IN THE SURANGAMA SUTRA
Dr. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương
by the Most Venerable Như Điển
I have had the good fortune to read many books. These books play the role of my teachers. They are as close as my siblings, family, or friends. I can meet with the books any time and anywhere in the morning, afternoon, evening, or midnight. With the moonlight shining through the windows of the meditation room, the books are available in front of me and I can read delightedly. If there is a question, I just open the book; there is the right answer. The book plays the role of informing readers of right and wrong.
From reading scriptures and books, I became interested in translating and writing. Venerable Bhikkhunī Giới Hương asked me to write an introduction to this book entitled Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, which is her ninth work. It was first published in 2008 and so far, has been reprinted four times in nine years, and each publication was not less than 2,000 copies. Most readers are in Vietnam, USA, and other parts of the world. This time, I tried to read it for two days, six hours per day. Usually with a book as large as this one, I only need three to four hours to read, but because she wanted me to look carefully, as well as fix some spelling mistakes, it took some of my time. There are no faults worth complaining about, but because the content of the scripture is so deep, it took more time to experience and reflect on it.
In 1984 and 1985 Venerable Giới Hương learned this sutra from her master, the Late Most Venerable Bhikkhunī Hải
Triều Âm. After that, she studied four years in the bachelor’s program for Buddhist Studies at Vạn Hạnh Institute. She then spent more than ten years obtaining a PhD in Buddhist Philosophy in India. She studied for another ten years at the University of California, Riverside in the United States. Today she is a lecturer at the Vietnamese Buddhist University, HCM City, Vietnam, and shares her knowledge and experiences over the past thirty years with her young monk and nun students. What miraculous merit! She also has begun writing and translating books in English to serve the needs of modern times. That is why the Śūraṅgama Sūtra is published in the English language now. This is one of the first achievements of the Vietnamese Buddhist nun Saṅgha, followed by the holy way of the Late Most Venerable Bhikkhunī Trí Hải. I am very happy to write this introduction.
To enter into the contents of fifteen chapters, we should first pay attention to the form. The bold text is the translated words from Chinese to Vietnamese of Dr. Tâm Minh, Lê Đình Thám who took the original text from Sanskrit to Chinese of
Prammiti Master (Bát Lạt Mật Đế). Doctor Tâm Minh interpreted it into two parts of ten volumes, but here Venerable Giới Hương only focuses on the parts of questions on the mind, the six sense organs, the six sense objects, and the six forms of consciousness, as well as precept-meditation-wisdom. Next, she talks about twelve species of beings from past, present, and future which is worthy of reading. Because she has learned Nikāya and Mahāyāna sūtras, her stories penetrate these philosophical and realistic meanings profoundly and include scientific and logical evidence. The equivalent Sanskrit and Pāli terminologies are put in parentheses. Italics are used to annotate for clarification. There are also footnotes for the references. This is the research methodology which scholars often use to teach or write academic books. In the preface, she expresses that her book mentions only a small part of the rebirth views from the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. Other perspectives on this scripture will be included in other future volumes to convey all deep thoughts in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.
The contents present evidence of mind and nature. The nature of the mind is wonderful, while its function is bright. The minds of beings are ignorant from defilements while the essence of the mind is completely pure. If beings are focused on śamatha to win samāpatti, the Buddha and beings will be one, but nothing else. This is like waves and water. Wave is not water, water is not waves, but both have a wet nature in common. With that wetness, the Buddha has been a Buddha for a long time, while beings are still in the circle of birth and death, because we have not recognized our wetness. Each time we chant, we recite, “The minds of the Buddha and creature beings are inherently pure and quiet, calm, and clear without defilements.” The Buddha is not different from beings, only beings differ from the Buddha. By karma, the creature subjects and their environmental objects appear. Their bodies are a result of merit or not, which is related to the absence of ignorance in order to return to the Buddha’s essence. In the first part, the Buddha asks Ānanda seven times the location of his mind, so that he can clear the true or false mind. After Ānanda realized the spiritual home of the six sense organs, but did not know how to open the door, he begged the Buddha to kindly expound the Dharma for the sake of many.
The six sense organs are birth and death, which is also the tranquil Nibbāna. If living beings attain samāpatti, they can
transform the three gradual progress steps. The author also was careful to mention the Tien-tai Master who divided the twelve scriptural categories 1 into five sections of the Buddha’s doctrine. If readers gradually penetrate this book, they will recognize the Mahāyāna perspectives highlighted in this Śūraṅgama Sūtra. In addition, the Pure Land method of reciting the name of Amitābha Buddha is also addressed by the author.
The chapter on the inner section explains that the inner aspect is the emotion, while the external is the virtue which are practiced. This helps readers easily capture the sense of the scripture. Whoever is more emotional, the less ideal, after death he will go down. Whoever is more ideal, with less emotion, after death he will go up. Whoever has the balance between the emotional and ideal level, he will be reborn as a human being.
In the next chapter, she mentions retribution in hell. There are ten causes and six results for this bad consequence.
Next is the remaining retribution of beings from many previous lives. The author also focuses on the stories of Bhikkhunī Valuable Lotus Fragrance who broke the sexual precept, Mighty Crystal King and Bhikhu Good Stars who wrongly declared that all dharmas are empty (without cause-effect, see more in the Parinibbāna Sūtra, Vol. 2) and all is just a combination of illusory thoughts. By this, the Buddha taught śamatha and also emphasized the practice of giving thanks to the Buddha, who compassionately shows the way from his own experience that this illusory thing can be eliminated.
Chapter XIV speaks of the heaven and asura worlds. The author compares the desire heavenly realms (kāmasugatibhūmi) to the material heavenly realms (rūpāvācara-bhūmi) of four jhānas, and the five without-returning-heavenly beings (suddhāvāsa) to the immaterial heavenly realms (arūpāvacarabhūmi) of the four empty states. And lastly, the heavenly asura beings are explained as beings who still have angry minds. In Chapter XV, she sums up all seven species of beings (heaven, immortal, asura, human, ghost, animal, and hell) and those who do not possess a sense of enlightenment, due to the practice of śamatha. If they can restrain themselves from three ignorances (killing, stealing, and sexual intercourse), they will realize and see the Buddha’s essence. Finally, she concludes that Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra teaches how to overcome the mind and body committing “killing, stealing, and sexual intercourse” to win awakening.
This is a worthy commentary composed by a scholar-nun. Readers should be familiar with this book before reading the
2,685-page Convergence Śūraṅgama (首楞嚴宗通經), two volumes (interpreted by Thubten Osall Lama) or the Interpretation of the Śūraṅgama Mantra, two volumes, explained by Most Venerable Hsuan Hua at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery and translated by Venerable Minh Định into Vietnamese. I was based at the popular
Buddhist Studies program (Phật Học Phổ Thông) of Most Venerable Thiện Hoa. I have lectured for many years—at least over forty lectures. At the same time, you can also refer to the
Pointing-Out Śūraṅgama Commentary (首楞嚴 直指, of
Hanshi Master that is translated into a 1,000-page book and published in Vietnam in 2008 by Venerable Bhikkhunī Thể Dung. You can also search at the Buddhist websites to see, hear, and add what you need to understand.
I am very happy to read this work of Venerable Bhikkhunī Giới Hương, which is the most precious spiritual gift. There is a saying, “If you have money, you can buy some books, but you cannot buy your understanding.” We would like to introduce this valuable book to readers throughout the world.
The Most Venerable Như Điển
Founding Abbot of the Viên Đức Monastery Hannover, Viên Đức Monastery
An autumn morning at Viên Đức Monastery, Ravensburg in southern Germany, October 14, 2017
This revised and enlarged edition of Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra was first published ten years ago (2008). The second, third, and fourth editions were reprinted in 2012, 2014, and 2016 at Phương Đông Publishing. This current edition (2018) will be printed at Hồng Đức Publishing, HCM City, Việt Nam. In presenting this edition, I have maintained the contents written in the first edition, however, for the sake of greater clarity, a few changes have been made, errors have been corrected, the Pāli and Sanskrit terms are included, and a summary, as well as discussion questions, have been added at the end of each chapter.
I would like to gratefully acknowledge with special thanks Bhikkhunī Viên Ngộ, Bhikkhunī Diệu Giác, Bhikkhunī Viên Quang, and Pamela C. Kirby (English editor) who worked as my assistants for English translating, proofreading, book design, and publication of this book.
University of California, Riverside, California
Spring, March 01, 2018
Dr. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương
One night, the Buddha stood contemplating quietly at the bank of a glistening river. Venerable Śāriputra, who was behind, looked down the moonlight shimmering on the water and suddenly lamented, “Blessed One! It is pitiful! There are people who drowned by jumping into the deep water to look for the moon.”
The Buddha replied, “Yes! It’s pitiful! But even more pitiful, there are those who never believe there is a moon in the world.”
Some people search for the moon at the water bottom.
They who have seen the moonlight shimmering on the water’s surface dive into the water looking for the moon and risk drowning. They are not aware that it is very simple; all they have to do is raise their heads up, and the moon is always there in the sky. Then there are other people who believe that the world is without the moon although the full moon is radiating light covering the entire world. Śūraṅgama Sūtra called these miserable people human (manussa) beings who are trapped in the cycle of birth and death.
In the third paragraph of Chapter I, there is mention of the root of ignorance (avijjā) and enlightenment (Nibbāna, prajñā) as the Buddha told Venerable Ānanda, “Since beginningless time onward, all living beings have had many upside-down ways and have created karma seeds which are naturally grouped as the aksha cluster.
Those who cultivate cannot accomplish the unsurpassed bodhi, but instead reach the level of voice-hearer (śrāvakas), pratyeka Buddhas, heretics, heavenly beings (devas), demons (maras), or relatives of ghosts (pittivisaya), because they have not yet recognized the two fundamental roots. They have cultivated wrongly and confusedly, as if trying to cook sand in the hope of creating rice. They may pass through countless eons as molecules of dust, and they will obtain nothing of what they want.
What are two fundamental roots? “Ānanda, first of all, the root of beginningless birth and death is the illusory consciousness (samohaṃ) that you and all living beings now make use of and consider it as your self-nature.
“Secondly, the purified origin of beginningless bodhi Nirvana, the bright original reality of the seeing essence, can create all conditions and is disregarded. Living beings have ignored the original awakening; therefore, though they use it to the end of their days, they are still unaware of their enlightenment, and then they regrettably enter the six realms.” Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra examines the profound philosophical ideology contained in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. It points to the mind of illusion that leads to reincarnation and suffering and shows us how to escape.
Just as a gardener selects the most beautiful flowers that she knows will please the recipient, contents of this book mention only rebirth views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.
I would like to prostrate devotedly toward Đại Ninh province, Vietnam, to Most Venerable Master Hải Triều Âm who wholeheartedly taught us the gardener’s art from 1983, 1984, and 1985 and planted in us the good seeds of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. Today, these seeds are blooming. If we have gained any merit and virtue from this book, we respectfully offer it to our Master and all beings in the world.
With a full heart of dedication, but with the awakening and capacity weak, I hope that wise readers correct mistakes so that next editions of Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra will be better.
With sincere gratitude,
Dr. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương August 30, 2008
THE BACKGROUND OF BUDDHISM
Before entering into the contents of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, we should learn a little bit about the background of Buddhism where the Śūraṅgama Sūtra appeared.
The Buddha is a great enlightened being and teacher of humans (manussa) and heavenly (deva) beings. His profound contribution for humans is the Tripitaka.2 It is the path leading to ultimate happiness and liberation that he discovered through his own experience.
The Buddha’s teachings during forty-nine years are systemic in a short poem by the Chinese patriarch of the Tiantai sect:
Firstly, the Buddha taught the Flower Adornment in twenty-one days.
Āgama occupied twelve years while the Vaipulya Sūtra was eight years.3
He expounded Prajñā for twenty-two years.
It took eight years for the Lotus and Nirvana Sūtras
After forty-nine days of meditating and enlightenment under the bodhi tree, the Buddha wanted to share his experience by revealing the true mind to everyone, so he explained the Flower Adornment (Avataṃsaka) Sūtra so suffering beings could realize that all creature beings have the ability to become Buddhas like him. However, after twenty-one days of guidance, no one seemed to understand this deep meaning. They were concerned only with property, beauty, fame, benefice, sleep, and food and were engaged in the poisons of greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha), hatred (byāpāda, dosa), and delusion (samohaṃ). Therefore, he did not hope to preach anymore before giving up this world to enter the Nirvana (Nibbāna) state forever.
At that time, from heaven, there were brahmas who descended to beg the Buddha, who was compassionate, not to enter Nirvana. They explained that despite some men being attracted by five fields of desires, there are other beings who hope to find the way of happiness and be freed from suffering in this mundane world. After hearing this, the Buddha agreed to stay on this earth. He started preached the Āgama Sūtra for twelve years, so that we have the five sets of Nikāyas—the Pāli collection of Buddhist writings of Theravāda Buddhism.4 Theravāda suttas, which mention the moral principles, are aware of the false illusion of six sense bases,5 six worldly objects,6 six consciousnesses,7 greed, hatred, ignorance (avijjā), and how to be freed from the circle of birth and death. The saṃsāra circle, Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipaṭṭhāna), the ordination of bhikkhus (bhikṣu) and bhikkhunīs (bhikṣuṇī), the renunciation, and so on, belong to Theravāda suttas (i.e., the early period of Buddhism).
After twelve years of teaching Nikāya canons, the Buddha started to expound the Mahāyāna (the developing period of Buddhism). Mahāyāna was beginning to be established during the Vaipulya period, but it was the beginning form. The Vaipulya Sūtra8 belongs to what is called the first period of Mahayana Sutras. The Vaipulya Sūtra is
called the first Mahāyāna sutra period
Phương is a square shape (referring to the plumped shapes of squares and circles). Đẳng is equality, fullness or universe. That means it began to reveal something full and significant between the Buddha and sentient beings.
From the Vaipulya period onwards, in the Mahāyāna time, Dharma is explained fully as a tree with roots, leaves, and fruit, while in the Theravāda time, Dharma is addressed as only the root. In Nikāya canons, recognizing and letting go of false illusions is the root of cultivation. First of all, we must awaken and detach from the delusion, such as the illusory body, mind, and landscape which is basic and necessary for beginners. This is called Theravāda, but in fact it is incomplete in the full meaning of Dharma which the Buddha wanted to teach.
If we want to get the full meaning of Dharma, we should go ahead up to the Mahāyāna time, up to the truth. It’s the true Buddhism—the final ultimate goal of Buddha. Therefore, it is called Phương. Phương—the fullness.
Equality is the justice. Anybody can get in—fair, without distinction of high-low, rich-poor, dull-smart, regardless of position, skin, and sect. There is no distinction between the liberated voice-hearer (śrāvaka) and the defiled one, transcendent-secular, good-bad, loved-hated, birth-death, and so on.
Next is the Prajñā period. After having experienced that the external forms are illusory, and the internal reality is the absolute śūnyatā (suññatā), the Prajñā Sūtra explained that the true essence is the nature of all phenomena. This period reveals the true objects without attachment to forms. That would be truly our mind, but it only reveals the ultimate without declaring anything. The Buddha preached the Prajñā Sūtra in the twenty-two-year duration.
By the end of the Buddha’s life, in the Lotus Sūtra (Saddharma-puṇḍarīka Sūtra) period, he sealed for the soundhearers and women (the lowest caste in the ancient society of India). It says that all living beings can become awakened ones at the time of the Lotus Sūtra (Saddharma-puṇḍarīka Sūtra), i.e., all young, old, men, women will promise to become Buddhas as the Buddhas do. Even if we are full of greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha), anger (kodha), have bad habits (palāsa, anuttaraṃ) whenever we meet good conditions to be awakened, we can cultivate to become the holy ones, like the lotus blooming from the dirty mud. Our stream of mind is similar—once we are mindful to escape the mud of greed, hatred, and delusion, we can become pure as the beautiful lotus.
It took over forty years to be revealed. The Buddha’s aim to be born in this world is to show the way for all beings to be Buddhas. Our capacities are quite lower, so he must use skillful means to teach slowly over the years. The Lotus Sūtra
(Saddharma-puṇḍarīka Sūtra) was the official period to declare that all kinds of species have enough capacity to become Buddhas. In the period of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, the Buddha taught many cultivation methods for us to become enlightened and experience the Buddha nature. Later, in the Nirvana (Nibbāna) period, he discussed his parinirvana (Nibbāna), how to prepare a funeral for a saint, and who would be his successor to take care of the Saṅgha and living beings.
WHY IS IT CALLED THE TEMPORARY PRACTICALITY?
If at first it is declared that all human beings can become Buddhas, we immediately think that is distant, profound, difficult, and ambiguous. In contrast, if it is declared that we can become workers, businessmen, caretakers, farmers, or merchants to earn money to support our families, to bring immediate benefits to families, we realize this easily and fast. Now, if we announce that some people are cultivating to become Buddhas, they will feel embarrassed and find it difficult. The Buddha was afraid of this, so he set out the temporary practicalities for us to follow step by step.
For example, the main purpose of the Buddha in our life is not to ask us to shave our hair, ordain, practice the precepts, or wear yellow robes in the temple—these are just temporary practicalities to help us avoid cravings (trishna) and bonds from family.
We shave our hair to let go off the world’s decoration. Then, we wear the simple brown robes, without the green or red, to cut off desires to decorate in life. So, the Buddha used the temporary, practical method to lead us to leave and renounce our parents and home. The real purpose of the Buddha is to wish us to become Buddhas.
The Buddha did not need to shave his hair, because he was neither lustful nor attached. We must use the temporary shaving, go forth at the temple to avoid pleasure, lust and attachment, which we often insistently cling to. This is a part of the enlightened way.
That is why we must learn from this sūtra that keeping precepts, practicing doctrines, restraining the six sense bases, performing charitable acts, having patience, virtue and so on, are the temporary practicalities assisting us to reach the Mahāyāna, where the Buddha will reveal the main truth. The purpose of the Buddha’s wish for us to be Buddhas means to withdraw the temporary practicalities or partial teachings to reveal the final ultimate truth.
In forty-nine years of preaching, the Buddha taught many sūtras until his passing away. He expounded the Lotus Sūtra, Śūraṅgama Sūtra, and other Mahāyāna sūtras to finally reveal the truth.
It is well illustrated through the sample of a body structure. For example, the legs are Theravāda, the stomach is Vaipulya, and Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra, the top of the head is the Lotus, Śūraṅgama, and Nirvana Sūtras. Each part of this body is needed to reveal the Dharma body.
WHAT BUDDHIST VEHICLE DOES THE ŚŪRAṄGAMA SŪTRA BELONG TO?
The purpose of transportation is called yāna (vehicle). Yāna is the vehicle. Where is it going? The Śūraṅgama Sūtra taught that the Bodhisattva-yāna is the big vehicle; however, it still emphasized the strict upholding of precepts, morality, and virtue of the voice-hearer vehicle. Śrāvakayāna, Theravāda vehicle, or small vehicle, describes both human (manussa) yāna and heavenly (deva) yāna in seven realms too.9 So, the Śūraṅgama Sūtra is really not only about the Bodhisattva, but also contains all five yānas as follows:
1. Human vehicle (manussa-yāna): teaches us how to keep five precepts, such as not killing, not stealing, not committing sexual misconduct, not lying, and not using intoxicants.
2. Heavenly vehicle (deva–yāna): teaches us how to keep the ten wholesomes of the three groups of body, speech, and mind: body does not kill, steal, and commit sexual misconduct; speech does not lie, use harsh words, slander, gossip; mind has no greed (vītarāgaṃ), no hatred (vītadosaṃ), no foolishness (vijjā). The practitioner also meditates on rebirth in the heavenly realm.
3. Voice-hearer vehicle (śrāvaka–yāna): teaches us to let go of the six sense organs, six external objects, and six consciousnesses because they are illusory.
4. Bodhisattva vehicle (bodhisattva–yāna): teaches us to practice Bodhisattva conduct for the sake of many and for attaining Buddhahood.
5. Buddha vehicle (Buddha–yāna): teaches us how to return to the Buddha nature.
The Śūraṅgama Sūtra contains all five vehicles but is special for the Bodhisattva vehicle. It emphasizes the pure Bodhisattva-yāna; however, it obligates us to practice seriously the morality of śrāvaka, because from the primary step to full awakening, we must keep three gradual progress stages:
1. Removing the supporting causes of birth and death (do not eat five smelly spices, do not drink fresh milk, do not wear fur clothes).
2. Scraping the root of the mundane mind (i.e., keeping precepts).
3. Going opposite to present karma (upstream of birth and death).
Moreover, we must keep the Śūraṅgama’s precepts seriously, which means not only without killing, stealing, lusting, lying, but also thoughts of breaking precepts are avoided.
How difficult it is! That is the reason until the final period of his life, when the Buddha was about to pass away, he agreed to deliver the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. So, it is called the Great Head Peak of Buddha.
The first time the Buddha expounded Śūraṅgama Sūtra no one seemed to be interested. Thus, the Śūraṅgama Sūtra guides the Bodhisattva-yāna and also requires restraint and following the śrāvakas’ precepts strictly. Bodhisattvas not only are vegetarian, but also must not eat smelly spice plants, milk, or not use whatever has animal (tiracchānayoni) fur or parts.
Whatever belongs to animals is not allowed. Thus, the precepts in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra are much more strict and subtle.
The Śūraṅgama Sūtra is the supreme, perfect doctrine about the permanent Buddha nature in the realms. Four faculties (five khandhas,10 six folds,11 twelve sense bases,12 eighteen realms13) and seven elements14
are all tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena). The Śrāvakasyāna or Theravāda has never had such a belief.
The Śūraṅgama Sūtra belongs to five vehicles, the unitary doctrine unique vehicle, along with being the separate doctrine unique vehicle.
The single vehicle leads toward Buddhahood. The unitary doctrine gives all human beings abilities to achieve Buddhahood, and so the unitary doctrine unique vehicle is formed. The separate doctrine unique vehicle is the certain distinct teaching for certain capacities—not for all people who also reach Buddhahood or our real nature. Those who learned this teaching will know the way to return to the unshakeable Buddha-nature. The purpose of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra is to take all beings, all abilities to Buddhahood. That is why it is called the unitary doctrine unique vehicle.
Since long ago, it has depended on the abilities of living beings to establish five groups or vehicles (yānas):
1. Mahāyāna: It is the highest yāna which belongs to Bodhisattva’s and Buddha’s capacities. The whole mind learns the specialized bodhisattva-yāna to be a bodhisattva. In the future, he will be promised to be a Buddha, i.e., the capacity will develop so that it will later lead a bodhisattva to be a Buddha.
2. Middle-yāna: Pratyeka (pacceka) contemplate the twelve chains of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda).15 If one chain is broken, the rest of the eleven chains will disappear. When being freed from the cycle of dependent origination (paṭiccasamuppāda), he will attain the Lonely Enlightened One. Pratyeka (pacceka) achieves only to pratyekabuddhahood/paccekabuddha (independent or silent or separate Buddha).
3. Theravāda-yāna: Monks or nuns who study the full precepts of bhikkhus/bhikkhunis16cultivate four foundations of mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna)17 to transform four false views, are freed from saṃsāra to become arhats.
4. Heaven-yāna: The normal person who wishes to be born in heaven, must cultivate ten wholesomes, meditate, and make offerings. Without meditation, they fail to be born in the heavenly realms (devas). The immaterial heaven realms (arūpāvacara-bhūmi),18 the material realms (rūpāvācarabhūmi,19 four jhānas), and the lowest heavens as desire realms (six desire heaven realms, kāmasugati-bhūmi)20 still must be attained by meditating. Dwelling in meditation, there is still lust (sarāgaṃ) to be reborn in the desire realms. If the lust is cut off, and there is still the material (rūpā), one will be reborn in the material realm. If one is getting rid of desire (kāmasugati-bhūmi) and the material (rūpāvācara-bhūmi) realms, it will lead one to the immaterial realm (arūpāvacarabhūmi).
5. Human-yāna: strictly keeping five precepts21 is the main cause to be born as human (manussa) beings who stand straight on their two legs (different from animals).
These are the temporary expedients. Now setting up the true intentions of the Buddha: if the Buddha-yāna, the Buddha is for everyone become a Buddha (called Buddhayāna or the unique-yāna) it is a vehicle to lead all to the Buddha’s realm.
Buddhahood is specific to a bodhisattva. Among people with other capacities, there is hardly any hope to become a Buddha. Even an arhat (arahant) does not hope to achieve this Buddhahood, much less female and mundane people. The fruition of the Buddha is the specific stage of a bodhisattva, so until this time, in the period of the Lotus Sūtra and the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, the Buddha revealed to living beings that all have the ability to become a Buddha. In the Lotus Sūtra, the
The Buddha predicted Sāriputta, Yasodharā, and even a female dragon to be Buddhas. In the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, we are surprised at the Buddha’s declaration. He pointed out that four departments and seven elements are as tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena). Animate and inanimate, sentient and insentient beings are all the Buddhas. This is the absolute truth that was announced by the Buddha.
The unique vehicle of Buddhahood is to erase the boundaries of the five yānas. It does not divide into five different things or paths, but that is the only path which has five steps. At the time of Mahāyāna, the Buddha declared that there is the only one path, not five.
Everyone takes a step. The first step is the human vehicle (manussa–yāna), the second step is heaven vehicle (deva–yāna), the third step is the Hīnayāna (Theravāda-yāna), the fourth is the Middle Vehicle (pratyeka–yāna), the fifth step is Mahāyāna (Bodhisattva–yāna and Buddha-yāna). Even if all steps are the Mahāyāna, one still needs to start with the first step, then the second and the third, and then up to become a Buddha. The long path we must overcome, so we still need to shave our hair, wear yellow robes, and step up from the low to the high way. We cannot climb the ladder by jumping over the step.
The unique vehicle means to erase three vehicles to establish the Buddha-yāna. The erasing does not mean to cut off the three or five vehicles. It only aims to break the attachment of discriminating the boundaries of the low or high five schools.
WHICH SECT DOES THE ŚŪRAṄGAMA SŪTRA BELONG TO?
The Śūraṅgama Sūtra is drawn from the Supreme Mystical Samādhi Mantra that is one of five great sūtras of the Tantra school.
In the practice field, it belongs to the Tantra, but in theory, it is the revealing exoteric doctrine which is taught in detail by the Buddha. In this sūtra, the Śūraṅgama-samādhi mantra part is the Tantra; the other scripture is the exoteric teachings.
HOW IS THE ŚŪRAṄGAMA SŪTRA DIFFERENT FROM THE LOTUS SŪTRA?
In the Lotus Sūtra, the Buddha encouraged stabilizing the body and mind of listeners by saying they will gain merit, blessings, or Buddhahood as they wish, so that they will be delighted to practice. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra preaches clearly the methods of cultivation and how to awaken the Buddha nature and get rid of saṃsāra. The Āgama belongs to the Hīnayāna school which teaches basic moral precepts to humans (manussa) and heavenly (devas) beings, and shows the way to enter samādhi to attain arhatship (arahant), the master of human and heavenly beings.
During forty-nine years of preaching, it took eight years to expound the Vaipulya Sūtra and twenty-two years to preach prajñā-pāramitā. It took a long time to develop the Mahāyāna and to transform it from the Hīnayāna (the first period of Buddhism) to the Mahāyāna (the developed period of
Buddhism). Vaipulya and Prajñā-pāramitā are called the turning point of transformation from this state to that state.
THE SUBJECTS OF THE ŚŪRAṄGAMA SŪTRA
The listeners in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra are almost bodhisattvas, such as Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva, Avalokiteśvara Bodhisatva, and Mahāsthāmaprāpta Bodhisattva, standing up to address their own perfect penetrating nature, but the Buddha called the sound-hearers (śrāvakas) like Venerable Ānanda, Venerable Purna, Venerable Subhūti, Venerable Upali, Venerable Maha Kāśyapa, and so forth to be his subjects in the assembly. These śrāvakas praised the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, which the Buddha had never taught before.
WHERE DOES THE ŚŪRAṄGAMA SŪTRA BELONG IN THE TRIPITAKA?
The Śūraṅgama Sūtra belongs to the Sūtra Pitaka which introduces meditation (śamatha, samapatti, and dhyāna are all samādhi). The Śūraṅgama Sūtra is also part of the Vinaya Pitaka (śrāvakas must keep the precepts as pure as ice). The Śūraṅgama Sūtra also belongs to the Treatise or Commentary Pitaka (the disciple must develop insight into the distinction between right and wrong, true or untrue).
THE ORIGIN OF THE ŚŪRAṄGAMA SŪTRA
This sūtra is considered to be a precious treasure in India. Zhezhi, the great master, paid homage to this sūtra for eighteen years, praying for it to be transmitted to China. We are indebted to the Patriarch Paramiti in the first year of Tang Dynasty, who crossed the border of China to India, wrote the Śūraṅgama Sūtra on thin silk, cut his thigh to hide it inside, and masked it as a wound to pass the tight controls at the border of central India.
We are indebted to General Fang Zhong for using chemicals to bleach the blood in the silk and for editing the sūtra translation.
We are grateful to Master Megha in ZhiZhe Pagoda who translated the Śūraṅgama Sūtra from Sanskrit into Chinese.
We acknowledge with special thanks Most Venerable Chân-giám (1932) who translated the sūtra into Vietnamese; Most Venerable Trí Siêu (1945), upasaka Tâm Minh (1961), Tuệ Quang (1962), Most Venerable Duy lực (1990) and many other venerables who spent their precious time to translate this sūtra from the Chinese language into Vietnamese so that today we can read and understand.
The full name of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra is the Buddha Great Head Peak of Śūraṅgama Sūtra, i.e., the highest great summit of the physical Buddha, which is similar to the last period of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. Chinese translates it as “the perfect samādhi or the original enlightened nature,” which is ever perfect and full without needing to cultivate to attain. Our own nature is ever mindful. The unsettled and unstabilized mind is our new habit. We must cut off these illusory habits to return to the perfect point, because its original luminous nature is the essence of all things.
The Śūraṅgama Sūtra teaches that once we are mindful of the hearing nature, we will experience perfect meditation pervading over the realms until achieving enlightenment. The highest fruition is the final attaining of Buddhahood. The meditation fulfills the nature, without cultivation.
Perfection is the fulfilling of the whole, wherever it is not deficit of all the stable mindfulness or whenever there is no absence of tranquility. Its nature is complete because it is the substance of all phenomena called absolute perfection. From the high sky to the low earth, from shallow to deep, from short to long, from wide to narrow—all are the wonderful nature. The Śūraṅgama Sutra explains that four departments, seven elements are as tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena), because the tathãgatagarbha is the earth, water, wind, and fire—all are the tathãgatagarbha. So, finally there is only tathãgatagarbha.
The perfect concentration (samādhi) at the eye is the seeing, at the ear is the hearing, at the nose is the smelling, at the mouth is the tasting, at the body is the touching, at the brain is the knowing. We all, from day to night, see everything, the eye-consciousness arises and falls continuously. The eye is sometimes shortsighted, longsighted, strong, weak, or fails in the end. However, the seeing nature, from young to old, from this to the next life, is still the stable perfect samādhi in us.
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER I
Chapter 1 introduces an overview of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra which belongs to Mahāyāna Buddhism, the developed period of Buddhism. It particularly serves for Bodhisattva-yāna, but in fact, also for five vehicles: keeping five precepts (the humanyāna), ten precepts (the heaven-yāna), keeping precepts of mind and form (śrāvaka-yāna), bodhisattvas cultivate to attain fifty-four fruits to benefit beings (the bodhisattva-yāna) and following ten essence views (perceiving reality) to return to the tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena, the Buddhayāna).
The Śūraṅgama Sūtra comes from the Summit
Contemplation Treatise (Quán Đỉnh Chương Cú), one of five great sūtras of the tantric sect. However, in the reasoned field, it is the exoteric doctrine because the Buddha explained it in detail. In the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, the mantra is tantric while the rest is the sūtra or exoteric doctrine.
The period of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra is brief from the Buddha Head Great Peak. Chinese translated it as the perfect samādhi nature which is our inherent original essence.
1. Which period among the five periods does the Śūraṅgama Sūtra belong to according to the verses of the Tiantai patriarch (China)?
2. Which yāna and sect does the Śūraṅgama Sūtra belong to?
3. Please summarize the difference between the Śūraṅgama and the Lotus Sūtras.
4. Please describe the source of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.
5. What is the meaning of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra?
 Tripitaka (Tipiṭaka), Three stores of Buddhism: Sutta, Vinaya, and Abhidhamma.
 Nine Vaipulya Sūtras: Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Sūtra, Vaipulya, Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, Prajñāpāramitā, Vajrayāna, Amitābha Sūtra, Ārya-saṃdhi-nirmocana Sūtra, Śūraṃgama-samādhi-sūtra.
 The set of Five Canons: Dìgha Nikàya, Majhima Nikàya, Saṃyutta Nikàya, Aṅguttara Nikàya, Khuddaka Nikàya.
 Six sense organs: eye-organ, ear-organ, nose-organ, tongue-organ, body-organ, and mental-organ.
 Six objects : sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and objects of mind.
 Six consciousnesses: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, noseconsciousness, tongue-consciousness, skin-consciousness, mentalconsciousness.
 Nine Vaipulya Sūtras: Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Sūtra, Vaipulya, Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, Prajñāpāramitā, Vajrayāna, Amitābha Sūtra, Ārya-saṃdhi-nirmocana Sūtra, Śūraṃgama-samādhi Sūtra, Śūraṃgamasamādhi Sūtra.
 Seven realms: heaven (deva), asura (asurakāya), immortal (humanhalf deva-half), human (manussa), hell (niraya), ghosts (pittivisaya), and animals (tiracchānayoni).
 Five aggregates (pañca skandha): matter (rupa), feeling (vedanā), ideation (sanjna), forces or drives (samskara) and consciousness (vijnana).
 Six sense organs: eye-organ, ear-organ, nose-organ, tongue-organ, body-organ, and mental-organ.
 Twelve sense bases: Six sense organs (eye-organ, ear-organ, noseorgan, tongue-organ, body-organ, and mental-organ) and six objects (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and objects of mind).
 Eighteen realms: Six sense organs (eye-organ, ear-organ, noseorgan, tongue-organ, body-organ, and mental-organ), six objects (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and objects of mind) and six consciousnesses (eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongueconsciousness, skin-consciousness, mental-consciousness).
 Seven elements: earth, water, fire, wind, space, perception, and consciousness.
15 Dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda)
- Avijja (avidya) ignorance, lack of wisdom, which is the root of all
evils. Obscuration as to self of persons and self of phenomena. ii. Sankhara (Samskara) Karma formations, compositional action,
wholesome or unwholesome thoughts, speech and bodily deeds.
iii. Vinnana (vijnana) Conciousness, normally six consciousnesses but is
taken as eight in the Yogacara School. iv. Nama-rupa, name and form, corporeality and mentality, mental and
physical existence four mental aggregates and one physical body.
- Ayatana (shadayatana) Six bases, six sense organs/spheres, eye, ear,
nose, tongue, touch, and mental faculty.
- Phassa (sparsha) Sense impression, contact, a mental factor and period in which the objects, sense power/organ and conciousness come together, causing one to distinguish an object as pleasurable, painful, or neutral.
eleven chains will disappear. When being freed from the cycle of dependent origination (paṭiccasamuppāda), he will attain the Lonely Enlightened One. Pratyeka (pacceka) achieves only to pratyekabuddhahood/paccekabuddha (independent or silent or separate Buddha).