THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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The third reason for the speaking of the sutra is:

1. To point to the true mind and manifest the basic nature.

The Shurangama Sutra points directly to our mind so we may see our nature and realize Buddhahood.

”What is this mind?”

It is the true mind, which cannot be seen. The heart within your chest that you can see is merely the flesh-heart, the only function of which is to keep you alive. It is not the true mind. It certainly cannot lead you to genuine understanding. If the heart within your chest were the true mind, it should be able to accompany you when you die. However, a person’s body remains after death and the flesh heart is still within it. So the flesh heart is not your true mind. Your true mind is the Buddha nature.

”Where is the Buddha nature?”

It is “not outside or inside or in the middle.” The sutra text will explain this principle in great detail. The sutra will also explain the “ten instances of manifesting the seeing-nature,” that is, one’s true mind. This is the third reason the sutra was spoken: to point out the pure nature and bright substance of the eternally dwelling true mind, which neither comes nor goes, neither moves nor changes. It is the basic substance, without defilement; its nature is pure, its substance, bright.

The fourth reason the sutra was spoken is:

2. To display the samadhi of the nature and to exhort us to actual certification.


There are many dharma-doors in the cultivation of samadhi. Externalists also develop samadhis; but in cultivating samadhis, if one is off at the beginning even by a hair’s breadth, one will miss the mark in the end by a thousand miles. Therefore it is necessary to cultivate proper samadhi, and to avoid cultivating deviant samadhi. The samadhis cultivated by externalists are deviant samadhis, not proper samadhis. Because their samadhis are not the proper samadhi of the true nature, they will never achieve sagehood, no matter how long they cultivate. It is said:

When the nature is in samadhi,
demons are subdued and every day is blissful;
When false thoughts do not arise
everywhere is peaceful.

Why do people have demonic obstacles when they cultivate? Why do karmic obstacles arise? It is just because people’s natures lack samadhi. If the nature is in samadhi, all demons can be subdued.

There are many kinds of demons. This sutra explains fifty kinds of “skandha demons.” Actually there are many, many demons: heavenly demons, earth demons, human demons, ghost demons, and weird demons. Heavenly demons are the demon-kings in the heavens who come to disturb your dhyana concentration. Earth demons that dwell on the earth, human demons, ghost demons, weird demons, and strange creatures also all come to disturb your dhyana concentration.

”Why do they do this?”

Because before you attain Buddhahood you are a member of the demons’ family. When you decide to leave the family of demons, cultivate dhyana concentration, end birth and death, and break through the turning wheel, the demons are still fond of you. They love you and can’t let you go. Therefore they come to bother your spirit and disturb your dhyana concentration.

If you have no concentration-power, you can be turned by the demon-states and end up following them. If you have concentration- power, you won’t be turned. You will be “thus, thus unmoving / clear and eternally bright.” To be “thus, thus unmoving” is to have concentration power. To be “clear and eternally bright” is to have wisdom-power. With the combined powers of concentration and wisdom, no demon can move you. But if you have no concentration or wisdom-power, you will follow the demons and become their children and grandchildren. It is extremely dangerous.

The reason externalists do not develop the concentration of the nature is because they apply effort to the branches, not the root; they work on the false shell of a body. Their mistake is to identify the sixth consciousness, the ordinary mind, with their true mind. As a result of their cultivation they get a little of the experience of still quiescence but what they experience is not actual. They force themselves to keep their thoughts from arising, but they haven’t dug out the root of their polluted thinking, so they can’t end birth and death. It is like trying to use a rock to prevent grass from growing. When the rock is removed, the grass grows right back. When cultivators of external religions relax their efforts, it is just like removing the rock. Their methods are not ultimate.

In dhyana cultivation, one investigates the meditation topic, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” By investigating this topic one sweeps away all dharmas and leaves all appearances. In seeking for “who?” one penetrates to the root of all polluted thinking and rips it out. If you use this method, the day will come when your contemplation will suddenly penetrate through and you will suddenly become enlightened. Then you will know whether your nostrils are pointing up or down. At present you don’t know whether your nostrils face up or down. Once you are enlightened, you will know, and then you’re on your way.

When Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Shurangama Sutra, there were in India various religious groups that did not discuss enlightenment. Rather, they imitated the behavior of cows or dogs. This strange practice came about because someone, while sitting in samadhi, had seen a cow reborn in the heavens, and this person concluded, “I should study the behavior of cows.” He began to eat grass, to live outside in a cowshed, and to learn how to even sleep like a cow. When he wasn’t sleeping he cultivated a bit of samadhi, but he had no genuine accomplishment; it was deviant samadhi.

Another religion of that time came about because someone had a confused dream in which a dog was born in the heavens. This person decided that if he imitated the behavior of dogs, he too would be born in the heavens. He modeled himself after a dog in every way; guarding the door, eating things dogs eat, and sleeping the way dogs do. But in the end such cultivation did not bring ultimate accomplishment.

Another old cultivator of another religion cultivated the no-thought samadhi, in which he didn’t think of anything. He was without polluted thinking, and finally in his cultivation he was born in the no-thought heaven. But birth in the no-thought heaven is not ultimate, and eventually he fell. This too is considered a deviant samadhi. All these methods taught by externalists are not ultimate, not fundamental, they are not cultivation of the self-nature, our origin.

Using the ordinary mind and its false thinking to cultivate the Buddhadharma is like trying to make rice by cooking sand. It will never succeed. You can cultivate for countless ages, but you won’t escape the turning wheel, you won’t realize Buddhahood. It is essential for those of you who wish to cultivate to meet a master who has genuine understanding, in order for you to be able to attain genuine samadhi power. In order to attain real samadhi-power, you will certainly have to undergo the tests of demons, also. As I mentioned earlier, there are many kinds of demons: there are external demons and internal demons. The external demons are not too difficult to subdue, but the demons produced in your own mind are hard to defeat.

Certain demons that bring sickness are also hard to subdue. When I was about seventeen or eighteen, I studied the Buddhadharma and yet was very arrogant. My arrogance prompted me to say an insane thing: “Most people are afraid of demons, but I have no fear of them. In fact, demons fear me.” Wouldn’t you say that was an insane remark? “No matter what kind of demons they are - heavenly demons, earth demons, spirit demons, ghost demons, human demons - no matter what kind, I have no fear of them.” After I finished spouting off, what do you suppose happened? I was attacked by a sickness demon, and then it was I who feared the demons, not the demons who feared me, because sickness inhibits one’s movements like a yoke and chains. My body wouldn’t obey my commands. I told it to walk, but it wouldn’t; I told it to sit, but it couldn’t. From morning to night I lay on the bed unable to eat or drink. The demon had me trapped. Then I realized what I had said was all wrong. I had boasted that I wasn’t afraid of demons, but now when the sickness-demon caught me I was powerless. I was so sick that I was oblivious to everything. It seemed certain I would die. But just as I was lingering on for one last breath - when I was almost dead but not quite - another thing happened to me. I saw the three filial sons Wong of Manchuria: two monks - one a Taoist master and one a Buddhist bhikshu, and one a layman. The three came and told me to come out and play, and I followed them outside. It was very strange: just outside the door I started to walk, but my feet weren’t touching the ground. Although I wasn’t in an airplane, I was in empty space. It wasn’t like mounting the clouds and driving the fog, however, it was like being enveloped in space. I walked on the tops of houses and soon they looked very small, and I could see lots of people below.

We went to all the famous temples, mountains, and great rivers. We went to the four sacred mountains in China: Wu Tai (Five Peaks), E Mei, Jiu Hua (Nine Flowers), and Pu Tuo. Wherever we went there were lots of temples and lots of people. We didn’t stop with China, however, and soon were flying over foreign lands where the people were fair-haired and blue-eyed. We went from place to place so quickly that it was like watching a movie, where frame after frame flashes on the screen in a constant change of scene, except there was no projector or screen, and I actually went to the places I saw.

After seeing and hearing many things, I arrived back at my own front door. I opened the door and looked into my house, and there on the bed was another me. The moment I realized there were two of me I became one, and my breath and pulse returned. “He hasn’t died!” exclaimed my father and mother, who were seated beside me. “He’s alive!” Then I realized that when I had seen myself on the bed unable to move, I had been sick. I asked my father and mother about it, and they said I had been in a coma for seven or eight days, and had seemed dead. So, I am a living dead man. Even I myself thought I was dead, and then I was born anew. After that I wasn’t so insane. I never said that I didn’t fear demons or that demons feared me. Take my advice: whatever you do, don’t say things like that. If you say, “I’m not afraid of anything,” in the future you will encounter something that will frighten you. But to say “I’m afraid of everything” is also incorrect. In general, don’t even bring up such useless topics.

Prior to my illness, I was an instructor at the Way-Virtue Society. I lectured on the advantages of benevolence, righteousness, the Way, and good conduct. Not only did I just exhort others to do good deeds, I myself also practiced benefiting others. I had cultivated to the point that I felt I had a little skill. One day I read an article about Zhang Xuan’s exemplary way of life and I decided I wanted to be just like him. I vowed to heaven that I would practice the deeds of Zhang Xuan. But after I made the vow I regretted it. “Of what use is imitating him?” I wondered doubtfully. And, strangely enough, that very evening a demon came to test me to see if I really could keep my vow. If you make vows, the Bodhisattvas may come to test you. The point is, don’t speak arrogantly; take care to avoid something that pleases you or in time something will happen to cause you to be displeased.

Keep your mind on cultivation of the Way. Don’t use the mind that ordinary people use but rather a mind that is intent on the Way. Cultivate the samadhi of the nature and seek actual accomplishment. Actual accomplishment is the opposite of what is empty and false. One whose accomplishment is empty and false may suddenly think, “I have just realized Buddhahood,” and while sitting in dhyana he may feel that his body is like the Buddha’s, emitting light and moving the earth. Actually there isn’t anything going on at all. The experience is empty and false: it is not the accomplishment of the Way.

One may think: “Sitting here in dhyana, I saw the Buddha give me a prediction, saying, ‘You will soon realize Buddhahood. Don’t bother to cultivate. You are a Buddha already.’” This, too, is a false experience; it is not genuine accomplishment of the Way.

Shakyamuni Buddha accomplished the Way beneath the Bodhi tree. He sat there for forty-nine days, and then one evening, he saw a star and awakened to the Way. “Strange indeed, strange indeed, strange indeed,” he said, “all living beings have the Buddha-nature. All can become Buddhas.”

However, before he had accomplished Buddhahood, a heavenly demon came to test him. It transformed into a beautiful woman who came before the Buddha and spoke seductively, trying to get him to abandon his cultivation and marry her instead. But the Buddha, from within his samadhi, was not moved by the sight of this exquisite creature. He just thought, “You think you are really beautiful, but actually you are an old hag. Countless wrinkles line your face and from your eyes and nose flow filthy tears and mucus. There is snot in your nose and phlegm and saliva in your mouth. Your whole body is filthy, and yet you still come and try to cheat me.” The Buddha contemplated this thought from within samadhi and transformed the demon’s power so that the demon turned into an old woman. Her hair turned white, her teeth fell out, and her nose began to run with snot. She looked wretched. “Look at yourself,” the Buddha told the demon. The demon looked and was so ashamed that she ran away. Many such demons came to test the Buddha, but the Buddha was never turned. Since he was not turned by the demons, he accomplished the Buddha-Way.

When people work hard cultivating the Way, they are likely, at crucial stages of development, to undergo the tests of demons. Before you have any skill the demons won’t test you, but once you develop a little skill, they will try you out. If you don’t recognize it as a test, then you may run off and join the retinue of demons. If you want to cultivate to the point of actual accomplishment, you must develop the samadhi of the nature. When you cultivate by working on the samadhi of the nature, and your nature is not moved, you will naturally have samadhi-power and your accomplishment will naturally be true and actual, not false. If you are moved by demons, then your samadhi is not true and proper but is rather a deviant samadhi, which will not lead you to Buddhahood.

Earlier I mentioned the deviant samadhis developed by people who studied the behavior of cows and dogs. How did the cow and dog they imitated happen to get born in the heavens? In a former life, the cow had cultivated the ten good deeds, but before that it had done many bad things. The retribution for the evil deeds caused it to be born as a cow and the reward for its cultivation of the ten good deeds led it, at death, to be reborn in the heavens. The same was true for the dog. Not knowing the past causes and conditions of the cow and the dog that led to their rebirth in the heavens, these people thought that it was merely being a cow or a dog in the present life that led to the heavenly reward. So they blindly imitated the behavior of cows and dogs. Nothing came of their cultivation, however, and they couldn’t obtain actual accomplishment.

Actual accomplishment means the genuine realization of one’s own perfect, clear inherent wisdom and samadhi-power, where samadhi aids wisdom and wisdom aids samadhi in a mutual, perfect, unobstructed interpenetration. It is to realize the true fundamental substance; it is to obtain one’s own true mind.

Upside-down thoughts are improper. People are really upside-down. Well, people aren’t actually upside-down; their thinking is. When Ananda and Matangi’s daughter returned to the Buddha, Ananda bowed and asked for instruction. After hearing it, he spoke a verse, which begins:

The wonderfully deep dharani,
the unmoving honored one,
The foremost Shurangama King
is rarely found in the world.

The “unmoving honored one” is the Shurangama Samadhi. The entire sentence refers to Shakyamuni Buddha. It is rare because, as the third line of the verse says, “It melts away my inverted thoughts gathered in a million kalpas.” Life after life, for limitless, boundless kalpas, Ananda had been striking up upside-down thoughts, thinking of improper things. “Upside-down thoughts” refer to any of the thoughts worldly people have. The function of the Shurangama Sutra is to destroy and melt away these inverted polluted thoughts and to dispel our subtle delusions.

Subtle delusions may be so subtle that the eyes can’t see them, the ears can’t hear them, and the mind cannot form thoughts about them. As soon as we give rise to one unenlightened thought, the three subtle delusions arise, although the space of a thought is very short. Delusion can be likened to dust. If there is dust flying about in a room where there is a mirror, the mirror will immediately catch a lot of dust particles. These particles of dust will go unnoticed until they become so thick that they cloud the mirror. Our subtle delusions are like the dust on the mirror.

Fundamentally, our own nature is like a bright mirror - it is the great perfect mirror wisdom. But because of the production of these fine delusions, the bright mirror becomes coated and grows dimmer and dimmer. Great Master Shen Xiu’s verse says:

The body is a Bodhi tree,
The mind like a bright mirror stand.
Time and again brush it clean;
And let no dust alight.

Some people say this verse is incorrect. I say it is correct. Why? He is telling us to constantly cultivate, to time and again brush clean the mind so that it doesn’t catch any dust. Brush it morning and night, for when you have cleared up the dust of the subtle delusions, the mirror of your own nature will shine brightly. Before one has become enlightened, one should honor this doctrine and cultivate in accord with it.

The Great Master, the Sixth Patriarch, said in reply:

Originally Bodhi has no tree,
The bright mirror has no stand.
Originally there is not a single thing,
Where can the dust alight?

This verse was spoken by one who was already enlightened. One who is enlightened can understand and cultivate in accord with this verse.

It is said:

When not one thought arises,
the entire substance manifests.
When the six roots suddenly move,
one is covered by clouds.

When not one thought is produced, the Buddha-nature and samadhi appear. When your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind suddenly move and take control, it is as if the sky has suddenly clouded over. So one must put an end to inverted false thoughts and dispel the subtle doubts and then one can very quickly realize Buddhahood. Unfortunately, though, no one wants to realize Buddhahood. People would rather flow along in the five turbidities, flowing along and forgetting to return. They take suffering as bliss, turn their backs on enlightenment and unite with defiling objects. Although they have not ended birth and death, they nonetheless think themselves pretty fine, saying, “Look at me, I am intelligent and handsome. Everyone who sees me likes me and I understand what others don’t.” Actually such people are just like mirrors attracting dust. The more dust that gathers, the dimmer the mirror gets until it reflects no light at all. They may think themselves smart in this present life, but wait and see: perhaps ten lives from now they will end up as stupid as pigs. Therefore, in this life we must decide where we will be going - we must recognize clearly what our destiny will be, what path we will take. Then there is hope.

The sixth reason the Buddha spoke this sutra is:

1. To clarify the two doors for the benefit of living beings of the present and future.

The two doors are the dharma-door of level equality, which is the actual dharma, and the expedient door, which is the provisional dharma. Provisional dharma is not real, but is temporary and impermanent. Actual dharma is real and forever unchanging. There are two dharmas: provisional and actual.

The expedient dharma, which is the provisional dharma, may be illustrated by the following event:

Once Shakyamuni Buddha saw a child toddling toward a well. The child was on the brink of falling into the water and would surely drown before anyone could reach it. The Buddha knew that if he called to the child to come back that it wouldn’t listen, but would keep right on running. He said instead, “I have candy in my hand. Come back quickly and I will give my candy to you.” When the child heard there was candy to eat it turned around and came back. Actually there wasn’t anything in the Buddha’s hand. But was the Buddha lying? Was he cheating the child? No. The child was just about to fall into the well. If the Buddha hadn’t enticed it in such a way as to cause it to turn immediately, it would have drowned. The Buddha extended his empty fist and said there was candy in it. The child came because it wanted to eat candy.

The provisional dharma-door is used to teach and transform living beings. Basically there isn’t anything at all, but the Buddha says to living beings, “I have treasures. Come to me and I will give you a jewel - a priceless gem - and other fine things.” Because living beings are greedy, they follow along to reap the advantages. Ultimately they have been enticed by an expedient dharma-door. The provisional dharma, then, refers to the clever skill-in-means used to save living beings.

The dharma-door of level equality - the actual dharma - and the provisional dharma-door were both used in speaking this sutra. By means of these two dharma-doors living beings are led to separate themselves from suffering and to obtain bliss, so that they eventually may give proof to the result and realize Buddhahood.

The two doors benefit living beings of the present and future. The “present” here can refer to the time when the Buddha taught, and it can also refer to now. Living beings of the present and future can obtain the benefit of being enriched by the dharma. To make the two doors understood for the benefit of living beings of the present and future is the last of the six reasons for the arising of the teaching.

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