IN THE SURANGAMA SUTRA
Dr. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương
The Buddha taught that we must be aware of seven species: hell (niraya), ghosts (pittivisaya), animals (tiracchānayoni), humans (manussa), immortals (half deva-human), heavenly (deva), asura (asurakāya) in order to encourage us to cultivate sincerely. Such seven species are dark false conditions. They do not experience the inherent wonderful enlightened mind and do not realize that seven realms are illusory (samohaṃ) arisingfalling according to the karma, without any root as the skyflowers.
PROCLAIMING THE KAMMIC CAUSE
Ānanda, these living beings who have not realized the original mind, undergone reincarnations from measureless kalpas, have not been enlightened to the absolute nature, because they keep committing killing, stealing, and lusting. In contrast, if they restrain themselves from killing, stealing, and lusting, if they execute these three sinful karmas, they will reborn in the form of ghosts. If they do not engage in these three karmas, they will reborn in the shape of heavenly beings. The ceaseless shifts between having and voidness on these terrible karmas must force rising up in the cycle of transmigration (saṃsāra).
1. Pointing out the Right Cultivation
Whoever practices samādhi will realize that in their introspective permanent essence, there is neither the having nor the voidness of these karmas and even the non-having, non-voidness are also ended. So if they are definitely without non-killing, non-stealing, and non-lusting, how can it be able to have the actual involvement of killing, stealing, and lusting?
2. Summarize the Community Karmic Retributions
Ānanda, whoever has not cut off three sinful karmas, each of them has his/her own karma. Due to the private karmic shares, it leads the community karmas, making accumulated portions. Their locations are not unpredictable. These things all come from their own false views to manifest out. Since they are illusory and generated without a reasonable cause, they cannot be traced to the source.
3. Advice to Transform Three Ignorances (avijjā)1
Ānanda, you should advise practitioners that if they hope to attain the bodhi way, they must transform three ignorances. If they have not transformed three ignorances, then even if they obtain the spiritual superpower which is only a function for the sake of the conditioned world. These ignorant habits have not paused; they will fall into the path of ghosts. Although they want to get rid of the illusion, instead they become involved with the deception instead.
The Tathāgata exclaims that such practitioners are really pitiful. All things come from your false views (micchāditthi); it is not the fault of bodhi essence.
Such declaration is the proper word. Any other declaration is the one of demon kings.2
In the section of proclaiming the kammic cause, the Buddha kindly explains the having and absence of three sinful karmas (killing, stealing, and lusting) are exchanged to produce the life cycle. The meaning of the saṃsāra depends on two aspects, such as an internal aspect (killing, stealing, and lusting) that is evil and an external aspect (non-killing, nonstealing, non-lusting) that is good, which is the proper cause for the transmigrating nature. These are the primary ideas of this book, Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.
i. Why are living beings caught in saṃsāra?
Living beings are caught in saṃsāra because they wrongly consider the enemies as their real blood children. After admiring thirty-two perfect marks of the Buddha, Venerable Ānanda turns his mind and moves from being a royal prince to be a homeless monk. Once he meets Maganti, a beautiful prostitute, he turns and moves to nearly break his important precepts. His mind is moved. In fact, this is the false thought or consciousness. Instead he forgets his true bodhi mind which is the permanent original mind without turning.
Once he wrongly considers the like-dislike thought or the turning as his real mind, he forgets his forever luminous unchangeableness bodhi mind.
He wrongly receives the changeability to be his selfness.
He respects the Buddha and is moved by the Buddha’s marks. His mind is turned by Maganti’s beauty. That is reason why there is the cycle of rebirth for Ānanda’s life.
Ānanda grasps good things for being good, such as nonkilling, non-stealing, and non-lusting, the thirty-two perfect marks of the Buddha and so on, which makes him turn his mind and life. In the process of cultivation, we should know that a bad or good thing is also a turn, so please do not turn by each of them. Avoid the evil thing. Do good things without attachment. We depend on the condition and cause
(pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda) to do good things. If there is not the smooth cause-condition for doing good things, we won’t do it. Do not turn by it because it is pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda. We try to cultivate it. We cannot be moved by good causes, much less the bad causes.
Suddenly, we meet good causes, our good mind arises. Suddenly, we encounter bad causes, our bad mind appears. Thus, our mind is turning all the time. We must be mindful to control it. Be calmed down. Do not allow it to follow external objects.
If we do not control our mind, we will arise up to wholesomes which make us rejoice. Then, we must take precautions, because in another time, we meet other conditions, and our mind will move in various situations of crying, laughing, sadness-happiness, up-down, and so on. As the mind always wanders, if it experiences evil, it will change to the evils (following Maganti’s beauty). If it experiences wholesome things, it will turn to the wholesome things
(following the Buddha’s good marks). Be aware of it! We must prevent the movement of this consciousness. Our true bodhi mind is without turning or moving, neither evil nor wholesome.
ii. What are the auspicious superior things?
Even at the time we practice meditation, if we detach from all kinds of sounds, forms, seeings, hearings, feelings, knowing, non-killing, non-stealing, non-lusting, and so on, we only attain the inward dark stillness which is not our true bodhi mind. It is the discrimination at one of two aspects of worldly objects.
To the eye organ, if we leave brightness, we grasp darkness.
To the ear organ, if we leave movement, we grasp stillness.
To the nose organ, if we leave clearance, we grasp disturbance.
To the tongue organ, if we leave flavor, we grasp nonflavor.
To the body organ, if we leave touching, we grasp nontouching.
To the brain organ, if we leave existence, we grasp nonexistence.
It is the attachment on both aspects of worldly objects.
Thus, if we leave behind six movements, we will grasp at six stillnesses. It means we still cling to the discrimination on the subtle sides of two objective aspects. For example, although we attain up to four dhyanas (material heavenly realms) and four emptiness (immaterial heavenly realms), we still fall into the lower realms because we still cling to the subtle illusory consciousness of the dark stillness. Once it ends, we will turn on the wheel of saṃsāra.
Therefore, we do not attach much on the auspicious superior phenomena because such auspicious phenomena changes constantly. We must not close our eyes to chase after either the suddenly evil or suddenly wholesome things. If we still grasp our heavenly superior meditations or wholesome things in human (manussa) world, we still maintain the updownward in the cycle of birth and death, because we still live with it and consider it as ours.
Leading an impermanent life, we receive changeability and consider it as our characteristic of body and mind. If it is moveable, increased and decreased continuously, how can we live peacefully, calmly, permanently without appearancedisappearance? So, the cycle of rebirth is consecutive and ceaseless.
For a long time, we have lived in and used the wrong false application. Now we recognize our essence substance so that we stand up to live according to the virtue of our true nature.
Whenever we are purified, we become the bodhisattvas. Whenever we are impurified, it means we are mundane people.
Thanks to the Buddha’s and patriarchs’ explanations, we know how to win the noble absolute spiritual. This is called the ideal or external aspect because the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and saints expound it in order that we can understand, admire, and pray for it. Hence, it belongs to the ideal, i.e., an external aspect.
The emotions are greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha), lust
(sarāgaṃ), anger (byāpāda, dosa), love (trishna), sorrow (soka), lamentation (parideva), and so forth. They have belonged to us for a long time, so it is called an internal aspect.
Those who live in their inward emotion will go down in the way of misery.
Those whose emotions are less than ideal—they are freed from defilements (kleśa) and become the liberated saints going upward.
The ideals are intermingled with the emotions; thus seven realms, such as hell (niraya), ghosts (pittivisaya), animals (tiracchānayoni), humans (manussa), immortals (half devahuman), heaven (deva), asura (asurakāya) appear in the world. According to the level of thought or emotion, living beings will be born in an appropriate realm. It all comes from only mind.
iii.What are the cause-effect for living beings to be born in the heavens?
Whoever has to cultivate ten wholesomes and concentration (cause), will be born in heaven (effect). The origin is the cause, the branch is the effect. The cause is the invisible essence “root,” the mind cultivating ten wholesomes and meditation, so the result is the appearance of a heavenly inhabitant in the heavenly realm which is the meaning of the letter “branch,” the result of a cause. In fact, the fundamental cause is to cultivate ten wholesomes and the resulting mind is Tathãgatagarbha (the source of all phenomena). The heavenly beings and heavenly realms are transformed from the ThusCome One (Tathãgatagarbha). Thus, both the origin-branch and the cause-effect (pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda) come finally from the wonderful suchness of Tathãgatagarbha. All things are from the extremely absolute essence. All phenomenon from beginning to ending are to manifest in the universe by the function of Tathãgatagarbha which is the true form as mentioned in the Ten Suchnesses of Lotus Sūtra (Saddharma-Puṇḍarīka Sūtra).
The heaven realm is an unenlightened world of enjoying the joyfulness because the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, body, minds and so forth are engaged fondly in the delusion and entertainment all day and night. The delusion (sarāgaṃ) leads to ignorance (avijjā) which is the root of suffering. Thus, the Buddha advises his disciples to avoid rebirth in the heaven realm.
To show the true absolute, the Buddha preaches the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. The cause-effect (pratītyasamutpāda, paṭiccasamuppāda) in the heaven realm up to the hell (niraya) all come out of the mind. Therefore, it is said that all phenomena come out of the only mind.
All the cause-effect, the root-branch, and so on, are finally the supreme enlightenment or the true substance. The Flower Sūtra (Avataṃsaka Sūtra) holds that from only mind, all phenomena present in the universe. Now, we can see mountain, river, earth, grass, rope, knot, human (manussa), animal (tiracchānayoni), and so forth which come out from our only mind. The mind invades and penetrates not only in our small body (of earth, water, wind and fire) but also over the Dharma realm.
Cultivation means returning to our original nature, letting go off the false emotion to admire and follow the ideals.
The wind is presented by association with the movement of mind.
The earth is manifested due to being ignorant and becomes an obstruction.
The water reveals the substance due to craving. Water is going down, running down; it never flows up because craving is heavy and never ascends.
The sexual craving (sarāgaṃ), self-craving (māna), selfview (egoness), and self-attachment (ahankāra) all are the root of falling down which come out of our mind.
We must live with our straight mind, letting go of the ego, then our mind will be peaceful, tranquil, blissful forever.
If we live with our illusory body and thought, we must wander around in the delusion world from this to another eon. From beginningless time, we have kept and accepted our low destiny in the ignorant frame. Since then, the Buddha kindly reminds us of awareness. The greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha), lust (sarāgaṃ), anger (byāpāda, dosa), love (trishna), sorrow (soka), lamentation (parideva), and so forth are illusory and we avoid insisting foolishly to follow it anymore.
We must be mindful to recognize how valuable the Śūraṅgama Sūtra is! It is the most precious thing existing in the world.
Let flexibility with the conditioning cause to us to live with everyone, but all the time we ourselves must aware that these circumstances are illusory.
How can we be freed from the cycle of birth and death? Please do not push our heads into the sea of birth and death.
Many people are unawakened and living in the cycle of birth and death (saṃsāra). We must firstly care for our liberation from saṃsāra. Let us be sure that we know how to swim before we save others from the flood.
Having not given up the ignorance (avijjā), having not recognized the fundamental bodhi mind means we are still alive in the delusion (samohaṃ).
Having not gotten rid of the delusion, i.e., we have not awakened the truth and have not received the truth yet. Therefore, we must study the Śūraṅgama Sūtra many times and to try to absorb it as well as digest it in order to find the true lifestyle for us.
We are monks and nuns leaving home and family in order to join the Buddhist Saṅgha for cultivating and keeping the precepts. This is the necessary cause to cut off the saṃsāra way and to motivate and purify our body, speech and mind.
The evils in society are numberless and the retributions of greed (abhijjhā, visamalobha), hatred (byāpāda, dosa), and ignorance (avijjā) in seven realms are endless. We are lucky that our duties are to learn Buddhism and to abstain from killing, stealing, lusting, lying, and develop the qualities of virtue, morality, the Buddha nature, and so forth to liberate ourselves from saṃsāra. Having the human body means we possess the awakened substance to go upward. For the sake of many, we must attempt to overcome the negative minds and the rebirth cycle.
Seven realms always rotate. We just come our from our mother’s womb. Now six organs are contacted with six objects, and we must practice the awakened method, learn from the Buddha to master the mind, and return to the immeasurable nature of Amitābha Buddha and stop forever the cycle of reincarnation. It is now that we are having the habit to create the cycle of saṃsāra. So, the ignorance demands us to turn out twelve species of beings.
Unenlightenment is the mundane being while enlightenment is the Buddha. As long as there is a wrong view (micchā-ditthi), a false thought (samohaṃ), a defilement (kleśa), there are crazy, insane or mundane beings. In contrast, as long as there is mindfulness, meditation, awakening, there is a Buddha or a bodhisattva. This is both kinds of different people.
In the previous Chapter V of Two Hard Questions of Venerable Purna,3 the Buddha compassionately interrogates us to help us reflect on ourselves.
iv. The Buddha has revealed the great meaning. Why do we not go back?
We have just escaped these species in order that we can enter the human fetus. Now temporarily we have a human body. The human body (manussa) is a gateway to get out of these dangerous realms. Getting out is the liberation. Otherwise, we must go back to hell (niraya), hungry demons
(preta), animals (tiracchānayoni), and then we will be reborn as human shapes (manussa) again. The previous and later karmas are tied to one another.
Now luckily we have enough good conditions to have a healthy body and mind, which we can awaken and learn Buddhism, while cats and dogs cannot be awakened. Thus, in our daily lives, we must practice the penetrating, hearing nature of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva or reciting the name of
Amitābha Buddha as the Mahāsthāmaprāpta Bodhisattva (the Great Bodhisattva) to get out of this saṃsāric circle. We have just escaped these species in order that we can present here.
We, who have to pay attention to this human (manussa) place, look down into the deep pit of three suffering realms and pray to be born in the Pure Land of Amitābha Buddha to be liberated forever.
In the Buddha land, we not only enjoy purity and tranquility, but also have the good opportunities to be near Buddhas, bodhisattvas and other saints to develop continually the further liberation. Mindfully geting out the low realms, our spirit definitely goes upward to ensure the release. Falling down into any one of seven realms is still on the path of ignorance (avijjā) and is still in the dangerous wanderings. We must be freed from the dark cloud of delusion in order that we can lean on the śamatha finger pointing to the Buddha nature.
The Buddha reminds us of it to help us be awakened. It is important that we must always turn introspectively to master ourselves. Three worlds and reincarnations in seven realms are generated due to just a word of “illusion” (samohaṃ). Our bodhi essence (bodhicitta) is originally neither illusion nor trueness.
The sky is clear
Moon or non-moon
The shadow of moon presents
Where is not the moon?
Tired of finding the moon
The sunset’s light pervades
Do not wait for the full moon
The moonlight has ever shined.
Phước Hậu Temple, 2008
Thích Nữ Giới Hương
1. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, Vietnamese translation by Tâm Minh; English translation by Bhikkhunī Giới Hương, HCM City Publishing, 1999.
2. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, Vietnamese translation by Bhikkhunī Bảo Giác; English translation by Bhikkhunī Giới Hương, HCM City Publishing, 1999.
3. Amitābha Buddha Sūtra and Universal Door Sūtra, Vietnamese translation by Most Venerable Thích Trí Tịnh; HCM City Publishing, 2000.
4. Living and Dying in Peace, Quotation by Bhikkhunī Diệu Khiết (from The Book of Dealth, Sogyal Ripoche, Vietnamese translation by Venerable Bhikkhunī Trí Hải), 1997.
5. Life Cycle, Bhikkhunī Giới Hương, Phương Đông Publishing, 2008.
6. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, MP3, Lecturers from Most Venerable Bhikkhunī Hải Triều Âm