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Manjushri Asks a Question
VOLUME 2, Chapter 1
P5 Manjushri asks a question.
Q1 He brings up a doubt and formulates a question.
Then Manjushri, son of the Dharma King, took pity on the four assemblies, rose from his seat in the midst of the great assembly, bowed at the Buddha’s feet, placed his palms together respectfully, and said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, the great assembly has not awakened to the principle of the Thus Come One’s two-fold disclosure of the essence of seeing as being both form and emptiness and as being neither of them.
Then Manjushri, son of the Dharma King - Manjushri, the Greatly Wise Bodhisattva, had already understood, but he looked at those in the assembly who had something left to learn, the first-stage, second-stage, and third-stage arhats, and saw that they were extremely pitiful. So he brought up a question.
”Manjushri” is a Sanskrit name that means “wonderful virtue.” He is also called “Wonderfully Auspicious.” The Buddha is the Dharma King, and a Bodhisattva is a son of the Dharma King. Manjushri was an elder among the sons of the Dharma King; he was the leader among the Bodhisattvas.
He took pity on the four assemblies - the bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas, and upasikas - rose from his seat in the midst of the great assembly, and bowed at the Buddha’s feet. He stood up and then bowed down to the Buddha and held the Buddha’s feet with his two hands. This is a gesture of utmost respect. People’s feet are most unclean, and so to use one’s hands to hold the Buddha’s feet indicates, “I am beneath your feet.” So when you bow to the Buddha, you turn your palms up, and in this position you should contemplate that your two hands are under the Buddha’s feet. This represents the purity of the body-karma, because while showing respect in this way, you are not committing any offenses with your body.
He placed his palms together respectfully. This represents the purity of the mind-karma. In your mind you also give rise to thoughts of true respect. Placing your palms together, with the ten fingers placed carefully side by side, represents single-minded respect. It means that you “turn to one” and give undivided attention to revering the Buddha. Placing the palms together is also called “uniting the ten to become one.”
And said to the Buddha: this represents the purity of mouth-karma. Body, mouth, and mind all pay respect. The karma of the body, the karma of the mouth, and the karma of the mind are all pure. This is the purity of the three karmas. Why do people commit karmic offenses? Offenses are most often committed by the mouth. It is said,
Calamities come forth from the mouth;
Sickness enters by way of the mouth.
When catastrophes befall us, when adverse circumstances arise, they are usually brought on by the mouth. You say someone is wrong, and that person comes and treats you rudely. Isn’t that a disaster brought about by the mouth? “Sickness enters by way of the mouth.” When we eat things, we should be careful what we take in. If you are not careful about what you eat, you can get sick. The sickness referred to here does not just mean a temporary illness. It means that, over a long period of time, what you eat as well as other conditions can cause your breath and blood to be out of balance. When that happens, sickness arises.
World Honored One, the great assembly has not awakened. He says that no one understood. But did Manjushri Bodhisattva understand?
He understood. But he still wanted to ask on behalf of those who had the opportunity to be present in the great assembly. If he had not asked, no one else would have known how to phrase the question. The Buddha could have explained it, but if no one knew how to ask, there would have been no way to take advantage of the Buddha’s knowledge.
We know that Manjushri understood because the text says he “took pity on the four assemblies.” But even if it weren’t for that phrase, we would know that he understood because he has the greatest wisdom and is referred to as “the Greatly Wise Manjushri Bodhisattva.” His question was asked on behalf of those who have not awakened to the principle of the Thus Come One’s two-fold disclosure of the essence of seeing as being both form and emptiness and as being neither of them. This refers to the doctrine involving the seeing-essence, things, and emptiness. Ultimately, is the seeing a thing or is it emptiness? Nobody else knew how to ask about this doctrine, so Manjushri Bodhisattva decided to ask about it.
P6 The Thus Come One’s compassionate instruction.
Q1 First he explains it is not because of .is. or .is not..
R1 He makes clear the one truth neither .is. nor .is not..
"World Honored One, if the causal form, emptiness and other phenomena mentioned above were the seeing, there should be an indication of its distance; and if they were not the seeing, there should be nothing visible to be seen. Now we do not know what is meant, and this is why we are alarmed and concerned.
Do you see how Manjushri phrases things completely differently from Ananda? Ananda is not clear about what is going on. But when Manjushri Bodhisattva speaks, his reasoning is quite complete. He says: World Honored One, if these conditions before us - the appearance of form and emptiness alike - were the seeing, one would be able to point to it. “These conditions before us” refers to the dust before one, the causes and conditions discussed above. “Form” refers to things, “emptiness” to space. “Alike” refers to both these characteristics, and “appearance” means there is not necessarily such a thing, but they are used by way of analogy.
Manjushri says that if form and emptiness are the seeing, there would be some representation of it, that one could point to the seeing. If they were not the seeing, then one would not see anything. The World Honored One first said that the seeing was not a thing. Afterward, he said that seeing is a thing - that is, he asked what things are not the seeing. Nobody knew what he meant. Now we do not know what is meant. Just what is happening here? In the end, is there seeing or isn’t there?
Manjushri Bodhisattva says “we” because he doesn’t have a self. He says that everyone does not understand. His question is a lot clearer than any asked by Ananda. You see how simply he states it, yet the meaning is very wonderful. This is why we are alarmed and concern. This is something we never paid much attention to before and now that we have taken notice of it, the doctrine is so wonderful that we are not sure what it is ultimately all about. I look at this lamp, for example: is the seeing the lamp or is the lamp the seeing? This doctrine hasn’t been explained clearly. If you say the lamp is not the seeing, then I don’t see the lamp. You may say the lamp is the seeing, but the lamp itself cannot see. So you say it is the seeing and yet it is not the seeing.
Q2 He picks up on the past and seeks instruction.
"It is not that our good roots from former lives are deficient. We only hope the Thus Come One will have the great compassion to reveal exactly what all the things are and what the seeing-essence is. Is it that there is no question of ‘is’ or ‘is not’ in all of this?”
It is not that our good roots from former lives are deficient. The reason for our alarm and concern is not that our good roots from our last lives or from other previous lives are deficient. It wasn’t that the members of the assembly had few good roots. It was that they didn’t understand the doctrine at all. Sometimes people whose good roots are slight will become very afraid when they cultivate the Way. What should you do if this happens? Do more good deeds, to nourish your good roots. When your good roots are nourished and grow deeper, then you will have samadhi-power. If your good roots are insufficient, your samadhi-power will be insufficient too. So we all should nourish our good roots.
We only hope the Thus Come One will have the great compassion to reveal exactly what all the things are and what the seeing-essence is. Is it that there is no question of “is” or “is not” in all of this? In the end, is it that there is no “is” and no “is not” in the midst of things, emptiness, and the seeing-essence? Manjushri Bodhisattva is really clear about this doctrine, and so he makes this deduction.
P6 The Thus Come One’s compassionate instruction.
Q1 First he explains it is not because of .is. or .is not..
R1 He makes clear that the one truth is not .is. or .is not..
The Buddha told Manjushri and the great assembly, “To the Thus Come Ones and the great Bodhisattvas of the ten directions, who dwell in this samadhi, seeing and the conditions of seeing, as well as the characteristics of thought, are like flowers in space - fundamentally non-existent.
The Buddha told Manjushri and the great assembly, “To the Thus Come Ones and the great Bodhisattvas of the ten directions, who dwell in this samadhi - in the great Shurangama Samadhi - seeing and the conditions of seeing - the causes and conditions which arise in their seeing - as well as the characteristics of thought - as well as the things they think about - are like flowers in space - fundamentally non-existent.” Basically, there aren’t any flowers in space. When your eyes are defective, you see them, but if there’s nothing wrong with your eyes, there are no flowers in space. Or perhaps if you look at the sun for too long, you may see flowers all over empty space. That is one way to explain it. Another way to explain it is that if you open the Buddha eye, whatever flowers you want to look at exist in space. These are flowers in space also. So there are two principles here.
Are the flowers seen by those who have opened their Buddha eye real? No. They are not real either. They are also illusory transformations. But if you think you want to see them they come into being.
Then are there any flowers in space? No. Basically there isn’t anything at all. Basically they do not exist. Basically there isn’t anything. What are you trying to find? Why are you trying to find out if the seeing is a thing or if it is emptiness, or what? What are you looking for? You are all caught up in seeking outside - in running outside yourself to look for things.
"This seeing and its conditions are originally the wonderful pure bright substance of Bodhi. How can one speak of ‘is’ and ‘is not’?
The Buddha said: This seeing and its conditions are originally the wonderful pure bright substance of Bodhi. The seeing and the conditions of seeing are themselves the wonderful pure bright substance of your Bodhi mind. It is also the pure nature and bright substance of the everlasting true mind. Here for purposes of literary style the name “Bodhi” has been used instead. How can one speak of “is” and “is not”? How can you say that “is” and “is not” can be found within the true mind, which defies duality? There is nothing dual about the true mind; it is absolute, and not in the realm of opposites, and so how can you be so confused as to speak of an “is” and “is not” there?
R2 He uses an analogy to ask if the one truth “is” or “is not.”
"Manjushri, I now ask you: take yourself as an example, Manjushri. Is there still another Manjushri? Is there a Manjushri who is and a Manjushri who is not?”
Now the Buddha asks Manjushri Bodhisattva a question: Manjushri, I now ask you: take yourself as an example, Manjushri. Is there still another Manjushri? Is there a Manjushri who is and a Manjushri who is not? You say, “This is Manjushri.” That’s what is meant by “a Manjushri who is.” Then is there a Manjushri who is not? What do you say? That is what the Buddha asked Manjushri Bodhisattva, and he waits to see what Manjushri Bodhisattva will answer. You should learn to ask questions like Manjushri Bodhisattva. Don’t imitate Ananda’s way of asking questions. Ananda’s questions are really obtuse.
R3 He answers that originally truth does not have a dual aspect.
"So it is, World Honored One: I am truly Manjushri. There is no Manjushri who ‘is.’ Why? If there were still another Manjushri who ‘is’ Manjushri, there would be two Manjushris. But it is not that now I am not Manjushri. In fact, neither of the two characteristics ‘is’ and ‘is not’ exist.”
So it is, World Honored One. Manjushri Bodhisattva says, “It is just as you explain it, Buddha. There is no Manjushri who ‘is’ and no Manjushri who ‘is not.’ There isn’t any ‘is’ or ‘is not.’ I am truly Manjushri. I am the real Manjushri. There is no Manjushri who ‘is.’ There isn’t anyone beyond me that is Manjushri. There isn’t anything else. I am just Manjushri. There isn’t any ‘is’ Manjushri or ‘is not’ Manjushri. Why? Why do I say that? If you say this Manjushri is, then what Manjushri is not? If there were two Manjushris, then that would be acceptable.
If there were still another Manjushri who ‘is’ Manjushri, there would be two Manjushris. If there is an ‘is,’ then there is an ‘is not,’ and that becomes two Manjushris. But it is not that now I am not Manjushri. But it certainly isn’t that I am not Manjushri today. There is a Manjushri; but there is no ‘is’ Manjushri. In fact, neither of the two characteristics ‘is’ and ‘is not’ exist. In terms of myself, Manjushri, a particular person, the two aspects of ‘is’ and ‘is not’ do not exist, and to speak of one that ‘is’ Manjushri and one that ‘is not’ Manjushri is incorrect.”
At that time he caused everyone in the great assembly to understand that there isn’t something that “is” the seeing and something that “is not” the seeing. The seeing is the everlasting seeing. There is no such thing as saying that things are the seeing or that emptiness is the seeing. The seeing is the wonderfully pure bright substance of the nature of Bodhi. So you cannot set up “is” and “is not” with regard to it.
R4 He concludes by tying the analogy to the principle.
The Buddha said, “This is not only the case with the seeing, the basic substance of wonderful Bodhi, but also with emptiness and mundane objects.
The more he explains, the more all-encompassing this sutra becomes. Not only is the seeing the basic substance of wonderful bright Bodhi, but emptiness and mundane dust are also. They are just like the seeing. The Buddha said, “The wonderful brightness of the seeing is this way and so are emptiness and mundane objects.” They are just as wonderful as the seeing. There is no “is” and “is not.” It is not that things are the seeing or that emptiness is the seeing. Rather, emptiness and mundane things - dust - are, like the seeing, the basic substance of the true mind. Later the four elements of earth, water, fire, and wind are explained to be the wonderful true suchness nature of the treasury of the Thus Come One. So the more this sutra is explained, the more wonderful it becomes. The more it is explained, the less you understand it, and so you say, “Since I can’t understand it, I won’t study it.”
If you don’t study it, you will never understand it. You will never open your wisdom. Now you are studying it, and so now you can open your wisdom. You can perceive that the mysterious wonder of the Buddha’s doctrines is inexhaustible. So the Shurangama Sutra is unsurpassed.
Q2 He teaches him the method to transcend “is” and “is not.”
R1 He displays the two appearances of true and false.
"They are basically the projections or manifestations of the wonderful brightness of unsurpassed Bodhi, the pure, perfect, true mind. They are falsely taken to be form and emptiness, as well as hearing and seeing.
They are basically the projections or manifestations of the wonderful brightness of unsurpassed Bodhi. Basically, everything is the subtle wonderful, light, highest Bodhi, the enlightenment to the Way, the pure, perfect, true mind. The true mind is clean. They are falsely taken to be form and emptiness, as well as hearing and seeing. Originally the basic substance is the pure true mind. But with the production of a single thought of false dust - mundane objects - one is turned around by form, that is, by things, and by emptiness. You are turned around by things. Earlier I said, “If you can turn things around, you are the same as the Thus Come One.” Because there are false thoughts, one is turned around by form and emptiness. You also do not understand your hearing-nature and your seeing-nature.
Why don’t we understand? Because of the production of false thoughts. When one thought is wrong, thought after thought becomes wrong. There is a saying:
In one false move,
You lose the whole chess game.
Likewise, because of one wrong thought, you recognize the false as true. You take false things to be the real one.
R2 He uses an analogy for the true and false.
"Just as with the second moon: which one ‘is’ the moon and which ‘is not’ the moon? Manjushri, there is only one true moon, and within it there is not a moon that ‘is’ or a moon that ‘is not.’
Just as with the second moon. Basically, it is one moon, but if you look at it with defective eyes, you see two moons. Which one “is” the moon and which “is not” the moon? Which moon is not the moon? Manjushri, there is only one true moon, and within it there is not a moon that “is” or a moon that “is not.” When you have “is” and “is not,” you have relative dharmas. But what is spoken of now is absolute. The basic nature of Bodhi is beyond opposites.
R3 He puts analogy and principle together.
"Therefore, now as you contemplate the seeing and the mundane things together, all the things you disclose are called false thoughts. You cannot transcend ‘is’ and ‘is not’ from within them.
Therefore, because of this, now as you contemplate the seeing and the mundane things together, all the things you disclose are called false thoughts. You contemplate your seeing and things, and you disclose all kinds of forms and appearances. They are all false thoughts; they appear because of your false thoughts. You cannot transcend “is” and “is not” from within them. Within emptiness you cannot find something that “is” emptiness and something that “is not” emptiness. Emptiness is simply emptiness; how could there further be an emptiness that is and an emptiness that is not? Nor can you say of things that a thing “is” and “is not.” It is the same with the seeing. You cannot say there is a seeing that “is” a thing or “is” emptiness, or that the seeing “is” or “is not” seeing. This will not work. In this you cannot find an “is” or an “is not.”
"With the true essence, the wonderful enlightened bright nature, you can get beyond trying to point out or not point out.”
”With the true essence, the genuine seeing-essence, the wonderful enlightened bright nature, the subtle wonderful inconceivable bright nature, you can get beyond trying to point out or not point out. The bright nature can teach you to get beyond trying to pinpoint things as being or not being. You felt that your doctrine was correct when you said that the seeing is a thing, and then you said the seeing is not a thing. But ultimately, is it a thing or isn’t it?” the Buddha is asking Ananda. Fundamentally there is no such distinction of “is” and “is not.” Your doctrine was wrong. You tried to point to things as “is” or “is not,” but basically it cannot be done. It is a complete mistake to try. But now you can get beyond that.