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Volume 1


The Ten Doors of Discrimination


The Sutra of the Foremost Shurangama at the Great Buddha’s Summit Concerning the Tathagata’s Secret Cause of Cultivation, His Certification to the Complete Meaning and all Bodhisattvas’ Myriad Practices.


These words are the complete title of the sutra. All but the word “sutra” are the specific designation which differentiates this sutra from others. The word “sutra” is the general designation for all the discourses of the Buddha.

The sutra titles in the tripitaka are divided into seven classes, which are more broadly divided into three kinds of single titles, three kinds of double titles, and complete titles.

The three kinds of single titles are:

  1. Sutra titles that refer only to people. The Buddha Speaks the Amitabha Sutra is an example of this kind. The “Buddha” and “Amitabha” are both people; only people are named in this title.
  2. Sutra titles that refer only to dharmas. The Maha-Parinirvana Sutra is an example. “Nirvana” is the dharma of non-production and non-extinction.
  3. Sutra titles that contain only analogies. The title Brahma Net Sutra refers to the analogy, discussed in that sutra, of the circular curtain of netting of the Great Brahma King.

The three kinds of double titles are:

  1. Sutra titles that refer both to people and to dharmas. The title Sutra of Manjushri’s Questions on Prajna indicates that Manjushri, a person, requests prajna, a dharma.
  2. Sutra titles that refer both to people and to analogies. In the title Sutra of the Tathagata’s Lion’s Roar, the “Tathagata” is a person, and the "Lion’s Roar” is an analogy for the Buddha’s speaking of dharma.
  3. Sutra titles that refer both to dharmas and to analogies. An example is the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. “Wonderful Dharma” is the dharma, and "Lotus Flower” is the analogy.

The complete titles are:

  1. Sutra titles that refer to people, to dharmas, and to analogies. The Buddha’s Universal Great Means Expansive Flower Adornment Sutra is an example. “Great” and “Universal” refer to dharmas, the “Buddha” is a person, and “Flower Adornment” is an analogy, in which the myriad practices that lead to enlightenment are said to be flowers that adorn the unsurpassed and virtuous attainment of enlightenment.

Every sutra title belongs to one of these seven classes, and everyone who lectures sutras should be able to explain them. If you do not understand these seven, how can you explain sutras for others? How can you teach others to become enlightened when you yourself have not awakened? You should not be like people who decide to call themselves dharma masters after reading a book or two, despite the fact that they can’t explain even one of the seven The Ten Doors of Discrimination 3 types of sutra titles or the fivefold mysterious meanings or a single door of the ten doors of discrimination. That is truly a case of premature exuberance. By speaking sutras and lecturing dharma without having reached a true understanding of them, these people send most of their listeners to the hells, and they themselves fall, too. Once in the hells, neither they nor their followers know how they got there. How pitiful! Only after reaching a genuine understanding and gaining genuine wisdom in the study of the Buddhadharma can one teach and transform living beings without making mistakes.

To explain the inexhaustible principles contained in the Shurangama Sutra, I will use the ten doors of discrimination of the Xian Shou (“Worthy Leader”) school rather than the fivefold mysterious meanings of the Tian Tai (“Heavenly Vista”) school. The Xian Shou and the Tian Tai are two great schools of Buddhism in China. Some dharma masters who lecture sutras have studied only one of the two schools, and so their explanations do not always reach the level of “perfect penetration without obstruction.”

The ten doors of discrimination of the Xian Shou school are:

  1. The general explanation of the title;
  2. The causes and conditions for the arising of the teaching;
  3. The division in which the sutra is included and the vehicle to which it belongs;
  4. The examination of the depth of the meaning and the principle;
  5. The expression of the teaching-substance;
  6. The identification of the appropriate individuals able to receive the teaching;
  7. The similarities and differences between the principle and its implications;
  8. The determination of the time;
  9. The history of the transmission and translation;
  10. The specific explanation of the meaning of the text.

The General Explanation of the Title

A1 The general explanation of the title

The Sutra of the Foremost Shurangama at the Great Buddha’s Summit Concerning the Tathagata’s Secret Cause of Cultivation, His Certification to the Complete Meaning and all Bodhisattvas’ Myriad Practices
is the complete name of this sutra.

The word Great has four aspects and refers to a great cause, a great meaning, a great practice, and a great fruition.

The great cause is a Secret Cause. It differs from other causes in that ordinary people do not know of it; adherents of externalist religions do not understand it; and those of the two vehicles, sound-hearers and pratyekabuddhas, have not awakened to it. Thus it is great.

The great meaning is the Complete Meaning: the culmination of one’s Cultivation of the Way leading to Certification.

The great practice includes all the Bodhisattvas’ Myriad Practices.

The great result is the Foremost Shurangama. Because of these four kinds of greatness, the specific title begins with the word da “great.”

Buddha comes from a Sanskrit word that was transliterated into Chinese as fo tuo ye and subsequently abbreviated to fo. Although many people think the word fo is Chinese for Buddha, it is in fact only the first syllable of the full transliteration of the Sanskrit for Buddha. Buddha means “enlightened,” “awakened.” There are three kinds of enlightenment: enlightenment of self, enlightenment of others, and the perfection of enlightened practice.

The Buddha is enlightened. His state of being is different from that known to ordinary, unenlightened people. To be enlightened oneself is not enough, however. One must also enlighten others. The enlightenment of others involves thinking of ways to cause everyone else to become enlightened.

Within the enlightenment of self and the enlightenment of others there are various stages and myriad distinctions. There are, for instance, small enlightenments, which are not complete, and there is great enlightenment, which is total. The Buddha has by himself realized great enlightenment, and he also causes others to obtain great enlightenment.

When one has perfected both the enlightenment of self and the enlightenment of others, one attains the perfection of enlightenment and practice.

The Buddha has perfected the three kinds of enlightenment and so is adorned with myriad kinds of virtuous practices.

The three enlightenments perfected,
The myriad virtues complete:
Thus is he called the Buddha.

Someone may wonder why people believe in the Buddha. It is because we ourselves are Buddhas. That is, fundamentally we are Buddhas, but at present we are confused and unable to attain certification as Buddhas. The reason I say we are basically Buddhas is that the Buddha himself said: “All living beings have the nature; all can become Buddhas. It is only because of polluted thinking and attachments that they are unable to attain certification.” The polluted thoughts of living beings shift to the north, south, east, and west, above, and below. They suddenly pierce the heavens, suddenly drill into the earth. They reach to every conceivable place and their number is incalculable. Do you know how many polluted thoughts you have in a single day? If you do, you are a Bodhisattva. If not, you are still an ordinary person.

People become attached to possessions and constantly make distinctions of “me” and “mine.” They are unable to put aside material objects or physical pleasures. “That is my airplane.” “This is my car, the very latest model, you know.” One is attached to whatever one possesses. Men have masculine attachments, women have feminine attachments; good people have the attachments of good people; bad people have the attachments of bad people. No matter what the attachments are, those who have them cannot let them go. They keep grabbing, taking, and hanging on, getting more and more attached. The process is endless. Pleasures such as good food, a fine home, exciting entertainment, and the like are usually considered beneficial, but it isn’t certain that they are. Although you may not realize it, it is that very craving for pleasure that prevents your realization of Buddhahood. So the Buddha said, “It is only because of polluted thinking and attachments that living beings are unable to realize Buddhahood.”

In the Shurangama Sutra the Buddha said, “Bodhi is the ceasing of the mad mind.” The mad mind is explained as the false egocentric mind, the mind fond of status, the mind full of vain hopes and illusions, the mind that looks down on others and cannot see beyond its own achievements and intelligence. Even someone who is really ugly will consider himself to be very beautiful. Such strong attachments as these are dissolved when the mad mind is made to cease. That ceasing is Bodhi. It is an awakening to the Way; it is an enlightenment that is a first step toward the realization of Buddhahood. If you can cause the mad mind to cease, then you are well on your way.

Of the three kinds of enlightenment, the arhats’ and pratyekabuddhas’ enlightenment of self distinguishes them from ordinary, unenlightened people. Pratyekabuddhas awaken to the Way by cultivating the twelve links of conditioned causation. Arhats awaken to the Way by cultivating the dharma-door of the four sagely truths. Bodhisattvas differ from arhats and pratyekabuddhas in that they resolve to enlighten and to benefit others.

Ultimately, the arhats, the pratyekabuddhas, and the Bodhisattvas are simply people who have cultivated to the point of realization. How many people are we speaking of? We could be speaking of one person who cultivates to become first an arhat, then a pratyekabuddha, and then a Bodhisattva by means of the six paramitas and the myriad practices; such a person embodies all three levels.

Someone else, however, may cultivate to the level of arhatship, and then not want to go on. Once he himself has understood, such a person says: “I myself have already become enlightened. I understand. I can ignore everyone else.” He is a selfish person. He comes to a halt at the accomplishment of arhatship and it does not occur to him to continue down the path to pratyekabuddha-hood. Others continue to pratyekabuddhahood but do not consider progressing further. So one can say they are one person or one can say they are three people.

A Bodhisattva, however - one who enlightens himself and others . cultivates the six paramitas and the magnificence of the myriad practices, and he can continue to progress until he reaches the perfection of the Bodhisattva Way. That stage is said to be the perfection of enlightenment and practice; it is the realization of Buddhahood. The Buddha’s state of perfect enlightenment and practice distinguishes him from the Bodhisattva.

These three kinds of enlightenment can be discussed at length. When one practices them, many distinctions appear; within realizations are further realizations; within distinctions are further distinctions. The process is extremely complex.

The Summit is the highest point. The crown of the head is its summit; above that is heaven. It is sometimes said of people that “the top of the head touches heaven and the feet touch the earth”; such people are indomitable. Together, the words “Crown of the Great Buddha” refer to the top of the great Buddha’s head.

How big is the great Buddha? “The size of a six-foot-high Buddha-image?” you wonder.

No, a Buddha-image is like a mere drop in the ocean, or one fine mote of dust in a world-system. There is nothing greater than the great Buddha. He is great and yet not great. That is true greatness.

”Who is he?” you ask.

He is the Buddha who pervades all places. There is no place where he is and no place where he is not. No matter where you say he is, he is not there. Wherever you say he is not, he is there. What size would you say he is? There is no way to calculate how great he is, and so he is truly great - so great that he is beyond greatness.

”How can one be beyond greatness?”

No greatness can compare to his; his greatness is the most great.

”Who is he then?”

The great Buddha.

”Who is this great Buddha?”

He is you, and he is me.

”But I am not that great. And as far as I can tell, neither are you. How can you say he is you and me?” you ask. “How can you talk about it like this?”

If he did not have any connection with you and me, it would not be necessary to discuss him.

”How am I that great?” you ask.

The Buddha-nature is great, and it is inherent in us all. Just that is the incomparably great Buddha.

Now we are not only speaking of the great Buddha, we are referring to the crown of his head: his summit. And the great Buddha’s summit refers to the appearance of yet another great Buddha.

”How big is that Buddha?” you ask.

That Buddha is invisible. He is referred to in the verse that we recite before reciting the Shurangama Mantra:

The transformation atop the invisible summit
poured forth splendorous light
and proclaimed this spiritual mantra.

What is invisible can be said not to exist. How can one refer to the existence of a great Buddha when he cannot even be seen?

What cannot be seen is truly great. If it weren’t so big as to be invisible, why do you suppose you couldn’t see it?

”Little things are invisible, not big ones.”

Really? The sky is big, but can you see all of it? No! The earth is vast, but can you see its entire surface? No. What is truly great cannot be seen.

The great Buddha’s “invisible summit emits a light.”

”How great is the light?”

Think it over. Could a great Buddha emit a small light? Naturally the light he emits is so great it illuminates all places.

”Does it shine on me?”

It has shone on you all along.

”Then why am I not aware of it?”

Do you want to know of it?

When the mind is pure
the moon appears in the water.
When the thoughts are settled
the sky is without a cloud.

If your mind is extremely pure, the Buddha’s light will shine on you and illumine your mind like the moonlight deeply penetrating clear water. If your mind is impure, it is like a puddle of muddy water through which no light can pass. The mind in samadhi is like a cloudless sky, a state that is inexpressibly wonderful. If you can truly purify your mind, then you can obtain the strength of the Shurangama Samadhi.

Tathagata is a Sanskrit word; it means “Thus Come One.” There is nothing which is not “thus,” and nothing which is not “come.” “Thus” refers to the basic substance of the Buddhadharma, and “come” refers to the function of the Buddhadharma. “Thus” refers to a state of unmoving suchness. “Come” means to return and yet not return. It is said,

Thus, thus unmoving,
Come and come again,
Come and yet not come.

”Did he go?”


”Did he come?”


Therefore, it says in the Vajra Sutra that the Tathagata does not come from anywhere, nor does he go anywhere. He does not go to you nor does he come to me, yet he is right there with you and right here with me.

Tathagata is one of the ten names of the Buddha. Originally every Buddha had ten thousand names. In time these ten thousand names were reduced to one thousand because people got confused trying to remember them all. For a while every Buddha had a thousand names, but people still couldn’t remember so many, so they were again reduced to one hundred names. Every Buddha had a hundred different names and living beings had a hard time remembering them, so they were shortened again to ten, which are:

  1. Tathagata;
  2. One Worthy of Offerings;
  3. One of Proper and Universal Knowledge;
  4. One Perfect in Clarity and Practice;
  5. Well Gone One;
  6. One Who Understands the World;
  7. Unsurpassed One;
  8. Great Regulator;
  9. Teacher of Gods and People;
  10. Buddha, World Honored One.

All Buddhas have these ten names. The first, “Tathagata,” indicates that he has traveled the path as it truly is, and has come to realize proper enlightenment, that is, he has accomplished Buddhahood. The second, “One Worthy of Offerings,” indicates that he is worthy of receiving the offerings of gods and people.

The Secret Cause is the basic substance of samadhi power inherent in everyone. It is called “secret” rather than “manifest” because, although it is fundamentally complete in every person without exception, not everyone is aware of it. And so it is a secret. The secret is the basic substance of the Tathagata’s samadhi-power and in turn it is the basic substance of the samadhi-power of all living beings. The only difference is that living beings haven’t uncovered it, and so for them it remains a secret.

Cultivation, His Certification to the Complete Meaning. The secret cause must be cultivated and certified. Although investigation of dhyana and mindfulness of the Buddha are both means of cultivation, the cultivation referred to here is exclusively that of investigating dhyana. Through exclusive cultivation of dhyana one can be certified to and obtain the complete meaning, which is just no-meaning.

”Is that to say it is meaningless?”

The complete meaning is a complete certification to and realization of all worldly and world-transcending dharmas. There is no further dharma that can be cultivated, no further dharma that one can be certified as having attained. Great Master Yong Jia’s “Song of Enlightenment” speaks of the complete meaning:

Have you not seen the person of the Way,
who is beyond all learning
And, in leisure does nothing?
He neither casts out false thoughts
nor seeks reality.

The person of the Way does not do anything at all. He does not cast out false thoughts because he has already gotten rid of them. Only one who is not fully rid of them still needs to cast them out. The person of the Way does not seek after truth because he has already obtained it. Only those who have not obtained it need to seek it. These lines speak of the complete meaning.

The complete meaning, which is certified to, is also said to be “complete” because the principles spoken by the Buddha are so complete that an exhaustive study of them would reach to the end of all “meaning.” When one has exhausted all the principles that the Buddha spoke, then they do not exist; the meaning is complete. An incomplete meaning still has “meaning” left in it. The complete meaning is without any “meaning” at all. It is pure. When it is reached, it is the secret cause, the basic substance of proper samadhi. Reaching the basic substance, you cultivate and are certified to the complete meaning. If you do not cultivate you cannot attain the realm of the complete meaning, the great meaning which encompasses all meanings.

”But you said the complete meaning does not exist,” you say.

Yes, but that very non-existence is true existence. Relative existence is not true existence. When you have been certified as having understood the complete meaning, there are no further meanings for you to understand. You have arrived at the ultimate point.

”What is the ultimate accomplishment?”

It is the state of Buddhahood. But if you wish to reach the state of Buddhahood, you must continue to practice the Bodhisattva Way. Therefore, the title speaks of all the Bodhisattvas’ Myriad Practices. “All” can refer to the incalculable number of Bodhisattva’s practices. In general there are fifty-five Bodhisattva stages, which will be explained in detail later in the text. They include the ten faiths; the ten dwellings; the ten practices; the ten transferences; the four aiding practices; the ten grounds; and equal enlightenment, which comes before the wonderful enlightenment of Buddhahood. At each position are millions of Bodhisattvas. The fifty-five stages do not refer to a mere fifty-five Bodhisattvas, but rather to fifty-five levels through which limitless Bodhisattvas pass.

The “myriad practices” are the numerous ways in which Bodhisattvas cultivate. There are said to be 84,000 dharma-doors, but the title simply refers to them as “myriad practices.” In addition to their myriad practices, Bodhisattvas also cultivate the six paramitas - also called the six perfections.

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