The Shurangama Sutra with Commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

Buddhist Lecture Hall, San Francisco, 1968 


The Master: ...It is just when there is the false that the true is not separate from it. When there is the true, the false is still there. It is not absent. It is just like a hand, which has a back and a palm: although the palm and the back are two, they are both right there; all you have to do is flip your hand over. It is the same with the characteristics which are subject to production and extinction and the nature which is not subject to production and extinction; these two are also one. Just as affliction is Bodhi, and birth and death are nirvana; it is the same kind of principle.

People who study the Buddhadharma should certainly investigate the Shurangama Sutra and gain a thorough understanding of it. The Shurangama Sutra is for bringing forth great wisdom. If you want to have right knowledge and right views and open great wisdom, you should certainly understand the Shurangama Sutra. The Shurangama Sutra breaks up the deviant and reveals the proper. It smashes all the heavenly demons and those of externalist sects and reveals the innate human capacity for right knowledge and right views.


But when the Buddhadharma is just about to become extinct, the very first sutra to vanish will be the Shurangama Sutra. So if we wish to protect and maintain the proper dharma, we should investigate the Shurangama Sutra, come to understand the Shurangama Sutra, and protect the Shurangama Sutra. When the Buddhadharma is about to become extinct, weird demons and strange ghosts will come in the world, people with deviant knowledge and deviant views. They will be wise to the ways of the world and will be endowed with powers of debate and keen intelligence. They will argue that the Shurangama Sutra is spurious - inauthentic - and will tell people not to believe it.

Why will they say the Shurangama Sutra is spurious?

Because the Shurangama Sutra tells about all their faults. It discusses their kinds of deviant knowledge and deviant views. If the Shurangama Sutra remains in the world, no one will believe their deviant views. If there is no Shurangama Sutra, then their deviant knowledge and deviant views will succeed in confusing people. So they argue that the Shurangama Sutra is spurious. This is the appearance of a demon-king. Those who study the Buddhadharma should be particularly attentive to this point. They should be particularly careful not to be turned around by the deviant knowledge and deviant views of that demon-king. Do not allow him to change your thoughts and opinions.

Does anyone have an opinion?

Student: How does the Lankavatara Sutra compare to the Shurangama Sutra?

The Master: The Lankavatara Sutra discusses the doctrine of the Chan school. It is different from the Shurangama Sutra. The Patriarch Bodhidharma used the Lankavatara Sutra as a basis when he transmitted the Chan school to China. The Shurangama Sutra represents the genuine wisdom of the entirety of Buddhism.

Student: Is it possible for a Bodhisattva to appear in the form of a teacher of an externalist sect?

The Master: All dharmas are the Buddhadharma. None can be obtained. Do not be attached. If you are attached, it is not Buddhadharma. If you are not attached, it is the Buddhadharma. If you are attached, it is demonic dharma.

Student: Another translation of the Shurangama Sutra has been published. Is it basically correct? If not, what would you suggest that English-speaking people read?

The Master: ...As for the other translation you mention, it is correct in some places and incorrect in many other places. And it is not at all in accord with the basic intent of the sutra. For instance, the translator says that Westerners wouldn’t like the Shurangama Mantra and that they would not study the mantra. That is a complete mistake. He omits the mantra from his translation.

But if there hadn’t been any Shurangama Mantra in the Shurangama Sutra, then basically there wouldn’t have been any reason to speak the sutra. The importance of the Shurangama Sutra is just to praise the Shurangama Mantra. The translator took it upon himself to dispense with the mantra. That is in total discord with the purport of the Buddha’s explanation of the Shurangama Sutra.

I have heard it said about the Lotus Sutra that the Buddha spoke all the other sutras of the other periods, all the other teachings, only as expedient means, and that they were taught only to enable his disciples to know the Lotus Sutra, and that in the Dharma-ending Age all other sutras would lose their power. Only the Lotus Sutra would have real power.

The Master: Not bad. All sutras were spoken for the sake of the Lotus Sutra. But the Lotus Sutra was spoken in order to cause living beings to become Buddhas. The Shurangama Sutra is for opening wisdom. The Lotus Sutra is for realizing Buddhahood. The Shurangama Sutra is for breaking through all the heavenly demons and externalist sects. It can also be said that it is for the sake of the Lotus Sutra that the Shurangama Sutra breaks through all the heavenly demons and externalist sects - that it is to cause people to cultivate the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. One studies the Dharma Flower and cultivates the doors of practice explained in it in order to realize Buddhahood.

However, at the very last, when the dharma is about to become extinct, it is not the Lotus Sutra that will remain alive in the world; it will be the Amitabha Sutra. In the end, when the Buddhadharma becomes extinct, only the Amitabha Sutra will remain, and after it remains in the world for one hundred years it too will vanish. Then only the one sentence, the great six-syllable name Na Mwo A Mi Two Fwo (Namo Amitabha Buddha) will remain.


The Shurangama Sutra, Vol. 2, Chapter 3: Mixing and Uniting with Commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua