The Shurangama Sutra

(Continued from issue #261)

He commanded Manjushri to take the mantra and go provide protection. When the evil mantra was extinguished, he was to lend support and encourage Ananda and Matangi's daughter to return to where the Buddha was.

He commanded Manjushri: "Command" means to give orders. To whom was the command given? This situation requires a person with great wisdom to be able to rescue a stupid one. Although Ananda was certified with the first fruition of Arhatship, his samadhi-power was not enough. For this reason, Matangi's magical spell mesmerized him. He was in the most dangerous situation! With her licentious body, Matangi's daughter stroked and rubbed him until he was on the verge of destroying the precept-substance. 'On the verge' means that he hadn't yet violated the precepts or ruined the precept substance. This is an important point. If the sutra text said that Ananda had ruined his precept-substance, then it is all over for him; he had fallen, and in the future he would have great difficulty to successfully cultivate the Way. Fortunately, while he was 'on the verge' of ruining his precept-substance, the Buddha immediately knew it.

During the vegetarian offering, I believe the Buddha did not eat his fill. Why? His beloved disciple, who was also his cousin and his attendant, was in trouble. Why an "attendant"? When the Buddha lectured on the sutras and spoke the dharma, Ananda was always alongside the Buddha to serve and attend to his needs. It is like Wen Tz Wang and Jin Shan Li, they are attendants, also called "Dharma Protectors". At that time, the Buddha thought, "Ah, my attendant is waylaid by demons. How can that be?" So, the Buddha only ate about eighty percent full and quickly returned to his sublime abode of the Jeta Grove. The king's royal families, officials, elderly and laypeople all followed him. Oh! Their numbers are incalculable!

Arriving at the Jeta Grove, Shakyamuni Buddha manifested an auspicious phenomenon. He emitted a hundred-jeweled rays of bright light. Within the brightness emerged jeweled lotuses of a thousand-petals. Within each jeweled lotus, a transformation-body Buddha sat in full lotus, proclaiming the Shurangama Mantra. However, Ananda was very faraway. The Buddha needed a sangha to take the mantra and go save Ananda. So Shakyamuni Buddha issued the command to Manjushri Bodhisattva, who had great wisdom to take the mantra and go provide protection. He was to go to Matangi's house of prostitution to save and protect Ananda. Within the Shurangama Mantra are several phrases that are specifically directed at breaking up externalist dharmas; in this its efficacy is unsurpassed. Hence, Manjushri Bodhisattva used this mantra to save and protect Ananda.

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from the "Driving Force of Subjective Wisdom" seminar on November 28, 1987.

The Shurangama Mantra was spoken by the transformation body of the Buddha. One must have great wisdom, great virtuous conduct, and great vow power of kindness and compassion to be able to use this Shurangama Mantra. Manjushri Bodhisattva is foremost in wisdom. He has lofty way-virtue and has perfected the Four Limitless Minds, i.e. kindness, compassion, joy, giving. Hence, the Buddha commanded him to use the Shurangama Mantra to save and protect Ananda. The former Brahma Heaven mantra is a mantra that can mesmerize people. The Shurangama Mantra is a mantra that will lead people to enlightenment. It made Ananda awaken from being spellbound and restore his samadhi power. Hence, the evil spell was extinguished and Ananda had 'come to'. Manjushri Bodhisattva lend support in bringing Ananda and Matangi's daughter to where the Buddha was.

From this section of the sutra, we should know that to uphold the Shurangama Mantra requires strict adherence to precepts and regulations. We must cultivate Prajna wisdom in order to bring about a response with this mantra, and be able to use it as-you-wish auspiciously.

X "Driving Force of Subjective Wisdom" seminar ends

As soon as Manjushri Bodhisattva recited the Shurangama Mantra when he arrived at Matangi's house, the evil mantra was extinguished. The "mantra purported to have come from the former Brahma Heaven" was no longer effective. Ananda awakened. Then, Manjushri Bodhisattva lent support and encouragement in bringing Ananda and Matangi's daughter to where the Buddha was.

What does "lend support," mean? Ananda was held spellbound by the evil mantra and had now just "come to," so he was still disoriented and had no idea where he was. It was like awakening from a dream. Therefore, Manjushri Bodhisattva lent him support, holding his arm to keep Ananda steady.

"Why encourage Matangi's daughter?" you ask. She was so distraught at losing the love of her life. Had Manjushri Bodhisattva not placated her, she would stop at nothing to keep Ananda, even risking her own life and endangering Manjushri Bodhisattva as well. 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 assuaged her, saying, "You are a very beautiful girl. You are also a good woman. Let us go talk things over with the Buddha and see if you can have your wishes granted. I will put in a good word for you. It may all work out." 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.

From the very beginning line "Thus I have heard" to this point in the text, is the "preface". Preface comes before the sutra text proper; it is to describe and substantiate the evidence. From the Six Fulfillments that begins with "Thus I have heard" to "return to where the Buddha was", this passage of the text is the preface. This entire preface is likewise the "postscript", even though it's 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 Buddha first spoke this sutra, this initial section was not present. Ananda added this section at the time of sutra compilation. Since it was an add-on after the sutra was spoken, it is called the "postscript".@

The preface section includes the 'authentication of faith' and 'foreword'. The section that fulfills the Six Fulfillments confirms that the sutra is genuine and trustworthy. It is also called 'general preface' since all other sutras have similar prefaces. The section from the Six Fulfillments to "return to where the Buddha was" constitutes the 'foreword'; it explains the causal conditions between Ananda and Matangi's daughter that led to the speaking of this sutra. For this reason, it is also called the 'specific preface' because it specifically pertains to this sutra.

People who study the Buddhadharma should know that although 'preface' is just a nomenclature and is irrelevant whether it is explained or not, you still have to understand its principle. If you don't understand the principle and cannot distinguish the preface, then you do not understand Buddhadharma. Those who understand Buddhadharma are able to comprehend the various sections of the sutra text. They are able to enter deeply into the Sutra Treasury. Boring deep into the treasury, they attain wisdom like the sea. If you think like this, "It is I who spoke this sutra. Its principles emanated from my heart.", then you are one in unity with the sutra. At that instant, there is nothing deep nor shallow. You will no longer feel that the study of sutras is difficult, but will take its own course. The text of the Shurangama Sutra is written extremely well. Of all the Chinese classics, such as Interpretation of the Ancient Prose, Gems from Chinese Culture, The Four Books and The Five Classics, none is a finer piece of literature. I regard the Shurangama Sutra as the ultimate in literary exquisiteness, wonderful to the extreme. People who wish to study Chinese should not miss the opportunity to study in depth 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.

In Hong Kong, I have a disciple who can memorize this sutra from beginning to end without missing a word. Why did I ask him to read it? Originally, I intended to read it myself until I could memorize it. That includes the Shurangama Sutra and the Dharma Flower Sutra. I wanted to recite them to the point that I would never forget them. Nevertheless, my time is very limited and my wish is never fulfilled. However, my disciple can recite from memory both the Dharma Flower Sutra and the Shurangama Sutra. It took him not just one or two years, but five years of effort to memorize both sutras.

(To be continued ..)