The world of the 5 Turbidities – the Buddha in the Shurangama Sutra

What is a Turbidity?

It’s like when you mix 2 things that don’t usually mix in a way that the original natures are distorted:

“What is turbidity, Ānanda?  Let us consider an example.

  • Water in its original state is pure and clear, while
  • Soil, ashes, and sand in their original states are solid and opaque.

These defining attributes of water and of soil, ashes, and sand are such that they are mutually incompatible.

Suppose that someone were to pick up some soil and throw it into clear water:

  • The soil now loses its solidity, and
  • The water loses its purity.

Together they appear clouded or, we may say, turbid. The five layers of turbidity occur in the same way.

A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 3207-3211).

The 5 Turbidities are

1.  Time

2.  Perception

3.  Afflictions

4.  Individual Beings

5.  Lifespan

Time Turbidity – when your awareness gets entangled with space

“As you look into space throughout all ten directions, Ānanda, no separation can be made between space and your visual awareness of it:

  • If only space existed, then there would be nothing to be aware of it.
  • If only awareness existed, then there would not be anything for it to be aware of.

Therefore space and visual awareness become entangled with each other. With this entanglement, based on delusion, the turbidity of time comes into being. This is the first layer of turbidity.

A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 3211-3214).

Perception Turbidity – awareness entangled with the 4 elements of your body ⇒ to bring about each of the 6 different types of sensory perception

“Your body is composed of the four primary elements.

  • Your visual awareness, your hearing, your tactile awareness, and your mental awareness become strictly defined,
  • While water, fire, wind, and earth participate in bringing about the attributes of the faculties that have awareness.

Thus awareness and the primary elements become entangled with each other. With this entanglement, based on delusion, the turbidity of perception comes into being. This is the second layer of turbidity.

A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 3214-3218).

Afflictions Turbidity – awareness entangled with perceived sensory objects

“Further, your mind is habituated to recollecting the past, to being aware of the present, and to anticipating the future.

Because of these habits ⇒ the six consciousnesses arise and embrace the six kinds of perceived objects.

  • Without these objects, your mind-consciousness has no attributes, and
  • without your perception of them, these objects have no identity.

Objects you perceive and your mind-consciousness become entangled with each other. With this entanglement, based on delusion, the mind becomes turbid with afflictions. These afflictions are the third layer of turbidity.

A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 3221-3225).

Individual Beings Turbidity – Thoughts and karma entanglement

“Further, by night and by day, beings ceaselessly come into being and perish. They always desire to continue to experience the world indefinitely through their faculties of perception. Their karma leads them to continually move from one land to another. Their thoughts and their karma become entangled with each other, and with this entanglement, based on delusion, there is the fourth layer, the turbidity of individual beings.

A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 3225-3228).

Lifespan Turbidity

“The fundamental natures of your seeing, your hearing, and your other awarenesses do not differ from one another, but the six objects of perception separate them so that your awareness is forced to become differentiated.

Although the six sense-consciousnesses share a single fundamental awareness, their functioning has become distinct. The consciousnesses and their objects are no longer in their correct relationship. They become entangled with each other, and with this entanglement, based on delusion, there is the fifth layer, the turbidity of lifespans.

A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 3228-3231).

The Buddha’s instruction on what to do with the Turbidities:

“Ānanda, now you wish to transform your visual, aural, tactile, and mental awareness, together with the other kinds of awareness, into the permanence, bliss, true self, and purity of the Thus-Come One. To accomplish this, you must pull out the root of death and rebirth and rely on that pure and perfect nature that neither comes into being nor ceases to be. Use the purity of your true nature to make disappear the distinction between your original state of enlightenment and the illusory state of what comes into being and ceases to be. The original enlightened understanding, which neither comes into being nor ceases to be, must be the basis of your practice. 8 Then you will attain the awakening that will be the result of your practice.

The process may be compared to the settling of turbid water. If you keep it undisturbed in a container so that it is completely still and quiet, the sand and silt in it will settle naturally, and the water will become clear. This may be compared to the initial stage of subduing the afflictions that arise from transitory perceptions of objects. When the sand and silt have been removed so that only clear water remains, then fundamental ignorance has been eliminated forever. When the water is quite pure and clear, nothing that may happen will be a cause of affliction. All will be in accord with the pure and wondrous attributes of nirvana.”

A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 3231-3241).

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