The Surangama Sutra: Chapter Two – Section 1

It Is the Mind That Sees

“Ānanda, a moment ago you said you saw my fist send forth light. What caused my fist to send forth light? How did I make the fist? And what were you seeing it with?”

Ānanda replied, “The Buddha’s body is like a mountain of precious gems, radiating the color of crimson-tinted gold from the River Jambu. It sends forth light because it is born of purity. When he held up his hand to make a fist by curling his five fingers, I saw it with my own eyes.”

The Tathagata then said, “The sages often use analogies to make a point, now let us use my fist as an analogy. Without a hand, I couldn’t make a fist. Without your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to see. Are they two similar situations?”

Ānanda replied, “Indeed they are. The Buddha’s making a fist can be compared to my using my eyes.”

The Buddha said, “You say they are comparable, but they are not. Why? A person with no hands will never make a fist. But one with no eyes will not be entirely unable to see. Why? If you ask a blind man on the street, ‘Do you see anything?’ He would reply, ‘All that I see in front of me is darkness — nothing more.’ What does it mean? It means that although the blind man sees only darkness, his visual awareness is actually intact.”

Ānanda replied, “It’s true that all a blind man sees before his eyes is darkness, but can that really be what we call ‘seeing’?”

The Buddha said, “Is there any difference between the darkness seen by a blind person and the darkness seen by people with perfect eyesight when they are in a completely dark room?”

“No, there is no difference.” Ānanda replied.

“Then suppose, Ānanda, that the blind person, who has been seeing only darkness, now suddenly regains his vision and sees before him a variety of objects. In such a case, you would say it is his eyes that see. So in the dark room when the person with perfect eyesight suddenly sees before him a variety of objects because someone lights up a lamp, you’d have to say, by analogy, that it is the lamp that sees. However, if a lamp could see, it would no longer be what we would call a lamp. Moreover, if it were the lamp that sees, what would that have to do with your eyes? Therefore, we can conclude that the lamplight simply reveals the objects; it is the eyes that see, not the lamp. In the same way, the eyes simply reveal the objects; it is the mind that sees, not the eyes.”