What is not you? What ultimately IS you? The Buddha in the Shurangama Sutra.

Essence of Buddhism light dark awareness

What things are not you?

In other words what things are not self?  In this world that we see and hear, what are the things that are not fundamentally you?

  • What are the things that are external to you?
  • What are just the externals?
  • What are the things that are alien to you?  Foreign to you?
  • What things are not the essentials of your being?

It’s important to contemplate on this to see what things are non-essentials – so that we can let go of them.

For example – the external environment is obviously not us – if we shut off our senses by closing our eyes now and being in a quiet room – the external world is no longer conveyed to us through our senses – sensory information is no longer being transmitted to us through our senses – so our external world has disappeared and yet, we have not disappeared.  Our essence remains untouched even if our perceptions of the external world has stopped.

So it’s perhaps even more important to contemplate this next question:

What fundamentally is you? 

Who are you, really?  What are not externals?  What is the core of your being?  What is the essence of your being?

This is an extremely important question to ask yourself, contemplate deeply and investigate – so important that this 1 question, “Who?” forms the main method to investigate with in Zen and Chan meditation – which leads to direct enlightenment.

If you ask these questions to many Buddhists today – they just parrot blindly, “There is no you in Buddhism, there is no essence in Buddhim – because Buddhism is the religion of no self and what you are today is dependent upon what you were before, and then that is dependent upon what came before that etc….”

But is this how the Buddha really taught?  No.

If it were so simplistic as this – then the Buddha would’ve said so and be done with it.

So there’s this idea in current day Buddhism that absolutely everything depends on something else – this notion of “absolute dependency“.  The Buddha did NOT teach that absolutely everything is dependent upon something else.


Because he taught that there are BOTH:

  • Things that are dependent AND
  • Things that are not dependent upon anything whatsoever – they are INdependent

How so?

  • It is only “conditioned phenomena” that are dependent – they depend upon conditions to be just right to give birth to them.
  • The unconditioned – by definition does not need any conditions – so how can it depend upon anything?

Nirvana, i.e., your True Mind, your Buddha Nature is unconditioned – and so, is NOT dependent upon anything.

The Buddha explains this in his discussion with Ananda in the Shurangama Sutra when he tries to show Ananda where his own True Mind is:

Is your True Mind Dependent on Anything?


Ānanda said,

  • “If each of my mental states is dependent on something else, then
  • Is the fundamental, wondrously understanding mind of which the Thus-Come One speaks also dependent on something else?

I only hope that the Buddha will take pity on us and explain.”

The Buddha answers that your awareness of sights (i.e., your vision) is not your True Mind BUT comes from it – like how a 2nd moon comes from the real moon that you see when you press on the side of your eye:


The Buddha said to Ānanda,

“As you see me now, the fundamental, luminous essence of visual awareness is not the wondrous, essential, understanding mind; nevertheless, it can be compared to a second moon rather than to a reflection of the moon.

The Buddha shows that which is INDEPENDENT


“Listen attentively. I will now show you what does not depend on anything.

The Buddha first illustrates how certain things need certain conditions for them to be, e.g.,

  • If you want sunlight – you’ll need the necessary condition of the sun;
  • If you want to be able to see outside the room, you’ll need the sufficient condition of a hole in the wall – like a window or door etc…

BUT THEN – the Buddha asks:

What’s the necessary conditions for your “That which is aware” of sights?


What would you say is the necessary condition for the presence of the understanding nature that is the essence of your visual awareness?

  • If the presence of light is a necessary condition for your visual awareness, THEN
  • When light is absent so that it is completely dark

=> You would not be able to see the darkness which in fact you do see.

  • Your mind makes distinctions about light and darkness and the other phenomena, BUT
  • The essence of your visual awareness does not make these distinctions.

Here, the Buddha is saying that it is your intellectual mind that makes the distinctions but your real mind, which is the source of your awareness, doesn’t make distinctions.

In other words, what’s the necessary conditions for “that which is aware of sights” to exist?  Is light a necessary condition?

  • If you need light to see – then you wouldn’t be able to “see” darkness – but you do!

Your intellectual mind (i.e., your 6th consciousness) makes discriminations about light vs dark BUT your visual awareness does not make these distinctions – it just sees whatever is in front of it irrespective of how light or dark it is.

What’s this like?

It’s like a mirror which just reflects whatever is in front of it indiscriminately:

  • If there is light in front of the mirror – it reflects it
  • If there is dark in front of the mirror – it reflects it

The mirror does not make any distinctions or discriminations between light or dark, beautiful vs ugly – it simply reflects.

The same with your visual awareness – it simply “sees” whatever dualistic phenomena that is in front of it – light or dark, beautiful vs ugly.  But it is your intellectual mind that makes these discriminations.

Master Hsuan Hua’s explains, “Where are distinctions made?”:


Distinctions are being made when you perceive:

  • light and
  • darkness

But NOT by your visual awareness.

Rather, they are made by your distinction-making mind that responds to circumstances. Don’t take that to be the essential nature of your awareness. Your knowledge of light and dark is an activity of your mind.

  • Your visual awareness sees everything impartially without making any distinction. The act of seeing is simply to see….
  • The distinctions you make are made by your distinction-making mind.

This particular section of text explains these teachings extremely well in a few words.

  • All transitory characteristics are dependent on something else. They are not part of you.
  • What stays with you and does not go anywhere else, what is not dependent on anyone or anything else — if that is not you, who is it?… It is something you cannot give away. (II, 75)

So don’t take your intellectual mind to be the real you – it just a tool, a discriminating faculty.

So the Buddha concludes that your intellectual mind is not really you because it a tool that helps you with the process of discrimination but is not the source of your awareness:


Clearly then:

  • The mind that experiences these conditioned phenomena is not what is fundamentally you.
  • But what is NOT these conditioned phenomena – MUST BE WHAT IS FUNDAMENTALLY YOU.

If it is not you, what else could it be?

If there is really no you, then why would the Buddha go to all the trouble of pointing out all the things in the world that are not you (all the conditioned phenomena) and then finally pointing out what you really are – what fundamentally IS you!

Source for the quoted text:

A New Translation Buddhist Text Translation Society. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra With Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (Kindle Locations 1558-1586).

4 thoughts on “What is not you? What ultimately IS you? The Buddha in the Shurangama Sutra.

  1. Thanks Arya Sunyata. With so much misinformation these days about Buddhism, it may not be people’s fault. I’m just glad that we can go back to the primary source texts to find out the real story behind what the Buddha really taught – so there is hope!

  2. Excellent post, its aways good to see the Shurangama Sutra! You are a light in the dark!

    Also, its me Brian and I started a blog a few days ago on advice of a friend, please fell free to check it out (just click my name)

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