The 7 Names for the Buddha’s Enlightenment and Ananda’s questions on how to start to achieve it – The Shurangama Sutra

In the Shurangama Assembly, Ananda sets up an important question for the Buddha:

“When we first resolve (the causal ground) for eternal enlightenment (the ground of fruition):

  • The principles that we use on the causal ground

MUST BE in mutual accord with

  • The principles of the ground of fruition (when we are enlightened)”. 

So the same principles when meditating as a beginner, resolving on enlightenment are the same principles when we realize enlightenment – the cause and the fruit can not oppose each other.

The 7 Names for the Buddha’s Full Enlightenment

Ananda then gives 7 different names to describe the Buddha’s enlightenment – the Ground of Fruition of Full Awakening of the Buddha:

  1. Bodhi
  2. Nirvana
  3. True Suchness (the Suchness of Reality)
  4. The Buddha Nature
  5. The Amala Consciousness
  6. The Empty Treasury of the Thus Come One/The Emptiness of the Matrix of the Thus Come One
  7. The Wisdom of the Great Perfect Mirror

Those are seven different names for what is pure and perfect, everlasting and indestructible, that essential nature which is like the most durable vajra“.

A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 3398-3399).

Ananda Tests an Assumption to help us start off cultivating towards the Buddha’s Enlightenment

IF we assume that our “ability to perceive” (our awareness) can’t exist independently in and of itselfexcept as result of being dependent upon sensory objects of perception, then ultimately, our ability to perceive/our awareness/our mind has no essence of its own, it doesn’t really exist!”

But is that really so?  Is this assumption correct?

For example:

  • Seeing – Our vision perceives light vs dark
  • Hearing – Our hearing perceives sound vs silence
  • Tactile – Our skin perceives being touched vs no touch (obstruction vs openness)
  • Likewise for the rest of the senses

So Ananda now brings up an important point to ask the Buddha:

So IF (remember this is a big IF):

  • Your seeing stops existing when there’s no light. 
  • And if your hearing stops functioning when there’s no sound. 

“THEN our mind too stops existing when there are no thoughts – the essence of thought gets extinguished when thoughts die off. 

“That means that I can’t really use a non-existent mind that keeps getting destroyed when thoughts cease – as the causal basis for the indestructible, eternal True Mind of the Buddha’s enlightenment. 

“In that case then, just what should I be using to seek the unsurpassed enlightenment of the Buddha, then?  I am baffled!  Please help me understand, Lord Buddha!”

So as we can see, Ananda is extremely, extremely intelligent to be able to bring up such a detailed, nuanced question such as this.
How can what is destructible be the causal basis for the fruit of the indestructible Buddha’s enlightenment?  The short answer is – you can’t!  Because the cause and the result don’t operate on the same principle – they oppose each other:
  • The causal mind – Ananda is assuming that the brain and the intellect is to be used as the causal mind.  The intellect which is composed of thoughts that arise and cease – this mind is subject to impermanence, subjection destruction when thoughts end.  Further, what if the brain gets old and diseased (like in stroke, brain injury or alzheimers)?  It won’t function as well because it is still subject to disease and destruction – so how can you use the brain as the foundation for achieving an indestructible enlightened mind?  You can’t.
  • The mind of fruition – is the Buddha’s mind, which is beyond space and time.  Being beyond time, this enlightened mind is beyond the ravages of impermanence of old age, diseases and Death – it is Deathless (Amara), eternal (akaliko) and indestructible.
 And this is what is baffling Ananda.
The Buddha then uses the ring of a bell to demonstrate the principle of:
  • How hearing does NOT cease to exist when sounds fade away,
  • How seeing does NOT stop functioning when there is no light and
  • How the mind does NOT stop knowing when thoughts are extinguished.

All these sensory “objects of perception” arise and cease, appear and disappear – BUT “that which is aware” of these objects does not arise and cease with them.  How so?

Because “that which sees”:

  • “Sees” when there is light
  • Also “sees” the blackness of darkness

When there is light – we say we can see.  When there is darkness – we say we can’t see, but that’s not really true – because we still see the darkness before us.  Light vs dark is duality of the visual objects that lie before our vision.

But the vision itself does not take part in the duality – it just detects which dual object is present before it.  So this is the vision before it falls upon an dual object of vision (i.e., the vision before it falls upon a dark or light image).

So, contrary to the assumption that our “seeing” ceases when no light is present, our “ability to see” does not lapse for an instant:

  • Whether our eyes are open and we can see everything around us OR
  • Whether our eyes are closed and we see the blackness of the inside of our eyelids
Our “ability to see” continues to function without lapse, irrespective if which dual object lies before it.  It does NOT cease to exist when the objects before it cease to exist – so the Buddha basically shows that Ananda’s assumption above was wrong!
Hopefully, I’ll get some time to go through the Buddha’s use of a bell to demonstrate the causal basis that should be used to seek the enlightenment of the Buddha.  If you can’t wait, check out the sources below in the mean time which will tell you the answers in advance!
Note:  I’ve paraphrased Ananda’s words in italics above for ease of reading and to simplify the message so that it’s easier to understanding the meaning.  For the original source translations, you guys can read them here:
Sources:
1.  http://www.cttbusa.org/shurangama4/shurangama4_16.asp
2.  The Example of the Bell’s Sound.  A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Location 3394).
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