The Surangama Sutra: Chapter Two – Section 3

Eliminating Discrimination and Revealing the Essential Bodhi

Then Manjushri, the Dharma King, who took pity on the audience, rose from his seat in the midst of the great assembly, prostrated at the Buddha’s feet, placed his palms together respectfully, and said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, all people here have not awakened to the Tathagata’s teaching about the essence of reality as being both form and emptiness and as being neither of them. We think that if causal form and emptiness were the reality, then there would be an indication of it; if they were not the reality, then there would be nothing visible to be seen. It is not that our roots from former lives are inferior or deficient, but simply we do not understand and therefore we are confused and bewildered. May the Tathagata enlighten us and reveal to us exactly what things fundamentally are, and that there is neither ‘is’ nor ‘is not’ between object and the essence of seeing.”


The Buddha told Manjushri and the great assembly, “To all Tathagatas and all great Bodhisattvas of the ten directions, who abide in the state of Samadhi, seeing and the conditions of seeing, as well as all thoughts and all forms imaginable, are like flowers in the air – fundamentally empty. This seeing and its conditions are essentially the wonderful, pure, and bright substance of Bodhi (Enlightenment). How can there be ‘is’ and ‘is not’ in it? Manjushri, take yourself as an example, I now ask you this: Is there still another Manjushri who is and is not?”


Manjushri replied: “No, World Honored One, I am the real Manjushri. There is no Manjushri who ‘is.’ If there were still another Manjushri who ‘is’ Manjushri, there would be two Manjushris. But my presence here does not mean that there ‘is no’ Manjushri either. In fact, neither the concept of ‘is’ nor the concept of ‘is not’ exists.”


The Buddha said, “And this is not only the case with seeing. Likewise, the objects (seen) and the emptiness are fundamentally the projections or manifestations of the wonderful, pure and bright Bodhi (Enlightenment), the perfect, true mind, which tend to be falsely perceived as form and emptiness, as well as seeing and hearing, just like a second moon is perceived with the misconception of real or unreal: which one ‘is’ the moon and which one ‘is not’ the moon? Manjushri, there is only one true moon, and within it there is neither a moon that ‘is’ nor a moon that ‘is not.’ Therefore, if you discern seeing and the objects seen and give rise to all kinds of mental creation, they are called false thoughts, and this act of wrong thinking will prevent you from getting out of the dual condition of ‘is’ and ‘is not.’ However, if you look into the innermost essence of the pure Mind, it will empower you to stay clear of the dualistic state.”


Ananda said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, it is truly as the Dharma King has said: the nature of Enlightenment (Bodhi) pervades the ten directions: clear, everlasting, and by nature neither produced nor extinguished. How does it differ, then, from the concept of primordial profundity in the doctrine of Kapila, or from the teaching of the ascetics who throw ashes on themselves, or from the other externalist sects that say there is a ‘real self’ which pervades the ten directions?

“Also, in the past, the World Honored One gave a lecture on Mount Lanka explaining the principle thoroughly for the sake of Great Wisdom Bodhisattva and others: ‘Externalist sects always speak of natural existence, but I speak of causes and conditions, which is entirely different.’ Now as I look into this nature of Enlightenment, as self-existent, as beyond birth and death, and as apart from all falsehood and inversion, it seems to have nothing to do with either causes and conditions or the spontaneity advocated by others. Would you please enlighten us on this point, so that we could realize the true Mind, the bright nature of Enlightenment?”


The Buddha said, “Now I have revealed the truth to you with such expedients, yet you do not awaken to it but mistake it for spontaneity. Ananda, if it were spontaneous existence, you would be able to distinguish the substance of such spontaneity. Now look into the wondrous seeing and see what is its self: Is it the bright light, the darkness, the emptiness, or the obstruction being itself?

“Ananda, if light is its self, you should not see darkness; if emptiness is its self, you should not see obstruction. Likewise, if darkness is its self, the nature of your seeing should cease to function when there is light, but why do you still see light?”


Ananda said, “Now I am certain that the nature of seeing is not spontaneous. I guess it is brought about by causes and conditions. But I am still not clear about it. I now ask the Tathagata to tell me how it accords with the nature of causes and conditions.”


The Buddha said, “You say it is causes and conditions. Let me ask you this: When you see things, the nature of seeing manifests – is it because of light that the seeing exists? Or is it because of darkness, emptiness, or obstruction that the seeing exists? If it is light that brings it into existence, you should not see darkness; if it is darkness, you should not see light. It is the same with emptiness and obstruction.

“Moreover, Ananda, does the seeing derive from the condition of light, or darkness, or emptiness, or obstruction?

“If it exists because of the condition of emptiness, you should not see obstruction; if it exists because of the condition of obstruction, you should not see emptiness. And it is the same with light and darkness. Therefore, you should know that the essential Bodhi is due to neither causes nor conditions, neither being nor nonbeing, neither reality nor unreality. It is identical with all things yet beyond all forms.

“How can you now think of it, use your mind to make distinctions, and express it with frivolous terminologies that are based on worldly sophistries? That is like grasping at empty space with your hand: you will only succeed in tiring yourself out. How could empty space possibly be grasped?”


Ananda asked, “If the nature of Enlightenment has neither causes nor conditions, why does the Buddha always tell the bhikshus that the nature of seeing exists because of the four conditions of emptiness, light, mind, and eye? What does that mean?”

The Buddha said, “Ananda, what I have said about all the worldly causes and conditions has nothing to do with the Supreme Truth. Ananda, I now ask you: When a person says that he can see, what does he mean by ‘seeing’ and ‘not seeing’?”


Ananda replied, “By seeing, he means that due to the light of the sun, moon, or lamps, he can see all kinds of appearances. While in the absence of such light, he cannot see.”


“Ananda, if it is called ‘not seeing’ when there is no light, he should not see darkness either. If he sees darkness when there is no light, how can you call it ‘not seeing’? If you call it ‘not seeing’ when there is no light, you should also call it ‘not seeing’ when there is light and you do not see darkness. Thus, there would be ‘no seeing’ in both cases. But as we know, your seeing-nature never ceases for an instant, be it in light or darkness. Since there is seeing in both cases, how can you call it ‘not seeing’?

“Therefore, Ananda, you should know that when you see light, the seeing is not bright. When you see darkness, the seeing is not dark. When you see emptiness, the seeing is not empty. When you see obstruction, the seeing is not obstructed.

“Once you have realized these four aspects, you should also know that when your absolute seeing perceives the Essence of Seeing, the former is beyond the latter, and the latter cannot reach it. That being the case, how can you say that your absolute intuitive perception has something to do with either causes and conditions or spontaneity, or that it has something to do with both?

“You narrow-minded Hearers are so ignorant that you are unable to realize the purity and clarity of Reality. Now I will show you the Truth and you should consider it carefully, never allowing indolence and remissness to obstruct your Path to the profound Bodhi.”


Ananda said to the Buddha, “Although the Buddha has explained to us about causes and conditions, about spontaneity, and about mixing and uniting or the absence of mixing and uniting, we became more perplexed as we heard that seeing is not seeing. Please would you open our wisdom-eye further.” After saying this, he wept, prostrated himself at the Buddha’s feet and waited earnestly to receive the holy teaching.