The Surangama Sutra: Chapter One – Section 4


The Ordinary Mind and the Original Mind

Then Ānanda stood up in the midst of the great assembly. He uncovered his right shoulder, placed his right knee on the ground, put his palms together respectfully, and said to the Buddha, “Because of the special loving-kindness bestowed on me as the Buddha’s youngest cousin, I have the great fortune to enter the monastic life and become learned, but I am not yet free of outflows and therefore still not able to realize the true mind. That’s why I was unable to resist the Kapila spell and was lured into a house of courtesans. Now I can’t wait to embark on the path of calming the mind and realizing the true essence of mind! May all unenlightened people like me who have the tendency to succumb to wrong deeds also benefit from the Buddha’s instruction and guidance.” Upon finishing speaking, Ānanda bowed to the ground. And with keen anticipation, the rest of the assembly all readied themselves to receive the precious teaching.

爾時阿難,在大眾中,即從座起,偏袒右肩,右膝著地,合掌恭敬,而白佛言:我是如來最小之弟,蒙佛慈愛,雖今出家,猶恃憍憐。所以多聞未得無漏。不能折伏娑毗羅咒。為彼所轉,溺於婬舍。當由不知真際所詣。惟願世尊,大慈哀愍,開示我等奢摩他路,令諸闡提。隳彌戾車。作是語已,五體投地,及諸大眾,傾渴翹佇,欽聞示誨。

Meanwhile, radiating from the Buddha’s face was an array of lights as brilliant as a hundred thousand suns. The lands were shaken by six kinds of quakes. And an infinite number of worlds manifested throughout all ten directions at the same time. Then the Buddha’s awe-inspiring power brought all worlds into one single realm, in which all the great Bodhisattvas — while remaining in their own lands — placed their palms together with utmost reverence to listen.

爾時世尊,從其面門,放種種光。其光晃耀,如百千日。普佛世界,六種震動。如是十方微塵國土,一時開現佛之威神,令諸世界合成一界。其世界中,所有一切諸大菩薩,皆住本國,合掌承聽。

So the Buddha said to Ānanda, “Since beginningless time, all beings, due to the innumerable distortions in their minds, have been creating seeds of karma, which then grow and ripen like a cluster of sour fruits on a rūkṣa tree.”

“People who undertake spiritual practice but fail to realize the ultimate enlightenment, such as the Hearers of the Teaching, the Solitary Sages, the celestial beings, the demon-kings, as well as the demons’ retinues, who follow the wrong paths — they all fail because they do not understand two fundamentals, so they are mistaken and confused in their practice. They are like someone who hopes to make a delicious meal by cooking sands. Even if the sand were cooked for eons as countless as motes of dust, no meal would ever result from it.”

“Ānanda, what are the two fundamentals? The first is the ordinary mind, which is the basis of death and rebirth since beginningless time. It is this mind that all beings use to make discriminations and distinctions, and thus get themselves entrapped in all sorts of entanglements, mistaking it as their selves.”

“The second fundamental is the original mind, the primordial and pure essence of nirvana, which also has no beginning. It is the original light, the innermost nature of consciousness. All conditioned phenomena arise from it, and then beings lose track of it among the phenomena. This primordial light is always within each being, yet they are unaware of it and wandering off into various distractions.”

佛告阿難。一切眾生,從無始來,種種顛倒,業種自然,如惡叉聚。諸修行人,不能得成無上菩提,乃至別成聲聞緣覺,及成外道,諸天魔王,及魔眷屬。皆由不知二種根本,錯亂修習。猶如煮沙,欲成嘉饌,縱經塵劫,終不能得。云何二種。阿難,一者,無始生死根本。則汝今者,與諸眾生,用攀緣心,為自者。二者,無始菩提涅槃元清淨體。則汝今者識精元明,能生諸緣,緣所遺者。由諸眾生,遺此本明,雖終日行,而不自覺,枉入諸趣。

“Ānanda, because you now wish to know about the path of calming the mind and wish to be freed from samsara, I will then question you again.” Upon saying this, the Buddha raised his golden arm and bent his five fingers — each of them marked with lines in the shape of a wheel — and asked Ānanda, “Did you see something?”

Ānanda said, “I did.”

“What did you see?”

“I saw the Buddha raise his arm and bend his fingers into a fist that sends forth light, dazzling my mind and eyes.” Ānanda replied.

The Buddha said, “When you saw my fist emitting light, what did you see it with?”

Ānanda answered, “All of us in the great assembly saw it with our eyes.”

The Buddha asked, “Your eyes can see my fist, then how about your mind?”

Ānanda said, “Once again, now the Buddha is asking me about my mind’s location. I will say my mind is what I have been using to determine where it might be. Whatever that has the capability of making such distinctions is my mind.”

The Buddha exclaimed, “Ānanda! That is not your mind!”

Startled, Ānanda stood up, placing his palms together, and said to the Buddha, “If that is not my mind, what is it?”

“It is merely your mental processes that assign false and illusory attributes to the world of perceived objects.” The Buddha replied.

“These processes delude you about your true nature and have since beginningless time caused you to mistake a burglar for your own child — to lose touch with your own original, everlasting mind — and thus you are bound to the cycles of death and rebirth.”

阿難,汝今欲知奢摩他路,願出生死。今復問汝。即時如來舉金色臂,屈五輪指,語阿難言。汝今見不。阿難言見。佛言,汝何所見。阿難言。我見如來舉臂屈指,為光明拳,耀我心目。佛言:汝將誰見。阿難言:我與大眾,同將眼見。佛告阿難。汝今答我,如來屈指為光明拳,耀汝心目。汝目可見,以何為心,當我拳耀。阿難言:如來現今徵心所在。而我以心推窮尋逐,即能推者,我將為心。佛言。咄。阿難,此非汝心。阿難矍然,避座合掌起立白佛。此非我心,當名何等。佛告阿難。此是前塵虛妄相想,惑汝真性。由汝無始至於今生,認賊為子,失汝元常,故受輪轉。

Ānanda said to the Buddha, “I am the Buddha’s favorite cousin. It was my mind that loved the Buddha and led me to enter the monastic life. That mind of mine has been responsible not only for my serving the Buddha but also for my serving all Buddhas and all wise teachers throughout all lands. It has always been that mind that has mustered great courage to practice every difficult aspect of the Dharma. If I were ever to slander the Dharma and sever my good roots in it, that mind of mine would be the cause too. If such a consciousness is not the mind, then I suppose I have no mind, just like a clod of earth or a piece of wood. Apart from my mind’s awareness and its knowledge, I am nothing. Why does the Buddha say that it is not my mind? Now I am truly frightened and worried! Everyone here in the great assembly must be full of confusion too. I wish the Buddha would enlighten us all.”

阿難白佛言:世尊,我佛寵弟,心愛佛故,令我出家。我心何獨供養如來。乃至遍歷恒沙國土,承事諸佛,及善知識,發大勇猛,行諸一切難行法事,皆用此心。縱令謗法,永退善根,亦因此心。若此發明不是心者,我乃無心同諸土木,離此覺知,更無所有。云何如來說此非心。我實驚怖。兼此大眾,無不疑惑。惟垂大悲,開示未悟。

So, in order to guide Ānanda and the great assembly into the state of mind where no mental objects arise, the Buddha reached out from the Lion’s Seat and circled his palm on the crown of Ānanda’s head, and said, “The Buddha has often explained that all phenomena that come into being are nothing more than manifestations of the mind. All things that are subject to the principle of cause and effect — from the largest world to the smallest dust mote — they come into being because of the mind. If we examine the fundamental nature of everything in the world, Ānanda, down to even the smallest wisps of grass, we can see that each has an entity. Even space has a name and attributes. Given that, how could this wondrous mind — the mind that is the basic nature of all mental states — lacks a reality itself?”

“But if, as you insist, that this thing which makes distinctions, which knows and understands is indeed the mind, then it would have its own essential nature independent of its entanglement with objects — with visible objects, as well as sounds, odors, flavors, and objects of touch. Yet now, as you listen to my Dharma, it is because of sounds that you can distinguish my meaning. Even if you were to withdraw into a state of quietude in which all seeing, hearing, awareness of tastes, and tactile awareness ceased, you still would be making distinctions among the shadowy objects of cognition in your mind.”

“I am not demanding that you just accept that this distinction-making capacity is not the mind. But examine your mind in minute detail to determine if a distinction-making capacity exists independent of its perceived objects of awareness. If indeed it exists independently, then that would truly be your mind. If, on the other hand, your distinction-making capacity does not have an essential nature apart from its perceived objects, then it would be a perceived object too — a shadowy mental object. Perceived objects are not permanent, and once this so-called mind ceases to exist as such, it would have no more reality than a turtle with fur or a hare with horns, and your Dharma-body would cease to exist along with it. Then who would be left to practice and to perfect patience with the state of mind in which no mental objects arise?”

At that point Ānanda and the others in the great assembly were utterly dumbfounded. They had nothing to say.

The Buddha said to Ānanda, “The reason why so many practitioners in the world do not succeed in putting an end to outflows and becoming Arhats — even though they may have passed through all nine of the successive stages of samādhi — is that they are attached to distorted mental processes that come into being and then cease to be, and they mistake these processes for real. That is why, even though you have become quite learned, you have not become a sage.”

爾時世尊。開示阿難。及諸大眾。欲令心入無生法忍。於師子座,摩阿難頂,而告之言:如來常說諸法所生,唯心所現。一切因果,世界微塵,因心成體。阿難,若諸世界,一切所有,其中乃至草葉縷結,詰其根元,咸有體性。縱令虛空,亦有名貌。何況清淨妙淨明心,性一切心,而自無體。若汝執吝,分別覺觀,所了知性,必為心者。此心即應離諸一切色香味觸諸塵事業,別有全性。如汝今者承聽我法,此則因聲而有分別。縱滅一切見聞覺知,內守幽閑,猶為法塵分別影事。我非敕汝,執為非心。但汝於心,微細揣摩。若離前塵有分別性,即真汝心。若分別性,離塵無體,斯則前塵分別影事。塵非常住,若變滅時,此心則同龜毛兔角,則汝法身同於斷滅,其誰修證,無生法忍。即時阿難,與諸大眾,默然自失。佛告阿難。世間一切諸修學人,現前雖成九次第定,不得漏盡成阿羅漢,皆由執此生死妄想,誤為真實。是故汝今雖得多聞不成聖果。

When Ānanda had heard that, he again wept sorrowfully. He then bowed to the ground, knelt on both knees, placed his palms together, and said to the Buddha, “Ever since I followed the Buddha and resolved to enter the monastic life, I have been relying on the Buddha’s awe-striking power. I often thought to myself that there’s no reason for me to toil at spiritual practice, because I just expected that the omnipotent Buddha would transfer some of his samādhi to me. I never realized that the Buddha could not stand in for me, neither in body nor in mind. Though my body has entered the monastic life, my mind has not entered the Path. I am like that poor son who ran away from his father. Today I realize that if I do not practice on my own, I might have never really learned anything at all, just as someone who talks of food all day long never gets full.”

“I know all beings are bound by two obstructions,” Ānanda continued, “and as a consequence we are unaware of the mind that is everlasting and still. I hope the Buddha would take pity on us who are destitute and homeless, and disclose the wondrous mind that truly understands, so as to open our eyes to the Path.”

Then the Buddha poured forth resplendent light from the symbol of purity on his chest. The light, brilliant and radiant with hundreds of thousands of colors, shone throughout all ten directions simultaneously to illuminate the innumerable Buddha-lands, before it returned to shine upon the great assembly and Ānanda.

The Buddha said to Ānanda, “I now will raise for all of you a great Dharma-banner so that all beings in all ten directions can gain access to what is wondrous and subtle — the pure and luminous wisdom mind — and thus open your clear-seeing eyes.”

阿難聞已。重復悲淚,五體投地,長跪合掌,而白佛言:自我從佛發心出家,恃佛威神。常自思惟,無勞我修,將謂如來惠我三昧。不知身心本不相代。失我本心。雖身出家,心不入道。譬如窮子,捨父逃逝。今日乃知雖有多聞,若不修行,與不聞等。如人說食,終不能飽。世尊,我等今者,二障所纏。良由不知寂常心性。惟願如來,哀愍窮露,發妙明心,開我道眼。

即時如來,從胸卍字,涌出寶光。其光晃昱有百千色。十方微塵,普佛世界,一時周遍。遍灌十方所有寶剎諸如來頂。旋至阿難,及諸大眾。告阿難言:吾今為汝建大法幢。亦令十方一切眾生,獲妙微密,性淨明心,得清淨眼。