IN THE SURANGAMA SUTRA
Dr. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương
Having heard the five questions and answers about delusion (samohaṃ) and enlightenment (bodhi), three consecutive themes of the world, living beings, and karmic retribution, Venerable Ānanda cried and said that we are like sunken people in the suffering ocean, floating everywhere. The Buddha kindly showed the great house (the profound Dharma) but we do not know where the entrance is. The great house means the Buddha nature, but how can we get in? Please World-Honored One, the supreme compassionate one, kindly guide us.
The Buddha used the skillful means of these various causes and conditions ( paṭiccasamuppāda) to encourage all of us who are immersed in the suffering sea, that we should know how to escape it. Despite having heard the sound of Dharma, we know that tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena) of the inherent wonderful enlightened mind pervades all the worlds in ten directions and includes the precious pure Buddha lands in ten directions. Yet, the Thus-Come One again admonished Ānanda for his lack of cultivation and samādhi even though he was a scholar.
So now Ānanda, who is like a wanderer, suddenly encounters a reigning king who provides him with an elegant house. He has obtained a big house, but there needs to be a door in order that he can enter. The Thus-Come One, with great compassion, instructed us in the assembly who are covered by darkness, so that we may renounce the small vehicle (Hīnayāna) and attain the bodhi way to reach the ThusCome One’s Nirvana (Nibbāna) destination. He will enable the learners who still have inflows (sravas) to know how to subdue the age-old dependent-origination (pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda) minds, to obtain dharani and to enter into the knowledge and vision of the Buddha.
The Buddha began preaching two decisive themes in śamatha method.
THE FIRST THEME: THE CAUSE OF BASIC BODHI
Using the space to compare with the main cause.
“What are the meanings of the two resolutions to begin developing the bodhi mind?
“Ānanda, the first resolution, if you want to give up the position of sound-hearer (śrāvaka-yāna) to cultivate the bodhisattva vehicle (bodhisattva-yāna) for entering the Buddha view, you must consider carefully whether the beginning of bodhi mind and the result of the enlightenment are similar or different.
“Ānanda, in the cultivating period, it is impossible if you take the arising-falling mind as the cause of the Buddha vehicle (Buddha-yāna). Owing to this significance, you should reflect that all existing phenomena in the world are subjected to change and extinguishment. Ānanda, you must contemplate that whatever thing is made in the world will be destroyed. But, you have never heard that space is destroyed, have you? Why not? It is because space is not the thing which can be made so it can never disappear.”1
The Buddha taught that in the period of śamatha practice, we must realize two decisive keys of the main cause:
1. The fundamental bodhi is the first decisive meaning.
2. The reflecting of the fundamental defilements (kleśa) is the second decisive meaning. Śamatha is the theory to distinguish between trueness and falseness. Samāpatti is the practice of the truth, the fundamental bodhi or the basic wisdom. Dhyāna is the application of the resulting wisdom that all truth is falseness and all falseness is truth. The practitioner will attain the basic wisdom and the resulting insight for application.
This part is the introduction to śamatha in which the Buddha repeated and analyzed again to demonstrate two basics for dwelling in or putting away. Why is the Buddha permanent and happy while we, living beings, are subjected to the turning of the wheel of birth and death? The Buddha explained that according to what kind of cause for cultivation, it reaches to accord such effects. So which cause of cultivation must we master to follow? Two decisive keys are necessary to comprehend the the cultivating cause:
1. The fundamental bodhi:
a) If we want to be the Buddha of neither production nor extinction, we must master the first function of the brightness enlightenment which is called the measureless light, that is, the luminous seeing, hearing, and knowing at our six sense faculties.
b) We must also master the second function of the permanent enlightenment, which is the measureless, living duration span. It is the permanent seeing, hearing, and knowing of neither production nor extinguishment, while this false body of earth, first decisive meaning in which the practitioner must master and cultivate in the right way so that she/he can obtain the right result. For example, all things in the world are made, so they are extinguished or disappear, while the space is not created by something, therefore it does not decay or fade away. As with a broken light, it can be replaced with many shapes, colors, or sizes of bulbs, but the electric energy source is still permanent and depends on the bulb, made shiny by the energy. The bulb can break, but the power is never lost. water, wind, fire will fade away or be reborn in other realms.
Amitābha Buddha is the measureless light and ages. This is the characteristic or wonder of the Buddha nature.
There is an idiom:
Please do not rely on the wall because the wall will fall,
Do not rely on the bed because the bed will collapse,
Do not rely on the tree because the tree will tilt,
Do not rely on a person because a person will die,
Let’s rely on ourselves.
“Based on ourselves” means we must master the inherent luminous, permanent, wonderful nature of our seeing, listening, and knowing at our sense organs.
We, who must hold the true bodhi essence, avoid mixing it with the false consciousness. When we take the true bodhi nature and meditate on it, we have the right cultivating root as Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva who took the hearing as a means for cultivation, which is known as the perfect penetrating hearing. The hearing, which is the enlightenment of neither production nor extinguishment, is independent. Once we calm ourselves to live with it, the delusions (samohaṃ) gradually fade away and we return to our Buddha nature.
2. The fundamental birth and death:
We, who must filter the roots of ignorance (avijjā) to be pure, avoid receiving it as our truth. Prajñā-pāramitā or the Heart Sūtra confirm that reflecting on the five aggregates (skandhas) does not differ from emptiness while the Śūraṅgama Sūtra states that we must transform five layers of impurity. The Amitābha Sūtra also called the roots of ignorance five layers of impurity.2 Whenever five aggregates3 are transformed, there is calmness, and then we can get back our true reality.
All Buddhas selected the main cause of cultivation which must possess two characteristics of enlightenment and permanence. Relating to the Four Noble Truths (the Āgama in the first twelve years of the Buddha’s teaching), it also clarifies two causes and two effects through the Four Noble Truths (catvāry āryasatyāni, cattāri ariya-saccāni):
1. The mundane cause (samudayāryasatya, the origin of suffering): greed, anger, ignorance.
2. The mundane effect (duḥkhāryasatya, the suffering): creature beings are influenced by eight sufferings.
3. The transmundane cause (duḥkhanirodhagāminī pratipad, the way leading to cessation): practicing the Eightfold Path.
4. The transmundane effect (duḥkhanirodhāryasatya, the cessation of the origin of suffering): Nirvana.
These are two decisive keys in the first expedient spreading of the doctrine. Back to the great vehicle (Mahāyāna) of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, it emphasizes that in the five impurities (amahaggataṃ) in our mind and body, which cause of cultivation must we select? Definitely, we take the first one, the fundamental bodhi.
“Ānanda, in your body, what hardness is the earth, what moisture is the water, what warmth is the fire, and what moving is the wind? Because these four elements are bonded, your luminous, tranquil, perfect, wonderful mind which creates the seeing, hearing, touching, and knowing, turned out five layers of impurities covering everything from beginning to end.
“What does the impurity mean? Ānanda, for instance, the clear water is originally pure and clean while the characteristic of the dust, soil, ash, and sand is basically blocked. Two properties are too different to combine with each other. It is supposed that if an ordinary person throws some soil into the clear water, the soil loses its hard characteristic and the water loses its pureness. The opaque quality is called impurity. Your five layers of impurity are similar to it.
“Ānanda, you see the space pervading over ten directions. The space and the seeing do not separate. However, the space is not its real reality and the seeing is not the awareness, which both mixed falsely with each other in order to form the first layer, the impure kalpa.
“At present, you are taking four elements (earth, water, wind, and fire) as your body substance which covers the seeing, hearing, tasting and knowing to be obstructed. And opposite, you make the water, fire, wind, and earth (to be body) to have the ability to see, hear, taste, and know. Two things become entangled falsely with each other in order to establish the second layer, the impure views.
“Further, in your mind, the memory of learning creates the knowledge and view at six worldly objects. Leaving apart the sense objects, there are no appearances. Leaving apart the knowledge and view, they have no substance. Both of them become entangled falsely with each other in order to form the third layer, the impure defilements.
“Again, all day and night, your mind endlessly arises and falls. The knowledge and views really want to remain in this world, but your karma strongly forces you to rebirth in various realms. Both of them become entangled falsely with each other in order to establish the fourth layer, the impure living beings.
“Your seeing and hearing nature do not originally differ, but due to the many forms of worldly objects, suddenly they become different. In regard to the nature, they have mutual awareness, but in the function, they are different. By losing the identity standards, the similar and the different become entangled falsely in order to establish the fifth layer, the impure lifespan.
“Ānanda, now you hope that your seeing, hearing, touching, and knowing are united with the Tathāgata’s characteristics on the permanence, happiness, true self, and purity. Firstly, you must exclude the root of birth and death by relying on the neither-produced-nor-extinguished mind, to reach the tranquil nature everywhere.
“By using the tranquility, you take the illusory arising and falling to be the enlightenment. After obtaining the luminous enlightenment that is neither produced nor extinguished, you take this as the main cause for practice. You are able to gain the great result of the enlightenment. For example, the muddy water in a container is kept so long that it becomes still. The sand drops down to the bottom so that clear water appears. That is called the initial conquering of the worldly defilements. There is only the pure water which is called the ‘totally without fundamental ignorance.’ When the transparent appearance is really pure, then whatever functions are performed, they do not cause the defilements, and must accord with the wonderful virtues of Nirvana.”4
The Buddha taught that once we know where the enemy is, then we can transform them in order that we can enjoy safety and peace. For example, the grass must be uprooted for the flowers to bloom; if we want to have clear water, we must let the dust, soil, and ash settle down to the bottom, and then the water is purified. Sandy turbidity makes water dirty or unclean, that is, we must purify the cause-conditions (pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda) of ignorance and avoid recognizing it as ourselves.
Let’s see where the upside-down ignorance stays in order for us to uproot it. According to the Buddha’s teachings, there are two upside-down ignorances:
The innate ignorance (avijjā, basic, root) and the subordinate ignorance (branch, part).
The innate ignorance is also called the three subtleties, while the subordinate ignorance is called six unsubtleties.
Three subtleties are the innate ignorance, the transforming ignorance, and the forming ignorance. Six unsubtleties (six sense faculties, six arising flesh organs) are the subordinate ignorance.
According to the Awakening of Faith Treatise (Khởi Tín Luận), three subtleties are the karmic ignorance, the vision subject, and the view object.
What is the innate ignorance? Our unique nature is called the everlasting Dharma Realm. Because it had wanted to brighten the enlightenment, it started to distinguish something, and then the false illumination and the false awareness arose. When the mind wants to discriminate, it sees something different from itself. Because of this delusion, it is divided into duality (the active subject and the passive object, the seeing subject and the object is seen, the spiritual and the material, the karma subject and the karma environment object). The karma subject is divided into the six sense faculties, such as the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. According to these six organs, the enlightened nature, which is divided into six functions of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and knowing (the bright ability), follows six organ structures and shapes to shine out six different lights (functions). The karma environment is the object, the outside world, space, land, water, wind, fire, and six sense objects (sight, sound, scent, flavor, touch, and images in the brain). Delusion (samohaṃ) began to generate the same and different which is called the innate ignorance. It also started to transition from a state of true mind to the eighth consciousness (consciousness means delusion). This moved clearly to divide into two which is not called the true mind anymore; it is called the transforming ignorance. The transforming ignorances shifted into the forming ignorance, that is, the world, creature beings, and karma change constantly from subtle to unsubtle without stopping. The forming appears in fullness. The process is shifted from the innate to the transforming to the full shape of the forming ignorance. It is originally the true mind, but now it becomes the root of ignorance to the transformation of ignorance. It was originally the true mind, which now became the eighth consciousness or the ignorance. Due to seeing the space and keeping the dark ignorance, the earth, water, wind, and fire are seen, the seeing subject and object (what is seen) are formed clearly.
Three subtle parts are very complex, only the Buddhas and bodhisattvas who have the insight eyes can experience these states. As ordinary people, it is difficult to be aware of subtleties. We do not even know or experience the movement in our body as nails increase, hair grows, old cells or skin decay away, much less other subtle, abstract, inward movings.
In addition, there is the knowledge of ignorance. We distinguish ourselves to exist. We hear, smell, taste, and realize shapes and know there are sentient beings.
The suffering object is the last object to display. For example, human beings are subjected to eight sufferings.5
The consecutive object: It starts with the distinguished knowledge, and then the suffering of sentient beings, the false mind, and the false environment arise. This environment, which is displayed from the mindstream, is not the external scene. We want to distinguish what is outside, so we see, hear, and taste. That is called the false mind. The seventh consciousness (matna) appears to call the consecutive object.
The clinging object: From the seventh consciousness leading to the sixth consciousness, we who go outside to grasp six sense objects, cling to its appearance as identity and misconceive it as real.
The clinging label: Because of clinging to craving appearances, we give labels.
In summary, the enlightened nature is divided into two sections: the seeing subject and the object. The seeing subject is the sentient being. My seeing subject is different from A’s because I see with my vision and another sees with her vison. Both are different. However, they do not differ from each other because the essence of my and another’s seeing are the same. The reality is neither the same nor different; it becomes wearisome to discriminate the false environment. Due to delusion, the space and various things, such as earth, water, wind, fire, the seeing subject, object, sentient beings, and so on, are seen. The stream of mind is fond of seeking and distinguishing all phenomena so much that it is wearisome. Owing to the discrimination, it makes biases on the concepts of selfness and other people (Dharma), then the seventh consciousness (matna) arises. It follows the defilements so insistently and tiredly that it generates the sixth consciousness to cling to worldly phenomena—this is mine or that is theirs.
If it is enlightened, then it must be inherently bright. Why are we curious to explore more, to add more brightness in order to have more learning? A thought of more distinction leads to the appearance of false illumination. To ordinary people, three subtleties (the innate ignorance), transformed ignorance, and the formed ignorance are difficult to understand. Six sense faculties are six unsubtleties. Unsubtle means we can easily recognize it and claim that we are seeing, knowing, and discriminating with our body. Thinking it from our body is recognized. Learning it from our body is awakened. Buddhas and patriarchs are also looking forward so that we can understand. They just turn this meaning and explain only the difficult matters. If we do not learn it, then it is regretful. Here they are talking about our consciousness from formation to development and continual progress.
Our own body is something which is upside-down crazy, unable to think clearly. We fall in love (vītadosaṃ) with this or that person, hate (sadosaṃ) the other one, are satisfied with this or that thing and unsatisfied with the other. It is our own idea to allow the wearisome defilements to arise. When there is either greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha), or anger (upanāha, viddesanā), it engages deeply the defilements.
Three subtle and six unsubtle are taken to measure the size or level of our delusion from subtle to unsubtle states. Due to ignorance, the dualism between space and earth, water, wind, and fire are seen. Our distinguishing is the insight object, while the continuous discriminating is called the consecutive object. Owing to greed, hatred and delusion, we create karma that turns us to the rebirth cycle. The enlightened nature, which is originally nonproduced, nonextinguished, measureless lifespan and measureless light, is the Amitābha essence of all beings. From this essence, we are following the course of karma to transform into many species in six realms, such as human, animals, ghosts, hell, heaven, and asura (asurakāya). We have transitioned from this body to others endlessly. The false mind is the karmic result—the Buddha preached the falseness of the world and karma.
What is the subordination ignorance? Subordination is the branch. Our delusion is as the branch and top of the leaves. Ignorance is the set of sense bases, the sense objects, and the consciousness that produces three poisons of greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha), hatred (byāpāda, dosa) and delusion (samohaṃ).
What are the sense organs, objects, and consciousnesses? First, the eyes see the shadows that are called the worldly objects. The sunlight shines to reflect the shadow at the eye nerves of undamaged eyes. According to human karma, thanks to the parents, the school has educated us that this is as a vase. Once we know this is the vase that is an eye-consciousness to be born. The ear-consciousness, the smell-consciousness, the tongue-consciousness, the body-consciousness, and the mindconsciousness are too.
The seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting daily is the sense object; we take the earth, water, wind, and fire to be our body, and then we perceive that the sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and Dharma are the outside aspects which stimulate greed, anger, and delusion to arise. From there, we wrongly regard three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion as our mind. So, the upside-down ignorance has been the root of innate ignorance. We now consider the false thought as our mind. If we want to delete it we must transform. After two poisons of lust and anger ended, now we want to stop the delusion. We who must contemplate the illusory body, avoid regarding this body as our reality, and stop chasing after conditional or dependent consciousness. Dependence means we prefer the outside conditions of the pretty figure, the sweet voice, the gentle touch, and so on. We chase after seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting. Because of chasing the outside aspects, the mind produces and clings to the three poisons of greed
(abhijjhā, visamalobha), anger (byāpāda, dosa), and ignorance (avijjā) to lead to the actions of killing, stealing, lusting, and telling lies. So where do the actions of killing, stealing, lusting and telling lies come from?
Next, the five impurities: the Buddha shows that the six sense organs are the main reason for the rebirth flowing. The six senses depend on six worldly objects to arise in six consciousnesses. The eye-consciousness distinguishes sight, the ear-consciousness discriminates sound, the noseconsciousness distinguishes scent, the tongue-consciousness discriminates flavor, the body-consciousness distinguishes feeling, and the mind-consciousness accounts the images in brain. Then, the three poisons of greed, anger, and delusion arise. Thus, the six sense organs are the root of six consciousnesses and the birth and death cycle.
In the twelve links of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda), the contact (sparsha) means the touching of faculties and objects which leads to the experience of touching. Next is the feeling. The feelings are pleasure or pain. Suffering creates hatred while attraction produces craving. The craving leads to love, while the unsatisfied feeling leads to dislike. Then the hate and love arise next with the clinging. The experience of clinging is the insistent holding. We cling to satisfy our senses which causes karma or inflows to be created in the existent realms. From the presence of inflows, it leads next to birth, old age, illness, and death (jaramaranam) in the endless rebirth cycle. In twelve links of dependent origination, the Buddha advises us to pay attention to the contacting factor, because it is the main drive that controls us. When the six faculties contact with the six external phenomena, we must train and protect our six faculties in order that we can cut off the branch ignorance.
Because of delusion, space is seen and earth, water, wind, and fire are established as the worldly form (rūpa). The form is mixed with false thoughts to create the body, mind, and the outside aspect or five layers of impurities. The impurity means illusion (samohaṃ), dirtiness (amahaggataṃ), and pain (dukkha) which result in impermanence, losses of the eternal reality of the permanence, the pure, the true self, and the joyfulness.
It loses the eternal reality of permanence, because our body and the outside aspect are influenced dominantly by the law of birth, old, illness, death or the discipline of the birth, existence, change, and decay while the Pure Land is not affected by this impermanence.
It loses the joyfulness, because from morning to evening, we often associate with the various negative feelings which lead us to lamentation (parideva), contempt, jealousy (issā), sadness (soka), dissatisfaction (avimuttaṃ) and so on.
It loses the purity, because our body is dirty, has a bad smell with nine holes to release the impurities. The mind also has impurity, defilement, and craving.
It loses the intrinsic essence, because the body falls ill, the body will decay, it will die. The back and neck are painful. After taking drugs, they will be well. If our body does not recover, then we who sit reciting the Buddha’s name, observe how sickness is turmoil. We, who cannot do anything, fail and succumb, unable to control our body. Even we who are able to pay large amounts of money for medical care, still cannot be saved. The body must dissolve and fade away finally without following our wish. These turbidities cover five parts of our body and mind. We can see five layers of ignorance which are called the five impurities:
1. The impure kalpa: The root has begun with the Buddha nature pervading throughout the Dharma Realm. This is the non-dual substance of all things. Now, we are falsely on the move in order that we see it to be two: the seeing subject and the object. The fundamental mind without duality is divided in two: spiritual and material. We recognize the spiritual as ourselves while others are not ourselves. This causes the formation of the kalpa turbidity, a false aspect. In the darkness, clinging to the ignorance creates the form which is initially to establish the earth, water, wind, and fire. There is light, that is, there is fire. There appear the pairs of objects, such as light and dark, motion and stillness, associate and separate, insipid and interesting, touching and non-touching, producing and extinguishment. It means to have the false view
(micchā-ditthi) and the worldly objects. Why is it called the kalpa? A kalpa is an aeon or a relatively long period of time. The earth, water, wind, and fire in the space change, so that there are differences among yesterday, today, tomorrow. It is like the past, present, and future to mark the change. Therefore, the day, night, year, month, and time are established for every period of time. It lost the permanent reality of time in order to be the impermanent period.
2. The impure view: Because initially there is space, earth, water, wind, fire, light and darkness, then seeing is created. Because there are motivation and tranquility, then hearing is created. Because there are association and separation, then smelling is created. Because of insipid and interesting, then tasting is created. Because there are touching and non-touching, touching is created. Due to the producing and extinguishment, knowing is created. We have the false environment which is called the skandha form (rūpa). The worst thing is that we cherish the earth, water, wind, fire as our real body. The cycle of life is well illustrated by a house of six doors.6
The illusory body is divided into six sense organs, so that it focuses on six objects according. Therefore, the impure view is the false perspective. The worst ignorant feeling is that we wrongly cherish the earth, water, wind, fire as our real refuge, which is established by the six sense organs and transformed by six sense objects accordingly. We again misconceive the six objects as outside aspects. From youth to old age, day to night, we wrongly attach to the body as our real substance and objects as the external aspects. So, this impure view is the skandha feeling (vedanā). Feeling is to receive something from outside to emotion. The word skanda means to prevent or cover the truth. It makes us to forget our true nature. As a result of attaching to the earth, water, wind, fire and believing it to be our inner skin, bone, body, we consider anything that doesn’t belong to ourselves to be outside worldly objects. This impure view is an illusory perception.We are constructing ignorance with the self-clinging as our body. From this body, we created six sense organs, turned out six objects of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch—Dharmas that are the outside aspect. All day, we chase after conditioned things to feel and receive the outside world. This is called the skandha feeling, the impure view. Firstly, we receive this body and then it opens to thousands of instances of receiving in our life, such as receiving health insurance, automobile insurance, emotional life, a nice place to live, fame, a high position, wealth, sickness, and death, and so on. Every life is a school of the feelings. If we recognize that the feeling or receiving are faulty it forces us to fall down into the suffering saṃsāra. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra referred to it as the illusory thoughts. We perceive that there are our bodies, communities, saṅghas, pagodas, forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, Dharmas, and everything which seems to appear in front of our eyes, but in fact these are the illusionary shadows or feelings (vedanā) which are called the false bright thoughts. We are receiving rice to eat, water to drink, air to breathe, which is called the impure view. Do we realize our view is illusory? We accept that we are eating noodles, drinking juice, breathing air in order to maintain this body. We prefer to get the jacket, precepts, offerings, nice things, reverence, and so on to promote our selfesteem. This is an impure false body and the wrong view (micchā-ditthi). It cannot lead us to the right way or to enlightenment as the spoilt eggs which are rotten cannot produce babies.
3. The impure defilements (kleśa): Inwardly, all day and night, we have attached to the earth, water, wind, fire as the physical substance or the dwelling body of ourselves. Then outwardly, we look out at six worldly aspects of forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and Dharma as the external aspect, so that we start to calculate the beneficence or unbenificence, good or bad, and so on. It opens the doors for the three poisons of the greed, anger and wrong view and is called the impure affliction. It is illusory thought but we have wrongly attached to the greed, hatred and delusion as our mind. The defilements burn us all the time, so much that we are uneasy, uncomfortable, and unpeaceful. For example, we become agitated and unconcentrated because of various feelings of like, dislike, sad, happy, and so on. For example, I am very angry; I like this, I hate the other and so forth. Thus, the Buddha called it the impure defilements. Connected to five skandhas, it belongs to the skandha thinking.
Therefore, the first ignorance is the illusory environment (the turbidity of time).
The second ignorance is the false body (the turbidity of view). The third ignorance is the false mind (the turbidity of affliction).
The Buddha recognizes these three illusions (samohaṃ) clearly. He is aware that this life is temporary, fragile, and unreal. Hence, he and the Saṅgha do not take much time to worry about what to wear, what to eat, how to decorate the teeth, the hair, and so forth. The image of ancient monks is that they walked on foot, shaved their hair, lived a simple life in order to have time to return to their true nature. These images are a great role model for us on the way to be pure and enlightened.
4. The impure living beings: We are full of the illusory environment, body, and mind. Because there is such a false mind, all day and night lust, hatred and delusion arise which cause killing, stealing, and lying. Due to many karmic causes, the consciousness store follows karma to transform into retribution, so we are subjected to having a body.
Because of the turbidity of view, we are ignorant every day and require eating this food, other dishes, buying many kinds of drinking water in the refrigerator for next days, breathing air, collecting the outside earth, water, wind, fire, and receiving the outside sunlight and so forth to create blood, flesh, and accepting this body as ourselves.
The false view (micchā-ditthi) is a misconception that this body is our real reality and we must protect it. We must eat and drink, take care to preserve the body. We want to form the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and so on in order to feel six worldly objects. So at any cost, our body and mind must try to compose the body by the earth, water, wind and fire, so there is the body as our wish.
The Buddha preached it profoundly; we feel brokenhearted to experience it. The earth, water, wind, and fire do not exist a long time. They will follow the rule of birth, old age, sickness, and death (jaramaranam) and fade away, then again return in another form. We insistently seek for the body due to the karmic course. Today we have the human (manussa) body; tomorrow it may be the animal (tiracchānayoni) body, such as snakes, dragonflies, butterflies, lizards, and so on. It transforms forever in six realms.
Due to the karmic force, when a dog is embodied, we wrongly take the dog figure as our real body. When a human is manifested, we perceive it as ourselves. When a heavenly being is presented, we get it as the ego. When a ghost is embodied, we regard it as our body, and so on.
With any species, we are wrongly clinging to the flesh body of earth, water, wind, fire as ourselves. However, any body of twelve species7 is illusory, fragile, and decays in a short time, so it is called the impure living being. In regard to five skandhas, the impure living beings belong to the skandha volition formation (sankhara). Because the skandha formation is constantly movable and changeable in the subtle course, ordinary people cannot see it, so it is called the subtle illusory force.
The karmic retribution turns around whenever we must receive any body which we cherish as ourselves. As a human being, we cling to earth, water, wind, fire as our ego (matna) that is called a living being. “Beings” are the large number, “living” means to form a sentient or insentient being. Previously, if we embody as a cow, cat, dog, and so forth, we would cling to the earth, water, wind and fire in the cow, cat, or dog’s flesh as ourselves, living beings. If we are awakened, we do not cling to earth, water, wind, fire as our reality, and then the living beings are not existent. Our bodies are changing at every moment. They decay, then they continuously transform to another body without stopping, so it is called the skandha formation. Owing to the formation skandha, the karma transfigures endless in the saṃsāra world.
We try our best to protect and nourish the body for longevity. Our knowing is to secure the body, feed it, let it wear warm clothes, and take care it carefully in order that it can maintain a life as long as possible.
How does our knowledge want to live long in the world but the “retribution of karma” forces us away to other realms? At present, the impure body in the saṃsāra realm comes from the passion cause. There is a saying that “Without the craving, without giving birth in the saha world.” Cats and dogs, rats, and snakes are unclean. We cherish the small puppy with a gentle or loving touch, but we do not know that under the whitish, brown fur, there are foul-smelling things. If a tiny insect bites the puppy, but it cannot utter a suffering word.
Now we recite Amitābha Buddhas’ name to keep three karmas (body, speech, and mind) out of impurity so that we become pure. When this impure body gets older, gets sick and dies, then the pure body in the Pure Land will appear.
5. The impure lifespans: After having received the body of a living being as ourselves, if we are still breathing, eating, talking, laughing, living, going, coming, and so on, we are called existent. If the body does not exist anymore, six sense organs and six consciousnesses fade away, and then the life is endless. The lifespan of a hen is about six months, the lifespan of a pig is about three years, the life duration of a dog is about ten years, and lifespan of humans is about eighty years, and so forth. So, we receive the lifespan of an impermanent body of earth, water, wind, fire. This is called the impure lifespan.
The turbidity of a lifespan belongs to the consciousness store which is too subtle and too difficult to understand. It is called the distinctly subtle thought.
Because we insistently cling to the producedextinguished time, we forget the nature of non-produced, nonextinguished, the essence of infinite life which we are living. The reality of infinite life is not bothered or related to any substance of the body of earth, water, wind, and fire. The fundamental infinite life has existed for a long time as space. We should learn the Śūraṅgama Sūtra to become aware of who we are and our real nature pervading over the Dharma realm, which is not connected with the body of earth, water, wind, and fire.
The four-element body is collected and then soon it fades away, but our Buddha nature is unmovingly permanent and does not need to collect because it is ever full.
The essence of infinite life is unshakable and independent of outside objects. If there is a sound or a form, it will present the hearing or seeing ability. If there is no-sound or no-form, it still is aware of the states of no-sound or no-form. The Buddha nature is still unmoving and independent while the sounds, forms, perfumes, bad smells, sweet and sour, hot and cold, and so forth manifest a short time and then fade away, so they are not related to our inherent Buddha nature. Until the false mind of loving abhijjhā, visamalobha or hate (byāpāda, dosa), joyfulness (avimuttaṃ) or anger (kodha), which is just the illusory habit (samohaṃ), the deluded practice just suddenly emerges and then in a short time fades away. But, the Buddha nature reflects with insight as the love arises, the hate presents, then the love disappears, the hate ends as passing guests. Our Buddha essence remains in the freedom permanence, and independence.
THE SECOND THEME: DEEPLY CONTEMPLATING THE FUNDAMENTAL DEFILEMENT
In the second deciding meaning, if you definitely wish to develop the bodhi mind and great courage in the Bodhisattva Vehicle, you must surely transform all conditioned appearances. You should inspect carefully the fundamental defilement (kleśa), the ignorance (avijjā) creating the karma and the beginningless rebirth. Who makes it and who suffers from it?
“Ānanda, you are practicing the bodhi way. If you do not carefully contemplate the fundamental defilement, you cannot be aware where the false organs and objects are upside down? If you don’t even know its location, how can you control it to attain the Tathāgata position?
“Ānanda, you see in life, people want to open a knot.
If they can’t see the knot’s place, how can they untie it? But I have never heard that the space is destroyed. Why? Because the space has no appearance; thus it does not have a knot to open. But now your six faculties, such as eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind are as matchmakers for the thieves to rob the jewels from your house. Since beginningless time, living beings in the world have been bonded together, so that cannot be transcended in the material world.”8
How do we contemplate thoroughly the fundamental affliction, i.e., the root of birth and death? We must consider where we are upside down. If we can’t see where the knot is, how can we untie it? If we cannot see where upside down is, how can we catch the thieves? If we consider where the thieves are, we can tame them. When we tame the thieves, we will enjoy safety. For example, if a gardener is planting dahlias, she must uproot the wild grass. If the wild grass grows everywhere, our flowers will not grow. Also, we must consider thoroughly the afflictions to uproot. We have five skandhas, such as form, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra called them the five turbidities (amahaggataṃ), five deluded thoughts (samohaṃ) or five ignorances (avijjā). We only avoid receiving these five things as us when our job of practicing is done. If we are aware of the fundamentals of birth and death, the five turbidities, the deluded thoughts, we let them pass away without regret. That is called contemplating thoroughly the fundamental affliction. It is very simple but has a great effect.
The way of transforming and eliminating the root of affliction (kleśa) is not just to cut off the top of the root of five skandhas (pañca-skandha, pañca-khandha), because it will still remain and then the grass will grow again with conditioned things. The affliction must be uprooted completely. If we insistently regard the five skandhas as our body, as well as mind, then the defilements will still disturb us. If we recognize this body to be composed of four illusory elements (earth, water, wind, and fire), it is not our real reality. So, it does not matter to our Buddha essence when this body presents or decays. We will feel calm with any expression of compliment, admiration, or criticism, because we experience that this body will fade away tomorrow; everything is unreal. Every time six organs face six objects, we must pay attention mindfully to keep tranquility independent, so that the shadow of illusory thoughts (samohaṃ) will fade away. If we keep such a way, gradually we will attain the experience of awakening totally. That is to transform the skandha form.
Once we are aware that the body is deluded, we continue being calm, independent, and stable; we are not bothered by the outside. We realize that when we attain independence, we will be freed from suffering and joyfulness. Therefore, there is no feeling or receiving. That is to transform the skandha of receiving. Because the skandha feeling is empty, we do not cling to it anymore. Once there is no pain or joyfulness, then the perception of having hated, having fun and anger become empty which transforms the skandha to perceive
(saṃjñā, saññā). Once we are aware that form, feeling, and thinking are illusory, and that the formation is moving, our nature is tranquil. That is to transform the skandha volition (saṃskāra, saṅkhāra).
If we are not governed by form, feeling, thinking, and formation, we do not have the consciousness that transforms the skandha consciousness (vijñāna, viññāṇa). In brief, we have only the job of practicing to be mindfully independent and peaceful.
We want to know where the knot is, that is our six sense faculties and nothing else. Every time we wake up, our eyes or six sense organs are opened wide and we see the external sense objects. The mind immediately distinguishes good and bad. Thus, as soon the feelings of lamentation (parideva), pain (dukkha), grief (soka), love (trishna), and hate (sadosaṃ) arise, then it quickly becomes a firm knot. When we realize that six faculties and six objects are illusory, we do not tie and the knot will release naturally. The knot is tied at the six sense organs, therefore we must tame it at the six sense organs. That is how we know to cure the sickness.
Fortunately, the defiled ignorance (avijjā) or the spiritual trouble is unreal, an illusion, and we just need to be awakened, we do not grasp it. Let it release, because we are originally the fundamental bodhi, the unlimited light, and the infinite lifespan.
We return to our essences of permanence, peace, true self, purity, joyfulness, and happiness. So, to learn Dharma, there is not anything else. Let the defilements release, because our nature is fundamentally Buddhahood, and now the only thing is letting it go away. If we feel uncomfortable, agitated, with hate, please just let it release. Avoid saying that “I am angry, disturbed and defiled.”
Deep contemplation means we understand thoroughly the five layers of turbidities, five levels of afflictions, or five layers of ignorance. The deep contemplation is to avoid accepting it as ourselves. All day and night, we wrongly grasp it as ourselves and we continue on the dark way without awakening.
The Buddha advises us to select the correct cause for cultivating. Let us practice the correct basis, and then the correct result for becoming the Buddha will come. In contrast, if we live for illusion, of course the result will be distracted. This is the ultimate doctrine, the absolute teachings of the Buddha in order to help us to realize our true mind.
The Buddha preached about śamatha to show two decisive themes on mutual cause and effect. It reminds us to understand thoroughly the fundamental bodhi to uproot the affliction, that is, we must be awakened to cut off the origin of birth and death.
THE PERCEPTION CREATING THE KNOWLEDGE AND THE PERCEPTION WITHOUT SEEING
“At that time, the World-Honored One felt pity on Venerable Ānanda and the inflowing (srava) students in the assembly, as well as future creature beings. He expounded the holy transcendent cause for attaining the Dharma eyes for the time to come. He gently touched Venerable Ānanda’s head with his jambunada purple-golden bright hand. Then, all the world quaked in six ways. Tathāgatas in ten directions are as numberless as the molecules. At each land, from the head of each Buddha emitted the precious light. At the same time, the glory light also shined on the Jeta Garden and reached to the crown of the Thus-Come One’s head. All attendees in the great assembly experienced what they had never experienced before.
“Meanwhile, Venerable Ānanda and attendees in the Great Assembly heard tathāgatas who were as countless as molecules in ten directions, with different mouths but in a single voice, spoke to Ānanda: ‘Sadhu! Sadhu! Ānanda! Your innate ignorance is the main knot that causes your turning in the rebirth wheel. This knot is your six senseorgans and nothing else. You also want to experience the ultimate bodhi in order that soon you can attain the wonderful happiness, liberation, tranquility, and permanence. It is also exactly your six sense-organs and nothing else.’ ”9
In the past, we had the image of the Buddha as something who lives on a far higher plane. If the Buddha is as a saint living on a high cloud and blesses us who are down in the mundane world, we can easily believe it. However, now we can see that the Buddha is at our ears, eyes, or or six sense bases which is extremely unbelievable. In the first period (Theravāda) of spreading Buddhism, the Buddha used to declare that the eyes, ears, nose, and tongue of this body are sick, dirty, and illusory. Now in the Śūraṅgama of the Mahāyāna period, the Buddha starts to point out the true Buddha essence at our six deluded faculties.
We remember in the introduction of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, Venerable Ānanda tearfully begged the Buddha to teach the samāpatti method to escape rebirth in saṃsāra. The Buddha questioned him, where is the mind for admiring the thirty-two good characteristics of the Buddha and the beauty of Matangi? Venerable Ānanda replied that it is inside the body. Buddha rebuked this, saying that it is only the false thought, the enemy and the eyes, as well as the body, are the matchmaker for the enemy of false thought to enter. All these things are reincarnation.
Thus, it is the Buddha himself who correctly clarified that the false thought is the path of reincarnation. Now the Buddha declares that the enemy (the false thought) and the matchmaker (six faculties) are also the way of salvation, and are the place where the Buddha got enlightenment. In fact, it is very difficult to understand and feels hard to believe.
The Buddha’s word is as follows:
The perception creating the knowledge is the original ignorance (avijjā).
The perception without seeing is Nirvana (Nibbāna).
“Ānanda, you want to know the innate ignorance (the basic ignorance) is the root of the knot that makes you continually move within the cycle of birth and death. This ignorance is your six sense organs, not other things. You also want to know the superior bodhi way which brings the fruits of the tranquility salvation and permanence is also your six sense faculties, not the other.”10
The perception creating the knowledge is the basic ignorance: Origin of birth and death is due to the perception creating the knowledge. The knowledge is the knowing of the sixth consciousness, that is, the mental consciousness. The seeing is the knowing of the first consciousness, that is, the eye consciousness. All six functions of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or knowing, are called perception.
The perception creating the knowledge: According to the functions of the seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting with six worldly objects of sight, sound, scent, flavor, and so on created the knowing. Whenever we are attached to our knowledge as a holding that is called “creating the knowledge,” and because we grasp it as real, that is the root of ignorance.
As we are now seeing, the eyes see the flask of flowers, which we consider as real. Seeing the masses of people sitting here, we think it is true. Because we feel it as real, that it is the original ignorance.
Because of the previous five impurities, the Buddha confirmed that:
The first ignorance: we appreciate the scene as real (the impure kalpa).
The second ignorance: we identify the body as real (the impure view).
The third ignorance: we apprehend the mind as real (the impure defilement).
It must be contemplated that this is the eye that comes from a karmic retribution of human (manussa) beings, so the images seen here are following the karmic retribution of the human being. Once it is called karma, it is not true. We are deceived by karma; we make up the knowledge as the truth. We forget that we are wearing the eyeglasses, the karmic glasses, which is untrue. By the deceitful karmic cause, we are deluded and compete, winning and losing every day, every night and throughout our lifetime. This is the root of ignorance.
We forget and follow the black karmas, thus it must be ignorance. Every dog, cat, animal (tiracchānayoni), heavenly being (deva), hell (niraya) can see according to their karmic retribution. They all are the karmic shapes, not truths and we wrongly take our knowledge as real. Once we create the knowledge as real, that is, there is the blind, ignorant, elder lady walking in the woods of the skull as the book Cycle of Life illustrated so well.11
So how do we adjust our seeing to be true? In the first twelve years of teaching, the Buddha expounded the Āgama doctrine to contemplate that karma of all species is illusory (samohaṃ). After awakening to the impermanent nature of phenomena, let go of the body, mind, and scene to receive the permanent true essence of seeing and hearing at the body. That is the meaning of the later developed Mahāyāna Sūtra.
The perception without seeing is Nirvana (Nibbāna): What is the meaning of “without seeing”? We reflect with insight on the body, mind, and scene as illusory. Seeing is as without seeing. We, who must be aware mindfully, avoid letting it dominate, obscure, and deceive us, because this is a false image of reality. We must calm our spiritual practice, prevent the outside scene from deceiving us so that we do not lose our autonomy and self control. We do not accept the enemy as our child; we avoid accepting slaves as our real blood sons in order that we do not regretfully bear the suffering. This means that we are in Nirvana state.
Although living with humans, wearing six sense organs of human beings, we are still in Nirvana, because we experience that all phenomena is illusory. Such a seeing is so insightful.
Now we learn the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, where the Buddha confirms that the path of liberation and the path of fetter are at the six sense bases. We must remember the figures that show up that is the karmic work of mankind, not our real substance; therefore we prevent creating the knowledge about it. These attendees in the assembly appear due to their karma, while the truth is that ourselves and the public listeners are all the Buddha nature.
If in the group here, there is a person who shows his anger (byāpāda, dosa), foolishness (avijjā), arrogance (atimāna), pride (mada), provocation (sārambha), or jealousy (issā) to us, then we should realize that these figures are just dependent orgination (pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda) appearing falsely, but its original nature is the inherent Buddha essence. The perception without seeing: receiving but without receiving, seeing but without seeing, because they are all deluded (samohaṃ). Therefore, we do not mind if people are annoying or stubborn (thambha). We are not sad when people misunderstand. Just mindfully drop the falseness lightly down and keep our mind awakened.
The Buddha knowledge means our seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and knowing. If we live with the nature of seeing, hearing or knowing, it means we live with the inherent Buddha nature. If we live with the eye-consciousness, we are inclined to the knowledge of human beings. The Buddha view is at the sense organs. The Buddha pointed it out clearly and we ourselves have received, learned, and understood it already. The Buddha knowledge is the nature of our seeing, hearing, or knowing. If we live with the nature of seeing, then we become the Buddha. If we live with the eyeconsciousness, the ear-consciousness, the nose-consciousness, the tongue-consciousness, the body-consciousness, and the mental consciousness, we are sentient beings, going toward the sentient beings’ knowledge.
The Buddha was enlightened to the ultimate, so he showed his absolute experience to us, that is, he revealed the Buddha knowledge by saying, “Gradually opening to reach to the ultimate salvation of tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena).” The Buddha pointed out the seeing essence to be not only at six sense organs, but also at the five skandhas, six entries, twelve bases, eighteen realms, and seven elements which all are the permanent wonderful tathāgatas.
The Buddha nature not only manifests the wonderful functions at the six sense organs, but also at the five skandhas, six entries, twelve places, eighteen realms, and seven elements, even at at a stream, grass, flower, branch, cup, or glass, and so forth. Wherever there is land, water, wind, fire, these places are all tathãgatagarbha. The Buddha reveals to us that all phenomena are the Buddha essence.
The Buddha reiterated this many times and he thought that we may still not believe it, so he urged the Buddhas in ten directions to confirm this statement about the Buddha nature: “Meanwhile, Venerable Ānanda and attendees in the Great Assembly heard tathāgatas who were as countless as molecules in ten directions, with different mouths but in a single voice, speak to Ānanda: ‘Sadhu! Sadhu! Ānanda! You want to know your innate ignorance is the main knot to cause you turning in the rebirth wheel, which is your six sense organs and nothing else. You also want to experience the ultimate bodhi in order that soon you can attain the wonderful happiness, liberation, tranquility, and permanence. It is also exactly your six sense organs and nothing else.’ ”12
From their realms, countless Buddhas uttered their confirmation. It was not the Sambhoga Buddha or the vivacious voices flying in vain, but the real Buddhas from their realms who shined their halos to expound the ultimate doctrine. With different mouths but in a single voice they declared that saṃsāra and Nirvana are at our six sense-organs.
The Tathāgatas released the halo to the whole assembly in order that they could witness with their eyes and ears, and accurately proclaim this abstract complex spiritual nature, so that there is no doubt anymore.
And yet, after waiting for the Tathāgatas to finish their lecturing, Shakyamuni Buddha summarized it with a long verse to explain how the rebirth and Nirvana are at the six sense bases. When we are alive, the six basic organs are activities. Once the six units are not working anymore, this is called death. All our lives depend on six faculties. Each thought starts to incline toward the cycle of saṃsāra. We are only calm, not require laboring hard at all, do not do anything too deep, we only realize the sense of true identity and then settle in our Buddha nature. That is Nirvana. In contrast, it is the saṃsāra world.
The Śūraṅgama Sūtra has accurately and carefully declared that saṃsāra and Nirvana are at our six sense organs.
Why it is so thorough? This is incredibly hard, but it is real. Luckily, we have the Buddha seed at our six flesh faculties. Please put forth effort and use your abilities!
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER VI
Chapter VI is an introduction to śamatha, the technique to distinguish between falseness and trueness. There are two main determinants of reflecting the enlightened (bodhi) root and the fundamental defilements (kleśa). Firstly, when practicing, we use the arising-falling mind as the main cause to gain the neither-arising-nor-falling fruit of the Buddha-yāna which is impossible. Secondly, we have to filter out all ignorant seeds (root and branch), and not accept it as ourselves again. We must transform five impurities (kalpa, view, defilement, lifespan and living beings) into five purities. We must know the knot to untie it.
The inborn ignorance is the beginning knot that causes rebirth, which comes from the six sense organs. If we want to cultivate the supreme bodhi, we must practice from six sense bases too. The perception creating the knowledge is the basic ignorance (avijjā). The perception without seeing is Nirvana.
1. What is śamatha?
2. Explain the “bodhi root.”
3. Please describe five impurities.
4. Why is it said: “Six sense faculties are birth-death and are Nirvana too”?
5. Please explain: “Perception creating knowledge is the basic ignorance. Perception without seeing is Nirvana.”
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, p. 344.
- Five layers of impurity: 1. The impure kalpa, 2. The impure view, 3. The impure defilements (asava), 4. The impure living beings, 5. The impure lifespans.
- Five aggregates (pañca skandha): rūpā (matter), vedanā (feeling), sanjna (ideation), samskara (forces or drives), and vijnana (consciousness or sensation).
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 345–347.
- Eight Sufferings (dukkha (p), duḥkha (s): Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation (parideva), pain, grief (soka), and despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In conclusion, the five clinging aggregates are dukkha.
- The Cycle of Life, pp. 90–91.
- Twelve beings: As a result of two crazy causes of worlds and living beings, there are twelve beings: 1. Egg, 2. Womb, 3. Moisture, 4. Transformation, 5. Material, 6. Immaterial, 7. Thought, 8. Without Thought, 9. Neither material, 10. Neither immaterial, 11. Neither thought, 12. Neither without thought.
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 353–354.
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 385–386.
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 353–354.
- The Cycle of Life, pp. 77–78.
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 385–386.