The Shurangama Sutra

(Continued from issue #263)

Why was Ananda unable to withstand the mantra "formerly of the Brahma Heaven," since after all, he had reached the first stage of Arhatship? It was because in the past when cultivating samadhi, he had used his conscious mind. The conscious mind is subject to production, extinction and is not ultimate. A samadhi which is developed by using thought-processes of the conscious mind, such as "stop and contemplate," the 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 influences. But Ananda used only his conscious mind in whatever he did. For instance, when he listened to Sutras, he used his strong memory to remember the principles the Buddha spoke. This is one kind of consciousness, it is not the method to fundamental resolution. Therefore, when Ananda encountered a demonic state, he failed to recognize it.

For people who cultivate the Way, it is most important to be able to recognize circumstances and states. When a state arises and you recognize it, you won't be influenced or swayed. You will triumph over the state with your samadhi-power. When you encounter any state V good, bad, favorable or unfavorable V and you can remain "thus, thus, unmoving" and thoroughly clear, 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 accede to joy, anger, sorrow or happiness, you're being influenced by states. Not to be influenced by external states is to be like a mirror. A mirror gives a reflection of any object that appears before it, and reverts to stillness when the object disappears. The basic substance of the mirror is always bright. It cannot be defiled. To have samadhi-power and not be moved is to have genuine wisdom and thorough understanding. This is most important.

"Shamatha" is a Sanskrit word which is interpreted to mean "stillness and quiescence." However, it is a stillness and quiescence 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 causal conditions and the Four Noble 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, similar to the cultivation of "stopping and contemplating." The Tian Tai School lists the "Three Stoppings and Three Contemplations which relate to the emptiness, 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 Buddha samadhi.

What should we cultivate? We should cultivate the Shurangama Samadhi. How do we cultivate the Shurangama Samadhi? The Sutra text will gradually make that clear. By listening clearly to the explanation of the Sutra and understanding it, you will know how to attain the Shurangama Samadhi. You will not be in a daze. Right now, you don't know where to begin. You are like someone standing inside a dense forest trying to figure what the mountain looks like. As the poet Su Dong Po worded it: I can't tell what Lu Mountain really looks like since I am inside the mountain. If he had walked away from it, though, he could have seen it from a distance. Now we are boring into the Shurangama Sutra. Progress onward and you will gradually see what lies within. When you have seen clearly, you'd say, "This time, I have obtained treasures! This time, I have entered the mountain of treasures!" You grab two big handfuls of gold; fill a chest load of gems and go back home. The supply of treasures you have obtained is inexhaustible. The benefits hitherto is more than you could ever use in a lifetime. In the future, you will be able to achieve the Shurangama fruition of Buddhahood 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, Proper Enlightenment, and the very first expedience of the wonderful Shamatha, Samapatti, and Dhyana. 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 in India is forty Chinese 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 forty Chinese 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 countless, they are used to represent a non-existent number, a number beyond all calculations.

The complete name for 'Pusa ()' is Bodhisattva (дئ). The Chinese people keep it short and called it 'Pusa'. The word 'Bodhi' means 'awaken' which simply means enlightenment. 'Sattva' means 'sentient beings'. All living beings is called 'sentient beings.' A Bodhisattva is an 'enlightened sentient being.' You can also say that he is already enlightened, and he causes other beings to become enlightened. He 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 an "Opened Knight." What has he opened? He has resolved to open his Bodhi mind. Since his Bodhi mind is opened, he is called a Bodhisattva.

Great Arhats from the ten directions: Together with all Great Arhats from the ten directions. These are not small Arhats! 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.

What is in the ten directions? Great Arhats. So, what is great in them? Their Way was great. It does not mean that they were physically big or particularly tall. It means that their Dharma-nature was great, their Dharma-power was great, their Way-virtue was great. Hence, they are called Great Arhats.

Now let's talk about 'Arhat'. It is a Sanskrit name and 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? They are the thieves of ignorance and the thieves of affliction.

Affliction is a thief. Our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind are called the Six Thieves. Unbeknownst to you, they rob you. You don't realize it. Your essential energies were originally very ample. But when your eyes start looking at many things the thieves (your eyes) steal your valuable treasures. When you listen to too many things, your hearing-nature disperses and your vital energies are spent. Do not think, "My eyes are my best friend. My ears always help me out. My nose smells things and my tongue distinguishes tastes. They are all helping me."No, that's not it. These Six Thieves steal your unsurpassed treasures, your Dharma treasures. These thieves become your neighbors without you realizing it. No wonder your treasures got stolen. No wonder!

(To be continued ..)