The Surangama Sutra: Chapter Three – Section 1

The Five Aggregates

“Ananda, you are still not clear about the illusory appearances of all passing phenomena which vanish wherever they arise. These illusions in the shape of forms spring from their underlying nature, which is the wonderful Bodhi. So are the six portals (organs), the twelve ayatana (six sense organs and six sense data) and the eighteen realms of senses, which falsely arise from the mixture and union of causes and conditions, and which falsely vanish when the same causes and conditions are disconnected. They are but creation and destruction appearing and vanishing within the wonderfully bright, permanent, immutable, all-embracing Bhutatathata (absolute) nature of the Tathagata store wherein neither coming nor going, neither delusion nor enlightenment, and neither birth nor death can be found.


“Why are the five aggregates fundamentally the wondrous nature of the Absolute Tathagata? Ananda, when a man looks at a clear sky with clear eyes, he sees only the void containing nothing. If suddenly without any apparent reason, he adjusts his seeing, then it is disturbed and he starts seeing flowers dancing in the sky.

“Ananda, these dancing flowers come neither from the void nor from his eyes. If they came from the void, they would return to it; if there were really such a coming and going of these flowers, the void would not be empty. If void was not empty but solid, then flowers could not appear and vanish in it. (It is like Ananda’s body, which does not allow another Ananda to enter it.)

“If the flowers come from the eyes, they should be able to return to the eyes, and because they come from the faculty of seeing, they should be able to see things. Thus, when they leave the eyes, they become flowers in the sky; when they return, they should be able to see the organ of sight. If they cannot see things, they should be able to screen the sky when they leave and veil the eyes when they return.

“But as we know, when the man sees the flowers, his eyes are not veiled. Then why do you wait until the sky is clear of everything to say that your eyes are clear? Therefore, you should know that the aggregate form is unreal for it is neither causal nor conditional nor self-existent.


“Ananda, when a man is in good health and his limbs are in good condition, he does not feel anything. But if suddenly, without any reason, he rubs his palms together, he feels coarseness or smoothness, cold or warmth. It is the same with the second aggregate vedana. These sensations come from neither the void nor his palms.

“If they come from the void, why are they felt by his palms only and not by his body? If they come from his palms, they should not have waited for the palms to be brought together to be felt. Moreover, if they really come from his palms and are felt when the latter are brought together, then when they are separated, these sensations should re-enter the body, which should feel their re-entry.

“And they should also be felt by the mind as coming in and out, as if something going in and out of the body. If so, there was no need to bring the two palms together in the first place, in order to feel these sensations. Therefore, you should know that the aggregate vedana is unreal and is neither causal nor conditional nor self-existent.


“Ananda, if someone speaks of sour plums, your mouth will start watering, and if you think of walking above an overhanging cliff, you will have the sensation of shivering in your legs. This is the same with the third aggregate sanjna. The talk of sourness does not come from the plum, nor does it enter your mouth. If it comes from the plum, it should be spoken of by the plum itself. If it enters your mouth, it should be your mouth which actually talks about it and not someone else. If it is your ears which alone hear it, why the water does not come out of the ears? This is the same with your thought of walking above a cliff. Therefore, you should know that the third aggregate sanjna is neither causal nor conditional nor self-existent.


“Ananda, the fourth aggregate samskara is like water which flows in a torrent endlessly over a fall. This flow does not come from the void nor is it due to the water; it is neither the water itself nor does it exist apart from the void and the water. If it is created by the void, boundless space would become an endless flow of water and the whole world would be submerged. If it is due to the water, then it should have its own form and location. And it is impossible for it to exist apart from the void and water, since space is all-embracing and there is no flow without water. Therefore, you should know that the fourth aggregate samskara is neither causal nor conditional nor self-existent.


“Ananda, the fifth aggregate consciousness is like the void in an empty pitcher with two holes. If someone blocks both holes and carries it to another location, the void does not go from one place to another. If the void comes from somewhere, that place should lose some of its voidness, and on arriving elsewhere, once the holes are opened and the pitcher reversed, one should see the void being poured out of it. Therefore, you should know that consciousness is unreal and is neither causal nor conditional nor self-existent.”