The Surangama Sutra: Chapter Two – Section 2

Visual Awareness Does Not Move

Ānanda and the others in the great assembly were all silent, since they had not understood what they had heard. However, they earnestly hoped to learn more. Putting their palms together, they waited with ardent expectation for the Buddha to speak again.


So the Buddha stretched forth one arm and opened his cotton-soft hand, revealing the wheel-shaped fine lines on his fingers, and addressed the great assembly, “After my awakening, I went to the Deer Park, where, for Ājñātakauṇḍinya’s sake and for the other four sages, and also for all of you in the assemblies, I said that beings in their multitudes have neither become Arhats nor become fully awake because they are confused by afflictions. Those afflictions are like visitors and like dust. What in particular, at that time, that had caused the five of you to awaken and become sages?”


Then Ājñātakauṇḍinya stood up and said respectfully to the Buddha, “Of all the elders here in this great assembly, I was the one who was given the name ‘Ajñāta,’ meaning ‘one who understands,’ because I had come to realize what ‘visitor’ and ‘dust’ signify. It was in this way that I became a sage.”

“Suppose a visitor stops at an inn for a night,” he continued, “once his stay is ended, he packs his bags and goes on his way. He’s not at leisure to remain. But if he were the innkeeper, he would not leave. By considering the difference between the visitor, who comes and goes, and the innkeeper, who remains, I understood that visitor signifies transience.”

“And let’s imagine a ray of morning sunlight shines through a crack in a door, revealing some motes of dust in the air. In this case, the dust moves, while the air is still. By considering the difference between the dust, which obscures the air as it moves, and the air, which remains still — I understood that the dust signifies motion.”


The Buddha said, “So it is.” Meanwhile he made a fist with his wheel-lined fingers before he opened his hand and closed it again and said to Ānanda, “What did you see just now?”

Ānanda said, “I saw the Buddha open and close his hand over his resplendent wheel-lined palm.”

The Buddha asked Ānanda, “Was it my hand that opened and closed, or was it your visual awareness that opened and closed?”

Ānanda said, “It was the Buddha’s resplendent hand that opened and closed. Although I saw his hand open and close, my visual awareness neither opened nor closed.”

“What moved and what was still?” The Buddha asked.

Ānanda replied, “The Buddha’s hand moved, while my awareness was still – how could it have moved?”

The Buddha said, “So it is.”


Then from his wheel-lined palm the Buddha sent forth a ray of resplendent light that flew past Ānanda to his right. Ānanda immediately turned his head and glanced to the right. Then the Buddha sent a ray of light to Ānanda’s left. Ānanda turned his head again and glanced to the left. The Buddha asked Ānanda, “Why did you turn your head just now?”

Ānanda said, “I saw the Buddha send forth a wondrous ray of light which flew past me on my right; then another ray flew past me on my left. My head moved as I looked to the right and to the left.”

“Ānanda, when you glanced at the Buddha’s light and moved your head to the right and left, was it in fact your head that moved, or was it your visual awareness that moved?”

“It was my head that moved.” Ānanda replied. “The nature of my visual awareness is still; how could it have moved?”

The Buddha said, “So it is.”

Then the Buddha told everyone in the assembly, “All beings need to understand that whatever moves is like the dust, and whatever doesn’t stay is like a visitor. Just now you saw that it was Ānanda’s head that moved, while his visual awareness did not move. It was my hand that opened and closed, while his awareness did not open or close. If you take what moves to be your self and its environment and follow it come and go in every thought, you bound to lose track of your true nature and act out of delusion. And because you lose touch with your mind’s true nature by identifying yourself with the objects you perceive, you keep on being bound to the cycle of death and rebirth.”