Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

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Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby DGA » Fri Jan 06, 2017 4:35 pm

I would like to :stirthepot: a bit with this discussion, but in a way that should be relevant and useful to some practitioners, not a cause for :guns:

I have noticed something curious when reading the 2009 translation of the Surangama Sutra (Buddhist Text Society). I am referring to the Chinese text of this name that is of central importance to Chinese Buddhism, but is not typically canonical elsewhere because, as scholars have consistently demonstrated, it is a late composition of Chinese origin. I would like to suggest that it may be, at least in part, a rebuttal to Dzogchen practice.

For example, in the discussion of the Aggregate of Form early in the sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni gives the following example to Ananda:

Surangama Sutra, p 90 wrote:a clear-sighted person looks up at a clear sky, where nothing but empty space is to be seen. Suppose that, for no particular reason, this person happens to stare, without moving his eyes, until they are stressed to the point that he sees in the empty air a disordered display of flowers, along with various other images...


Here, it appears that an unsympathetic description of Namkha Arted, a well-known Dzogchen practice, is given as an example to demonstrate the emptiness of the form aggregate. The ignorance of the person who sees these "flowers in the sky" becomes a leitmotif throughout the text after this. Whomever is gazing at the sky in this way is consistently wrong from the perspective of this sutra.

It may be that the authors or compilers of the Surangama Sutra picked the "flowers in the sky" example at random, or chose it because they felt it was effective. I find this plausible instead: the authors of this text intended to Dzogchen practice as a cause for error rather than enlightenment, and to advance a different practice (the mandala and dharani in this text) as a far superior one. Put differently, there is reason to suspect that the Surangama Sutra is an anti-Dzogchen intervention--that a dismissal of Dzogchen is the rationale for the practice it advocates.

Scholars and practitioners with superior knowledge of the source texts and classical languages, and the textual history at hand, are positioned to substantiate this idea, or to disprove it. I would be interested in finding out whether this interpretation holds up to critical scrutiny by those who know better than me.

But if I am right, then this insight is consequential for some practitioners. Specifically:

There are some Dzogchen practitioners who are interested in boxing Dzogchen into the protocols and categories of normative Chinese Buddhism. What if one of the central texts of Chinese Buddhism is explicitly anti-Dzogchen? (it would be worth considering the question of whether Dzogchen can be delimited by any set of traditional norms and practices, Chinese or Tibetan or otherwise...)

It points out a potential obstacle to dialogue between Chinese Buddhists and Tibetan Buddhist practitioners generally, and Dzogchen practitioners specifically.

For historians: it suggests that Dzogchen may have been more highly diffused and significant in the period of the Surangama Sutra's composition in China than one might assume. I think this is an interesting possibility.

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Vasana » Fri Jan 06, 2017 5:13 pm

To me, the quote above from the Surangama sutra doesnt sound it like it's making any explicit reference to any Dzogchen sky practice. It seems like one of the common pedagogical methods for highlighting the tendency beings have for investing false or illusory apperances with substantial existence.

Were there other parts from the Surangama that fit your theory ?
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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby dzogchungpa » Fri Jan 06, 2017 5:49 pm

I believe flowers in the sky, khapuṣpa, are a common example of illusion in Indian literature, so I'm not sure there's any reason to see this as directed towards Dzogchen particularly.
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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby DGA » Fri Jan 06, 2017 6:15 pm

Vasana wrote:To me, the quote above from the Surangama sutra doesnt sound it like it's making any explicit reference to any Dzogchen sky practice. It seems like one of the common pedagogical methods for highlighting the tendency beings have for investing false or illusory apperances with substantial existence.

Were there other parts from the Surangama that fit your theory ?


dzogchungpa wrote:I believe flowers in the sky, khapuṣpa, are a common example of illusion in Indian literature, so I'm not sure there's any reason to see this as directed towards Dzogchen particularly.


I think it looks more like a caricature of certain Dzogchen practices rather than an accurate description of any one.

I also think this is a but more subtle than a simple figure of a flower in the sky (khapuspa) in context. Notice that "various other images" that might appear to one who directs a fixed gaze to the sky are equated to them.

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Grigoris » Fri Jan 06, 2017 6:34 pm

I think it is quite clear that the text in the quote is referring to a specific practice, rather than a metaphor.
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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby dzogchungpa » Fri Jan 06, 2017 6:58 pm

OK, I just had a look at Ven. Hsuan Hua's commentary on the passage, in particular this part:
There are not only strange flowers, but other things he has never seen before, in the five colors and six hues, things which all seem to be real but are not. Perhaps the head of an animal is seen on a human body, or perhaps a person’s head is seen with an animal’s body. Many irrational things are seen in emptiness – things never seen before – because the eyes become blurry from too much staring.

and I could see that as being a reference to certain tantric deities, so maybe he did understand it as being directed towards specific tantric practices.

See: http://www.cttbusa.org/shurangama3/shurangama3_1.asp
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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Astus » Fri Jan 06, 2017 10:50 pm

The Shurangama Sutra existed in China by around 730, if not earlier. Trisong Detsen, who invited Padmasambhava and Vimalamitra to Tibet, began his rule in 755. According to Sam van Schaik Dzogchen did not exist on its own until the 10th century, and Menngagde works date back only to the 11th century. In other words, not only sky gazing and leap over practices were nowhere around when the sutra appeared, but even Dzogchen has not yet formed.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Malcolm » Sat Jan 07, 2017 2:19 am

Astus wrote:The Shurangama Sutra existed in China by around 730, if not earlier. Trisong Detsen, who invited Padmasambhava and Vimalamitra to Tibet, began his rule in 755. According to Sam van Schaik Dzogchen did not exist on its own until the 10th century, and Menngagde works date back only to the 11th century. In other words, not only sky gazing and leap over practices were nowhere around when the sutra appeared, but even Dzogchen has not yet formed.


Sky gazing can be found in the PP sutras.

Your statements assumes that yogic practices come from texts, rather than the other way around. Bad assumption.
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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Marc » Sat Jan 07, 2017 3:09 am

Malcolm wrote:Sky gazing can be found in the PP sutras.


Hi Malcolm,
What are the PP sutras ?
Thx
M

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Nyedrag Yeshe » Sat Jan 07, 2017 3:41 am

Marc wrote:
Malcolm wrote:Sky gazing can be found in the PP sutras.


Hi Malcolm,
What are the PP sutras ?
Thx
M

Prajñaparamita Sutras
“Whatever has to happen, let it happen!”
“Whatever the situation is, it’s fine!”
“I really don’t need anything!
~Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211)
ओं पद्मोष्णीष विमले हूँ फट । ओं हनु फश भर हेये स्वाहा॥ सर्व मङलम
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔ ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Matt J » Sat Jan 07, 2017 3:47 am

They might also be talking about those Shaivites also:

6. In summer, when your gaze dissolves in the endlessly clear sky, penetrate this light which is the essence of your own mind.

84. Gaze at a very clear sky without blinking. Tensions dissolve along with your gaze and then reach the awesome steadiness of Bhairava.



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If only there is no picking or choosing
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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby dzogchungpa » Sat Jan 07, 2017 4:10 am

I would be kind of surprised if there were no indigenous Chinese traditions of sky gazing, although I don't actually know about it. It's kind of an obvious thing for mountain hermit types to try.
The whole purpose of Buddhism is to have fun, isn't it? - Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Matt J » Sat Jan 07, 2017 4:28 am

Yes, those Taoists WOULD meditate on the sky--- connecting to celestial bodies and so on.

dzogchungpa wrote:I would be kind of surprised if there were no indigenous Chinese traditions of sky gazing, although I don't actually know about it. It's kind of an obvious thing for mountain hermit types to try.
The Great Way is not difficult
If only there is no picking or choosing
--- Xin Xin Ming

http://nondualism.org/

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Marc » Sat Jan 07, 2017 4:53 am

Nyedrag Yeshe wrote:
Marc wrote:
Malcolm wrote:Sky gazing can be found in the PP sutras.


Hi Malcolm,
What are the PP sutras ?
Thx
M

Prajñaparamita Sutras


Ahhhhhhhhh.... Thx Nyedrag Yeshe :)

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Astus » Sat Jan 07, 2017 11:32 am

Malcolm wrote:Sky gazing can be found in the PP sutras.


To take the passage as a reference to any group's practice, we'd need to find such a group.

By the way, are you referring to this often quoted passage, or is it something else?

ākāśa dṛṣṭu iti sattva pravyāharanti nabhadarśanaṃ kutu vimṛṣyatha etamartham /
tatha dharmadarśanu nidiṣṭa tathāgatena na hi darśanaṃ bhaṇitu śakya nidarśanena //
(Ratnaguṇasaṃcayagāthā 12.9)

起虛空見眾生相,  虛空無相不可得,
佛說法法非相應,  不說非有非無相。
(般若伽陀現世品第十二)

A vision in space is a being, so they declare.
A vision like that of space, so should you consider that object!
Thus has the vision of Dharma been expounded by the Tathagata.
But it is not possible to report on that vision by definite statements [that differ from it].
(Ratnaguna ch 12, tr Conze)

Some sentient beings say that they have seen the sky,
Yet how is the sky to be "seen?" Examine the meaning of this.
Likewise, the Tathagata has shown this way to see all phenomena.
(Jewel Ornament of Liberation, p 250)

Your statements assumes that yogic practices come from texts, rather than the other way around. Bad assumption.


What is the earliest example of sky gazing in a Dzogchen text?
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Malcolm » Sat Jan 07, 2017 2:02 pm

Astus wrote:
What is the earliest example of sky gazing in a Dzogchen text?


That depends on when you date Garab Dorje.
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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Grigoris » Sat Jan 07, 2017 2:51 pm

Malcolm wrote:
Astus wrote:
What is the earliest example of sky gazing in a Dzogchen text?


That depends on when you date Garab Dorje.
Is he free next Saturday night for drinks? :P
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Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Coëmgenu » Sat Jan 07, 2017 7:21 pm

DGA wrote:
Surangama Sutra, p 90 wrote:a clear-sighted person looks up at a clear sky, where nothing but empty space is to be seen. Suppose that, for no particular reason, this person happens to stare, without moving his eyes, until they are stressed to the point that he sees in the empty air a disordered display of flowers, along with various other images...


Here, it appears that an unsympathetic description of Namkha Arted, a well-known Dzogchen practice, is given as an example to demonstrate the emptiness of the form aggregate. The ignorance of the person who sees these "flowers in the sky" becomes a leitmotif throughout the text after this. Whomever is gazing at the sky in this way is consistently wrong from the perspective of this sutra.

It may be that the authors or compilers of the Surangama Sutra picked the "flowers in the sky" example at random, or chose it because they felt it was effective. I find this plausible instead: the authors of this text intended to Dzogchen practice as a cause for error rather than enlightenment, and to advance a different practice (the mandala and dharani in this text) as a far superior one.
The sūtra-literature is actually full of the Buddha either causing-to-appear or drawing attention to flowers in the sky, generally in a pedagogical setting, the meaning of the flowers then explained:
At that time, the Buddha sat up straight in meditation in the sandalwood pavilion and, with his supernatural powers, put on a miraculous display. There appeared in the sky a countless number of thousand-petaled lotus flowers as large as chariot wheels, filled with colors and fragrances that one could not begin to enumerate. In the center of each flower was a conjured image of a Buddha. The flowers rose and covered the heavens like a jeweled banner, each flower giving forth countless rays of light. The petals all simultaneously unfolded their splendor and then, through the Buddha’s miraculous powers, all withered in an instant.

Within the flowers all the Buddha images sat cross-legged in the lotus position, and each issued forth countless hundreds of thousands of rays of light. The adornment of the spot at the time was so extraordinary that the whole assembly rejoiced and danced ecstatically. In fact, it was so very strange and extraordinary that all began to wonder why all the countless wonderful flowers should suddenly be destroyed. As they withered and darkened, the smell they gave off was foul and loathsome.
(Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, opening)
"My pure land is not destroyed,
yet the multitude sees it as consumed in fire,
with anxiety, fear, and other sufferings
filling it everywhere."
(Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra XVI)

All these dharmāḥ are the status of dharma, the standing of dharma, the suchness of dharma; the dharma neither departs from things-as-they-are, nor differs from things-as-they-are; it is the truth, reality, without distortion.(SA 296, 因緣法)
揭諦揭諦,波羅揭諦,波羅僧揭諦,菩提薩婆訶(Prajñāpāramitāhṛdayasya Mantra)

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby javier.espinoza.t » Tue Jan 10, 2017 3:15 pm

Tawa, my friend, the point of view in the path.

the point of view in the circumstances of the Blessed-One speech was emptiness.
the point of view in the circumstances of Dzogchen practices is -in general- contemplation.

The focus at the time of the Blessed-One appears to be cessation through the understanding of emptiness, and this through the renunciation of bad habits and acceptance of good habits. Why? maybe because that was needed to instruct the audience -wich was appearently very wild- and turn the wheel.

Besides of practicing contemplation, i find bliss in the lecture of the sutras and through that casualy became to the conclusion that while comparing them we must consider the circumstances, because of the audience. To illustrate, think on the meaning of "Master of gods and humans", and now think on the qualities of the teachings intended for gods and those intended for humans. This are two audiences, with different karmas, understandings, so we humans really don't know the capacity of devas and specifically how they perceibe the dhamma. But certainly the Blessed-One does, so now think in the two paths hinayana and mahayana, ¿why the Mahayana was introduced in the deva realms first and later in the human realm? possibly because of the audiences were adequate at different times.

By that became to understand that -in a more extended manner- by mixing the paths whitout discrimination at any time -of study, practice, and so- all the work done for give them form and make them clear is really lost. So If there should be no discriminating activity between the -in fact- different paths/methods while studying and then practicing, and so, the dhamma then ¿Why are the so called Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Atiyoga, and so? ¿Why are they named different if they really can be united in the same thing? ¿Why? possibly because we sentient beings who suffer are not equal in capacity, karma and conditions.

This leads me to perceibe that by mixing points of views related to methods is in the practice like doing some "reverse" to the Tathagatas work. Wich is not good at all. In conclution, trying to understand dzogchen -self liberation- from the point of view of the renounciation, or trying to understand renounciation from the point of view of the path of transformation, and so, look's just like new-age haha.

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Re: Surangama Sutra as an anti-Dzogchen intervention

Postby Tsongkhapafan » Tue Jan 10, 2017 4:02 pm

Astus wrote:The Shurangama Sutra existed in China by around 730, if not earlier. Trisong Detsen, who invited Padmasambhava and Vimalamitra to Tibet, began his rule in 755. According to Sam van Schaik Dzogchen did not exist on its own until the 10th century, and Menngagde works date back only to the 11th century. In other words, not only sky gazing and leap over practices were nowhere around when the sutra appeared, but even Dzogchen has not yet formed.


In other words, Buddha did not teach Dzogchen. How then can it be a Buddhist practice? Buddha Shakyamuni predicted the appearance of Nagarjuna and Je Tsongkhapa but not Garab Dorje.


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