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A Sure Sign of the Proper Dharma

楞     嚴     經
The Shurangama Sutra

□     修持     文
By Xiu Chi

If the lamp could perceive, how could we still call it a lamp?















Reminder from last issue:
The Buddha concludes: "The reason that cultivators can reach the nine successive stages of samadhi (all still within the Triple Realm), but can't go on and become Arhats is because they attach to this false thinking that is subject to production and extinction and mistake it for being true and actual. And that is the same reason why, although you are learned, you haven't attained sagehood."

Ananda then admits that his fondness for learning has hampered his cultivation. He now realizes that to study without practicing renders the study useless. He formally requests the Buddha to reveal the wonderful bright mind and help him open his Way-eyes.

In answer, the Buddha emits light from the character wan "卍" ("myriad") on his chest. The light travels out and annoints the crowns of the heads of the Buddhas of the ten directions and returns to Ananda and those in the great assembly. The Buddha is giving Ananda a chance to immediately see the brightness of his wonderful mind and to instantaneously open his spiritual eyes. When he doesn't, the Buddha knows the time is still not ripe and so he announces his promise to speak in order to fulfill Ananda's request.

Revealing Ten Aspects of the Nature through Seeing
1. Seeing is a Function of the True Mind
The Buddha emitted light from the character wan "卍" ("myriad") on his chest, hoping that Ananda and the others were ready to directly perceive the efficacy of their own inherent natures without having to resort to words. But having done so, the Buddha saw that Ananda's Way-eyes didn't immediately open--he still didn't "get" it, and so the Buddha patiently shifts to words and language to slowly bring Ananda to understanding.

In this ten-part discussion, the Buddha will try to show Ananda how our inherent Buddha-nature reveals itself at the gates of our sense organs. The nature as it appears through the sense organs is the pure efficacious ability to perceive sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and dharmas. Since its pure and efficacious aspect is more easily perceived at the portholes of those senses, the Buddha wishes to focus Ananda's attention there. Having underminded Ananda's faith in his conscious mind, the Buddha quickly replaces the false with the true. His message is, "You can't rely on the false-thinking mind, but you can rely on the nature."

The Buddha questions Ananda further about Ananda's perception of the Buddha's dazzling fist. He asks three questions:
(1) What is the fist made of? (Why was there light?)
(2) How did it become a fist?
(3) Who saw it?

Ananda answers:
(1) The fist is part of the Buddha's purple-golden body and so it emitted light.
(2) The Buddha clenched his five-wheeled fingers to make the fist.
(3) I saw it with my eyes.

The Buddha tries a logical analogy:
Without a hand, I couldn't make a fist.
Without eyes, you couldn't see.

He asks Ananda, "Is the analogy apt?" Ananda affirms that it is.

"I don't think so," replies the Buddha. "It's true that without a hand a person would never be able to make a fist. But I'm not convinced that without eyes, a person can't see."

The Buddha tries an example. "If you ask a blind person what he sees, he will answer, 'All I see is darkness.' Even though he doesn't have the use of his eyes, he still perceives darkness. How can you say he doesn't see?"

Ananda loves to argue and so he jumps in and says, "How can perceiving only darkness be called seeing?"

The Buddha extends his example into a comparison in order to convince Ananda. "What's the difference between the darkness a sighted person sees (if he's in a totally dark place) and the darkness a blind person sees?"

Then, in order to reveal the nature's efficacy as it functions at the porthole of the eyes, the Buddha continues, "If the blind person were to suddenly regain his sight, you would say that his eyes see. But if that were the case, then when the sighted person in a totally dark place suddenly turns on the lamp, you should say the lamp sees. If the lamp could see, it would be endowed with the ability to perceive. But we don't define a lamp as something that has its own perception. So if the lamp could perceive, how could we still call it a lamp? Besides that, if when the lamp is lit and it's the lamp that sees, that shouldn't have anything to do with the sighted man's ability to perceive or what he perceives. In that case why would turning on the lamp have any effect at all on what the sighted man saw?"

→To be continued


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