The Surangama Sutra: Chapter Two – Section 9

Distortions in Visual Awareness Are Due to Karma

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.


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 samathaNow 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.