The Surangama Sutra: Prologue


Thus have I heard: Once the Buddha stayed in a magnificent abode in Prince Jetri’s Grove, in the city of Śrāvastī. Alongside there were twelve hundred and fifty great Arhats, who were completely sealed off and free of outflows – meaning they had crossed the stream of transmigration and acquired the highest caliber to uphold the Dharma without distraction or slackness. (In other words, these disciples of the Buddha had transcended all existence.) Everywhere they went, they exuded magnanimity and inspired veneration. Following the Buddha to turn the Wheel of Dharma, these accomplished monks were great exemplars for beings in the three realms of existence. Vowing to liberate all sentient beings, they manifested in countless phenomena and forever would keep on helping future generations to transcend their earthly attachment.


These Arhats were the enlightened Śāriputra, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, Mahā-Kauṣṭhila, Pūrṇamaitrāyaṇīputra, Subhūti, Upani-ṣad, and other sages. Alongside them there were also some beginners who had only recently made a resolve to attain full awakening. Together they came to the place where the Buddha and the great monks were spending the summer. Bodhisattvas from all ten directions came too to pay homage to the Buddha, longing to understand his sophisticated teachings and resolve the problems they encountered in practice.


Sitting serenely, the Buddha began to reveal the most subtle and profound truths, for the sake of everyone. It was a grand banquet of Dharma, where the assembly learned what they had not known before. The Buddha’s voice was like the call of the kalaviṅka bird, and it could be heard in worlds throughout all ten directions. The Bodhisattvas who gathered to listen were as innumerous as sands in the Ganges, with Mañjuśrī being the leader.


On the anniversary day of mourning for his father, the late king, King Prasenajit had invited the Buddha and escorted him to a vegetarian feast of delicacies in the palace’s banquet hall. Meanwhile he welcomed all the great Bodhisattvas. In the city, elders and other laities also had prepared meals for the Sangha. The Buddha directed Mañjuśrī to lead Arhats and Bodhisattvas to accept the offerings.


Only Ānanda didn’t show up for the Sangha. Earlier he had accepted a special invitation to go somewhere else and had not yet returned from his trip. No senior monk was accompanying him; he was returning alone.


That day on the road Ānanda had not yet received offerings, so at mealtime he carried his alms bowl in hands and walked through the town from door to door. While receiving alms, he thought to himself that he would accept offering from everyone, not only from Kṣatriyas of honorable families, but also from Caṇḍālas, who were considered impure classes. Ānanda knew that the Buddha had once admonished the Arhats Subhūti and Mahākāśyapa for being prejudicial on their alms rounds. Being a devoted follower of the Buddha, he was determined to practice impartiality and compassion, so as to assist all beings in generating merits, and to eradicate their wrong views.


Having crossed the city moat, Ānanda walked slowly through the outer gates. His manner remained disciplined and proper, as he followed strictly and respectfully the monastic rules. Since he was receiving alms impartially, he soon chanced upon a house of courtesans, where he was waylaid by a powerful artifice – a young Mātaṅga woman cast a spell on Ānanda and seduced him onto her bed. Then she caressed him lasciviously, until he was about to lose self-control and break his monastic vows.


Knowing that Ānanda was succumbing to the carnal influence, the Buddha ended his meal immediately and returned to the monastic grounds. The king, his senior ministers, the elders and the laities all followed suit. Seated in full-lotus posture on a thousand-petal lotus flower, with invincible light as dazzling as hundreds of gems radiating from the crown of his head, the Shakyamuni Buddha proclaimed a spiritually powerful mantra.


He instructed Mañjuśri to go protect Ānanda with this powerful mantra and, once the evil spell had been vanquished, to help convince Ānanda as well as the young Mātaṅga woman to come to where the Buddha was.


Having returned with Mañjuśri, Ānanda bowed deep in front of the Buddha and wept in sorrow. Since beginningless time, he had been studying, but had not fully realized the teachings and completed his practice – how regretful he was now! Devotedly, he beseeched the Buddha to show him the elementary steps that calm the mind, deepen the insight, and lead to enlightenment — the wondrous practice through which the numerous Buddhas of ten directions had become fully awakened.


Meanwhile, the Bodhisattvas and great Arhats silently gathered around at the foot of the Buddha’s seat, all being eager to hear the sacred teachings.