The Surangama Sutra: Chapter Four – Section 3

The Intermingling of the Primary Elements

“Purna, you have asked why the elements of water and fire do not overcome each other and how the elements of emptiness and earth can contain each other, given that the primary elements (water, fire, earth and wind) are intermingling with each other throughout the Dharma Realm while being incompatible with each other.

“Take for instance the space, Purna, the essential attribute of which is the absence of anything, yet it does not prevent everything from manifesting in it. The sky is bright when the sun is shining, and dark when clouds gather. It’s unsettled when there is wind, refreshed after rain, hazy in mist, obscure in dust-storm, and reflected when above clear water. Do you suppose such a variety of transient forms are created by the circumstances or do they come from space?

“If these phenomena arise from the circumstances, that the brightness of the sky – for example, is created by the sun, then we should see identical sunlight everywhere throughout the ten directions when the sun shines, instead of seeing the sun as a distinct round object in the sky. If, on the other hand, the brightness of the sky comes from space, then why the sky turns dark when there are clouds or fog? Therefore, we can say the brightness comes neither from space nor from the sun, yet it is no different from the sun and space.

“Looking into any form, we will find that fundamentally they are empty and cannot be pinpointed. Trying to inquire about their mutual hindrance is like expecting unreal flowers in the air to produce fruits.

“Looking into the nature of anything, however, we will find that it is essentially true Bodhi. Since the wondrous Bodhi Mind is fundamentally neither water nor fire, it’s nonsense to question whether Bodhi Mind is compatible with Bodhi Mind.


“Within this emptiness and enlightenment, if you give rise to karmic illusion of any sort, it will manifest. Earth, water, fire, and wind, if you give rise to each of them separately, they will manifest separately. If you give rise to them at the same time, they will manifest at the same time. What does it mean by ‘at the same time’, Purna? For instance, two men walking in opposite directions can both see the sun reflected in water, even though there is just one sun in the sky and one person is going eastward while the other westward. Don’t ask how it is possible, for revolving in illusions only deepens your confusion – nothing about reality can be established from them.

“Purna, all phenomena in the Tathagata Store are ultimately false, but if you mistakenly think that form and emptiness are incompatible and cannot coexist, it will manifest this way throughout the Dharma Realm. Within it the wind is moving and emptiness is still, and the sun is bright while clouds are dark. Because of their ignorance, beings give rise to wearisome dualistic thoughts and dusty worldly views, hence the world of perceived objects and conditioned phenomena appears accordingly.

“The enlightened ones, on the other hand, only find the Matrix of the Buddha to be wondrous brightness that illumines throughout the entire Dharma Realm, for the Buddha Nature – which is never decreasing nor increasing, is one with the Tathagata Store. Within the union, one is infinitely all and all is one; small is great and great is identical with small. And the Bodhimanda is unmoving yet pervading the ten directions. The body as well contains the ten directions and infinite emptiness. On the tip of a hair you can find magnificent Buddha-lands. Seated in each dust mote, the Buddha turns the great Dharma Wheel. Because the enlightened ones are freed from delusions and united with enlightenment, so the ultimate suchness – this wonderfully bright Buddha Nature – manifests itself.

“This original Tathagata Store is the perfect Buddha Mind. It is not the ordinary worldly mind, neither is it space, earth, water, wind, or fire. It is not the eye-faculty, not the ear-faculty, not the nose-faculty, not the tongue-faculty, not the body-faculty, and not the cognition-faculty. Neither is it forms, nor sounds, nor smells, nor tastes, nor touches, and nor dharmas. It is not the eye-consciousness either, nor the mind-consciousness, nor any other consciousnesses.

“Neither is it understanding or ignorance, nor the ending of ignorance. It is not aging or death either, nor is it the ending of old age and death. It is not suffering, not the accumulated causes of suffering, not the ending of suffering, and not the path to the ending of suffering. Neither is it wisdom or the attainment of wisdom.

“And it is none of the six perfections (generosity, discipline, endurance, dedication, meditation, wisdom). It is not even the Buddhahood, the Arhathood, the One Universal and Truthful Wisdom. It is not Nirvana either, nor Eternity, nor Bliss, nor True Self, nor Purity. It is not anything else, be it worldly or world-transcending.

“To be none of the above is what the Matrix of the Buddha Mind is. It is the One Non-dualistic Mind that truly understands and inherently knows.

“Although it is not, at the same time it also is. The Buddha Mind is the distinction-making mind, it is emptiness, it is earth, it is water, it is wind, and it is fire. It is the eye-faculty, the ear-faculty, the nose-faculty, the tongue-faculty, the body-faculty, and the cognition-faculty.

“It is forms, it is sounds, it is odors, it is flavors, it is touches, and it is all dharmas. It is the eye-consciousness as well as the ear-consciousness, and all other consciousnesses. It is both enlightenment and ignorance, as well as the ending of ignorance. It is old age and death, as well as the ending of old age and death. It is suffering, the accumulation of the causes to suffering, the ending of suffering, and the path to the ending of suffering. It is both wisdom and attainment.

“It is all of the six perfections – generosity, discipline, endurance, dedication, meditation, and wisdom. It is everything, including the Buddhahood, the Arhathood, the Ultimate Realization. It is the great Nirvana, Eternity, Bliss, True Self, and Purity. It simply covers everything mundane and everything transcendent.

“To be all of the above is what the Matrix of the Buddha Mind is. It is the One All-inclusive Mind that truly understands and inherently knows. It is apart from ‘is’ or ‘is not’, yet meanwhile it also is and is not.

“How could worldly beings in the three realms of existence possibly fathom such supreme Bodhi of the Tathagata? Not even world-transcending Hearers of the Teaching or the Solitary Sages could understand, if they use the distinction-making mind to speculate or the worldly language to interpret.

“Although lutes, harps, and mandolins can generate nice sounds, without being played by skilled fingers it wouldn’t be truly affecting to you and all others. In the same way, all beings inherently have the perfect Buddha Mind. Follow my pointing finger, your Ocean Symbol will radiate, and you will attain the Samadhi State. Go with your own shifting mind though, even just for a mere moment, you’re instantly taken over by mundane concerns. It is simply because you are not diligent enough to pursue the Supreme Path but only fond of the Lesser Vehicle, and so you are stuck with little progress.”