Here is a very important part of the Shurangama Sutra, where the Buddha just begins to outline the crucial distinction between:

  1. Your thinking processes – the intellectual processes comprised of thoughts which constantly arise and cease.
  2. Your True Mind – what your mind really is, the real nature of your mind.

So this is just the first tiny step to understanding what the Buddha is trying to teach.  But it is imperative that you understand this and use this as a core foundation for understanding the rest of the Buddha’s teaching. 

The Buddha begins by emitting light from his hand to illustrate a principle to Ananda:


The Buddha said, “When you saw my fist emit light, what did you see it with?”

Ānanda said, “All of us in the great assembly saw it with our eyes.”

The Buddha said to Ānanda, “You have answered that the Thus-Come One bent his fingers into a fist that sent forth light, dazzling your mind and eyes. Your eyes can see my fist, but what do you take to be your mind that was dazzled by it?”

Ānanda said, “The Thus-Come One has just now been asking me about my mind’s location, and my mind is what I have been using to determine where it might be. My mind is that which has the capability of making such determinations.”

The Buddha exclaimed, “Ānanda! That is not your mind!

Startled, Ānanda stood up, placed his palms together, and said to the Buddha, “If that is not my mind, what is it?”

The Buddha said to Ānanda, “It is merely your mental processes that assign false and illusory attributes to the world of perceived objects. 42 These processes delude you about your true nature and have caused you, since time without beginning and in your present life, to mistake a burglar for your own child — to lose touch with your own original, everlasting mind — and thus you are bound to the cycle of death and rebirth.”

A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 1178-1187).


So don’t mistake your thinking – don’t mistake the intellectual processing of your mind to be the mind itself.  Your real mind is not the thoughts – in the same way that the computer’s processing is not the one who is ultimately using the computer. 

Thoughts are just thoughts – they are perceived mental objects that arise and cease.  But “that which is aware” of those perceived mental objects is not a perception, is it?

Notice 2 things here that the Buddha contrasts:

1.  Your thoughts are ephemeral – they are transient because they arise and cease.

2.  Your real mind is everlasting – so it does not die – in Buddhism, this is called the “Deathless” – something which is eternal.

Don’t mistake the ephemeral mental processes to be your everlasting, fundamental, True Mind.  Because if you do – then you will be mistaking a thief for your own son.  But in reality, this is the mistake that us ordinary living beings have been making each and every day of our lives!


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