The Shurangama Sutra

with commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

Buddhist Lecture Hall, San Francisco, 1968


Commentary:  ...After the great Tian Tai Master Zhi Yi [Jr Yi] [Zhi Zhe “The Wise One” (538-597 A.D.)] read the Dharma Flower Sutra, he divided all sutras into three sections: the preface; the body, which embodies the principle and implication of the sutra; and the propagation, which is an exhortation at the end of the sutra that it be circulated throughout the world.

Later, when an Indian dharma master came to China and learned that Great Master Zhi Yi had divided all sutras into these three parts, he was amazed, and exclaimed, “That is just the same way the sutras of India are divided! The Shurangama Sutra, for instance is divided in exactly the same way!”


When Master Zhi Yi heard of the existence of the Shurangama Sutra, which he had never seen, he was moved to bow to the west in the hope that he would one day see this sutra. He bowed to the west every day for eighteen years, but in the end he never had the opportunity to see the sutra. How superior must be the causes and conditions that allow us, who have never bowed to the sutra, to be able to encounter it now, to read it, and to recite it!

Eventually, the king of India proclaimed the Shurangama Sutra a national treasure because it was one of the sutras that Nagarjuna Bodhisattva brought back from the Dragon Palace. After the proclamation, no one was permitted to take the sutra out of the country.


At that time, Dharma Master Paramiti was intent upon getting the sutra out of India into other countries, especially China. He set out for China carrying a copy of the sutra, only to be stopped at the border by customs officials who would not permit him to carry the sutra across the border. Since he was unable to take the sutra out of the country, he returned and tried to think of a way to get the sutra out of the country.


Finally, he thought of a way. He wrote out the sutra in minute characters on extremely fine silk, rolled it up, and sealed it with wax. Then he cut open his arm and placed the small scroll inside his flesh. Next he applied medicines to the wound and waited for it to heal.


Some people say he put the sutra in his leg, but I think that since it would not have been respectful to place the text below the waist, he probably chose some fleshly place on the upper part of his body and put the sutra there. When the wound healed, he again set out for China and passed through the border guards without incident since the sutra was well concealed.


When he arrived in Canton province, he happened to meet the Prime Minister Fang Yong, who invited him to reside at a temple in Canton while he translated the sutra.

These were the difficulties encountered at the time the sutra was translated. How fortunate for us that the dharma master was so determined to take the sutra to China. From this account you can see how important this sutra is.



Translated during the T’ang dynasty by Shramana Paramiti from Central India.


It was during the Tang dynasty, after Empress Wu Zai Tian retired, in the first year of the Shen Long reign period that Shramana Paramiti translated this sutra from Sanskrit to Chinese. He accomplished the translation very quickly, so that he could get back to India before the customs officials at the border were punished for letting him slip through with the sutra. Dharma Master Paramiti wanted to return to India and turn himself in so the guards would not be punished. After he finished his translation he went back to India, confessed to the king, and asked to receive whatever punishment the offense entailed.

This dharma master’s merit with regard to this sutra is extremely great. Since it is due to his efforts at the outset that we now have the opportunity to investigate this sutra, we should first be thankful for this shramana’s meritorious work.


The Shurangama Sutra, Vol. 1, Chapter 2: The History of the Transmission and Translation with commentary by Ven. Master Hsuan Hua