(Fifth Edition)
Dr. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương





From his seat, Ānanda, who opened his robe on the right shoulder, prostrated and addressed the Buddha: “I am the Tathāgata’s youngest cousin-brother, whom the Buddha loved very much. Even after I became a monk, I still relied on our close family relationship. As everyone knows, I am a quick learner, but I have not attained the outflows (āsravas). I failed at resisting Mangati’s seductive mantra because I did not know the way to the enlightened reality. Tathāgata, out of compassion, please instruct us in the śamatha (samādhi) to stop the transmigration karma from this to other lives.”

 At that time, the Buddha said to Ānanda: “From beginningless time onward, all living beings, who have been many upside-down ways, 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 śrāvakas, pratyekabuddha, heretics, devas, maras, or relatives of ghosts. Because they have not yet recognized the two fundamental roots and cultivated wrongly and confusedly as one who cooks sand in the hope of creating rice, they may pass through countless aeons as molecules of dust, but they will obtain nothing of what they want.”

“What are the two fundamental roots? Ānanda, first of all, the root of beginningless birth and death is the illusory consciousness that you and all living beings now make use of and consider as your self nature.

 “Second, the purified origin of the beginningless bodhi Nirvana that is 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.”1

This part is the view of the śamatha way, that is, to discriminate between two fundamental roots: permanence and movement. The view is the seeing, the way is the path. Seeing the cultivating path means to transform from falseness to rightness.

Six sense faculties are conditioned or matchmade with six external objects, that is, his eye sees the Buddha’s wonderful characteristics and Mangati’s seductive figure. The movable mind root of Ānanda is the admired enemy (to Buddha’s figure) and the craving enemy (to Mangati’s beauty) that forced Ānanda to move about in the rebirth cycle. We follow our movable mind at the conditioned external things, which means we follow the mind of suffering, joyfulness, loving, and aversion that gather to be karma which leads us to rebirth. This is the content in the beginning section of Rebirth

Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.  The Buddha praised Ānanda for what he correctly said, but that was only the superficial reason. It was the superficial reason because we consider our likes or dislikes to be our real mind. There is another fundamental root or deeper reason that Ānanda and all of us are unaware. The deeper reason is the second root, since beginningless time all living beings have been born and have died continually because they do not know the permanent purified reality of the bodhi Nirvana. Because living beings have disregarded the original awakening, though they use it in many lives until this life, they regretably are still unaware of it.

Illusion is the false thought that either suddenly arises or suddenly falls, is either suddenly happy or suddenly angry, either suddenly loving or suddenly hating as arising and falling bubbles. By living with these false thoughts, we are controlled by greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha), hatred (byāpāda, dosa), and delusion (samohaṃ) all our days. We lose our own rightness, are subjected to delusion, while our real mind nature is permanent. So, we are suffering regrettably and subjected to birth and death in the transmigrational series.

The Buddha descends into the saha world to instruct us to return to the root of the Buddha’s nature and avoid control of false thoughts. Every time the six sense faculties contact with six worldly objects, whenever the organs contact the objects, the six doors will open to receive unstable worldly objects. At that time, we must restrain and protect the six faculties, because they are the main roots that control and turn us.

The picture of the rebirth cycle and the mind is well demonstrated as a monkey swinging from branch to branch.2 It is busily jumping and passing from this tree to other trees ceaselessly. Likewise, from morning to evening, we attach to this or that form, from one sound to another sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought too. We solve one problem and then we continue to grasp others, nonstop. The conditional mind has dozens, hundreds of thoughts that it grasps and relies on. Taking refuge in or relying on and clinging to something outside becomes our habit and forms the karmic wheel.

We are turned upside-down by illusory thoughts that are hidden in our nerves.

We are turned upside-down by illusory thoughts that are hidden in the eye’s nerves.

We are turned upside-down, uneasy, crying-laughing by the illusory nerves in our fleshy body. This is th discriminating reflection of śamatha.

Do we ever reflect back on our own life? There is nothing except the conditional mind chasing after external things. We should use insight as a flashlight to mirror it, and then we will experience and be enlightened in the process.

Where do good and evil come from? They exist in the conditional mind chasing after external things. It causes hell (niraya), ghost (pittivisaya) and human (manussa) realms. Wherever the root exists in rebirth, it will turn out to be dogs, cats, birds (tiracchānayoni), humans, hells (niraya), and heaven (devas), which are sure not to be liberated.

Do we recognize the conditioned mind chasing after the external things as the illusion? When we are aware it is delusion (samohaṃ), we start to have insight and can be able to control our thoughts. The delusion is the hot sand—we cannot cook rice with sand. Wishing it to be rice or looking forward to becoming a Buddha, or returning to the great, perfect Śūraṅgama-samādhi, we must attain essence mind (the eighth consciousness, the alaiya nature) to experience the truth. Getting the sand is taking the distinct consciousness or the conditional mind chasing after impermanent, external things of earth, water, wind, fire to be permanent or real. How can it be! Using the illusory sand to cook, even after spending thousands of years cooking, it is still only hot sand. The sūtra confirmed clearly that “Due to unawareness of the two fundamental roots, we are mistaken and confused in our cultivation. For example, a person cooks sand in the hope of creating rice. He may pass through numberless eons as motes of dust, but in the end, he will not obtain what he wants.”3

The white rice is the pure, primitive substance of bodhi Nirvana (Nibbāna). The pure nature of living beings is called tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena). It has two meanings: Firstly, it is the spiritual core and secondly, it still remains to tie the individual and community karmas. The eyes, hands or whole body are destroyed at death and then placed in the funeral home or crematory, but its fundamental nature or tathãgatagarbha does not fade away or remain tied to the body, because it is still permanent independently. This is the nice rice cause. After being cooked, it becomes the delicious rice.


The Buddha asked, “Ānanda, since now you want to know the śamatha way to get out of the birth and death cycle, I ask you more questions.” The Tathāgata raised his golden hand, bent his five fingers, and asked Ānanda, “Do you see?”

Ānanda replied, “I see.”

The Buddha asked, “What do you see?”

Ānanda replied, “I see the Tathāgata raising your hand and bending your fingers into a bright fist which shines on my mind and eyes.” 

The Buddha continued, “What do you use to see?” 

 Ānanda replied firmly, “The Saṅgha and I all use our eyes to see.” 

The Buddha said to Ānanda, “You said that the Tathāgata bends his fingers into a bright fist to shine on your mind and eyes. Your eyes can see, but what is the mind that is shined on by my fist?”

Ānanda replied, “The Tathāgata questions where the mind’s location is? I use my thought to find what knowing and thinking is my mind.” 


The Buddha refused, “Ānanda, that is not your mind.” Startled, Ānanda left his seat, stood, put his palms together, and presented to the Buddha, “What will it be if it’s not my mind?”

 The Buddha replied, “It is your perception of illusory, external objects that covers your true reality. Since beginningless time up to this life, you have regarded this enemy as your child, so that you lose your permanent essence to be subjected by the rebirth cycle.”

 Ānanda expressed his thoughts, “World-Honored One, as the Buddha’s cousin-brother, I so admired the Buddha that I left the kingdom to be a renunciate. Thanks to my mind, I not only have offered to numerous Tathāgatas, but also served all Buddhas and good Dharma friends and have done hard work in countless lives (kalpas) as the molecules of sand in the Ganga River. Even if I have defamed Dharma or withdrew from my good Buddhist base, it was done by my mind. As the Buddha said, if it is not my mind, then I am not of a mind, so I become the same as insentient soil or a tree. Without this knowing nature, I have nothing. Why does the Tathāgata declare that this is not my mind? All members in the assembly and I are frightened and doubtful. Out of compassion, WorldHonored One, please guide those who are not yet enlightened.”4

Ānanda and the great assembly were frightened as the Tathāgata declared that all offerings or serving the wise advisors or Dharma friends, which are done from the conditional mind, was unreal.

Venerable Ānanda manifested correctly our psychology. For the sake of many, he represented all of us to ask many questions and let the Buddha answer the questions to point out clearly our ignorance (avijjā) and misconceptions. For a long time, we have perceived our existing minds, such as my heart or mind that I love, I bother, I meditate, I send an email, I phone, I drive, I lecture, I go to university, I compose the poems, I write books, I build the temple, and so forth. However, the Buddha refuted it with the statement that it is not mine, so what am I? We are often accustomed to lean on or cling to this or that thing to experience ourselves in existence.

At that time, the World-Honored One gave his insight instructions to Ānanda and the great assembly in order that they could enter the state of anutpattika-dharmakshanti (uncreated-Dharma patience). From the lion seat, the Buddha, who gently touched Ānanda’s head, told him,

“The Tathāgata often expounded that all Dharmas are arisen by the mind. All causes and effects, the worlds as much as molecules of dust, come into existence by the mind.

“Ānanda, we reflect that all phenomena in the world, such as grass, leaves, threads, knots, and so on, have their fundamental roots. Even space has its name and shapes, even more so the bright, wonderful, pure mind that is the reality of all phenomena?

 “Ānanda, if you insisted that the knowing, as well as the distinguishing, is your mind, then it must own its selfnature after being apart from all external objects (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch). You are listening and discriminating my Dharma, thanks to the voice. Even if you can close all of your seeing, hearing, and knowing to maintain an introverted serenity, neither knowing nor thinking, then it is the stillness shadows of your discrimination to worldly Dharmas (in your brain). I do not require that you accept it as the mind, except that you must reflect carefully if it has its own discrimination or knowing, as it is far apart from the objects. That is your true mind.

 “If it is without the external objects, the discrimination will disappear, and then it is discrimination of the external objects’ shadows. 

“The external objects are not persistent and often arise and fall. If the mind clings to the objects, it will become nothing, just like fur on a tortoise or horns on a rabbit. So, your Dharma-kaya (body) will end along with it and who will attain anutpattika-dharmakshanti (uncreated-Dharma patience)?”5

Consciousness is the false thoughts following the external conditions, which we wrongly consider as our mind. So when the shadows of the six objects show up, we catch; then another shows up, we give up this shadow to grasp another. The shadow is destroyed, another object appears. We are movable and attach to the rising-falling objects without direction.

Even if we cover all six faculties, closing our eyes and ears; “Even if you can close all of seeing, hearing, and knowing to maintain an introverted serenity, neither knowing nor thinking, then in the stillness there are shadows of your discrimination of worldly Dharmas (in your brain).” It means we will fall into the situation of either brightness or darkness (of the eye), either motion or stillness (of the ears), either a combination or separation (of the nose), either bland or taste (of the tongue), either touch or untouching (of the body), either arising or falling (of consciousness). If we detach the six active faces of six worldly objects, such as if we detach from the brightness (of the eye), motion (of the ears), combination (of the nose), bland (of the tongue), touch (of the body), arising (of consciousness), we will cling to the other side of six objects, such as darkness (of the eye), stillness (of the ears), separation (of the nose), taste (of the tongue), lack of touch (of the body), falling (of consciousness). All these faces are conditional and illusory.

If we covered six active faces of six faculties, then in the tranquil state of the six stillnesses, the faces of six faculties appear. However, over all, it is also the mental consciousness that distinguishes the external scene, i.e., the false thinking or imagining of the illusory object shadows our true mind.

The habit of giving up this shadow to grasp another is still false thinking, the external scene, and it is not the true mind. We must be aware and live surely with the essence of bodhi on the seeing, listening, and knowing. That is the purpose of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.

The meditation states, including first jhāna, second jhāna, third jhāna, and fourth jhāna are leading us to birth in the material heavenly realm (rūpāvācara-bhūmi). The four meditative states of nothingness are leading us to birth in the immaterial heavenly realms (arūpāvācara-bhūmi), where existent beings can live up to hundreds of thousands of years, and are subject to rebirth. This is a form of the feed consciousness or spiritual food.6 The spiritual food is the eighth consciousness and preserves the body without fading away.

Four saints and six worldly realms7 have all the spiritual food, but there is a different delusion (from enlightenment). The awakened ones whose consciousness are perfectly enlightened purity are called tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena), because they contain and preserve all the outflows merit, such as neither existing nor nonexisting and neither dwelling nor nondwelling. This is the eating way to earn merit beyond the comprehensive level of human knowledge.

“The Buddha taught the assembly: Why do you who consider motion to be the body, taken motion to be the external environment since beginning to end, who continuously have this thought after that thought, arising and falling, upside-down crazy. You lose your true nature, take the motion as yourselves and accept the cycle of six realms.”8

We wrongly recognize six faculties, six objects, and six consciousnesses as ourselves. We who take illusory thought as the mind hold the misleading view as to the external environment, and cling to earth, water, wind, and fire as our bodies. Is it forever that we establish our stable life on this movement? How are we peaceful as we live and focus on impermanent things? We have considered motion to be the body and taken motion to be the external environment.

How can we enjoy the state of samādhi and permanence? We wrongly accept the wheel of saṃsāra and regrettably lose our true nature.


In this section, the Buddha explains ten natures, such as motionless seeing, uncreated seeing, unextinguished seeing, true seeing, flexible with conditions but unchanging seeing, nondual seeing, transcendental seeing, and so on. The seeing nature is the core of seeing, hearing, and knowing; it is not the discrimination of the eye-consciousness or the earconsciousness.

If we now rely on true permanence, we will enlighten the real substance to develop the application that is called “entering the Buddha’s knowledge.” It reveals the wonderful ability of thousand-eyes, thousand-hands. We must recognize and appreciate this significance, and then we will experience the Śūraṅgama Sūtra to be greatly valuable. Now, if we are following the wrong functions of right-wrong, good-bad, that will force us to rotate on the wheel. We are living with a false body, mind, and landscape, of which we are so familiar that we are aware of six consciousnesses immediately, while we do not care about the seeing nature. The seeing natures of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra are too subtle to comprehend and we fail to reach understanding.

The Buddha nature or essential substance which still exists with or without the worldly objects deals with the objects without ignorance. In contrast, conditional thought, which exists as it faces the objects, does not exist when it faces nothing. Honestly, we are clinging only to the shadows of phenomena (in our brain) .

The flesh body of the six organs, like the eye, nose, ears, body, and the brain are newly established by eating, drinking, breathing, being in the sunlight, and so on. While the seeing, hearing, and knowing natures have existed for a long time, they are permanently unshakeable, pervading all Dharma realms, and existing forever, before the birth of this body and after the fading away of this body. The seeing is always luminous, abiding everywhere throughout ten directions. For example, if one is conditioned to reborn as human or animal in Vietnam or the USA, it will have the seeing and the seeing nature in Vietnam or USA. The Buddha and Tathāgatas everywhere throughout ten directions are freed from the retribution of karmic eyes, so they can see everywhere without hindrances. Following their great vow to convert beings, their seeing natures seem to gather either in this place or that place according to their wishes for the sake of many.


In this book, we only mention the representative first of ten seeing cores as the permanent seeing nature. Ānanda and the assembly were comprehensive about the significance of permanent seeing being neither production nor extinction, through the conversation between the Buddha and King Prasenajit:

“After hearing the Buddha’s teachings, Ānanda and the assembly remembered that since beginningless time, they who had forgotten their original true mind took the illusory shadows of worldly objects as their minds. Today they enlightened their true essence as a lost infant who meets its mother after a long time. They joined their hands together to pay homage to the Buddha, the tathāgata who guided them to recognize the truth and falseness of their body and mind, and created the arising-falling and without-arising-falling reality.

Then King Prasenajit stood up and said that “In the past, when I had not yet heard the teachings of the Buddha, I met Katyayāna and Vairatiputra, who declared that after death the body is annihilated and that is Nirvana. Now, I meet the Buddha, but I still have doubts about it. He asked the Buddha to please show ways to realize the transcendent mind without arising-falling. At present in the assembly, members have the inflows, are thirsty to hear the teaching to awaken.”

The Buddha asked King Prasenajit, “Now I question you, is your body solid as vajra or changeable and subject to fading away?” 

King Prasenajit replied, “World-Honored One, my body is changing and will disappear in the end.”

The Buddha asked, “Great king, you have not yet died. How do you know you will vanish?”

King Prasenajit replied, “World-Honored One, my changeable, impermanent body has not faded away, but I reflect every second that it is decaying gradually as a fire turns to ash, then vanishes. As a result of the decaying state, it convinces me that this body will finally decline.”

The Buddha continued, “Yes, it will. Great king, now you are old and weak. How does your face now compare with the one when you were young?”

King Prasenajit replied, “World-Honored One, my skin was fresh and shining when I was young. As an adult, I became healthy with fullness of blood and breath. But day by day, I am getting older and older. My shape becomes withered; my mind is confused; my hair becomes white; my face turns to folds. It seems that I do not have much time left to live. How can compare my face now with the face when I was young?”

The Buddha continued, “Great king, your appearance does not decay at once.” 

The king explained, “World-Honored One, yes, the change is an invisible, continuous transformation in the course of time and seasons. In fact, I did not recognize it immediately. What does it look like? At age twenty, I was still young, but my face looked older than when I was ten. My appearance as a thirty-year-old looked older than in my twenties. Now at sixty-two, looking back on my fifties my appearance looks older.

 “World-Honored One, I reflected on the invisible transfiguration of the body in each ten-year period. If I reflect on it in more detail, such as not only a decade but also every year, my body is subjected to the changes—not only every year but also every month; not only every month but also every day; not only every day but also every second, my appearance is changing. 

“Contemplating closely, I experience that moment by moment, thought by thought; they never stop decaying. So, I know my body goes on changing until it vanishes in the end.”

The Buddha told the king, “By observing the nonstop transfiguration, you experience the process of your extinguishment. However, do you know that during the time of extinguishing there is something in your body which never extinguishes?”

King Prasenajit joined his palms together and replied in surprise, “Honestly, I do not know.” The Buddha continued, “I now show you the essence of neither production nor extinguishment. Great king, how old were you when you first saw the Ganges River?”

The king replied, “When I was three years old, my mother took me on a pilgrimage to the Jiva Goddess. When we passed a river, I knew it was the Ganges River.”

The Buddha continued, “Great king, you confirmed that in your twenties you looked older than when you were ten. You have become older and it has changed and day by day, month by month, year by year until you were in your sixties. Now I ask you, at age three, when you first saw the Ganges River, what was different from when you saw it at age thirteen?”

 The king replied, “When I was a three year old, and now at sixty-two, my seeing of the Ganges River is not different.”

The Buddha continued, “You reflected that your hair became white and your face became wrinkled. Your face definitely has more folds than when you were in your youth. However, what does the seeing look like? You looked at the Ganges at a young age and now when you are aged, so is your seeing different from when you were young ?”

The king replied, “No, World-Honored One.”

The Buddha declared, “Great king, your face is wrinkled, but your seeing is not wrinkled. What wrinkles is subject to change. What does not wrinkle does not change. What changes will end. What does not change is neither production nor extinguishment. How can it be subjected to your birth and death cycle? Furthermore, why do you bring up the heretic theory of Maskari Goshaliputra that after the death of this body, it is extinguished completely?”

Hearing such words from the Buddha, King Prasenajit realized for sure that after the life of this body ends, there will be another rebirth. He and the great assembly were so excited that they danced to celebrate what they had never heard before.”9

The Buddha asked King Prasenajit whether he knew what is neither production nor extinction in his body. The king answered that he did not know, because he thought that death is the end, he did not mind what will happen in the future. Many people also think that death is the end, so they just enjoy life, fame, and sexual intercourse regardless of morality, conscience, and law. Because of this wrong view (micchāditthi) much evil happens in the world.

The Buddha clearly explained it with good illustrations of a three-year-old and a sixty-two-year-old and their seeing of the Ganges that does not differ, and the true nature of transcending production and extinction. This body, which is made of earth, water, wind, and fire will fade away, while the seeing nature is permanent as ever. The king and the assembly were delighted because death is not the complete end and they could continue in the next birth.

We should learn clearly the Śūraṅgama Sūtra to realize its significance in regard to our bodies and to live with the unshakable permanent seeing essence, the great samādhi of Śūraṅgama.

We often have the habit of clinging to the body that will decay and become extinct. The Buddha instructed that everyone possesses an eternal inward substance—somewhere or something of permanence on which we can take refuge. Thus, the king and the assembly were as excited as children getting gifts.


From his seat, Ānanda joined his hands together, knelt down, and said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, if the nature of seeing and hearing is neither arising nor falling, why did the World-Honored One blame us as persons who lost the true reality and performed an upside-down act? Out of great compassion, World-Honored One, please wash our worldly defilements (kleśa) away.” 

After that, from his shinning golden arm, a finger pointed down, and the Thus-Come One asked Ānanda, “You see my mudra finger. Is it pointing in the correct or reverse direction?” 

Ānanda replied, “Living beings in the world thought that it is pointing in the reverse direction. I personally do not know what the correct or reverse direction is.”

The Buddha asked, “If people in the world take it as the reverse, what do they think is the correct direction?” 

Ānanda said, “The Thus-Come One raises the arm with the tula-cotton fingers pointing up to sky which is the correct direction.”

Raising his hand, the Buddha explained, “Due to the different directions of hands, worldly people discriminate the upright and the reverse. Likewise, the Thus-Come One’s pure Dharma body is called universal wisdom while your body is upside down. Let’s reflect on the reason it is upside down.”

Ānanda and the entire great assembly were stunned. They gazed unblinking at the Buddha, because they were confused about their bodies and minds being upside down. Out of great compassion, the Buddha uttered with his ocean-tide voice to guide Ānanda and the entire great assembly: “All good men, I often said that form, mind, conditions, and Dharmas belong to the mind, and the conditioned Dharmas all came from the mind only. Your bodies and your (illusory consciousness) minds are as something that appears in the mind. Why do you ignore the valuable original mind to wrongly accept dullness in the enlightened essence? Due to ignorance, the sky is formed. Clinging to dim ignorance, the sky becomes the form. Mixing with false thoughts, we perceive the form as a body. Gathering the movable conditions, chasing after the external objects, we grasp the chaotic darkness as our mind.

“Once we have the misconception of chaotic darkness as our mind, then we decide wrongly that the mind dwells in the physical body. We do not realize that the physical body is as the mountains, rivers, space, and earth, all of which are things that appear in the bright, true mind. We ignore hundreds of thousands of clear seas in order to accept a single bubble, which we consider as the great oceans. You are the many-layered foolish ones who do not differ from my downward hand. The Thus-Come One confirmed that you are most pitiful.10

The Buddha held his hand up to ask which direction is right, correct and straight, and which direction is wrong, evil, and upside-down. Normally, we think the raised-up hand is correct and the opposite is upside-down. In fact, the hand is neither right nor wrong; neither is correct or is upside down. Raising the hand up is the heavenly realm; keeping the hand in the horizontal position is the human realm; stretching it downward is the hell direction. These are the functions of arms. For a long time, we have lived with the wrong functions of our real mind and regret having followed the opposite way.

Ānanda and the entire great assembly were dazed, and they stared unblinking at the Buddha. They did not know that their bodies and minds were upside down.

“Ānanda and the entire great assembly were so stunned that they gazed unblinking at the Buddha because they were confused about their bodies and minds being being upside down.”  

The opposite means that we misconceive falseness as the truth.  Here the Buddha pointed out the environment around us such as people, birds, city, state, vehicles, mountains, etc. which are only the shadow of our human karma  Once we generally called it karma that is unreal.

Waves hit the shore and make bubbles. Bubbles are multicolored and multiformed. When waves fade away, the bubbles dissolve in an instant. The waves suddenly exist and then suddenly don’t exist, but the sea remains as it ever is. Our mind is as the vast ocean, but we do not realize that in order to foolishly accept a suddenly existing, suddenly disappearing bubble as ourselves, so we are deadlocked in it. Our minds are stuck, fettered, and kept closely in this body so that we are unaware of anything. We become dull, without insight, and covered by five impurities.

We have three upside-down things:

1. We think that the mind is inside the body (Ānanda tried seven times to find the mind and failed to see its location).

2. We are not aware that the body is in the world, even as the mountains and rivers exist. The conditioned phenomena are as things that appear in our mind, so the mind is uppermost.

3. We consider the body as everything, so we are ignorant and have misconceptions. It is a mistake to think that the illusory consciousness which is stuck, fettered, and kept closely in this body is ourselves, so it is called the opposite. The impermanent body is seen as upside down, which we dully recognize as our real substance. The Buddha essence, the true mind, is the right side, but we misunderstand and consider it to be the opposite. Now we, who must experience the real substance through ten features11 of seeing essential views, live firmly with this truth.


The Buddha told Ānanda, “All phenomena in the world, such as big, small, inside, outside, and so on are external objects. You should avoid declaring the seeing, which stretches and shrinks. For example, it seems a square space is seen in a square box. I ask you: Is the square space seen in the square box a fixed or unfixed square shape?”

“If it is a fixed, square shape, as in a square box, the space will not be round. If it does not have a fixed shape, then when it is in the square box, it should not be a squareshaped space. You say you do not understand where the meaning is. The significance is thus: how can you doubt its source?”

“Ānanda, if now you hope to recognize the substance of neither square nor round, you only need to throw the boxes away because the substance of space has no shape. Therefore, you should avoid saying that to destroy the square shape of the space.”

“Since beginningless time until now, all living beings have wrongly considered themselves as things, forgot their original mind, and been moved by things. Thus, in things, they see many varieties of big and small. If you can turn things around, you can become the same as the Thus-Come One and your body and mind will be luminous and perfect. At an unshakened Buddhist place, a single hair can contain the countries of ten directions.”12

We are subject to human karma. We think that we must have the thought and shape of a human. In the karma of a dog (tiracchānayoni), human (manussa), or ghost (pittivisaya), we imagine that a dog, a human, or a ghost must have the thought and shape of a dog, human, or ghost. Actually, people, dogs, ghosts, or any species are similar as the square, round, long, short boxes. When it leaves the square, round, long, or short box, the space is still nothingness. In a round or square container, we seem to see the round or square space, but in fact, its nature is neither square nor round, nor human, animal, hungry ghosts, and so on. We are like emptiness, which is not a fixed shape, but according to conditions, the containers have multiforms and multicolors. We wrongly think we are in that shape or color. The appearance is revealed following the changeable condition, but the unchanging nature is as the space without any fixed shape. The true substance has no shape. The various shapes of the square or round containers are the retribution of karma which is revealed from the shadow of each species’ nerves.

For example, an electrical shop sells many kind of bulbs, such as neon lights, circle lights, long lamps, automatic lights, blue, red, white, yellow light, and so on. Due to the various shapes, sizes, structures, characteristics, and colors, that is where the electric functions shine out following its conditions of shapes, colors, and structure of the bulb. If a bulb is broken, it can be replaced, but an electric function does not follow the broken bulb (i.e., death is not the end; it will continue in another form). The seeing function of King Prasenajit when he was a three-year-old or a sixty-two-year-old did not differ. It is permanent with neither production nor extinction. The bulb can be various shapes or colors—square, round, long, short, red, or green, but honestly, the electricity is not yellow, blue, short, or any fixed form or color. Likewise, there is no fixed space of round or square. There are not any fixed substances in the true reality. The Buddha gave us profound and exact examples.

From these examples, let us think and imagine realizing how great we are. Because we are the fundamental essence of all Dharmas, sky, star, earth, ocean, mountain, river, grass, leaves, rope, knot, and so on, which are as phenomena that appear in our mind. Do we realize our real essence?

We are the space, sea, or electricity in which a variety of things appear. They are not our reality. Avoid grasping a little block, fetter, and knot in the body, the box, or this bulb as ourselves again, so we will not be admonished by the Buddha that we are upside-down crazy: “We behave as to ignore hundreds of thousands of clear seas in order to accept a single bubble which we consider as all water or great oceans.”13 If we are enlightened, we will be as the tip of a single hair that can completely contain all countries in the ten directions and do countless virtuous deeds.

In the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, the Buddha used multi-images with multi-sounds for excellent illustrations, such as letting go of hundreds of thousands of bubbles in the great ocean (the Buddha nature) in order to accept the illusory small bubble as our body. We can compare this to the guest (moving)-owner (staying) relationship in a motel, the tiny dust particles flying (our moving body) within the still sky (the Buddha nature). The subject of the seeing ability is not the nature-self. The space is still space without shape and everything—the flying mosquitoes buzzing around the room, the cooking of sand and wishing it to be rice, and so on, are sharp and exact examples that describe our body, mind, and environment.


“Ānanda, you have not realized that all the illusory objects which come from the mind also go away from the mind. The illusory falseness is called the form, but its essence is the bright, wonderful reality. Likewise, five skandhas, six entrances, twelve places, and eighteen realms exist as a result of the false combination of dependent-origination

(paṭiccasamuppāda). They disappear by the false separation of dependent origination.

You do not know that the nature of arising, falling, coming, and going is the luminous, unshaken, permanent absolute of tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena). In this reality, you hunt for the coming, going, ignorance, enlightenment, birth, and death; it must be impossible.” 14

Theravāda Buddhism teaches us about the origins or fundamentals to be freed from defilements and the rebirth cycle. For example, we must reflect on the illusions of the eighteen realms (six sense faculties, six sense objects, and six consciousnesses) i.e., letting go of the origination of falseness in order to be awakened. Going ahead to Mahāyāna means the developed period of Buddhism. The Buddha taught that the form of the eighteen realms is illusory while the inward nature is real. The true reality is neither shape nor form, but is transcendental vision, dual vision, true vision, unborn vision, permanent vision, and so on. When the qualities or levels of living beings became full grown, the Buddha prophesied and sealed for everyone, including women and animals, that they could be Buddhas. Not only humans or other creatures, but also insentient beings—all have the ability to be Buddhas.

The Buddha nature not only reveals the functions at the six sense faculties, but is also present in four departments (five skandhas, six entrances, twelve bases, and eighteen realms), seven elements, and in all phenomena, from tiny to large— every branch, every flower, table, chair, and so on. Where earth, water, wind, and fire are presented, the tathãgatagarbha (source of all phenomena) is located.

The Buddha kindly guided us, thoroughly and gradually, in order that we can enlighten all to be tathãgatagarbha, that is, the Buddha in the warehouse. We just remove the stock, the boxes, and return to the space or nothingness. Removing the bulb is to return to the electricity source, detaching from the bubbles is to return to the immense tathãgatagarbha ocean.

Generally, four departments and seven elements are referring to our body and mind. It means our life is to return to tathãgatagarbha. Out of great kindness, the World-Honored One instructed and reinstructed us in detail. He mentioned our spiritual reality up to forty-eight times in the four departments and seven elements.

–The Buddha taught in the five skandhas that our body and mind are tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena).

–In twelve places, he repeated the teaching on tathãgatagarbha, i.e., six sense faculties and six objects that are also our body and mind.

–In eighteen realms, the six faculties, six objects, and six consciousnesses are also our body and mind.

–The Buddha felt that it was not enough, thus in seven elements, he repeated that our body and mind are tathãgatagarbha in order that we become aware of our Buddha nature or nature mind at the seven elements.

Therefore, our real absolute is at the body, mind, environment, and all phenomena. The Buddha’s compassion is boundless as well as immense! He repeated this forty-eight times in order that ignorant beings like us, who can grasp this real meaning, would be freed from suffering.

The Buddha opened the Buddha wisdom for us in order that we can experience the permanent, immutable, pure reality. The Buddha attained the supreme absolute of Buddhahood, so he showed us the ultimate way from his experience. He revealed the delicate vision at the six sense organs. Then, he explained five skandhas, six entrances, twelve places, eighteen realms, seven elements—all are the wonderful nature of tathãgatagarbha.

In each part of the teaching, the Buddha kindly reminded us that earth, water, wind, fire, view, space, consciousness, or all other conditioned things came from the delusion as the Śūraṅgama Sūtra proved that “Due to ignorance, the space and sky-flowers are seen.”15The space and sky-flowers are presented in the world due to karma. However, in fact, its essence is tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena). Owing to a dream, we see the scene. When we wake up, the scene is nothing. Avoiding the damaged eye, the movable skyflowers stop. All phenomena are just worldly objects due to ignorance. People in the world are so deluded. They discuss five skandhas, six entrances, twelve places, eighteen realms, and seven elements which are existent by the causes-conditions (pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda) or nature. These are just arguments without true meaning. So, in every part of each department and each element, the Buddha provided an explanation and a conclusion, such as the below quotation in the Earth Element:

“Ānanda simply does not realize that the form nature is the absolute śūnyatā (suññatā, void nature); the śūnyatā is the absolute form. This is pure and pervades over the Dharma world. According to creatures’ karma, in response to their capacities, our worldly bodies and the bodies of twelve kinds of living beings are seen. Due to ignorance, people who do not know about the absolute form and śūnyatā, images that are due to conditions or lack of  conditions, twelve kinds of living beings appear or disappear. These mistakes arise from the discrimination and reasoning processes of the sixth consciousness which are nothing except the play of nonsense words.”16



Chapter IV discusses two roots of enlightenment and defilements. All sentient beings, all practitioners from beginningless time to the present, do not attain the supreme bodhi because they have not realized these two original roots, as they cook sand to get rice through numberless kalpas. It cannot become rice. The root of defilements is due to attaching to the false thoughts as their minds. The root of enlightenment is the sense of awareness available in every being. Beings are not aware of this and as a result, fall into the six realms.

Our lives are five skandhas, six sense organs, twelve sense organ-objects, and eighteen organ-object-consciousnesses. They come temporarily into being as a result of the combining of cause-conditions ((pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda) and are temporarily ended due to the pause of cause-conditions, whose root is the luminous perfect tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena) pervading over the worlds.



1. Explain the two roots of enlightenment (bodhi) and defilement (kleśa).

2. What is the meaning of the example, “Cooking sand to make rice”?

3. What are five skandhas, six sense organs, twelve sense organ-objects, and eighteen organ-object-consciousnesses?

4. What is the meaning of the phrase, “As the Buddha moved his gentle, golden hands up and down”?

5. Explain “the permanent essence vision” in the conversation between the Buddha and King Prasenajit.


  1.  The Cycle of Life, tr. pp. 83–87.
  2.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 35–37.
  3.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 71–72.
  4.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 71–72.
  5.  The eating consciousness is one of four eatings. The rest are the portion consciousness, the touching consciousness, and the thinking consciousness.
  6.  Four holy ones: Buddha, Bodhisattva, pratyek and śrāvaka Six mundane worlds: heaven, asura, human, animal, ghost, and hell.
  7.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, p. 86.
  8.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 91–95.
  9.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 98–100.
  10.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 100–112.
  11.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 113–114.
  12.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 86.
  13.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, p. 161.
  14.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 98–100.
  15. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 98–100.
  16.  The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, p. 230.