The Shurangama Sutra

(Continued from issue #258)

Ananda already knew that the Tathagata, the World Honored One, had admonished Subhuti and great Kashyapa for being Arhats with hearts not fair and equal. He regarded with respect the Tathagata's instructions on impartiality, to save everyone from doubt and slander.

Ananda already knew that the Tathagata, the World Honored One, had admonished Subhuti and great Kashyapa: Why did Ananda want to practice equality and compassion while 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.

What happened? Subhuti's opinion is to 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 do not give now, they will not be rich in the next life. I should help them, so I seek alms from them." Subhuti's method illustrates "avoiding the poor and favoring the rich." On the contrary, 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 noble. If I don't help them by seeking alms from them, then in their next life they will continue to stay poor." Therefore, that is how these two Arhats begged alms, i.e. one exclusively from the rich, one exclusively from the poor.

I believe there were other underlying factors for their behavior. It must be that Subhuti liked to eat good food, whereas, Great Kashyapa was foremost practicing asceticism. Ascetic practices include eating what others can't eat, enduring what others can't endure, bearing what others can't bear, and yielding where others can't yield. Food offered by the poor people surely cannot be as good as those given by the wealthy. Even food discarded on the streets by the rich are better than those of the poor. But since Great Kashyapa did not pay attention to food, he sought alms from the poor and gave them the opportunity to plant blessings.

Shakyamuni Buddha knew that these two disciples did not practice equality and compassion while doing their alms-rounds. He was aware of the discriminations they made. Therefore, the Tathagata, the World Honored One, admonished Subhuti and Great Kashyapa for being Arhats of the Small Vehicle and not Bodhisattvas of the Great Vehicle. Hearts not fair and equal: They were discriminating against the rich and poor and could not universally practice equality and compassion.

Hence, Ananda held the Tathagatha in great esteem. He highly respected the Tathagata's Dharma Door of Impartiality, which advocates against choosing among donors, discriminating the rich in favor of the poor as well as discriminating the poor in favor of the rich. When doing alms rounds, one should be fair and go to each place to create affinities. Discriminating minds do not belong to the Great Vehicle Dharma but instead portray self-regard. Having heard how Shakyamuni Buddha had rebuked Subhuti and Great Kashyapa, Ananda did not follow their missteps. Hence, he carefully practiced equality and compassion when doing his alms round.

Shakyamuni Buddha's Dharma-door of impartiality was a wide-open expedient, without any barriers or restrictions. 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. Now that everyone's doubts and slander have been eliminated, everyone is happy. Everyone can plant blessings and have his/her wishes fulfilled. This is to prevent people from having a skeptical and slanderous mind, and not having faith in Buddhism.

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.

Editor's Note:The following brief explanation of the sutra text is from the lecture "The Driving Force of Subjective Wisdom" on 11/14/1987.

Having crossed the city moat: There was a moat surrounding the city of Shravasti, just like those surrounding some ancient cities in China. To fortify the cities, moats are usually filled with water. Without water, it is an entrenchment. Having crossed the moat means that Ananda had arrived within the confines of Shravasti.

He walked slowly through the city gate, his manner stern and proper as he strictly respected the rules for obtaining vegetarian food. Ananda conducted himself with awesome deportment, with eyes focused straight on the path he was walking and ears oblivious to irrelevant sounds. In this way, he slowly passed through the city gates. Once inside, there were many people. Hence, he sternly exhibited an awesome manner and exemplar deportment. He did not look at improper spectacles or eavesdrop. Every time he held his bowl, he displayed the utmost propriety and respect for the Dharma of Seeking and Receiving Vegetarian Food, never daring to be the least bit casual or nonchalant.

At that time, because Ananda was begging in sequential order, he came to a house of prostitution and 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, about to destroy his precept substance.

Editor's Note: The following brief explanation of the sutra text is from the lecture "The Driving Force of Subjective Wisdom" on 11/14/1987.
At that time Ananda was strictly compliant of the rules of deportment, abiding with propriety the method for obtaining food. Since Ananda was begging in sequential order íV by going door-to-door, house-to-house íV he came to a house of prostitution. This is an immoral place where women prostitute. Back in those days, such improper occupation already existed.

Waylaid by a powerful artifice: He came across this house of prostitution and encountered a powerful artifice, not a common one. The artifice was not real, but was something conjured up. The mantra allegedly had come from the gods of the Brahma Heaven and been brought down to the human realm. Nevertheless, it was phony and it was illusory. That is why it's called an "artifice."

The daughter of Matangi: The owner of the prostitution house is Matangi, a Sanskrit name. Translated into Chinese, it means "Vulgar Lineage," indicating that she was not honorable. She had a daughter named Prakriti, which is Sanskrit for "Basic Nature." It means that although Prakriti had gone astray and became a prostitute, yet her basic nature was not lost.
Matangi knew sorcery techniques and she could bewitch people with a poisonous voodoo. She snared Ananda by a mantra of the Kapila religion, which claimed to be formerly of the Brahma Heaven. Kapila is also Sanskrit. Translated into Chinese, it is Tawny-haired Externalists. Matangi had learned this mantra from a Tawny-haired Externalist. Actually, this mantric voodoo that the externalists claimed to have originated from the Brahma Heaven did not come from the Brahma Heaven. The externalists fabricated this false claim to make people believe in them.
When Matangi recited the supposed mantra, Ananda's spiritual well-being turned topsy-turvy. He fell into a stupor, as if he was asleep, dreaming, or drunk. Without being aware of what was happening, he went into the prostitution house. Why was Ananda not aware? The mantra had wrecked confusion in his self-nature. Originally, Ananda was a sage of the first fruition. Then, why did the mantra cause him confusion? It was because Ananda did not pay attention to cultivating his samadhi-power. Ever since, his attention was on studying the sutras and gaining erudition. Although he had attained the first fruition, he did not have sufficient samadhi-power. Consequentially, he got confused when he encountered a demonic state. Falling under the spell of the mantra, he came to the prostitution house.

(To be continued ..)