IN THE SURANGAMA SUTRA
Dr. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương
THE ŚŪRAṄGAMA PRECEPTS
In the great assembly, for the sake of the future living beings, Venerable Ānanda, whose mind was absolutely clear, had a mix of feelings of delight and sorrow. He adjusted his robes, touched his palms together, and prostrated to present to the
Buddha that “The greatly compassionate World-Honored One, I already realized the Dharma-door to become a Buddha. I practiced throughout without any doubt. I often heard Tathāgata teach that ‘Firstly save others which is the Bodhisattva mind. When you attain perfectly your own enlightenment, then you can enlighten others which are the application in the world of the Tathagatas.’ I am not saved yet, but I am willing to have a vow to save all living beings in the period of Dharma ending.
“World-Honored One, those living beings are far away from the Buddha. There must have been as many heretics as sands in the Ganges to expound their wrong views (micchā-ditthi). If I want to tame those heretics to enter samādhi, how can I cause them to form a bodhimanda to keep away the evil works and to preserve the irreversible mind for bodhi?
“At that time, the World-Honored One complimented Venerable Ānanda in front of the whole assembly by saying ‘Sadhu! Sadhu! Now you ask how to form a bodhimanda to protect living beings, who are sunk in the period of Dharma ending. Pay attention to it carefully, because of you, I expound it now.’ Venerable Ānanda and the great assembly respectfully upheld the great teaching of the Buddha.
“The Buddha told Ānanda, ‘You often hear me explaining in the Vinaya that there are three decisive aspects for serious practice, such as focusing on the mind and keeping strictly the precepts; from the precepts, then the samādhi arises, and out of samādhi, then wisdom is produced. These are called the Three Outflowing Studies.’ ”
POINTING OUT THE DECISION TO DESTROY LUST
“Ānanda, why do I call focusing on the mind the precepts?
If in the six realms, existent beings do not have sexual intercourse, they will not follow the consecutive course of birth and death.
“You want to practice samādhi to overcome the tiring defilements (kleśa). If you don’t give up your desire, you will not get out of the worldly defilements.
“If a practitioner attains the samādhi insight, but has not cut off lust (sarāgaṃ), then he must enter the realms of evil spirits. At the highest level, he becomes a demon king; at the middle, he becomes a demonic citizen, and at the lowest level, he is a female demon. These demons have their disciples. Each announces that he fulfilled the unsurpassed way.
“After my passing away, in the Dharma-ending period, there will be many vigorous demonic groups like wildfire in the world who will engage in sexual lust, pretend to be good friends, and cause sentient beings to fall into the deep hole of craving views and lose the bodhi way.
“When you guide people in the world to cultivate samādhi, firstly they must transform all the lust in their thoughts. This is the first decisive pure instruction of the Tathāgatas, Buddhas, and World-Honored Ones.
“Thus, Ānanda, if a practitioner does not cut off the lust (sarāgaṃ) to cultivate samādhi, it is as impossible as cooking sand in the hope of getting rice. After spending hundreds of thousands of kalpas, it will become just hot sand or hot stone. Why? It is only a seed of sand or stone and is not rice to begin with.
“If you take the physical lustful seed to the Buddha’s wonderful fruition, even if you obtain a marvelous awareness, it will be a lustful root. The root becomes desire, you must be subjected in three paths and do not get out of it. Which way do you take to cultivate reaching the Tathāgatas’ Nirvana? You must destroy the desire at both body and mind. Even in the mind the tendency must end, then you can reach the bodhi fruit of the Buddha.
“What I have said here is the Buddha’s word. Any opposed word is the teaching of Papiyan Demon.”1
“Why is focusing on the mind the precepts?”
The Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra narrates the story that when the devas offer flowers to Venerable Sāriputta and Upasaka Vimalakīrti, Venerable Sāriputta instantly brushes them down, because he knows that in the precepts, it is prohibited to use flowers or incense powder to decorate body. However, how strange it is! The more Venerable Sāriputta sweeps it off, the more the flowers cling on his shoulders. While Upasaka Vimalakīrti sits silently without action, the flowers fall down naturally. The Vimalakīrti Sūtra is an ultimate sūtra of the Mahāyāna Buddhism system that emphasizes the mind more than form. Therefore, if the mind likes flowers, attaches to flowers, then the act instantly brushes them down; while the bodhisattva who is freed or detached from the six sense objects, realizes the flowers are illusory, does not cling to the flowers, then they fall effortlessly down.
Here too, is focusing on the mind the precepts? The mind is awakened that six sense faculties are illusory, six sense objects are deluded, and six consciousnesses are falseness, then our mind focuses at one point without losing or sinking into cravings. The state of focusing on the awakened mind is called the precepts of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.
In the first precept, the Buddha taught that if we cultivate samādhi, but lust has not been deleted, then we cannot escape the law of birth and death. Even if we luckily attain some levels of wisdom, we will become demonic kings, evil spirit citizens, or female demons.
This is the cause-effect (pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda) in six desire heavenly realms (kāmasugatibhūmi). The cause to be born in heaven belongs to the present life in which a person should cultivate meditation, ten precepts, and charity and still have sexual conduct with his/her partner.
Now we get through the Buddha’s teachings on the causes and effects of six Heavenly Sensual Pleasure Realm 2 as follows:
1. Four Heavenly Kings (tāvatiṃsa, tettiṃsā): These heavenly beings still have sexual conduct with the wife or husband, but it does not prohibit. Their minds are bright. After death, they will reborn to live near the sun and the moon.
2. Traystrimsah Heavenly Realm (tāvatiṃsa, tettiṃsā): These heavenly beings have less sexual conduct with the spouse and favor dwelling as a tranquil resident. Their minds are bright. After death, they will reborn to live at the top of the human world, over the sun and the moon.
3. The Suyama Heavenly Realm (Yāmā): These heavenly beings little remember or think about the love of intercourse, and are more static with less action. Their minds are bright. After death, they will reborn in the place where the sun and the moon cannot shine.
4. Tushita Heavenly Realm (tusita): These heavenly beings live always in a static state, but the emotions are still dominant. After death, they will reborn in the subtle place where the destroyed kalpa and three disasters of the heaven and human (manussa) worlds cannot reach.
5. The Blissful Transforming Heavenly Beings (nimmānaratī): These heavenly beings have no lust in their mind even they must meet the need, but it is as tasteless as wax. Destiny is born in the scene of transformation.
6. The Transforming Heavenly Beings of the Comfort from Others (paranimmitavasavattī): These heavenly beings do not have the worldly mind, only the five sensual pleasures with the world, but they arise to detach it. After death, they will reborn in the place of modified and unmodified scenes.
The form of six heavenly realms has less motion but their hearts are still attached to five desires. From the heavens downward is called the Sensual Pleasure World.
This sixth celestial realm has human beings, animals (tiracchānayoni), hungry ghosts (pittivisaya), and hells (niraya). It is the Sensual Pleasure World (kāmasugati-bhūmi).
It is heavily influenced by the craving for sex (sarāgaṃ).
The Two Chanting Complements and the Supreme Dharma Treatise (Nhị khoá hiệp giải và Thắng pháp tập yếu luận) taught that the lifespan of heavenly beings is generally equivalent to hundreds of thousands of billions of years in human beings, because they have blessed merit and meditative power. However, despite that their living span is rather long they will eventually fade away and fall down to the lust realms.
We see the sixth heaven realm of the Transforming Heavenly Beings of the Comfort from Others
(paranimmitavasavattī) “where there is no worldly mind, they only do five sensual pleasures as the need arises, but in their mind arises the wearisome or detachment.” These heavenly being have reduced the desire because they feel bothered by the five sensual pleasures, such as property, beauty, fame, food, and sleep of the world. This is the main cause, the preparing state for them to pass from the sensual pleasures realms (kāmasugati-bhūmi) if he wants to move forward to the heavenly form and immaterial worlds. The two heavenly material (rūpāvācara-bhūmi) and immaterial (arūpāvācarabhūmi) worlds are freed from five desires, but they are still subjected by form and meditation (The meditation is the four dhyāna and the four nothingless. It is not the ultimate Śūraṅgama samādhi, i.e., the absolute permanent solid concentrating force of our mind).
If a person puts forth much effort to meditate but lustful thoughts remain, then depending on its desire level, he will be reborn in different realms:
- At the highest level, one will be a demon king.
- At an average level, one will be a demonic citizen.
- At the lowest level, one will be a female demon.
These demons and spirits have their disciples. Each declares that he has accomplished the unsurpassed way. After the Tathāgata’s passing away, in the Dharma-ending age, the evil spirits will pretend to be the good friend, causing living beings to fall into the pit of craving views (self-ness, māna) and losing way to bodhi.
Why does the Buddha raise sexual intercourse up as the first important precept for monks or nuns (śrāvaka’s vinaya) and the Śūraṅgama Sūtra also promotes it as the first precept? There are some reasons:
Karma ties to this body are expressed by the root of ignorance (avijjā). Because of the impure view, we think this body is our true body, therefore the whole day and night we, who are busy eating drinking, clinging to the outside earth, water, wind, and fire, breathe the air, and recharge with sunlight. Then, we mix all of these parts to compose the flesh, skin, blood, and bones to form a body which is the root of ignorance.
In regard to other ignorance, once we are tricked into seeing this body as real, then we have no mind to find what our true essence is. We just blindly follow whatever view our grandparents, father, or mother handed down. To accept having a body, getting married, earning a living, giving birth, ageing, illness, death, we are going down hole of impermanence.
We do not know the truth of what we are, so that we wander to collect the earth, water, wind, and fire as our body. It is delusion (samohaṃ) that is the root of ignorance.
Craving our body is unwise, but now we attach to another body (even the same or opposite gender) to get married and be bound for love. This delusion is worse. This person loves that person’s mind; that person adores this person’s beauty. Due to this dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda), we have been mutually entangled through hundreds of thousands of aeons.
In regard to consecutive karma, the Buddha taught that “The beloved thoughts become bound with one another, so that people who love each other cannot bear to be apart. As a result, the world has seen the endless successive births of parents, children, and grandchildren. This group takes the lustful mind as the root.” 3
Taking the lustful mind as the root means that person is very attached to sexual pleasures. There is a saying, “If craving does not arise, it is not reborn in the world.” If one is without craving, we will not have rebirth in this world, so from the impure seed and the unclean root we come into being.
The patriarchs added that “In this world there is only one sexuality, but if there are two things there is no one in the world to be able to cultivate. If we attach to something that causes the sexual desire (sarāgaṃ), how can we attain the unsurpassed bodhi?”
The precept of sexual conduct is the most difficult precept. It prevents many diligent, devoted Buddhists from entering a homeless or monastic life. Some monks must leave the holy life to disrobe with painful regret.
The Buddha taught very carefully that not only the body must not break this precept, but also the mind must be prohibited from thinking it. Cultivators who do not cut off lust cannot get out of the deluded way. They are as a silkworm which releases its cocoon silk inside and binds itself in the net prison. People often think of sexual pleasures like someone who cooks sand in the hope of getting rice—there is only the hot sand. After hundreds of thousands of aeons, it will still be hot sand.
If we take this sexual foolishness as the fundamental for cultivation, it is only the root of lust and then we must be propelled into three realms—there is no way out. The bodhi way is never attained for such a person. The delusion and awakening, which are similar to light and darkness, cannot present at the same time. That why the Buddha sincerely advises us that regardless if it’s Pure Land or Zen school, when a person cultivates the salvation, the first thing is to free ourselves from the root of this sexual ignorance. Not only cutting off lust, but also not thinking of it. The tendency of cutting the lust must end in our mind. We should remember that process of pureness. The Śūraṅgama precept is very difficult; we must keep it pure as transparent ice. Because it is so strict, very rarely does someone become a holy person.
The Buddha also confirmed that certainly it as an iron nail fixed in a pillar: “What I have said here is the Buddha’s word. Any opposing word is the teaching of Papiyan Demon.”
Papiyan, who is a demon in the heavenly sixth sense pleasure realm (paranimmitavasavattī), likes sexual indulgence (trishna) and entertainment (pamāda). This is the standard for present and future to judge the teachings and ask, “Which is true to the Dharma?” The Buddha taught us to rely on the pure precepts as the standard (kāmasugati-bhūmi).
POINTING OUT THE DECISION TO DESTROY THE KILLING
If in the six realms, existent beings do not have killing, they will not follow the consecutive course of birth and death.
You want to practice samādhi to overcome the tiring defilements (kleśa). If you don’t give up your killing, you will not get out of the worldly defilements. If a practitioner attains the samādhi insight, but he has not cut off the killing, then he must enter the realms of spirits. At the highest level, he becomes a mighty ghost (pittivisaya); at the middle level, he becomes a flying yaksha, ghost commander, and at the lowest level, he is an earthy rakshasa. These ghosts and spirits have their disciples. Each announces that he fulfilled the unsurpassed way.
After my passing away, in the Dharma-ending period, there will be many vigorous ghosts (pittivisaya) and spirits like wildfire in the world to declare that whoever eats meat, will attain the bodhi way.
Ānanda, I allowed the bhikkhus (bhikṣus) to eat five styles of the pure meat. This meat originally comes from my spiritual superpowers, and does not have the life energy. You brahmans live in a hot and humid atmosphere and a rocky and sandy area where vegetables cannot grow. Thus, from my great magic and compassion, I use the skillful means to assist you to have the taste like meat. Honestly, it is not the real meat. After my passing away, how can people who eat the flesh of animals (tiracchānayoni) be called the Buddhist disciples?
You should know that if people eat meat, even though they may gain some certain awareness levels in samādhi, they all will become rakshasas. When their retribution ends, they will suffer and sink into the ocean of suffering. They are not disciples of the Buddha. Such people are killing and eating one another without ceasing, how can they come over the three realms?
When you guide people in the world to cultivate samādhi, firstly they must transform all the killing in their thoughts. This is the second decisive pure instruction of the Tathāgatas, Buddhas, and World-Honored Ones.
Therefore, Ānanda, if a practitioner cultivates samādhi, but he does not cut off killing, his behavior is as a person who covers his ears, calls out loudly, and expects no one to hear him. The more he wants to hide it, the more it is revealed.
The pure bodhisattvas and bhikkhus cannot step on grass in the pathway; much less pull it out with their hand. How can people with great compassion take the animals flesh and blood as their food?
A bhikkhu who does not wear oriental silky cloth, does not use leather boots or fur material, does not consume milk, cream, or butter, and can indeed transcend this mundane world. Once they pay off their past debts, they will not enter three realms anymore.
Why? Because when a person uses something taken from a living being, he will create the influence from that creature being. For example, when a person eats the hundred grains, their feet cannot leave the earth. Both physically and mentally, a person must avoid eating or using the bodies and body parts of living beings, by neither wearing them nor eating them. I say that such a person is indeed liberated. What I said here is the Buddha’s word.
Any opposed word to it is the teaching of Papiyan Ghosts (pretas).”4
Similarly, if a person cultivates samādhi, if he is in favor of killing, he will drop down the spirit realm. According to his merit and concentrating force, there are three levels as follows:
- At the best, a person will become a mighty ghost.
- At the average, one will become a flying yaksha, a ghost commander.
- At the lowest level, one will become an earthy rakshasa.
What is the meaning of the heavily favoring on killing?
The Buddha said that: “Greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha) and craving feed each other to develop without stopping. The result is that in the world all the species, such as those born of wombs, eggs, moisture, and transformation, depend on their strength to compete and eat one another, take killing as the root.”5
Owing to the food greed, the wine-tasting meat, the hobby of fishing or hunting, or the evil mind, twelve species of sentient beings6 rely on their strength to hurt the weak ones, and use sophisticated means to kill or harm other species without stopping. Therefore, in hundreds of thousands of eons, they have lived in the rebirth cycle to repay their debt on blood and flesh.
For a long time in India, because it was a drought, the trees did not flourish, so the Buddha permitted the bhikkhus to eat five kinds of pure meat. Five kinds of pure meat means the animal meat like lamb, pork, fish, chicken, goats (none are offered the bhikkhu if the five conditions are not met: the meat cannot be suspected of being killed for a treat, and the animals must have died naturally). This is the skillful teaching at that time for the unavoidable circumstance of drought. Today vegetables, fruits, and green beans are grown, full of nutrients, so why we do not use vegetarian food to cultivate our compassion?
The Buddha taught, how can those who eat the flesh of living beings can be called the disciples of Shakya Buddha? Such kinds of these groups will spread in the world like wildfire. They announce that eating meat will bring one to the bodhi way. That is their word, not the Buddha’s. Be aware that although they attain some certain levels of samādhi, they still drop the path of spirits, without salvation. Therefore, they must stop the killing. This is the clearly decisive second statement of the Buddhas.
Their behavior is like the one who covers up his ears, calls loudly out, and expects no one to hear his sound, but it is impossible. Likewise, a person who cultivates samādhi, does not cut off killing, expects to liberate, and attains nothing. Because the more he wants to hide, the more the evidence is revealed. In the monastic precepts, the Buddha taught bhikkhu (bhikṣu) and bhikkhunī (bhikṣuṇī) do not step on grass in the pathway, protect the environment, much less eat the flesh and blood of living beings, and proceed to use meat. How we can nourish the saint seed of compassion?
Abstaining from eating the flesh and blood of living beings as above is not enough. In addition the Śūraṅgama precept taught us carefully and more subtly as follows:
The Buddha taught that a person still wears fur or leather boots, uses woolen or silk cloths, and consumes milk means he takes something from a living creature’s body, and is in debt to that being. Whenever we use something from others, we still remain the owner. So, the Śūraṅgama precept advises us to avoid drinking milk and wearing fur cloth. Just as a person still uses the hundred grains in the land, his feet cannot leave the earth.
We cannot follow these ultimate teachings. We have not kept them because our virtue and wisdom is not enough to reach these goals. The true cultivators can hold them, accept to die for the purity, and determine to keep strictly these noble precepts. They would rather to die than drink virus water or break a precept. They would die in order to follow the teachings of the Buddha. The saints do not regret the temporary body and keep the precept strictly to the end. They are the bodhisattva precept keepers. This is the bodhisattva’s precept while we just keep sound-hearer (śrāvaka) precepts only.
Here, the Buddha surely affirms that both physically and mentally, we must avoid the bodies and the by-products of living beings, by neither wearing them nor eating them. I say that such people have true liberation. What I have said here is the Buddha’s teaching. Any explanation that is contrary is the teaching of papiyan ghost (pretas).
Thus, here the Buddha advises what food we should eat? Keeping vegetarian and avoiding eating meat is clear ly a progressive step. We also should not use directly or indirectly anything from animals, such as butter, milk, fur, or cloth. This is another progressive step. If we eat the hundred grains, we will become relatives to grains, then our feet cannot leave the earth. So finally, what food we should use to maintain our life? There are three kinds of eating, such as the peaceful Zen food, the thought food, the conscious food, and the segment food.
The Buddha meditated for forty-nine days without any food because of his peaceful spiritual state. This is eating to maintain life by thought and Zen. The devas in the sense pleasure (kāmasugati-bhūmi), material (rūpāvacarabhūmi), and immaterial (arūpāvacarabhūmi) realms also get nourishment by thought and the tranquility of meditation for the maintenance of life and longevity.
Besides, what else should we eat? Four holy ones and six mundane worlds7 get nourishment by thought in which delusion (samohaṃ) differs from enlightenment.
The holy men have consciousness that is perfectly enlightened purity which is called tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena) or the Thus-Come-One. So, the Śūraṅgamasamādhi nature can preserve all virtues and merits of the outflows (āsravas), which are neither having nor empty, neither dwelling nor not-dwelling. Here the eating takes incredible merit to maintain. If we use this dish to transform consciousness into enlightenment, then we will escape the segment eating of the human (manussa) beings.
This is a spiritual process of liberation.
ABSTAINING FROM STEALING
Ānanda, if in the six realms, existent beings do not steal, they will not follow the consecutive course of birth and death.
You want to practice samādhi to overcome the tiring defilements. If you don’t give up your stealing, you will not get out of the worldly defilements. If a practitioner attains the samādhi insight, but he has not cut off stealing, then he must enter the devious heretic realms. At the highest level, he becomes an apparition; at the middle level, he becomes a phantom; and at the lowest level, he is a devious heretic person whose bodies the ghosts (pittivisaya) can enter. These devious heretic groups have their disciples. Each announces that he fulfilled the unsurpassed way.
After my passing away, in the Dharma-ending period, there will be many vigorous phantoms and apparitions who are like wildfire in the world. They will secretively cheat others, promote themselves as good friends, declare that they have attained the superhuman (manussa) fruit, and deceive and threaten innocent people to lose the right faith. Wherever phantoms and apparitions pass, houses will be damaged and destroyed.
I teach bhikkhus (bhikṣu) to beg for alms in order to help them give up greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha) and accomplish the bodhi way. Bhikkhus are not allowed to cook their food. It means this fragile body only stays temporarily a short time in three realms. This is the last life. They present here, and do not come back.
How can thieves wear Buddhist robes and sell the Tathāgata by declaring that all karmas are created by Buddha-Dharma? They defame that bhikkhus have kept the monastic precepts to be as the Small Vehicle
(Hīnayāna). They cause countless livings to doubt, so they fall into the Unstopping Hell (avici).
After my passing away, bhikkhus who determinedly practice samādhi, stay in front of the Tathāgata image to light a candle, burn a finger off or burn the spot on their bodies, pay off their debts from beginningless time, leave this mundane world, and are freed of the inflows (sravas).
Although the bhikkhus have not understood much about the ultimate enlightenment, they have already firmly set their mind on the Buddha-Dharma. If whoever does not practice any tiny token of the ritual offering his body, even if he realizes the unconditioned way, he must still be born as a person to pay his past debts as I must pay the retribution from eating the horse grain.
When you teach people who cultivate samādhi in the world, they must also cease stealing.
This is the third decisive pure instruction of the Tathāgatas, Buddhas, and World-Honored Ones.
Hence, Ānanda, if a person cultivates samādhi, but he does not cease stealing is as someone who pours water into a leaking cup, and expects to fill it. He spends as many aeons as molecules of dust, but the cup will not be full.
Besides robes and bowls, bhikkhus do not collect anything more. If they have extra food from alms, they must donate their food to hungry people. In the great assembly, they put their palms together to bow. People scold bhikkhus who contemplate this as complements. Bhikkhus can sacrifice their own bodies and minds including their flesh, bones, and blood to become the common possession of living creatures. Bhikkhus do not consider the non-ultimate teachings of Tathāgata as their knowledge to avoid misunderstand for beginners. The Buddha approves such kind bhikkhus to attain samādhi.
As what I have said here is the Buddha’s word, any opposed word to it which is the teaching of Papiyan Demon.”8
If a person cuts off the seed of birth and death to practice the transcendent path of freedom, but still retains the negative characteristic so that he engages in stealing, how can he be liberated with such a mind?
In the consecutive karma, the Buddha teaches that “A person eats a sheep. After death, the sheep becomes a person. The person dies and after that he becomes a sheep. Ten species get on through the same way of death after death and birth to eat one another. The evil karma arises and flourishes up to the future without ceasing. This group takes stealing as their root.”9
The animals (tiracchānayoni) also want to be freed from suffering or killing, but we use many means or forms to kill their living bodies which is the most dangerous stealing connected to killing. Besides, there are many ways of stealing as stealing money, regardless if it is large or small, from Triple Gems or others. We must refrain from stealing what is not given. If we use the thing without permission of owner, we will be committing the crime of stealing.
If a person practices samādhi, even if he obtains certain levels of samādhi, he will still enter a devious heretic path if he steals.
- At the highest level, he will become an apparition;
- At the average level, he will become a phantom;
- At the lowest level, he will be a devious heretic who is possessed by a ghost (preta).
These devious heretics have their groups of disciples.
Each will announce that he has accomplished the unsurpassed way.
So, whoever commits cruel killing, murder, or causes pain to animals will become a demon. Ignorant craving (trishna, sarāgaṃ) of everything is the seed to become a ghost. Whoever steals will be reborn as devious heretics, apparitions, phantoms, and so forth. Stealing means that we cling to external things and tie ourselves so firmly to them that this is called the devious hoards. How can we enter right samādhi?
The phantom is a monster, a ghost (pittivisaya), and a deceitful thief going towards evil.
The superstitious belief: there are good and devious spirits who are heavy with killing karma and they fall down into spirits. If the spirit enters the human body to disturb it, it will be called the evil spirits. If he enters to bring benefits to the human, he will be called the honest spirit. It is like the general officer (Guan Kong) entering the body to cure disease for patients or expel the evil demons.
The Buddha taught that bhikkhus who must go for begging, keep their transient bodies in three temporary realms, manifested only in this last life, and do so without returning.
The monks go for alms without collecting or storing food in order not to be greedy (abhijjhā, visamalobha). The giver offers whatever food in a bowl, and the monks must use it. The purpose of eating is to preserve the fragile life only for a short time in the three temporary realms (the sensual, material, and immatarial realms). It means the food is used to protect this transient body and to be in service to the religion without enjoying the tastes. At every meal, the Buddha sincerely teaches that we should conduct five contemplations:
1. Contemplating the place where food came from including the labor and hard word to plant it.
2. Contemplating whether we have enough virtue to deserve this meal.
3. Preventing our mind from greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha), anger (kodha), delusion (samohaṃ) which is the evil root (palāsa).
4. Contemplating the way that food can be used as medicine to heal various physical hungers.
5. The reason for eating is simply to provide the needed energy and nutrition to be able to continue on the path toward enlightenment.
In the past, the Saṅgha of the Buddha went around for alms in India. What they begged, they used what they were offered. Bhikkhus are not allowed to preserve food for the future, because Buddha wants his Saṅgha to spend more time cultivating.
In India, giving alms is ordinary conduct, but when Buddhism spread to China, Chinese people were very scornful of begging. If anyone begs in the street, he is despised as a homeless beggar. Moreover, monks are the World-Honored Enlightened disciples, masters of Gods and men. If the teacher of Gods and Men takes action to beg, Chinese people will despise and scorn them.
Therefore, when Buddhism spread to China, the patriarchs depended on circumstances to change flexibly. Then, the pagodas, the kitchen, the storehouse, dinning hall and so forth were established to serve each purpose to avoid the prejudice about monks’ begging. This is skillful means to change lifestyle in the Saṅgha in order to accommodate local custom. Since then, Buddhism can survive and develop in any situation and any time.
Moreover, even the robes of the monk are changed to fit Chinese culture. Yellow robes are the symbol of gentle patience. The wide-sleeved chanting dress, the long dress, the formal customs are simple brown or gray, that is, modest, without arrogance. Thus, from Chinese colors to the way of sewing Buddhist robes are different from the ones in India. Depending on the custom and culture of each country, Buddhism is flexible according to the culture.
Vietnam is also influenced by the Chinese culture, so we still store the rice and food to cook, and go less for alms. Our clothing is also the same as the Chinese tradition. The patriarchs are not clinging and insisting to the form; they tried to be flexible in order that we fit in with any local custom and culture.
In regard to offering the body part, the Buddha taught that after his passing away, if any bhikkhu who decides to cultivate samādhi should stand in front of the statue the Buddha, light a lamp by himself, burns a finger or any other body part, ignites a incense stick, then the Buddha will declare that his past debt or the beginningless karma in this lifetime will be paid off, and he will be able to escape the defilements.
Burning body or hands implies letting go of the selfcraving and the self-view. The donor does not think of his body anymore, non-self. The meaning of the Mahāyāna scriptures is abstract. The Buddha did not request burning our hands. Burning hands or a body part is letting go of the self (matna), because the body is the most precious thing from which we can detach; there is nothing more.
If anyone can burn an offering on his body with such equanimity (upekkhā, upekṣā), then his debt in the past will be paid off. The body is detached, the mind is too. Another thing is also detached—he uproots all phenomena.
If everything is gotten rid of, the Buddha certifies how much of the debt is clear. With the insight eye, the Buddha sees, but as a mundane people, how we can realize it? This is the experience from the Buddha. Believing in the Buddha’s word, if we want to cut off evil (palāsa), the only way is to detach from all defilements.
Burning a body part or hand also means that the Buddha advised us to sacrifice our body and mind to serve the community. Be awakened that this body is illusion, in the upper level, we should use it to serve the Triple Gem, in the lower level, we must save all living beings. We bring this body and mind to benefit everyone, so that we can attain wisdom. Thus, we have to rise to serve Buddhism tirelessly. If there is any misunderstanding or blaming (sātheyya), we will have neither affliction nor hatred. When there is praise, we are not proud because we contemplate that the body is illusory.
We use the deluded body and mind to serve the Three Jewels, parents and grandparents, and to serve all sentient beings in ten directions. If we practice self-mortification of the body, then we will reap the results.
It is important that we must keep the mind to be awakened in order to make it wholesome. In contrast, if the mind has delusion that the body follows to the wrong view (micchā-ditthi).
We must mindfully conquer the mind. If it is haphazard, the body will not be long-life. The mind is the boss. We, who should contemplate the impure to be awakened, obey the
Buddha’s teaching to keep the precepts. If our mind has not yet awakened, it is difficult to keep the precepts. Thus, it is necessary that the mind be lucid, and then the way will be on the correct track. The Buddha called this part as focusing strictly on the mind and the precepts, i.e., being mindful and using samādhi to preserve the holy precepts. If we still have greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha), hatred (byāpāda, dosa), and wrong view, we must pay attention and correct it, reflect on the impurity of this body to detach from it. Then, the no-lust (vītarāgaṃ) and no-anger (vītadosaṃ)will present naturally. If there is lust (sarāgaṃ) and anger (kodha), there is still ignorance (avijjā). Reflecting on the impure helps to stop all the foolish wrong views (micchā-ditthi).
The Buddha uses an example of how to pour water into a
leaky cup. Just as if the stealing precept is broken; how can we pour the pure precepts into Buddhism and how can Buddhism stand without the pure precepts? The water of Dharma will flow away through the holes. So, we only deceive ourselves, because success cannot be reached. If we are stealing while we are still practicing Buddhism, then enlightenment is hard to attain. We only suffer by ourselves, deceive ourselves, because it is not possible for a thief to be successful. Whoever steals is still greedy (abhijjhā, visamalobha), and cannot become a Buddha.
ASBTAINING FROM TELLING A LIE
Ānanda, in the six realms, existent beings must not violate killing, stealing, and lusting precepts, which must be kept perfectly. However, if they tell a lie, their samādhi is impure, and they will become the self-craving demon and lose the Tathāgata’s seed. They declare they have attained what they have not attained; they have enlightenment when they have not been enlightened. Because they desire to seek the most respect, prostrations, and offerings from the world, they will falsely announce to other people that: I have attained sotapanna, sakridagamin, anagamin, arhatship, pratyekabuddha, or the various levels of bodhisattvahood within or before ten bhumis (grounds).
These icchantikas destroy their Buddha seeds like a person chops down a tala tree. The Buddha declares that such icchantikas, who lost their good roots forever, do not have right view, sink in the suffering sea of the three realms, and fail to gain samādhi.
I order bodhisattvas and arhats, after my passing away, in the Dharma-ending period, to save living beings in the rebirth cycle. They must manifest in various forms, such as shramanas, white-robed laypeople, kings, officials, virgin youths or maidens, widows, profligates, thieves, butchers, or dealers in contraband, and so forth, to do the same jobs with these living beings. Since then, bodhisattvas and arhats praise the Buddha vehicle to cause their body and mind to enter samādhi. But they should never reveal their identities by saying that ‘Indeed I am a bodhisattva’ or ‘Honestly, I am an arhat,’ or look to people who have not yet studied.
Bodhisattvas and arhats only reveal their true identities on some special occasions like the moment before death. How can bhikkhus cheat living beings by telling a lie? Ānanda, when you teach people in the world to cultivate samādhi, they must cease telling lies. This is the fourth decisive pure instruction of the Tathāgatas, Buddhas, and World-Honored Ones.
Thus, Ānanda, whoever does not stop telling lies is like a person who uses the human (manussa) feces to carve a chandana tree and expecting to have fragrance. It is impossible. I teach bhikkhus to take the straight mind as the bodhimanda in which they should practice without cheating in four gestures; how can they announce themselves to reach the Dharma of a superior person? That is like a citizen crazily calling himself a king in order that it forces him to be executed. Much less how can a bhikkhu claim himself with the title of Dharma King? When the cause is not true, the effects will be distorted. Likewise, a person who seeks the Buddha’s bodhi in this way is like a person who tries to bite his own navel, he will fail to do it.
Bhikkhus who keep their minds straight as lute strings, keep the truth in everything enter samādhi, and must never be involved in the demon’s affairs. I sealed that such bhikkhu will fulfill the bodhisattvas’ unsurpassed knowledge and enlightenment.
What I have said here is the Buddha’s word. Any opposed word is the teaching of Papiyan Demon.”10
The Buddha taught that if people cultivate samādhi, attain some certain levels of meditation in the present but are still telling lies, they will become the demons of craving view and will lose the Tathāgatas’ seeds. Why? It is like a tala tree in India or a bamboo tree in Vietnam. The body of a tree that is chopped down is dead and cannot grow. Likewise, if a person tells a great lie that he is enlightened and is a saint, the Buddha declares that such a person destroys good roots, loses his right view, and sinks in to the suffering sea of three realms (the sensual, material, and immaterial realms).
In Buddhism, there are many stories of monks, nuns or Buddhist followers who claim themselves to be Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, have enlightened minds as the saints, and seek the foremost veneration and offering in society. They often announce that they have attained the fruits of sotāpanna,91 sakridagamin,92 anagamin,93 arhatship,94 pratyekabuddha,95 or bodhisattvas96 up to ten bhumis (daśabhūmi).11
The Buddha called them the icchantikas who destroy their Buddha seeds just as a tala tree is chopped down.
With the insight eye, the Buddha realized the danger of lying, hence he created the precept to abstain from lying so that ordinary people do not claim to be a saint or indirectly show themselves as supramundane people. If we are not enlightened but we declare that we have attained Buddhahood, while in fact we are only ordinary, this is called cheating. People show respect to us and offer much material to earn merit. That is why it belongs to one of the most important precepts.
Even the great disciples of the Buddha practiced and attained certain level of spiritual superpowers. This is like the flowers on the way of spiritual holiness or the magic of the quiescent mind. We who must keep such a thing, go on ahead, and do not cling on it. If we cling to the wonderful superpower, it becomes harmful and dangerous. Moreover, we should not take advantage of the spiritual superpowers as a unique means to collect disciples.
Venerable Devadatta is jealous with the Buddha and wants to have the prestige and support of wealthy monarchs. He uses his master mind to consolidate authority to become the leader of of the Saṅgha instead of the Buddha. He uses his superpower to fly in the sky and manifests a snake climbing on the thigh or wrapping the body of the Ajātaśatru (Ajātasattu) prince, who admires Devadatta’s ability. Since that time, the prince became a servant of Devadatta’s dark intentions.
After he won the heart of the Ajātaśatru prince, Devadatta advises him to kill his old father, King Bimbisara, and rob the throne, because King Bimbisara still has the highest position, and the prince is still influenced by his father. Devadatta fails to do anything. Prince Ajātaśatru sent soldiers to the jail to kill his father.
But the death of King Bimbisara and the words of Queen
Vaidehi made Prince Ajātaśatru regret his terrible evil deed. The Prince repented before the Buddha and later became a devout Buddhist and served the Three Jewels wholeheartedly. Due to many extreme sins, Devadatta immediately falls into interminable hell forever.
Therefore, the Buddha always advises the Saṅgha to limit the use of supernormal powers only for the purpose of conversion. The young monks should be more limited.
Venerable Maudgalyāyana (Mahāmaudgalyāyana) is the great disciple who was believed by the Buddha when using divine power to convert the heretics.
The Buddha declares that telling a great lie is a slander, neither allowed nor forgiven. It is like taking feces to carve a fragrant tree. Due to craving of self, we promote and pretend we are saints or Buddhas to receive the respect or offering from others. It is fake; how can we become Buddhas? This is foolishness after foolishness. It is ignorant to fall into this ignorant pit. If we bring living beings into the dangerous pit, how can we bring beings into the bodhi?
Monks and nuns must consider the straight mind to be our bodhi ground. In all postures like walking, sitting, standing, lying down, we never tell the lie that we are the self-professed higher moral ones. For example, if ordinary people dare to claim themselves as kings or president, they bring disaster to themselves.
Therefore, the Buddha decides that his disciples must refrain from lust, killing, stealing, and lying. Whoever wants to cultivate the Buddha, they definitely decide to throw away these four sins. Śrāvakas keep the precepts and maintain the body prestige, while the bodhisattva is banned from the mindset initiation.
Non-lusting is non-birth. Non-killing is not-killed. Non-stealing is non-loss.
The bodhisattvas and the śrāvakas precepts are all taught by the Buddha, but each person can keep the rule depending on their ability. If a female is ordained (keeping five precepts), vows to receive the sadini ordination (keeping ten precepts), the sikkhamànà ordination (250 precepts),12 and then proceeds to keep bhikkhunī (348 precepts), this depends on the level of ability and the vow of the nun. The virtue of śrāvakas is liberation in this life, without returning to the cycle of rebirth (saṃsāra). Bodhisattvas are willing to stay in the mundane life to help creature beings for many kalpas until all beings become the Buddhas. Whoever has these noble ideas, the Buddha provides the bodhisattva conduct with ten major and forty-eight sub-major precepts to benefit beings. It is important that the wise person knows how to practice the Dharma-Buddha in a flexible and appropriate manner within the contemporary social environment.
Bodhisattva’s conducts are for both mundane and transmundane people regardless of level, skin color, and degree. Everyone can keep it, anyone can become a Buddha. The bodhisattva virtue is a bridge to be the Buddha and it will follow us for the rest of our lives. The Buddha is devoted to explaining the meaning and action of each precept, because it is our mind, not outside. All of the precepts have the same capacity to progress on the Way.
How do we earnestly accept the precepts to be promoted as such? The moment of receiving the precepts in the ordination. It will have the spiritual impression of keeping watch over us forever. If in the ordination ceremony, we are distracted, do not know anything, just blindly follow others, then our precepts are only on the surface, because they are absent from the heart. In contrast, if we are sincerely receiving them, even if the bad karmic force after life forces us into rebirth as a buffalo or a cow, the bodhisattva’s precepts are never lost, because we still have that noble vow in our alaiya consciousness. It can be old vows, but if we meet good Dharma friends, face the Three Jewels with enough the nice conditions, our spiritual flowers will bloom and will fruit.
If we have broken the precepts, then we must earnestly repent. Trying to learn and maintain morality, our mental precept nature, and capacity is restored.
Through reading the precepts of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, we see the Buddha saying that precepts are to protect and support the peaceful life of everyone. If we are good at applying and practicing, we will bring peace and happiness to self and others.
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER VII
Chapter VII is an introduction on the śrāvaka’s precepts in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. There are three decisive aspects for serious practice, such as keeping the mind strictly on the precepts; from the precepts, then samādhi arises; and out of samādhi, then wisdom is produced. These are called the “Three Outflowing Studies.” The Buddha declares the decisions to refrain from killing, stealing, lusting, and lying. Owing to it, twelve living beings in seven realms are consecutively produced.
The Buddha heartily expounds the meaning and the work of each Śūraṅgama precept. The Śūraṅgama precepts enforce that we must strictly keep the precepts not only with the body but also with the mind. The mind does not commit killing, stealing, lusting and lying in order to escape the consecutive rebirth course. Not only the body and mind, but also the nature of breaking the precepts must disappear. After that, we can expect to be enlightened with the bodhi fruit of the Buddhas.
1. What is the significance of “Keeping the mind strictly on the precepts”?
2. Please describe a śrāvaka’s precepts in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.
3. What is the meaning of “cooking sand for rice”?
4. Explain the sentence: “Not only the body and mind, but also the nature of breaking the precepts must disappear. After that, we can expect to be enlightened with the bodhi fruit of the Buddhas.”
5. What the meaning of “Three Outflowing Studies”?
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 549–554.
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 721–722.
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, p. 292.
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 557–558.
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, p. 292.
- Twelve beings: Because 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.
Four holy ones: Buddha, bodhisattva, pratyek, and śrāvaka.
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 559–561.
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, p. 292.
- The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, pp. 562–565.
– Sotāpanna: one who has entered (āpanna) the stream (sota).
– Sakridagamin: one has seven deaths and seven births remaining.
– Anagamin/ariya-puggala: the one is “never-returner,” or one who will not be reborn in the human realm and will enter the realm of the gods at the time of death.
– Arhat/arahant: one who is worthy or perfected, having attained Nirvana.
– A pratyekabuddha/paccekabuddha: a lone buddha, a buddha on their own or a private buddha.
– Bodhisattva is the one is able to reach Nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings.
– The ten bhūmis (stages of a bodhisattva, daśabhūmi):
- The joyous (pramudita)
- The stainless (vimala)
- The light maker/the luminous (prabhakari)
- The radiant (arcismati)
- The very hard to conquer/difficult to cultivate (sudurjaya)
- The turning toward/the manifest (abhimukhi)
- The far going/gone afar (durangama)
- The unshakeable/the immovable (acala)
- The good mind/the good intelligence (sadhumati)
- The cloud of Dharma (dharmamegha)
- Thức Xoa Ma na (Sikkhamànà): After receiving the ordination of sikkhamànà, a nun must spend two years learning the 250 sikkhamànà precepts and basic precepts of a Tỳ kheo ni bhikkhuni.