The Shurangama Sutra

(Continued from issue #262)

Ananda saw the Buddha, bowed, and wept sorrowfully, regretting that from beginningless time he was 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 realized Bodhi.

Manjushri Bodhisattva had used the Shurangama Mantra to rescue Ananda. After some time on the road, during which a gentle breeze probably sprang up, brushing softly against their faces and awakening Ananda from his dream. Ananda saw the Buddha, bowed, and wept sorrowfully.

The Sutra did not mention whether Venerable Ananda usually wept or not. But at that moment, he wept. 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 was awakened. If he didn't have regretted, 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 could be his genuine self. He came back, faced the Buddha and bowed, without any pretense.

Regretting that from beginningless time: From beginningless time means not just this time in this present life, but in 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 beginningless time. 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 neg-lected to develop, had not yet perfected his strength in the Way, that is his samadhi-power. His samadhi-power was very meager, extremely undeveloped. Fortunately, Shakyamuni Buddha had rescued him, so he bowed in prostration, respectful both in his body and mind.

He respectfully and repeatedly bowed over and over again, without being the least bit lazy about it. He requested Shakyamuni Buddha to explain the principle by which the Tathagatas of the ten directions realized Bodhi. He didn't ask the Tathagatas, the Thus Come Ones of the ten directions to speak; you should not misinterpret the text at this point. If you say that Ananda was asking the Buddhas of the ten directions to speak, then what's Shakyamuni Buddha there for? 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 implored Shakyamuni Buddha to explain what principle the Tathagatas of the ten directions had relied on to become enlightened.

What is the principle? Ananda didn't know what skill he ought to develop in order to realize Buddhahood; but he had heard of three kinds of samadhi ˇV 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. Hence after he returned, he made his request to Shakyamuni Buddha. He realized his mistake and wanted to repent. He knew that from beginningless time, he had been preoccupied with erudition and had not yet perfected his strength in the Way. Because of this, he was able later to realize enlightenment. The word 'regret' means 'remorse and rectify'. He knew he had to correct his errors and change his ways. He wanted the Buddha to teach him new paths.

Some people become biased. "Ananda focused on erudition and almost ended up fallen," they say. "Learning erudition is useless. I'm going to cultivate samadhi exclusively, and not erudition." This biased view is not in accordance with the Middle Way. The principle of being in accordance with the Middle Way is to not lean towards left or right, front or back. Focusing on erudition and ignoring samadhi, Ananda was likewise biased. Nonetheless, if you focus on samadhi and neglect learning, your wisdom won't develop. Hence, you need to learn comprehension and practice ˇVcomprehension to gain understanding, practice to gain samadhi. This is called 'Practice and comprehension mutually integrate.'
When you first came to the Buddhist Lecture Hall, I have said that after we studied the Sutras for a while, we would start practicing meditation. Let go of everything. Do not let your mind wander to the east, west, north or south. Concentrate your whole attention on learning the Buddhadharma. Don't waste valuable time. Do not engage in chatter or do useless things. You cannot make perfect squares and circles without a T-square and compass. Likewise, you have to follow the rules and regulations in the Ch'an hall. When the wooden fish is hit three times, it is a signal to stop and be still. At that time, no one should talk. Those who do may receive a beating from Wei To Bodhisattva's Jeweled Pestle. Today, I heard several people talking after the wooden fish was strike three times.

"Wei To Bodhisattva didn't hit me!" you say. Well, he hasn't gotten angry yet. Wait till Wei To Bodhisattva gets angry and it will be terrible. Hence, we should take heed to abide by the rules. Do not be casual. We need to abide by the rules to reach successful accomplishments. Fundamentally, people are well behaved, but just in case some may have forgotten, I am now repeating the importance of abiding by the rules.

Now that we are studying the Shurangama Sutra, we should all single-mindedly focus in our study of the sutra and 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. Your effort will not be in vain. A few days ago, I have talked about 'materialistic (wu) desire (yu)'.Bai Wen Tien had mistaken the Chinese character »~(mistake)for Ş«(materialistic) because the two Chinese characters sounded the same -- wu. Here, I am talking about enlightenment, ¶}(kai) ®©(wu). The Chinese word ®©(wu) means enlightenment. Do not mistaken it for the word 'mistake or delay'(wu).

If you are sincere and single-minded during this period of study and practice, you will certainly benefit. I am not deceiving you. However, if you do not follow the rules you will be like 'the old Tartar who watches an opera and misses out altogether'. Inland Chinese locals referred to the Mongols as 'Tartars'. When someone 'misses out altogether', the Chinese use this analogy to describe him, saying he is like a Tartar who watched a Chinese opera and comes away not understanding a word. It means spending your effort in vain. During this Shurangama Dharma Assembly, no one should spend his or her effort in vain. You've come from afar for no other reason than to study the Dharma. That makes me especially glad ˇV so much so, that no matter how hard I have to work I don't fear exhaustion. During this Dharma assembly, I am determined to study and investigate the Sutra, and do everything in my power to bring the Sutra out in the open for you. It is my hope that all of you will benefit from the Buddhadharma.

However, it is up to you whether to listen what I am telling you, or not. If you chose not to, there is nothing I can do. 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. There is no differentiation. We are all one in substance. Hence, you should not obstruct me and I should not obstruct you. Together, we investigate the Buddhadharma and become enlightened. If there is one who has not yet become enlightened, then I will not have fulfilled my responsibility. This dharma assembly is very important.

In this very important dharma assembly, everyone should focus on studying the Buddhadharma and sutra. Regardless of whether the Buddhadharma is deep or shallow, you should resolve to study well, thinking, "If I understand, I will investigate further, and if I don't understand, the more I should study." Understanding even a little is a lot better than not understanding at all. You should tell 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 benefitted." The value of that single word is inexpressibly great.

(To be continued ..)