1. Xiu-Yun Huang
The topic of this Shurangama Session is the “Fifty Skandha Demons”, which are categorized into the
skandhas of form, feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness. Due to the time constraints, we only learned about the states of the form
skandha, the feeling skandha, and the cognition
Within the form skandha, there are ten kinds of demonic
skandhas, which might be encountered by those who cultivate very vigorously. For example, cultivators may experience their spirits leaving their body in mysterious ways, seeing Vairochana Buddha being surrounded by a thousand Buddhas, hear the voice of the Buddhas of the ten directions speaking Dharma, see space manifesting the pools or the colors of the seven precious things, have one’s four limbs become like grass or wood, etc. Even though these are good states, cultivators with knowledge of the fifty
skandha-demon states will know that these are temporary experiences and not indications of the attainment of sagely states (i.e. enlightenment).
If one thinks that these are wonderful states that make him or her surpass others, one will catch a demon due to these thoughts of arrogance and greed. The reason we become possessed by a demon is because our minds are not proper but deviant. Not only are we greedy for states and quick attainment, we seek to get something as well. Therefore, the Venerable Master exhorted us to have the attitude of looking but not seeing and listening but not hearing when we encounter these states. We should maintain the Middle Way without being greedy.
In our daily lives, we are at times very sad and worried. If we are overly depressed or worried, we will cry whenever we see people. As a result, we become possessed by a demon. If we are overly happy or reach a point where we are extremely arrogant, we will also be possessed by a demon. Thus, we must contemplate our thoughts at all times. We should not become overly happy, vexed, irritable, or bad-tempered. In whatever we do, we try our best to have a joyous attitude and avoid being overtaken by a demon of affliction.
At night, we also have a session for Developing Inherent Wisdom, where we practice speaking Dharma. This way, we can understand a certain section of the Sutra better in addition to being able to memorize the Sutra text with the Dharma speakers.
I had some inspiration from participating in this particular session: learning the Buddhadharma takes a lifetime; there is no shortcut, nor can one be greedy for quick results. One can only learn it honestly step by step starting from the basics. If one is impatient for results, it will stir up unnecessary trouble. There is a lot of psuedo-Dharma in the world. If one does not have the “Dharma-selecting eye” and just runs around to various temples to hear lectures, one will not know what is orthodox or deviant. Consequently, one will very easily fall into the traps of demons without being able to extricate oneself.
The Six Great Principles of CTTB—do not fight, do not be greedy, do not seek, do not be selfish, do not pursue personal advantage, and do not lie—are very beneficial to us. If we carefully contemplate our thoughts and ask ourselves whether we are self-seeking, greedy, or selfish, we will not be influenced by states or be confused when we encounter states.
We should always recite the Shurangama Mantra to protect the Proper Dharma and to get rid of our habits and leave demonic problems far behind.
2. Zheng-Fong Liang
This second Shurangama Sutra Session made me understand more deeply what is meant by “going astray”, which the Venerable Master often mentions when lecturing sutras. After this class, I clearly comprehended the importance of the Six Great Principles!
On the path of cultivation, we must be extremely careful, especially in this age when the demons are strong and the Dharma is weak. If we are the least bit lax, we may stray onto a demonic path and become part of the demons’ retinue. As it is said: “One wrong step results in endless regrets. When one turns around again, it’s already been a lifetime.” One lifetime is a small matter, but who knows what kind of body we will receive in our next life!
If cultivators don’t have a good grasp of the Fifty Skandha-Demon States, they will go astray regardless of how smart they are, as the Venerable Master warned. Because of the limited time we have, we wish that the Dharma Masters could schedule some other time to finish this course. Lastly, I hope that the
Shurangama Sutra can be passed to various places in the world so that many more people can benefit from it. As a result, the Proper Dharma will exist in the world forever.
3. Bao-Feng Huang
This is my first time participating in the Shurangama Sutra Session and learning about the Fifty Skandha-Demon States. I derived much benefit. I didn’t understand until now that there are ten states within each of the five
skandhas of form, feeling, cognition, formations, and consciousness. There are so many demonic transformations that it seems very scary. When we cultivate and progress on the path, we must be very prudent. I think that when a person possessed by a demon speaks Dharma, a beginner will not be able to tell unless this person knows about the Fifty Skandha-Demon States. There is a saying that goes: “It is better not to be enlightened for a thousand days than to take the wrong path for even one day.”
In the past, I have often heard people say: “Ah, I see Dharma protectors and spirits. I see the Bodhisattvas coming to receive the offerings…,” etc. When I heard such things, I wished I could see the same things as well. I used to think that I couldn’t see these states because I lacked sincerity. Now, come to think of it, it is all greed at work. Be careful! Don’t get possessed by a demon.
4. Jin Zheng Shi
This is my first time participating in a session like this. The daily schedule is so full that I can dwell in the sweetness of the wonderful Shurangama Dharma at all times.
“If one wants to do good, karmic creditors will find one. If one wishes to become a Buddha, the demons come to test one.” The Fifty Skandha Demon States in the
Shurangama Sutra teaches us how to differentiate demonic appearances.
As one attains some skill in cultivation, one is usually self-satisfied with the little one has. Furthermore, because of the residual habits of greed, arrogance, and seeking, the demons and goblins will take advantage of our weak points. If we do not have enough strength from precepts,
samadhi, and wisdom, we will be pulled along by states and fall as a result. “A human body is hard to obtain; it is hard to get to hear the Buddhadharma.” Now we are fortunate to encounter the Dharma. It would be the greatest pity in the world to fall into the lower realms because we are careless and influenced by states.
After taking this course, I have more faith in the Six Great Principles that the Venerable Master bequeathed to us. I’d like to take these principles as a compass, or else I would be like the people the World Honored One described to Venerable Ananda: They would be like someone who cooks sand in the hope of getting rice. After hundreds of thousands of eons, it would still be just hot sand.” In other words, it is impossible.
I really enjoyed the part that deals with developing inherent wisdom. This training method can stimulate everyone’s potential, and it allows people to share what they learned and what they understood with everyone. Even if what we said was not perfect or accurate, someone would give constructive criticism to correct us.
5. Yue-Rong Woo
In this course, I have learned that when one single-mindedly cultivates Chan, one might encounter disturbing states from demons. If one meets certain states, one should not be too happy or too annoyed. One should treat every state with an ordinary mind. The following few lines of instruction were enough to give me a revelation: “We should not be too attached. Consequently, we will live much more happily.”
From this session, I understood many different external and deviant teachings and what methods are used to attract people. If we have proper knowledge and views, we can distinguish orthodox Dharma from deviant dharma. With this knowledge, we will not get involved so easily in listening to the teachings of deviant teachers.
I also liked the section, Developing Inherent Wisdom. Although it was frightening to go up to the stage to memorize the Sutra text and explain it, I understood what I learned better. Comparing the Developing Inherent Wisdom session to the past session on the Four Pure Unalterable Truths, I understand and like this session better.
This particular Shurangama Session made me attentive—I was even more concentrated than in my regular school classes. After the course on the Fifty Skandha-Demon States, I will try my best to recite the Shurangama Mantra. I hope I can eventually memorize it. Because of the protection from the Shurangama Mantra, I will not easily get possessed by a demon or encounter a deviant teacher.