The Surangama Sutra: Chapter Five – Section 1

Five Layers of Cloudiness

Again, weeping gratefully, Ananda prostrated himself at the feet of the Buddha, and then with his knees knelt and palms joined together respectfully, he said, “O the Supreme and Immaculate King of Treasures, you have opened my mind so kindly with all means of expedients and encouragements, leading us out of the dark ignorance which had been drowning us in the seas of suffering!

“World-Honored One, after receiving such priceless Dharma, I realize that the Wonderful Bodhi Mind of the Tathagata Store is pervading throughout all ten directions and encompassing all lands of the pure, majestic Kingdoms of Absolute Reality. And the Buddha has also helped me realize that mere erudition is of no merit, far less useful than actual practice. I am like a homeless wanderer suddenly bestowed a splendid mansion by a Divine King. The mansion is all mine now, yet I still have to find a door to enter. I only hope that the Buddha will further direct us wanderers in the dark how to give up the Small Vehicle, how to embark on the journey towards the Ultimate Nirvana, how to subdue our diehard old habits of clinging to worldly objects and senses, how to master Dharani, and how to attain the wisdom and vision of the Buddhas!”

Having said this, Ananda made a full prostration, and together with the whole assembly, waited single-mindedly for the Buddha’s compassionate instruction.


Then the Buddha, taking pity on the entry-level Hearers, on the Sages who had not yet reached a stage where they could abide in Bodhi completely with ease, also on the future beings who would be born in the Late Age of Dharma, he instructed Ananda and the assembly: “Since you are determined to tirelessly devote yourselves to attain the Bodhi Mind and the Wonderful Samadhi of the Buddhas, you must first understand two defining factors in the attainment of the Buddha Mind. What are they?



“The first is the subjective mind in meditation – your resolve. Ananda, if all of you wish to leave the Lesser Vehicle behind and enter the Vehicle of the Bodhisattvas so as to realize the wisdom and vision of the Buddhas, you must examine your resolve, which is the basis of your practice, by asking yourselves this question – is my resolve compatible to the ultimate ideal I want to achieve, or is it not?

“If your resolve is based on the worldly mind (which is subject to birth and death), then you will fail in your quest for the Buddha Vehicle, which is beyond birth and death. Therefore, you should shine the light of observation on all phenomena of the material world, which are subject to change and decay. Ananda, which worldly matter does not perish? Yet no one has ever heard that space perishes. Why? Because emptiness is uncaused and hence unconditioned, so it is not subject to decay and death.

“While in your body, what is solid is the element of earth, what is moist is the element of water, what is warm is the element of fire, and that which moves is the element of wind. Because of the entanglements of these four primary elements, your originally pure and perfect enlightened mind is divided into seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking. Hence from start to finish your mind is clouded by the five turbid conditions.


“What is turbidity, Ananda? Let us take the example of water. In its original state the water is pure and clear, while things like dust, soil, ashes and sand are solid and opaque. The properties of these two kinds are incompatible by nature. If a person tosses some dirt into clear water, the dirt will lose its solidity and the water loses its transparency, resulting in a clouded state called turbidity. Your five layers of turbidity come into being in the same way.



“Ananda, as you look into space throughout the ten directions, your perception and the emptiness are inseparable. Without your visual awareness the space would not be able to identify its own substance. Without space your seeing would have nothing to register its awareness. Once the two get entangled though, it gives rise to some deluded formation, which is the first layer, called ‘the turbidity of time.’

“Your body is composed of four elements, which divide your mental awareness into seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing, which further get entangled with water, fire, wind and earth to bring about the second layer of falseness, called ‘the turbidity of perception.’

“Further, the habitual functions of recollection and discrimination in your mind give rise to knowledge and opinions, from which the six defiling objects manifest. Without these objects, your mind-consciousness would have no attributes, and without your perception of them, the objects would have no identity. But once your mind-consciousness and the objects get entangled with each other, the third layer of falseness then comes about, called ‘the turbidity of afflictions.’

“And as your knowledge and views constantly wish to carry on functioning in the world, there is endless arising and ceasing throughout day and night, generating karmic forces moving you to various places. Such entanglement between your thoughts and your karma brings about the fourth layer of falseness, called ‘the turbidity of individual being.’

“Originally your seeing, hearing, and other awareness were of the same nature, but now all the defiling objects have divided them, forcing your consciousness to become differentiated. Although the six sense-consciousnesses still share a fundamental awareness, their functions are in opposition and therefore the harmony is lost. From this entanglement comes about the fifth layer of falseness, called ‘the turbidity of life.’


“Ananda, if you want your seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing return to become ONE with the eternal, blissful, and truthful Buddha Mind, you must put an end to the root cause of samsara, and abide in the innermost nature of mind, which is pure and perfect, neither arising nor ceasing. Let the purity of your true nature naturally dispel the illusions and delusions, which always arise and subside and repeat. Let the original state of enlightenment be the basis of your practice.

“The realization of this source of bright enlightenment, which neither arises nor ceases, is called ‘the mind-ground of cause’. And the attainment and final certification to the perfect enlightenment is called ‘the ground of fruition’.

“We may take the example of purifying muddy water with a still container to explain the process: over time in complete calmness, the sand and dirt will settle to the bottom. When the clear water appears, it is called the initial subduing of transitory afflictions. When the mud is completely removed from the water, it is called the complete eradication of fundamental ignorance.

“Once the mental clarity is purified to its very essence, no matter what happens in the world, nothing bothers you. Everything is in accord with the pure and perfect Nirvana.”