Shurangama Sutra – How living beings and the world is created from the Enlightened Mind/Nature of Nirvana


The Buddha said:

“You should know, Ānanda, that the wondrous enlightened nature is endowed with perfect understanding. It is apart from all names and attributes, and in it, at the fundamental level, there are no worlds and no beings.

This does NOT mean that there’s nothing whatsoever.  All it means is that the world that we perceive is an illusion.  It does not mean that there is no reality ultimately behind those illusions.

Illusions are false – there’s no substance to illusions – there’s nothing really there.

So although on the conventional level, we see people and the world around us, on the ultimate level, there is no world or universe around us – they are just images, sounds and sensations all sensory information integrated in our brain experienced in our minds – like a virtual reality.

See through the false and the True appears.  See through the illusions and Reality appears.

Master Hsuan Hua’s Commentary:

The Buddha nature, the self-nature, the bright nature of enlightenment, all refer to this wonderful nature which is apart from all names and appearances.” As the Vajra Sutra puts it,

“Whatever has an appearance is empty and false. If one sees all appearances as having no appearance, one sees the Thus Come One.”

But you can’t get rid of appearances. Whatever you see you become attached to. That’s why there are appearances. Basically there are no appearances in the wonderful nature. Nor are there any names. Why aren’t there any names or appearances? Basically there is no world, nor are there any living beings. Only because one gives rise to delusion and creates karma is there a world in which living beings undergo retribution.


It is:

  • because of delusion that => there is coming into being, and
  • because there is coming into being => there is ceasing to be.

Coming into being and ceasing to be are delusions.

When delusion ceases, reality appears.

This turning back from duality to reality is called the supreme awakening. It is also called the great nirvana of the Thus-Come Ones.

The Cause of Distorted Sensory Perceptions (Phenomena)


“Ānanda, you now wish to practice the true samādhi and to realize the great nirvana of the Thus-Come Ones. You should begin by understanding the causes for 2 distorted phenomena, that is:

  1. Beings and
  2. The worlds in which beings exist.

When these two phenomena do not come into being, the true samādhi of the Thus-Come One appears.


  • A living being is a consciousness experienced inside a body.
  • The world is everything perceived outside that body.

Master Hsuan Hua’s Commentary:

Ananda, you now wish to cultivate true samadhi and arrive directly at the Thus Come One’s Parinirvana. You want to cultivate the great Bodhisattva’s dharma and obtain genuine samadhi-power. You want to go right to the Buddha’s position and obtain the four virtues of nirvana: permanence, bliss, true self, and purity.

First, you should recognize the two upside-down causes of living beings and the world. If these upside-down states are not produced, then there is the Thus Come One’s true samadhi. To be able to recognize these inversions and to avoid giving rise to them, is the true samadhi of the Buddha.

How Living Beings are Created

“What is the distorted phenomenon that we call beings, Ānanda?

The enlightened nature of the true mind that understands is such that its understanding is perfect and complete.

But, Ānanda, from this understanding, another understanding may be created as another entity, and from that other entity, a deluded awareness will come into being.

Thus from within the original state which has no attributes whatever, that which has definite attributes comes into being.

Master Hsuan Hua’s Commentary:

Ananda, what is meant by the upside-down state of living beings? Ananda, the reason that the nature of the mind is bright is that the nature itself is the perfection of brightness.

The basic nature is perfectly bright and illumines all appearances. BUT by adding brightness, another nature arises => adding brightness to the inherent brightness of the self nature, another nature comes into being, that of karmic obstructions.

This is because from the true the false arises. Based in the nature of the treasury of the Thus Come One, one gives rise to ignorance. Another way of putting it is that one tries to add brightness to enlightenment when all along the nature of enlightenment is brightness itself. In that one movement of the false thought to add light to brightness, the appearance of karma is created, the first of the three subtle appearances.

And from that false nature, views are produced. This is the appearance of turning. Originally there was the nature of the treasury of the Thus Come One, but now ignorance has arisen. Ignorance is a kind of delusion, and once there is delusion, a lack of clarity, then karma arises. The nature of that karma is false, and from it views arise. Birth and death come into being.


Thus from the true the false arises. Based in the nature of the Matrix of the Thus-Come One, beings give rise to ignorance. Another way of putting it is that one tries to add an understanding to enlightenment when all along the nature of enlightenment is that it understands. In that one movement of delusion:

  1. Coming into being — the first of the three subtle aspects of delusion — is created.
  2. And from that false nature, an observing subject is created; this is evolving, the second subtle aspect of delusion….
  3. Next, death and rebirth come into being…. One creates karma, and after that one must undergo a retribution. This is appearance, the third of the subtle aspects of delusion. (VI, 165– 6)



  • What comes into being nor
  • What it comes into being from

are based on anything, nor are they a basis for anything.

Beings and the worlds they dwell in have no foundation, and yet, despite their having no foundation, beings and the worlds come into being.

Master Hsuan Hua’s Commentary:

The three subtle aspects of delusion are said to arise from ignorance, but ignorance has no independent existence. It cannot actually be the basis for anything. Ignorance itself is a false creation, an empty appearance. Therefore, although it seems to be that the three subtle aspects arise from ignorance, it does not really happen that way, because ignorance itself doesn’t actually exist. (VI, 167)


Confusion about the original perfect understanding results in delusion, but this delusion has no essential nature of its own; it is based on nothing. One may wish to return to what is real, but to wish for the real is already a falsification. The true nature of the suchness of reality is not a reality that one can seek to return to. If one were to try to return to it, one would merely experience something that does not have the attributes of reality.

You already possess enlightenment inside of you – it’s what allows you to be aware.  So you don’t have to return to anything.  The Buddho is the One who knows.  You don’t have to see for enlightenment outside of yourself – as all you’ll get is distorted sensory perceptions/phenomena – which is false.  Seek inside instead for what you already have.

Master Hsuan Hua’s Commentary:

It is a mistake to decide that you want to return to the truth, to go back to the source in order to seek for the truth. You will have just created more falseness. If you want to return to the truth, you should merely refrain from adding an understanding to your enlightened understanding. Don’t place another head on top of your head. Don’t go looking for your donkey while you’re riding your donkey. The real nature of true suchness is not a truth that you can try to return to. It’s not that you decide to return to inherent truth. Rather, you simply dispense with ignorance; that dispensing is itself the truth. There is no need to seek further. (VI, 168)


“Through their mutual interaction, there comes into being:

  1. What does not really come into being, as well as
  2. What does not really abide,
  3. What is not really the mind, and
  4. What are not really phenomena.

From the force of their coming into being, an understanding is created, and its influence leads to activity subject to karma. Similar karma mutually attracts, and because of the karma of this mutual attraction, there is a coming into being and then a ceasing to be. This is the reason for the distorted phenomenon of beings.

Master Hsuan Hua’s Commentary:

  1. “What does not really come into being” refers to fundamental ignorance.
  2. “What does not really abide” refers to the eighth consciousness.
  3. “What is not really the mind” refers to the observing division of the eighth consciousness, and
  4. “what are not really phenomena” refers to the observed division of the eighth consciousness.

Ignorance, karmic consciousness, and the observing and observed divisions have no real source and no independent existence of their own. Their very existence is illusory.


This is talking about subject/object duality in our everyday world – we as a subject inside the body, perceiving the external world “out there” – outside our sensory gates.  So we think our body with it’s mental processes is our self – observing the external world.

But the body is not self – your body is not you.  For example, those people who have been clinically dead and come back – some of these people undergo Out of Body/Near Death Experiences – see their own body lying there and they’re floating around the hospital or accident scene.

Master Hsuan Hua’s Commentary

Nonetheless, this sickness is contagious; that is what is meant by “through their mutual interaction.” It is the same as with the interconnection of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind.

As the faculties continue to gain strength, so does the karma they create…. and because of the karma they have created, there is death and rebirth.

That is the reason for the deluded state that beings are in.

The one unenlightened thought which is ignorance has the effect of a disorienting drug or the effect of too much wine. They no longer know what they should be doing. These beings simply go along with their karma. Whatever deeds of karma they create, they undergo retribution for those deeds. This is how the world comes into being. (VI, 169– 71)

How the world is created


“Ānanda, what is the distorted phenomenon of worlds?

Because of the existence of:

  • the mind and of
  • what the mind observes,

there arises the unreal phenomenon of beings divided into individual bodies, and => from this, boundaries are established.

Yet these bodies and their boundaries are neither based on anything nor a basis for anything. There is no abiding nor any place of abiding; there is only a constant and unending flux.

The three periods of time and the four directions of the worlds intersect and combine, and in this way, beings are transformed into any one of twelve classes.

So once again, this is talking about subject/object duality.  We think that we are this body – observing all the phenomena in the external world out there.

The “boundary” mentioned here, is the edge of the body (the 6 sense gates) – which separates the intellectual mind from what the mind observes (the external world).

The body has no substance – it is not really solid and permanent:

  • Every minute our cells are born and die (the solid aspect of our body)
  • Fluids are constantly being transported in our bodies – like blood, we drink fluid – and the water goes into our bodies and then we have to go to the toilet and the water passes through – yet this water is not our self.  It just passes through our body to do the body’s functions.
  • Same with air – air comes in to our mouth and lungs, it oxygenates our blood and the used, stale air gets breathed out as carbon dioxide.  But this air is not our self either.

So our body is in constant flux every second!  Our cells die – but we do not die with our cells dying every moment.  Consider that.  Even though new cells are forming every instant and old cells are dying every second – our awareness remains unchanged.

So we use this body of ours to experience space and time.  We experience our bodies moving and interacting through space in time:

  • Time – is the past, the present and the future – the 3 periods of time.
  • Space is 3 dimensional space (here, it’s only referred to as 4 directions – North, South, East and West), but it means 3 Dimensional space.

This is all sensory perceptions of our bodies moving through space and time:

  • Space refers to location – where in the 3 dimensions of the sensory world something is
  • Time refers to change and flow

So our body’s location moves through space and time and we see other’s bodies move through space and time too and we interact with them – and we call them living beings.

So this is how the perception of living beings and the world arises – through our consciousness manifesting through our bodies moving through the sensory perception of 3 Dimensional space through the flow of time.

Source for the italicized text: 


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