Introduction to Shurangama Mantra

Summarized from teaching of Master Hsuan Hua
By Kuo-Jung Chang

The Shurangama Mantra is the most important of all mantras. It is the entire substance and function, and includes all the doctrines of the Buddhadharma. This mantra divides into five divisions: the Vajra Division; the Production of Jewels Division; the Lotus Division; the Buddha Division, and the Karma Division.

These five belong to the five directions:

  1. In the east is the Vajra Division, with Akshobhya Buddha as host;
  2. In the south is the Production of Jewels Division, with Jeweled Birth Buddha as host;
  3. The central division is the Buddha Division, with Shakyamuni Buddha as host;
  4. In the west is the Lotus Division, with Amitabha Buddha as host;
  5. In the north is the Karma Division, with Accomplishment Buddha as host.

The Shurangama Mantra is the King of Mantras. It is also the longest mantra among mantras. This mantra has a profound effect on the flourishing or decay of the entirety of the Buddhadharma. If it comes to the point that there is not a single person in the world who can recite the Shurangama Mantra, then the world will quickly fall to pieces, because the Proper Dharma no longer remains. Within the Proper Dharma, the Shurangama Sutra and the Shurangama Mantra are very important. The Shurangama Sutra is a text which explains the Shurangama Mantra. The mantra is called "the Light on the Crown of the Buddha." And, the crown of the Buddha is referring to the transformation Buddha on top of the crown that spoke the mantra. The Shurangama Mantra is subtle and inconceivably wonderful. Every phrase has a function. Every word has an esoteric wonder. It is inconceivable and inexpressible. So , the light on the buddha's crown also represents the strength of the mantra, which can break through any kind of darkness and can bring to fruition people's merit and virtue. If you are able to accept and maintain the Shurangama Mantra, you will certainly obtain the unsurpassed, proper, and equal right enlightenment. If you can constantly recite it then your offenses from the past can be wiped away. This is the wonderful function of the Shurangama Mantra.

Method to Learn the Shurangama Mantra

The method to learn the mantra is do it sentence by sentence, line by line. Don't try to learn it by reading it all at once. When you can remember the first line by heart, go on to the next. Unless you remember that one line clearly, don't go on to the next. If you are greedy to learn it all at once, you won't be able to swallow it in one gulp.

All dharmas are the wonderful Dharma. The state of the wonderful Dharma is beyond deliberation and discrimination. In trying to memorize the Shurangama Mantra, do not fall into deliberation and discrimination. The more you discriminate, the harder it is to learn. The more you deliberate, the less you will understand. Just recite the mantra. Recite it as your duty and responsibility. Don't study it with thoughts of discrimination and deliberation. Discrimination takes place in the sixth (mind) consciousness. Deliberation is done exclusively by the seventh consciousness. In the Shurangama Sutra we read that Ananda had this very problem. He concentrated on learning and neglected cultivation of samadhi. To memorize the Shurangama Mantra, one must get rid of deliberation and discrimination. Do not use your conscious mind to study the Buddhadharma. Use your true heart, which is just the wonderful Dharma.

The Expedients of Holding the Mantra

"Holding" means that your mind receives the mantra and your body upholds it. When you hold the mantra, you recite it in your mind, and you shouldn't lose it or forget it. At all times you have your mind on what you're doing as you recite and hold the mantra. When you recite a mantra, you should set up a platform, just as there is a precept platform when precepts are transmitted. In reciting the mantra, you have the mantra platform. When you are reciting your mantra, the platform should be pure. You should not let just anybody come onto the platform. It should only be the person who holds the mantra, who cultivates the Dharma at that place.

The Shurangama Sutra says, "If there are living beings who have scattered minds, who do not possess samadhi, but who recollect the mantra with their minds and hold it with their mouths, then the Vajra Kings will constantly attend upon these good people." This means there will be the eighty-four thousand Dharma protectors, Vajra Kings, who will constantly accompany you and all such good people. "How much the more will this be so for those who are firmly resolved on Bodhi."

Moreover, the Sutra says, "Even if such people did not establish a way place or practice the way, but only recited and held the mantra, their merit and virtue would be no different from that of entering the platform and practicing the way." Your merit and virtue would be the same as the person who entered the platform to cultivate the Dharma. "So it is that reading, reciting, copying, or writing out this mantra, or holding it on their bodies, or placing it in their homes, communities will be effective in dispersing all their accumulated karma just like snow melted by hot water. In the near future they will enlighten to the patience of non-production."

However, to discuss this further, there need be the interaction of the Three Secret Practices. When these three secrets are in accord, then you will have a response. They are:

  • With the mouth holding the spiritual mantra;
  • With the mind contemplating the Siddham letters;
  • With the hand making the mudras, certain gestures, or "seal gestures."

This is known as the interaction of the Three Secret Practices. It is called the Three Platforms. This is the initial expedient of holding the mantra.

  1. The Platform of Words of the Mantra: each time, one should hold the entire mantra once, and then hold the heart of the mantra one hundred eight times; or one can hold the entire mantra once in the morning or simply hold the mantra heart one hundred eight times. In this way one can still obtain immeasurable blessings.
  2. The Platform of Mental Consideration: When you recite the heart of the mantra, you visualize the Siddham letters. There are things that you don't need to understand. If you don't know the meaning of the mantra, the Siddham letters, you always feel it's inexpressibly wonderful. If you recognize these letters, you're apt not to pay attention to them anymore. Visualizing the Siddham letters is like this as well. For those who have not studied Siddham letters, start contemplating them. One should imprint every letter on one's mind, so that whether one's eyes are opened or closed, each of these letters appears very clearly in one's vision. When you contemplate the Siddham letters your mind will not have any false thinking. After doing this for some time, you will have concentration, the power of Samadhi.
  3. The Platform of the Mudras: After the contemplation, one needs to make certain mudras accordingly. What's it for? It's just to make you pay attention. You're so involved in the logistics of it you don't have any other false thoughts. When you recite the mantra, contemplate the Siddham letters and assume the posture of the mudra - then the Three Platforms are in accord. Together they form the interaction of the Three Secret Practices. One will then be able to attain the Three Wheels, which are your body, mouth and mind and they take on the inconceivable transformations of the Buddhas. Whatever you seek, whether worldly or transcendental, will be as-you-will. When you are single-minded, it is efficacious. When you are scattered, then you lose it. If you have one intention, then there can be a response.

Not everybody has the opportunity to learn and practice the Three Platforms. It is difficult to find a Teacher to instruct the correct hand gestures of mudras. However, if one recites the Shuragama mantra heart one hundred and eight times everyday without the mudras platform it will be auspicious as well. The important thing is that reciting the Shuragama mantra heart helps us to reach samadi without too many difficulties.



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