While the Shurangama Sutra has many beautiful and valuable parts ... several important sections of the Shurangama Sutra are so questionable that, if the Buddha really did say such things ([i]fortunately, with our modern appreciation of history and text origins we can be pretty darn sure that he didn't[/i]) then the Buddha comes across perhaps as a fool.
Another comment was,
In other words, a man "in a room" can see what is outside the windows of the room AND (in front of that) the objects and people in the room ... but we cannot see the inside of the body (heart, liver, spleen, etc.) so the mind cannot be in the body. In modern terms, the mind cannot see the brain, so we can assert that the mind is not in the brain.
Assuming (as I and most Buddhists do in one fashion or another) that "mind" is not something limited to within the body or brain, it is nonetheless simply silly to argue that the mind in not located there, in whole or part, because it cannot see the inside of the brain, let alone the spleen!
The Surangama Sutra says:
Ananda said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, it is as the Buddha has said, since I cannot see inside, my mind does not reside in the body. Since my body and mind have a common awareness, they are not separate and so my mind does not dwell outside my body. As I now consider it, I know it is in a certain place.”
The Buddha said, “Now where is it?”
Ananda said, “Since the mind which knows and understands does not perceive what is inside but can see outside, upon reflection I believe it is concealed in the organ of vision.
The Surangama Sutra Says:
The Buddha told Ananda, "You know that this precious cloth is basically one strip, but when I made six ties in it, you said it had six knots. Carefully consider the substance of the cloth: it remains unchanged except for the knots in it. "What do you think? You identified the first knot I tied as number one. Now I am ready to tie the sixth knot. Will you also call it number one?" "No, World Honored One. If there are six knots, the sixth knot can never be called the first one. Even if I exhausted all my intelligence and eloquence in life after life, I could reverse the sequence of these six knots.
The Buddha said, "So it is. The six knots are not identical. Consider their origin: they are created from the one cloth and were tied in a certain order. It would be impossible to scramble that sequence. Your six sense organs are also like that. From what was identical, decisive differences arise." The Buddha said to Ananda, "Assuming you did not want these six knots and would like there to be just one cloth, how could you achieve that end?"
Ananda said, "As long as these knots remain, dispute about what they are and what they are not will arise. Their very existence will lead to such distinctions as this knot not being that knot and that knot not being this one. But if the Tathagata were to untie them all right now, so that none remained, then there would be no ‘this’ or ‘that.’ There would not even be anything called ‘one,’ how much the less ‘six.’"
The Buddha said, "That is also what happens when the six sense organs are freed: even the one is gone. Because from beginningless time your mind and nature have been insane and disturbed, you have created false knowledge and views. As that falseness continues to arise without respite, perception becomes weary and defilements arise. Just like the whirling flowers that appeared when the eyes grew tired of staring, these too are disturbances that arise without a cause within the tranquil, essential brightness. Everything in the world-the mountains, the rivers, the earth itself, as well as birth, death, and Nirvana-is these flowers that appear because of our being turned upside-down by insanity and weariness."
Another comment was:
Perhaps my favorite section of the Sutra on the "bizarre" scale is the many pages discussing the very important topic of 'THE THREE GRADUAL STEPS TO ERADICATE THE FUNDAMENTAL SOURCES OF DISORDERED MENTAL ACTIVITY" Going up the list, "No. 3" is avoiding intentional engagement with sexual and other perceived objects, and "No. 2" is compliance with the Precepts and other fundamental rules of behavior.
But, WHAT IS THE NO. 1 STEP??
Avoiding onions, of course!
The reference is to this part of The Surangama Sutra (in Lu K'an Yu's version).
‘Ananda, all beings live if they eat wholesome food and die if they take poison. In their search for Samàdhi, they should abstain from eating five kinds of pungent roots (i.e. garlic, the three kinds of onions and leeks); if eaten cooked, they are aphrodisiac and if raw, they cause irritability. Although those who eat them may read the twelve divisions of the Mahàyàna canon, they drive away seers (çùi) in the ten directions who abhor the bad odour, and attract hungry ghosts who lick their lips. They are always surrounded by ghosts, and their good fortune will fade away day by day to their own detriment.
Now, all this business about the five kinds of pungent roots, such as onions, garlic, etc., and ghosts is nothing to laugh about derisively. As it should be clear from the outset, the Surangama is a Sutra intended to speak to people who are caught up in sexual intoxication and sexual addiction and it uses the devise of portraying even Ananda as being susceptible so such intoxication. It speaks to people saying, “Hey, if even Ananda got caught up in that, then you are not such a bad person after all.” Why would that be necessary? Because people caught in addictions always have a very very low self-esteem and at some level think of themselves as undeserving worthless scum fallen to the gutter of life. With this in mind there is little help to get out of the addictive cycle. So here comes a Buddhist Sutra that recognizes the problem and even puts the Buddha’s cousin and “right-hand man” Ananda into the same boat as them! This is wonderful! The sex addict can say, “If Ananda is also like this then I too have a chance.”
Once upon a time there was a little duckling who was afraid of the water because he believed he couldn’t swim. Nothing his mother or brothers and sisters could say was able to get him to enter the water. He himself was very saddened by his condition and just felt like a misfit or mutant duck who didn’t know how to swim. His father returned from a long trip and was told about the problem and talked with his son. He told his son that deep in the woods was a wise old owl who would have the answer to his problem but that it was a perilous journey to get there.
The duckling son rose to the challenge and set off. Having many mishaps and near misses with catastrophe in the guise of foxes and other creatures, the young duckling finally arrived at the ancient tree where the wise old owl lived. He told the owl his whole story, and the owl said he had just what the duckling needed. The owl told the duck to break off a limb of that very tree that had a branching fork in it near the base. When the limb was then held upside down, the branching sides with one long and the other short was like a hook. The owl called this a sky hook and assured the young duckling that if he used the sky hook to hook into the sky and hold onto it when he went into the water that he would not sink and could assuredly swim.
The duckling was filled with joy and rushed home excitedly. He ran straight into the water holding up his sky hook and miraculously he could swim! Of course people made fun of him swimming around with his sky hook, but he didn’t care because now he could swim just like all the other ducks.
One day he was lounging on the shore with his sky hook beside him when he heard someone screaming. He rushed to see who it was and it was his favorite girlfriend duckling who was caught in the strong currents and being pulled toward the waterfall to her death. No other ducks were close enough to help her except for him. Not caring about his own safety he dove into the water to her side and pulled her to the shore on the other side of the river. After he had done so the other ducks had arrived and began shouting at him and pointing across the river. At first he couldn’t tell what they were shouting about but then it became clear. In his urgency to save his friend he had left his sky hook on the other side of the river and there it was laying on the shore where he had left it. After that, of course, he never needed his sky hook again.
To a person who is bound by their sexual addiction and who believes they can never be free of their sexual lusts, this is the perfect sky hook. If they can learn to live by giving up these tasty spicy plants, then they can learn to live unfettered by sexual lust. Giving up onions, garlic, and the rest with the belief that these plants stimulate sexual lust is a great way to focus the mind so the person can swim without being tormented by sexual lust. In other words the person can demonstrate to themselves, “If I can give up these five pungent roots, then I can also give up being a slave to my desires.”
It’s very similar to the teaching of the Buddha to the woman who wanted him to bring her dead child back to life. He didn’t just say, “Sorry it can’t be done.” Those words would never be efficacious to a person in her condition of distraction. Instead he told her he would bring the dead child back to life if she brought a mustard seed from a household that had never had a death in the family. Wasn’t that too a silly and foolish thing to say? Of course it was if said to a rational person who was not distraught with her dear child in her arms. Similarly, the teaching about abstaining from onions is not for everyone. It is for people who are addicted to sex, and by extrapolation generally to anyone addicted to any of the desires of the senses, to show them a way to embody the discipline needed to begin the practice of samadhi.
It has to be taught as if it were absolute truth because that is what makes a sky hook effective. If we are told, “I’m just telling you don’t eat onions because it is a trick to get you to focus your body on samadhi,” who would that work on? I would suggest it would be next to useless just as if Buddha told the woman holding her dead child, “Oh I’m giving you this task because you are so disturbed I have to get your attention.” That would destroy the actual embodiment of the learning. The woman going around from house to house looking for a household not touched by death was embodying her samadhi practice in her single focused attention on her “koan.” Likewise, for people who are addicted to the senses and especial to the addiction of the bodily sense of sexuality, abstention from onions becomes a koan-like focus for our self-image as embodied persons.
Lasly, for those who might read Master Hsuan Hua’s comments and be surprize by their literalness, I suggest that they should be taken with a good dose of salt. He is speaking as a Dharma Master, not as a Zen Master. He is not talking to Zen students, but to people who never heard of Zen. He is talking to people who live with the presence of ghosts and demons as a normal part of their everyday lives.