This is an English translation of Nan Huai Jin’s ‘Modern Explanation of the Big Meaning of the Surangama Sutra’. Please note that my translations are amateur and you need to do your own research, do not believe what I write here and please test it out for yourselves. I welcome any corrections if you spot any.

Chapter 1 – Nature of Mind Ontology


01-01 – The beginning of the question

One day, Shakyamuni Buddha (#2) went to the Persian King’s (#4) palace in Sravasti (#2), to receive the invitation to mourn for the King’s father’s death anniversary. The Buddha’s disciple, Ananda, (#5) who became a monastic in the early years, was outside on that day and could not participate. When he came back, he went to the city to beg for alms, and by chance went to a prostitute’s door. The girl Matangi (#6) saw him, fell in love with him and used a love-spell on Ananda to fill him with lust. At this critical moment, the Buddha was already aware of this and immediately led his disciples to the place, along with the Persian king. The Buddha taught Manjushri (#7) an incantation to rescue Ananda from the difficult situation. When Ananda saw Manjushri, his mind recovered and awoke, went with Matangi to see the Buddha with huge shame, crying continuously, praying for the Buddha’s teaching.

The Buddha asked, “Why did you forsake worldly loving-affection in the past, leaving your home to learn from me?”

Ananda replied, “When I saw the Buddha’s body, dignified, splendid and radiant, I believed this appearance is not what an ordinary man can attain, therefore I left home to learn the Dharma from you.”

#1. Surangama = The great samadhi of self-nature. The Buddha explained himself that Surangama is where there is a firm/stable investigation into everything.Perfect samadhi. Self-nature is naturally motionless, it cannot be falsely cultivated to, it is a wonderful samadhi. (Difficult to translate – untranslated)

#2. Shakyamuni Buddha = He is a the prince that left home at 19 years old, attained the Tao at 30 years old. He became the teacher of the Saha world.

#3. Sravasti = Name of a place which became the official name of a nation. It is now in the south of Nepal and the Northwest part of modern India.

#4. Persian King = A title that means ‘moonlight’ or ‘affable’.

#5. Ananda = Name means ‘happiness’. Cousin of the Buddha. Out of all the disciples, he has heard the most.

#6. Matangi = Name means ‘contemptible seed’.

#7. Manjushri = Name means ‘wonderful virtue’ and ‘wonderful auspiciousness’. He is the teacher of 7 Buddhas. When he took birth, there were 10 auspicious signs.

01-02 – 7 Points to Distinguish and Recognise the Existence of Mind

The Buddha said, “Humans of the world always do not recognise themselves, and even more do not recognise their eternal real mind that is birthless and deathless, pure and radiant. They are usually controlled by this kind of mindset and false-thoughts, thinking that this function of false-thoughts is one’s real mind. Therefore all kinds of mistakes are made and they continuously rebirth in the ocean of birth and death. I now ask you and hope that you can reply my question genuinely. You wish to seek the right knowing and realisation of unsurpassed bodhi, and the entrance is only mind. You have to know that the fundamental conduct of people with right realisation becoming a Buddha, is honest and straightforward, absolutely not self-deceiving. Your reason for leaving home to learn Buddhism is because you saw my outer appearance, but what did you use to see? Also, what is it that takes affection?”

Ananda replied, “My eyes are what sees, my mind is what takes affection.”

Buddha said, “You say that seeing and taking affection is the function of the eyes and mind. If you do not know where the eyes and mind are, then you will be unable to prevent the fundamental mistake of impure-disturbances (#8), and will not be able to put an end to mental frustrations. For example, there is a King who wishes to send his troops to stop bandits, but do not know where the bandits are, then how can he eliminate them? You say that what makes you take affection, and what makes you wander in frustration and pain, is incited by the eyes and mind. I now ask you, where are these eyes that can see, and this mind that can take affection?”

Ananda replied, “All beings and humans with spiritual-nature (sentience), their eyes that can see are on their face. The mind that can discriminate is inside their bodies.” (Ananda believed that the mind was inside the body.)

#8. Impure-disturbances: All-around frustrations.

01-03 – Thinking that the Mind is inside the body

The Buddha asked, “Now as you sit here in the hall (#9), looking at the park outside, what places are there?”

Ananda answered, “The hall is inside the park. The park is outside the hall.”

The Buddha asked, “What do you first see when you are inside the hall?”

Ananda answered, “I am inside the hall. I firstly see you, then I see the crowd. When I look outside, I can see the park.”

Buddha asked, “When you see that there is a park outside, what do you rely on to see?”

Ananda replied, “The halls windows and doors are open. Therefore as my body is inside the hall, I can see the park outside the hall.”

Buddha asked, “Following what you have said, your body is inside the hall. The windows and doors are open, and only then can you see the far away park. Is there any person who is inside the hall, who cannot see the crowd and I inside the hall, and only can see the park outside?”

Ananda replied, “There is no such thing as a person who is inside the hall and cannot see what is inside the hall, but can only see the park outside.”

Buddha asked, “Indeed, it is as you say. Your mind is completely and obviously able to realize all things in front of you. If this mind is really inside the body, then you should first be able to see the insides of one’s body. Just like a person inside the hall, you should first be able to see things inside the hall. I would like to ask you, who in the world is able to first see the insides of the body, then see the scenery outside? You say that the mind is inside the body, if it is inside, then the heart, liver, spleen, stomach and other functions and activities should first be seen. This also includes the situation of the hair growing inside, the state of your nerves and blood pulse. Even if it cannot be seen, at the very least it should be completely clearly known. In reality, who can see the insides of their bodies? Since we cannot find what the mind that knows and sees inside the body is like, then how can we possibly know the mind’s function coming from inside the body to the outside? Therefore, it is incorrect when you say that the mind is inside the body.”

#9: Refers to the residence of the crowd, the monks who cultivate.

01-04 – Thinking that the Mind is outside the body

Ananda asked, “After hearing the Buddha’s analysis, I think that our mind that can know and see is outside the body. For example, when a lamp lights up the interior of the hall, this light must first shine onto what is inside the hall, then go through the doors and windows to the courtyard outside the hall. Humans in the world are not able to look at what is inside their bodies, but can see the scenery outside the body. Just like how the light is originally outside the hall, therefore it cannot light up inside the hall.”

The Buddha asked, “Just now, we went to eat when everyone was hungry. I would like to ask you – is it possible to send a representative to eat, such that when he eats until he is full, everyone else is not hungry?”

Ananda replied, “Every person’s body is respectively independent and respectively existing. It would be not possible if we were to ask a representative to eat food and make us all full.”

The Buddha replied, “You say that this all-knowing mind that can know and perceive, exists outside the body. In that way, the body and mind should have nothing to do with each other. What the mind knows, the body may not be able to feel. If there are feelings in the body, the mind will not know. Now when I raise my hand in front of you and outside of your body, your eyes see them, is your mind able to perceive and distinguish?”

Ananda replied, “Of course it is able to perceive.”

The Buddha said, “Since your mind has a perceiving response when there is a movement outside your body, how can you think that the mind is outside the body? Therefore, it is wrong when you say that the mind is outside the body.”

Ananda said, “Following this differentiation, where the mind cannot be seen inside the body, and there is a response when the outside moves, this solidifies the view that the body and mind cannot be separated in reality. Therefore, the mind being outside the body is also a mistake. I re-consider, that the mind is concealed within the root of nerves within our physiology. Following the example of eyes, even when a person wears glasses, however it does not obstruct the eyes. The line of sight and the outside world makes contact, and the mind then arises its function of distinguishing. Humans cannot see the insides of their own bodies, because the mind’s function is inside the root of the eye nerves. There is no obstruction when I look outside, this is the function of the mind inside the root of the eye nerves.”

01-05 – Thinking that the Mind is inside the Nerve Roots

Buddha said, “Following what you say, thinking that the mind is concealed within the nerve roots of our physiology, let’s continue from your glasses example. For every person who wears eye-glasses, they can still see the scenery on the outside. Can they also see the glasses that they are wearing?”

Ananda replied, “When wearing the glasses, they can see the outside scenery, and also see the glasses.”

Buddha said, “You say the mind is concealed in the nerve roots in our physiology. When a person looks at outside scenery, why is it not possible to look at one’s own eyes? Assuming that we can see our own eyes, then what you see as eyes are also outside scenery, so you cannot say that this is the function of distinguishing of the eyes and heart. If the mind can see the scenery of the outside world, but is unable to see one’s own eyes, then it is incorrect when you say that the mind that can see clearly is concealed in the eye nerve roots.”

01-06 – Thinking that the Mind is the Function of Seeing Light and Dark

Ananda said, “According to my thinking, our organs are inside our body. The eyes , ears, and organs with other orifices, are on the outside of the body. Wherever the organs inside are, they will naturally be dark. Whatever has holes will allow light in. For example, when I face the Buddha now and open my eyes, I can see light, so I say that I see the outside. When I close my eyes, I can only see darkness, so I say that I see the inside. If I use this example, it becomes clearer.”

Buddha raised 8 points to explain this question.

Buddha said to Ananda, “Firstly, when you close your eyes and see the appearance of darkness, is this opposite to what your eyes see? If this darkness appearance is in front of the eyes, we naturally cannot say that this is inward-seeing. Therefore, the realm of darkness, the internal – theory and reality do not fit.”

“Secondly, if we can see the appearance of darkness, then when inside a completely dark hall, this darkness of the hall should be your insides. Can you say that this darkness are your organs?”

01-11 – Identifying the Mind

Buddha told Ananda, “Now that you want to understand the mind-nature through the path to silent and great samadhi, surpassing the flow of birth and death, then you must first have the proper view (understanding) and recognition.”

Buddha raised his fist and asked Ananda, “Can you see this now?”

Ananda said, “I see it.”

Buddha asked, “What do you see?”

Ananda replied, “My eyes see your fist, my mind knows that this is a fist.”

Buddha said, “Who is it that can see?”

Ananda replied, “I use the eyes to see, just like everyone else.”

Buddha asked, “My fist illuminated your eyes and mind, and your eyes could see, this being the case, what is your mind?”

Ananda said, “You ask where the mind is, and now I am speculating and seeking. The thing that can speculate and seek, that should roughly be my mind.”

Buddha said, “This is not your real mind.”

Ananda was very surprised, and asked, “If this is not my mind, what is it?”

Buddha said, “This function, is all a response to agitations from the outside-world. This brings about unreal and fluctuating thoughts in the consciousness, blocking or messing up (confusing) your mind-nature. From beginning-less time to now, the average person always considers this consciousness-thinking to be the real mind. It is just like confusing one’s thief for one’s son, losing the originally-impermanent (might mean ‘permanent’?) and silent mind-nature, wandering in the whirlpool of birth and death in a confused manner.”

Ananda said, “I am the Buddha’s cousin, because I loved the Buddha, I left home to focus on learning the Dharma. Not only that, regarding other good knowledge, I always respectfully receive instruction with courage, not fearing trouble, sincerely cultivating. All kinds of deeds, in reality, are only done by using this mind. Even though I might be opposing truth, forever losing my meritorious roots, it is done by using this mind. Now that the Buddha says that this is not the mind, then it is as if I do not have a mind, wouldn’t it be the same as ignorant wood and rocks? Leaving this kind of perception, what else is there? Why does the Buddha say that this is not the mind? In this way, not only me, but even everyone here, unfortunately have the same doubts. I hope that the Buddha can take mercy, and give more instructions for us who have not realised our true mind.”

At this moment, the Buddha entered his mind’s alambana (realm) into “Birthless false-thoughts” where the mental and physical habitual activities are cut off, then affectionately touched Ananda’s crown saying, “I often say that the birth of all appearances are all manifested by the function of the mind-nature. All matter and the minutest particles of matter (fine-dust), are all formed from the function of the mind-nature. Everything in the world – grass or wood, drop or speck – if we want to investigate their origins, then they will all have their own characteristic natures. Even if it is empty space, there is also its name and appearance. This pure (quiet/peaceful), wondrous, radiant and holy true-mind – whether it is jing-shen (vitality-spirit), physical, mental, physiological – where does not have its own body?


To be continued…

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