REBIRTH VIEWS IN THE SURANGAMA SUTRA (Fifth Edition) Dr. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương Ananda Viet Foundation
This revised and enlarged edition of Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra was first published ten years ago (2008). The second, third, and fourth editions were reprinted in 2012, 2014, and 2016 at Phương Đông Publishing. This current edition (2018) will be printed at Hồng Đức Publishing, HCM City, Việt Nam and Ananda Viet Foundation Publishing, Westminster, California, USA. In presenting this edition, I have maintained the contents written in the first edition, however, for the sake of greater clarity, a few changes have been made, errors have been corrected, the Pāli and Sanskrit terms are included, and a summary, as well as discussion questions, have been added at the end of each chapter.
I would like to gratefully acknowledge with special thanks Bhikkhunī Viên Ngộ, Bhikkhunī Diệu Giác, Bhikkhunī Viên Quang, and Pamela C. Kirby (English editor) who worked as my assistants for English translating, proofreading, book design, and publication of this book.
University of California, Riverside, California
Spring, March 01, 2018
Thích NữGiới Hương
Foreword by the Most Venerable Như Điển Acknowledgments Preface by Dr. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương Chapter I: The Background of Buddhism Chapter II: The Reason for the Śūraṅgama Chapter III: Asking about the Mind Chapter IV: Two Fundamental Roots Chapter V: Two Difficult Problems Chapter VI: Śamatha Chapter VII: The Śūraṅgama Precepts Chapter VIII: The Spiritual Mantra of Śūraṅgama Chapter IX: Twelve Species of Living Beings Chapter X: Three Gradual Progress Steps Chapter XI: Bad Habits Produce Seven Realms Chapter XII: Ten Habitual Causes of Hell Chapter XIII: Six Consequences Chapter XIV: Immortals, Heavens & Asuras Chapter XV: Conclusion Works Cited Index Glossary Works
by the Most Venerable Như Điển
Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra
the Most Venerable Thich Nhu Dien
I have had the good fortune to read many books. These books play the role of my teachers. They are as close as my siblings, family, or friends. I can meet with the books any time and anywhere in the morning, afternoon, evening, or midnight. With the moonlight shining through the windows of the meditation room, the books are available in front of me and I can read delightedly. If there is a question, I just open the book; there is the right answer. The book plays the role of informing readers of right and wrong.
From reading scriptures and books, I became interested in translating and writing. Venerable Bhikkhunī Giới Hương asked me to write an introduction to this book entitled Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, which is her ninth work. It was first published in 2008 and so far, has been reprinted four times in nine years, and each publication was not less than 2,000 copies. Most readers are in Vietnam, USA, and other parts of the world. This time, I tried to read it for two days, six hours per day. Usually with a book as large as this one, I only need three to four hours to read, but because she wanted me to look carefully, as well as fix some spelling mistakes, it took some of my time. There are no faults worth complaining about, but because the content of the scripture is so deep, it took more time to experience and reflect on it.
In 1984 and 1985 Venerable Giới Hương learned this sutra from her master, the Late Most Venerable Bhikkhunī Hải Triều Âm. After that, she studied four years in the bachelor’s program for Buddhist Studies at Vạn Hạnh Institute. She then spent more than ten years obtaining a PhD in Buddhist Philosophy in India. She studied for another ten years at the University of California, Riverside in the United States. Today she is a lecturer at the Vietnamese Buddhist University, HCM City, Vietnam, and shares her knowledge and experiences over the past thirty years with her young monk and nun students. What miraculous merit! She also has begun writing and translating books in English to serve the needs of modern times. That is why the Śūraṅgama Sūtra is published in the English language now. This is one of the first achievements of the Vietnamese Buddhist nun Saṅgha, followed by the holy way of the Late Most Venerable Bhikkhunī Trí Hải. I am very happy to write this introduction.
To enter into the contents of fifteen chapters, we should first pay attention to the form. The bold text is the translated words from Chinese to Vietnamese of Dr. Tâm Minh, Lê Đình Thám who took the original text from Sanskrit to Chinese of Prammiti Master (Bát Lạt Mật Đế). Doctor Tâm Minh interpreted it into two parts of ten volumes, but here Venerable Giới Hương only focuses on the parts of questions on the mind, the six sense organs, the six sense objects, and the six forms of consciousness, as well as precept-meditation-wisdom. Next, she talks about twelve species of beings from past, present, and future which is worthy of reading. Because she has learned Nikāya and Mahāyāna sūtras, her stories penetrate these philosophical and realistic meanings profoundly and include scientific and logical evidence. The equivalent Sanskrit and Pāli terminologies are put in parentheses. Italics are used to annotate for clarification. There are also footnotes for the references. This is the research methodology which scholars often use to teach or write academic books. In the preface, she expresses that her book mentions only a small part of the rebirth views from the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. Other perspectives on this scripture will be included in other future volumes to convey all deep thoughts in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.
The contents present evidence of mind and nature. The nature of the mind is wonderful, while its function is bright. The minds of beings are ignorant from defilements while the essence of the mind is completely pure. If beings are focused on śamatha to win samāpatti, the Buddha and beings will be one, but nothing else. This is like waves and water. Wave is not water, water is not waves, but both have a wet nature in common. With that wetness, the Buddha has been a Buddha for a long time, while beings are still in the circle of birth and death, because we have not recognized our wetness. Each time we chant, we recite, “The minds of the Buddha and creature beings are inherently pure and quiet, calm, and clear without defilements.” The Buddha is not different from beings, only beings differ from the Buddha. By karma, the creature subjects and their environmental objects appear. Their bodies are a result of merit or not, which is related to the absence of ignorance in order to return to the Buddha’s essence. In the first part, the Buddha asks Ānanda seven times the location of his mind, so that he can clear the true or false mind. After Ānanda realized the spiritual home of the six sense organs, but did not know how to open the door, he begged the Buddha to kindly expound the Dharma for the sake of many.
The six sense organs are birth and death, which is also the tranquil Nibbāna. If living beings attain samāpatti, they can transform the three gradual progress steps. The author also was careful to mention the Tien-tai Master who divided the twelve scriptural categories into five sections of the Buddha’s doctrine. If readers gradually penetrate this book, they will recognize the Mahāyāna perspectives highlighted in this Śūraṅgama Sūtra. In addition, the Pure Land method of reciting the name of Amitābha Buddha is also addressed by the author.
The chapter on the inner section explains that the inner aspect is the emotion, while the external is the virtue which are practiced. This helps readers easily capture the sense of the scripture. Whoever is more emotional, the less ideal, after death he will go down. Whoever is more ideal, with less emotion, after death he will go up. Whoever has the balance between the emotional and ideal level, he will be reborn as a human being.
In the next chapter, she mentions retribution in hell. There are ten causes and six results for this bad consequence. Next is the remaining retribution of beings from many previous lives. The author also focuses on the stories of Bhikkhunī Valuable Lotus Fragrance who broke the sexual precept, Mighty Crystal King and Bhikhu Good Stars who wrongly declared that all dharmas are empty (without cause-effect, see more in the Parinibbāna Sūtra, Vol. 2) and all is just a combination of illusory thoughts. By this, the Buddha taught śamatha and also emphasized the practice of giving thanks to the Buddha, who compassionately shows the way from his own experience that this illusory thing can be eliminated.
Chapter XIV speaks of the heaven and asura worlds. The author compares the desire heavenly realms (kāmasugati-bhūmi) to the material heavenly realms (rūpāvācara-bhūmi) of four jhānas, and the five without-returning-heavenly beings (suddhāvāsa) to the immaterial heavenly realms (arūpāvacara-bhūmi) of the four empty states. And lastly, the heavenly asura beings are explained as beings who still have angry minds. In Chapter XV, she sums up all seven species of beings (heaven, immortal, asura, human, ghost, animal, and hell) and those who do not possess a sense of enlightenment, due to the practice of śamatha. If they can restrain themselves from three ignorances (killing, stealing, and sexual intercourse), they will realize and see the Buddha’s essence. Finally, she concludes that Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra teaches how to overcome the mind and body committing “killing, stealing, and sexual intercourse” to win awakening.
This is a worthy commentary composed by a scholar-nun. Readers should be familiar with this book before reading the 2,685-page Convergence Śūraṅgama (首楞嚴宗通經), two volumes (interpreted by Thubten Osall Lama) or the Interpretation of the Śūraṅgama Mantra, two volumes, explained by Most Venerable Hsuan Hua at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery and translated by Venerable Minh Định into Vietnamese. I was based at the popular Buddhist Studies program (Phật HọcPhổ Thông) of Most Venerable Thiện Hoa. I have lectured for many years—at least over forty lectures. At the same time, you can also refer to the Pointing-Out Śūraṅgama Commentary (首楞嚴 直指, of Hanshi Master that is translated into a 1,000-page book and published in Vietnam in 2008 by Venerable Bhikkhunī Thể Dung. You can also search at the Buddhist websites to see, hear, and add what you need to understand.
I am very happy to read this work of Venerable Bhikkhunī Giới Hương, which is the most precious spiritual gift. There is a saying, "If you have money, you can buy some books, but you cannot buy your understanding." We would like to introduce this valuable book to readers throughout the world.
The Most Venerable Như Điển Founding Abbot of the Viên Đức Monastery Hannover, Viên Đức Monastery Ravensburg, Germany An autumn morning at Viên Đức Monastery, Ravensburg in southern Germany, October 14, 2017
One night, the Buddha stood contemplating quietly at the bank of a glistening river. Venerable Śāriputra, who was behind, looked down the moonlight shimmering on the water and suddenly lamented, "Blessed One! It is pitiful! There are people who drowned by jumping into the deep water to look for the moon."
The Buddha replied, "Yes! It's pitiful! But even more pitiful, there are those who never believe there is a moon in the world."
Some people search for the moon at the water bottom. They who have seen the moonlight shimmering on the water’s surface dive into the water looking for the moon and risk drowning. They are not aware that it is very simple; all they have to do is raise their heads up, and the moon is always there in the sky. Then there are other people who believe that the world is without the moon although the full moon is radiating light covering the entire world. Śūraṅgama Sūtra called these miserable people human (manussa) beings who are trapped in the cycle of birth and death.
In the third paragraph of Chapter I, there is mention of the root of ignorance (avijjā) and enlightenment (Nibbāna, prajñā) as the Buddha told Venerable Ānanda, "Since beginningless time onward, all living beings have had many upside-down ways and have created karma seeds which are naturally grouped as the aksha cluster.
Those who cultivate cannot accomplish the unsurpassed bodhi, but instead reach the level of voice-hearer (śrāvakas), pratyeka Buddhas, heretics, heavenly beings (devas), demons (maras), or relatives of ghosts (pittivisaya), because they have not yet recognized the two fundamental roots. They have cultivated wrongly and confusedly, as if trying to cook sand in the hope of creating rice. They may pass through countless eons as molecules of dust, and they will obtain nothing of what they want.
What are two fundamental roots? “Ānanda, first of all, the root of beginningless birth and death is the illusory consciousness (samohaṃ) that you and all living beings now make use of and consider it as your self-nature.
“Secondly, the purified origin of beginningless bodhi Nirvana, the bright original reality of the seeing essence, can create all conditions and is disregarded. Living beings have ignored the original awakening; therefore, though they use it to the end of their days, they are still unaware of their enlightenment, and then they regrettably enter the six realms.” Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra examines the profound philosophical ideology contained in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. It points to the mind of illusion that leads to reincarnation and suffering and shows us how to escape.
Just as a gardener selects the most beautiful flowers that she knows will please the recipient, contents of this book mention only rebirth views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.
I would like to prostrate devotedly toward Đại Ninh province, Vietnam, to Most Venerable Master Hải Triều Âm who wholeheartedly taught us the gardener's art from 1983, 1984, and 1985 and planted in us the good seeds of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. Today, these seeds are blooming. If we have gained any merit and virtue from this book, we respectfully offer it to our Master and all beings in the world.
With a full heart of dedication, but with the awakening and capacity weak, I hope that wise readers correct mistakes so that next editions of Rebirth Views in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra will be better.
With sincere gratitude, Dr. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương August 30, 2008
Dr. Bhikkhunī Giới Hương (world name Śūnyatā Phạm) was born in 1963 in Bình Tuy, Vietnam and ordained at the age of fifteen under the great master, the Most Venerable Bhikkhunī Hải Triều Âm. In 1994, she received a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature from Sài Gòn University. She studied in India for ten years and in 2003, graduated with a PhD in Buddhist Philosophy from the University of Delhi, India. In 2005, she settled down in the United States and in 2015, she earned a second Bachelor's Degree in Literature at the University of Riverside, California.
Currently, she is pursuing a degree in the Master of Arts Program at the University of California, Riverside and works as a lecturer at the Vietnam Buddhist University in HCM City. She favors quietly reflecting on Dharma, and that leads her to write, as well as translate, Buddhist books and lyrics for music albums on her Bảo Anh Lạc Bookshelf.
In 2000, she established Hương Sen Temple, Bình Chánh, Sài Gòn, Việt Nam. In 2010, she founded Hương Sen Temple in Perris, California, USA, where she serves as abbess.