The Shurangama Sutra

(Continued from issue #256)

The Buddha commanded Manjushri to assign the Bodhisattvas and Arhats to receive offerings from the various vegetarian hosts.

Editor's Note: The following brief explanation of the sutra text is from the lecture "The Driving Force of Subjective Wisdom" on 9/15/1987.

King Prasenajit invited the Buddha to receive offerings. At this time, other elders and laypeople also invited the Buddha to receive offerings. Therefore, the Buddha sent Manjushri Bodhisattva to lead the other great Bodhisattvas to various places to receive offerings. This is the prologue of the sutra which describes the cause of this condition. From the beginning up to this section of the sutra text it was not formally spoken by the Buddha.

The Buddha commanded Manjushri. Kings were allowed to issue commands, so were the King of Dharma. Thus, the text states the Buddha "commanded" Manjushri Bodhisattva to

assign the Bodhisattvas and Arhats. How were they assigned? It depended on how many Bodhisattvas there were. They were each divided into groups of one, two or three. The great Arhats and great Bhikshus were also included into these group assignment.

To receive offerings from the various vegetarian hosts: This means they went to the homes of 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 donors' homes appearing as transformation Buddhas seeking alms at each door. That would never happen, or else, spiritual penetrations would be worth less than bean curd. So the Buddha told Manjushri Bodhisattva, "You go assign the Bodhisattvas and great Arhats to the various donors' home and receive offerings."

Only Ananda, who, had 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 back 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 fifteenth day of the seventh month you certainly should come and receive offerings from us."

Fundamentally, 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 offering together; but sometimes people who like good food ignore the rule and accept the special invitations given to them. They think to themselves, "Why should I care about 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 good food. Now think about it; during the period of summer retreat, it was entirely not permissible to go out. Yet, Ananda accepted a special invitation and went out to receive offerings. He had violated the rules and committed an offense. Maybe this special invitation was set on the fourteenth of the month, so he probably set out on the thirteenth. After eating on the fourteenth he stayed the night, planning to return early the next day.

Hence, Ananda had traveled far and had not yet returned. When Manjushri Bodhisattva was dividing the Sangha into groups, Ananda did not make it in time. He was late for the apportioning of the Sangha. For example, we are now going someplace to have vegetarian food. However, a person left us yesterday and has not yet returned. Even if we want to wait for him, there is not enough time so we have to leave without him. When he finally returns, he would find our place empty with no food in the house. He would have no idea where to eat. This is the so-called 'late for the apportioning of the Sangha',

No senior-seated one or Acharya was with him. When left-home people go out, they should go in a group, perhaps in twos or threes. Within the group should be a senior-seated one or an Acharya. A "senior" is one who has held the precepts purely for at least twenty years. His seating position is in front of the assembly. "Acharya" is a Sanskrit word, which means "a teacher who exemplifies the rules."He teaches you to understand and follow the rules and regulations. There are Five Kinds of Acharya:

1. an Acharya with whom others leave the home-life: He transmits the novice precepts.
2. an Acharya who teaches you how to receive the precepts and how to request dharma.
3. Karmadana Acharya is one who guides you to profess all your transgressions and repent all of your offenses.
4. an Acharya whom others rely on. You always follow and draw near him to learn the Buddhadharma.
5. an Acharya who transmits the principles of the sutras. He teaches you how to recite sutras.

Just as I am now teaching you how to recite the Shurangama Mantra, I am your Acharya. Do you understand? Now that I am lecturing on the Shurangama Sutra, I am your Acharya who transmits the principles of the sutras. Since all of you are with me every day, I am your Acharya upon whom others rely on.Moreover, I teach you rules and regulations. Every day before the Buddha, I transfer merit to all of you to help eradicate your karmic offenses and help you grow good roots. That makes me a Karmadana Acharya. I am teaching you all about the Buddhadharma so I am also the Acharya who teaches you how to receive the precepts and how to request dharma. However, since none of you have left the home-life, I am not your Acharya under whom others leave the home-life. I have fulfilled four of the five categories of Acharya. There is one more left. If anyone leaves the home-life, I will have fulfilled all five categories as an Acharya.

An Acharya is one who helps you cultivate the Way and attain the Way. He keeps an eye on you and tells you not to commit offenses. At that time, Ananda was by himself, with neither a senior-seated one nor an Acharya. Consequentially, he got into some trouble. The fact that he was alone played a huge factor in his consequence. Essentially, left-home people should travel in groups of two or more, never alone. If you truly have samadhi-power, then it does not matter if you are by yourself. However, if you do not have sufficient samadhi-power, you can easily encounter demonic-obstacles and become affected by external states. Because of this, left-home people must guard their mind and be apart from offenses. This is the reason why they should not travel alone and should be in groups of two or three, accompanied by a senior-seated one or an Acharya.

If you truly have samadhi-power, then it is fine to go anywhere by yourself, whether up to the heavens or down to earth. However, if your samadhi-power is not sufficient, you cannot travel alone anywhere. Nowadays, there are many young monks travelling alone. This is very dangerous. You see, Ananda is a good example of why young monks should not travel alone. He was a young monk who got in trouble when he travelled alone. On the other hand, we should be thankful towards Ananda. If it was not for Ananda getting into
trouble, we would have missed a great opportunity for Shakyamuni Buddha to speak the Shurangama Sutra and to show us how to cultivate samadhi. We would have missed the chance to understand the Shurangama Sutra. Hence, we are grateful because we benefited a great deal and learned through Ananda's mistake.

So he was returning alone on the road. The worst thing was him being alone. There was no one there to accompany him and help him during times of need. As a result, he encountered a demon.

(To be continued ..)