When a Theravadan Buddhist teacher can explain a principle from a Mahayana Sutra just from his own wisdom without ever having read the Sutra – then this means that the teaching is correct – Theravada and Mahayana are in harmony and are mututally supporting and strengthening each other.
The Shurangama Sutra reveals the crucial difference between the mind and the thoughts/sense impressions that come and go WITHIN the mind – they are 2 separate things.
“World-Honored One, suppose:
- A visitor stops at an inn for a night or for a meal. Once his stay is ended or the meal is finished, he packs his bags and goes on his way. He’s not at leisure to remain.
- But if he were the innkeeper, he would not leave.
By considering this example of:
- The visitor, the one who comes and goes, and
- The innkeeper, the one who remains,
I understood what the visitor signifies. He represents transience.
– A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 1388-1393).
In our own mind – all these things come and go – images, feelings, perceptions, processes and thoughts (i.e., the 5 skandhas) – they all come and go – they are transient, impermanent.
“That which is aware” of these transient processes remains.
The transient processes in a bit more detail are things like:
- Images changing in front of us
- Sensations that we feel through our body arising and ceasing
- Perceptions forming and disappearing and
- Thoughts flowing in and flowing out
These things come and go. It is the mind that stays and is aware of it all.
“That which is aware” of these comings and goings does not come nor go with them. “That which is aware” of these transient processes is not these transient processes:
- That which is aware of mental images is not the mental images. Mental images are visual “objects” that the mind observes but these images themselves can not do the observing. It is the mind that sees, not the objects of vision that sees.
- That which is aware of sensations is not the sensations. It is the mind that feels the sensations but the sensations themselves can not do the feeling.
- That which is aware of thoughts is not the thoughts. It is the mind that is aware of the thoughts but the thoughts themselves can not do the thinking because thoughts are just mental objects of perception.
In your own meditation, it is crucial to understand this difference. Otherwise, you make the mistake of thinking that you are your thoughts and feelings, when these things are really just perceptions that arise and cease – within the mind.
Anything that arises and ceases with the mind is transient and impermanent – you allow it to arise and you allow it to cease of themselves – watching them, allowing them to be, letting go of them. You are not those transient perceptions.
That which is aware of the transient phenomena – is not transient, is it? Because the awareness does not die out when those transient things die out. If the awareness were no different from the thoughts, then when the thoughts die out, then the awareness too would die out with them – but this does not happen.
The awareness is the mind – that is the host, that is the innkeeper – who stays. It is the guests/visitors that come and go (impermanent).
Ajahn Chah gets it – and I doubt that he had even read the Shurangama Sutra:
In any case, in our practice, no matter what aspect you refer to, you must always begin from the mind.
That which receives impressions, both good and bad, we call ”mind.” It’s like the owner of a house:
- The owner stays put at home
- While visitors come to see him.
He is the one who receives the visitors.
Who receives sense impressions? What is it that perceives? Who lets go of sense impressions? That is what we call ”mind.”
– Ajahn Chah – A Dhamma Talk “Still, Flowing Water”
So try that next time in your meditation or even with simple reflection – that which is aware of the thoughts is not the thoughts. That which is aware of the feelings is not the feelings. That which is aware of the movements within the minds is not those movements – the awareness itself is unmoving, yet it can observe the movements.