Shurangama Sutra – Where is your True Mind located? Part 1

Ananda was the Buddha’s attendant and he was also the Buddha’s cousin.  He was extremely intelligent and very well learned – so he relied on his thinking mind a lot.  But he couldn’t meditate (this can happen to a lot of people who think a lot – they find it hard to meditate) – so he had very little samadhi (concentration or stillness) power – which can also be thought of as strength of mind so that you don’t get turned by states easily.  He thought that because he was the Buddha’s cousin, he didn’t have to put in effort for himself to realize his own enlightenment because the Buddha would give him enlightenment.

But this is like saying that if the Buddha ate, then Ananda would also be full – it can’t be.  It’s only when Ananda got into some trouble that the Buddha had to rescue him that Ananda realized that he had to start looking after himself and not always rely on the Buddha.

So here, the Buddha teaches Ananda about how to find his own True Nature, his own True Mind by first asking Ananda where he thinks it is – because if you don’t know where it is, then you won’t be able to open your enlightenment:

There is a samadhi called the King of the Foremost Shurangama at the Great Buddha’s Summit Replete with the Myriad Practices; it is a path wonderfully adorned and the single door through which the Tathagatas of the ten directions gained transcendence. You should now listen attentively.” 1:155

This means that ALL the Buddhas became Buddhas through the Shurangama samadhi.

“You should all know that all living beings are continually born and continually die, simply because they do not know the everlasting true mind, the bright substance of the pure nature. Instead they engage in false thinking. It has been so since time without beginning. Their thoughts are not true, and so the wheel keeps turning. 1:165

Now you wish to investigate the unsurpassed Bodhi and actually discover your nature. You should answer my questions with a straightforward mind, because that is exactly the way the Tathagatas of the ten directions escaped birth and death. Their minds were all straightforward, and since their minds and words were consistently that way, from the beginning, through the intermediate stages to the end, they were never in the least evasive.” 1:167

”Ananda, I now ask you: at the time of your initial resolve, which arose in response to the Tathagata’s thirty-two characteristics, what was it that saw those characteristics and who delighted in them?” 1:170

Ananda said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, this is the way I experienced the delight: I used my mind and eyes. Because my eyes saw the Tathagata’s outstanding characteristics, my mind gave rise to delight. That is why I became resolved and wished to removed myself from birth and death.” 1:170

The Buddha said to Ananda, “It is as you say, that experience of delight actually occurs because of your mind and eyes. If you do not know where your mind and eyes are, you will not be able to conquer the wearisome dust. 1:171

For example, when a king’s country is invaded by thieves and he sends out his troops to suppress and banish them, the troops must know where the thieves are. 1:172

It is the fault of your mind and eyes that you flow and turn. I am now asking you specifically about your mind and eyes: where are they now?” 1:172


Location 1:  The Mind is NOT inside the Body

If you are inside a room, then you would see the things inside the room before you see what’s outside the windows and doors of the room.  You wouldn’t only be able to see outside the room and NOT be able to see the things inside the room.

”Ananda, you are like that too. 1:176

“Your mind is capable of understanding everything thoroughly. Now if your present mind, which thoroughly understands everything, were in your body, then you should be aware first of what is inside your body. Can there be living beings who first see inside their bodies before they observe things outside? 1:177

”Even if you cannot see your heart, liver, spleen, and stomach, still, the growing of your nails and hair, the twist of your sinews, and the throb of your pulse should be clearly understood. Why don’t you perceive these things? If you cannot perceive what is inside at all, how can you perceive what is outside? 1:178

”Therefore you should know that you state the impossible when you say that the aware and knowing mind is in the body.” 1:179


Location 2:  The Mind is NOT outside the body

Now, Ananda thinks that the mind might be outside the body because he can see outside but can’t see inside his body.  If this were so, then if someone outside your body eats, you too would get full.

The Buddha told Ananda, “If your mind which understands, knows, sees and is aware were actually outside your body, your body and mind would be mutually exclusive and would have no relationship to one another. The body would be unaware of what the mind perceives, and the mind would not perceive the awareness within the body. 1:182

”Now as I show you my tula-cotton hand, does your mind distinguish it when your eyes see it?” 1:183

Ananda answered, “So it is, World Honored One.” 1:183

The Buddha told Ananda, “If the mind and eyes create a common perception, how then can the mind be outside? 1:183

”Therefore you should know you state the impossible when you say that the mind which knows, understands, and is aware is outside the body.” 1:184


Location 3:  The Mind is NOT located in the eyes

Ananda now thinks the Mind is hidden within the eyes (because you can’t see inside your body), e.g., if you wear glasses (called crystal bowls in the Buddha’s time), it doesn’t obstruct you from seeing outside.

But the Buddha said, if you look out into the world with glasses on, do you also see your glasses?  Yes you do.

So if the mind is hidden within the eyes, how come you don’t see your own eyes from the inside out?

  • If you CAN see your own eyes from the inside out – then your eyes would be part of the external environment – so it’s not you, not your mind.
  • If you can NOT see your own eyes from the inside out – why did you say that the mind is concealed within the eyes?


Location 4:  To open eyes is to see without.  To close eyes is to see within – this is wrong too.

Because if you close your eyes, the darkness actually appears in front of you – how can you say that is within when it’s outside in front of you?


Location 5:  When things come together, the mind arises in response to conditions – incorrect yet again

So this means that if things don’t come together – then there is no mind – it doesn’t exist.  So the Buddha asks Ananda does your mind have a substance or not?

If things don’t come together – then it doesn’t exist and therefore has no substance. And if it has no substance, how can it come together with things?

  • If it has no substance but CAN come together with things – then “that would constitute a nineteenth realm brought about by a union with the seventh defiling object, and there is no such principle.”

7th defiling object means a sense object for the 7th sense.  There are 18 realms:

  • 6 sense organs
  • 6 sense objects
  • 6 sense-sations when the sense organs come into contact with the sense objects.

Here, the Buddha is saying that a 19th realm (i.e., a 7th sense object) doesn’t exist.

  • If it DOES have a substance – then if you pinch your body (because the pain arises when the body is touched – so Ananda’s theory of the mind arises with contact here is used) – does the perception come from the outside or inside?
  1. If it comes from the outside – then you should be able to see your own face.
  2. If it comes from the inside – then you should be able to see from inside your body outwards and be able to see your internal organs.

Ananda rebukes:

Ananda said, “Seeing is done with the eyes. The mind’s perception is not that of the eyes. To say it sees doesn’t make sense.” 1:200

The Buddha said, “To suppose that the eyes can see is like supposing that the doors of a room can see. Also, when someone has died but his eyes are still intact, his eyes should see things. How can it be death if one can still see? 1:201

The Buddha further asks:

Is this mind that arises in response to things (Ananda’s current theory) of 1 substances or many substances?

If this mind is a single substance within the whole body:

  • Then if you pinch 1 arm, the whole body should feel the pinch.  But this doesn’t happen.  If you pinch 1 arm, only that arm feels the pain.
  • If the whole body feels the pinch, then you wouldn’t be able to locate the pinch (cos this hypothetical mind is of 1 substance).

If this mind is of multiple substances – then you would be multiple people.  Which one would be the real you then?

– If the mind were 1 pervasive substance – same scenario as the pinching.

– If the mind is not pervasive then if you touch your head and foot simultaneously, one knows that the other has been touched.

So the Buddha here is saying that you can’t say that the mind pervades the body and you can’t say that it doesn’t either.


Location 6:  The Mind is not inside nor outside, it is in the middle – wrong yet again

The Buddha’s response is the middle must have a fixed marker – it can’t be hapharzard, e.g., if the middle means on the surface of the body – that’s still inside the body.

Ananda goes, it’s when eyes contact forms in the world – that’s the middle – at the intersection of eyes and forms, sounds and the ear etc…

So the Buddha asks – if it’s in the middle of the eyes and forms – does the mind’s substance combine with the eyes and forms or does it not?

– If it does combine – then the object and mind substance would form a chaotic, immiscible mixture that can’t mix properly because objects have no perception and the mind’s substance does have perception – they oppose each other – so where’s the middle?

– If the mind does NOT combine with the eyes and forms – then it would be neither perceive nor perceived – it won’t be able to perceive anything!


Location 7:  The mind is not located anywhere at all – so is non-attachment your mind?  No.

So the Buddha goes, look at the 2 types of worlds:

1.  The sentient world – comprised of living beings (our bodies – called proper retribution)

2.  The insentient world – comprised of the mountains, rivers, land etc… (called dependent retribution)

Where are you in all these things?

Where is your non-attachment in all these things?

–  If your non-attachment is no where – then it doesn’t exist.

If your non-attachment exists – then it can’t be non-existent:

  • If something is non-existent, it naturally has no attributes.
  • If something exists – it has attributes.  And whatever has attributes has a location – so if it has a location – how can it be unattached?


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