THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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Volume 4

N3 They hear the Buddhas speak with one sound.

Sutra:

Then Ananda and everyone in the great assembly heard the Thus Come Ones as numerous as fine motes of dust throughout the ten directions speak to Ananda in unison.

Commentary:


Then Ananda and everyone in the great assembly, the great Bodhisattvas, the great Arhats, the great bhikshus, heard the Thus Come Ones as numerous as fine motes of dust throughout the ten directions. All these people became as one person; each person was a part of the whole. At the same time they all heard the Thus Come Ones speak to Ananda in unison. Although there were many mouths, the voice was the same. What they had to say is meant not only for Ananda, but also for you and me and all those present listening to the sutra. This instruction is a very important section of the Shurangama Sutra. It concerns a crucial point: the matter of birth and death. If you understand this section, you can quickly put an end to birth and death. If you don't understand it, you'll have to double your efforts and make progress in your study and practice.

Sutra:

Good indeed, Ananda! You wish to recognize your innate ignorance that causes you to turn on the wheel. The origin of the knot of birth and death is simply your six sense-organs and nothing else.

Commentary:


These words make it absolutely crystal clear. It is stated as plainly as it can be. If we truly understood it now, we would obtain liberation on the spot. If you haven't understood, you have to keep on investigating it. Thus Come Ones as numerous as fine motes of dust speak to Ananda with different mouths but a single voice, first of all praising him. "Good indeed, Ananda!" they say, like one would to a child. "You're a good boy. Very good, really smart!" They praise and flatter him first to draw his attention. And, once they've got his attention they tell him the truth. "You are very intelligent, Ananda, because you wish to recognize your innate ignorance. You want to know some genuine principle and learn about the ignorance that came with you at birth." It is also referred to as the "ignorance which appears with production." It causes you to turn on the wheel of the six paths of rebirth, bobbing up and down, being born here, dying there, and then being reborn in yet another place, in this life perhaps a Westerner, in the next life a Chinese, in the next a Japanese, the one after that an Indian, and in the life after that an African. Who sends you out to do this? Who tells someone to become a Japanese? Who tells someone to be a Chinese? Who tells someone to be a Westerner or an Easterner, or a Northerner or a Southerner? Nothing else than your innate ignorance does it. Because there is ignorance, one gives rise to delusion, and upon the arising of delusion one creates karma. Upon the creation of karma one must undergo retribution.

For instance: "In this life I'll go to Africa. There are a lot of diamonds there. On the Gold Coast there are more riches than are found in America. It's still not developed, so if I am reborn there and develop it, won't I be wealthy? I'll be one of the world's richest people." From that one false thought you make a false move and end up in Africa, to develop the Gold Coast and mine diamonds. Those who like America will go there, those who like Australia will go there. Those who like Europe will go there, those who like Asia will go there. It's up to you. Whatever karma you create, you undergo that reward or retribution. You go there to be a person and once you get there you don't know how it happened. And then you don't know where you are headed next. The dream of riches is over, but you still haven't awakened. It's pitiful, isn't it? The dream of riches never ends, and when the time comes to die, the mine isn't finished, yet the life is exhausted.

The origin of the knot of birth and death is simply your six sense-organs and nothing else. The root of birth and death becomes bound into a knot from which you cannot escape. What is it? It is nothing but a trick of your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. These six bring about your death and your birth. Did you know that? Nothing else is responsible. What keeps us so upside down, life after life and death after death, is simply your six sense organs.

Why? The eyes see defiling objects of form and are turned around by then. The ears hear sounds and chase after them. The nose smells fragrances and goes out after them. The tongue tastes flavors and seeks after them. The body is touched and pursues the objects of touch. The mind entertains dharmas and races after dharmas. Tell me, how many things do you have altogether? So many! Following out after the six sense-organs, you become divided in six departments. You're like a business with six different departments and each takes a little money until the business is bankrupt. So you end up dying. Bankrupt. Closed down. Out of business. And with the little capital you have left, you puzzle over where you're going to open another business. Then you go somewhere else and open a new company. And there you are again, doing the same thing over again. Six bosses are in their offices expecting to do good business, but in the end it doesn't work out, and the work stops again. That's where the problem of birth and death comes from. Earlier in the sutra the Buddha admonished, "You only need not follow." You shouldn't follow the discriminating mind. You should not pursue the activities of the six organs, the six objects, and the six consciousnesses. Don't go along with them. Turn around to the shore.

The sea of suffering is boundless,
But a turn of the head finds the shore.

A turn of the head finds the shore of enlightenment. If you don't turn around, then the more confused you get, the deeper you go in. The deeper you go in, the more confused you get. You get into debt to a lot of people, and your books are never in balance. Now that you recognize the six organs, you should not mistake a thief for your own son. Don't keep spinning around at the portals of the six organs. Come back. Come back. To where? To the Buddhist lecture hall!

Sutra:

You also want to understand unsurpassed Bodhi, so that you can quickly realize bliss, liberation, tranquility, and wonderful eternity. It, too, is your six sense-organs and nothing else.

Commentary:


Just before this passage, the sutra said that it is the six senseorgans that cause you to undergo birth and death, to give rise to delusion, to create karma, and to undergo retribution. But you should not despise the six sense-organs. You can't say, "You six things are horrible! I'm going to pluck out my eyes and pitch them some place far away. I'm going to cut off my ears and cast them aside as well. I'll lop off my nose and cut out my tongue. In fact, I'll dismember my body and grind up my bones and be done with the whole thing. I'll shred my heart to bits and scatter it into emptiness, and let it return to the great void that way."

That attitude is also a mistake. People who cultivate the Way can't give rise to hatred. Although the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind don't treat you well, like in business, they're all embezzlers; still you don't fire them. Why not? Because, although they are not good now, they will help you if they change. If they stop their embezzling, they can help you make a profit.

This section of text says that if you become enlightened and obtain permanence, bliss, true self, and purity, it is the six senseorgans that bring it about. It is thanks to them that it happens. This is like the analogy of water and ice. Water can be in liquid or solid form; it can be beneficial to people or it can harm them. So you can't lose your temper and say you don't want your eyes and ears. If you don't want your eyes, you become blind. If you don't want your ears, you go deaf. If you don't want your nose, you turn into some weird thing. If you don't want your tongue, you can't speak, and if you don't want your body, you wouldn't have anything at all; you'd turn into dull emptiness. Nor can you do without your mental processes. Thus, the Buddhas of the ten directions now say to Ananda: "You also want to understand the method for untying the knot, right?"

Notice that these two sections of the sutra are not spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha alone. It is the Buddhas of the ten directions as numerous as fine motes of dust, limitless and boundless numbers of Buddhas, who are speaking now. "Very good, Ananda, you are a fine person. You are truly a good cultivator. You also want to know about unsurpassed Bodhi." The "Bodhi" referred to here is the cause for Bodhi. It cannot be explained as the Bodhi-result in this case. The meaning is, "You also want to bring forth the resolve for unsurpassed Bodhi so that you can obtain the Bodhi-result, so that you can quickly realize bliss, liberation, tranquility, and wonderful eternity." I assume that everyone understands what "quickly" means here, that everyone is eager to become a Buddha as soon as possible.

The four virtues of nirvana are what is meant here: "Bliss" is the virtue of bliss, while "liberation" is the virtue of true self. If you have a self, you are not free. If you want to obtain liberation, you have to be without a self. You obtain the true self and are liberated from the false self. "Tranquilit" represents the virtue of purity. "Wonderful permanence" represents the virtue of permanence. "These are the four virtues of nirvana without residue, and it, too, is your six sense-organs and nothing else. Do you understand now, Ananda?" But after the Buddhas of the ten directions had spoken this doctrine, Ananda still didn't understand. When you are confused, then no matter how clearly someone may explain to you, you still do not understand it clearly yourself. "What's this mean, anyway? Birth and death are caused by the six sense-organs, but when one becomes liberated and is certified to the fruition, it is also caused by the six sense-organs. How can these six organs be responsible for what is bad and for what is good?" He doesn't understand. But people can be both good and bad. Today some one feels good and wants to help people. "I want to give to the poor," he says and he takes out his money and gives it away. But the next day he's broke and thinks, "Yesterday I gave all my money away and today I don't have any to spend. I'll get my gun and go rob someone." So he turns into a bad person. Who was it who did good? It was he. Who was it who did bad things? It was he also.

I say to you, then, the one who becomes a ghost is the same one who becomes a Buddha. But for the most part, Americans don't believe in ghosts. Why do I keep bringing up ghosts even though you don't believe in them? Since I'm not a ghost, I dare talk about them. If you believe in the Buddha, you should also believe that there are ghosts. After all, Buddhas come from ghosts. If you do things well, you become a Buddha. If you don't do things well, you end up a ghost. By the same token, the six sense-organs cause your births and deaths; they also bring about your certification to the fruition. If there aren't any ghosts, then there aren't any people, either, or any Buddhas. There isn?t anything at all, and the world will go to wrack and ruin. People who say they believe in Buddhas but don't believe that there are ghosts are so obstinate that even if the Buddha were in the world, he couldn't teach them. The Buddha says very clearly in the sutras that there are ghosts; why don't you believe that they exist? "Other religions talk about ghosts and spirits," you argue. But you can't choose to believe that there are no ghosts and spirits just because another religion says that there are. The reason that other religions discuss them is that in fact they exist. Just because you don't believe in a certain religion doesn't mean you can reject what is true in its doctrines, such as the existence of ghosts and spirits. Such people may think themselves smart, but they're witless. Not only do they completely fail to understand Buddhist doctrine, they don't even understand human existence. Pitiful!

M2 The Thus Come One explains in detail.
N1 Ananda has not yet awakened and so asks a question.


Sutra:

Ananda heard these sounds of dharma, but he did not yet understand in his mind. Bowing his head, he said to the Buddha, "How can what causes me to revolve in the cycle of birth and death and what enables me to gain bliss and wonderful eternity be the six sense-organs in both cases and nothing else?"

Commentary:


Ananda heard Shakyamuni Buddha and the Thus Come Ones of the ten directions as numerous as fine motes of dust, speaking with different mouths but in a single voice, say that the source of birth and death is the six sense organs and that the bliss and permanence of the nirvana of Bodhi is also brought about by the six senseorgans and nothing else. But Ananda didn't understand. Ananda heard these sounds of dharma, he listened to the subtle, wonderful, inconceivable sounds of dharma, but he did not yet understand in his mind. And since he didn't understand, therefore, bowing his head, he said to the Buddha, he bowed from the waist to the Buddha, how can what causes me to revolve in the cycle of birth and death, spinning again and again on the wheel of rebirth, and what enables me to gain bliss and wonderful eternity, these two that Ananda mentions include liberation and tranquility as well, be the six sense-organs in both cases and nothing else? I don't understand this principle.

N2 The Thus Come One explains in detail and gets rid of his doubts.

Sutra:

The Buddha said to Ananda, "The sense-organs and the objects are of the same source. The bonds and the release are not two. The nature of the consciousnesses is empty and false; it is like strange flowers in space."

Commentary:


The Buddha said to Ananda, "The sense-organs and the objects are of the same source." The six sense-organs, the six sense-objects, and the six sense-consciousnesses come from the same source. If there weren't six organs, there wouldn't be six objects, and if there weren't six objects, there wouldn't be six consciousnesses. The three are one; the one is three. The bonds and the release are not two. "Bonds" refers to the knots. "Release" refers to their untying. These two are non-dual. There's no fundamental difference between them. The bonds are the release; the release is the bonds. When you don't understand, they are knots. When you understand, it is liberation. The knot is release. It depends on your own ability. The nature of the consciousnesses is empty and false. The nature of the six consciousnesses has no substance or appearance. It is like strange flowers in space. Do you remember the person with the eye-disease? His staring caused fatigue and the appearance of strange flowers in space. The six organs, six objects, and six consciousnesses are just like the strange flowers in space. They are completely unreal in themselves. Good comes to them, and so does evil. In the same way, one person can be both good and evil. Although "good" and "evil" are different words, they refer to the same person.

Sutra:

Ananda, sense-awareness arises because of the sense objects: the appearance of objects exists because of the senseorgans. The appearance and the perception, both devoid of a nature, support each other like intertwining reeds.

Commentary:


Ananda, sense-awareness arises because of the sense objects. A discriminating knowing and perception arise due to the six sense-objects. The appearance of objects exists because of the sense-organs. The appearance of the six sense-objects arises due to the six sense-organs. The appearance and the perception, both devoid of a nature, support each other like intertwining reeds. "Perception" here refers to the sense-awareness first mentioned. Neither the appearance nor the awareness has an inherent self-nature; the appearance arises only because the six sense-organs match with the six sense objects. It is therefore not real; it is empty and false. The perception is also empty and false. They "support each other like intertwining reeds." The reeds referred to here have a common root, from which the two reeds grow. They will only stand if there are two; one by itself will fall down. The six organs, six objects, and six consciousnesses are the same way. The organs and objects must work together to bring about the six consciousnesses. One alone will not stand. To further the analogy, the reeds are hollow, so that there appears to be something substantial to them when one looks at them, but they are ultimately empty inside. That represents the empty falseness of the six organs and objects.

Sutra:

Therefore, you now base your knowledge on awareness and perception; but that is fundamental ignorance. The absence of a view regarding awareness and perception is nirvana; the true purity of no outflows. How could there be anything else in the midst of it?

Commentary:


Therefore, you now base your knowledge on awareness and perception. You set up another awareness and perception based on an awareness and perception that are in themselves wrong. But that is fundamental ignorance. The absence of a view regarding awareness and perception is nirvana. You realize that your awareness and perception are basically non existent, and so you establish no opinion based on them. To have no awareness and perception in the midst of awareness and perception is to be in accord with the Way. It is nirvana and the true purity of no outflows. How could there be anything else in the midst of it? In the midst of the absence of awareness and perception, how could you harbor anything else? That place is pure at its origin and pervades the dharma realm. Why would you want to add anything to it? Why add awareness and perception to awareness and perception? This principle is like the one in the passage above that
states, "Basic enlightenment is necessarily bright but is falsely referred to as bright enlightenment."

L2 The verses.
Ml Mention of the verses.


Sutra:

Then the World Honored One, wishing to restate this meaning, spoke verses, saying:

Commentary:


Then Shakyamuni, the World Honored One, knew that Ananda had still not understood the answer to his question: wishing, then, to restate this meaning, he spoke verses, saying. Verses have a fixed number of syllables in each line; perhaps five, six, or seven in the Chinese.

Sutra:

In the true nature, conditioned things are empty.
They spring from causes, as illusions do.
Things unconditioned neither rise nor cease.
Unreal they are, like flowers in space.

Commentary:


In the true nature, that is, in the absence of any falseness; a falseness, nonetheless, relies on the true nature to come into being. Thus, conditioned things arise out of true emptiness. But the conditioned dharmas are empty.

They spring from causes, as illusions do. Conditioned dharmas arise when certain conditions are present. But, once conditions arise, they will also cease to be. Thus, the fundamental substance is emptiness. That's why it's said to be like an illusion. Things unconditioned neither rise nor cease. You say that conditioned dharmas are empty. What about unconditioned dharmas? Are they empty, too? Yes. They are not born and do not become extinct. Wouldn't you call them neither rising nor ceasing emptiness? Unreal they are, like flowers in space. They don't have a substantial nature; they are not real, just like the strange flowers in space.

Sutra:

To speak of the false is to reveal the true.
But both the false and the true are false themselves.
If there is neither truth nor untruth,
How can there be perceiver and perceived?

Commentary:


To speak of the false is to reveal the true. Why do we talk about falseness? It is in order to manifest all that is true. But true and false are opposites, and so they are not ultimate dharmas. In his Song of Enlightenment, the Great Master Yong Jia says:

When the true is not set up,
the false is basically empty;
When both existence and
non-existence are dispelled,
What wasn't empty is made empty.

There isn't any true. The false is basically empty, but the true doesn't exist, either. What's to be called true? The true does not remain. Nor is there any existence or non existence. You have to make empty what is not empty: this is the same principle. The false is spoken to reveal the true. But the true and the false that you speak about are both false. They are not true. If they were true, how could there be a false among them? There isn't anything at all: that is the dharma-realm of true emptiness. It is the "one true dharma-realm", the "dharma-realm of true suchness". In it not a single dharma is established. As soon as you speak about the true by comparing it to falseness, then the true becomes false. The true referred to is no longer fundamental truth. Both are false because they are opposites.

At its ultimate point, Buddhism is absolute; there are no dualities. True and false are still at the level of opposites and in the realm of duality. The true which is the opposite of the false is itself false. If there is neither truth nor untruth. The Buddha explains that it appears to be true, but that it is not fundamental truth. As soon as a name is applied to it, it be comes a secondary truth, not the primary truth. How can there be perceiver and perceived? How can you say there is a subjective perceiver and an object perceived? The subjectivity of the "seeing division" and of the six defiling objects, the "appearance division," which is what is perceived, cannot be spoken of, because they do not exist.

Sutra:

Between them the two in fact have no nature.
Thus they are likened to entwining reeds.
The knots and their release have a common cause.
The sages' and ordinary people's paths are not two.

Commentary:


Between them the two in fact have no nature. In the midst of the true and the false, the six organs, the six objects, and the six consciousnesses there is no nature that actually exists. Thus they are likened to entwining reeds. The knots and their release have a common cause. When you do not understand, you get tied up in knots and cannot undo them. When you understand and obtain liberation, you know that the cause of both the knots and their release was the same. Lack of understanding is the knots; understanding is the release. The sages' and ordinary people's paths are not two. Holy people and ordinary people don't tread separate paths. A sage is someone who understands the principle of things. He has fathomed the myriad aspects of the entire universe and thus has a sage's wisdom. An ordinary person, when he does not understand, turns his back on enlightenment and unites with the defilements of the world. So, an ordinary person,

Turns his back on enlightenment
and unites with the dust.

A sage,

Turns his back on the dust,
and unites with enlightenment.

If you renounce enlightenment, you become one with the defiling appearances of conditioned dharmas. But, basically, the sage and the ordinary person are not on different roads. Why aren't their paths different? One is confused and the other has awakened. But the source of confusion and enlightenment is one. Here we are speaking of ultimate dharmas:

Sweep away all dharmas,
Separate from all appearances.

Sutra:

Regard the nature of the intertwined.
Emptiness, existence both are naught.
Dark confusion is simply ignorance;
Bringing it to light is liberation.

Commentary:


Ananda, regard the nature of the intertwined. Minutely examine the intertwining reeds, especially the nature that lies between them. What nature do the intertwining reeds have? None at all! There is neither emptiness nor existence in evidence. Emptiness, existence both are naught. You may say that it's empty, yet there is something there. You may say that it exists, but, in fact, it doesn't. The intertwining reeds represent the non-existent quality of both conditioned and unconditioned dharmas. You should understand this.

Dark confusion is simply ignorance. This means that, with reference to your six sense-organs, when you do not understand, when you have not yet awakened, you are confused about true emptiness. A darkness grows in the emptiness; that's where ignorance comes from. In the pure nature and bright substance of your everlasting true mind, confusion grows into ignorance. Bringing it to light is liberation. If you discover this, there is no ignorance. You discover your inherent, enlightened nature. This discovery is just liberation.

In the past, there was a monk of the Chan school who heard about an enlightened high Sanghan with virtue in the Way. He went to request instruction from him. In Buddhism, asking for instruction is a very formal affair. It isn't just a matter of tossing out a casual question and getting a casual answer back. Since the instruction is given for the sake of ending birth and death, the whole matter is looked upon quite seriously. I's necessary to put on good robes and the sash and take your sitting cloth with you. When you arrive in the master's presence, you completely open out your sitting cloth, spread it on the ground, bow three times, and then kneel erect on both knees with your palms together. Then you can ask about whatever you don't understand.

What did the monk ask? He wanted to know how to obtain liberation. He sought release. How could he get free? This was his question to the Superior-seated One, that is, to the Sanghan who had held the precepts for a long time, one whose general status among the Sangha was of long standing. The monk asked, "If you please, Superior-seated One, how can I become liberated?"

The elder Sanghan retorted, "Who's tying you up?" With that one sentence, the monk asking for instruction became enlightened. Was it really just that one sentence that caused his enlightenment? Yes and no.

"How can that be?" you wonder. Almost always, a situation can be looked at from both sides and explained in more than one way. "Isn't that just being evasive or vague?"

No, not if you can really speak to the principle involved. In this case, we can say that it was just that one sentence that brought about the monk's enlightenment, because the old cultivator who said it had looked into the causes and conditions that had brought the monk to the point of asking for liberation. He knew that his answer, "Who's tying you up?" would give the monk an immediate understanding, an enlightenment. Therefore, he chose to answer in that way. Even so, there are times when a person doesn't become enlightened, even though one wants him to. This time, however, we can say that the old cultivator was successful with his sentence and that he enabled that student of Chan to obtain enlightenment.

On the other hand, how can it be explained that it was not just that one sentence that brought about the monk's enlightenment? Ordinarily that monk cultivated on a daily basis to develop his skill in meditation. He'd been cultivating for a long time but still had not had a breakthrough. Even so, every day he worked on it and every day his wisdom grew. He hadn't actually become enlightened, but he was close. Then, the one sentence that the superior seated Sanghan spoke was opportune, and he suddenly became enlightened. He encountered the mixing and uniting of causes and conditions, and so as soon as the high Sanghan pointed the Way, he understood. There is a saying:

Sitting ten years in contemplation alone in the mountain wilds,
Isn't as good as a slight indication given by a Bright Advisor.

A "bright advisor" means a "bright-eyed" advisor, that is, someone who has opened the Buddha eye. A "good knowing one" like this can look into causes and conditions. He speaks dharmas that accord with the point to which your causes and conditions are developed. So you may sit ten years in the mountains, but it won't match having a bright-eyed advisor point out a bright path to you.

Therefore, drawing near a good and wise advisor is very important in Buddhism. Among elder monks, there are very, very few who are genuine bright-eyed advisors. They may be good and wise advisors, but not necessarily "bright-eyed," that is, they may not have opened their five eyes. You should not think this is such an easy thing to do, either. Opening the Buddha eye is certainly not the same as certification to the fruitions of arhatship, but it does require that you have good roots in past lives.

To be able to open the Buddha eye, one has to have singlemindedly cultivated the dharmas of great compassion, specifically the Forty-two Greatly Compassionate Hands and Eyes. If you have cultivated these earnestly, you can open the Buddha eye, that is a dharma that "gets you through the gate." If a person who has opened the Buddha eye leaves the home life, he or she can save a lot of beings, but it all depends on causes and conditions. Those of you who would like to open the Buddha eye should be extremely rigorous in your cultivation of the Forty-two Hands and Eyes. Never miss a day in your practice. And most important, you can't smoke cigarettes if you cultivate this dharma. If you try to do both, the dharma-protecting good spirits will reprimand you. So don't be sloppy about it.

I hope every one of you will be very attentive to the practice of the Forty-two Hands and Eyes. Never miss a day, and even at that, it will take several years of skill before you have any success. If you have cultivated them in previous lives, then your progress will be more rapid. You will open the wisdom eye very quickly.

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