The Buddha told Ananda, “Bodhi and Nirvana are still very far away and cannot be attained without eons of practice and experience.” Though Ananda was known for his wide knowledge of the Dharma, he was, “unable to avoid the pit into which Mantagi fell.” The difference between knowledge and practice, Ananda was “rescued by the Surangama mantra, which caused the woman to extinguish the fire of lust completely.”
If you want to learn the drum, you have to sell your soul to the devil. That’s the important part. Mantagi made a clean break of it, no question. I began to develop some affection for her. She would understand me. She’d suffered, lived, to the point of a break. A great upheaval is required before we’re able to defy the Gods and cut the cord.
The teaching has two aspects: the discipline, the putting down; dispersing the entity, and the complex mature way of living in accord with the One. To walk freely on this earth, a great press through countless obstacles, requires the greater self. That all lines return to the One, desire is a good, strong line.
The main point of the Surangama is to help Ananda reach samadhi, or deep state meditation. For this, scientific theory and religion are unnecessary. There’s a poetry, a beauty to the text that has its own use, but for the world we inhabit… today’s science is flowering in all directions. It’s much more immediate, accurate, more real than the old book of magik. We don’t need it anymore. Attempting to fit the modern world into an outdated system… it was predicted that the Surangama would be the first to fall. The path alone. To this end, developing a deep practice was as crucial for Ananda as it is for the world today. The difference between staying in the realm of intellect – repeating the known — and genius – the thing that has never been said, never been known.
The Buddha continued, saying that studying the Dharma for eons, “cannot compare with one day’s practice of the transcendental path, which has enabled you to avoid suffering from both love and hate.”
Do we suffer it? That’s the question. The path uses everything. Love is human. We have to love, to think, to feel. Sometimes we suffer. The majority of us weren’t born into royal families. We know how to accept hardships. The best humans are the weathered ones. A fully formed, articulate, well-experienced host is far more interesting, more wise, more useful than one who hasn’t lived, hasn’t been crushed, loved and denied, worked and slept the cold sweat of survival, pressing forward through uncountable obstacles. But an entity so hardened is impossible to disperse — it must be a long-term collaboration between the two: a disciplined, formal training environment and all the things we must endure in the world.
The process of growth has been a constant from the first stirrings of life in the primordial ooze. The theory of evolution sheds light on this press forward, what the theory of reincarnation seems an early intimation of, without the element of time. Life isn’t moving toward stasis or the void, or caught in an endless cycle, but toward greater complexity. The teachings should reflect this.
As the Buddha’s teaching threads through the wilderness of the Surangama, it appears in the 12 links of dependent origination, similarly buried in old science and religion — that consciousness must be cultivated over many years, the element of time is absent. We don’t appear out of the void as an entity, we’re grown in the fetus from a single cell.
When a baby is born, it has only a rudimentary consciousness: desire for food, sleep, touch. Gradually it builds association with the world through the senses, name and form, colors, the musical scale, art, literature — the human framework. The child still has much to learn: to share, to deal with loss, not getting what it wants; to think, read, do things. It isn’t until the teenage years that the entity is fully formed and can begin to function as a human being.
Many Zen Masters use the metaphor, “everything is created by the mind alone.” I was never sure what this was about. In the Surangama, form arising from thought is creation theory:
“Mind’s dimness created dull emptiness, and both, in the darkness, united with it to become form. The mingling of form with false thinking caused the latter to take the shape of a body.” – the Surangama
There’s a danger in taking the literal meaning, well proven by today’s wave of fundamentalists. It’s my main problem with the Surangama, that it applies poetic teachings to the phenomenal world. From an introduction to The Diamond Sutra:
“After Kumarajiva lifted an incense burner over his head, he thought, ‘This is too heavy for me to lift,’ and was unable to hold it. From this experience he came to the realization that everything is made from the mind alone.”
The same tone, the same glint of dull science appears in the 12 links of dependent origination, compiled a few hundred years after the Surangama. The original teachings of dependent origination had fewer links, and no old science. The Brahmajala Sutra has six: feeling, craving, clinging, becoming, birth, and aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, sadness, and distress.
The 12 links are included in The Visuddhimagga, written by Buddhagosa in 430 CE. Like the Surangama, it’s a compilation of Indic materials. Oriented toward the science of the day, both are classic examples of building on the analogy. Instead of developing their own teaching, they grafted their ideas onto the Buddha’s, adding nothing of value and, in fact, obscuring the original intent.
The 12 links in the chain of dependent origination:
1 ignorance (a single thought)
2 mental formations
4 name and form
5 the six senses
12 old age, suffering, death
What was added, is the meaning relative or absolute? If it’s relative, why place thought before consciousness, without the structure of the mind? The aspects of consciousness disassembled to name and form and the six senses, it implies that consciousness exists separate from knowing, from sensing. If so, how could we discern it?
“…each one of them is the seeing.” – Ananda
If it’s the Absolute, why place human attributes on what is not human? In either case it isn’t well rendered.
Zen Master Seung Sahn had no problem incorporating these teachings. He used them to demonstrate what he wanted, regardless of their original intent. To him, the 12 links were a literary device to reveal reality as self-created. He never connected it to phenomenal existence.
He would often say, “The sun, the moon, the stars, everything is created by mind alone.” Of course he didn’t mean that our minds created these things, but that we make our own reality. He also wasn’t implying that the One Mind created these things. That’s a religious idea, a dualistic one. The One Mind didn’t create phenomenal existence, it manifests as these things, as properties and conditions allow. The sun, the moon, the stars, a tree, a blade of grass, and we, ourselves are the One Mind.