Heroic Progress, or
The samadhisutra associated with the Wise



Two Mahāyana Scriptures


The Pali-canon of today's Theravāda-tradition has a number of "twin suttas", that is to say there are a number of suttas (Discourses) that know a major (mahā) and a minor (cūla) version. All in all there are 17 major and minor Discourses in the Middle Length Sayings alone, among which, to give an example, the Minor Teaching spoken in the village of the Horses, the Cūla-assapura-sutta (assa = horse). It's meant for the ordained community, but read it, if you like, it has beautiful words on not only a refreshing pond, but also on the four Immeasurables of friendliness, compassion, altruïstic joy and equanimity.

In the past there must have been professionals who totally admired this or that Discourse and decided to write a more condensed version, whether or not with more or less emphasis on this or that aspect contained therein.
Likewise there are two Teachings on the last living days of Buddha. The Pali-canon of the Theravāda has the Mahā-parinibbāna-sutta (SN 6.15), the Mahāyana knows the Mahā-parinirvāna-sūtra (Taisho 0375). The Pali manuscript has the "all compounded things are subject to decay" (including Buddha's physical body) as a leading theme; the Mahāyana manuscript discourses on eternal Buddhahood, not depending on anything, compounded or uncompounded.

The Mahāyana Discourses know a further two Scriptures that have practically similar titles, The samādhisūtra associated with the Wise on the one hand, and the Sūtra associated with the Wise on the other, or in Sanskrit respectively the Sūrámgama-samādhi-sūtra (no Taisho nr.), and the Sūrángama-sūtra (appearing in the Taishō anthology though without serial number).

Somewhere during the eighties of the last century there has been debate whether the first manuscript would be an authentic sūtra and the latter a "forgery". This debate raged especially along corridors where scholars had read the first manuscript, but not the latter.
Today we may conclude that the titles are fairly similar, but the content differs widely. Does the Sūrámgama-samādhi-sūtra emphasize the career of the bodhisattva and total emptiness (sunyata), the Sūrángama-sūtra is very this-worldly and seems to contain an invitation to arhats to make an extra effort in order to reach the bodhisattva-stages through an examination of the senses.

The origin

The first Chinese translation of the Sūrámgama-samādhi-sūtra appears to have been made in the year 186 by the hand of a monk named Chih Ch'an. Where the original manuscript hails from is unkown, maybe somewhere in that part of Kashmir-Gandhāra where the idealist schools were well established — think Bamiyan-plains. The pilgrim-monk Kumārajīva translated Chih Ch'an's version somewhere between 350 and 413. The very commendable Etienne Lamotte translated Kumārajīva's version; it has been published in London in the year 1998 under the title Sūrámgama-samādhi-sūtra, The Concentration of Heroic Progress.

When the monk-pilgrim Faxian (Fa-Hien) somewhere between 399 and 414 arrives on top of Vulture Peak near Rajgir in Northern India, he stumbles upon the remains of monastery-walls, a monastery of which the Mahāyana assumes that Buddha delivered his discourse the Sūtra associated with the Wise, i.e. the Sūrángama-sūtra. In 705 a master by the name of Paramiti, from "Central-northern India" translated this manuscript in the Chih-Chih monastery of Canton. "Central-northern India" may stand for the northern tip of the Vindhya mountain range, slightly north of the area where Bodhidharma's "philosophizing gives you headache" school hails from. The compilers of the Sūtra associated with the Wise put an effort to make the emptiness philosophy understandable for the average listener/reader.

The title

The translation of the title of the Sūrámgama-samādhi-sūtra has caused considerable discussion. The m in Sūrámgama would need a diacritical mark underneath that is not yet available in ASCI-mode. As such it is often replaced by an ņ.
In Sanskrit ámgama (with diacritical mark under the m) means "associating with, attached to". Furthermore ánga, as given by the Pali dictionaries, means "limb", i.e. a part of a whole.
Sūr in Sanskrit does not only mean "sun" but also "a wise or learned man" (whose wisdom is like the sun illuminating everything far and wide).
It is therefore justifiable to translate the title Sūrámgama-samādhi-sūtra with The samādhisūtra associated with the Wise, and Sūrámgama-sūtra with The sūtra associated with the Wise. Samādhi being a generic description of any protracted meditative state of mind, and sūtra meaning "utterance" or "discourse".

No compiler of sūtric works ever intended to render an unintelligible title.

The Sūrámgama-samādhi-sūtra passages below are an unfaithful (= critical) rendition of Etienne Lamotte's translation; the Sūrámgama-sūtra passages follow the translation given by upásaka Lu K'uan Yu.


The samādhisūtra associated with the Wise

(Sūrámgama-samādhi-sūtra)

The introduction
Thus have I heard.
At one time Buddha was in Rājagrha (Rajgir) on Grhrdakūta-párvata (Vulture Peak), with a great assembly of bhikshus, thirty-two thousand bhiksus, and Mahāsattva-bodhisattvas numbering seventy-two thousand.

These last were born to (,resp. from) supernatural powers (abhijñānābhijñāta); they possessed the dhāranī; they were quick-witted (pratibhāna) and delighted in expounding ceaselessly; uninterruptedly in concentration (samādhisupratisthita), they never strayed from it; they were skilled in higher knowledge (jñānakusala) and of inexhaustible knowledge-wisdom (aksayaprajñā); they possessed the endurance pertaining to the profound teachings (gambhīradharmaksānti) and represented the profound Teachings of the Dharma (gambhīradharmamukha); ....


The sūtra associated with the Wise

(Sūrámgama-sūtra)

The Introduction
Thus have I heard.

Once Buddha stayed in the Jetavāna vihāra near Srávasti with twelve hundred and fifty bhiksus (most of whom) were great arhats who had crossed the stream of transmigration. They upheld his teaching firmly, could leap over all realms of existence and had achieved the respect inspiring deportment which was held in great esteem throughout the country. They followed the Buddha to turn the Wheel of the Law (Dharma) and were qualified to hand down his dharma. Being self-disciplined, they set a good example in the three worlds (past, present and future) in which they appeared in countless transformation bodies to deliver living beings and to save future generations from defilement. They were led by Sariputra the Wise, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, Mahā-Kausthila, Purnamaitrayāniputra, Subhuti and Upanishād.(*)


The two introductions, that generally are omitted by students who're on the fast track, set the tone as far as the bodhisattva-arhat discussion is concerned. Left the praises are sung of the bodhisattvas on the tenth and last stage of cultivating who left the cycle of re-becoming but remain the helpful forces in the universe, the Mahāyana says.

In the column on the right the praises of the arhat are sung. They may, the present-day Theravāda says (who were not the compilers of this sūtra) become Buddha in the future, after the present Buddha-sásana is over. A Buddha-sásana being the time and area where a Buddha appears in the world, or where it is remembered as such.
It is remarkable that this text translates the rebirth concept pertaining to the Hinayāna schools in Mahāyana idealistic bodhisattvic wordings when it says that the arhat — basically presented by the Small Vehicle — in former ages "appeared in countless transformation bodies", that he does so in the present, and will continue to do so in the future. "Transformation body" being a thourougly Mahāyanistic concept. Different sects of Buddhism use it in highly different ways.

(*) The name Upanishād is no less than an attack on a certain body of Vedic cultivators who followed the Upanishāds, a collection of Scriptures younger than the oldest Vedic Scriptures. The Vedic (pre-Hindu) community paid back in kind by speaking of pāsandas, heretics, i.e. Buddhists.


The cultivation
§ 70: Then the bodhisattva Drdhamati questioned the devaputra Matyabhimukha: If a bodhisattva wishes to obtain this samādhi, what dharmas (things) should he cultivate?
The devaputra: A bodhisattva who wishes to obtain this samādhi should cultivate the dharmas of the worldly (prthagjanadharma). If he sees those prthagjanadharma are neither united (yukta) with nor separate (viyukta) from the buddhadharmas (the phenomena pertaining to the Buddhas), then he is cultivating the samādhisūtra associated with the Wise.
Drdhamati: Can there be union (yoga) or separation (viyoga) in relation to the buddhadharmas?
The devaputra: In relation to the prthagjanadharma, there is neither union nor separation, and even less so in relation to the buddhadharmas.

The cultivation
§ 1: "Virtuous men, I have always declared that Form and Mind and all causes arising therefrom, all mental conditions and all causal phenomena are but manifestations of the mind. Your bodies and minds are just appearances within the wonderful, bright and pure Profound Mind. Why do you stray from the precious, bright and subtle nature of fundamentally Enlightend Mind and so recognize delusion within enlightenment?"


Both fragments speak of the ultimate. The Samādhisūtra associated with the Wise however is far more radical than the Sūtra associated with the Wise. It demonstrates how the Vedic concepts of Oneness do not obtain: there is neither Oneness nor non-Oneness.
The Sūtra associated with the Wise on the other hand, does not go beyond an establishing of Mind as the ultimate realization and does not state that Mind, ultimately, is neither X-ness nor non-X-ness. And indeed, this allowed the Chinese audience to establish a "something", a something that became known as the alayavijñāna, the storehouse-consciousness.




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