The Surangama Sutra: Chapter Two – Section 4

Exposing the Faulty Nature of Discrimination and Pointing Directly to the One Mind

Then the Buddha, out of pity for Ananda and the assembly, began to explain extensively the profound practice of the samadhis of the Great Dharani: “Though you have memorized my teachings, it only broadens your knowledge. Your mind has not yet truly realized the subtle insight and illumination of samatha. Now listen attentively as I explain it in detail, for the benefit of all those who are still in the stream of transmigration so that you can all win the bodhi fruit.”

“Ananda, all living beings are subject to transmigration through various worlds because of two inverted, discriminating false views, which cause people to be caught in the turning wheel of samsara. What causes those two views? They are due to people’s individual and collective karmas.”


“What is meant by false views based on individual karma? Ananda, it is like a man who, because his eyes are inflamed, sees at night around the lamp a circular reflection composed of layers of five colors. Is this circle the colors of lamplight, or is it the colors of his seeing?”

“If it is the colors of lamplight, why does someone without the eye condition not see it? If it is only the seeing’s colors, then the seeing is colored, and what is the true color of the lamplight? Moreover, if the circular reflection is independent of the lamp, then it would be seen around the nearby curtains, the furniture, and the mats. If it is independent of the seeing, then it should not be seen by the eyes.”

“Therefore, you should know that the color is revealed by the lamp and becomes a circle when a person with eye condition sees it. Both the distorted shape (form) and the faulty seeing (perception) are the result of the person’s eye conditions. Thus, we should not say that it is due to the lamp or the seeing, or that it is neither due to the lamp nor due to the seeing.”

“It is like a second moon often seen when one presses on one’s eye looking up into the sky. It is neither the real moon nor its shadow, because it is an illusory vision caused by the pressure exerted on one’s eye. Hence, a wise person should not say that the second moon is a form or not a form. So wise people should not say that this illusion ‘is’ or ‘is not’, or that it exists apart from seeing or non-seeing. Likewise, how can you say that an illusion caused by eye conditions is from the lamp or from the seeing? Still less can you establish that it is neither from the lamp nor from the seeing.”


“And what is meant by false views caused by collective karma? Ananda, this universe (Jambudvipa) comprises, besides the great seas, 3,000 continents, with the largest at the center, containing 2,300 great countries from east to west, and some other smaller continents also each consisting of smaller countries. Suppose that among them there is one small continent where there are only two countries, one of which is inhabited by people who, as a result of their bad karma, have experienced evil conditions, while the people inhabiting in another country have never seen nor even heard of them.”


“Ananda, now I will now go back and forth comparing these two karmic conditions for you. All living beings whose individual karma causes them to see falsely, are like the man whose eyes have cataracts and therefore he sees a circular reflection around the lamp, which appears to be real, but in fact only comes into being because of his eye disease. The circle is not a product of form. And the essence of seeing is free from all defects or diseases.”

“Similarly, if you look at mountains, rivers and people, they are all brought about by the distortion in your seeing, which was acquired since the beginningless time. This seeing and its causal falsities are in front of you, but they originally arise from your subjective awareness of your bright enlightenment, which leads to false perception of objective phenomena. Although awareness and perception cause wrong seeing, the bright, pure, true Bodhi Mind is free from all ills and able to see clearly. Its realization that the awareness and perception are faulty does not fall into delusion. It is what I mean by true seeing, which is not discriminative, while your seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing are all discriminative.”

“Therefore, your actual seeing of yourself, of me and of all living beings is a distorted seeing, and certainly not that which is aware of your wrong seeing. For the true essential seeing by nature is beyond all ills, hence it is not called seeing.”

“Ananda, now let us compare false seeing caused by collective karma with that caused by individual karma. The illusion of a circle around the lamplight seen by a man with cataracts, and the evil condition experienced by all the inhabitants of that small country because of their collective karma, are both created by a falsity in the seeing since the beginningless time. Thus, the Jambudvipa’s 3,000 continents, four great seas, and all samsaric countries in the ten directions as well as their inhabitants are the product of faulty seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing.”

“A person who can avoid the illusory mixture and union and non-mixture and non-union of concurrent causes, will be able to destroy all causes of birth and death, thereby perfecting the transcendental nature of Enlightenment and realizing the permanent basic Bodhi of pure Self-mind.

“Ananda, although you have understood that the bright nature of basic Enlightenment does not come from causes and conditions and is not by nature spontaneous, you have not yet realized that the enlightened source is produced neither from mixing and uniting nor from a lack of mixing and uniting.”

“Ananda, I must now ask you a question. Since you hold that all false thinking mixes and unites with causes and conditions, and you wonder whether the thoughts of a Bodhi mind also arise from such mixing and uniting. If they do, does your essence of perception mix with light or darkness, with clarity or obstruction? If it mixes with light, when the latter appears and you see it, where does it mix with your seeing? Since your seeing is clear, where can you find such mixture? If it is not the seeing, why do you see light? If it is the seeing, how can you see your own seeing? Since your seeing is complete by itself, how can it be mixed with the light? Since light is complete by itself too, where can it contain your seeing? Therefore, seeing and light differ, and if they are mixed up, even the word ‘light’ would cease to exist; in other words, such a mixture would suppress the light. Consequently, your concept of a mixture of seeing with light is wrong, and so is a mixture of seeing with darkness, clarity and obstruction.”

“Again, Ananda, does the essence of your perception unite with light, darkness, clarity and obstruction? If it unites with light, then when light vanishes and be replaced by darkness, the seeing should not unite with the latter, but why do you still see darkness? When you see darkness, if your seeing does not unite with it, then when it unites with light, you should not see light as well. If light is not seen, then when there is light, do you know that it is light and not darkness? Likewise, a union of the seeing with darkness, clarity and obstruction is equally false.”



Ananda asked, “World Honored One, as I consider it now, the source of this wonderful enlightenment never mixes or unites, neither with any conditioned mundane object nor with the mind’s speculation. Is that the case?”

The Buddha said, “You now speak of not mixing and not uniting. Do you mean that this essence of seeing does not mix with light, darkness, clarity and obstruction? If so, then when you see the light, there should be a demarcation line between seeing and light. Now look carefully and tell me where the fields of light and of your seeing are, and where their boundaries are? If you do not see where light is, then your seeing will not reach it; if so, you will not even know where the light is, and how can there be a border line? It is the same with darkness, clarity and obstruction.”

“Again, do you mean that this essence of seeing does not unite with light, darkness, clarity and obstruction? If it does not unite with light, then both the seeing and light are in opposition. So your seeing would not perceive anything where there is light; then how can you cause them either to unite or not? It is the same with darkness, clarity and obstruction.”

“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. They should also be felt by the mind as coming in and out, as if something loving 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.”