Reminder from last issue:
1. "This" Is "Who?"
2. Seeing in the Mind
3. It's Not Like a Guest and Not Like Dust
It's Beyond Even Stillness
Then the Buddha takes it a step farther—beyond the bounds of words and language. He shoots light out from his palm, passing the light first to Ananda's right and then to his left. Ananda, watching the light, turns his head to the left and right. The Buddha asks him what he's doing and Ananda explains that he's looking at the lights. The Buddha asks him if it was his head that moved and Ananda says yes, his head moved. The Buddha checks him by asking: "What moved and what was still?" Ananda's answer indicates that he understands that our inherent nature transcends duality. He says that since his nature, manifesting at the portal of seeing, is even beyond stillness, how could he define it as being still, how much the less moving? The Buddha asserts that Ananda is correct.
With that, the Buddha drives home his point: "Your body moves, your environment moves—they are both subject to constant change. The thoughts created by your false mind also move in a ceaseless pattern like waves on water. Why do you take those things to be real, and, in your ignorance, continue to abuse your nature, which, in your own words, is beyond even stillness? It's just because of that attachment—to what is transitory and ephemeral—that you keep moving. You keep getting born and dying, moving round and round on the wheel of rebirth."
The Buddha's words had an effect. Those who heard and witnessed the dialogue between Kaundinya and the Buddha, and who saw the demonstration made by the Buddha for Ananda, gained a repose. They stopped moving and, in that moment of composure, observed that they had strayed from the true—that they were as if lost. They were separated from their own nature—separated from it by their own ignorance. In that tranquil moment they had a glimmer of awakening.
Seeing is Not Annihilated
This section of the Shurangama Sutra is a ten-part discussion about aspects of our nature which can be detected at the gates of our six sense organs. The list of ten says that the nature (1) is the true mind, (2) does not move, (3) is not annihilated, (4) is not lost, (5) does not return to anything, (6) does not intermingle, (7) is not obstructed, (8) is not separate, (9) transcends the ordinary, and (10) is apart from the function of any one of the sense organs. In order to demonstrate these principles, the Buddha selected the eye and seeing for this discussion.
In this third aspect, King Prasenajit has a lengthy discussion with the Buddha about old age and death. The King has been influenced by two of the leading six teachers of externalist sects who were contemporary in India at the time of the Buddha. Although these two, Kakuda Katyayana and Vairati, advocated different paths of practice, their basic premise was the same—nihilism. The King explains to the Buddha: "Both (of these teachers ) say that this body is annihilated at death and that this is Nirvana."
This view is not only particular to India some three thousand years ago; it is a view still advocated today. According to a commentary on the Shurangama Sutra called the Orthodox Pulse, "Attainment of Nirvana means that our nature is forever apart from birth and death. But these men advocated just the opposite—that at the death of the physical body the
nature is annihilated and just that is Nirvana. Truly a deviant theory!"
Master Hua elaborates: "They say that after this body dies there isn't anything. There is no cause and there is no effect, no future lives and no previous lives. They say that a person's death is just like blowing out a lamp. What was there is gone. Nihilism means there is no soul, no awareness, no nature, nothing at all—that is what they call Nirvana."
In fact, many Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, who are not well-versed in their religion (which advocates eternalism—the opposite of nihilism), will unwittingly express this paradoxical view because they are not really sure what is going to happen after death. The eternalist view says that one never changes. People will always be people, God will always be God, and horses and cows will always be horses and cows. If you fall into the hells you will always be there. If you go to the heavens, it is forever.