood. Wishing to help Shakyamuni Buddha propagate the Buddhadharma, they appeared in the bodies of bhikshus to act as arhats. Basically, these arhats are great Bodhisattvas.
An arhat also is said to be without outflows. This means he has already attained the state of being patient with the non-production of dharmas. An arhat is also called a “killer of thieves,” because he has completely killed the thieves of ignorance.
People who have attained the fruition of the Way have no outflows; no outflows of desire, no outflows of existence, and no outflows of ignorance. Being “without outflows,” they do not fall into the three realms: the realm of desire, the realm of form, and the formless realm. We people all now dwell in the realm of desire; although we live on earth, we are actually a part of the heavens of the desire-realm. It is called the desire-realm because the people in it have thoughts of desire and longing, which they are unable to stop. There are two kinds of desire: the desire for material objects and the desire for sex. By the desire for material objects is meant greed for all enjoyable things. For instance, if you don’t have a house, you want to buy a house. Once you have a house, you think about buying a better one. That is the desire for houses. Or perhaps you want a good car. At first, perhaps you buy a beat-up car, but when you drive it around, people look down on you so you decide to buy a better car, but you still do not invest in the latest model. Once you compare your car to the newest model, however, you feel your present car isn’t good enough, so you invest in a new one. That is the desire for cars. Eventually your desire reaches the point that once you have the latest model car, you decide to buy an airplane. Once you have an airplane, you decide to invest in ships. The desire for material objects never ends. You never say, “I’ve had enough; I’m satisfied. I don’t want any more. I’m not greedy for any more things.”
”Where does desire come from?”
It comes from ignorance.
Desire for sex is something you would probably understand without my speaking about it. It refers to being greedy for beauty. It, too, cannot be satisfied. One wife is not sufficient; he has to have two. Then two are not enough; he needs three. Some men keep ten or twenty wives. How do you suppose one person can respond to so many? Emperors often had several hundred or several thousand women gathered in the palace. Wouldn’t you say that was extremely unfair? Now in democratic countries men are allowed only one wife. The practice of polygamy is prohibited, but there are still many people who sneak out and become involved in illicit affairs. Driven by their desire for sex, many men and women sneak out to carry on wanton relationships; they do not follow the rules.
Besides the outflow of desire there is the outflow of existence. This outflow occurs in the heavens of the form-realm, which are beyond desire. By existence is meant the existence of everything and anything. People who are greedy for existence and cannot maintain control have outflows whenever there is a lot of something.
The greatest of the three kinds of outflows is the outflow of ignorance; ignorance is the basic root of affliction. With the outflow of ignorance, the outflows of existence and of desire arise. If ignorance disappears the other two are also cut off.
Disciples of the Buddha. The Chinese word for disciple can also mean son, but here it refers not to Rahula, the Buddha’s son, but to the great bhikshus, the great Arhats spoken about above. The Brahma Net Sutra says:
When living beings receive the Buddha’s precepts,
They enter the Buddha’s position,
When their state is identical to great enlightenment,
They are truly the Buddha’s disciples.
Living beings who have received the Buddha’s precepts have the qualifications necessary to realize Buddhahood. When their enlightenment comes, they are called disciples of the Buddha.
The Dharma Flower Sutra says,
“Because they come forth from the Buddha’s mouth and are born by transformation from the dharma, they are called disciples of the Buddha.”
”What does it mean to be born by transformation from the Buddha’s mouth?” you ask.
As a result of being taught and transformed by the Buddha, they became enlightened and thus were born from the Buddhadharma. For example, the day you took refuge with the Triple Jewel was your new birthday, the beginning of a new life. Those of you who have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel are the Buddha’s disciples.
As dwellers they dwelt within the Buddhadharma, and as maintainers they relied on the Buddhadharma in their cultivation. Specifically, in terms of the Shurangama Sutra, they dwelt in the treasury of the Tathagata and maintained the Ultimately Firm Samadhi. You should protect and maintain the Firm Samadhi and not allow it to become scattered or lost.
The term “Abbot,” one who heads a monastery, literally refers to someone who dwelt in and maintained the Buddhadharma, because it is his work to cause the Buddhadharma to continue and not to be cut off, to hand it down and to allow it to spread; to perpetuate the Buddha’s wisdom-life, like the great Arhats of the Shurangama assembly.
The arhats had fully transcended all existence, that is, the twenty-five realms of existence found in the triple realm, and were able to travel everywhere, and to accomplish the awesome deportment. They had the ability to live in any land in the ten directions, not just in our Saha world. Because they were arhats and had spiritual penetrations and transformations, they could fly or walk as they pleased.
”If they could go anywhere, why haven’t I ever seen any in America?” you may ask.
Even if they had come to America you wouldn’t have been able to see them or know of it, because at the time the Buddha was in the world you hadn’t even been born yet!
They were able to perfect the awesome deportment wherever they went; they had an awesomeness that people feared and a deportment that people wished to imitate. They were deserving of respect because they differed from the ordinary in every way, and they were respected by everyone they met. “Ah, that person is truly fine, truly deserving of respect and admiration!” Wherever the great bhikshus went, they did not look at improper things. They wouldn’t peer around like someone intent upon stealing something. Their eyes constantly regarded their noses, their noses regarded their mouths, and their mouths regarded their hearts. When they walked, their gaze did not extend beyond three feet in front of them. In this way they returned the light to illumine within. So awesome was their bearing that they never indulged in rowdiness or horseplay, never giggled or joked. They were very refined and stern.
They followed the Buddha in turning the wheel and were wonderfully worthy of the bequest. Stern and pure in the vinaya, they were great exemplars in the three realms. Their limitless response-bodies took living beings across and liberated them, pulling out and rescuing those of the future so they could transcend all the bonds of dust.
These four sentences praise four kinds of admirable virtues that characterize the practice of the arhats. The first sentence praises the arhat’s virtue of wisdom; the second praises the maintenance of the precepts and rules; the third praises the virtue of kindness; and the fourth, the virtue of compassion.
They followed the Buddha in turning the wheel. The arhats constantly followed the Buddha, not just to serve the Buddha or provide for him; not just to offer the Buddha a towel or to bring the Buddha a cup of tea in order to be filial to the Buddha. It’s not simply that they attended upon the Buddha. They helped him turn the Wheel. This does not refer to the turning wheel of the six paths, but rather to the great dharma wheel.
”Why is it called a wheel?” you ask.
For one thing, a wheel can grind; a mill-wheel grinds rice and other grains. The dharma wheel grinds up all the “dead-end sects and externalist paths” and pulverizes and destroys their erroneous and improper teachings.
A wheel also transports. Just as a boat transports cargo from Europe to America, so, too, the turning dharma wheel transports living beings from this shore of birth and death to the other shore of nirvana. The speaking of dharma is like a ship that transports living beings from this shore of birth and death to the other shore of nirvana. The speaking of dharma is like a ship that transports people from one place to another.
They were wonderfully worthy of the bequest. They had all attained inconceivable states and so were wonderfully worthy. “Worthy” means that, because of the inconceivable states they had accomplished, they were capable of receiving and had the authority to receive the Buddha’s final bequest, that is, the last instructions he gave everyone about what to do after his nirvana. It is like an ordinary family; when the father is about to die, he tells his sons and daughters what they should do in the future, how they should cultivate and handle matters. The Buddha also commands his disciples, telling them, “You should work in this way; you should go to that place and turn the dharma wheel to teach and transform living beings.” That is called the bequest.
The great bhikshus were worthy to receive the Buddha’s final instructions because they all had an inconceivable wisdom and could turn the dharma wheel to benefit themselves and benefit others. This sentence praises the wisdom that enabled them to teach and transform other people and cause them also to have wisdom. This sentence praises the arhat’s virtue of wisdom.
Stern and pure in the vinaya, they were great exemplars in the three realms. “Stern” means severe in demeanor, exacting, and not the least bit haphazard. It means they were honorable and awesome; they were forbidding, so that when you were in their presence you dared not laugh or be rambunctious or disobedient. You also did not dare let your eyes wander around, because the great Arhats were so severe.
They were clear and pure because they had ended evil and had rid themselves of all bad habits. “Pure” can also mean that they had severed the delusions arising from views, the delusions arising from thoughts, and the myriad subtle delusions like dust and sand, and it means the were also without ignorance. Pure and clear, clear and pure, they had no filth left; they were devoid of evil.
”How can one become devoid of evil?” you wonder.
”Cut off evil,” it is said. However, the purity referred to here is free even of the concept of cutting off evil. If you still remember how you cut off evil, then you are not yet pure. If you remember that on such and such a day you cut off a certain amount of evil, and at such and such a time you also cut off a certain amount of evil, then you are not yet pure. Why? You still have dirty things in your mind. If you are pure, all these things are forgotten. When they are absolutely non-existent, you have attained purity.
”Vinaya” is a Sanskrit word which means “good healing.” It is fully able to cure your faults. “Stern and pure in the vinaya” means the great Arhats, through actual practice, had perfected and attained the dharma which cures faults.
”They were great exemplars,” unsurpassable standards in the three realms: the desire realm, the realm of form, and the formless realm. They were guides and masters of gods and people. And so this sentence praises the great Arhats’ virtue of maintaining the precepts.
Their limitless response-bodies took living beings across and liberated them. “Response-bodies” are also called transformation- bodies. Originally the great Arhats didn’t have response-bodies, but they created them by transformation in infinite amounts. There might be three thousand of them, then at another time five thousand, or ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million, a billion. Why are response-bodies brought forth? Is it so that the great Arhats can go about displaying spiritual penetrations to let people know that they have them? No. The great Arhats create the response-bodies to teach and transform living beings who need to be taken across to enlightenment. For living beings who should be taken across by a Buddha, they manifest the body of a Buddha and speak dharma for their sake. For living beings who should be taken across by a pratyekabuddha, or by a Brahma king or by Shakra, or by a bhikshu or a bhikshuni, they manifest those response-bodies to take those beings across. Like Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva, who is extremely kind to those with whom he has karmic ties, and greatly compassionate toward those who are at one with him, great Arhats manifest numberless response-bodies to cause beings to leave suffering and to obtain bliss. They enable them to be at peace and to experience the bliss of obtaining what they like. Kindness can bestow happiness, and the great Arhats were extremely kind and compassionate.
Pulling out and rescuing those of the future so they could transcend all the bonds of dust. What is meant by “pulling out”? Say, for example, that someone gets both feet stuck in the mud so that each time he pulls one foot out, the other foot gets stuck deeper, until eventually he can’t take another step. Then you extend your hand and pull him out of the mud. Or someone may be caught in flood waters, unable to get out until you go in and rescue him. The great Arhats extricate and rescue “those of the future,” and so we now have hope, because we are those of the future. If you can but believe the dharma the arhats speak for you to hear, you can be rescued and crossed over. You and I are numbered among those of the future.
”Why can’t you fly now? Why can’t you go into empty space? You have too many burden, that’s why. They weigh you down and make your body very heavy. That is to speak of the earth’s gravitational pull. But if you are free of burdens, then the force of gravity does not bind you, and you can gain your independence. The transient dust burdens us. It is because your burdens pull at you and cling to your clothing that you can no longer fly, although originally you could. However, the great Arhats can think of ways to enable all living beings to transcend their troublesome burdens so they can no longer be tied down, so the earth’s gravitational force can no longer hold them. Once free, you can drift off into space like a balloon, you can go wherever you wish - to the moon, to the stars. It’s not easy to travel this way. This kind of travel is very convenient. There’s no need to buy a plane ticket. Wherever you want to go, you can just go there. If you can reach that level, you are said to have transcended your troublesome burdens.
Just as the previous sentence praises the great Arhats’ virtue of kindness, which brings happiness, this last sentence praises their virtue of compassion, which can rescue living beings from their distress.
F3 Listing the names of the leaders.
The names of the leaders were: the greatly wise Shariputra, Mahamaudgalyayana, Mahakaushthila, Purnamaitreyaniputra, Subhuti, Upanishad, and others.
Shariputra’s name may be translated in three ways: “Son of the Body,” because his mother’s body was extremely beautiful; “Son of the Pelican,” because his mother’s eyes were as beautiful as a pelican’s; and “Son of Jewels,” because his mother’s eyes shone like jewels, and Shariputra’s eyes were like his mother’s. Shariputra was foremost in wisdom among the sound-hearers. In fact, greatly wise Shariputra’s wisdom was evident even before he was born. Mahakaushthila, Shariputra’s uncle used to debate with his sister, Sharika. He never had any trouble defeating her until she became pregnant with Shariputra, and then she outwitted him every time. Realizing that his sister’s newly acquired skill in debate must be due to the presence of an exceptional child in her womb, Mahakaushtila set out to school himself in all the dharmas of all the non-Buddhist religions in preparation for the day when he would meet his nephew in debate. He spent many years in southern India pursuing his studies, and when he returned to seek out his nephew, he learned that the greatly wise Shariputra had left the home life to follow the Buddha after having defeated all the master-debators from the five parts of India in debate when he was only eight years old.
Mahakaushthila was displeased to learn that his nephew was a disciple of the Buddha, because he had naturally hoped that after all his years of study and with his unsurpassed debating-powers, he would win the respect and loyalty of the child. He decided to challenge the Buddha, proposing that if he won a debate with the Buddha, the Buddha would relinquish Shariputra to him. And just to show his confidence, he blatantly added that he would chop off his head as an offering to the Buddha if he lost the debate.
Once he went before the Buddha, however, his confidence wavered and he searched frantically through his dharmas for a tenet of doctrine to form the basis of this all-important debate. Finally the Buddha said, “Well, speak up. Establish your principle and I will consider your request.”
”Basically, I do not accept any principle,” said Kaushthila finally and a bit triumphantly, thinking that this would render the Buddha speechless.
”Oh?” replied the Buddha without hesitation. “Do you accept that position?”
Bewildered, Shariputra’s uncle thought, “If I say I don’t accept the position of having no position, I will have destroyed my own doctrine and will lose the debate. But if I say I do accept it, my acceptance will be in direct opposition to my basic tenet.” Caught in the horns of this dilemma, Kaushthila hesitated a fraction of a second and then, without a word, turned on his heels and ran as fast as he could out of the room, out of the Buddha’s Way-place, out of the gardens, and down the road for several miles without stopping. Eventually, he regained some self-control, recalled that he was a man of his word, and realized that he must return to the Buddha and offer him his head. When he arrived and asked the Buddha for a knife, however, the Buddha explained that in the Buddhadharma things are not done that way. Then the Buddha spoke dharma for Mahakaushthila and enabled him to open his dharma eye. Once his dharma eye was opened, he could see clearly the fallacies in the dharmas of the non-Buddhist paths that he had studied so rigorously, and he requested permission to leave the home life and follow the Buddha. Mahakaushthila’s name means “big knees.” Some say his ancestors’ kneecaps were big, and some say that Kaushthila’s own kneecaps were big. In general, large kneecaps were a family trait. Mahakaushthila was first among the Buddha’s disciples in debate.
Mahamaudgalyayana’s name means “kolita tree” because his father and mother prayed to the spirit of that tree for a son. He was foremost among the disciples in spiritual penetrations.
Purnamaitreyaniputra, another Sanskrit name, means “son of fullness and compassion.” “Purna,” which means “full,” refers to his father’s name, which meant “Fulfilled Vows.” “Maitreyani,” which means “compassionate woman,” was his mother’s name. “Putra” means “son.” What was his particular talent? Whereas Shariputra was foremost in wisdom, and Mahamaudgalyayana was foremost in spiritual penetrations, Purnamaitreyaniputra was foremost in speaking dharma. No one else could explain the sutras with such subtlety and in such a deep and moving way. When Purna spoke the sutras, heavenly maidens scattered flowers, and golden lotuses welled up from the earth. Whoever would like to be foremost in speaking dharma can recite “Namo Venerable Purna,” over and over, and Purna will use his wisdom and eloquence to aid you in speaking dharma so that you will be able to move people. How will they be moved? They won’t doze off when you are lecturing sutras. When Purna spoke dharma, no one was able to go to sleep. He expressed the characteristics of all dharmas well and so was said to have unobstructed eloquence.
Subhuti, another of the ten great disciples, was foremost in understanding emptiness. His name has three meanings: “Born to Emptiness,” “Splendid Apparition,” and “Good Luck.” When Subhuti was born, all the wealth in his household - all the gold, silver, and precious gems - disappeared. The treasuries stood empty. No one knew where it had all gone, but since the disappearance of the wealth coincided with the birth, the infant was given the name “Born to Emptiness.”
Seven days after his birth, all the riches reappeared, and so the child was renamed “Splendid Apparition.” His parents wanted to find out whether their child was good or bad, so they went to a diviner soon after his birth. In India there was no Book of Changes (I Ching). Instead they used the diviner to figure out whether their child was good or bad. He came up with “good” and “lucky,” so the child was renamed “Good Luck.”
Subhuti was foremost in understanding, and so in the Vajra Sutra he is the Buddha’s interlocutor; that is, it was he who asked Shakyamuni Buddha to explain the doctrine of prajna.
Upanishad, also Sanskrit, means “dust-nature.” Upanishad awakened to the Way when he saw that the nature of all external objects is fundamentally empty; he awakened to the doctrine of impermanence as it is embodied in the nature of external objects.
And others means that these six bhikshus were not the only ones in the assembly. There were at least twelve hundred fifty disciples in the assembly, but these six held seniority and sat in the highest positions. Thus, they are mentioned by name to represent the assembly of great Arhats and great bhikshus.
E2 Those enlightened to conditions.
Moreover limitless Pratyekas who were beyond learning and those with initial resolve came to where the Buddha was to join the bhikshus’ Pravarana at the close of the summer retreat.
The numberless Pratyekas were the pratyekabuddhas, who belong to the vehicle of those enlightened by conditions. This vehicle and the sound-hearer vehicle of the great Arhats mentioned above are often referred to together as the two vehicles.
They had reached a level of being beyond learning. Upon attainment of the fourth fruit of arhatship, cultivators reach a position of being beyond learning. The term “pratyekabuddha” can be interpreted as meaning “solitary enlightened ones,” referring to those who were enlightened by themselves at a time when no Buddha was in the world, but it also has come to refer to “those enlightened by conditions” during a time when a Buddha is in the world.
Those enlightened by conditions follow the Buddha in cultivating the twelve links of conditioned causation and thus awaken to the Way. The twelve links of conditioned causation are:
- Ignorance, which conditions activity;
- Activity, which conditions consciousness;
- Consciousness, which conditions name and form;
- Name and form, which condition the six sense organs;
- The six sense organs, which condition contact;
- Contact, which conditions feeling;
- Feeling, which conditions love;
- Love, which conditions grasping;
- Grasping, which conditions existence;
- Existence, which conditions birth;
- Birth, which conditions;
- Old age and death.
When ignorance is extinguished, activity is extinguished; when activity is extinguished, consciousness is extinguished; when consciousness is extinguished, name and form are extinguished; when name and form are extinguished, contact is extinguished; when contact is extinguished, feeling is extinguished; when feeling is extinguished, love is extinguished; when love is extinguished, grasping is extinguished; when grasping is extinguished, existence is extinguished; when existence is extinguished, birth is extinguished; when birth is extinguished, old age and death are extinguished. Thus the twelve links of conditioned causation can be extinguished.
Pratyekabuddhas who live at the time when a Buddha is in the world are called “those enlightened by conditions”; nevertheless, in the Shurangama assembly there were cultivators who are properly called “solitary enlightened ones.” How can that be? There were sages who had cultivated the Way in the mountains before Shakyamuni Buddha had realized Buddhahood, when there was no Buddha in the world. In the springtime, they watched the many flowers blossom. In the autumn, they saw the yellow leaves fall. They observed the myriad things being born and dying; and by themselves, they awakened to the Way. Then after Shakyamuni Buddha realized Buddhahood, they left their caves in the crags deep in the mountains and desolate valleys, and came forth to help Shakyamuni Buddha propagate the Buddhadharma. Limitless numbers of them became part of that influential assembly.
Besides pratyekabuddhas who were beyond learning, there were also pratyekabuddhas with initial resolve, arhats with initial resolve, and bhikshus with initial resolve, who had not yet become mature in the Way. All came to where the Buddha was to join the bhikshu’s Pravarana at the close of the summer retreat. In Buddhism, there is a rule that those who have left the home-life must pass the summer in retreat. This rule came about because for a period of ninety days, from the fifteenth of the fourth lunar month to the fifteenth of the seventh lunar month, the members of the Sangha lived in one place and did not go anywhere; they didn’t go traveling or take a vacation. There were two reasons for this. First, the weather was very hot and made for especially uncomfortable traveling. That was particularly true in India. Second, insects and other small creatures are particularly abundant on the earth in summer. To avoid stepping on them and squashing them to death, to nurture compassion for all living beings and to protect them, the bhikshus, the bhikshunis, and the Buddha lived in one place and did not go out.
At the close of the summer retreat refers to the end of the ninety-day period of seclusion. During the three month retreat, people might have committed offenses and broken rules, and so at the close of the retreat, at the end of the ninety days, it was necessary to hold a communal examination during which everyone was encouraged to confess his offenses frankly. This was the “Pravarana.” If anyone had committed offenses without realizing it, then others in the assembly were expected to question him and help him see his mistakes. Nothing was held back, and everyone was expected to answer the questions he was asked and to admit his faults without argument. This discussion was carried on in an open, orderly fashion without anyone giving rise to afflictions or becoming angry when his errors and faults were pointed out. In this way they rid each other of their faults. This kind of communal examination was designed to cause people to change their errors and move toward the good. Everything that had happened before became a dead issue, and everything that happened from that day onward was like a new life. People were encouraged to do things that benefit body and mind and not to do things that do not benefit body and mind.
F1 First, the pravarana assembly gathers.
Bodhisattvas from the ten directions who desired counsel in order to resolve the doubts in their minds were respectful and obedient to the Awesome but Compassionate One as they prepared to seek the Secret Meaning.
Besides the two vehicles of sound-hearers and those enlightened by conditions, there were also Bodhisattvas from the ten directions in the Shurangama assembly. The “ten directions” are north, south, east, west, northeast, southeast, northwest, southwest, and above and below.
”I would expect there to be Bodhisattvas from the eight directions and from above,” you may say, “but do Bodhisattvas also come from below?”
Yes, Earth Store Bodhisattva, for example, watches exclusively over things below us.
I discussed the word “Bodhisattva” in the introduction, so now the explanation will be brief. Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit word; “Bodhi” means “enlightenment” and “Sattva” means “sentient being.” A Bodhisattva is one who enlightens those with sentience. He himself is a sentient being who was originally just like ordinary people, but who afterward became enlightened.
Bodhisattvas have attained the enlightenment of self and can enlighten others. They can benefit themselves and benefit others. But their enlightenment is not yet perfect, so they are called Bodhisattvas.
”How many Bodhisattvas came from the ten directions?” you ask.
An incalculable number.
“What did they get together for? Did they come together to cause a commotion? To see a play? To go to a fair?”
No, they came because there were some things they did not understand. They desired counsel in order to resolve their doubts in their minds. They had questions. They wanted to ask about doctrines they could not understand.
“What doctrines in particular?”
The doctrine of the Secret Meaning, which refers to the “secret cause” spoken of in this sutra.
They were respectful and obedient to the Awesome but Compassionate One as they prepared to seek the secret meaning. The Bodhisattvas did not understand the doctrine of the secret cause. Therefore they came wishing to learn of the dharma-door of the secret cause that leads to the complete meaning.
“Do you mean that the Shurangama Sutra that is now being explained is a sutra which even Bodhisattvas don’t understand?” you ask.
It is true that the Bodhisattvas desired counsel to resolve their doubts because they did not understand the doctrines of the sutra but if you now understand and become enlightened, then you are Bodhisattvas, too. Don’t disdain yourselves. Don’t say, “How can I understand doctrines which Bodhisattvas didn’t understand? I’d better quit now.” It is just because these are doctrines that Bodhisattvas don’t understand that you are now being taught to understand. We have karmic connections with Shakyamuni Buddha and with the dharma that he proclaimed and that remains in the world. So we now have the opportunity to come to understand doctrines that even the Bodhisattvas had not understood. We are now in an advantageous position, even though we have been born after Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the dharma. Who knows how long a road those Bodhisattvas in the Shurangama assembly had to travel to get there? Not from our north, south, east, and west, perhaps, but from great distances from numberless other worlds. Now we have encountered this sutra. We have great good roots and great affinities that enable us to listen to this dharma. Don’t be afraid and think that since Bodhisattvas didn’t understand it, you shouldn’t attempt to study it. That’s a mistaken attitude.
Then the Tathagata arranged his seat, sat quietly and peacefully, and for the sake of everyone in the assembly proclaimed the profound and mysterious. Those in the pure assembly at the banquet of dharma obtained what they had never obtained before.
Then refers to the time when the Shurangama Sutra was spoken. It was a time when the conditions were appropriate - a time when the Shurangama Mantra was about to be proclaimed.
The Tathagata arranged his seat. “Tathagata,” one of the ten titles of the Buddha, has been explained already.
Arranged his seat means that he opened his sitting-cloth, spread it out, and sat down on it.
Sat quietly and peacefully means the Tathagata sat “in purity,” in the manner of one absorbed in dhyana, that is, “still consideration.” “Peacefully” means at ease; he did not knit his eyebrows together straining to display the pose of one meditating but was very relaxed, with the faint trace of a smile on his face, making those who saw him feel happy. This quiet peaceful style pleased those who looked at him and made them become resolved to learn from him.
And for the sake of everyone in the assembly. Why did the Buddha arrange his seat and sit quietly and peacefully? It was because he wished to enter samadhi, and, in peace and quiet, contemplate the basic natures of living beings. In the “assembly” there were twelve hundred fifty bhikshus, countless pratyekabuddhas who were beyond learning, Bodhisattvas from the ten directions, and many more, countless hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions who circumambulated the Buddha. Although the number of people attending our dharma assembly is not nearly as great, the assembly is still vast because there are limitless, boundless numbers of ghosts and spirits who have come to join us. Countless ghosts are outside listening to the dharma, and vast numbers of spirits are standing outside protecting this place. If you don’t believe it, take a look; you won’t be able to count how many there are.
Proclaimed the profound and mysterious. “Proclaim” means to explain clearly and teach. “Profound” refers to the deep “secret cause.” “Mysterious” and wonderful refer to the “complete meaning.” He teaches the dharma-door of the secret cause that leads to the complete meaning. If the Buddha did not speak about the secret cause, you would have no way to know of it. If the Buddha did not explain the complete meaning, you wouldn’t be able to understand it. The mysterious and wonderful is whatever you don’t know. What you already know you consider quite ordinary, but if you see something you have never tasted before, you’ll want to have a taste of it no matter what.
The Bodhisattvas came desiring to understand the doctrine more fully, and Shakyamuni Buddha, knowing what was in the minds of those in the dharma assembly, proclaimed the profound and mysterious principle.
Those in the pure assembly at the banquet of dharma obtained what they had never obtained before. Speaking dharma is compared to giving living beings flavorful dharma to taste. When you have eaten your fill of flavorful dharma, you will realize Buddhahood. The banquet does not refer to an ordinary feast where wine is drunk and the like.
”Pure assembly” means that not one being who came to the assembly was unclean. All were pure in body and mind, without defilements. They did no evil and respectfully offered up good conduct. Since they did not engage in any improper or unwholesome behavior, they are referred to as the “pure assembly.” This is the first time they had heard the wonderful dharma, and so what they obtained was unprecedented. Unprecedented teaching also refers to the ninth of the twelve divisions of the Buddhist canon, dharma that has never been spoken before.
F2 The assembly that arrived later after hearing the Buddha’s voice.
The Immortal’s kalavinka-sound pervaded the ten directions and Bodhisattvas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges gathered at the Bodhimanda with Manjushri as their leader.
Kalavinka is Sanskrit for “wonderful sound”; it is the name of a bird whose cry can be heard at a great distance, even while it is still in the egg. Once the bird is hatched, its call can be heard even more clearly, and the sound is very pleasing to the ear. Here the reference is not to the bird’s call but to the sound of the Buddha’s voice, which is as pleasing, clear, and penetrating as the kalavinka’s.
The Buddha is called the Immortal because in the past, Shakyamuni Buddha cultivated as a patient immortal and upon realizing enlightenment, he was known as the Great Enlightened Golden Immortal.
The Buddha’s voice pervaded the ten directions: it can be heard everywhere. For example, the Buddha spoke dharma in India and we in America can hear it. Under the right conditions, it can be heard more clearly than a radio, and it arrives faster than a telegraph message.
Once, the Buddha’s disciple Mahamaudgalyayana, who was foremost of the Buddha’s disciples in spiritual penetrations, became curious to know just how far the Buddha’s voice reached. So he used his spiritual penetrations to travel east through numberless unreckonable lands, through hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands. But when he had reached a land an enormous distance away, he still could hear the Buddha speaking dharma as if it were spoken right into his ear. It was still perfectly clear.
The inhabitants of that far-off eastern land were huge. The shortest of them was thirty or forty feet tall. Maudgalyayana arrived at lunch time, and the bowls they were using were as large as our houses. The amount they ate far surpassed what we consume. Maudgalyayana perched on the edge of one of the bowls and stood watching the giants eat. Eventually one of them noticed him and exclaimed, “Oh? Where did that human-headed bug come from?” He was so tiny that they called him a human-headed bug.
But the Buddha of that far eastern land told them, “You must not speak like that. That is Maudgalyayana from the Saha world. He is foremost in spiritual penetrations among Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciples. Don’t ridicule him. He’s not a human-headed bug.” The disciples of that land were surprised indeed to learn that Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciples were the size of insects.
Bodhisattvas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges gathered at the Bodhimanda. The Ganges River in India is about fifteen miles wide and its sands are as fine as flour. So they are used as an analogy for the unreckonable number of Bodhisattvas who came to the dharma assembly. The Bodhisattvas came to protect the place where Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Shurangama Sutra. The Way-place referred to is also this present Way-place where the Shurangama Sutra is now being explained. The Bodhisattvas from the former assembly are also here. You should not look lightly on this place just because the room is small. There are also many great Bodhisattvas here listening to the sutras, protecting this Way-place, and enabling it to become more flourishing every day. Would you like to meet them? I will tell you that they have Manjushri as their leader. Manjushri is a Sanskrit name that means “wonderful virtue,” referring to his subtle, wonderful, inconceivable virtuous practices. He is also called “wonderfully lucky,” because every place he goes becomes auspicious. Every time he comes to a Way-place, the Way-place becomes very auspicious.
In China, the Bodhimanda of Manjushri is at Wu Tai mountain. He is referred to as the Greatly Wise Manjushri because he is foremost among the Bodhisattvas in wisdom. Among the arhats, Shariputra is foremost in wisdom, but his wisdom is small compared to that of the Bodhisattvas.
CHAPTER 4: Ananda’s Fall
C2 The prologue.
D1 The king and officials prepare offerings.
Then King Prasenajit, for the sake of his father, the late king, arranged on the day of mourning a vegetarian feast and invited the Buddha to the side rooms of the palace. He welcomed the Tathagata in person with a vast array of superb delicacies of unsurpassed wonderful flavors and himself invited the great Bodhisattvas.
King Prasenajit, whose name means “moonlight,” was born in India on the same day the Buddha was. When the Buddha entered the world, a light illumined the entire country. King Prasenajit’s father thought the light was connected with the birth of his son, so he named him “Moonlight.” The child later succeeded the father to become the ruler of a country in India.
For the sake of his father, the late king. The fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month marked the close of the summer retreat for people who had left the home-life. On the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth days of the month the Pravarana is held, as I explained earlier. The fifteenth marks the Ullambana festival. The fifteenth day of the seventh month was also the day King Prasenajit recognized to be the anniversary of his father’s death. It is referred to indirectly as the day of mourning, since one did not speak explicitly of one’s father’s death because of the pain and sorrow involved. Filial people find it very difficult to be reminded of their parents’ deaths; remembering how good their parents were to them and how they have been unable to be sufficiently filial in return, they experience deep regret. Although mention of the anniversary of King Prasenajit’s father’s death was avoided, everyone knew of it, and the king chose that day to make offerings to the Triple Jewel and to do various good deeds. One does good deeds and makes offerings on such a day in order to rescue one’s father and mother from the hells and secure for them rebirth in the heavens.
When Mahamaudgalyayana first obtained the six spiritual penetrations, he went exploring to find out where his mother was and discovered that she had fallen into the hells. Why had his mother fallen into the hells? It was because when she was alive she liked to eat seafood, and most especially enjoyed fish-eggs. How many lives do you suppose there are in a mess of fish-eggs? A vast number. Because she ate quantities of fish-eggs, thereby taking a vast number of lives, and because she did not believe in the Triple Jewel - because she did not believe in the Buddha, did not believe in the dharma, and did not respect the Sangha - she fell into the hells upon her death. And then even Maudgalyayana with his six spiritual penetrations could not save her.
It upset Maudgalyayana to see his mother in the hells enduring so much suffering. His samadhi-power was shaken. And so he used his spiritual penetrations to go to the hells, and he took with him a bowl of rice, which he gave to his mother. When his mother was alive, she had been very stingy. If she was asked to give a little money, her heart and liver began to ache and her very flesh hurt. It is said that parting with money is like cutting off a piece of one’s own flesh. That’s the way it was with her. She couldn’t bear to give it up. As a result of her stingy habits, what do you suppose she did when her son brought her the bowl of food? She grabbed it with her left hand and covered it with her right arm. Why did she cover it? She was afraid someone would steal her food. The place was full of ghosts, but she found a spot where there were none, and she stealthily took a bite of food. Who would have guessed that as soon as she put the food in her mouth it would turn to burning coals so that she couldn’t eat it? Why was this? She was a hungry ghost, and - like all such ghosts - had a stomach as big as a bass drum and a throat as narrow as a needle. As a result, she couldn’t eat. Even when she tried, her karmic obstacles caused the food to turn to fire. Confronted with this situation, Maudgalyayana, despite his spiritual penetrations, was powerless. He had no mantra to recite. And so he returned to his teacher. He used his spiritual penetrations to bring himself before the Buddha; he knelt and said, “My mother has fallen into the hells. I have come seeking the Buddha’s compassion to help me rescue her.”
The Buddha answered, “Your mother has fallen into the hells because she slandered the Triple Jewel, was not respectful toward the Triple Jewel, and did not believe in the Triple Jewel. You can’t save her by yourself, Maudgalyayana. You must rely on the united strength of the Sangha of the ten directions in order to save your mother. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month you should make an offering of the finest vegetarian foods and drinks that have not been tasted by anyone before being offered to the Buddha and the Sangha. By making this offering, the Way-karma of the virtuous high Sangha-members of the ten directions will then be able to save your mother. Otherwise there is no way you can save her.”
On the appointed day Mahamaudgalyayana did as the Buddha had instructed; he asked the great virtuous high Sanghans of the ten directions to come and rescue his mother. He prepared a vast array of superb delicacies of unsurpassed wonderful flavors, and made offerings to the Buddha. His mother was reborn in the heavens as a result of the strength of the greatly virtuous ones of the ten directions. Since that time, the Ullambana festival has become an annual celebration, a day upon which anyone can rescue his parents of seven lives past.
Ullambana is a Sanskrit word which means “rescuing those who are hanging upside down.” This refers to the extreme suffering of the ghosts in the hells who are as tormented as one hanging upside down would be. The Ullambana is performed especially for releasing those undergoing the painful suffering of being hungry ghosts and enabling them to be reborn in the heavens.
The fifteenth day of the seventh month is the day of the Buddha’s rejoicing and the Sangha’s pravarana. On that day the merit and virtue derived from making offerings to the Triple Jewel is several million times greater than that derived from offerings made on ordinary days. That was the day King Prasenajit chose to offer a vegetarian feast to the Buddha and to make offerings to the Triple Jewel on behalf of his father.
No meat was served, nor any of the five edible members of the allium family - onions, leeks, garlic, chives, or shallots - for all of those foods make people murky and confused.
He invited the Buddha to the side rooms of the palace. Why wasn’t the banquet held in the main hall? The main hall was where orders were signed, governmental matters were carried on, and where humane and beneficent policy-making took place. The side rooms were reserved for banquets.
He welcomed the Tathagata in person with a vast array of superb delicacies of unsurpassed wonderful flavors. The king himself went out to welcome the Buddha. The banquet consisted of the finest array of foods and drinks - vegetarian dishes that were cooked to perfection - and their flavors were the finest to be had.
And himself invited the great Bodhisattvas. The king himself signed the invitation, or perhaps he himself went to invite them, saying, “I wish to request the presence of all the great Bodhisattvas to come and accept my offerings.” He invited all the great Bodhisattvas, as many as the sands in the Ganges River. How much food do you suppose he had to prepare for such a gathering? It must have taken a lot of money, but King Prasenajit was probably not stingy like Maudgalyayana’s mother, so he prepared a great offering.
In the city were also elders and laypeople who were also prepared to feed the Sangha at the same time, and they stood waiting for the Buddha to come and receive offerings.
The king wasn’t the only one who was prepared to make offerings to the Buddha. There were also elders and laypeople in the city.
These are the ten virtues of an elder:
- honorable name;
- lofty position;
- great wealth;
- heroic deportment;
- deep wisdom;
- maturity in years;
- pure practice;
- perfect propriety;
- the praise of their superiors;
- the trust of those below them.
They are perhaps of royal blood or of otherwise noble birth. They hold high-ranking positions as officials. They are really rich. Their awesome air is stern and severe; their sanguine energies are powerful and sure. They are courageous, awesome, magnanimous, and forthright. They are decisive and never procrastinate. Their wisdom is great and profound. Elders are usually between fifty and seventy years old. They conduct their affairs in a clean, undefiled, correct, and straightforward manner, and their integrity is impeccable. They are very lofty in their ideals. They are extremely courteous to everyone, never arrogant or condescending. Although their manner is heroic, they do not bully people. When meeting someone they first bow from the waist and then ask after his health. They are never in the least bit crude. They are spoken of highly by their superiors. The people put their trust in the elder. They all wish the best for him - wish him to be a great official, hope he will be wealthy, hope that all good things come his way. Why? He in turn will use his wealth and position for the good of the people. He enjoys giving; the more money he has, the more it pleases everyone. As a great official his every effort is bent on pleasing the people, and the masses look up to him.
Laypeople refers to cultivators who are householders. They cultivate in their households.
The elders and laypeople were also prepared to feed the Sangha at the same time. The elders and laypeople were also aware of the merit and virtue derived from making offerings to the Triple Jewel on such an important day, the day of the Buddha’s rejoicing, the day of the Sangha’s pravarana. Probably the vegetarian food they prepared in no way compared to the delicacies offered by the king, however, so the text makes no mention of superb or wonderful flavors.
And they stood waiting for the Buddha to come and receive offerings. They stood in their doorways waiting for the Buddha to come and receive their offerings, speculating among themselves, “He’ll come to my house today.” “He’s going to receive my offerings.”
Not only did they wait for the Buddha, they also were waiting for the lofty and virtuous members of the Sangha to come and accept their offerings, and so sincere were they that they remained standing during their wait.
Today in Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka, donors kneel to make their offerings to the Sangha. When a member of the Sangha comes along, they add their offering to his bowl and then bow to him. Then he returns to the monastery to eat.
D2 The Buddha and Sangha go to accept the invitation.
The Buddha commanded Manjushri to assign the Bodhisattvas and Arhats to receive offerings from the various vegetarian hosts.
The Buddha commanded Manjushri. Kings can issue commands and so can the King of Dharma. Thus, the text says that the Buddha “commanded” Manjushri Bodhisattva to assign the Bodhisattvas and Arhats. How were they assigned? That would depend upon how many Bodhisattvas there were. Perhaps they were assigned to go on the rounds individually or perhaps they were divided into groups of twos and threes.
The great bhikshus and the great Arhats, as well as the Bodhisattvas, were commanded to receive offerings from the various vegetarian hosts. This means that they went to the homes of the elders and laypeople and received their offerings. Although the Buddha has millions of transformation bodies, he would never display his spiritual penetrations just for the sake of a meal and go to the various donors’ homes to appear as transformation Buddhas and seek alms at each door. It would never be done that way. If the Buddha were like that then spiritual penetrations would be cheaper than bean curd. And so he said to Manjushri, “You assign the Bodhisattvas and great Arhats so that they can go to each home and receive offerings.”
D3 Ananda’s fall is revealed.
E1 The circumstances leading to his fall.
Only Ananda, who, having accepted a special invitation earlier, had traveled far and had not yet returned, was late for the apportioning of the Sangha. No senior-seated one or acharya was with him, so he was returning alone on the road.
Only Ananda. This is the whole reason he got into trouble. He was alone. What had Ananda done? He had accepted a special invitation earlier. Perhaps a month or so in advance, someone had made an appointment and said, “On the fourteenth day of the seventh month you certainly should come and receive offerings from us.”
So he went. In fact, he went early. And so on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the day when everyone was receiving offerings, he had traveled far and had not yet returned. Basically, bhikshus should not accept special invitations. For instance, if there are ten Sanghans here and you invite only one to go to your home to eat, you are issuing a special invitation. The one who has received the special invitation should not go. Why? The rule in Buddhism is that all the Sanghans of a Way-place should be invited for the offerings together; but sometimes people who like good food ignore the rule and accept the special invitations they are given, thinking, “Why should I look after all of you? What counts is that I get my fill. My special invitation is a response to my blessings and virtue.” They pay no attention to others.
Ananda probably had a bit of fondness for eating good food. Now think about it; during the close of the summer retreat it was absolutely impermissible to travel, and yet Ananda had accepted a special invitation and went out to receive offerings. And so he had already gone against the rules; he had already committed an offense. He was invited for the fourteenth of the month, and so he probably went on the thirteenth. After eating on the fourteenth he stayed the night, planning to return early the next day, and he was late for the apportioning of the Sangha. He didn’t make it in time.
No senior-seated one or acharya was with him, so he was returning alone on the road. People who have left the home-life should go in twos and threes. The three would perhaps consist of a young bhikshu, a senior bhikshu and an acharya. A “senior” is one who has held the precepts purely for more than twenty years, and therefore is seated in the front of the assembly. “Acharya” is a Sanskrit word, which means “a teacher who exemplifies the rules.” He is a master who follows the rules and understands them. There are five kinds of acharya:
- an acharya under whom others may leave the home-life;
- an acharya who transmits the precepts;
- a karmadana acharya;
- an acharya upon whom others may rely;
- an acharya who transmits the teachings.
One person can be all five kinds of acharya. A person who is qualified to lecture the sutras and speak dharma is an acharya who transmits the teachings. He may also have a Way-place where people may draw near him to study and practice, which makes him an acharya upon whom others can rely. He may also teach people the rules and transfer merit to them every day before the Buddhas, asking the Buddhas to wash away their karmic offenses and to cause their good roots to increase. That makes him a karmadana acharya.
He may teach others how to request the precepts, what to say when they receive them, and how to reveal violations of precepts or other offenses before he bestows the precepts upon them. Then he is an acharya who transmits precepts. He may receive people as left-home disciples, in which case he is an acharya under whom others can leave the home-life.
An acharya is one who helps you realize the Way. He aids you in your cultivation of the Way. He stands beside you and admonishes you, “Don’t commit offenses.” That is an acharya. But Ananda didn’t have a senior-seated one or acharya with him in order to help him “guard the mind and be apart from offenses,” and so he walked right into trouble. The worst thing he did was to be out returning alone on the road.
Basically, people who have left the home-life should always travel in pairs. If you truly have samadhi-power, then to do things on your own is not a problem. But if your samadhi-power is not sufficient, then it is very easy to encounter a demonic-obstacle. It is very easy to be affected by external states. These days there are many young monks who travel around by themselves, and that’s very dangerous.
Still we should all thank Ananda. If he hadn’t gone out alone and gotten into trouble, how could he have come to understand the Shurangama Sutra? We wouldn’t have any opportunity to understand the sutra ourselves because Shakyamuni Buddha wouldn’t have been presented with the opportunity to speak the Shurangama Sutra to teach us how to cultivate samadhi. The fact remains that Ananda benefited us a great deal by his action.
On that day he had received no offerings, and so at the appropriate time Ananda took up his begging bowl and, as he traveled through the city, begged in successive order.
Since he had failed to return in time for the apportioning of the Sangha for that day’s vegetarian offering, he had received no offerings, and so at the appropriate time Ananda took up his begging bowl. Bowl is patra in Sanskrit, meaning “a vessel of appropriate measure.” It contains enough, but not more than enough, to satisfy one’s needs.
As he traveled through the city, he begged in successive order. He went from house to house in Shravasti, from door to door. Since some give more and some give less, it is necessary to stop at more than one house, but according to the rules one does not stop at more than seven houses. If after stopping at seven houses one has not received any offerings, one must do without food that day.
As he first began to beg, he thought to himself that down to the very last danapati who would be his vegetarian host he would not question whether they were clean or unclean; whether they were ksatriyas of honorable name or chandalas. While practicing equality and compassion he would not merely select the lowly but was determined to perfect all living beings’ limitless merit and virtue.
As he first began to beg, he thought to himself that down to the very last danapati who would be his vegetarian host. When Ananda took up his bowl and went to receive food offerings, his very first thought was about his donors: “From the very first to the very last danapati who becomes my vegetarian host.” “Danapati” is a Sanskrit word which is transliterated into Chinese by two characters which also shed light on its meaning: the first, tan, represents the Sanskrit dana, and means “to give,” and the second, yue, means “to transcend.” The meaning of danapati as based on that transliteration, then, is “one who gives so that he can transcend birth and death.” A layperson who gives offerings to people who have left the home-life is called a danapati, “one who gives in order to transcend.”
By the “very last donor” Ananda meant the one whose offerings would give him the final amount of food necessary for that day.
He would not question whether they were clean or unclean; whether they were ksatriyas of honorable name or chandalas. He would not notice if they were poor or rich. Kshatriyas are the noble or royal class of India. Chandalas are butchers, interpreted in Chinese to be “those who kill pigs,” because in India the killing of cattle is forbidden. This caste also included other classes of India, trades such as removing dead bodies, butchering animals, and so forth. And so when chandalas walked down the road, most people would not walk with them. They had to walk on separate roads. In order to identify themselves as being lower than ordinary people, they were required to ring bells and hold banners as they walked down the road.
While practicing equality and compassion he would not merely select the lowly but was determined to perfect all living beings’ limitless merit and virtue. He paid no attention to how honorable might be the person from whom he was receiving offerings, nor did he receive offerings exclusively from the lowly. He intended to give all living beings the opportunity to plant blessings.
When donors make offerings, they plant blessings that will grow and ripen in the future. Thus people who have left the home-life are called “fields of blessings.” One who has the reward of many blessings is in all ways content. So if you feel your reward of blessings is not sufficient, you should make offerings to the Triple Jewel and plant more blessings.
Ananda was determined that every wish of every living being be fulfilled. His hope was that the boundless merit and virtue which living beings seek would be completely fulfilled through him.
Ananda already knew that the Tathagata, the World Honored One, had admonished Subhuti and great Kashyapa for being arhats whose hearts were not fair and equal, and he regarded with respect the Tathagata’s instructions on impartiality, to save everyone from doubt and slander.
Why did Ananda want to practice equality and compassion in receiving offerings? Earlier, he had heard Shakyamuni Buddha admonish Subhuti and Mahakashyapa and call them arhats, meaning arhats of the small vehicle, not great Arhats of the great vehicle. Why did he do that? It was Subhuti’s opinion that he should seek alms exclusively from the rich. “Rich people should plant more blessings,” he said. “If they continue to do good deeds, then in their future lives they will continue to be wealthy. If they don’t give now, they won’t be rich in the next life. In order to help the rich, I seek alms from them.”
Subhuti’s method was an example of “avoiding the poor and favoring the rich.” In complete contrast to him, Mahakashyapa sought alms exclusively from the poor. He thought, “Poor people should plant blessings and do good deeds, so that in their future lives they can be wealthy and honored. If I don’t help them out by receiving alms from them, then in the next life and on into the future, they will continue to be poor.” And so they were both small arhats. I believe there was another reason underlying their behavior. It seems fairly certain that Subhuti liked to eat good food, and Great Kashyapa, foremost among the disciples in his practice of asceticism, ate what others couldn’t eat, endured what others couldn’t endure, bore what others couldn’t bear, and yielded where others couldn’t yield. Evidently he was unconcerned about what kind of food he ate, so he sought alms from the poor and gave them the opportunity to plant blessings. The gifts of food and drink offered by poor people are never as fine as those given by the wealthy. The food the rich throw out on the streets is bound to be better than the offerings of the poor.
Shakyamuni Buddha knew that these two disciples did not practice equality and compassion in their alms-rounds. He was aware of the discriminations they made, and so the Tathagata, the World Honored One, had admonished Subhuti and Great Kashyapa for being arhats whose hearts were not fair and equal.
Ananda regarded with respect the Tathagata’s instructions on impartiality, to save everyone from doubt and slander. He was extremely respectful of this dharma-door of equality, which advised against choosing among donors. Minds that make such discriminations do not belong to the great vehicle dharma but to selfish people. Remembering the reprimand Subhuti and Great Kashyapa had received from Shakyamuni Buddha, Ananda did not want to imitate them, and so he carefully practiced equality and compassion.
Shakyamuni Buddha’s dharma-door was a wide-open expedient free of the slightest obstruction, devoid of any limitation. If one begs exclusively from the rich or from the poor, one can easily arouse people’s doubts and cause them to slander the dharma. Collecting alms impartially makes everyone’s doubts and slander melt away and disappear altogether. Everyone can happily plant blessings and have his wishes fulfilled.
E2 The incident of the actual fall.
Having crossed the city moat, he walked slowly through the outer gates, his manner stern and proper as he honored with propriety the method of obtaining food.
Shravasti was surrounded by a moat just like those found around some ancient cities in China. Water was kept in the moat at all times to form a protection for the city. Once Ananda had crossed the moat, he arrived within the confines of the great city of Shravasti.
Having crossed the city moat, he walked slowly through the outer gates, his manner stern and proper as he strictly respected the rules for obtaining vegetarian food.
Ananda was dignified, with eyes straight ahead, and at the same time extremely respectful. In this way he slowly passed through the outer gates of the city. He exhibited an awesome manner and model deportment; he didn’t look at improper spectacles, nor did he eavesdrop. All the time that he held his bowl, he displayed the utmost propriety and respect for the dharma of receiving, not daring to be the least bit casual or lax as he traveled through the streets.
At that time, because Ananda was begging in sequential order, he passed by a house of prostitution and was waylaid by a powerful artifice. By means of a mantra of the Kapila religion, formerly of the Brahma Heaven, the daughter of Matangi drew him onto an impure mat.
At that time Ananda was being stern and proper, honoring with propriety the method for obtaining food. Because Ananda was begging in sequential order - by going door to door, house to house - he passed by a house of prostitution and was waylaid by a powerful artifice. It was not real, but was something conjured up. The daughter of Matangi had urged her mother to make use of a mantra, which allegedly had come from the gods of the Brahma Heaven and had been brought down to the human realm. But it was phony; it was empty and false, so it is called an “artifice.”
Matangi is a Sanskrit name, interpreted to mean “Vulgar Lineage,” indicating that she was not honorable. Her daughter’s name was Prakriti, which is Sanskrit for “Basic Nature.”
Ananda was snared by a mantra of the Kapila religion, formerly of the Brahma Heaven. Matangi had learned her false mantra from members of the tawny-haired religion. In fact, the mantric device was falsely named, because it was not really a transmission from the Brahma Heaven. Its proponents just claimed it was, and in that way got people to believe in them. However, the recitation of the mantra was able to turn Ananda’s spirit and soul upside down and he fell into a stupor as if asleep, dreaming, or drunk. Without realizing what was happening he went into the house of prostitution. The mantra “which came from the Brahma Heaven,” had rendered him totally oblivious and had totally confused his self-nature.
”Basically Ananda was a sage who had been certified as having attained the first fruition. Then why was the mantra purported to have come from the Brahma Heaven able to confuse him?” you wonder.
He became confused because he had concentrated on studying the sutras and had not been attentive to samadhi-power; and so although he had attained the first fruition; his samadhi-power was still insufficient. Therefore when he encountered this kind of demon he was confused by her, and the daughter of Matangi drew him onto an impure mat.
Ananda was extremely handsome. His features were almost as perfect as the thirty-two fine marks of the Buddha. Ananda’s skin was snowy white and glistened like silver, sparkled like frost. Most Indians had dark complexions but Ananda’s skin was extremely soft, supple, smooth, and especially fair. That is why Matangi’s daughter was infatuated with Ananda the moment she laid eyes on him and went running to tell her mother that she wanted Ananda.
”He’s a disciple of the Buddha,” her mother said. “How can you want him? He’s a bhikshu and cannot marry. You can’t have him.”
”That doesn’t make any difference to me,” replied her daughter. “Mother, you’re going to have to think of a way to trap Ananda for me. If I can’t marry Ananda I won’t go on living,” she said obstinately.
Her desire was so overpowering that it was a matter of life and death.
”Ah,” thought Matangi, “She loves him so much. I’ll have to think of a way to do what cannot be done.” So she used the mantra, a deviant dharma from the Kapila religion, and recited until Ananda became hypnotized. He followed her in a daze like a drunken beggar, in such a stupor that he couldn’t tell east from west, or north from south. He went right into the house and followed Matangi’s daughter into her room and onto the bed.
With her licentious body she stroked and rubbed him until he was on the verge of destroying the precept-substance.
This was a dangerous spot to be in! With her licentious body she caressed him until he was on the verge of destroying the precept-substance. He still hadn’t broken it. This is an important point. When one receives the precepts one becomes endowed with a certain substance, which, if destroyed, is as serious as if your very life had been cut off. It is extremely important for people who have left the home-life not to break precepts. If precepts are broken, you might just as well die. As for Ananda, if the text said that his precept-substance was “already” destroyed, it would mean it would be all over for him, Ananda would have fallen, and in the future he would have had a great deal of difficulty in cultivating successfully.
Why did Matangi’s daughter have such a compelling attraction for Ananda? It stemmed from the fact that Ananda and Matangi’s daughter had been married to one another in five hundred former lives. Because they had been a married couple in so many former lives, as soon as she saw Ananda this time, her old habits took over, and she fell madly in love with him. Ananda had been her husband before and she was determined to have him for a husband again. Because of those seeds passed down life after life, she was now willing to sacrifice everything - even her very life - for the sake of her love for Ananda.
D4 The Tathagata compassionately rescues him.
E1 He quickly returns and speaks the mantra.
The Tathagata, knowing Ananda was being taken advantage of by the indecent artifice, finished the meal and immediately began his return journey. The king, great officials, elders, and laypeople followed along after the Buddha, desiring to hear the essentials of dharma.
Whenever the Buddha accepted an offering he always spoke the Dharma after the meal for the sake of the vegetarian host. Only after speaking the dharma would he return to the sublime abode of the Jeta Grove. But this time there were special circumstances. The Tathagata, knowing Ananda was being taken advantage of by the indecent artifice, finished the meal and immediately began his return journey. Knowing that Ananda had met with difficulty and was on the verge of destroying the Precept-substance, the Buddha ate quickly, and as soon as he finished he immediately returned to the sublime abode of the Jeta Grove. In fact, I imagine he did not eat very much, since his beloved disciple and cousin and personal attendant was in trouble. The Buddha thought, “Ah, my attendant is being waylaid by demons. He’s been captured by demons. How can this be?”
The king, great officials, elders, and laypeople followed along after the Buddha, desiring to hear the essentials of the dharma. Everyone knew that there was some important reason why the Buddha had not spoken dharma for the vegetarian host after the meal. They thought that the reason for the hasty retreat would certainly be announced, so everyone - the king, the officials, the elders, and the laypeople - followed the Buddha back to the sublime abode of the Jeta Grove. Why? Everyone had forgotten everything else but the single-minded desire to understand whatever important principle of dharma was about to be spoken. They didn’t know what had come up that was so unusual. Everyone was anxious to hear what the Buddha would say.
Then the World Honored One emitted a hundred rays of jeweled and fearless light from his crown. Within the light appeared a thousand-petalled precious lotus, upon which was seated a transformation-body Buddha in full-lotus posture, proclaiming a spiritual mantra.
Shakyamuni Buddha, the World Honored One, emitted a hundred rays of jeweled and fearless light from his crown. The hundreds of rays can represent the hundred realms. Within the light appeared a thousand-petalled jeweled precious lotus, which can represent the Thousand Suchnesses. These meanings can be investigated gradually. Now it is enough to understand the passage in general. From his crown, the crown of his head, were emitted a hundred rays of jeweled light and from these lights radiated fearless lights. The rays of “fearless lights” showed possession of a great awesome virtue. Fearing nothing, they were able to subdue all heavenly demons and externalists. No mantra whatever could withstand them. Not even one “purported to have come from the Brahma Heaven.”
The hundred rays of jeweled light also brought forth a thousand-petalled jeweled lotus, upon which was seated a transformation-body Buddha in full-lotus posture. In “full lotus posture” you sit with your legs crossed over one another, your feet resting on the tops of opposite thighs. There is a great deal of merit and virtue involved in sitting in full lotus.
This transformation-body Buddha was proclaiming a spiritual mantra. He pronounced the Shurangama Mantra. For Shakyamuni Buddha to have a transformation-body Buddha speak the mantra represents the secret cause within the secret cause, the king of kings of mantras. The Shurangama Mantra is extremely important. If you who study the Buddhadharma can learn the Shurangama Mantra in this life, you will not have been a human being in vain. If you do not learn the Shurangama Mantra, it will be like climbing a mountain made of the seven jewels - gold, silver, crystal, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, red pearl, and carnelian - and coming back down empty-handed. You arrive at the top of the mountain and you think about picking up some gold or perhaps some pearls, but then wonder if you should take silver instead. In the end you can’t decide which ones it would be best to take and so you come away without any at all. That is the situation of people who can’t memorize the Shurangama Mantra. So I hope that everyone will at the very least study hard enough so that they are able to recite it from memory. Not to speak of several weeks’ effort, it is worth several years’ effort if needed. It is extremely valuable. And this opportunity you have now to encounter it is extremely rare, very hard to come by. It is “the unsurpassed, profound, subtle, wonderful dharma.” There is nothing higher, nothing deeper. The Buddha used the Shurangama Mantra to save Ananda, who had already attained the first fruition of arhatship. Now, if you ordinary people do not rely on the Shurangama Mantra, how can you end birth and death? Therefore each of you should resolve to take my advice in this.
I will tell you a story that illustrates the merit of sitting in full lotus-posture. Once there was a bhikshu who did not cultivate, but concentrated instead on reciting sutras and repentances for the dead for money. Whenever someone died, he would accept requests to take the deceased across the sea of suffering by reciting sutras and performing repentances.
One day he was returning to the monastery after having spent the day reciting sutras for the deceased. He passed a house with a dog in the yard. The dog began to bark at him, and he overheard the wife inside the house say to her husband: “Go see who it is.” Then the bhikshu saw the husband peer out the slit in the curtain and reply, “Oh, it’s just that ghost who peddles sutras and repentances.”
He passed on by, but the words echoed in his ears. Why had that man called him a “ghost who peddles sutras and repentances”? Why hadn’t he called him a “Buddha” who peddles sutras and repentances? Or an “Immortal Sage” who peddles sutras and repentances? As he continued on his way to the monastery, it suddenly began to rain and he took shelter under a bridge. “I guess I’ll sit in meditation,” he thought, and he pulled up his legs in full-lotus posture. After he had sat for a while, two ghosts came by. When they reached the spot where he was sitting they suddenly stopped, and one said to the other, “There’s a golden pagoda! Hurry up! Let’s start bowing. The sharira (relics) of the Buddha are kept in golden pagodas! If we bow to the Buddha’s relics our offenses will soon disappear.” With that the two began to bow. After they had bowed for a while, the legs of the “ghost who peddled sutras and repentances” started to hurt, and in order to be more comfortable, he released the full lotus-posture into half-lotus, that is, with the left leg above, the right leg beneath, and the left foot resting on the right thigh. The next time the two ghosts came up from a bow they noticed something strange. “Hey,” said one to the other. “That golden pagoda just turned into a silver pagoda! Do you see that?”
”So what?” said the other. “Silver pagodas are still something special. We should keep bowing.” So the two of them kept bowing. They bowed for about half an hour or an hour, or maybe it was only twenty minutes; there was no clock, so there’s no way to know. Soon enough the bhikshu’s legs hurt again. He unfolded them and lazily stretched them out, just like some people do when they are tired of sitting in meditation. “I think I’ll lie down,” he thought. But just then the two bowing ghosts caught a glimpse of their pagoda turning into a pile of mud. “Hey! Look at that!” one cried. “Quick! Let’s clobber it.” Realizing the ghosts were about to beat him up, the bhikshu froze in fear and slipped neatly back into full lotus just in the nick of time. “Oh!” the two ghosts cried in unison. “It does have the Buddha’s relics in it! It’s going through all kinds of weird changes. One minute it’s a golden pagoda, the next a silver pagoda, and then it turns into mud. We’d better just keep bowing no matter what happens next,” and they continued non-stop until dawn.
The incident had a lasting effect on the “ghost who peddled sutras and repentances.” He sat there thinking, “If I sit in full lotus there is a golden pagoda, if I sit in half lotus there is a silver pagoda, and if I don’t sit at all there’s nothing but a pile of mud. I had better start to cultivate and stop peddling sutras and repentances.” He buried himself in the task at hand and worked diligently at his cultivation. After he had cultivated, he eventually became enlightened and was given the name Dhyana Master Gui Bi, “Pressured by Ghosts,” because if it hadn’t been for those two ghosts who were threatening to beat him up, he might have continued to procrastinate and never gotten around to cultivating.
E2 The messenger is sent and Ananda is rescued.
He commanded Manjushri to take the mantra and go provide protection, and, when the evil mantra was extinguished, to lend support, and to encourage Ananda and Matangi’s daughter to return to where the Buddha was.
It takes a person with great wisdom to rescue a stupid person. Although Ananda had certified to the first fruition of arhatship, his samadhi-power was not enough to keep him from being confused by Matangi’s false mantra. To save him, the Buddha manifested a hundred rays of jeweled light, and a thousand-petalled lotus, and a transformation-body Buddha who spoke the Shurangama Mantra. Still, Ananda was a long way off, and so the Buddha needed a member of the Sangha to take the mantra and go save Ananda. So Shakyamuni Buddha commanded Manjushri to take the mantra and go provide protection. He was to go to the house of prostitution, the home of Matangi, and rescue and protect Ananda. Within the Shurangama Mantra are several phrases that are specifically directed at breaking up externalist dharmas; in this its efficaciousness is unsurpassed. As soon as Manjushri went to Matangi’s house and recited the Shurangama Mantra, the evil mantra was dispelled. The “mantra purported to have come from the Brahma Heaven” was no longer efficacious. Ananda woke up.
The Bodhisattva Manjushri then needed to lend support, and to encourage Ananda and Matangi’s daughter to return to where the Buddha was. Ananda had been confused by the mantra-trick and had just “come to,” so he was disoriented and had no idea where he was; it was as if he had just awakened from a dream. So Manjushri Bodhisattva lent him support, took hold of him and pulled him up.
”Why did he encourage Matangi’s daughter?” you ask.
If he had not encouraged her at that time, her own life would have been in danger and perhaps his as well. She was so distraught she might have tried to kill Manjushri Bodhisattva for having taken away the one she loved so much. Had he not reassured her at that point, she would have been beside herself. Who knows what she might have done out of her jealousy?
Manjushri Bodhisattva said, “You are a very beautiful girl. I can see you are a good woman. Come along with me and we will go talk things over with the Buddha and find out if your wishes can be fulfilled. I’ll put in a good word for you. It will all work out, I’m sure.” He chose his words carefully, expediently, being discreet and tactful so as not to arouse her anger or cause her to harm or kill herself. With Manjushri supporting Ananda and encouraging Matangi’s daughter, they returned to where the Buddha was, to the sublime abode of the Jeta Grove.
From “Thus I have heard” to this point in the text is called the “preface.” The preface includes the “testimony of faith,” that is, the section that fulfills the six fulfillments, and certifies that the sutra can be believed.
The entire preface is also called the “postscript,” although it comes at the beginning of the sutra.
”Isn’t that a contradiction?” one may ask. “How can it be both a preface and a postscript?”
When the sutra was first spoken, this initial section of text did not exist. It was written by Ananda at the time the sutras were compiled, and for this reason is called the “postscript.”
The preface is also called the “general preface” because other sutras also have similar prefaces. It is called the “foreword” as well, because it is placed at the beginning of the sutra, even though it was written after the sutra was spoken.
The second part of the preface is called the “prologue.” It explains the causes and conditions involving Ananda and Matangi’s daughter that led to the speaking of this sutra.
It is important for those who study the Buddhadharma to be able to distinguish the various sections of the sutra text. In this way one can come to “deeply enter the sutra treasury.” Boring your way in you will come to have “wisdom like the sea.” In fact you should think like this: “It is I who spoke this sutra. Its principles have come forth from my heart.” If you can be like that, in such a way that the sutra and your basic substance become one, then there will be no deep and no shallow. You will no longer feel that the study of sutras is difficult, but will take it as a matter of course.
The text of the Shurangama Sutra is extremely well written. Of all the Chinese classics, such as the Four Books and the Five Classics, none is a finer piece of literature. I regard the Shurangama Sutra as the ultimate in literary texts, wonderful to the extreme. People who wish to study Chinese should not miss the opportunity to penetrate the Shurangama Sutra text. Anyone who does so will have a thorough foundation in the Chinese language and will be able to understand all of Chinese literature.
B2 Text proper.
C1 A complete explanation of the wonderful samadhi for accomplishing Buddhahood.
D1 Ananda requests samadhi.
E1 He regrets excessive learning and requests samadhi.
Ananda saw the Buddha, bowed, and wept sorrowfully, regretting that from time without beginning he had been preoccupied with erudition and had not yet perfected his strength in the Way. He respectfully and repeatedly requested an explanation of the very first expedients of the wonderful shamatha, samapatti, and dhyana, by means of which the Tathagatas of the ten directions had realized Bodhi.
Manjushri Bodhisattva had used the Shurangama Mantra to rescue Ananda, and after a time on the road, during which a gentle breeze probably sprang up, brushing softly against their faces and bringing Ananda awake from his dream, they reached the Jeta Grove.
Ananda saw the Buddha, bowed, and wept sorrowfully. His grief was extreme. Sorrow welled up from deep within him and he wept silently, out of remorse. The finest word in this section of text is the word regretting, because it indicates that Ananda had awakened. If he hadn’t been regretful, then upon returning to the Jeta Grove he still would not have been able to be honest about what had happened. He would have returned to where the Buddha was and acted as if nothing had happened. He would have put on a front. The very best thing about Ananda was that he didn’t put on a front. He came back, faced the Buddha and bowed, without any pretences, because he knew he had to correct his errors and change his ways. He wanted the Buddha to teach him new paths. Because of this, he was able later to realize enlightenment.
From time without beginning means not just this time in this present life, but many lives, many eons past, from the time Ananda very first became a person. No one could say when that was, so it is referred to as time without beginning.
He had been preoccupied with erudition. Life after life, time after time he had concentrated on his studies, so that he had developed “great learning and strong memory”; but he had neglected to develop, had not yet perfected his strength in the Way, that is his samadhi-power. His samadhi-power was very meager, extremely immature. Fortunately, Shakyamuni Buddha had rescued him, so he placed himself on the ground in obeisance, paying deference with his body and mind. He respectfully and repeatedly bowed over and over again, without being the least bit lazy about it.
He requested of Shakyamuni Buddha that the Buddha explain the principle by which the Tathagatas of the ten directions had realized Bodhi. He didn’t ask the Tathagatas, the Thus Come Ones of the ten directions to speak; you should not misread the text at this point. If Ananda was asking the Buddhas of the ten directions to speak, what was Shakyamuni Buddha doing there? He was Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciple; would he have ignored what was right before him and gone seeking instead for some distant Buddhas of the ten directions? No; the text means that he turned to Shakyamuni Buddha and asked him to explain what doctrine the Tathagatas of the ten directions had relied on to become enlightened. Ananda didn’t know what skill he ought to develop in order to realize Buddhahood; but he had heard of three kinds of samadhi - shamatha, samapatti, and dhyana; so he brought them up and referred to them each as wonderful, in order to emphasize them.
As soon as Shakyamuni Buddha heard his request, he knew Ananda was an outsider: that he didn’t know about the samadhi for realizing Buddhahood. And what is the samadhi for the realization of Buddhahood? It is the Shurangama Samadhi. It was just because Ananda didn’t understand the Shurangama dharma-door that he proceeded to bring up a lot of arguments, as the text describes below.
The very first expedients. Ananda wanted to know about expedient dharma-doors for the beginner, the easiest way to start cultivating, the simplest methods of practice.
Some people have immediately become prejudiced. “Ananda concentrated on erudition and almost ended up by falling,” they say. “Obviously it is useless to study a lot. I’m going to cultivate samadhi exclusively, and not study at all.” This one-sided view is not in accord with the Middle Way. The principle of being in accord with the Middle Way is to be neither too far to the left or too far to the right, or too far in front or too far behind. Ananda was also prejudiced because he concentrated on learning and neglected samadhi. But if you concentrate exclusively on samadhi and neglect learning, your wisdom won’t develop. You must study to gain understanding, and you must also practice to gain samadhi, and then the two will be integrated. At the Buddhist lecture hall we both investigate sutras and meditate. By putting aside everything else and not letting your mind wander to the north, south, east, and west, you can concentrate your whole attention on the Buddhadharma. Don’t waste valuable time. Don’t just chatter on at random or do things which are of no benefit. You can’t make squares and circles if you don’t have a compass, and in the same way, you have to follow the rules in your daily practice. In the Chan hall, when the wooden fish is hit three times it is a signal to stop and be still. During that period no one should talk. Those who do may receive a beating from Wei Tuo Bodhisattva’s jeweled pestle.
”He hasn’t hit me yet,” you say.
He hasn’t gotten angry yet. But when he does, things get serious fast. So everyone should take care to genuinely follow the rules. When the rules are followed, there can be successful accomplishments. Don’t be so casual.
The people in this assembly are basically very well-behaved, but just in case some may have forgotten the importance of the rules I am mentioning them once again. During the period set aside for study of the Shurangama Sutra, all should single-mindedly apply themselves to the study of the sutra and to their meditation. If you do, I can guarantee there will be a response and you will have some accomplishment. If you do not become greatly enlightened, you will certainly gain a little enlightenment. You won’t miss out on the merit and virtue. If you are sincere and single-minded during this period of study and practice, you will certainly gain some advantages. I am not cheating you. However, if you don’t follow the rules you’ll be like the Mongolian who goes to the opera and misses out altogether. You’ve come from far away for no other reason than to study the dharma, and that makes me very happy - so much so, that no matter how hard I have to work I don’t fear the suffering. During the dharma assembly I am determined to research and explain the sutra, do everything in my power to bring the sutra out in the open for you. It is my hope that all of you will obtain the advantages to be gained from the Buddhadharma. However, although I say this, whether you listen or not is still up to you. If you chose not to listen, there is nothing I can do, because I am not you and you are not me.
You can also say that you are me and I am you. How? We are connected to one another in that we breathe the same air. Thought of in this way, everyone becomes one identical substance, and so you shouldn’t obstruct me and I shouldn’t obstruct you. Everyone investigates the Buddhadharma together and becomes enlightened together. If there is one who has not yet become enlightened, then I will not have fulfilled my responsibility.
Pay no attention to whether the Buddhadharma seems deep or shallow. You should resolve: “If I understand, I will investigate further, and if I don’t understand, I want to investigate even more.” Understanding a little is a lot better than not understanding anything at all. You should say to yourself: “If I understand one word of the sutra the dharma master is lecturing, that’s one word which I never understood before, and that makes it worthwhile; I’ve obtained advantage.” The value of that single word is inexpressibly great.
Why was Ananda unable to resist the mantra “formerly of the Brahma Heaven,” since he had after all reached the first stage of arhatship? It was because in the past, in cultivating samadhi, he had used his conscious mind. The conscious mind is subject to production and extinction and is not ultimate. A samadhi which is developed by using the thought-processes of the conscious mind, such as the “stop and contemplate” method of the Tian Tai teaching, involves the eighth consciousness. It does not address the nature which is neither produced nor extinguished. If one bases one’s work on the nature which is neither produced nor extinguished, one can cultivate a samadhi which is neither produced nor extinguished. That is a genuine samadhi, one that cannot be moved by outside forces.
But Ananda used only his conscious mind in whatever he did. For instance, when he listened to sutras, he used his mind to remember the principles the Buddha spoke. But the conscious mind which remembered the principles cannot lead to the fundamental solution. So when Ananda encountered a demonic state, he failed to recognize it.
It is essential for people who cultivate the Way to be able to recognize their environment. If you can recognize states when they arise, you won’t be influenced by them. They won’t move you. Samadhi-power can be victorious over any state whether it be good, bad, agreeable, or disagreeable. In the midst of them all, you can remain “thus, thus, unmoving, completely and eternally bright.” That is genuine samadhi-power.
If happy situations make you happy and sad events make you sad, you’re being influenced by states. If you keep jumping from joy to anger, to sorrow, to happiness, you’re being influenced by states. Not to be influenced by external states is to be like a mirror: when something appears it is reflected, when it passes there is stillness. The basic substance of the mirror is always bright. It cannot be defiled. To have samadhi-power and not to move is to have genuine wisdom, thorough understanding. It is very important to understand this.
”Shamatha” is a Sanskrit word which is interpreted to mean “still and pure.” However, it is a stillness and purity which is forced. One attains a kind of samadhi by deliberately forcing the mind to have samadhi-power and not to strike up false thinking. It is not the ultimate samadhi. It is merely a kind of expedient device cultivated by those of the small vehicle. At the very beginning of his teaching, Shakyamuni Buddha taught this method to those of the two vehicles.
”Samapatti,” also Sanskrit, is interpreted to mean “contemplation and illumination” of such dharmas as the twelve links of conditioned causation and the four truths.
”Dhyana,” also Sanskrit, is interpreted to mean “thought-cultivation” or “still consideration.” One uses the mind to trace the coming and going of thoughts, in much the same way as in the cultivation of “stopping and contemplating.” The Tian Tai school lists three stoppings which relate to the three contemplations: empty, false, and the middle. That teaching is basically a good one, but it is nothing compared to the Shurangama Samadhi. Dhyana can be ultimate or non-ultimate. Those of the small vehicle cultivate using the conscious mind; they make discriminations using the conscious mind. Since the conscious mind is subject to production and extinction, its use will not lead to the genuine solid samadhi of the Buddha.
”What should we cultivate?” you wonder.
The Shurangama Samadhi.
”How do we cultivate the Shurangama Samadhi?”
The sutra text will gradually make that clear. If you attend to the explanation of the sutra and understand it, you will know how to achieve the Shurangama Samadhi. You won’t be left in a daze. At present you don’t know where to begin and are like someone standing in a dense forest on the side of a mountain while trying to see what the face of the mountain looks like. As the poet Su Dong Po put it:
I can’t tell what Lu mountain really looks like
Because I myself am standing on the mountain.
If he had walked away from it, though, he could have seen. Now we are within the Shurangama Samadhi; you are boring your way into the Shurangama Samadhi and if you continue to progress you will gradually come to see it clearly. Then you will know you have obtained a real gem. You’ll be able to climb the jeweled mountain, grab two big fistfuls of gold, fill your arms with the gems and go back down the mountain. Even if you continually take from it, the supply will never be exhausted. It will be an endless supply, more than you could ever use in a lifetime. In the future you will be able to achieve the Shurangama enlightenment and then go on to teach and transform living beings.
At that time Bodhisattvas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, great Arhats, pratyekas, and others from the ten directions, were also present. Pleased at the opportunity to listen, they withdrew silently to their seats to receive the sagely instruction.
That time is when Ananda asked Shakyamuni Buddha to explain how the Tathagatas of the ten directions had realized Bodhi, that is, right enlightenment. It has already been mentioned that Bodhisattvas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges were present, so this refers to yet more Bodhisattvas. The Ganges River is miles wide and its sands are as fine as flour, like fine motes of dust. During a storm, the sands and stones fly about, as dangerous as desert dust-storms. Now, how many grains of such fine sand would you estimate there to be in a river some 15 miles wide? Could you figure it? Probably even the best mathematician would be unable to come up with a number. Since the Ganges’ sands are unreckonable, they are used to represent a non-existent number, a number beyond all calculations.
A Bodhisattva, an “enlightened being,” is also called “a living being with a great Way-mind.” No matter how badly people may act towards him, he doesn’t hold it against them. He absolutely never becomes irritated, never loses his temper. His Way-mind is firm and vast. A Bodhisattva is also called a “dedicated lord,” since he has already resolved to be a Bodhisattva.
The ten directions. The Amitabha Sutra speaks of the Buddhas of the six directions, but it does not mention the ten directions. The six are north, east, south, and west, up, and down. The additional four are northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest. I say, though, that basically there isn’t even one direction. The earth is round, so what directions can there be? But the Buddhist sutras speak of ten directions, and besides, the “round” I speak of is not yet an established fact; so don’t rely on what I say. As I see it, the world is transformed from a single source; everything is within the great light treasury, the Tathagata store, where there is no north, south, east, west, or the four intermediate points, or up or down. That is the way I see it, but perhaps it is not right.
There were, not little arhats, but great Arhats, whose Way was great. It does not mean that they were physically big, that they were particularly tall. It means that their dharma-nature was great, the power of their dharma was great, their cultivation of virtue was great.
Arhat has three meanings:
1. Worthy of offerings.
They were worthy of the offerings of gods and people. In the causal ground a bhikshu “begs for his food” and as a result, as an arhat, he is “worthy of offerings.”
2. Killer of thieves.
The Buddha taught people not to kill. Isn’t killing a violation of precepts? No, not in this case, because the thieves referred to are not external thieves, but the thieves within you.
“What are the thieves within us?” you wonder.
There are the thieves of ignorance, the thieves of affliction, and the six thieves - the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Unbeknownst to you, they rob you. You don’t realize it, but when your eyes look at things, your essential energies were originally full, but once you start looking at a lot of things the thieves which are your eyes steal your valuable treasures. When you listen things all the time, then your hearing-nature disperses and your vital energies are stolen away. You shouldn’t say, “My eyes are my best friend and my ears always help me out, my nose smells things and my tongue distinguishes tastes - they are all very helpful.”
No. These six thieves steal your unsurpassed true treasures. They plunder the wealth of your household without your even realizing it. You’ve got a thief for a neighbor but don’t even realize it; you say, “Don’t blame him for stealing my things!” This is a very, very important point I am making. Don’t be mistaken and think I am just joking. If you hadn’t lost these things, you would have realized Buddhahood long ago. Look into it, think it over. You feel you haven’t lost anything? Well, I know that the things you have lost are priceless treasures no money could buy. You’ve lost them and you still think everything is just fine. “My eyes can see so far - clearer than anyone else’s,” you say and think that this is good. But the more clearly you see the more essential energy is lost.
At this point you say, “Dharma master, one of your lectures is more than enough. You haven’t said anything that has the least bit of principle to it.”
Since you haven’t yet understood what I say, of course you are going to think it lacks principle. Wait until you understand and then you will know that what I say is genuine principle.
3. Not born.
Not born, arhats are also not extinguished; they are not subject to production and extinction. They have attained the patience of the non-production of dharmas. They do not have to undergo birth and death again. That is, they have “done what had to be done and do not undergo any further existence.” They will not fall into the three realms, although they haven’t attained anuttarasamyaksambodhi, the unsurpassed proper and equal right enlightenment.
In the Sutra in Forty-two Sections the Buddha said,
”Be careful not to believe your own mind: your mind cannot be believed. Once you have attained arhatship, then you can believe your own mind”
”Why can’t one believe one’s own mind?” you ask.
Because your mind is false thinking, and if you believe false thinking you will do false things; if you do false things, you must undergo a false birth and death. If you don’t believe the false thoughts, if you don’t trust your own mind, then you can avoid the false birth and death.
”When can one believe one’s own mind?”
When you attain the fourth stage of arhatship you can believe your own mind. Until then you shouldn’t choose to listen to yourself instead of to the advice of a good and wise advisor. The right thing to do is to listen to the instructions of a good and wise one.
Pratyekas, pratyekabuddhas - those enlightened to conditions and solitarily enlightened ones - and others were also present. Pleased at the opportunity to listen, they withdrew silently to their seats to receive the sagely instructions. There were many, many more beings as well, not just one or two, who all wanted to hear the sound of the dharma the Buddha was speaking, the wonderful sagely instructions, the doctrines of the holy ones. They really liked to listen, and they sat silently to one side to hear the Buddha speak.
CHAPTER 5: The Way to Shamatha
D2 The Tathagata replies about Shamatha.
E1 He explains the wonderful samadhi from beginning to end.
F1 He explains the general name of the Buddha’s samadhi causing Ananda to know the causes cultivated and the fruition obtained by all Buddhas.
In the midst of the great assembly, the World Honored One then extended his golden arm, rubbed Ananda’s crown, and said to Ananda and the great assembly, “There is a samadhi called the King of the Foremost Shurangama at the Great Buddha’s Summit Replete with the Myriad Practices; it is a path wonderfully adorned and the single door through which the Tathagatas of the ten directions gained transcendence. You should now listen attentively.” Ananda bowed down to receive the compassionate instruction humbly.
Originally this section appeared later in the text, but the elder Dharma Master Yuan Ying saw that it did not fit well there and so he moved it to this place. I have also looked into this several times and I agree that this section of text should appear here. It does not seem appropriate in the other place; it does not tie with what proceeds and follows it there. Here it fits in sequence.
Then means when the great Arhats and the great Bodhisattvas as many as the sands in the Ganges River had all assembled from the ten directions, wishing to receive the sagely instruction, and when Ananda had implored the Buddha to explain the initial expedients of cultivation by which the Tathagatas of the ten directions had attained wonderful shamatha, wonderful samapatti, and wonderful dhyana: it was then that the World Honored One extended his golden arm and rubbed Ananda’s crown.
The Buddha’s arm was naturally golden; it isn’t that he had gilded it. In Buddhism, rubbing the crown of the head represents compassionate loving protection for living beings. Now the Buddha, too, speaks of love, but this is not the ordinary love; rather it is a compassionate, universally pervasive love which protects all beings and causes all their demon-obstacles to disappear. It is not the selfish, emotional love which most people refer to. Take careful note of this point.
Of all the kinds of love in the world, the strongest is parents’ love for their children. No matter how bad a child may act toward his parents, they’ll still forgive him. "He’s just a child,” they’ll say. “He doesn’t understand things.” Even when a small child strikes his father or scolds his mother, the parents simply regard it with amusement, and don’t feel that he has done anything wrong.
”Why are parents like that?” you ask.
Because they love their children so much. The love of parents for their children is deeper and fiercer than the love between husband and wife.
I admire Americans in this respect. By the time their children are eighteen years old they are allowed to stand on their own. Sometimes parents don’t pay any attention to them after that age. That is fine; it is very good to raise sons and daughters to be independent of their parents. The only problem is that the children are often not experienced enough at that age to exercise mature judgement and so they easily get off to a wrong start. They are easily blown over by the winds of current trends or are pulled into the water by friends who are not upright, and once they have landed in the water it is not easy for them to get back out by themselves. As a result, at the present time in America there are many young people who don’t recognize their country, who don’t know the meaning of a home, even to the point that they don’t even know what they themselves are all about. From morning to night they take LSD, marijuana and other drugs until they lose all clarity and are totally confused from dawn to dusk. If you ask them what they do for their country they say, “What does it have to do with me?” If you inquire about their family they say, “I don’t have any.” You might say they have left home, and yet of course they haven’t, although they claim to have no home. They’re caught in a total vacuum and that to me is most pitiful.
The Buddha’s loving protection for all living beings is like that of parents for their children yet stronger. Rubbing the crown is an expression of that loving protection. Just as an acupuncture needle revitalizes your blood and energy, so, as he rubs your crown, the Buddha’s hand emits light which dispels all the darkness within you. In this way he relieves you of all evil and increases your good roots.
”I’ve missed the opportunity,” you lament. “If only I had been born when the Buddha was in the world, I could have asked the Buddha to rub my crown so my evil would be eradicated and my good roots increased.”
Who told you not to be born at the time when the Buddha was in the world? Who told you to be born now? You can’t blame anyone but yourself. And regret is of no use. Don’t be regretful. You can’t blame other people. You can’t blame heaven. And you can’t blame the Buddha. We have been born now, so now we should study the Buddhadharma. If we are sincere enough the Buddha will be moved and will come and rub our crowns in expression of his loving protection. Although the Buddha has entered nirvana, his pure dharma body pervades all places. You should not think that the Buddha has left us. The Buddha is always with us; it’s just that we cannot see him. All our daily activities - walking, standing, sitting, lying down, eating, getting dressed - take place within the Buddha’s dharma body. So we are always with the Buddha. It is just that the eyes of ordinary people haven’t the spiritual penetration to see the Buddha.
The Buddha rubbed Ananda’s crown and said to Ananda and the great assembly, “There is a samadhi called the King of the Foremost Shurangama at the Great Buddha’s Summit Replete with the Myriad Practices; it is a path wonderfully adorned and the single door through which the Tathagatas of the ten directions gained transcendence.” Not only Ananda but everyone in the great assembly as well - the great bhikshus, great Bodhisattvas, the king, elders, and laypeople - was instructed by the Buddha in the ultimately durable king of samadhis, which includes within it all the samadhis of all the myriad methods of cultivation. All Buddhas of all places have reached Buddhahood along this wonderful, splendid path and through this one door.
You should now listen attentively. “Listen carefully. Pay attention,” the Buddha told Ananda. “Don’t be nonchalant when you listen to me speak sutras. Take all of your essential energy and pour it into your