Shurangama Sutra

Sanskrit manuscript from Nālandā, depicting the Buddha in meditation.
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The Śūraṅgama Sūtra (Sanskrit) is a Mahāyāna Buddhist sūtra, and has been especially influential in the Chán school of Chinese Buddhism.

Contents

Etymology

According to Ron Epstein, Śūraṅgama roughly means "indestructible." The word is composed of Śūraṅ (great, absolutely), with Gama (durable, solid).[1] The complete title preserved in Chinese is much longer, and may be translated as "The Sūtra on the Śūraṅgama Mantra Spoken from above the Crown of the Great Buddha's Head, and on the Hidden Basis of the Tathagata's Myriad Bodhisattva Practices Leading to Their Verification of the Ultimate Truth."[2] Versions of the title where the sūtra has traditionally been used, include:

  • Traditional Chinese: 大佛頂如來密因修證了義諸菩薩萬行首楞嚴經
  • Simplified Chinese: 大佛顶如来密因修证了义诸菩萨万行首楞严经
  • Chinese Pinyin: dà fódǐng rúlái mìyīn xiūzhèng liǎoyì zhū púsà wànxíng shǒuléngyán jīng
  • Korean: 대불정여래밀인수증료의제보살만행수릉엄경
  • Vietnamese: Đại Phật đỉnh Như Lai mật nhân tu chứng liễu nghĩa chư Bồ Tát vạn hạnh thủ-lăng-nghiêm kinh

It is also known in Chinese by shorter versions of the title such as dà fódǐng shǒuléngyán jīng (大佛頂首楞嚴經) or simply and more commonly léngyán jīng (楞嚴經).

History and Translation

According to traditional records, the Śūraṅgama Sūtra was translated in 705 CE by Śramaṇa Pāramiti from Central India, who came to China and translated the text in the province of Guangzhou. The text was then polished and edited by Empress Wu Zetian's former minister, court regulator, and state censor Fang Yong of Qingho. The translation was reviewed by Śramaṇa Meghaśikha from Oḍḍiyāna, and certified by Śramaṇa Huaidi of Nanlou Monastery (南樓寺) on Mount Luofu (羅浮山).

A number of scholars have associated the Śūraṅgama Sūtra with the Buddhist tradition at Nālandā.[3][4] Epstein also notes that the general doctrinal position of the sūtra does indeed correspond to what is known about the Buddhist teachings at Nālandā during this period.[5]

Teachings

Doctrinal orientation

Ron Epstein describes the Śūraṅgama Sūtra has containing teachings from Yogācāra, Tathāgatagarbha, and Esoteric Buddhism.[6][7] Also contained in the sūtra is extended use of Buddhist Logic, with its methods of syllogism and the fourfold negation (Skt. catuṣkoṭi), first popularized by Nāgārjuna.[8]

Main themes

Some of the main themes of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra are the worthlessness of the Dharma when unaccompanied by samādhi power, and the importance of moral precepts as a foundation for the Buddhist practice. Also stressed is the theme of how one effectively combats delusions that may arise during meditation.[9] Ron Epstein and David Rounds have suggested that the major themes of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra reflect the strains upon Indian Buddhism during its era.[10] They cite the resurgence of tribal influences, and the crumbling social supports for monastic Buddhist institutions. This era also saw the emergence of Hindu tantrism and the beginnings of Esoteric Buddhism and the siddha traditions.[11] They propose that moral challenges and general confusion about Buddhism are said to have then given rise to the themes of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, such as clear understanding of principles, moral discipline, essential Buddhist cosmology, development of samādhi, and how to avoid falling into various delusions in meditation.

Śūraṅgama Samādhi

The Śūraṅgama Sūtra also teaches about the Śūraṅgama Samādhi, which is associated with complete enlightenment and buddhahood. This samādhi is also featured extensively and in the title of another Mahāyāna sutra, the Śūraṅgama Samādhi Sūtra. It is equally praised in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, where it is explained by the Buddha that this samādhi is the essence of the nature of the Buddha and is indeed the "mother of all Buddhas."[12] The Buddha also comments that the Śūraṅgama Samādhi additionally goes under several other names, specifically Prajñāpāramitā ("Perfection of Wisdom"), the Vajra Samādhi ("Diamond Samadhi"), the Siṃhanāda Samādhi ("Lion's Roar Samādhi"), and the Buddhasvabhava ("Buddha-nature").[13]

White Parasol Crown Dhāraṇī

In addition to the sūtra's contents, the Sanskrit dhāraṇī contained in it is known in Chinese as the Léngyán Zhòu (楞嚴咒), or "Śūraṅgama Mantra," and is well-known and popularly chanted in East Asian Buddhism. In Sanskrit, the dhāraṇī is known as the "Sitātapatra Uṣṇīṣa Dhāraṇī" (Ch. 大白傘蓋陀羅尼). This is sometimes simplified in English to "White Canopy Dhāraṇī" or "White Parasol Dhāraṇī." In Tibetan traditions, the English is instead sometimes rendered as the "White Umbrella Mantra." The dhāraṇī is extant in three other translations found in the Chinese Buddhist canon (Taishō Tripiṭaka 944, 976, and 977), and is also preserved in Sanskrit and Tibetan. According to Venerable Hsuan Hua, the dharani contains five major sections:[14]

The Śūraṅgama Mantra contains five divisions: In the East is the Vajra Division, hosted by Akṣobhya Buddha; in the south, the Jewel-creating Division, hosted by Ratnasaṃbhava Buddha; in the center, the Buddha Division, hosted by Vairocana Buddha; in the West, the Lotus Division, hosted by Amitābha Buddha; in the North, the Karma Division, hosted by Amoghasiddhi Buddha. These five divisions control the vast demon armies of the five directions.

Importance in Chán Buddhism

The Śūraṅgama Sūtra has been widely studied and commented on, especially in Chan Buddhism. In the Chinese language alone, there are at least 127 commentaries on the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.[15] It was widely used by many Chan masters such as Changshui Zixuan from the Song Dynasty and Hanshan Deqing (憨山德清) from the Ming Dynasty. It was also the only sutra that Venerable Hsu Yun wrote a commentary on.

Venerable Hsuan Hua, an important figure in Mahayana Buddhism, was one of the major proponents of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, which he commented and used in his instructions on protecting and supporting the Proper Dharma. About the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, he said:

In Buddhism all the sutras are very important, but the Śūraṅgama Sūtra is most important. Wherever the Śūraṅgama Sūtra is, the Proper Dharma abides in the world. When the Śūraṅgama Sūtra is gone, that is a sign of the Dharma Ending Age. In the Extinction of the Dharma Sutra it says that in the Dharma Ending Age, the Śūraṅgama Sūtra will become extinct first. Then gradually the other sutras will also become extinct. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra is the true body of the Buddha; the śarīra (relics) of the Buddha; the stūpa of the Buddha.

Venerable Hsuan Hua lectured on the entire Śūraṅgama Sūtra in 1968 while he was in the United States. These lectures were recorded in an eight-part series of books containing the sutra and a traditionally rigorous form of commentary that addresses each passage. It was again lectured by the original translator monks and nuns of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas at Dharma Realm Buddhist University in the summer of 2003.

References

  1. ^ Heng Sure. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra: A New Translation. 2009. p. xiii
  2. ^ Heng Sure. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra: A New Translation. 2009. p. xxv
  3. ^ Humphreys, Christmas. The Wisdom of Buddhism. 1995. p. 111
  4. ^ Dutt, Sukumar. Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India. 1962. p. 264
  5. ^ "The Shurangama Sutra (T. 945): A Reappraisal of its Authenticity". http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/Buddhism/authenticity.htm. 
  6. ^ "The Shurangama Sutra (T. 945): A Reappraisal of its Authenticity". http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/Buddhism/authenticity.htm. 
  7. ^ Heng Sure. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra: A New Translation. 2009. p. xxx-xxxii
  8. ^ Heng Sure. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra: A New Translation. 2009. p. xxxii-xxxiv
  9. ^ "The Shurangama Sutra (T. 945): A Reappraisal of its Authenticity". http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/Buddhism/authenticity.htm. 
  10. ^ Heng Sure. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra: A New Translation. 2009. p. xxxiii-xxxix
  11. ^ Heng Sure. The Śūraṅgama Sūtra: A New Translation. 2009. p. xxxiii-xxxix
  12. ^ Lamotte, Étienne, tr. Boin-Webb, Sara. Suramgamasamadhi Sutra: The Concentration of Heroic Progress. 1998, p. 36
  13. ^ Lamotte, Étienne, tr. Boin-Webb, Sara. Suramgamasamadhi Sutra: The Concentration of Heroic Progress. 1998, p. 36
  14. ^ "Venerable Master Hsuan Hua's Talks: The Wonderful Effects of the Shurangama Mantra". http://www.shky.org/zsdde/ShowArticle.asp?ArticleID=1500. 
  15. ^ "The Shurangama Sutra (T. 945): A Reappraisal of its Authenticity". http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/Buddhism/authenticity.htm. 

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